It is vacation time in the US which means cross-country travel for many. The following article is the first of several that chronicles my adventure with Jan Pawlak in the summer of 2010. They originally appeared in my column Feed the Mind, Nourish the Soul at the Communities @ The Washington Times from August to November 2010.
FORT WORTH, Texas July 7, 2014 — The morning sun followed us westward towards the Arizona border. Colorful flat plains alongside the road were half covered by shadows of clouds making for a unique light pattern on the ground. Mountains and mesas in various shades and altitudes off in the distance promised a change in surroundings.
We couldn’t help but feel like we were in a movie. One expected to see two Native Americans astride horses high on a plateau overlooking the desert floor watching Clark Griswold on his desperate trek to find a gas station.
The mesas are like giant flat mountains and incredibly beautiful testaments of the ancient earth on which we live. Horizontal lines across the elevation delineate the different eras of geologic time while the pinks and greens of the plateau give them depth and height.
The scenery actually became more breathtaking as Big Blue took us further south. The winding blacktop on which we drive passes truck stops and an occasional casino that interrupt the majesty of the nature that surrounds them.
Close to the Arizona border, mesas high on each side line the road as they welcomed us to The Grand Canyon State. They cry, “Come on in and see what we have to offer!”
That afternoon a sign bearing the likeness of the blue, yellow, and red Arizona state flag welcomed us across its border as ancient, rocky mesas in tans, browns, and greens looked on.
Afterward, the land flattened out quite a bit while clouds began to cover the desert sky. There were plateaus and rocky hills off in the distance beyond the sandy ground and scrub bushes that came much closer to the highway. Off in the distance much needed desert rain nourished the landscape. This made for an awe-inspiring sight. While we enjoyed this view the road beneath ascended towards mountainous Flagstaff.
The rain reached that city as well. From a distance it was hard to see the mountains because of the cloud cover in addition to the rain. Up at 7000 feet now the mountains and hills of Flagstaff greeted us in wet hues of green and browns. Ground levels of various heights surround the area.
It is also a fork in the road where the driver has to choose between going northwest towards the Grand Canyon, continuing west en route to Los Angeles, or to turn south on I-17 in the direction of Phoenix. We turned south.
This is where the terrain of Arizona really becomes mountainous. Jan loves this drive and was disappointed that I couldn’t see all of the scenery because the precipitation covered a good portion of the view. But because it was new to my experience there was nothing to miss.
While making headway up and down on the curvy wet pavement Jan explained to me how to drive a big rig in the rain, against gravity and with it, all with a heavy load. If it was me driving my knuckles would be white all the way. But Jan made it all look so easy. She says she doesn’t mind it so much in the Southwest but likes to stay out of places like Washington, Oregon, and Idaho—especially during the winter. Can’t say I blame her.
The rain accompanied most of our trip along I-17 but stopped in time for nature to put on her vibrant best as the sun sank lower in the sky. Sorrell cactus lined both sides of the interstate waving a welcome with their prickly branches.
Both east and west of the highway mountains rose to soaring heights and sloped to various depths. The afternoon sun painted the desert mountains rich tints and shades of aqua, green, pink, red, orange, gold, ochre, and brown. It was a feast for the eyes straight from Heaven.
We enjoyed this view until the sun set for the night. But then it wasn’t long until we hit the Phoenix city limits.
There were businesses of all kinds on terraced hills above each side of the road as palm trees lined the edges. Spotlights invited customers to some of the ventures; neon adorned other establishments in their own efforts to attract patrons.
People were out and about on this busy night as we made our way to Swift’s national headquarters. Jan had the truck inspected before we dropped off the load we were delivering as required by Swift. They had to check to see if the trailer needed any repairs and to have the tandems at forty feet to be legal to run in case we went to California.
Radiant heat from the ground permeated our shoes and the air was like a sauna since it was monsoon season. There were two inspectors and several trucks. They couldn’t work fast enough for us to get back in the air-conditioning.
Finally done, Jan maneuvered the big rig around the parking area and found a space for the trailer. She put down the landing gear, unhooked the air lines and the pigtail (electrical) wires then retrieved her lock from the doors.
Free of our excess burden we were on our way to the home of Jan’s brother Rob for the next two nights. Rob and I had not seen each other since I moved from Chicago in 1979. Our two year difference doesn’t seem like anything now, but back in the late ‘70’s he was Jan’s little brother.
Now at 6’5” and mostly gray I would have recognized him anywhere. We had already been there for a while when he finally got home from his own truck driving postition.
Rob, Jan, and I had a great time talking about Dolton and the people we knew and who we still know. The three of us were lucky enough to have grown up in such a place and acknowledged it. We yapped until we couldn’t keep our eyes open any longer.
Each settled in for the night now, we, like many in our generation are inclined to do, couldn’t help do our own parody of The Waltons while laughing out loud.