Going West with Mom (Part 1)

A few months ago, I realized I had a week of vacation I had to take this year and Samantha didn’t have matching time available. I wanted to take a long road trip but I didn’t feel like spending that week alone. So, I called my mother. “Where have you always wanted to go?” I asked. When she mentioned she’d never been to the Grand Canyon or Monument Valley, I knew where I would be spending my week. And with whom!

I picked Mom up early on the morning of Saturday, September 28th and hit the turnpike west. We had a lot of miles to cover to get to Arizona and back! Mom was giddy with excitement. Although we’d explored Washington DC in 2013 (goodness, has it been THAT long?) this would be our first road trip together since I was a kid. I was just as excited to share the journey with her, which included a few stops on my beloved Route 66.

Our first major stop was in a small town in the Texas panhandle: Pampa. Mom lived there when she was very young and this would be her first time back since moving to Oklahoma in the mid-1960s. A lot had changed, but a lot hadn’t.

We stopped at several houses in Pampa where she’d lived with her Mom, Dad, and two brothers. As we drove by them, she recalled memories of her childhood. When she was nine, she asked her older brother if she could help stir potatoes he was cooking for dinner; from that day on, she was expected to cook meals for the family. She laughed as she pointed out the highway off-ramp where she crashed her bike by going too fast (she had thought it would make for a shorter ride to school.) She spoke of her father’s service station and the hotel coffee shop where her mother worked. I just sat and listened.

That first night, we stayed in Tucumcari at the incomparable Blue Swallow Motel. Kevin and Nancy always take good care of their guests and it was great to have a visit. After dinner (at Del’s Restaurant, my Tucumcari go-to) the fire pit was lit and we made s’mores, solving the problems of the world while the neon buzzed happily nearby. It was perfect.

Sunday was another long day of driving, but we made time to stop off at interesting spots along the way. In Santa Rosa, I diverted off of 66 and went south. Mom happily rode along as I photographed some old ghost towns along Highway 60. She was surprised when I turned off the highway onto a side-road seemingly in the middle of nowhere. That’s when she noticed the giant, white satellite dishes in the distance.

The Very Large Array is made up of 27 radio telescopes which can be ferried across the array on rails, which cover roughly 22 square miles of land. They are arranged depending on their current use; when we visited, the dishes were scattered as far as the eye could see. Although Mom’s mobility issues kept her at the Visitor’s Center, I walked out to a nearby dish to get a closer look. It’s mind-blowing how large these things are! The VLA is a magnificent testament to scientific achievement and man’s insatiable curiosity.

We continued west into Arizona, exploring the Petrified Forest National Park and the Painted Desert. Mom was amazed not just by the views in the park, but at the dinosaur skeletons on view in the little museum. Somehow I didn’t know she loved that kind of thing; she had the biggest smile I’d yet seen on the trip. We finished up right as the park was closing and sped out to the Jackrabbit Trading Post in Joseph City. The owners had stayed late so we could say hello. Thank you Cindy!

Sunday night’s accommodations were at the Globetrotter Lodge, my favorite place to spend the night in Holbrook. I seriously cannot recommend the place enough: the staff is very friendly, the rooms are comfortable, and the vibe just feels like home. On the way to dinner, we pulled into the Wigwam Motel so Mom could see the quirky concrete tepees for herself. The fading light of sunset encouraged me to linger a few minutes and take some photos.

We’d only been on the road two days, but so many memories had already been made. I knew our Big Ticket days were just ahead, though. I was eager to be there with Mom as she saw the Grand Canyon with her own eyes for the first time.

Part 2 is available here.

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