Knitting in the car has transformed road trips for me. The meditative nature of the repetitive motion and the feeling of productivity quiet my busy mind, and lets me appreciate the scenery, the radio and the lazy conversations.
Making this raglan hoodie for my nephew (in Cascade Superwash Paints), kept me occupied for the entirety of our most recent road trip, from Las Vegas to Santa Fe, loosely following the route of the mostly demolished Route 66. It was the perfect road trip and the perfect road project: requiring just two skeins, two sets of needles (circular and DPNs) and knit in one smallish piece, that fit easily in my hands and my luggage. I started and finished this sweater, while watching the surreal, constantly changing scenery of the American Southwest. Driving in Nevada, Arizona and New Mexico really should be on everyone’s bucket list.
We started our Southwest road trip with a single night at the Tropicana in Las Vegas. I was prepared to hate Vegas, but I found myself completely seduced by the tacky fun of it all. The crazy buildings, the big hotel rooms and bigger portions, the novelty cocktails and of course, the Cirque de Soleil are all really fun in moderation. It’s hard not to love Las Vegas, just a little. It wasn’t until we had water up to our knees the next morning in Las Vegas, that we discovered that August is monsoon season in the dry Southwest. Undeterred, we hit the REI and Whole Foods for camping supplies, and hit the road.
Our next stop was the Grand Canyon. Along the way, we spotted the Hoover Dam and all of the kitsch that the Route 66 had to offer, with concrete wigwam hotels, and neon lights advertising cowboy steaks. I wish we had allowed ourselves more time; our compressed 8 day itinerary didn’t leave a lot of room, and we didn’t give the Canyon or the gorgeous alpine towns nearby nearly enough time. We did hike the rim of the canyon, and camp nearby. I was astounded by how easy and cheap it is to find camping accommodation in the Southwest, anyone contemplating a road trip should have a tent stowed in their luggage. We had planned and spontaneous camping nights along the way, and they were fantastic – beautiful surroundings, quiet nights and clean, warm showers dotted our entire route.
After the Grand Canyon, we caught one of Route 66’s famed attractions: the Petrified Forest. The Petrified Forest and Painted Desert are well worth a stop. The million year old trees, and blood red desert landscapes really need to be seen to be believed. We simply turned off the Interstate, wandered the paths (which are all reasonably short) and had a picnic lunch overlooking the Painted Desert. When we crossed into New Mexico we lost an hour. (In the summer, Arizona doesn’t spring forward, so the time shift happens at the New Mexico border. If you are travelling in the winter, the time changes at the Arizona/Nevada border). The lost hour and the way too ambitious itinerary meant finding spontaneous accommodation in Gallup, New Mexico. Here, our Lonely Planet came through for us, and we camped in the shadow of the stunning cathedral rock, for $10! This campsite and the best tacos I have ever had (in Espanola, NM) were well worth the price of our Lonely Planet.
Our next stop was Chaco Culture National Park. Surrounded by many kilometers of dirt road, it’s easy to see why many tourists miss this park, but it was the highlight of the trip for me. Nearly a thousand years ago, the Chaco people built huge great houses in the canyon, the ruins of which are easily accessible by the ring road that runs through the park. The reason(s) that huge houses were abandoned (well before Europeans arrived in New Mexico) remains a mystery. While some travelers arrive in the park for the day, I strongly recommend camping. I have never seen stars like the ones we saw from our tent that night, and travelling across the dirt roads does not leave a lot of time for hiking if you only come in during the day. The scramble up the canyon walls to see the ruins from above is well worth the effort.
After Chaco, we travelled to Taos. The Pueblo there had been the major draw, but when we arrived, we discovered that it was closed to visitors for the duration of our stay. I gather this is a relatively frequent, and poorly publicized occurrence, but Taos is worth a visit either way. The gorgeous San Francisco de Asis Mission Church there was photographed by Ansel Adams and painted by Georgia O Keefe. The accommodations and restaurants are fantastic (especially the Love Apple, which served me the best meal I ate in 2012). The shopping is a thrill, the Navajo are world renowned for their textiles and jewelry, and I picked up a rug and turquoise bracelet there that I count as among the most beautiful things in our home.
A visit to the Georgia O’Keefe museum and the delicious Cowgirl Hall of Fame in Santa Fe rounded out our trip. My only regret is that we didn’t have the time to see more that the Southwest has to offer. Fortunately, there will always be more opportunities for road trips, and road knitting.