On Monday I went to the mall to partake in the wonderful and torturous tradition of christmas shopping. I don’t really like the mall, but I was having a pretty good day so far. For one, I was wearing this new fitted jacket that I had bought earlier in the week and made me feel quite skinn-ay. For two, I figured on a Monday afternoon I would not have to battle enormous crowds of other holiday shoppers. This seemed promising.

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I was like, “alright, let’s do this!” And I set off cheerfully.

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But after a couple hours, I had aged considerably. It felt like many a year I had been wandering this accursed desert, this land devoid of any hope.

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If I had to see one more piece of clothing, I was sure my eyes were going to rot out of my head.

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And yet, I had not yet bought a single thing. (This is me in various stages of fatigue/beardiness. Also may be interpreted as my various attempts to draw just one of this stage.)

img_7115Finally, when it seemed all hope was lost and I must surely perish, I found myself in an oasis of not-retailers. In my famished state everything was a blur, but I could tell that there were people holding pieces of chicken on sticks. I did not care that I was a vegetarian. I was dying.

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There was terryaki chicken on a stick, fried chicken on a stick, curry chicken on a stick… Slowly I revived, and as my senses returned to me, I realized these chickens on sticks were in fact samples.

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I had made it to the food court.

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There was also a

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This reminded me of one of my ex-boyfriends who would always order a burrito bowl instead of a burrito. He was manorexic and constantly pulling up his shirt to oggle his stomach in the mirror. This was very annoying. Only I am allowed to do that.

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Anyway, then my eye alighted on something delicious that I did desire to eat. Pearl milk tea. <insert sound of angels singing>

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I got in line for PMT, but as I waited and looked around the food court, I realized that something was terribly wrong…

WHERE THE HELL WAS CINNABON?

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Let us pause for a minute to contemplate the systematic eradication of cinnabon from lands where it once used to be plentiful, ie. the airport and mall. Seriously, who the fuck is messing with my cinnabon supply? Sure, I had promised myself not to eat a cinnabon, but what I really meant was, “Damn, I can’t wait to eat a cinnabon.” I love me some cinnabon. In Chicago I used to walk to the train station just to get cinnabon. I neverrrr took a train out of there, but cinnabons are a rare breed now–sometimes you need to go to exotic locations to find them. Anyway, don’t think I haven’t noticed, cinnabon murderers (Michelle Obama?). I’m on to these disturbing vanishings.

Right, so the point of this story is that there was no cinnabon, and so now I had to figure out what to eat. For some reason the PMT place also sold sandwiches, so that is what I ate.

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Now as I finished half of the sandwich I was feeling pretty happy.

img_7125I was also feeling somewhat superior as I looked around at my other food court compatriots. There they were, having fallen victim to Panda Express and pizza and McDonalds and milkshakes, and here I was, having eaten just half a sandwich.

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Then I looked at the other half of the sandwich.

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What was I going to do with half a leftover sandwich? I wasn’t going to carry it around the mall the rest of the day, look at the size of my purse:

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Maybe I should eat it…

I ate it.

img_7130Ug too much. I needed something to wash it down. But there was no MT left, just P. I ate some of the tapioca pearls. Even as I did it, I was like this is not logical. Why am I eating rubber balls if I am thirsty?

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After that I was kinda fat. So much for my food court superiority. And fuck the form fitting jacket.

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There were mirrors everywhere. I could not escape.

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Also there were sexy mannequins that were at the same time both more curvaceous and skinnier than I. They had impossibly long legs and feet that were also high heels and confusing yet presumably fashionable arm poses.

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The mannequins were like, “Fuck you, you will never be as sexy or have as cool clothes as we do, even though you are a human and have hair and facial features. Also, your feet will never be high heels.”

img_7136I was like, “No, fuck YOU, mannequins!” But that was not a very good come back.

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Then I had to go pee, but it is impossible to find your way anywhere in a department store, even though there are thousands of signs pointing out directions.

img_7139Even if you can follow the arrows to where the bathroom is supposed to be, good luck finding it. The area with the sign actually denoting where it is will probably look something like this:

img_7140But despite these obstacles, I did find the bathroom. There was a homeless woman living in it and water on the ground from over-flowed toilets. img_7141Let us pause again to consider another matter. Why is your path in to the bathroom of a department store always like this:

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But the path out is like this: ?

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Curious.

Right, so then I was shopping some more. For some reason I was attracted to Doc Martins

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I felt like I could kick a lot of ass while wearing them. And I had some ass-kicking opportunities in mind…IMG_7147 IMG_7145IMG_7146 I also had a moment with a leather skirt. It started with me mentally mocking it,

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but then I was like

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… alter-ego sexy bad girl Ali who rides around on motorcycles and wears ass-kicking boots and also has larger boobs? (Illustration would be more effective if I hadn’t drawn a bicycle.)

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The skirt did not fit.

 

 

 

As scandalous as it sounds.

 

On the way to see The Hunger Games (fucking awesome btw) :

Typical mom-conversation about texting– “Honey, what does it mean when there’s a parenthesis with a ‘P’?

“…you mean a colon with a ‘P’? It’s a tongue sticking out.”

“I don’t see it.”

 

Typical dad-conversation about his ability to foretell success–

“See I told you guys–The Hunger Games, Twilight, The Uglies. I told you they were all gonna be hugely successful.”

“Wow, Dad, you’re right. You were great at foretelling the success of best-sellers.”

“No, seriously. When I would go to parties with adults and talk about the books, none of them even knew what I was talking about.”

“That’s because they were adults, they weren’t thirteen year-old girls.”

“That’s what I’m saying! Producers aren’t thirteen year-old girls either! That’s why they need me!”

…Very logical. A sixty year-old man is just the person to put producers in touch with the interests of thirteen year-old girls. It’s a wonder how they managed to catch on to those trends without him.

 

My mom tries to order pizza–

“They have eggplant with aquatic cheese!”

“No thank you.”

Once she hangs up.

“…I’m curious about what that aquatic cheese was. Were they milking sea cows?”

“Aquatic cheese?”

“Yeah, you said they had the eggplant with aquatic cheese.”

“I think it’s like the four cheeses, you know, parmesan, asiago…”

“Quatro Formaggi?”

“Yeah, that’s what I said.”

“No…”

 

 

 

 

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I officially drove coast to coast! Or gulf to coast, but let’s not get hung up on technicalities.

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So what did I learn driving across America?

1.) The States are beautiful. I’ve read many accounts of road trips where people say that their main realization is that America is BIG. Even Rachael said it to me. But I honestly didn’t feel that way. If anything, driving took this huge, mysterious mass of land that I’d fly over made it into a real, comprehensible distance. I drove across the map, and it didn’t take that long. It certainly was no Oregon Trail. The main thing that conveyed a sense of distance to me was the change in geography. I went from tropical beaches in Florida, through swamps and bayou in Louisiana, to fields in Texas, plains in New Mexico, desert and mountains and red rock canyons in Arizona, finally to rolling hills and the Pacific Ocean in California. That was beautiful.

IMG_3450 2.) I like driving. When I was little, I couldn’t understand why anyone would ever go on a road trip for pleasure. I hated when my family would drive to Tahoe, and that was only 4 hours. But I loved driving across the country. It was exciting! I was always anticipating where we would go next, and tired from where we had just been, so I didn’t mind hours in the car. I didn’t get bored- when I was driving I was happy to watch the landscape change, and there aren’t many opportunities better than driving through the desert to see just how fast your car can go. (To avoid indictment I don’t think I’ll answer that question ha.) When I was in the passengers seat, I had a great time just being with the other person- talking with Rachael about everything from boys, ballet, and school, to syphilis in african-american males, religion, and our opinions on abortion; eating Twizzlers with my dad and listening to Bob Dylan. The only part I didn’t like was when I thought we were gonna run out of gas and die in the desert. Which brings me to

3.)Always have a half tank of gas. You think there will always be gas stations, but sometimes there won’t. For 80 miles of anxious, nail-biting hell. http://alilake.com/near-death-in-the-desert-and-bats-in-carlsbad-caverns/

4.)NEVER STAY IN A SUPER 8. This is of the utmost importance. Unless you like bed bugs or strange men knocking on your door at night, do not go here. Never, ever.

5.)In fact, don’t even bother with hotels. In New Orleans and San Antonio we used Airbnb, and it was the best. In New Orleans we stayed with these funky hipsters who let us use their rickety bikes to jostle and jolt down Esplanade at night into the French Quarter. It’s one of my favorite memories. In San Antonio we stayed in the dream house I never knew I even dreamed of. It was this huge, two-story spacious Craftsman that we got to ourselves because our hosts were on vacation. We just hung out with their dog, cat, and chickens and played house. Rich people house. Staying in homes instead of hotels made visiting these cities more personal. We were with locals who took the time to make lists of their favorite restaurants, bars, places to see, and things to do. Plus they checked in on us and were so friendly. Our San Antonio hosts even emailed us a list of their favorite things to do in New Orleans because I had mentioned we were going there first. It was great, and we felt totally safe in their homes. After your stay, your hosts rate you and you rate them in return through the Airbnb website, so that other users and hosts have references for future bookings. I’ll definitely be using Airbnb again. https://www.airbnb.com/

Check out where we stayed-

Hipsters with cool art and  a strange bathroom in New Orleans:

https://www.airbnb.com/users/show/988767

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Rachael hated these, but I thought they were awesome.

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Strange poo art hanging over their toilet. I guess it’s like a Rorschach inkblot test, because we were talking about it over beignets (appropriate timing for sure) and Rachael thought it was a uterus, but I thought it was a heart.

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Jesus is watching you.

IMG_3005Dream home in San Antonio

https://www.airbnb.com/users/show/698312

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I really want a blue desk now.

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6.) This is a delicious snack. Taught to me by my sister: rice cake, hummus, avocado, salt and pepper, sriracha.IMG_3873

7.) This is the best song for driving across the South:

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1gX1EP6mG-E]

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hvKyBcCDOB4]

Whenever I hear this I’ll always think of driving with Rachael through the New Mexico night, windows down, hands in the wind, blasting this song and belting it out into the desert air.

8.) Sometimes it’s a small world, sometimes it’s a big world. Appreciate the old and the new. <3

 

You know that poem about the plums?

This Is Just To Say

by William Carlos Williams

I have eaten
the plums
that were in
the icebox

and which
you were probably
saving
for breakfast

Forgive me
they were delicious
so sweet
and so cold

Well, it was kinda like that.

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The Traffic Snackiff is an essential part of any rush hour routine. You know the routine- get in your car, drive about six inches, angrily shout at other drivers, look around aimlessly, complain about how tired your clutch ankle is getting with all the stop and go. And then… HUNGRY.

Because rush-hour tends to coincide with dinner time. You’ll be happily motoring along (yeah right, what a joke), and then like a cobra, starvation will strike. It creeps up stealthily until all of a sudden  you can no longer speak, no longer think, can hardly support your head to observe that you’re was going nowhere, you are so ravenous.

That’s why I came up with Traffic Snackiff, the (what are we on now, Taco Bell?) fifth meal of the day.

There are a lot of donut shops in LA, and an inordinately high concentration of bizarre donut-something else hybrids. I’m talking donuts and fried chicken, donuts and sandwiches. Well all the places I stopped invariably seemed to be donuts and crack cocaine. But starvation is a harsh mistress. Neither sleet, nor snow (both common in LA summers), nor tweaking junkie outside, could deter me from pulling over to get my traffic snackiff: old-fashioned chocolate glazed donut and chocolate milk.

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Yum, people. Yum.

Now when when your mind starts to clear as your hunger slowly fades, and the angry buzzing in your ears dissipates to be replaced by a lazy sugar smile on your face, you may hear conversations occurring around you of the type like, “I’m telling you man, it’s fine. I’ve never done time.”

At this point it’s time to go.

But that’s just part of Traffic Snackiff’s charm. Now not only are you no longer hungry, satisfied with delicious chocolatey comfort in your stomach, now you are also happy to be in your car, back on the road, driving away from whatever nefarious den you just exited.

Traffic Snackiff™

 

I picked my dad up from the Flagstaff airport, and off we went. He was in good form, immediately losing his phone (he was sitting on it), and mistakenly trying to go into the girls’ bathroom (I stopped him). Anyway, eventually we rolled up to the El Tovar Hotel in the Grand Canyon.

(Image is an approximation of our actual arrival.)

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The El Tovar opened in 1905 as a first class accommodation for travelers on the Santa Fe railroad, which had finally reached the Grand Canyon. As the card in our room informed us,

“Nothing was spared to make this one of the great hotels of its era. The building was completely equipped with electric lights powered by its own steam generator. Railroad tank cars brought fresh water for the hotel from Del Rio, 120 miles away; fresh fruit and vegetables were grown in greenhouses on the premises. The hotel even had its own dairy.”

Nowadays it’s a destination for thousands of short-pants ruffians like ourselves. It’s right on the edge of the canyon, prime location. Our first order of business was to check out the view.

Woah. It made us a dizzy the first time we looked into the canyon. It’s just so massive and deep, and all the different layers of color funnel your vision down, but you can’t even see to the bottom. Only in a few spots can you glimpse the Colorado River.

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Second order of business was to get some food in us. We sat out on El Tovar’s deck and looked out over the canyon while sipping on tea and munching on vegetarian chili and crab cake sliders. Twas good.

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Properly fueled, we ventured out to walk the Rim Trail. This is just a paved path that goes along the rim. My dad was mad because it wasn’t more trail-y, but it had some educational merits of its own. There are no rails anywhere, because to rail the whole canyon would  require as much metal to go halfway around the earth, then for every foot of height you’d need another bar of rail, multiplying that amount. Besides, people would climb over it anyway, so the park admitted there was just no point. However, there are plenty of copies of the book Over the Edge: Death in Grand Canyon, detailing the 550 deaths in the Grand Canyon, on sale everywhere you go to give you ample incentive of your own not to wander too close to the edge.

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Overlapping the Rim Trail, the Trail of Time  is set up to give you a physical metaphor in the distance you walk comparing to the amount of time it took for the Grand Canyon to form. Along the way there are plaques explaining the formation of the different rock layers. Dad helped to further elucidate in his coloquial style, “Look, so there’s where that shit seeped through”.IMG_1411

They’ve also mounted rocks from each layer and era so that you can touch them. Dad insisted we walk along petting each rock. After this first one he paused to analyze the texture and came up with his official scientific observation: “This would make a great granite counter top.”

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One plaque shouted at us that 1.2 billion years were missing from the rock record. Dad muttered to himself, “Goddamn teenagers.”

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Then he made us take this picture where “it will look like we’re falling into the canyon”.IMG_3734 Shortly afterwards he came running up behind me yelling I had to stop. He wanted to show me this ancient geological specimen he had found…IMG_3740

Ie. a piece of the road.

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We finally made it to the end of the Trail of Time and this vista point.

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Dad tripped and almost fell off the cliff taking this picture of me, evoking a shout of “Jesus fucking Christ, Dad!”

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So then we had other people take pictures of us.

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After that we went to fancy dinner back at El Tovar. You could tell it was fancy because their butter is stamped with a crest.

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Also because they had a crumb sweeper. This is someone who comes around after they take away your bread and sweeps away all your crumbs with a little silver comb so that you are aware of how messy an eater you are.

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Honestly, their food was pretty bad. My dad’s celery soup was inedibly salty, they brought him the wrong entree, and though it’s hard to mess up a salad, it just had too many over-powering components to be truly enjoyable. Even their pie was too sweet. Their chefs obviously had heavy hands.

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The next morning we got up early to go on the Cedar Ridge Hike, a Ranger lead hike down the Kaibab trail. I have to reiterate how awesome park rangers are- always so nice, with zillions of helpful and interesting things to tell you. I was particularly comforted by his presence, because everywhere on the trailhead and heading down there are posters detailing all the different ways you can die. I must also give props to their commitment to making visits to the park exceptionally educational, especially when visitors usually show up with no intention of it being so, and environmentally friendly. Nowhere in the canyon will they sell you bottled water, because the bottles end up in landfills or blown into the canyon by the wind. They provide their own water in filling stations along the trails, straight from the Roaring Springs below the North Rim.

Before we started, Dad made me take this picture of him to prove to his personal trainer that he was warming up. So here you go, Craig…

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Then we started down in a group with about 12 other people. It was a little chilly, but just in the way of nice, brisk morning air. Our ranger told us that of all the thousands of people that come visit the canyon each year, only 2 percent actually descend into it. What punks.

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The trail is unpaved, 3 miles round-trip, and descends 1.120 feet. It took us a little under 3 hours, and that was with stopping at the bottom to chill out and snack. It’s somewhat steep and rough going, windy, and it certainly would be possible to fall off the edge and die, but if you hold on to your hat and pay attention to where you put your feet, it’s so much fun! The views were spectacular, exponentially better than you get just walking along the rim. Our ranger told us interesting anecdotes about the building of the trail, some of the plants along it, and the park’s legal battles with Ralph Cameron, an original settler on the canyon.

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The hike up is a bitch, but stop to rest frequently and it’s fine. Excellent father-daughter bonding time. If I come back, I want to do the hike all the way to the bottom of the canyon, where you can stay the night at Phantom Ranch, then hike back up the next day. But that’s for another trip.

We were back on the road. Next stop: Los Angeles.

There’s no place like home. Even if it’s someone else’s home.

When Rachael and I got to Flagstaff, I dropped her off at the airport (only one gate, what!?) and went to go find my friend Clio. Flagstaff was nothing like I’d expected. I guess I thought Arizona was all red rock cliffs and desert, but I was way off. As I drove through Flagstaff, I found myself in a quaint little mountain town. It was so peaceful. Exactly the sort of place you’d want to drive into after a long day of skiing to get hot cocoa and nestle into your bed with a nice book, plenty of covers, and a snowy forest view. Meanwhile it’s the middle of summer for me in real life, but this is a town that immediately captures your imagination.

Flagstaff was one of my favorite towns I visite; I wish I could have stayed longer. Maybe I was just so grateful to be in a real home, eating a real home-cooked meal, with some of the nicest company in my friend and her lovely mother, but I immediately felt so relaxed and happy to just be there. This wasn’t the kind of town that shouted at you, “See this! See that! Buy this weird trinket and everything else we can throw at you!”. No, this was the kind of town that just was. It was itself, and though I can’t say I had time to make a thorough study of it, I can say it had its own personality and charm that had nothing to do with trying to seduce tourism.

The first thing Clio did was to take me on a walk out her front door, straight into Buffalo Park. She told me a funny story: the guy that bought this land in the 1960’s wanted to make it into a Wild-West themed wildlife park. He brought in more than 200 animals: buffalo, elk, antelope, llamas, etc. And they all pretty much immediately escaped. The park lasted fewer than 5 years, and then eventually was absorbed by the city as a recreational park. As we walked around and she pointed out remnants of the shoddy fencing,  she told me she often sees Olympians training there because of the high elevation. That’s pretty cool. Not to mention the views of the mountains are awful pretty.

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Next was a delicious, just-what-I-needed, home-cooked meal. Her mom’s from-scratch pizza. It was glorious! Way better than most of the restaurant meals I’d eaten so far on the trip.

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The crust was so light and fluffy! And fresh out of the oven, the pizza was perfectly warm, and crispy, and ooey gooey just like it should be.

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After dinner we exchanged our dish-washing services for clio’s mamma to whip up some chocolate chip cookies. I was in heaven.

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The next morning Clio took me to Macy’s for some people watching. I learned that 1)she did not mean the department store, and 2)that Flagstaff is home to some cute mountain men! It’s a college town, so there were great prospects here. I mean every guy was wearing flannel and had a beard, but that was kinda part of their allure. Exceptions were those that looked like they’d been on the mountain so long they were starting to become part yeti. Yikes man, no beard should be long enough that it can start to meld in with your chest hair.

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On the way there we passed Biff’s Bagels, which touted this mural on the outside. I immediately was like, “Whoa what the what? Who’s acid trip was this?”

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Then Clio pointed into the shop through the window- the walls were decorated with hundreds of portraits of dogs. She explained that at Biff’s, if your dog dies and you’re really sad, you can bring in a picture of it and they’ll hang it on the wall for you. Biff is actually the name of the founders’ beloved dog, who passed away in ’95. That crazy mural is a portrayal of The Rainbow Bridge. It’s really a sweet story, and made me even more partial to this town where such compassionate people live. http://www.biffsbagels.com/about.html http://www.petloss.com/rainbowbridge.htm

Macy’s was obviously the real deal, because it was packed. The decor was hippy meets hindu-investigator meets weird pregnancy photographer. Seriously, there were a lot of photos of the naked-pregnant-belly type.

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Then menu was very vegan-friendly, but we just got a coffe and chai. Excellent Oregon Chai, I must say.

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I have a lot of friends from all over the world, but I have to say, there’s something to seeing someone in their home element. Clio looked beautiful and happy, and I was glad to see it 🙂 It was a perfect visit for me.

But my travels were far from over. It was back to that tiny airport to pick up my dad, then onto the Grand Canyon…

The day started out with much promise. On this road trip I have developed a love of motel waffles and a flippancy for speed limits that I’m sure will serve me well in life.

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Doing work.

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At 7:30am we drove out to Carlsbad Caverns once more. To descend into the cave you can either take the elevator (lame) or hike down the natural entrance (awesome). We obviously chose the latter. Winding 1.25 miles and descending 800 feet into the earth, the natural entrance is the perfect introduction to the cave. Dumbly enough, I didn’t expect it to be quite so cave-like. I guess I thought it would be all clean and easily traversed and well lit. Neatly maintained. But the park works hard to keep the cave atmosphere genuine. As we left the light of day and descended into the cave, the path was already steeper than was comfortable. We trudged along, our weight falling heavily onto our toes. Almost immediately the smell of the cave-swallows’ feces hit us, mixed with a sort of musty-ness of the cave. The air felt thicker, filled with moisture and dust. Luckily this effect either decreased as we continued to descend, or we just got used to it, because farther along it was unnoticeable. The temperature quickly dropped 20 degrees to a cool 55 fahrenheit, and the cave was dark. Not dim; very dark. Very hard to see. Certain formations were lit from below, but for the most part I was navigating by the gleam off our metal railing and the cool, wet feel of it in my hand .

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As we dropped steeply down, the view into the cavern was awe-inspiring. The size of it was arresting, as was the feeling of vertigo as I peered down into the enormous negative space. These pictures are misleading because I’ve lightened them so you can see the formations, but in real life it was mostly blackness, with the scattered lights on formations and reflection off pools of water dotting the path. In the quiet you could hear the drips of the cave.

Whale’s Mouth

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Pillars

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Looks like Casper to me.

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At the bottom of the natural entrance you can either continue exploring on your own or go to meet a ranger-lead tour. I had booked us a tour for the King’s Palace; it went through four chambers and descended to the lowest level of the cave open to the public, 830 feet underground. There are tours where you get to crawl through all sorts of crazy stuff and really adventure, but unfortunately those fill up so fast you have to book them way in advance. Next time I’d love to do that though.

http://www.nps.gov/cave/planyourvisit/feesandreservations.htm

Our ranger told us all about the cave and its exploration, the different formations, and the history of tourism in the cave. One thing I’ve learned on this trip is an appreciation for park rangers. All I’ve met have been so kind and friendly, informative and interesting. When you go to a national park, you should always take advantage of their guided tours, you’ll learn so much! It enhances the trip infinitely. In this tour our ranger turned out all the lights so we could see what total darkness really was. Obviously it’s pitch black, but the most off-putting thing for me was the lack of difference between having my eyes closed and open. I sat there just blinking and trying to sense some difference, but really I might as well just done away with eyelids for all the difference they were making.

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Jellyfish!

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These long sheets of rock hanging down made me think of wings. These ones looked like bat wing.

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This evoked the image of standing behind an angel and looking up at his robes and wing-tips.

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The cave was beautiful, but by the end of the tour we were shivering from the cold, slightly wet from being dripped upon, and happy to take the easy elevator route up to ground-level. I liked this art they had in the lobby.

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Back in the sunshine we warmed up and planned how to revive ourselves…

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The occasion called for some southern fried okra and coconut-meringue pie.

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We attacked the pie like ravenous wolves before remembering to properly document it. Hence the half-heartedly disguised fork marks.

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After this sustenance for our soul we were back on the road. Albuquerque was calling…

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Driving from Texas to New Mexico, we nearly ran out of gas in the desert. Our trip went a little like this: I took the first leg of driving while Rachael slept. I was zooming through the hills of Texas, going faster than I think is wise to admit to, when Rachael eventually woke up and offered to switch. As we were just passing some gas stations, I said we could stop at the next one. Then EIGHTY miles passed. I was burning through gas quickly, zipping along. In two-lane highways they say left lane is only for passing, but as far as I saw it, I was passing everyone, so I was perfectly content in my own personal race course. But as the hills turned to desert, and our fuel gauge crept lower, my appreciation for the sparse beauty of the land, interrupted only by dirt roads leading nowhere and oil pumps dipping up and down like those insatiable bird toys, turned to anxiety. The middle of nowhere was no longer a hyperbole. We couldn’t get internet on our phones to search for gas. Dots that showed up on our maps as towns revealed themselves to be one broken down farmhouse in the distance. For an hour we drove on this way, my eyes nervously scanning from our ever-decreasing gas bars, to my speedometer, which I now held at a restrained pace, to the previously despised right lane, where I tried to stay in the slip stream of the truck in front of me. Visions of us walking down the side of the road, trying to hitchhike, became more vivid. I had no appetite for food, there would be time enough to picnic when we were stranded on the side of the road. We nervously laughed at our jokes that at least it wasn’t too hot outside, and that we seemed to have a good tail-wind. Finally, with no end in sight, we came to a rest-stop. We pulled over, hoping there would be a map, or someone to tell us how much farther we had left. We were down to our last bar in the fuel gauge, gas-light on. No map, but some Oklahoma-platers told us that we were only 14 miles out from gas. We could make that!

Sweet, sweet salvation.

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And some comedic relief: their convenience store held this priceless post-card.

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With that lesson learned (I never ever ever let my tank far below half now), we made it the rest of the way to Carlsbad, NM, home of the Carlsbad Caverns. After checking into another Super 8 (dear God there is more on that later), we rewarded ourselves for not perishing in the desert by splitting a garden burger, onion rings, and a vanilla milkshake. Carlsbad has an unnervingly high concentration of Chinese Buffets with horrendous reviews by both Yelp and our motel receptionist, so we just went to this oddly themed, highly fried, and thankfully edible diner: Happy’s. Smiley faces and Disney cartoon figurines lined the walls, but the comfort food did make us, well, happy.

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After that we took a nap, and what I am about to relate will only horrify and disturb you 1/100th of the amount it did Rachael and I. Rachael found bed bugs. Multiple large, disgusting, orange, tick-looking, bed bugs. AHHHHH. It was so so so so… bleh uggabugga shiver shake revolting. I can’t even put up a picture here. I never want to see those things again. NEVER STAY IN A SUPER 8. I can only imagine the horror that one would feel if you realized you have crabs. I mean seeing those things in my bed I was about to burn the hotel down and and everything I was wearing. If I found such a thing in my nether regions? You’d have to sedate me and throw a flea bomb into my undies, then purchase a mind wiper out of the movie Men in Black and use it on me. I’d still probably need counseling after that. The intense kind, like out of a Clockwork Orange.

Anyway, I digress.

Clearly, we were out of there on the double and moved into a motel across the road. Probably not far enough, but we took it, after some intense initial bed inspections. I had wanted to go see the bat flight as all the bats exit the Carlsbad Cavern at night, but I was exhausted after all our near-death experiences. Still, Rachael dragged my ass out, and away we drove. About 20 minutes from that one-road town, up in the hills, we arrived in time to look out over the beautiful plains as the sun started to lower in the sky. The golden grass stretched as far as the eye could see. It’s odd; along this trip things I used to only say as er, sayings, I came to use to describe literal events in my life.

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A ranger was giving a talk about the bats, so we wound our way down to the cavern’s mouth.

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From here on out we weren’t allowed to take pictures because it could disturb the bats, but I found some on the internet that accurately portray what it was like. A good number of people sat in this amphitheatre to listen to a ranger speak. We learned about the different species of bats in the cave, their habits, hearing ability, diet, and a fatal disease effecting them: white-nose syndrome. While it was still light out, cave swallows flew counter clockwise in and out of the cave. The bats would take this same counter-clockwise path, but it wasn’t known why.

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[youtube=http://http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RS4uvjC5ky4&feature=youtu.be]

My favorite part of the talk was when the ranger told the story of the formerly classified Project X-Ray. In WWII the government invested in developing “bat bombs”. They took a bunch of bats from Carlsbad Caverns and attached them with a small timed incendiary bomb. The idea was that because Japan used so much bamboo, paper and other highly flammable material in construction, the government could release the bats who would go roost in the eaves of these buildings and then cause multiple explosions, causing fires and chaos with fewer lives lost. As our ranger said, “That plan worked out really well. They exploded our Air Force Base down the road.” Yep, the bats got loose and roosted under the air base’s fuel tank, burning it down. Kooky.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bat_bomb

As soon as it started to get dark, the bats swarmed out of the cave in a rush. It was one solitary bat to lead the way, and then within seconds it was thousands. You could hear their wings beating the air as they flew over us, silhouetted against the the dimming sunset.  They flew out in seemingly endless hoards.

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We sat in silence, watching for a good long while. As it showed no sign of letting up, and we were starting to get cold, Rachael and I finally hiked back to our car.

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Watching the bat flight was unexpectedly impressive. I was tired, but as soon as we got to the caverns the view, the night air, the ranger’s talk, and finally the bats, made the entire trip worthwhile. I was so glad Rachael had forced me to throw off my exhaustion and drive out there. Our woes from the day were completely forgotten by the time we left. If you go visit the caverns to go caving, don’t miss this equal, but lesser appreciated, attraction.

http://www.nps.gov/cave/planyourvisit/bat_flight_program.htm

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