Sandi Wheaton's photographic journey from Chicago to LA with a Jeep, an Aliner trailer and a bunch of cameras

Heaven and Las Vegas

Thursday, October 29th, 2009

truck parked at Cool Springs gas station

truck parked at Cool Springs gas station (note spelling of "C66L")

First off, I want to thank Christina Nellemann for featuring me in her recent  post on the Tiny House Blog.  That blog was one of my favorite sites when I started looking into nomadism, so I am really honored to be on there.  You can read the blog post here.  Thanks so much, Christina!  (In other media, I also did a phone interview on the Phoenix 12 News on Friday morning, but I’m still waiting for a link for that.  I’ll post it once I get it.  Those who know me know that a 6am interview on live television is not exactly my version of how to start my day… but I was really happy to be on there.  I was really unhappy, though, that my alarm didn’t go off, and that their call was what woke me up – 3 minutes before I went to air!!  I’m still not sure what I said… maybe that’s why they never posted it online…!  :)  )

So an old friend from back home who knew of my obsession with a group called the Cocteau Twins back in the 80s posted a link on here to one of my favorite Cocteau Twins songs called “Heaven or Las Vegas”.   Because I experienced both since the last post, I felt it was an appropriate title for this one.

Let’s start with the Las Vegas bit.  Vegas is actually not on Route 66 at all and required a 2-hour detour.  The reason?  Well, Campfire in a Can, of course!

campfire peeps: Lisa Nadeau, Nicole Mahon and David Mahon

campfire peeps: Lisa, Nicole and David

The company is based in Vegas and the owners seemed to really want to meet me and I quite wanted to meet them too, so off I went.  What a great bunch!

Turns out the president and vice-president of the company, Nicole and David respectively, are both Canadian – but it got even better.  David is actually from Newfoundland: a fellow Maritimer!  AND his mother used to live in Moncton, mere blocks from where my own mother lives, from what we can tell.  It was quite surreal having dinner on “the Strip” and sharing stories about Moncton, I have to say.  I was glad to be able to thank them in person for the campfire, and to tell them what an amazing product they have (it really is great, you should get one).  The other half – or, third? – of the core group, Lisa, was there too.  Poor thing was sick so she kept her distance.  Feel better soon Lisa!  Anyway they are SO my kind of people, all about adventure and fun, so it was an awesome time.  Thanks for the great dinner, you guys.  Later I met up with a Detroit transplant, my buddy Jerrry who now lives down there, and we got caught up over a beer and the wedding episode of The Office.  A rare hour in front of the TV with a fine IPA.  It was great.  Thanks for the hospitality (and shower!), Jer!

Now, heaven.

the view from Cadiz Summit

the view from Cadiz Summit (in Kodak b&w infrared film)

My “happy place” is definitely the desert, specifically southeastern California’s Mojave Desert.  That’s what I drove through today, so I am literally in heaven.  This is the only bit of Route 66 I have traveled before and photographed on a few occasions, so I can actually share infrared film images from this bit, since I already have them processed and scanned.  I could go on and on about this place… which reminds me: I will be done this trip very soon, but I don’t want to stop the blog nor am I done writing about this trip or Route 66.  I only share bits of what I think/experience/learn along the way on here, so if you care to continue reading after I arrive in Santa Monica, then I have lots more to say.

Back to heaven.  There’s a new contender for happy place on the scene, though.  I have to say that I was NOT prepared for the Black Mountains in Arizona.  Yeah, I had read that it was a winding road and that it was pretty… but I did not know it was going to scare the crap out of me (more wet ass references, I know, I’m sorry), or that it was going to be absolutely heartbreakingly beautiful when I came through at sunset.

restored gas station at Cool Springs, AZ

restored gas station today at Cool Springs, AZ

Just before heading into the mountains, I passed Cool Springs, where there isn’t much more than a restored gas station.  This particular one interested me because Larry Ellison, a blog reader, had sent me photos of it before it had been restored.  The ruins looked almost exactly like some I photographed in Oklahoma weeks ago.  Larry’s photo of the ruins was taken awhile ago, though, and since then a man from Chicago purchased and restored the place into a museum and gift shop – but you can still

gas station remains, before (photo: Larry Ellison)

gas station remains, before (photo: Larry Ellison)

see the original pillars and wall remnants of the building.  Also of note, apparently the film “Universal Soldier” was partly filmed here before the restoration.  For the movie, they built a new gas station on the ruins, then demolished it during filming.  I made a quick stop there and was told by the manager that there was a place to camp right at the top of Sitgreaves Pass.  I can just pull over and stay the night up there.  When I told him I had to be in Vegas for a meeting that night and couldn’t stop, this is what he said: “if I were you, I would call them in Vegas and tell them you won’t make it and that you’ll see them tomorrow.

gas station ruins in Oklahoma

gas station ruins in Oklahoma

This is the most beautiful part of all Route 66.  I know, because I drive it every day.”  I said thanks for the info but no, I can’t…  He said, “well, if you can’t, you can’t”, and hopped on his motorcycle and drove off up the mountains (he lives on the other side in Golden Shores, so this ridiculously gorgeous and treacherous road is his daily commute, by bike!).

Since I was heading west, I was on the outside of all the switchbacks on the narrow road winding up through the mountains, with a looong drop on my right and no guard rails in sight.  I had to really focus on driving within the narrow lanes and not get distracted by the gorgeous vistas unfolding at every turn.  I found myself sticking my camera out the window to randomly take shots on automatic because I needed to have something recorded from this amazing stretch.  Eventually, I crested the mountains at Sitgreaves Pass and pulled over.

view from Sitgreave's Pass, AZ

view from Sitgreave's Pass, AZ

You know what?  Dude with the bike was right.

The beauty almost made me cry.  All I wanted to do was park and stay there and look at it.  For as long as the sun would permit me to see, that’s all I wanted to do.  I wished the sun would stop moving, and I wished I didn’t have a timeline.  I know without a doubt that I must return here.

After crossing through Sitgreaves Pass and weaving back down the mountains again, you arrive in Oatman, which is totally something out of a storybook.  It’s pretty touristy but it looks like a real trip.  Seriously Western town (western with a capital W, you will notice), nestled in the jagged peaks, complete with staged shootouts and wild burros who wander into town – and into the shops! – to get fed carrots.  By the time I pulled in, it was after 5pm and the streets were pretty much rolled up.  I only caught a glimpse of two burros, since they all take off after 5pm too; the burros know when their shift is done.

at the graffitied ruins at Cadiz Summit

at the graffitied ruins at Cadiz Summit

…and sadly, I also know when my shift is done.  I am bee-lining it to Santa Monica now, which means that this incredible journey is quickly coming to an end.

And I don’t want it to.


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