duck-shaped pain

 
 

2 November 2001
Last Espresso For 35 Miles

Friday, 26 October 2001

This was the day I drove. I left home fairly early, having a long haul in front of me. Drank some coffee, gathered everything together, stopped by the college on my way out of town to pay a fine. They had placed a hold on my account so I couldn't register, and I decided that it would be important to take care of this before I left. It was for a parking ticket I got (but didn't remember) last time I went to this school, back in 1993. Oddly enough, they didn't charge any interest, so the fine was only $12. Not terrible.

Drove west on Interstate 70 from here to Crescent Junction, Utah. Uneventful drive, one that I've taken many times before. That part of Colorado and this part of Utah look alike -- the only way you can really tell the difference is that once you get into Utah, the roads get worse and the facilities sparser. Our hardy Mormon pioneers didn't need good roads and rest areas, so why should you? is the thinking, I suppose.

Once you get to Crescent Junction, you turn south onto a two-land road that goes to Moab. Were this summer or spring break, this road would be filled with cars. Each car would have one or two bikes strapped to its top and would be driving about a hundred miles an hour, trying to compensate for the drag caused by the bikes. There would also be a lot of honking and yelling. But today, I only enountered a few such cars.

On this road, there is nothing, until boom, you get into Moab, and all of a sudden, there is just a lot of stuff. Motels, tour guides, Jeep rentals, veggie burritos, espresso stands. It's one of the rare parts of Utah where you don't think you're in Utah. Everyone in spandex and polarfleece. A lot of expensive shoes walking around. I stopped for coffee and then left. I've spent time in Moab before, and I was eager to get on to other things.

The drive south takes you past Hole-in-the-Rock, which is this total tourist trap just south of town. This couple chiseled themselves a home out of the side of a sandstone cliff, and it is now operated as a museum of sort, full of old furniture and weird art. When I was a kid, I always wanted to stop here, but my parents were never thrilled at the idea. I thought about stopping this time, since I'm trying to do all the cheesy tourist things that I never got to do as a kid, but I was on the wrong side of the road. Since I'm probably going to go back home via the same road, I might stop then.

Monticello, Utah is the next town. It doesn't have much to say for itself, since the sign denoting that one had arrived in Monticello has no slogan or fun town facts, only "Home of District BLM Office." Like I've always wondered where that was or something.

In the middle of Monticello, you turn onto Highway 666 (called the "Triple 6" by those giving directions), which goes from there down to Gallup, New Mexico. I will be driving the entire length of the Triple 6, through some really desolate areas.

On the way out of Monticello, there is a sign: "Last Espresso For 35 Miles." This, however, does not make me stop.

Onwards I drive, through juniper trees and fields of pinto beans. Not much grows out here, but people have managed to find one crop that thrives. If you ever eat pinto beans, chances are that the beans you ate came from this part of the world, down in the southeast corner of Utah and the southwest corner of Colorado.

I cross the state line, back into my home state. I drive along past more fields and into Dove Creek. As I mentioned in the last entry, this is the self-proclaimed Pinto Bean Capital of the World. Since I am mildly hungry, I consider stopping for lunch. A good bowl of stewed beans accompanied by tortillas sounds good to eat, but then I decide that the local cafe probably wouldn't serve that. Everyone who eats at this place is a farmer, and after nothing but beans beans beans all day, the last thing you want looking you in the eye at lunch is another bean.

I also consider stopping in at Adobe Milling (Home of the Anasazi Bean [1]) to buy some fresh beans, but then I remembered that their beans are sold everywhere back home, so what would be the point?

I stopped for lunch in Cortez. I was looking at the guidebook I checked out from the library before I left, trying to discover some nice cheap local dive to eat in, but it was for naught. Everything listed that sounded interesting proved to be closed or impossible to find. I was getting hungry, so I just ended up eating at Sonic. Which is top-of-the-line fast food anyway, so it's not like I was settling for less. I ate a really excellent green chile cheeseburger, which set a precedent for later meals, as you will see.

Going south on the Triple 6 takes you through the Southern Ute reservation, and then, when you cross the Colorado-New Mexico border, through part of the Navajo reservation. I passed by the big Ute Mountain casino, which wasn't there the last time I drove through. I have no idea when it was built, but you just kind of run into it without warning, out in the middle of nowhere. Hotel rooms there were going for $19, which would have been tempting had I been ready to stop for the night. But it was barely 1 p.m. at this time.

I stopped for more coffee in Shiprock, New Mexico. It was really good coffee, especially since it came from a convenience store in the middle of the afternoon, and only cost 25 cents.

The most desolate stretch of the Triple 6 is between Shiprock and Gallup, New Mexico. 90 miles of two-lane road without any passing lanes. And this is not some lonely country highway - it's the only road in the area, so there are trucks and school buses and all sorts of people driving down it. However, it does have shoulders that are about 15 feer wide, which serve as some sort of unofficial passing lane, and as a big parking lot, as people, for reasons unknown to me, swerved over and just stopped and parked on the shoulder.

So, finally, about ten miles north of Gallup, the road widened to a four-lane road. And then, all of a sudden, a passing lane was added for about 200 feet. Right at the spot (and this had to be scientifically determined somehow, I think) where it was least needed.

As I was driving, I saw some lone kid skateboarding down the side of the road. I don't know where you're going, buddy, but I hope you get there.

I passed through Gallup, which is maybe the ugliest town in the entire nation. It's only there because it has the only grocery stores, restaurants and Wal-Mart for miles and miles and miles. Weekends in Gallup, I've been told, are total madhouses, with hordes of people driving into town in huge pickup trucks, all coming in to stock up on supplies. Huge amounts of toilet paper are bought and taken home, along with large quantities of everything else.

I continued south towards Zuni, which is where my friend Z. lives and teaches middle school. It was only about 4:30 when I got there, which was surprising. I had expected a much longer drive.

Z. lives in a little housing development that was built especially for teachers at the reservation schools (referred to as the "teacherage"). They all live together, hang out in the front of the building, and get overinvolved in each other's lives. I've actually met a surprising number of them before, so some of them recognized me when I drove up. I even got a hug from someone I've never met before.

I took my stuff into Z.'s apartment and was checked out by his cats. There was M., the main cat, and D., the small assistant cat. During my entire stay, when the cats weren't sleeping, they were wrestling and kicking each other in the head. Then they would take a break and try to drink anything that was in any glass I was also trying to drink out of. It was better than television to watch, and then I got my revenge on them with the laser pointer. Ha ha ha ha.

We sat and chatted for a while. Some of the other teachers came over to Z.'s apartment (they just walked right on in, I was amazed) and I got to hear all the latest teacher gossip. This is what happens when you all live too close together somewhere where there isn't a whole lot to do.

Z. and I drove back to Gallup for dinner. We ate at this little dive called The Rocket Cafe. Which was really pretty good. We ordered a pizza, which was topped with pesto, three types of cheese (parmesan, feta, and I think provolone), tomatoes, and -- because this was New Mexico -- green chiles. It was very tasty. One thing that totally surprised me is that they sold San Pellegrino Aranciata, which is like an Italian version of Orangina, minus the tangerine juice. I've actually never seen it sold in a restaurant before, let alone in Gallup. So I had several. But this wasn't the last time I would see it on this trip...

After dinner, we drove over to this bar where some band was playing. I wasn't too thrilled by the description of the band -- some sort of bluegrass meets Grateful Dead sort of thing, and some types of music just weren't meant to be combined -- but it's not like there was a whole lot else going on in Gallup that evening.

We went in and ordered some beers and listened to them play. Actually, they didn't sound too bad, but then I found out that they were just tuning. I drank my beer and shut up.

It was actually a pretty okay bar -- sort of basic, but not too gross and certainly not too pretentious. There was also a really really cute waitress, and that helped a lot.

Several more teachers showed up -- there had been a mass migration up to Gallup for the evening -- so we drank more and talked more and finally Z. and I decided to leave. The music was getting too noodly for me.

We stopped by the grocery store to buy some beer. One thing that I forget is that in other states, you can buy beer and wine and actual not-gross things to drink in the grocery store. I don't know what the hell is wrong with Colorado, with its odd rule that only beer with 3.2 percent alcohol or less can be sold in grocery stores, but it really annoys me. But here, there was a fantasyland of beer. Real beer! And okay wine! We bought some and drove back to Zuni.

The rest of the evening was spent listening to weird CDs I brought, watching the cats fight and then I was tired from driving. Time for bed.


[1] Which are a lot like pinto beans, but they're purple and white on the outside instead of brown. Their big claim to fame is that they're the only bean native to the state of Colorado. So they're grown as some sort of state pride thing, and not because they taste radically different from plain old pinto beans.

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