Once Google safely delivered us to Holbrook Arizona and we checked into our motel, our thoughts turned towards dinner. The town itself isn’t that big, about 5,000 people, a few streets, the interstate and a number of motels, gas stations, and restaurants.
Heather and I don’t like to eat fast food, so we turned to the iPhone and Google maps. What we settled on was “Mesa Italiana Restaurant” – described as “Unpretentious eatery serving Italian specialties in simple surrounds.” Simple, unpretentious, good food, slow, and I think still using the tables and chairs bought in the 1980’s. Likely that was when the restaurant added Italian food. Looking at the large neon sign out front, I am guessing that the place was built-in the 50’s at the height of Route 66.
While I didn’t look this up, I am sure that the street this is on was the old Route 66 and now is marked as Business 40. Looking at the map you can see Interstate 40 making a bend around the city while Business 40 is a straight shot through the main part of town. Buildings here are either very new, like the Best Western Motel we stayed at, or are rundown and shabby. There are a number of empty lots and a few abandoned buildings.
This was part of the price paid by small towns for the interstate. Cars and people who use to meander through the towns at 45 miles per hour and stop for gas, food, and a bed for the night, now they speed past at 80 miles per hour and rarely stop. Businesses adapted to the new reality of life at interstate speed. Not all survived and many people lost their jobs.
I found the name Mesa Italiana to be a bit amusing. In South Western English, “mesa” refers to a kind of flat top mountain which is common in the region. The word comes from the Spanish “mesa” meaning table. The Spanish explorers who first came to the area referred to the flat mountains as, “la mesa,” or table. Americans arriving in the 1800s just called them mesas and you’ll see the name used often.
It is worth noting that “Table Mountain” isn’t used as that refers to a mountain in Cape Town, South Africa or a casino just outside Fresno, California.
Back at Mesa Italiana, the meal eventual arrived and was delicious. Even the house wine was good. Before someone asks, it was a red wine, likely a Merlot (I always order Merlot), don’t remember the winery. I did ask, just don’t remember. Of the three glasses of wine I’ve had this year, this was the best, but not good enough to drive back to Holbrook this weekend for another.
I paid in cash. Normally I wouldn’t mention this, but there was a sign posted in front that asked people to please pay cash as the credit card fees were something of a problem and they didn’t want to raise their prices. Guess when you’re feeding travelers and your competition is Burger King you have to keep your profit margin slim.
In the morning we were of on the day’s adventure – the Petrified Forest and the Painted Desert. I first saw both as a boy, perhaps eight or nine years-old. Back then, mother wouldn’t have stopped at anything fancy like a restaurant or a motel. We camped in a tent – a very old tent. Mother wasn’t sure how old it was, but she would often claim that it was a WWI army surplus tent. That’s World War One. The family legend is that Grand Father bought it in the 1920’s for hunting trips. A fair amount of our equipment was army surplus, although the army blankets were fairly new WWII surplus.
Heather and I headed out-of-town and just before entering the Petrified forest there are a couple of gift shops and naturally we turned in. The store sold all kinds of things with most of it being either petrified wood, things made from petrified wood, or t-shirts about petrified wood. They had a theme going there. We did buy a couple of things before heading into the “forest.”
It was an overcast windy day and we walked around a couple of the trails. The area gets it’s name from the fossilized trees on the ground. A few million years ago the area was a swamp and when the trees fell, the high mineral content in the water, replaced the wood with minerals effectively turning wood to stone. You can still make out the growth rings and see where whole trees fell.
This National Park is basically just a road with a number of interesting stops and trails – perfect for a day sightseeing trip. We started at the forest end and drove up to the Painted Desert area. This is an area of cliffs worn down by wind and rain where each layer is a different color – looking like someone had painted them on the horizon.
By afternoon the wind was hard and it looked liked it could rain any minute. We decided to go back for more Italian food. The winds were howling and the sky very black by the time we got to the restaurant. A note on the door asked that, “Due to high winds, please enter through the lounge.” Guess the folks at the bar could handle the wind better than the folks eating the lasagna.
Back at the motel, we got on the internet to check weather reports, read email, check Facebook, and look for interesting places to stop the next day on our way up to Taos, New Mexico.
We didn’t get much past the weather report – snow between Santa Fe and Taos. Snow – likely one of the scariest words you can say to me are, “There’s snow on the road.” I hate driving in snow and considering that this Californian boy has only driven in it maybe four times, the thought of a long drive through snow was horrifying.
So, we started in with the alternate planning. First, I was able to cancel our hotel in Taos, then we found a place in Albuquerque. Again Google helped us find our way through the world and I went to bed wondering if it snows in Albuquerque.
More next week,