Dearly Departed

This is an emotional, personal post. I’m not sure when I’ll return to my travelogues, especially considering current events. Just a heads up!

On Thursday, March 12th, I learned that my sweet mother passed away. It still doesn’t feel real; the news was completely unexpected. We have had to postpone her services due to a variety of factors so I wanted to write something that documents what happened along with my feelings. Everything is so jumbled up right now.

I last saw Mom on Monday the 9th. I had recently returned from a trip to Illinois for work and brought some bronchitis back with me. Due to Mom’s weakened state (still recovering from her back surgery/pneumonia at the end of 2019) I didn’t want to chance getting her sick. Still, she insisted she come over and bring a few packs of Stacker B12 pills. For the last several months, she has sworn by these things. Samantha went out to meet her in the driveway; I waved to her from the dining room window. She was smiling, happy to be doing something to make her son feel better.

On Wednesday, I called her to tell her I was feeling better. She didn’t answer. A little unusual, but not totally out of the ordinary. I called again Thursday. When there was again no answer, I became worried. I messaged her neighbor, J.B., and asked him if he could check on her for me. Twelve minutes later, my phone rang. Before I even answered it, I knew.

Mom was gone.

Just like Dad. Gone without a chance to say goodbye.

I found Samantha in the other room, squeaked out the news and sobbed.

But there was work to do.

We got into the car and drove to her home on the north edge of Tulsa. Police and paramedics were on the scene. Other neighbors had gathered next to her porch, crying. Over the next hour or so the picture came together. Mom was fine on Tuesday; her friend Vicky had seen her that afternoon and others had talked to her that evening on the phone. That night, Mom went to sleep…and never woke up. No signs of any distress; she went peacefully, whatever the cause was.

Then, of course, I had to make the calls. I got through to my younger brother, Tyler, at his work in Cushing. I contacted Mom’s immediate family. After each conversation, it took all of my willpower to keep it together for the next one. There were people I needed to engage that I didn’t have contact information for. The time blurs together now…but eventually the authorities wrapped up their work. Mom’s body was taken. And we were left with an empty house.

Even though Mom and I had talked about getting her affairs in order, we never gave it the priority we should have. Tyler and I had a general idea of what she wanted. Imagine my relief when we found a small notebook that outlined a few things she wanted to happen when she was gone. It was incomplete and hadn’t been touched in about a year, but it confirmed that we were doing right by her.

Mom wanted to be cremated and placed with her folks in Barnsdall. We contacted the family church, set up the service, and announced it. I wrote her obituary and gathered photos. Tyler picked out some music representative of Mom’s eclectic taste. Considering the situation, everything was moving smoothly.

The World, however, had other plans.

The third week of March will long be remembered as the week that everything shut down. The delayed emergency response to the coronavirus on US soil finally began rolling in earnest. Gatherings were limited to ten or less people. Restaurants, bars, movie theaters, gyms, and other places were ordered closed to protect our most vulnerable citizens from infection. Churches started scaling back services and going online. It became clear that we had to make a very tough decision.

Several people that wanted to come to Mom’s funeral had already said they couldn’t come. I was concerned for the elderly friends and family that would be clustered together in mourning. The preacher had a sudden family development that would prevent him from officiating the service. You might think that all of this information would make the decision less difficult, but it didn’t.

So we postponed the service. We’re not sure for how long. The situation is changing hourly with this virus, but one thing is very clear: it’s going to be a while before things get back to normal.

Now, we get what closure we can from the things that are within our control. Cleaning Mom’s house, donating items to causes she cared about, keeping a few items that will serve as small tributes to her. Taking care of her affairs. Knowing she is not in pain any longer. Taking care of ourselves in this scary time.

But I miss her. More than words can express. She was so incredibly supportive, all the time. I’m still writing my speech for her service as if it were going to happen on Monday. I’m still putting together her photo tribute. I’m keeping her ashes in a special place, until we can all get together and celebrate her life.

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The Story of Thrifty

The eastern portions of 11th Street in Tulsa (also known as Route 66) resemble more of a rural highway than a city road. Homes and empty fields make up most of the landscape with an occasional church or small business hanging on to life. Near 133rd East Avenue, a sign on the south side of the road caught my attention recently.

“Crow Motors” it says above a phone number that is surely disconnected. But there’s also a small blue section that says, “Birthplace of Thrifty”. The lot behind the sign is empty; the only residents skitter away when I get out of the car. Is this forgotten concrete pad really the place where one of the largest rental car companies in the United States began?

Well, yes, as it turns out.

Leslie “L.G” Crow founded Thrifty Rent-a-Car with his wife, Freeda in 1958. A 1957 Volkswagen Karmann Ghia was the first car rented out and most of the rest of the fleet was made up of Volkswagen Beetles, which Crow called thrifty and dependable. In those early days, cars rented for $6 a day and $.06 a mile. Eventually, the cars on offer included Ford Falcons, AMC Ramblers, and Mercury Comets.

Photo courtesy of the Tulsa Historical Society

By 1962, business was becoming overwhelming. People called constantly and would come by when the office was closed, stepping over the driveway chain, insisting to rent a car. Crow’s friend Bill Stemmons wanted him to expand the business into a nationwide system, but Leslie wanted out. He sold Stemmons his fleet at value with an additional $1,000 for the Thrifty name. At the end of the year, Stemmons had opened offices in six other cities and operated a fleet of 140 cars.

Bill Stemmons in 1977 (Photo courtesy of the Tulsa Historical Society)

The business continued to grow. The first European office was opened in 1972; by the time Stemmons sold his stake in the company in 1981, the Thrifty Rent-A-Car System operated in approximately 500 branches around the world. The new owners, William E. “Bill” Lobeck and his partners, worked out a deal with Chrysler to offer rental services on their car lots. Business grew exponentially; the company went public in 1987. Two years later, Chrysler bought the company outright for over $200 million. Eventually, Thrifty would be folded into Hertz, the second-largest rental car company in the United States. The headquarters for Thrifty remained in Tulsa until 2013, 55 years after that first Volkswagen drove off the rental lot on Route 66.

Dollar Thrifty’s former headquarters in Tulsa (Photo courtesy of the Tulsa Historical Society)

Crow operated used car dealerships for many years including at his lot on 11th Street (his nephew, Jimmy D. Crow, worked for him before co-founding Crow Brothers Toyota in 1965.) Leslie Crow passed away in 2007.

Sapulpa Times advertisement – May 7th 1964

Bill Lobeck, along with his wife (former Tulsa mayor Kathy Taylor) enjoyed continued success in the rental car industry for many years and founded the Lobeck-Taylor Family Foundation. LTFF now operates Mother Road Market, a food hall on Route 66 a few miles away from the solitary sign serving as a faded footnote of local history.

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Mountains, Dwellings, and Gardens

Note: I meant to post this in October, but I accidentally left it in Draft status. Oops! Anyway, here’s the second part of our trip to Colorado. The first part is here.

Manitou Springs is just as beautiful in the morning as it is at dusk. Instead of neon lights, it’s the sunlight on the mountains that settles the soul. On Saturday, October 12th, Samantha and I started our day with breakfast. Not all breakfasts are remarkable (though it’s the best meal of the day, any time of the day) but the little place we dined at near our motel was literally worth writing home about.

Friends, Uncle Sam’s Pancake House is the bee’s knees. We arrived near 8:00 AM, which just beat the morning crowd. It seemed like everyone else that came in was known by name; some of them had their drinks waiting for them by the time they’d parked their car and come inside. Everyone was super friendly. Although I’m not normally a pancake guy, it would’ve been dumb NOT to get some with my normal bacon ‘n eggs. It was the right decision; EVERYTHING was delicious. Samantha and I were both very happy; in fact, it ended up being our best meal on the entire trip.

Since we’d started our day so early, we made it to the nearby Cliff Dwellings right at opening. These Puebloan structures were actually from the ‘Four Corners’ area in far southwestern Colorado, but in the early 1900s they were relocated and rebuilt as a museum. We got to walk in and around the structures, which made it easier to picture what life must have been like back in those times. The Anasazi Museum on-site had a lot of interesting artifacts and displays which further told the story of that particular native culture. The complex is well worth the small entry fee if you find yourself in the area.

Not far away was our next destination, Garden of the Gods. I’d visited a few times over the years so I felt like I knew what to expect…but I did not expect to encounter the fifth annual Fossil Day celebration. The place was packed! After doing a loop in the car, we finally found a place to park so we could take a short hike. It was shaping up to be a beautiful, sunny day and although Samantha had twisted her ankle at the Gorge on Friday we took our time to enjoy the scenery and a few quiet moments among the crowd.

Next on the list: Buffalo Bill’s Grave. It’s on Lookout Mountain in Golden overlooking the Denver area. I was surprised at how many Spanish-speaking families were on-site; I wouldn’t think a wild west-era showman would hold much appeal for that demographic. When Bill died, there was a dispute about his will and final resting place. An older version stated he was to be buried in Cody, Wyoming (a town he founded) but his most recent will stipulated burial in Colorado. Bill was buried on Lookout Mountain beneath several tons of concrete to prevent theft and relocation. On the surface, though, it’s simply a beautiful stone marker near a curio shop and museum.

We had a 40 mile drive to our next destination in Nederland: a 1910 carousel! The Carousel of Happiness began its life at Saltair Park near Salt Lake City, Utah. There it stood for nearly 50 years before it was moved to a nearby school, where it served local amusement needs for a few more decades. In 1986, someone bought all the wooden animals, leaving only the frame and mechanism. A Vietnam vet bought what was left and moved it to Nederland, where he spent the more than two decades hand-carving new animals. Today the restored carousel provides joy to new generations, complete with music from a cool 1913 Wurlitzer band organ. We took a ride, of course, and it was magic!

We stayed overnight at the Eldora Lodge, a quiet little motel nestled nearby on Coal Creek Canyon Road. A quiet mountainside evening was just what I needed; of course, the personal hot tub didn’t hurt either! The next morning, we ventured to Boulder to have tea at the Dushanbe Teahouse, a gift to the city from Tajikistan. What stunning craftsmanship!

The tea was excellent and the atmosphere was a delight; you can read more about the teahouse here. Suffice to say, if you find yourself in Boulder you should stop in. Downtown Boulder was a lovely place for a walk, too, with a great pedestrian mall and the scenic Flatiron mountain range in the distance.

Our last evening in Colorado was spent visiting our friends KC, Nancy, and their pup Spencer. KC is a photographer/videographer I met at a Route 66 festival some years back and relish any chance we get to visit. It was a lovely evening on the back patio, sitting around the chiminea telling stories. It was the perfect cap to our long weekend in Colorado.

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The Waldmire U-Haul

Originally posted to the Oklahoma Route 66 Association blog on 11/7/19

When it was announced this summer that the contents of Afton Station were going to be auctioned off, I was tremendously sad. Afton Station had been a great asset to Route 66, not just in northeast Oklahoma but throughout all 2400+ miles. It wasn’t just the old D-X station and the impressive Packard automobile collection inside that endeared it to everyone, but it was owner Laurel Kane and her loyal volunteers that really set the place apart.

I didn’t know Laurel very long, but we became friends in record time. In fact, it was Laurel that stood on the stage at Tulsa’s Cain’s Ballroom in 2015 and served as the officiant in my wedding. Her unexpected passing in early 2016 was a real heartbreak, both for me personally and for the Mother Road at large. I feared that Afton Station was not long for this world without her passion in residence. The shop and museum remained open for a time, but when David Kane also passed suddenly in late 2018 that was the end of the road.

Afton Station in 2016 with Ron Jones’ 1956 Chevrolet out front

On June 29th 2019, the day of the auction, I took the day off work and drove up to Afton. I hoped to secure some artifacts for the Oklahoma Route 66 Association and perhaps a small something for myself. Alas, my pockets were not deep enough to compete with the likes of Barrett-Jackson auctions out of Arizona and a few of the other attendees. I left that day disappointed on many fronts.

Imagine my surprise when I received a message in late August telling me that the item I most wanted to secure for Oklahoma Route 66 was once again available: the Bob Waldmire U-Haul Truck.

The U-Haul at Afton Station in 2019

Bob Waldmire was an artist and who I consider to be the prototypical Roadie. He spent a lot of time wandering the country (especially Route 66) creating artwork and speaking out in support of preservation. He turned the vacant Hackberry General Store into a Route 66 destination in the 1990s and was the inspiration behind the Volkswagen Microbus character ‘Fillmore’ in Disney/Pixar’s Cars

Bob adding the finishing touches in 2008 – photo courtesy of Josh Friedrich

In 2008, Bob painted a giant mural on one side of an old U-Haul truck for Ken and Marian Clark of Tulsa. According to Ken, Bob originally used the truck to move some items from Illinois (where his family runs the Cozy Dog Drive-In) to his off-the-grid home on the New Mexico/Arizona border. The truck was donated to the National Route 66 Museum in Elk City, but they ended up not having room for it. In 2012, it was given to Afton Station, where it sat until this summer.

Arriving in Afton in July 2012 – photo courtesy of Laurel Kane’s blog

The Oklahoma Route 66 Association is so proud to announce that this artifact has been secured in Chelsea, Oklahoma: Project Chelsea has stationed it near the restored Pedestrian Underpass. Travelers and roadies can continue to experience this beautiful work by one of Route 66’s most enduring artists.

Many thanks to Sylvie Kane, Samantha Extance, and Route 66 Germany for their donations that made this possible. Thanks also to Pam Stanbro and Project Chelsea for coming together and taking stewardship of this treasure. Through continued donations and support, we hope to restore the truck to working order and potentially restore the faded parts of Bob’s artwork. One step at a time…

The next time you’re in Chelsea, stop by and take a selfie with this one-of-a-kind Route 66 Artifact and tag #ok66!

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The Centennial State

Every year for our wedding anniversary, Samantha and I plan to take a trip. Not that I ever need an excuse to hit the road for a few days, but the celebration of our marriage (and our first date) is a great reason to spend a little time away from home. This year, we went to Colorado. It’s a state I’ve explored a bit over the years, but it was Samantha’s first time. Autumn is a fine time to visit!

We flew out of Tulsa at 6:00 AM on Friday, October 11th. I hate getting up that early, but it would essentially leave our entire Friday open for exploring. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve become a much more nervous flier, too. The sooner I can get it out of the way, the better. Though I’ve learned not to drink coffee before flying…it makes the anxiety that much worse. I forgot my headphones, too, so I just kinda sat there for two hours as the sunrise chased us westward. We gained an hour in flight, so it wasn’t even seven o’clock when we landed.

Although Denver had received quite a snowfall in previous days, all that remained on the ground when we arrived was a dusting. For that, I was thankful. I didn’t relish the idea of driving through the state in a four-cylinder rental car on poor road conditions. The sun had just broken the horizon as we departed the Denver airport and headed south.

I’d last visited Cañon City in the summer of 2013; my friend DeeDee and I were on a trip to Salt Lake City. I hadn’t yet developed (ha) the eye for photography I have now and I was amazed at all the sights I didn’t capture six years ago. We ate at a little diner on Main Street and walked around the downtown district, admiring the frontier-style architecture and vibrant community. I particularly loved a little sign that betrayed an evolution from a Motel to a Motor Court — though the place clearly didn’t accommodate anyone anymore.

At around noon, we boarded the Royal Gorge Route Railroad and took a scenic ride. The train snaked through the canyon alongside the Arkansas River. Unlike the Grand Canyon, this natural wonder wasn’t formed by centuries of erosion. The rocks here were pushed up by volcanic activity and had a sharper, jagged appearance. It was awesome in the true sense of the word. Even though it was still a bit cold outside, I made my way to the viewing car and spent most of the ride snapping photos in the open air.

The railway itself has an interesting history. Two companies (Atchison, Topeka, and Santa Fe Railway and Denver & Rio Grande Company) each planned to build the line through the gorge and warred for the right to do so. The companies even hired gunfighters like Bat Masterson and Doc Holliday. Most of the battles were fought in court and eventually D&RG won the right, but you can still see remnants of stone fortifications in the gorge. The detailed history is really fascinating and I recommend you give it a look.

On the opposite side of the river from the tracks, an old water pipeline weaved in and out of the canyon wall. The pipe, originally made out of redwood, was built by prisoners from the territorial prison in Cañon City in the early 1900s. It was in use until 1973, which explains why so much of it is still there. It still had quite a few wooden sections, though most of those had collapsed by 2019. The old caretakers house still stood, too — the pipeline had to be inspected, which meant a 16 mile round-trip daily.

The train tracks pass underneath the famous Royal Gorge suspension bridge, of course. The bridge was built in 1929 and was the highest suspension bridge in the world for seven decades. I tell you what, when the train horn echoed through the gorge, I felt like a ten year old boy again. The train also goes over an 1879 hanging bridge, which is anchored into the rock wall itself. At that point, the gorge is only 30 feet wide and the walls go straight into the river.

Once the excursion was over, Samantha and I drove up to the TOP of the gorge. Although I have a crippling fear of heights, she encouraged me to walk over the bridge with her. Last time I was in the area, the forest around the gorge had just suffered a terrible fire. The bridge and the park itself were totally closed. This time, I crossed over on my own two feet. As soon as Sam mentioned you could see through the planks, 955 feet below, the walk became more difficult…but we both made it! We were greeted on the south side by a ram, who was more interested in eating the decorative pumpkins anyway.

We crossed back over the bridge on the tram; I didn’t have another slow walk across in me. We departed victorious and headed back north towards Colorado Springs. We were saving Garden of the Gods for Saturday, but I did make stop to photograph a sign that’s long been at the top of my must-see list: Johnny’s Navajo Hogan. The bar/restaurant dates back to 1935 though I don’t know the age of the sign itself. Sadly, not all of the neon was lit, but it’s still a beauty.

Our destination that first day was nearby Manitou Springs; my cousin Amanda had suggested it after they visited earlier in the year. It’s a quaint little town..and a Gold Mine for sign geeks! Many of the motels had their original signage in good working order; I wasted no time in capturing what I could. We stayed at the Villa Motel, which had a lovely old-school lodge feel to it. I greatly enjoyed looking at the historic photographs in the lobby and in our room.

All in all, we had a packed Day One in Colorado, even though I’d expressly scaled back our drive time from my original itinerary. There’s just so much to see and do!

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Going West with Mom (part four)

Driving from Bluff, Utah to Raton, New Mexico makes for a long day. When Mom and I woke up on October 2nd, we had to decide whether we were going to drive back into New Mexico, through Taos, or take the road through southern Colorado. Mom left the decision up to me so I picked the road I’d not yet traveled…Highway 160 across the The Centennial State.

We crossed the border and headed into higher elevations. As we climbed, I looked for the beautiful yellow Aspen trees that Colorado is known for in autumn. Yes, we did see a few of them here and there on the drive, but I was shocked by what I saw the MOST of: dead pine trees.

The national forests of Colorado have seen widespread decimation of spruce pine trees caused by the spread of the spruce beetle. It started in 1996 and has, so far, covered over ONE MILLION acres of forest. There’s not anything that can be done to save this particular kind of tree from this beetle. Eventually, the forest will be rebuilt from other types of pine…but today, entire mountainsides are blanketed with gray, empty trunks and branches. It’s heartbreaking.

The highest elevation we reached was 10,857 Feet at Wolf Creek Pass. The high mountain pass also happens to be along the Continental Divide. This now marks the fourth spot on the Divide I’ve visited and they all have their own particular charm. My favorite is still on old Route 66, where hand-carved wooden signs and a cheesy gift shop welcome travelers that pull off the highway to mark their progress.

We continued through several small towns, stopping occasionally for photographs of old neon or cool buildings. West of Alamosa, we passed a freight train with Iowa Pacific railroad. Incredibly, the freight was being pulled by an EMD E9 locomotive, which were built between 1954 and 1964. I pulled over and took some photos, the conductor sounding the horn as I snapped away. What a beauty!

We arrived in Raton, NM in early evening. The Raton Pass Motor Inn is a classic little motor court on the north edge of town, very close to the Colorado border. The lobby is delightfully vintage, complete with mid-century furniture, round-top Westinghouse fridge, console turntable, and one of those fireplaces that look like an Apollo space capsule. Our room for the night was basic, comfortable…and quiet. I had no qualms about leaving Mom there for a bit while I went to take photos of some of the town’s neon signs.

As sunset approached, it looked like the sky might put on a show. I drove to the south edge of town just in time for the clouds to light up with vibrant shades of pink and orange. I took a side road to find a clear spot to photograph the distant mountain range and came across a family of deer having dinner not fifty feet from the road. I pulled over slowly and got out of the car carefully – they didn’t seem to mind me or my camera and stayed put. It was a stroke of luck and a perfect end to the day.

Our drive on Thursday, October 3rd wasn’t quite as taxing. We stopped at an old drive-in theatre in Trinidad, Colorado that I’d seen the day before but had talked myself out of photographing. I’m glad I stopped the second time around; the low clouds gave the place a real spooky vibe. It’s been closed since the late 1980s.

For most of the day, we followed the Santa Fe Trail. There’s a small overlook near Rocky Ford, CO with interpretive panels from the National Park Service that try to give modern travelers an understanding of how frontier migrants would feel when the Rockies came into view…or, conversely, how eastbound families might feel at having an expanse of prairie in front of them after the hardship of crossing through treacherous mountain passes. For us, it was just another mile marker.

It felt like an immediate change when we crossed into Kansas. Of course, the landscape was a lot flatter (no need to mark the elevation on each town’s welcome signage) but the towns felt a lot more isolated. Many of them, to their credit, still had old school cinemas in business and active agriculture business.

Even though it was a much shorter day, we were exhausted when we arrived in Dodge City for the night. On Friday, we only had one real stop on our way to Wichita: Hutchinson, KS.

I wanted to stop and visit a vintage toy shop on Main Street, which was actually rather hard to get to thanks to multiple road closures to prepare for the town’s upcoming Oktoberfest. It was worth the hassle, though, as I found many toys that I hadn’t seen or thought of in decades. Since we were in town, we had lunch at the R-B Drive-In, the state’s oldest drive-in. The onion rings alone were worth the drive.

We stayed with Mom’s cousin on that last night in Wichita. After so much time on the road, it was nice to just sit and visit a while. Additionally, it was fulfilling to hear stories about Mom’s home town of Barnsdall, OK from people other than her. I just listened and took it all in.

We returned home to Tulsa the next day. Our little road trip took an entire week, turning 2,782 miles through seven states. The time we spent together is something I’ll treasure forever. I have to say I’m very glad I didn’t try to squeeze another day of sight-seeing. As I get older, I’m really starting to appreciate rest days before going back to work!

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Going West with Mom (part 3)

After a stunning day at the Grand Canyon, the first day of October marked a literal turning point in our journey. The day began with a re-entry into the National Park and a slow drive east before turning north into Utah. But on the way, we would be stopping at the place that Mom had looked most forward to when the trip was taking shape: Monument Valley.

The fastest way from Tusayan to the Utah border was on Highway 64 and through the Grand Canyon National Park. Once more, I was treated to views of the Grand Canyon I had not experienced on my previous visits. It’s incredible how the shape of the canyon changes, even just from our views along the south rim. At Lipan Point, a large crow stood on the ledge and stared at us. It reminded Mom of her brother’s pet crow, George, back when they were young. Mom’s amazement was just as fresh and authentic as it had been the previous day.

Mom was content to stay in the car as I explored the Desert View Watchtower near the eastern edge of the park. It’s four stories tall and looks much older than it is. The tower was built in 1932, one of several structures designed by Mary Colter for the park. It provides a beautiful view which includes the eastern edge of the canyon and a vast expanse of desert beyond the rim. I wondered what the pioneers felt when the saw this landscape for the first time, unprepared for the indescribable splendor.

Between the Canyon and the Valley, we came across an old Standard Oil service station. I’d seen this station once before, back in 2013 when I was first starting to find my artistic eye. This time, I lingered a while and took photos of the graffiti on the crumbling walls. The old stone fireplace had a small block of text stenciled on one of the rocks. “Let’s be better humans,” it suggested. Another bit of writing said, “Remember who you are…” with Native America scrawled beneath it. It’s a unique spot that won’t last forever. But, then again, what does?

Monument Valley is certainly a place that FEELS like it’s been there forever. It’s my favorite place on Earth. Not just because of its majesty and undeniably Western aura, but because I have so much memory tied up in it. First and foremost, I remember my father. Dad admired John Wayne’s cinematic image, going so far as to collect a great deal of art and memorabilia. I grew up SURROUNDED by imagery of the valley. It continues to be a filming location for movies I adore, but my mind always goes back to the classic movies that made the world aware that the valley was even there.

I remember my first visit with my friend, DeeDee, and the tour we took with a Navajo guide. I remember bringing Samantha here in 2016 and spending the night looking up at the stars, shining brightly above the darkened outlines of the landscape. And now, added to those memories, is Mom smiling broadly and gazing at natural wonder with pure awe.

Although we didn’t take a formal tour, the SUV we’d rented was hearty enough to brave the dusty trail. We spent the afternoon dodging tour vans, appreciating the quiet moments nestled between those spectacular red buttes. I felt so thankful to be in that place again, with the opportunity to share it with someone that is so special to me. We stopped on the way out just to be in the moment and admire the singular beauty of the valley again before continuing our drive.

Our destination was but an hour away in the community of Bluff. When we arrived, it was easy to understand where the name came from. Our hotel was at the base of a long, beautiful rock formation and the nearby cafe was at the base of another one. Combined with the cooler temperatures, it made for a relaxing evening.

Just before bed, I went outside and looked at the stars. Even though we were in town, I was blown away by the sheer volume of celestial representation. I went inside and brought Mom back out with me. When she looked up, she gasped.

On the back porch of that motel room, Lory Martin became little Lory Grim again. It was the sky she saw when she went camping with her family and when she stayed out too late on a school night. The sound of her Dad’s fiddle and her mother’s singing voice came out of the open window of her memory. It was a step back in time before things got so busy and complicated. She put her head on my shoulder and said thank you. It was just a moment, but it was everything.

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