United States

Clarksdale to Lafayette

Mural of blues artists, Jackson, MS

I left Clarksdale lacking the enthusiasm I’d felt traveling through the Southwest and the Ozarks. Driving south toward Jackson, the expanse of farmland was like my mood — flat. I’m getting less exercise and eating for entertainment. My mind keeps returning to issues of race and justice. I’m not sure whether all of this is a little bit of road trip burn-out or just feeling lonely, but it’s happened before and I know it will pass. So I focus on ignoring it. There were still places I wanted to see, free from the fog of my transient feelings.

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Cruising the Delta

Clarksdale

On Easter morning, I regrettably left Carol at the Bill and Hillary Clinton Airport in Little Rock, and headed east out of the Ozarks. From Little Rock, the highway transects flat farmland, occasionally taking a wide turn around more flat farmland, maybe to recognize property lines or county borders or someone’s sense of whimsy. I’ve driven this road before, about a dozen years ago. Even though I don’t remember much about it, I notice one way it’s changed. Low-end corporate franchises now dominate highway stops and the perimeters of small towns — mostly junk food, Walmarts, and Dollar Stores.

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More Surprises in Arkansas

After leaving the friendly, well-heeled, art patrons of Bentonville, we drove east through the glorious Ozarks. The Ozarks aren’t mountains by California standards, more like large hills, and spread out over 47,000 square miles, mostly in Arkansas and Oklahoma. Spring is a great time in the Ozarks. The red bud trees are blooming in the understory, and the white oaks and sycamores are starting to get tiny leaves. On our hikes, we saw a lot of wildflowers and evidence that lots more are on the way in the coming weeks.

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Bricktown and Bentonville

Gluten-Free Bakery in Bentonville, Arkansas

A lot of America is subject to cultural stereotypes, good and bad. Southern hospitality. Hot tubs in Marin County. Rude New Yorkers. Traveling through Oklahoma and Arkansas, I am reminded that people from these states have been type cast as “backward.” The stereotype can probably be traced to the Dust Bowl disaster of the 1930s, when thousands of “Okies” and “Arkies” migrated to California to find work. Many had been farmers and ranchers who found themselves powerless during an economic depression that left many homeless or barely getting by in a strange new place. Maybe people who are feeling that vulnerable could seem a little “backward” to their more fortunate, and sometimes disdainful, new neighbors.

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Flat as a Panhandle

Yesterday, I arrived in Amarillo, Texas, to visit an amazing state park called Palo Duro. The park is a giant crack in the flattest land I’ve ever seen and looks a lot like the Grand Canyon. I went to the park with a plan to hike the trail to Lighthouse Rock until I learned in real time that getting to the trailhead requires driving down a very scary road into the canyon. One of my best driving skills is finding a way to turn around on a narrow mountain road with no pull outs while I am feeling terror. As I was finding a way, several large RVs towing jeeps went by on the other side of the road, which was annoying. Anyway, even though I never got down into the canyon, I’m sharing this information because Palo Duro is beautiful from the rim, and you might not think the road to the trailhead is scary. So. Highly recommended!

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The Mother Road to Tucumcari

India’s most holy river is called “Mother Ganga.” America’s most holy highway is called “The Mother Road.” Route 66 is the highway equivalent of Old Glory and the American equivalent of the Silk Road. Between 1926 and 1985, it linked Chicago and Santa Monica for vacationers and every kind of itinerant during a period of westward migration. It’s been a symbol of American freedom and hope in some of our best literature, like Jack Kerouac’s On the Road and John Steinbeck’s Grapes of Wrath.  

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How I Learned to Love Albuquerque

At first, I wasn’t crazy about Albuquerque. Miles and miles of strip malls, empty lots, parks with highway roar. Although the city’s Old Town is atmospheric, most of the stores sell junk, and the Old Town’s “best” café served me a greasy chili rellano with a side of canned spinach. Wasn’t canned spinach banned in 1959?

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Abiquiu to Albuquerque: Art Meets the Great Outdoors

Church at Ghost Ranch

Woo hoo! This week I am exploring New Mexico’s Rio Grande Valley between the Sangre De Cristos and the Jemez Mountains in the northern part of the state. The region’s largest cities are Taos in the north, Santa Fe in the middle, and Albuquerque in the south. But forget about them for now. This is about a few of the little guys.

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