Southwest Travel in the time of Covid-19 and Elections

It’s been a while since our last post, mostly because Covid-19 has curtailed everyone’s travel so there’s not been much to write about.

You may remember that in May we cut short our year-long European adventure so we could weather the Covid storm back in Oregon, where we felt it would be easier to deal. This has mostly been true.

A smoked out summer

Sadly, we didn’t count on the US west coast burning to the ground. As if Covid-19 restrictions weren’t bad enough, we also had to deal with intense unhealthy smoke for weeks at a time. We had been looking forward to a summer of daily bicycle rides and lots of socially distanced camping and hiking, but the dangerous smoke put a kibosh on that! All the smoke and ash from nearby fires as well those in Northern California and Eastern Oregon float into the Rogue Valley, and get trapped over our little town of Ashland. When our friends in the Bay Area lamented how awful the smoke was down there, we just scoffed.

Particularly tragic, the Almeda fire, which started about two miles from our house, killed three people, and destroyed more than 2,300 homes in the towns of Ashland, Talent, and Phoenix. While our house wasn’t threatened by the fire, the smoke was thick and acrid for days.

Based on this summer’s experience in Ashland, we’ve decided that the next time we move somewhere, we will take into consideration why a town is named the way it is. Using that criteria, we’ve already eliminated the following potential future home towns :

  • Booger Hole, West Virginia
  • Boring, Maryland
  • Bugtussle, Kentucky
  • Difficult, Tennessee
  • Dreary, Idaho
  • Grosse Pointe, Michigan
  • Hazardville, Connecticut
  • Hell, Michigan
  • Meansville, Georgia
  • Pee Pee, Ohio
  • Satans Kingdom, Vermont
  • Scratch Ankle, Alabama
  • Screamer, Alabama
  • Smelly Creek, Alabama
  • … okay, just all of Alabama

A speedy drive to Texas

In late October we decided that we were willing to risk a driving trip out to Austin, Texas to visit Joy’s mom, whom we’d not seen for nearly a year. We decided October was the time to do this before the expected Covid-19 fall surge kicked in and that kind of trip became much more risky.

So, right after our Covid-19 test results came back negative, we packed up the dog and our bikes and headed out to Texas. The plan was to drive there quickly, minimizing the number of stops in order to reduce chances of infection.

Even though we were traveling fast, we wanted to avoid major freeways as much as possible, so rather than drive down Interstate-5 to Los Angeles and then Interstate-10 to Austin, we took a route that mostly had us on secondary highways. Soon after entering Northern California we hopped onto California’s “Volcanic Legacy Scenic Byway” which took us through Shasta and Lassen National Forests (a great chance to see a lot of lava flows up close). Next, US highway 395 took us along the western edge of Nevada, through Reno and Las Vegas. We then drove US Interstate 40 which took us through Flagstaff, Arizona, and then on to Albuquerque, New Mexico. In Texas US-84 took us through Lubbock and eventually to Austin. Just under 2,000 miles over 5 1/2 days of driving.

We did squeeze in a few socially-distanced site seeing events, including the Petrified National Forest. Yet another National Park for the dog.

Because were were planning to spend a few days with Joy’s mom and sister, we were extra careful to reduce chances for infection. We brought our own breakfast fixings and usually opted for picnic lunches. For dinner, we’d choose restaurants with outdoor seating or ordered takeout to eat back at the hotel if no decent outdoor seating options were available. We also continued to take our temperature every day. (I’ve taken my temperature every day since late February. I am almost always at 97.7.)

As we drove through Nevada, Arizona, and New Mexico, we were pleasantly surprised to see how many people were wearing masks. All gas stations and restaurants we visited had posted signs requiring masks. It wasn’t quite what we were expecting. Texas, however, met our expectations. Few masks. Even the La Quinta hotel we stayed at in western Texas downplayed mask wearing (a sharp contrast to the other La Quintas we’d stayed in the four previous nights). Here is a list of state-by-state list of Covid travel restrictions as of mid-November. Kinda mind boggling.

With her independent living facility’s permission, we “broke Joy’s mom outta jail” so she could join us at a lovely three bedroom AirBnB in Dripping Springs, Texas, about 45 minutes west of Austin. Dripping Springs bills itself as the “Gates to Texas Hill Country”, and it sure was a pretty location. The house sat on the end of a hill and we had a lovely view of the area. We spent four quiet days at the AirBnB, enjoying the chance to visit with Joy’s sister and mom. It was amazing how great it is to spend time with family face-to-face.

Joy checking the hot tub temperature – we soaked & watched Texas stars each night

Southwest trip – hits and misses

After rushing towards Austin, our plan for getting home was to take our time, visiting famous First Nation sites in the Southwest, particularly those clustered around the four corners area. This part of the trip was definitely going to be all on secondary highways and back roads. We ended up spending several days in Bluff, Utah, which aspires to one day grow up to be a hole-in-the-wall town, yet has a brand new, fabulous resort that caters to tourists who want to experience all the nearby natural and historical sites.

We visited Bears Ears National Monument (at least the parts of of it that are still protected after “the world’s biggest sore loser” hacked off big chunks of it as part of his continual irrational spite for anything that President Obama accomplished).

Throughout our trip we were pleased to see so many billboards and political signs in support of Biden. On the other hand, given what we were seeing in the news, it was unnerving to drive by groups of intimidating-looking pickup trucks waving Trump flags. As of this writing, I’m thrilled to see that the official transition to adult leadership has started.

As we drove through the Southwest we listened to a Great Courses class on “Ancient Cultures of Northern America.” Nothing quite like listening to lectures about the area and peoples you’ll be seeing over the next few days! Joy and I were pleased to see that some of the National Monument and historical markers had moved away from the outdated terms “Indian” and “Anasazi”, in favor of “First Nation” and “Ancestral Pueblo.”

We were excited to finally get to Mesa Verde. What an amazing place. We did a few hikes but missed out on a few of the famous sites because the trails were closed for the season.

For the third time in the past 5 years, we’ve were thwarted in our attempts to visit Monument Valley in Arizona. The first two times, we were “weathered out”, once with a late Spring snow storm and last November with super-dense low-lying fog. This time, it was Covid-19. In a move I highly praise, the Navajo Nation has closed all tribal parks to visitors. At least this time, we actually got a glimpse of Monument Valley from afar.

We had also hoped to do some cycling somewhere around here, but the weather turned out to be way too cold. The area got hit with a surprise early-season ice storm which made for pretty ice decorations on our bikes!

Ice-cold bikes

We know we’ll be back to this region again to explore all the amazing First Nation sites and natural beauty. We still need haven’t successfully visited Monument Valley or hiked down to the Mesa Verde sites we saw from afar. Plus, we’ve still never been to Chaco Canyon.

The latter part of our trip took us past Utah’s famous Bonneville Salt Flats, and we got Brighton out there to run. He ran fairly fast for a twelve-year-old dog, but I doubt he broke any speed records.

We’re now back at home, hunkered down, and watching the Covid-19 numbers skyrocket. We’re looking forward to the days when everyone’s vaccinated and life returns to normal.

One thought on “Southwest Travel in the time of Covid-19 and Elections

  1. One of our favorite travel experiences has been two trips to the Hopi nation. Fascinating people. Ask for Gary as a guide.


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