2,545 miles, 13 days, 3 states, 2 people, countless sights!

Prologue

I committed to crafting a summary of this year’s ‘epic’ road trip within weeks of our return, and here’s what I came up with. We’ve decided to refer to it as our Serendipitous Loop.

The Story

Depending on the brain-damaged online mapping service you choose, the stated distance is right around 2,400 miles for the loop Martha and I began in mid-April of this year. The rental odometer read 2,545 miles when I drove back up to the AVIS drop off at Sky Harbor International Airport on April 24th, but then we did take the slight detour here and there, so a final tally some 150 miles greater than what was projected seemed just about right to me.

In a nutshell, here’s our route, (you can view a selection of trip photographs here):

Scottsdale, AZ
Tucson, AZ
El Paso, TX
Marfa, TX
Arlington, TX
Amarillo, TX
Albuquerque, NM
Santa Fe, NM
Winslow, AZ
Flagstaff, AZ
Sedona, AZ
Scottsdale, AZ

We departed north Scottsdale at 9:45 AM on Monday, April 11th, 2016, with the goal of returning to Scottsdale sometime early Sunday afternoon, April 24th, 2016. Being the consummate estimator I am, I turned off the keys for the last time at 12:55 PM on the 24th, a mere five minutes before our target arrival time of 1:00 PM! In between, we enjoyed visits with my siblings sandwiched in between art (and architecture)-related destinations in three different states.

Once we had everything packed, and with rental keys in hand, Martha and I eagerly began our journey – south on I-10 toward Tucson. We both have a lengthy connection to/relationship with Tucson, dating back to college, though we were there at different times. While our arrival was later than originally anticipated, (thus precluding any real exploration beyond checking into our hotel and finding something to eat), we did venture north on Campbell Avenue toward River Road, and eventually up to Skyline Drive, the next morning before heading southeast on I-10 toward El Paso. The view of the Santa Catalina foothills as we trekked north on the morning of the 12th was spectacular; puffy white clouds, bright blue skies and craggy slopes stretching thousands of feet up toward Mt. Lemon. I see yet another visit to the Old Pueblo in the very near future…

At 75 MPH you can cover great distances in fairly short order, and that’s just what we did on day number 2. We didn’t even stop for gasoline [no need to] with just over a quarter of a tank left as we pulled into downtown El Paso and checked into the historic Camino Real Hotel for the night. With a couple of hours of daylight left, we ventured up and down the streets surrounding the hotel mentally earmarking spots we’d explore further the next morning. At the top of that list was the El Paso Museum of Art, adjacent to both the Convention Center and the Theater District, (simply referred to as the “Plaza”). While we were admiring the historic buildings, (albeit with two of the largest towering over us as ghostly, vacant relics of a bygone era), we spotted several remarkable examples of adaptive reuse projects, including a relatively new restaurant called oishii.

We were completely famished, having skipped lunch in favor of a late breakfast back in Tucson, and crossed the threshold precisely at 5:00 PM. Our meal was fantastic, and we thoroughly enjoyed the conversations we had with the chef responsible for our sushi, the assistant manager and our server, all of whom were an absolute delight. Sated, we headed back to our room, but not before another 30 minutes of nocturnal exploration focused on the streets and alleys splintering off in different directions from the restaurant. While the urban core still bears the scars of a weak economy, there are signs of re-development springing up all over downtown – let’s hope it continues…

The El Paso Museum of Art was a completely unexpected surprise. It’s housed in an 18 year old building adjacent to the Convention Center right in the heart of the El Paso Arts District, and is free to the public. We were warmly greeted at the door, given helpful advice on how best to experience the museum and presented with the chief curator’s business card as we prepared to depart some two hours later. As we made our way from exhibit space to exhibit space, we witnessed museum staff interacting with visitors, a group of students being guided by the curator through “Knot: The Art of Sebastian/El Arte de Sebastian”, and we had a most pleasant conversation with yet another staff member in the museum store on our way out. In short, this was precisely the kind of museum visit everyone should have!

Sufficiently inspired, we made our way toward I-10, filled up the rental and headed southeast, first toward Van Horn, then toward Marfa, after exiting I-10 where it intersected state route 90. The skies were clear, with only the occasional cloud, and as we approached Marfa, the winds began to pick up. As we bore down on the tiny hamlet of Valentine, TX, I caught a glimpse of a vaguely familiar logo adorning the front of a single building off on the right side of the road

Hey?! …what was that?! I hit the brakes, slowed down, turned around, ventured back about a quarter mile and pulled off the road directly across from Prada Marfa. Wow. We had no clue where this art installation was, so when we happened upon it, (albeit at 75 MPH), the completely unexpected nature of our discovery really added to the novelty of the place. Was this what Marfa was going to be like? Were we going to have more of these so-called “Easter Egg”-type of encounters with art while there? Secretly, I hoped so…

After several obligatory photographs, including one of a motorcyclist who pulled over to ponder Prada Marfa while we were there, we resumed our journey in earnest and pulled into Marfa about 30 minutes later. The parking gods were with us this trip – we found a spot directly in front of Hotel Saint George, snatched it, stumbled out of the vehicle, were warmly greeted by Mr. Wiley, an author who lives in Marfa, and made our way into the lobby. While we were checking in, we also booked dinner reservations at Cochineal, then began exploring on foot, first perusing the shelves of Marfa Book Company located in the same building as the hotel, then venturing a block or two in each direction, and finally back to Bar Saint George for a glass of wine before freshening up for dinner, a pleasant two block walk from the hotel.

Thursday was devoted to learning more about Donald Judd, first by taking the so-called “Full Collection” tour, (organized by the Chinati Foundation), at the Chinati Foundation, and then taking the so-called “Block” tour later that afternoon, (organized by the Judd Foundation), to see Judd’s home, library and studio spaces. Wow. What a day, what a day indeed… Proportion, symmetry, precision and, (in more than one case), the complete absence of the maker’s hand, just as Donald Judd had prescribed. But these weren’t sterile, white galleries occupied by equally sterile fabrications. Quite the contrary. Rather, they were thoughtfully enclosed volumes of space entirely suited to the minimalistic artwork they housed. We were fortunate to have an extremely small group for our particular tour – four people in all – inclusive of our extremely knowledgeable docent, Chris. As we gathered at the edge of the meadow stretching toward “15 untitled works in concrete, 1980-1984”, Chris recapped the origins of Fort D.A. Russell, Judd’s exploration of the southwest and the early financial support from the Dia Art Foundation. I should mention there is a strict no photography allowed policy at Chinati – completely understandable when you think about Judd’s desire for the viewer to be fully “present” when viewing the work.

We made our way into the first of two buildings housing “100 untitled works in mill aluminum, 1982-1986”, and immediately sank into a contemplative mood. Martha was particularly struck by the illusions created by the late morning light sweeping into the space and the ephemeral effect it had on the planes comprising each of the works. Edges disappeared, surfaces took on liquid-like properties, the ever-changing light and shadow created by the works compelled our group to wander slowly through the space, studying each of them carefully. We emerged from the far end of the second artillery shed, then headed to the one set of barracks devoted to rotating exhibitions, then on to barracks featuring work by Carl Andre, Ilya Kabakov, Richard Long and David Rabinowitch. “School No. 6, 1993” by Ilya Kabakov was easily the most haunting of the series of exhibits we saw that morning. Imagine an abandoned Soviet-era building still littered with artifacts offering hints of the apparent duality that existed in Russia at the time, and you’ll get an idea of what’s there. We left in silence.

Next, we met our docent back in town and toured the installation of John Chamberlain’s 22 sculptures in painted and chromium-plated steel is housed in the former Marfa Wool and Mohair Building in the center of Marfa. The building, now segmented into three spaces, (two large, one small), offered sufficient space around each of these monumental sculptures so they could be enjoyed individually, and then collectively as one walked the perimeter, (or to either end), of the building itself.

After a relaxing break for lunch – and a brief detour to a gallery we’ve been talking about ever since – we convened once more at the Chinati Foundation grounds to complete the full collection tour that afternoon. We began with a series of six barracks devoted to Dan Flavin’s “untitled (Marfa project), 1996”. If you don’t believe in the age-old adage “…your eyes can play tricks on you…”, I invite you to carefully meander through these six buildings – you’ll be a believer after doing so, of that I’m certain! We then toured buildings devoted to works by Ingólfur Arnarsson, Roni Horn, Carl Andre, John Wesley and then onto an outdoor sculpture by Claes Oldenburg and Coosje van Bruggen, before returning to the Foundation’s offices and museum store.

We had just enough time to make our way to 400 West El Paso Street, (where the so-called “Block” tour was to begin at 4:30 PM), to join a group of 15 to 20 enthusiasts for an hour-long tour of Judd’s two libraries, two exhibit spaces with early and/or prototypical works, the house and several Judd-designed outdoor features including a swimming pool and private garden. Martha and I came away from this experience with a better understanding of how Judd approached the creative process, because we were offered a glimpse of how the artist chose to live in his own personal spaces, how he chose to arrange his libraries, found objects and even his own works in the two exhibit spaces. An enigmatic figure, to be sure.

I purposely skipped over speaking about inde/jacobs Gallery earlier, not wanting to interrupt the story about our visit to Chinati, but if you find yourself in Marfa, run, do not walk, to see this magical space. The story of how Vilis Inde and his partner, Tom Jacobs, partnered with Claesson Koivisto Rune to create the building now known as inde/jacobs Gallery resulted in a marvelous book and print set, (one of which is now at the Byrne residence), and is briefly described on their website – check it out!

It was approaching 6:00 PM and we were spent. Time to pause, refresh and reflect over dinner. …off to the hotel we went!

Simply stated, dinner at LaVenture was spectacular! Chef Alison Jenkins is making magic happen in the kitchen… Our meal began with a glass of champagne – an absolutely wonderful gesture on the part of chef – and just kept getting better all night long. If you can only fit one dinner into your schedule while in Marfa, make sure it’s at LaVenture!

The next morning we began one of the two longer drives of the entire trip – the GPS indicated about seven hours – so we decided to start a little earlier than we would otherwise. We left Marfa on state route 17, heading toward Ft. Davis, then made our way along the valley floor through the Davis Mountains, which was easily the most picturesque portion of our trip to that point. As we continued along state route 17 toward Pecos, the landscape flattened out, and about two hours later we merged back on to I-10, heading east toward Dallas & Ft. Worth.

As I mentioned earlier, this trip served multiple purposes, not the least of which was to visit my siblings, all of whom happen to live in, or around, Arlington, TX. We were also retrieving the family’s archive of photographs which had been safely stored since our mother’s passing, now three years ago. The plan is to sort them, place them back in the acid-free boxes they’ve been resting in these three years, and then send them to the appropriate sibling – well, that’s the plan.

Lastly, and most importantly, we made visiting with my youngest sister a top priority, particularly in view of her recent breast cancer diagnosis. Her oncologist is absolutely first-rate, (as is every member of Rebecca’s treatment/support team), and the prognosis is uncharacteristically positive/upbeat. It seemed our three days whisked by in the blink of an eye, but the time spent with family was clearly the highlight while in Arlington.

As we pointed the now fully-packed rental westward for the first time on this trip, the blustery skies seemed to suit the situation – while not ideal, our family would persevere, knowing there were better days ahead. Inspiration? It was Rebecca! We’re all simply in awe of what she can do day in and day out, apparently without suffering fatigue, or nausea, to the extent so many others following a similar course of treatment do.

Here’s to my courageous sister, Rebecca, you go girl!!!

State Highway 287 may top my list of extraordinary stretches of asphalt in this country. A 75 MPH speed limit, almost no traffic, well-behaved drivers of all shapes and sizes, and rolling hills covered with spring grasses stretching to the horizon. The miles clicked by effortlessly, and we found ourselves in Wichita Falls right around noon. Maybe it has something to do with the Pat Metheny/Lyle Mays collaboration called As Falls Wichita, So Falls Wichita Falls, but I’ve always wondered about this small town. Now we got to see it, albeit for a little over an hour. We exited the highway, looped through the historic downtown district, wound back toward where we’d come from and stopped for a quick bite – we had more than half of day’s drive still in front of us, so no time to waste!

I happened to notice an interesting pattern on this lovely stretch of road. We’d find ourselves zipping along at the posted speed limit, then see signs indicating slower speeds ahead, 65, 55, 45, 35 MPH… A small community, maybe 3 or 4 blocks long, then back up to 75 MPH in 10 MPH increments, and off we’d go. Maybe 45 minutes later, sometimes an hour, this pattern would repeat itself, again and again. Glimpses of rural settlements, seemingly separated by the requisite fifty(ish) miles or so, and endless farms in between. Hmmm… An almost imperceptible – emphasis on almost – tug as we slowly drifted through each of these tiny towns. Who would we meet here if we were to stop? What would they tell us about their lives? Were there threads connecting where we were presently to where we’d been earlier in the day? Hmmm… The skies cleared, and as the sun began to set, we merged on to I-40 and slipped into Amarillo for the night.

My single largest regret about Amarillo, TX is/was that it remains a complete mystery to me. I’m embarrassed to admit we sailed right by Cadillac Ranch the following morning, (an oversight on my part), opting to depart for Albuquerque – with maybe a little too much zeal – and skipped our chance to explore the downtown area as well. Maybe we’ll find ourselves in this region again at some point in the future – I sure hope so!

The transition from grasslands to mountains, from shades of green to shades of tan, red, yellow and even white happened while we were trekking westward from Amarillo, TX to Albuquerque, NM. We’ve flown into ABQ many, many times, but we’ve never approached the city from as far east as we were now in a car. While we were familiar with the last twenty(ish) miles of our journey this day, having traveled on New Mexico state highway 14, (a.k.a. the Turquoise Trail), between Albuquerque and Santa Fe several times before, approaching the Sandia Mountain range from so far away was a completely new experience. In keeping with our general theme of perfect timing, we arrived on the eastern edge of downtown just in time for lunch. 🙂 After a quick consult with Martha, we decided to give The Grove a try, and boy howdy, am I glad we did! We both glanced at each other as soon as we stepped inside – it felt like we were back in northern California – and that feeling didn’t dissipate at all – magical, just magical…

The drive from The Grove to Los Poblanos Historic Inn & Organic Farm was a short 7 miles, taking us less than 15 minutes, which meant we were going to have most of the afternoon to wander around the property and that was perfectly fine with us! As transformative as our experience in Marfa, TX was, I think Martha and I were both more excited about staying at Los Poblanos than we were about staying anyplace else on the entire trip… She had discovered this extremely charming inn while researching unique bed & breakfast-style accommodations located in the heart of Albuquerque many weeks before while planning our route.

…yes, the website contains some marvelous images of the property, the buildings, the interior spaces, and – of course – the restaurant, but you simply have to experience this place in person to get a feel for Los Poblanos. I mean, how often do you get to see a white peacock roosting two stories up in an ancient cottonwood just outside the inn’s guest lobby? This inn is most definitely on our “…we gotta go back soon…” list!

Breakfast on Wednesday at Los Poblanos was easily the most memorable breakfast of the trip: peacocks on the patio, fresh-squeezed orange juice so tasty the fruit must’ve been picked that morning, to-die-for baked goods artfully arranged on an antique cabinet set along the wall leading toward the kitchen and a menu chock full of delicious entrees.  As we were enjoying our leisurely meal, we happened to overhear our server chatting with an adjacent table occupied by a couple who had returned to Los Poblanos late the night before after spending the day in Santa Fe.  They were both extolling the virtues of the restaurant they’d dined at – a place called Eloisa.  Martha’s ears perked right up when the wife exclaimed “…and the chef, John Sedlar, well, he made a point of coming over to our table and visiting with us! He’s such a dear person and the food was absolutely incredible!”  Did we hear that right?  Did she say chef John Sedlar?

In fact, she did.  As it turns out – and unbeknownst to us – John Rivera Sedlar had returned to Santa Fe the year prior to open Eloisa, as a tribute to his grandmother, his New Mexican heritage and to take full advantage of the unique, locally-sourced ingredients available to him as one of America’s best-known purveyors of Southwestern cuisine. We – well, actually, it was Martha, not me – had a connection with chef too. You see, Martha had the pleasure of taking a cooking class focused exclusively on tamales from Chef Sedlar some fifteen years ago when he visited the Bay Area to promote the book, Tamales, co-authored with Mark Miller and Stephan Pyles. Alrighty then – we now knew where we’d be eating tonight!

As soon as we arrived in Santa Fe, we headed straight for Eloisa to see about making reservations for dinner – why take any chances? Heck, why wait for dinner? How about having lunch at Eloisa too!? …and so that’s what we did! While there, we had the privilege of meeting a guest staying at the hotel, the honorable Edwin A. Lombard, who was in town for a judge’s conference. Judge Lombard regaled us both with stories of his childhood, stories about his beloved New Orleans, and most recently, stories about his volunteer work with high school students. An hour turned into two, then two and a half, then as we were concluding our conversation, we suggested Cafe Pasqual’s the next morning for breakfast. Like I said earlier, serendipity, pure serendipity. …and I see a trip to the Crescent City in our future!

We spent the next morning at the New Mexico Museum of Art. Highlights? An absolutely marvelous experience with one of the museum staff members who generously spent a considerable amount of time sharing insights about the museum, the sequence of events that led up to the installation of the murals in the Saint Francis Auditorium during the early 1900’s and then toward the end of our chat, he described the circumstances that led to Medieval to Metal: The Art and Evolution of the Guitar arriving two weeks prior to our visit. It was a spectacular exhibit – I doubt there is another instrument with as rich a history, has adapted so well to the changing times or allowed craftspeople/artisans and performers to demonstrate their skills so effectively.

After departing the museum, we made a beeline for La Boca, another favorite of ours in Santa Fe. Happily, the menu was as inventive as ever, the staff as charming as ever and the space as quaint as ever. After lunch, it was time for a leisurely stroll up Canyon Road. Since we’d been in Santa Fe just over a year ago, we both remarked about how much had changed in that short stretch of time too… While we were pleased to see Chiaroscuro occupying a marvelous space formerly occupied by Allene Lapides Gallery, we were also disappointed to see a fair number of FOR LEASE signs in gallery windows along the way.

That said, I did have an audiophile “geek-out” moment when I wandered down Delgado Street and stepped into Chasm Fine Art + Antiques. In the front room I discovered a massive pair of Dunlavy loudspeakers, a VTL vacuum tube amplifier, a really sweet Merrill turntable and a phono stage I’ve never even heard of! It made for a fantastic conversation with the gallery owner, who said the “…really big Dunlavy’s…” were at home – yikes! …here I was oggling a pair of 6 foot tall loudspeakers – apparently these were the small ones! An unexpected aural treat, to be sure, especially since I was about to get my ‘table back with a brand new tonearm on it.

Dinner at Tabla De Los Santos Restaurant on our last evening in Santa Fe was the perfect conclusion bookending our arrival two days earlier, combining excellent food, an exciting wine list, competent service in a relaxing atmosphere – sheer bliss!

The following morning we reluctantly packed our suitcases and headed back down I-25 toward Albuquerque, then headed west on I-40 toward Gallup where we paused for lunch before continuing our journey toward that evening’s destination: Winslow, AZ. The terrain was spectacular – distant mountain ranges on the horizon, cliffs and canyons just off the freeway and strange looking rock formations pretty much everywhere we looked! What wasn’t so spectacular were the incessant winds blowing from the southwest, buffeting the SUV we were piloting, and really keeping the drivers of the tractor/trailer rigs on their toes. Needless to say, when we arrived in Winslow late that afternoon we were more than ready to call it a day, at least in terms of driving.

La Posada Hotel & Gardens reflects nearly 20 years of restoration work aimed at bringing the last of the great railroad hotels back to life. This magnificent structure was completed in 1929 by the Santa Fe Railway Company for the Fred Harvey Company, who managed the hotel for over 25 years. The noted architect, Mary Elizabeth Jane Colter, designed La Posada and many regard it as her masterpiece in the Southwest. The La Posada website is a fantastic resource – definitely check it out!

OK, I’ll admit to being completely spell-bound by the trains passing in both directions right behind the hotel all afternoon long. In fact, Martha and I spent almost an hour outside wandering around the southern portion of the property enjoying the gardens – and the trains – despite the ferocious wind gusts, until it was almost time for dinner. …and speaking of dinner, the Turquoise Room, with chef John R. Sharpe at the helm, deservedly ranks as the #1 dining spot in Winslow. We thoroughly enjoyed our meal and our server couldn’t have been more helpful. Happily, the menu contained a great many surprises so a return trip to Winslow, even if only to sample more of chef Sharpe’s inventive cuisine, isn’t entirely out of the question!

Flagstaff – something is happening here! Despite the fact we’d driven well over two thousand miles without incident, (well, almost without incident, unless you count a slow leak in the passenger rear tire which warranted a vehicle swap at Albuquerque International Sunport), the relatively short, but ridiculously challenging, drive between Winslow and Flagstaff was – by a looooong shot – the worst, worst, worst, worst, (well, you know what I mean), stretch of Interstate we traveled. I’m not exaggerating. The worst. The crosswinds clawing at the rental promised to keep both of us fully alert – and I do mean fully – until we were within ten miles of our destination, (downtown Flagstaff). I was ready for a shot of whiskey, (I don’t drink whiskey), by the time we found a place to park, despite it being only 11:30 AM! In all seriousness, if I never experience a drive like that again, it’ll be too soon. 😦 That said, we arrived intact, and for that I will be eternally grateful. 🙂

We met dear friends for lunch at Tourist Home, hence my earlier point: something is happening in Flagstaff! …and we’ll be back to see how it develops, especially when it’s 115 degrees in Scottsdale this summer! Properly fed, our group of four ventured onto the Northern Arizona University campus to tour both the art museum and the ceramics studios, then we all headed south on 89A to spend our last evening of the trip in Sedona before returning to Scottsdale on Sunday.

On Sunday morning, the four of us made our way back up Oak Creek Canyon to Indian Gardens Cafe & Market, where we enjoyed a scrumptious breakfast out on the patio, surrounded by spectacular red rock cliffs, leafy spring foliage and gentle breezes whispering through the trees above us. It was truly a sublime morning, and an entirely fitting close to our Serendipitous Loop, which ended about three hours later when we completed the final leg, a mercifully short, (read “120 mile long”), drive from Sedona to Scottsdale, without incident, just as we’d hoped it would.

Epilogue

It’s been several weeks since we completed our trip, offering me the opportunity to pause, reflect and ultimately commit my own thoughts to paper, so-to-speak. We’ve shared snippets of our trip with family, friends and acquaintances, returning again and again to our memories of Marfa, Albuquerque, and Winslow. Why these places? Hard to say. It could be we were inspired by the people who, through sheer force of will, made Chinati, Los Poblanos and La Posada a reality. …or maybe it was more about the buildings themselves, who knows?

…or maybe it was something else – something I haven’t been able to find the words to describe yet – if I do find those words, I’ll place them here. Enjoy!

P.S. If you want to see a selection of photographs Martha and I captured on the trip, you can do so by clicking here).

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