Across the USA (Pt.6)

Our visit with grandparents was a huge success.  We learned our morning chores well and soon I could milk all five cows in just under forty minutes.  My sisters learned to spot the wooden eggs and leave them alone.  My brother finally was able to split wood small enough so that it fit into the wood-burning kitchen stove.  We all toned up our muscles, got a little tanned, and began working as a team.

We were originally to spend ten days, but my mom got a little restless to see her mom out in Los Angeles so we packed up on the eighth day and pulled out the next morning.  It was a very long, hot, tedious, hot, mind numbing, hot, ride.  Have I mentioned how hot it was?  Our window mounted swamp cooler failed to swamp and just allowed the arid air to sweep over us.  We drank gallons of water and panted.

We had gone back north towards Durango, but then peeled off west on good old US160.  This highway passed just north of Mesa Verde National Park and, as planned, we made a stop there to look at the cliff dwellings and explore ruins.  Despite the heat, it was very interesting actually.  When we left, we passed through Cortez and headed directly to the Four Corners.

Everyone, except my dad who thought it was undignified, got on all fours and did the tourist thing of being in four states at the same time.  A little further down the road we took an interesting little sandy road and found a small water hole to camp by.  This time, there were no bugs that we noticed; however, all night long we’d be awakened by huffings, puffings, growls, and grunts as the various residents of the desert came to drink.  One of them, a coyote I think, got interested enough to tip over our aluminum cooler.  The resulting crash as it hit the ground from our camp table had everyone on edge for the rest of the night.

At around four in the morning we agreed that we weren’t going to get much more sleep and took off while it was much cooler.  We passed through colorfully named towns such as Teec Nos Pos, Teq Nec Lah, Dennehotso (which we thought was hilarious), Baby Rocks, and Cow Springs (another couple of thigh-slappers).

When we reached Tuba City, my dad roamed around to all four gas stations looking for a bargain.  When he found that fifty-two cents was everywhere he really got ticked off.  He picked the station that looked to be the least prosperous and gave them his business.  Big deal.  We rarely put more than eleven or twelve gallons in anyway so what real difference did it make?  He was big on teaching us “the principles of the thing” instead of calling it “cheap”.

After fortifying the bus with gas, and our tummies with semi-decent food, we went back on the highway towards our night goal of a place near Williams, Arizona.  But first, we had to pass through Flagstaff.  The road was very poorly marked and if it hadn’t been for my ‘bump of direction’ we would have gone a long ways towards Phoenix – which was definitely the wrong way.  About the time my brain went “ding!” my dad saw the sign telling us that Phoenix was ahead and pulled over to look at the ‘damn map’ again.  We only retraced about eight or nine miles and ended up on US66 towards Williams.

Williams appeared in front of us as we rounded a bend.  We had a nice long drink of very cold water in the town square and, after stopping at another gas station, we were directed to a great campground not too far out of town.  We swung through a big western-style gate with a huge signboard overhead announcing the Bunnyville Campground and pulled up at the clubhouse.  We were assigned a spot right down on the water of a nice lake where the fishing was free.

My dad, my brother and I pitched camp in a hurry and dashed off to the lake juggling fishing gear.  All we had was spinning gear and everyone else had fly casting rigs.  It also appeared that the only ones catching anything had boats or rafts and were out in the lake.  Not a good thing for shore fishermen.  I think it was my brother that came up with the idea to put an one of those clear bubbles that you can partially fill with water.  Once that was attached, you stripped off about eight or nine feet of plain leader with a dry fly at the end.

Raring back and letting fly with the weight of the water filled bobber made for casts of heroic proportions.  We found we could easily get ranges of over a hundred feet.  Since the bobbers had just enough water to make them barely float, once they hit the water we’d just let them sit for a moment and then slowly reel it back to shore.

My dad got the first hit.  It was a huge trout that jumped completely clear of the water and splashed back down.  His drag started whining loudly as the fish took off for the center of the lake.  Laughing maniacally, he horsed that fish all the way back to shore.  It weighed two and a half pounds.

Invigorated by his success my brother and I began whipping the surface of the lake to a froth with our casts.  First I landed a nice trout and then my brother got the biggest one at just over three pounds.  We hated to quit, but all we needed for dinner was at our feet.  I got to clean them after what I think was a rigged ‘rock/paper/scissors’.

Our trout dinner was very tasty and afterwards we just sat around the fire and slipped into a food-induced stupor.  Day turned to twilight which didn’t linger very long because of the surrounding mountains and then to full dark.  In the stillness, between various noises from other campers, we could hear fish jumping.  We told my sister that it was the swamp monster coming to get her.  Yeah, I know that’s cruel, but what are brothers for?

The next day we spent all day running up one hill and down the backside of it.  Nowadays, I40 takes off at Seligman and runs pretty much due west to get to Kingman.  Back then, US66 took a path that went way northwest to Peach Springs and back down to the southwest to hit Kingman.  It was a very long trip.  When we passed trough the town of Antares, my mom remarked that it certainly did feel like the surface of a sun.

We finally reached California at Needles.  It had been a long trip and now our goal seemed a lot closer.  There was a state park west of Needles where we camped that night.  To get to it we had to travel up a huge dry wash.  The road was crushed gravel and it seemed like every mile or so we had to cross a big concrete culvert sort of thing.  My dad said it was for flood control.  Flash floods are a real danger out here.  Everyone looked to the skies for signs of rain.

This was the first night we actually felt cold.  Blankets were thrown across sleeping bags and when we got up the next morning dew had formed on everything.  We also found we had another flat tire.  This one wasn’t so bad though.  A sharp stone had cut through the tread and nicked the inner tube.  We had the wheel pulled, the tire off and tube patched in just under a half hour.

Today we should make Santa Ana if we were lucky.  One of the town we passed through caused gales of laughter.  We pronounced it like the train station announcers in a Bugs Bunny cartoon:  KooooooooooK-A-Mongaaaa.  I bet they really hate Warner Brothers for that.  At least we didn’t make “that left toin at Alber-kurk-ie”.

Down through the valley we went, passing grove after grove of orange trees.  Thousands of them.  Then, on some of the low hills, we started seeing the donkey engines of oil wells.  The smell of citrus trees gave way to petroleum products.  Cruising through Orange, we saw a sign telling us of the new complex opened up in Anaheim called Disneyland.  We had been promised a visit there as well as my favorite of Knotts Berry Farm, which was just up the road from Disneyland.  The rest of the way to grandma’s house was filled with speculations on when we would get to go there.

We arrived in Santa Ana.  It was a beautiful little town surrounded by orange groves.  (What else?)  My mom’s mother lived in a two story house that had a backyard courtyard and a small apartment over the garage.  My brother and I were assigned beds there.  This was a very cool thing because it got us out of the house and away from everyone we’d been sitting next to for the last billion miles.  We were to stay here for ten days also.

T.O.M.

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