Yes, the road.

Yes, the road.
Eagle Nest, New Mexico. “People like to drive because driving is actually and symbolically an almost perfect mechanism for escape…there is probably no human being who does not have troubles, real or imagined, from which he at times feels the need to flee.” George R. Stewart.


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Brooklin, Maine, United States
We own a 1975 GMC Sierra Grande 15 in Maine and a 1986 Chevrolet Custom Deluxe 10 in West Texas. Also a pair of 1997 Volvo 850 wagons. Average age in the fleet is 28 years--we're recycling. I've published 3 novels: THE LAW OF DREAMS (2006), THE O'BRIENS (2012), and CARRY ME (2016). Also 2 short story collections: NIGHT DRIVING(1987) and TRAVELLING LIGHT (2013). More of my literary life is at I was a Fellow at the Netherlands Institute for Advanced Study for 2012-13. I'm an adjunct professor at Colorado College and in the MFA program at Queens University of Charlotte. In 2015-16 I was a Fellow at Harvard University's Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study. The Autoliterate office is in Car Talk Plaza in Harvard Square, 2 floors above Dewey Cheatem & Howe. SUBSCRIBE TO THE AUTOLITERATE DAILY EMAIL by hitting the button to the right.

Thursday, December 27, 2012

American Road

from Craig Manning, driving LA-NYC via New Orleans in  a 2003 Toyota Tacoma  (all images ©2012 Becky Smith)

Day 1 LA – Grand Canyon
"An early departure is doubly rewarding when hitting the road out of LA. You are nearly certain to beat the traffic. And, if you are heading east, you will get slanting desert light about when you raise your first Joshua tree, either in the Palm Desert or along the Mojave River between Victorville and Barstow. We’re leaving early but taking a slowish path from LA to New York City for a winter-spring sojourn. Driving a 2003 Toyota Tacoma 4x4 – not vintage, yet. The only time constraint is Amherst, MA, in nine days. We will make the road-days shorter to ensure that most driving is in light, the better to enjoy our path. So for starters we chose a less-direct route and pointed toward Barstow to pick up US 40 (old route 66), with the Grand Canyon as the first goal.
The Canyon is about 7-8 hours from west LA, but for a geologist its ingredients are closer. An hour or so brings you to Cajon Pass, the San Andreas Fault, and a return to the North American Continent. And soon after you start seeing the rocks of the Grand Canyon Sequence  - they’re best in the Providence and Marble Mountains, near the railroad alphabet towns of Amboy, Bagdad (of “Bagdad Café” fame), Cadys, Danby, Essex, etc. The layers seen in today’s Canyon were deposited all across the old western shoreline. However, subsequent faulting and folding – and mountain belts and volcanoes – made mincemeat of much of it. But not so much that you can’t recognize the iconic Tapeats sandstone, Bright Angel shale and the rest of the sequence, so that you are quickly immersed in the geological continuity of a cross-country trip. Reading the rocks softens transitions of place that are otherwise abrupt at 70 mph.

There are more ups than downs until you near the eastern CA border. 40 crests then bends south toward Needles and drops thousands of feet into the Colorado River Extensional Corridor. Here a mountain range that was of the same scale as the Sierra Nevada has been destroyed. The crust got too thick, the range collapsed under its excess mass, and rocks from depth were brought to daylight as the crust extended to make room. The only expression of the old range is now a huge valley of anomalously low elevation. The Colorado River has taken advantage of this on its path to the sea. The Joads crossed into CA here (“The Grapes of Wrath”) and the feeling is the same on leaving – we’re really doing this, we’re not going back, the only option is forward.

Once in Arizona, you make back all your lost elevation and more. This is the western edge of the Colorado Plateau. On average this region stands higher than other parts of the west. As with icebergs, it is a telltale sign of thicker crust. Don’t ask us why – we still don’t have a good answer. We hit recent snow near Williams AZ. From there we turned north toward the canyon, managed to quickly dump our bags at the hotel, and got up to the south rim in time for sunset.

 The unexplainably high elevation, aridity, and climate conspire in ways favorable to beauty. The excess topography had to be sawed by the Colorado River as it drained the Rockies, giving us the Grand Canyon itself. The aridity and elevation produce juniper-pinyon habitat, which possesses a desert fecundity that is always pleasing, and all three mean that December storms will precipitate snow; just what we encountered.

Crisp clear air, snow, and red light on the canyon walls brought to mind the opening lines of “A Dance to the Music of Time”, when Powell embarks on his reverie upon seeing workers climb up out of a pit and warm themselves at a brazier. Their labor on the city’s inner workings makes him think of the past with all its buried, unseen connections, much as the Canyon reveals a natural history unseen from the surface alone.

Day 2 Grand Canyon – Santa Fe

"We headed back up to the south rim in the early morning light. We couldn’t get enough of it. But eventually the vistas die out where the Kaibab Plateau drops and the river bends north. Pretty quickly you are out of the park and into the Navajo Reservation. Riding high are volcanoes and remnants of huge volcanic flows that sit up high. This place was volcanic hell from a few million years ago until very recently; of course the Res is its own form of hell now, a stasis of squalor and desperation.
 After heading back to 40, we battled trucks from Flagstaff into New Mexico. The landscape becomes more and more volcanic, until 40 drops into the Rio Grande Rift and Albuquerque. The rift owes its origin to the same forces that created the Colorado River Corridor, but the difference is that the rifting was much more extensive here – so much so that the mantle melted as it moved upward to fill the space being created. Hence the volcanic activity that defines the look of this area.
We crossed the Rio Grande River and bent north to Santa Fe for a quick look-in to an old haunt.

Day 3 –Santa fe – Fort Worth

Departure from Santa Fe was a little late - we only had 12 hours and at least wanted to walk around the square and get a reasonable breakfast. Which was easily had, though as usual too many Dallas high rollers in furs. Santa Fe has always seemed an odd mix of over-the-top wealth and desperate poverty. Maybe a portent of where the rest of the country is going.

 The drive out across eastern New Mexico was graced by snowy pinyon-juniper volcanic terrain, open vistas, big sky. The eastern side of the Rio Grande Rift puts up rugged volcanic peaks. The harsh landscape is the same from Las Vegas NM south past Marfa, TX - an ordinal auto-literate way-point - and on to Big Bend and into Mexico - No Country for Old Men country. In eastern NM, it slowly gives way to high-plains mesas as you move past Clovis and into Texas, past Lubbock and Abilene. Hard vast miles, long afternoon hours. At least you have Texas place-names to keep you happy: Sudan, Earth, Erath, Grand Saline. The sun set as we dropped off the Balcones Escarpment, the break from high plains to more rugged central Texas terrain. The lit dimmed over the northern reaches of the Permian Basin: spent cotton fields and huge wind farms, pecan trees and donkey-arms. We picked up route 20 by 6, and followed the chain of lights to the western reaches of Fort Worth and a scruffy Best Western that was better than we had feared. Hopefully the only day with night driving."---CM

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