Things are going well… so far.

Welcome to Roswell sign

Well enough, in fact, that after a little alien coffee break, I am going to press on to Albuquerque to knock some miles off of tomorrow’s drive. That way I can stop and see some cool things I found, or maybe just make it further this weekend so the week is easier.

I knew I would cross paths with past trips a few times on the way up, but I had totally forgotten about this truck stop in Clines Corners until I saw this gem in the men’s room. Almost to Albuquerque. Though last time I passed through here, I was headed the other way to Santa Fe late at night in a crazy storm. I again opted not to have my fortune told — don’t want to push my luck.

Setting Off Solo

As I finished packing up this morning, I found this pile of papers. It’s the drawing our host made when we stayed on her boat in Portland. I hung it on my fridge as a good luck charm and began the hardest drive day of the whole adventure.

My original goal had been Roswell, nine hours from home. But I realized that I could probably make it to Albuquerque which is a little closer to 12. If I did, I could either get in some hiking on Sunday, or potentially cut a whole night off the drive to Seattle. Either way, it meant doing 700 miles alone on fast highways through remote areas under desert heat in a car I’ve so far only driven to and from suburbs with.

Since the cars are still a secret, I can’t say a lot about the ride. And since today was a mile crunching day, there’s not much to tell about the drive, either… I did learn two things though: the Mystery Machine’s cruise control does not work, and the A/C really can’t keep up in the harsh New Mexico sun.

Fun to drive through this town again, next time I’ll find more aliens.

I missed having the other two around all day. For the friendship, but also there are two questions I miss being able to ask the caravan: “Is this road rougher than it looks or is my car falling apart?” and “Is that smell coming from my car or is it another oil rig?”

To stay entertained, I picked up both “volumes” of Peter Quill’s (Star-Lord) “Awesome Mix” from the Guardians of the Galaxy movies. The movie studio actually recorded these out to real cassette tapes! Quill is a space-faring superhero and he is always listening to the mixtapes his late mother made for him as a child. For reasons that will become apparent after the reveal, these seemed like the right answer to “I have a tape deck, what should I do with it?”

Other than those tapes and my usual music tastes, I finally got around to finishing up Season 1 of OPB’s Bundyville podcast. This is fascinating for a handful of reasons: I found out about this show because Oregon Public Broadcasting was a client of mine for about two years. The 2016 Ammon Bundy occupation of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge was a transformational moment for OPB’s digital news arm and it came up in a lot of our conversations. But the podcast and our roadtrip’s Bundy experiences go further back.

Remember that time we drove to the Grand Canyon Parashant National Monument? Well, we got there from Mesquite and passed through Bunkerville, NV on our way into Gold Butte National Monument. Bunkerville is Cliven Bundy’s home and was the epicenter of the grazing rights stand-off in 2014. Some of the land in question extends toward (possibly into?) the edge of Gold Butte.

One of several points where we turned around, others were even less inviting so I didn’t get out to photograph those. Notice the BLM sign — this is public land. Or it is supposed to be. This gate was not just closed, it was locked.

We drove right through where all that happened! So in retrospect, when we opted to not mess around with the likely-illegally-placed “No Trespassing” signs, we were, for once, making a smart choice.

Signpost at Mt. Trumbull, which we visited in 2017. Not sure how I missed all those surnames at the time.

Also on the podcast, I also learned that the schoolhouse and remains of the sparse community of Mt. Trumbull was largely settled by Bundy’s ancestors as they migrated southwest following persecution for their Mormon beliefs. It was a wild ride that OPB did a really great job with.

I’ve got a Washington Post podcast about the space race and early Apollo program queued up for tomorrow. We’ll see how that is! The rest of the drive went pretty smoothly and I made it to Albuquerque without any trouble. I think I’m coming down with an acute case of cautious optimism.

Islands in the Skies

Today I managed not only another major mile-crushing achievement by cutting an entire day off of the drive to Seattle, but I also squeezed in a few stops at some breathtaking places. As I packed up to leave Albuquerque, I discovered that the Mystery Machine’s primary lasting gremlin is an oil leak. Or it burns it, not sure which yet. So I dropped by an adobe-clad AutoZone for more.

From there, it was a short drive down the road to Walter White’s tombstone, the protagonist of AMC’s Breaking Bad.

Breaking Bad GIF - Find & Share on GIPHY

A mock funeral for the fictional meth-cooking star of Breaking Bad, Walter White, aka “Heisenberg” (played by actor Bryan Cranston) was held on October 19, 2013, shortly after the conclusion of the show. When the mourning procession placed a headstone at Albuquerque’s Sunset Memorial Park Cemetery, however, the relatives of the actual dead buried in the cemetery started to complain. Afterward, the grave was relocated to a strip mall where one of the fan funeral organizers owns a steakhouse.

Grave of Walter White, Atlas Obscura.

I left Albuquerque hoping to make it somewhere close to Salt Lake City tonight. Yet again, I find myself speeding through New Mexico on the way to someplace else — but I always end up frozen in awe of something. Today, that was Shiprock.

Deep inside the Navajo Nation, Shiprock, or Tsé Bitʼaʼí, means “rock with wings.” It’s a volcanic rock formation that I was able to see from almost sixty miles away. At its peak, it’s over 7,100 feet above sea level. “Governed by the Navajo Nation, the formation is in the Four Corners region and plays a significant role in Navajo religion, myth, and tradition. It is located in the center of the area occupied by the Ancient Pueblo People, a prehistoric Native American culture of the Southwest United States often referred to as the Anasazi” (Wikipedia). This region is full of mesas, plateaus, and small mountains, but this formation erupts from the middle of a plain, with three “wall-like sheets of minette, known as dikes, [that] radiate away from the central formation.”

Shiprock and the surrounding land have religious and historical significance to the Navajo people. It is mentioned in many of their myths and legends. Foremost is the peak’s role as the agent that brought the Navajo to the southwest. According to one legend, after being transported from another place, the Navajos lived on the monolith, “coming down only to plant their fields and get water.” One day, the peak was struck by lightning, obliterating the trail and leaving only a sheer cliff, and stranding the women and children on top to starve. The presence of people on the peak is forbidden “for fear they might stir up the chį́įdii (ghosts), or rob their corpses.”

Laurance D. Linford, Navajo Places: History, Legend, Landscape. (Wikipedia)

The high-altitude mountain air had been cool enough, compared to yesterday’s oppressive heat, but the sun just beat down on me while I walked around and had a snack. I got back on the road for two sites I wanted to see in Utah.

This meant clipping the southwest corner of Colorado for a quick gas stop in Cortez. Today’s more scenic miles have substantially increased my gas mileage. Maybe the Mystery Machine is trying to make it up to me for apparently drinking oil. I spent less time driving through Colorado, one of my most favorite states, than I usually do even on layovers in Denver International. It was a bit sad, but I was looking forward to another Utah adventure, however short.

My first stop was Newspaper Rock, an amazing collection of petroglyphs just outside the southeast entrance to Canyonlands National Park.

After that, I raced the setting sun past Moab to Canyonlands National Park. I was debating between there and Dead Horse State Park, famous not only for its views, but also as the site where Thelma and Louise joined hands and… “continued their roadtrip”… rather than be taken down by the law. (How have I not seen this movie?)

Thelma And Louise GIF - Find & Share on GIPHY

It felt sinful to only have about an hour here, but it would have felt even worse to skip it. I decided to make a run for the Grand View Point beyond the Island in the Sky entrance at Canyonlands in hopes of catching the sunset there. I immediately understood the name.

I made a silent promise to Xterra the Younger that one day, we will return together and drive whatever the hell that is, because yes!

I made it.

As it got dark, I got back on the road. Originally, I had planned to stay here in Moab, but chipping away at the remaining miles to Seattle would help this week go more smoothly. What I did not realize until it was too late is that there really wasn’t a good remote-work-friendly overnight option until Provo, about three hours away. So I shotgunned another few Diet Cokes and pushed on through the mountain pass. As I sped through, I could, without exaggeration, clearly see the Milky Way out the windows over the swiftly passing canyon walls.

Tomorrow begins a regular work week, so driving hours are after-hours. But I should still have some sightseeing time because the days are long and I work Central Time.

Good news from the other two — their cars were delivered to the tow yard in Tacoma last night! I’m glad, because vehicle shipping has always made me nervous. However, I must admit to an odd sense of smugness yet loss. They didn’t get to see all this. I cannot believe how far I made it in two days while still stopping to see so much. And I really cannot believe that the big trip starts this weekend.

Moreso than any other state so far, Utah has had the most consistent availability of tallboy Diet Cokes and I think I owe this place a spot of recognition for that excellence.

Time to fight Salt Lake City rush hour. Hoping to make it to Boise tonight.


I am torn between being royally pissed and incredibly amused. Welcome to Idaho! I got pictures of the other three welcome signs so far, but between it getting dark and my windshield being super dirty, the phone focused on the glass instead of the sign. Sad, but because of the distance between exits and how wide the median is, it’d add more than half an hour to get a second shot. I really should get around to fixing my windshield sprayer…

Made it to Idaho

Washington is feeling so close, rather suddenly. Work ran a bit late last night and Boise is still a pretty good hike from Salt Lake City, so I mostly kept moving. Mystery Machine seemed willing enough to rise to the occasion of Idaho’s 80mph speed limits, but damn it gets loud. Utah south of Salt Lake was dramatic canyons. Further north were giant rolling hills and grassy mountains with a lot of farming. It was beautiful.

Into Idaho, the interstate was up on a plain with mountains disappearing in the distance as the stars came out. Towns were far off the highway. Except for the occasional “Interstate Oasis” (collection of truckstops right on an exit every 75 miles or so), there was so little around that the night sky took over. Like if we didn’t hold tight to the road, we might fall into it. Whoever wrote the opening lines to Deep in the Heart of Texas should come double-check I-84 in rural Idaho under a new moon (almost) for good measure.

Speaking of stars, in lieu of photos for today because I only took the one, I have another podcast review. I listened to a few episodes of the Washington Post’s Moonrise. It begins the story of the space race and the US mission to the moon much further back than Kennedy’s “we choose to go to the moon not because it is easy but because it is hard” speech, which is where that story often starts.

Instead, host Lillian Cunningham opens with the rise of early sci-fi writing in the late 1800s which started gaining significant traction in the 30s and 40s as a pop-culture escape — first from the Great Depression, then World War II. As a quoted historian said, “Every change in policy began as a culture shift.” The political capital to shoot rockets into space with people in them would not have been available had people not started to dream about it first.

As scientists on both sides in WW2 harnessed “make stuff fly really high” technology for terrifying weapons, looking to send people into space was a dream that there was a better, unifying instead of dividing, application for such developments. And through the circulation of sci-fi writing like John Campbell’s Astounding magazine and other works like it, people started thinking about it.

Controversial Nazi scientist Wernher von Braun is largely credited with the most influential work on rocket technology and liquid fuels — which the Nazis used for war by creating the V-2 rocket, but von Braun had always wanted to use his work to go to the stars. After the war, the US brought him and his team over to augment our own research into rockets, again, primarily for weapons technology as tensions with the USSR rose sharply. This week’s episode ended school children learning Bert the Turtle’s signature “Duck and Cover” maneuver and the USSR launching Sputnik, bringing terror to the everyday lives of regular citizens. But along with that fear, a curiosity about all the secrecy combined with rising anti-government sentiments that allowed for things like the incident at Roswell. That, of course, dovetails nicely with Bundyville that I was listening to the other day.

Usually I’m following podcasts long after they “got cool,” so I’m unfamiliar with sitting on the edge of my seat waiting for next week’s episode. But I am totally hooked on this story, and I could think of no better environment to listen to it than barreling through the rural southwest under the clear night sky.

Boise takes food seriously

Not sure what I was expecting after my sandwich lunch was the size of a beach ball and entirely overflowing with fresh veggies and turkey. But that was hours ago, so I’m the name of “be a good customer if you’re going to work from a local coffee shop” it’s time for afternoon snack! It may end up being dinner because it’s heavier than my laptop.

I’m in Washington!

Boise, as it turns out, is lovely. After a pretty full workday there, I packed up and crossed into Oregon. Twice. So that I could cross back into Idaho because of the screw-up with the sign yesterday. I mean, so it was staged. At least I got my welcome sign picture! Because as of tonight, the Mystery Machine and I have collected five of them.

I also finally remembered to ask someone about yesterday’s Salt Lake City rush hour bypass. I took their express lanes, which saved me a ton of time, but I didn’t see signs about paying by mail. I did, however, see a number of signs about a $350+ ticket for violators. In Texas and Colorado, they just mail you a bill if you don’t have a tag. What I would prefer not to have is an outstanding ticket on this car when I go to cross a border or sell it. So I consulted an expert friend who works in that business:

I’ll take “should” in air-quotes. And he said it with such confidence. I’ll be fine.

About half way through the Oregon, I started seeing signs for a “bridge overlook.” Some of the bridges in Oregon and Washington are incredible, and cross over massive waterways, so this seemed like a great rest stop. This was… not a bridge of such stature… it went over a creek and a rail line.

It is, however, a historic bridge: the Upper Perry Arch Bridge. “Arriving into Oregon in 1916 with new innovative ideas on how bridges should be built to support the creation of a well-planned highway system, Conde P. McCullough because Oregon’s State Bridge Engineer in 1919.”

He promoted the idea that “architectural features and scenic considerations” factored into the selection of bridge type, and that if a bridge is plainly visible in a side elevation, it should have a pleasing profile.

He also believed that pleasing bridges would draw more tourists and tourism dollars to help struggling rural economies. This bridge, designed by McCullough, opened in 1924. After I-84 was built in the 60s, bypassing Perry, maintenance on this bridge slowed and it fell into disrepair, remaining open but severely weight-limited. Oregon considered replacing it, but given its historical significance, restored it in 2008.

Can you tell I had dinner while reading the plaque? George would be proud.

From there, it was about an hour until sunset, which happened right as I crested yet another breathtaking mountain pass.

And shortly after, my last border crossing:

I’m giving myself a pass on this one — the sign is on a bridge and it was 10pm.

Tonight’s podcast was an office chat contribution. I went to the #podcasts channel on the work chat to rave about Moonrise and saw a recommendation for The Dream. It’s about “multi-level marking” schemes. You know “pyramid schemes.” Except they’re run by companies with expensive lawyers who sue the crap out of anyone who would dare accuse Amway et al of being a pyramid scheme. Which I am definitely not doing here. (And I don’t have any money anyway, the Mystery Machine drank it all.)

The show starts with the “Airplane Game” (an actual pyramid scheme) in the 70s and 80s which riffed nicely on tropes of the human prosperity movement and prosperity gospel types. Moving on to current companies that follow the MLM structure, the actual products are mostly immaterial — the podcast discusses the rise of this type of company, how gender politics and economics caused such a sharp rise among women specifically, and their origins as a reconfiguration of the traveling salesman model. One of the producers of the show even signed up to sell makeup for one of these brands to see how it works.

Host: “Wait, so in the name of offering you advice on selling at events, your ‘upline’ just sold you on a thousand dollars in product… which she’s going to get a cut of.”

Producer: “… I had actually forgotten that until you said it just now. I am so embarrassed! I went into this knowing that’s exactly how this would work and even then I fell for it.”

I did not expect to find this so fascinating, but my Facebook feed has always had at least a few people hawking miracle cures, jewelry, and beauty products for these companies. A look into this world and its history was an interesting way to pass a few miles.

I pulled into Yakima at a reasonable hour. I’m pleased with my overnight stop! My usual routine on a “work from the road on the way to a vacation” trip involves deciding at about 10 or 11 how far I think I can responsibly make it on a “school night.” Then I’ll book whatever is left on that falls in the “acceptable” range on a scale from “dirt cheap motel” to “great place to use as a remote-work office.” I ended up just outside Yakima at a Baymont, which isn’t particularly fancy, but I have a balcony with a door that opens and a view of a little river!

Tomorrow night’s drive into Seattle is going to be pretty short, which is good, because I need a little extra time for work and starting to tie things up. It’s so close!