Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Santa Barbara to the Southwest

Santa Barbara Botanical Garden Signage
As I approached Santa Barbara I made sure to stop at the local state parks to see if there was camping availability. All the state parks were empty and had a steep price of $45 a night for tent camping. The sun was threatening to set and I wanted to stop at the Santa Barbara Botanic Native Gardens before they closed. I arrived with an hour to spare. I walked around and learned about the native California plant life and shot some imagery. This is a very informative and well kept garden.  I was impressed. While I was there, I texted my friend Darin who happened to be working a gig in SB for the next several nights.  I told him once I found a campsite it would be great to meet up for dinner.

The garden closed. As I began suiting up to get on the cycle,  a man in a golf cart approached me.  His name badge read: Head Gardener.  I complimented the garden and asked him if he knew any places nearby I could camp... for less than 50 bucks. He called over his brother-in-law, also an employee of the garden. They started conversing about the questions amongst themselves and then quickly asked where in PA I was from.  Philly, I replied. They asked, "Where in Philly"? Huh I thought, I said, uhmmmm originally from the Northeast, now I reside near the art museum. They asked, "where in the Northeast, near Levick Street?".  I was shocked.  Levick street is 2 blocks from where I grew up, I said with excitement!!  It would turn out these two Northeast Philly natives moved to Santa Barbara in the early 70's and are now native plant stewards here at the botanical gardens.. These two were my kin. I told them about my project, and for a second, the young and old generation of Northeast Philadelphia shared a proud moment as our passions seemed to blindly align.

While reminiscing over Philly in general I received a text from Darin. He had plenty of room in his hotel suite to accommodate me and gave me the address. I told my brethren from the NE that it turns out I won't be needing to camp after all. They asked the name of the hotel.  When I told them it was the Bacara, they both gasped. The Bacara is a five star spa and hotel, they said.  I bid  goodbye and told them I would email a link to my project for future reference.

Darin met me in the parking lot of this Santa Barbara Spa and Hotel. The night before I was renegade camping in Big Sur, tonight I would be chillin in luxury. Darin and I went out to eat and caught up on each others artistic endeavours. He has been in the process of rebuilding an Airstream camper. Exploration is a priority for him and having an sustainable airstream will allow it to happen off the grid. very inspiring.

He invited me to stay for the next couple of days and take advantage of the hotel room as he couldn't and would be working the whole time.  Instead I left the next morning. I was eager to get back on the road and begin heading east towards the southwest. I had lunch in SB and by 1:00 PM I was headed due east towards the mojave desert.

I had half a tank of gas went I came to the exit for the mojave desert national forest. It was already dark. The sign read 20 miles to the campground. That's at least 40 miles (up and back) and there was no sign for the nearest gas station. I had no choice.  In the dark I rode to the campground at a leisurely pace of 35 mph. I arrived to be the lone person spending the night. I set my tent and gear under the illumination of my head lamp, opened my two legged elite camping chair, pulled out the bottle of deerhammer whitewater whiskey I have been traveling with since I left Colorado and began to star gaze. This had been the best view of the stars I have yet to see. There was no moon, just the distance glow of las vegas way into the northern horizon. The next morning I barely made it the nearest gas pump, 60 miles from the campground. My destination, and what would be home base for the next 4 days was flagstaff, AZ.  Arizona has 3 eco-regions on my agenda, and two of them I had yet explored.

All of a sudden I realized I was traveling parallel to historic route 66. When I pulled into Kingsman, AZ I had a bite to eat in a gaudy neoned 50's styles diner. It was an overboard exaggeration on how we imagine a 50's style diner to be. The food was not the focus.  I wondered across the street to the visitor center.  On display was the archive and equipment from Arizona Highway's first and most famous photographer, Carlos Elmer. It was more like a shrine. I was excited to learn about this gentleman and appreciated every word in reference to his lengthy career.

Before sunset I arrived to Flagstaff, AZ. My good friend Lee was expecting me. Lee is an old Philly friend who moved to Flagstaff 3 years ago to be with his daughter. Lee is an exceptional artists and has built a steadfast business doing artistic and graphic production for Golf. He is responsible for the official logo and poster of such golf events as The US Open, British Open, Womans OPEN, etc. He is a master of his craft and an inspiration to be around. His art studio is located in the heart of historic downtown Flagstaff.  It overlooks the public square bordered by restaurants, bars and galleries. This would be were I would make base camp for the next several days.

Flagstaff Arboretum
The next day Lee had plans to go camping in Sedona with his daughter Fiona and some friends. He invited me to join him, but I had my own agenda. While in Flagstaff I took a day trip to the Grand Canyon.  I toured the local Arboretum and inquired about native plants. They had a nice native grass and lawn demo garden along with some other highlights....that may or may not have included native plants. I wasn't able to get much help from the staff, but that might have been timing. The arboretum is small but heck, it's better that not having one at all.  I also went to Sedona one afternoon and checked out that region. Another afternoon had me hikin in the foothills of Flagstaff proper. And of course I was shooting what I hope to be native plants.

The day I was planning on leaving, my buddy Len from Colorado agreed to meet me in Flagstaff and travel with me south to Tucson. He was only 8 miles north of Flagstaff when he called to inform he suffered a flat on the rear tire.  I drove out to help him fix the tire. It took us about an hour to replace the tires tube only to discover the replacement had a leak as well.  We realized that once the tube was installed.  Ooops. I called a local cycle place, told them the situation, and drove the rear wheel to the shop.  They fixed the tire and I drove it back to Len on the side of the highway. This was a 4 hour ordeal, so we decided to just spend the night in Flagstaff and head out early the next day.

The next morning we were off to Tuscon by way of Sedona and the Tonto Forest. It was the long way to Tuscon but the most fun on a bike for sure. Sedona is pure eye candy.  We stopped in Prescott to check out the infamous Whiskey Row. We ate lunch in the legendary Palace Hotel. The short and sweet is that whiskey row had no high end boutique whiskey joints at all.  Len is connoisseur of whiskeys and I like to drink them. We were appalled. We even asked around and the answer was, naw. It was 3 hours still to Tucson.

Jerome, AZ
We stopped in the middle of the Tonto Forest at what seemed to be the only lake in Southern Arizona. We fished  and swam with cool relief from the temps that were nearing the mid 90's.  Once again, for the 7th time now, I did not catch a fish. The sun was beginning to set so we headed south again. About 60 miles from Tuscon I lost sight of Len in my rear view. By this time is was dark. I slowed down and waited for him.  I received a text that read, "hey, something is wrong with my bike".  I turned around and found Len roadside, again.  This time the teeth on his front chain sprocket had completely wore away. Not only was this odd, but it was dangerous.  No matter, I would ride behind him with my blinkers on and he rode 10mph for another 10 miles until all the teeth were gone.  We were 1/4 mile from a town AAA didn't even have on their map.  It wasn't a town, it was a gas station, motel and mexican restaurant.  Luckily I have bike/rv towing with AAA, so we called and scheduled a tow to Tucson the next morning.

Saguaro National Park
Len rode with three tow truck drivers to Tucson.   I took my time and enjoyed the ride on my cycle. I hadn't been in Tuscon for almost 10 years. I have a unique relationship with the Sonoran desert. When I got into town I went straight to the famous hotel congress and had breakfast. I met Len at the Kawasaki dealership around noon . Once he was all set up, we went for a walk on the campus of University of Arizona. I love this small campus and it has a special highlight. It houses the Center for Creative Photography. The CCP has a gallery and resource library.  I tried to get someone to let me into the archives while I was there but they wouldn't allow it without an appointment.   I even called the head archivist and told her my story, the project, etc.  Still, nothing.  She said it's no longer open to the public.  I'd like to know why and will inquire about this policy later. 

We camped in the Suguaro National Forest that evening. Spectacular. We also managed a ride through some Suguaro Cacti on a dirt road.  Check out the video!

The next morning I did my Native Project thing and photographed numerous native southern arid-desert plants. I made the campground bathroom my studio for a couple hours.  You do what you need to do sometimes. After that, we headed out toward Silver City and we took the long way there!

Near Silver City
By time we made it to Silver City (by way of another big lake where I again caught no fish) it was dark. Len had to leave first thing in the morning to start heading back North to Colorado and I would begin my decent south to Austin, TX.