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Wednesday, February 1, 2006

Arizona, New Mexico, and Texas February 2006

Have you ever had the feeling that you did not know what lie ahead, but whatever it was, 
you were going to make a great time of it? 

In February of 2006 I had that feeling. I took my two dogs, Scout and Rowdy, and my female budgie, Luna, on an incredible road trip to Arizona, New Mexico and Texas.

My only prior experience in those states was in 1983. My older sister and I drove to the Grand Canyon in a 1969 VW bug with 250,000 miles on it for a rafting trip on the Colorado River. I remembered the drive and the hot August weather. For this trip, I did not intend to go to New Mexico and Texas. That part just happened.

It was primarily was a business trip because I have a part-time home based business selling books online, in addition to working full time, and there were two giant library book sales in Arizona simultaneously. Since I have always taken my dogs with me on all vacations, at least for the last 15 years, taking them with me was a given, but since I did not want to pay somebody to care for my bird during that time, I decided to bring her along, also. It was unforgettable. This was the longest road trip for my dogs, and definitely the first for Luna.

I had made plans to stay at Motel 6 at nights because they allow dogs with no additional fees. Plus their nightly charges are very reasonable. We had spent many a nights in Motel 6’s in the past, primarily for long weekends and overnighters. Their locations are convenient, they have lower rates if you book online, and they have phone lines I can use to run my laptop on for Internet access. The only bad experience I had this trip at Motel 6 was in Tucson. That motel was very close to the interstate highway and the noise was unbearable, plus the toilet did not work.

Before leaving Hayward on Thursday, I had to have my locks changed on the door to my apartment because my dog walker had lost my house keys the day before. I grabbed the keys from the maintenance person, threw the new keys into my purse and took off, about an hour later than I had intended. That first night I stayed in Indio, California, just east of Palm Springs, and then onto Phoenix the next day. The country in that area is very beautiful. I love the desert. There were some mountains and the weather was clear and bright. I always meet the nicest people traveling on the road. They seem to not have a care in the world. That is the attitude I was out to achieve.

Scout and Rowdy were doing great. Since we live in an apartment, and they are used to a regimented schedule, I did not have any concern that they could adjust to the long drives and the motel rooms. We usually do go for long walks everyday, so I did figure on stopping at dog parks along the way. I found prior to the trip a couple of dog parks in Phoenix that we could stop at once we arrived. The one we picked was fabulous. It was easily accessible in a neighborhood park. It was big and flat with a separate area for smaller dogs. All the dogs were very friendly and the owners were even nicer. One dog owner discovered Scout’s fanaticism with Frisbees and played with her for almost a half hour until I noticed she had cut her pads from all the jumping and sliding. I stayed as long as possible until the sun went down and I still had to go check in at the motel. I was pretty hungry, so I was starting to think about a big meal with an even bigger Diet Pepsi.

When I stay in motels I reserve two double beds. At home I have a twin bed, and Scout has always laid claim to her spot on the bed, and Rowdy sleeps underneath. However, Rowdy is a “sleep on the bed” wanna-be, but he won’t challenge Scout for the spot. When we stay in motels, and I reserve two double beds, Rowdy has plenty of room to stretch out, relax and fall asleep. He has a look of pure joy on his face.

The second luxury that we all have when we stay in motels is that there is a TV. I don’t have any TV service at home, just a video player to watch movies. On this trip there just happen to be the Olympics also playing, which, next to Animal Planet, is one of my favorite TV shows to watch. I can tell that the dogs really enjoy the TV on also. I think the Discovery is their favorite channel when Animal Planet is not available.

When I was off during the day at book sales, the dogs stayed in the motel room with the TV turned on. I know their long hours in our apartment while I was at work definitely prepared them to be more comfortable in motel room. I know that they will be quiet and sleep on the bed. If I was not 100% sure that they would not bark and whine during the day, I would not be able to leave them alone in the room. It is not worth risking that the motel chain rescinds their policy to allow dogs. They are always on leash and I clean up after them. Since I live in an apartment, these habits are already formed.

After being in Phoenix for four days, I went down to Tucson for another sale that was supposed to last for several more days. However, I failed to read the fine print on the library’s website about them being closed on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday for restocking. They would reopen on Friday. Here I was a long ways from home with three days open on my hands. I did not want to stay in Tucson, and I did not want to go home early. I remembered seeing one of the signs on the way to Tucson that this same highway led to El Paso, Texas. I had always wanted to see Texas. I guess that El Paso would have to do for now.

New Mexico

The drive out of Arizona through New Mexico and to El Paso was absolutely beautiful, that is if you like desert and wide open spaces, which I do. The two trips I have made to Death Valley in the past, one in August and one in January, have provided some of the most enlightening moments in my life. On these kinds of roads there are a lot of official rest stops that are sponsored by local clubs. I have always liked these stops because they provide a snapshot of a microcosm of people traveling. You can see a lot of motor homes and travel trailers and in all shapes, sizes and designs. You can see people in all models of cars and with license plates from all fifty states and Canada and Mexico. I wonder to myself if these people are coming from or going to their intended destinations. Are they tired and anxious to get home, or are they, like me, still on their way toward their destination, and still full of anticipation? I personally also notice all the people that travel with dogs, especially at these stops. I wonder if they are novice travelers with their dogs and willing to do this kind of trip again, or are they old timers with the routine, and they can’t imagine traveling without their pets. The only irresponsible owner I ran across was a trucker and a Lhasa apso with a bad haircut that he allowed to run loose in one of the big isolated parking lots while he ran his truck. This little dog with a big time attitude ignored his owner as he kept yelling for the dog to come back. After about half an hour the dog finally returned once he had sniffed and peed on every bush in the area.

El Paso, Texas

I got to El Paso that night completely exhausted and ready to pass out. As I was unloading the truck and the dogs, from my room on the second story I saw one of the most beautiful sunsets I have ever seen (picture). It was deep orange and pink and it lit up the entire sky. That was one of only two pictures I took on my entire trip, which is unusual for me since I am the one to take a minimum of two to three roles on any standard one week time off. There was a fabulous Chinese restaurant next door to the motel, so after unpacking, I bolted over and bought a couple of delicious orange chicken and steamed rice containers with a big Diet Pepsi. I went back to the motel room to eat and watch the Olympics. What a perfect day!

Two days later I was driving back to Tucson to get back to the book sale that restarted the next day on Friday. There was a small casino in New Mexico that I had spent a couple of hours at the previous night playing video poker. Other than that, in El Paso I slept, did some laundry, took the dogs for a long walk, slept more, and ate more Chinese food.

There is a border guard crossing in New Mexico that all cars going west have to pass through. There was only one officer for all the cars driving through, so there was small back up of several cars. It was sort of like other state crossings, however, as I found out, this officer was looking for something very specific that I was na├»ve to. As I waited in line I could see he was waving on all the truckers and he was stopping all passenger vehicles. I thought that was odd. I was expecting the opposite. As I pulled up to the guard booth, the officer steps out in the bright sun with his sunglasses on and asks where I was coming from. I said I had gone to El Paso for a couple of days. I said that I had a few extra days while in Tucson and that I had always wanted to see Texas. He had a funny look on his face and said, “Mame, El Paso is not Texas!” He was suspicious why anybody would drive all this way just to see El Paso. I then figured out that he was looking to see if I was smuggling something or somebody in from Mexico, which shares a border with El Paso. I said, “I plan to come back when I have more time to see more of Texas.” He looked at the bird cage covered in my front seat locked in with the seat belt and he looked inside the shell of my truck and saw the dog crates. He must have been thinking “Crazy Californian!” as he said, “Have a good day.”

The drive back to Tucson was uneventful. I did have time to take the dogs to a dog park in Tucson before checking in at the motel. It was also big and flat with a lot of nice dogs and fun owners.

We were in Tucson for a couple more days. On Saturday, we drove to Phoenix for another small sale, and on the same day drove back to California where we stayed at Needles for the night. I could easily say that one of the scariest drives I have ever driven was the drive from highway 10 north to Needles, which is on the way to Las Vegas. We hit that road while it was getting dark, and the highway to Needles has no street lamps. It is also very windey and, in addition, it is a truck route. To top it off, I did not have enough gas to make it all the way to Needles. I could not see the shoulder of the road on the passenger side, if suddenly I needed to pull off. Even with my bright lights on, it was not enough light. I was just hoping I would make it through the next mile after mile. Finally, I came to a tiny gas station at a crossroads fifty miles south of Needles. The price per gallon was exorbitant, but I was happy to even have a gas I could purchase. I knew the dogs had to get out after the long drive, so, after filling up, I pulled off to the side of the gas station to let them out. First I let out Scout and then Rowdy. Now, usually, I would have put them on leash, but I was in a hurry, so I did not put a leash on them. Scout was no problem and got back into the car and into her crate. I think that Rowdy, by this time, had had enough of traveling and wanted to do something else. He just walked away from me while he was out. I called him, but he continued to walk away from me. He walked right into the darkness. Since he is black, I lost sight of him in a few seconds. I ran to the car to get my flashlight in my front seat. It worked for a few seconds and then died. I had forgotten to put it back on charger from a previous use to replenish the battery. I drove around the dark parking lot for about 20 minutes with my high beams and calling him, but there was no sight of him. We were in the middle of nowhere in the desert, and we were right next to a very busy highway with big trucks going back and forth. I tried my best to think clearly, but it was tough not to panic. I decided to go back to the gas station and leave my phone number in case he came back. He did have his collar on with his license and ID tags. I did not intend to leave, but to stay in the area until I found him. When I got back to the station, guess who was walking around, sniffing everything without a care in the world. I grabbed the leash on my front seat and tried my best to go up to him casually without causing him to bolt again, and I snapped on the leash. I let out a huge sigh! There was a man with a little girl who said they had been walking behind him thinking he was lost. They said they saw him just wandering around the area, and they were talking about bringing him home to call the numbers on his tags.

I drove the next desert fifty miles completely exhausted and overwhelmed, but eager to get to the motel and rest. The rest of the night was uneventful, and I headed out the next day for home. I was still several hundred miles away, but the rest of the trip was flat high speed highways. I did not arrive home until after 9 PM that night.

I had an extra day as a buffer before going back to work due to the President’s Day holiday. However, the adventure did not end. Prior to leaving, remember, I had the locks changed on the only door to my apartment. I had thrown the new set of keys into my purse thinking that somewhere along the next few days I would change out the old keys with the new keys from my keychain. That morning, as I took the dogs out for a long walk, I grabbed my key set lying on the table with the old keys still on. On my way back from the walk I had a sudden memory jolt that I had forgotten to change the keys, and that I was now locked out. I had my cell phone with me, which is usual for me to take on my walks. I called the on-site manager, but, due to the holiday, her message said she was unavailable for the day. While standing outside my door with my dogs, I recalled an old trick I learned while doing customer service at a shopping mall. Sometimes tenants would lock themselves out of internal doors like into an office. My manager told me about using a credit card-like card that is stiff but flexible to jimmy in between the door jam and the door lock to pop open the door. I found something like this in the form of an old phone card from a nearby neighbor, and popped my door open. If I had locked the deadbolt, like I usually do, I would have noticed immediately that the key was bad because the key would not have worked.

Anyway, the trip, looking back, was incredible. We had a great time, though I know we all were pushed beyond some present limits. But, who said that could not be a good thing! And I do plan to go back to Texas. I have heard Austin is a great city with a lot of wonderful dog parks.