Photo of the month

Here comes the sun... Ben gets ready to take a picture of a splendid sunrise over the mountains at White Sands National Monument near Alamogordo, N.M., on Sept. 24. We are there with a couple thousand other early birds to watch the annual hot air balloon launch. It is just one of the stops on our two-week vacation across the Southwest. Photo by Glenn.

October 2005

Sept. 17: Our search for the wide open spaces of the Southwest begins with a 530-mile crawl across the Mojave Desert. Photo by Glenn.

Sept. 18: London Bridge won't be falling down again anytime soon, even after we've paid it a visit in Lake Havasu, Ariz. Photo by Glenn.

Sept. 19: Is it a cactus garden gone awry? No, it's Saguaro National Park near Tucson, the highlight of our day's journey through Arizona. Photo by Roni.

Sept. 20: They'll make a man of you in Tombstone, where the town sheriff shows Ben the cowboy way. Photo by Glenn.

Sept. 21: Ben is hard at work scouring the hillside in search of unusual rocks to add to his collection at Rockhound Park near Deming, N.M. Photo by Roni.

Sept. 22: A future Olympian in training? Naw, just Ben relaxing poolside in Las Cruces following an eventful visit to Juarez, Mexico. Photo by Glenn.

Sept. 23: The Organ Mountains rise in the distance as we take a break in our tour of Las Cruces and before starting our trek toward Alamogordo. Photo by Glenn.

Sept. 24: It's a day at the beach, sans waves. Ben and Glenn play a little Frisbee on the dunes at White Sands National Monument. Photo by Roni.

Sept. 25: Ancient Indian rock art surrounds us on a visit to Three Rivers Petroglyph Park. Photo by Glenn.

Sept. 26: Our trip really comes into focus for Roni as she shops for new glasses at Lenscrafters in Santa Fe. After some emergency frame repairs, her eyes were well equipped for the heavy duty sightseeing we did in the afternoon. Photo by Glenn.

Sept. 27: The Rio Puerco bridge on the old Route 66 resembles a giant erector set. We head west across the New Mexico and Arizona desert, sticking close to the famous Mother Road. Photo by Glenn.

Sept. 28: Roni and Ben venture into the Verde River at Red Rock Crossing in Sedona, Ariz. We shoot a ton of photos at the most photographed spot in the state. Photo by Glenn.

Sept. 29: Ben is too young for the casino action taking place in Boulder Station, but he's ready to tear it up in the video game lounge. We enjoyed a buffet lunch during our first visit to Las Vegas in 14 years. Photo by Glenn.

Sept. 30: You guys were gone for two weeks and all you brought me was a lousy stack of postcards? Ariel is curious about our souvenirs as we clean out the trunk upon our arrival back home. Photo by Glenn.

We always enjoy hearing from our visitors. We welcome your comments.

A road trip through the Land of Enchantment

October 27, 2005

One of the hazards of taking a long vacation is that we tend to take a lot of photos, and the desire to share causes us to spend more time than we anticipated sifting through the collection for the right images that tell the story of the places we've been. That's the main reason that this month's newsletter is so incredibly late. The other, less frivolous one is that life has generally been busy.

We could easily spend this month's missive talking about all the challenges of school and work, of home improvement projects gone awry, of the comings and goings of Mr. Gopher Too and our preparations for Halloween. All entertaining topics to be sure, but ones that will keep until the drought that is November, when we do very little of interest that isn't connected to a word processor and a yen for literary success (or perhaps excess).

Yes, it is time once again for our 30-day foray into the world of high-speed creative writing as we prepare to tackle National Novel Writing Month for a fifth year. Starting at the stroke of midnight Nov. 1 and concluding with the final tick of the second hand on Nov. 30, we'll be doing our best to compose a 50,000 word manuscript in some sort of logical manner that resembles a work of publishable fiction. OK, the publishable part isn't a prerequisite for taking part in NaNoWriMo, but it sure would be a neat fringe benefit if it were. You'll be able to track our progress during November by searching for our names over at the NaNoWriMo website. Roni and Glenn have both been "winners" of the event for four years running, so there is some incentive to keep the streak alive.

See, we're only three paragraphs into this thing and already we've drifted off topic. That's not a good omen for the month ahead. So where were we? Ah yes, topics we could have written about but won't. We'll add NaNoWriMo to that list and revisit it in a few weeks when we post the November update. What we really should be telling you about right now is this cool vacation we took in the latter half of September that had us racking up the miles on Glenn's Toyota Corolla.

You might recall a year ago when we hopped aboard a plane and made a two-week visit to the Gulf Coast region, visiting five states and telling you about it in a 33,000 word travelogue that accompanied the October 2004 newsletter. You might also recall that we said we probably wouldn't attempt another such journey for a while because of the expense and fatigue factor. As fun as road trips can be, they're also a lot of work to plan if you want to enjoy them to their fullest potential. Naturally, it took us less than a year to break that pledge. There's just something about taking a big trip like the one we took to New Orleans and the South that boils your blood and makes you want to go back and do it again. Not the same trip, but one with the same opportunities to enjoy new experiences.

That is what made us decide to spend this year's big vacation touring the Southwest. At first it was all about seeing New Mexico, because we had never been there and thought that a state whose slogan is "Land of Enchantment" had to be worth the visit. But plans morph as they evolve, and soon we had decided we needed to add some destinations. After all, if we were going to drive nearly 1,000 miles just to see White Sands National Monument and the capitol building in Santa Fe, there had to be time to see such things as the O.K. Corral in Tombstone, Ariz., the "other Texas" of El Paso, the transplanted London Bridge on the shores of Lake Havasu, and a huge cactus forest near Tucson. Somehow we found time for all of that and more, plotting a course that took us through one of the most desolate and mysterious regions of North America.

We drove the entire 3,212 miles in our own car, thumbing our noses at astronomical gas prices for the chance to set our own pace and see the things we wanted to see along our road to... well, wherever. As he did a year ago, Glenn compiled an exhaustive journal of our trip, weighing in at a novella-like 32,000 words. That's roughly 10 words per mile traveled. And if pictures are worth a thousand words, then the close to 300 images accompanying the tale probably saved us the equivalent of a James Michener novel somewhere along the way. That should come in handy when we tackle our own novels next month. The trip synopsis, broken into 14 segments, follows. Just click on the links to read more about places that interest you.

The Gehlke Family 2005 Southwestern Vacation Travelogue

Day 1: Oakley to Needles, Calif. -- Leaving home bright and early on a Saturday morning, we take a 530-mile jaunt down Interstate 5 and across the Mojave Desert to the glorified hotel room that is Needles. Along the way we fight rumbly tires as we travel through Bakersfield and Tehachapi and take in the desert scenery around Barstow. (Trust us, the write-up is more entertaining than the drive was!)

Day 2: Needles to Phoenix -- We cross the border into Arizona and head down to Lake Havasu for a look at London Bridge. Then it's on to Wickenburg and an unexpected stop for the night in Phoenix after the day's journey takes longer than expected.

Day 3: Phoenix to Tucson -- Our day starts with a look at Arizona's capital city and a walk around the capitol itself where public art is plentiful. Then we visit a mining museum before heading south on I-17 toward Tucson. In the late afternoon we tour Saguaro National Park with its miles of towering cacti.

Day 4: Tucson to Lordsburg, N.M. -- A drive through Tucson includes a stop at the visitor center and reveals some unusual architecture and public art. Then we take in a bit of history with a tour of Tombstone where Ben gets to hang out with a cowboy and we survive the tourist traps. It is after dark by the time we cross into New Mexico and find a hotel room in Lordsburg, which is swamped with travelers fleeing Hurricane Rita.

Day 5: Lordsburg to El Paso, Texas -- We hunt for rock specimens at Rockhound Park near Deming. Then we head in to El Paso where we finally have time to enjoy a swim at the hotel pool. We watch for news of the approaching hurricane and wonder where we will stay the rest of our vacation as hotel rooms become scarce.

Day 6: El Paso to Las Cruces, N.M. -- We discover that the friend of ours who called this place "ugly El Paso" was absolutely right. Our tour of the city takes us south of the border when we walk across the pedestrian bridge into Juarez, Mexico, for a bit of cultural immersion. We return to New Mexico to spend the night in Las Cruces.

Day 7: Las Cruces to Alamogordo, N.M. -- Our day begins with a tour of the famous plaza in Mesilla and lunch at the La Posta restaurant. Glenn gets pulled over for speeding (Ben loves this part) on our way to find a chile stand. We check out the world's largest metal roadrunner and stroll along the banks of the Rio Grande. We head north through the White Sands Missile Range and chow down at the Golden Corral buffet.

Day 8: From dawn to dusk in Alamogordo -- The alarm clock jolts us from bed at 5 a.m. so we can drive to White Sands National Monument to watch a launch of 25 hot air balloons. We play Frisbee on the pure white gypsum dunes, then head back to Alamogordo for a visit to the New Mexico International Space Hall of Fame. As night falls, we join the crowds at the Alamogordo High School football field to watch flames dance in the darkness during the balloon glow event.

Day 9: Alamogordo to Santa Fe -- There is plenty of ancient rock art to see at Three Rivers Petroglyph Park, where we have a picnic lunch and hike up a desert trail to see the preserved drawings. Heading west, we travel through the Valley of Fire and pass a marker for the famous Trinity Site. We hook up with I-25 and drive up to Santa Fe.

Day 10: Exploring Santa Fe -- Our plans take an unexpected turn when Roni's glasses break. We get them fixed at a local mall and then spend a few hours in downtown Santa Fe, looking at the Palace of Governors and the museums and art studios on the plaza. We go inside the state capitol and view its impressive art collection.

Day 11: Santa Fe to Flagstaff, Ariz. -- Starting the drive home, we pass Albuquerque and stop at the Rio Puerco bridge along the former Route 66. There are plenty of Indian trading posts and souvenir shops in these parts and we visit a few, along with an Indian pueblo or two. Lunch in Gallup, N.M., finds us with a big restaurant all to ourselves. We see a few raindrops as we pass through the southern end of the Painted Desert. We reach Winslow just in time to go "standin' on the corner" before darkness falls.

Day 12: Flagstaff to Kingman, Ariz. -- The bulk of our day is spent visiting Sedona. We head to Red Rock Crossing where we attempt to cross the Verde River with humorous results. Late in the day we are again racing the sun as we try to reach our hotel before darkness. Ben and Glenn go swimming with a crazy person at the hotel pool.

Day 13: Kingman to Barstow, Calif. -- We visit the ghost mining town of Chloride and then cross over the Hoover Dam. We get our first up-close look at Las Vegas in more than 14 years and are amazed at the changes. We have a buffet lunch at the Boulder Station casino and cruise down the Strip. We discover the world's tallest thermometer and eat dinner at a pancake house.

Day 14: Barstow to home -- We make it home in near record time, surviving the idiot drivers out to kill us on I-5. The cats are still alive, but barely. The house is still standing and we are all exhausted, but thankful for the experience of our trip.

That's the short version. If you want more then it's all available to you, unedited. Hope you enjoy following along with us.

In closing this month, we want to acknowledge the passing of Roni's father, Norman Ekstein, at the age of 69. He died Sept. 27 at a Florida nursing home following a long illness. Though miles and years separated us, he was an important figure in our lives and those of his three other daughters. It was an honor to have known him as a father, grandfather and father-in-law. May your pain be gone and your rest be peaceful.

Glenn, Roni and Ben

This page was last updated on Thursday, November 24, 2005 at 18:41 hrs.

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