USA - SEPTEMBER 2002
I remember nothing about the drive from Monument Valley but my head slowly cleared as I arrived at Farmington. Then I saw something that gave me a flash of inspiration
Just at the entrance to the town were two offices - one of UPS and the other of FEDEX. They were glaring at each other across the road rather like the Two Towers of Tolkein's Lord of the Rings. And I had two wind turbines.
FEDEX was closed but UPS was open so I took a wind turbine in and asked for a quote to ship it to the UK. The woman behind the counter was so helpful and took so much time out to deal with my enquiry. I really got service that made sure I would return another time. The price was much less than I imagined it would be too.
So, one wind turbine down - one more to go. I'll return to FEDEX over the road tomorrow morning, and see what good they could do. Personally, I'm surprised how quickly I can climb out of a deep depression when I set my mind to it.
That led to another thought. I had a little errand to run tomorrow morning! Yes, I might just spend the night here in Farmington instead of pressing on. Now, where to stay?
Just on the edge of town I found just the place. French-owned hotels are famous the world over for their unitary construction, unambivalence, and comfort. So when I found the local "Motel 6", part of the French "Accor" chain, and noticed that it was having a special offer - one night for one person at $32.99 instead of the usual $59.00 per night, - no prizes for guessing where I was going to stay.
It was still fairly light yet (first time I've ever arrived anywhere in daylight) so I gave myself a little shopping excursion. The lady in the motel reception put me right as to the directions, and off I set.
First stop was a "Walmart" - and look at this.
So, maybe it's my European non-redneck upbringing I suppose, but I could never ever see any purpose at all in buying a target to shoot at when the hunting season is out. Especially a target with an interchangeable midriff for when you've shot the original one to bits. Rampant consumerism is nowhere!
Another consideration is that when you go stalking deer in the woods in the hunting season, the only other people in the woods are other hunters. so if you miss, or get an unlucky ricochet, the only other people you run a risk of shooting are other hunters, who in my opinion deserve it. By the way, I'm a big supporter of Robin Williams' campaign to amend the Constitution to give people like me the right to arm bears.
But where do you put this target to shoot at it? And with a soft underbelly like this one has, the bullet will pass straight through. Then where will it go? And of course, no-one will be expecting it.
Before anyone says anything about "approved ranges" or "enclosed locations", have you ever tried to speak to a hunter carrying a rifle, several rounds of ammunition, an imitation deer, and a six-pack?
One thing I did do though at Walmart was to worry about my photos - I was running out of Media cards. I went to the photo counter to see about having them copied onto CD, but 200 off a 64mb card would work out in the region of $35. A new 64mb SIM card cost about $30. Problem solved. I mean, I could always use an extra SIM card again and again whereas a CD was a once-only thing.
Enough of this nonsense. I was hungry. So I drove into the centre of the town to find a restaurant that might do something vegan for me.
There wasn't a great deal of choice in the town, but eventually I found the Three Rivers Eathouse and Brewery. Typical friendly service, typical helpful waitress, and a really nice vegetarian meal. I forget though now what it was that I had to eat!
One thing I do remember though, was that the waitress expected me to eat it without any cutlery! Yes, yet another 5-star meal from a small local restaurant to which I'd quite happily return.
I took the photo of the restaurant next morning, en route to the shops again. Today I was going to spend some serious money.
The Battle of the Giants part I
Now I normally wax lyrical about Sears for my tools and so on. Not in Farmington though. I was constantly accosted by salesmen and women asking me "have you found what you're looking for? If you need any help, call me".
Now I come from another continent. I'm sure I need lots of things - but I don't yet know what there is in the States that there isn't in Europe, and I won't find that until I see it. But how can I see if if every thirty seconds or so, some salesman or woman keeps asking me "have you found what you're looking for? If you need any help, call me". Give me a chance!
After being intercepted three times in the first four minutes (I know, I timed it!) I came to the conclusion that my only protection was flight. Sears, through being over-pushy, had lost another customer. There is American "customer care", which (living in France and Belgium I appreciate very much) but Sears at Farmington was just way over the top!
Over the road from Sears is a Home Depot, and keen readers of these pages will recall me talking about Home Depot before. The first time I'd encountered one was in Loveland, Colorado, a week or so previously, where I'd bought all the 200 litre box-full of 110-volt fittings. Then I'd had a quick look around in one in Flagstaff. But having fled from Sears, I was determined to carry through my next major project, so over the road to Home Depot I went.
What a contrast. No-one moithered me - no-one pushed themselves at me to make a sale. they just let me get on with it. When it came to making a phone call to get some technical advice - "there's a phone there, sir. Be our guest".
When I'd finished, I came away with a McCulloch 16-inch chainsaw, a John Deere industrial brushcutter with strimmer, saw and rotavator, and a couple of other important things besides, at a price that was less than half what you'd pay in Europe. And all real quality items too! (mind you, they were still flaming expensive though).
I'll go to a Home Depot again (and again, and again, and again ....). Another shop to add to my list.
The Battle of the Giants part II
Now to part two of my master plan. Remember, I'd sent one wind turbine to the UK via UPS. Over the road from UPS was a FEDEX. Now to send the second wind turbine to the UK via FEDEX, see which one gave me the best deal and the safest journey, then ship EVERYTHNG back to the UK via the successful winner. Logistics problems of struggling to get everything onto an aircraft - solved at a stroke.
"Won't it cost a fortune?" I hear you say.
Cue Frankie Howerd - "copulatum expensium, as we Pompeiians say". Can't skimp on a deal like this.
Sounds easy, doesn't it?
"Ha ha ha"
Yes, indeed. First stop was FEDEX. "How much would it cost to ship this to Europe, please?"
"Here's a brochure with all our tariffs"
"Which tariff is applicable please?"
"It'll be there in the brochure if you look"
"Well, can you work out the weight for me, please?"
"Well, you need to find that out".
Talk about flogging a dead horse. "Okay, I'll go and work it out"
Now I know. FEDEX Farmington = Waste Of Time. I went over the road to UPS. FEDEX had fallen at the first fence.
Now here was a shame. UPS was closed until midday. Gave me time to watch the aeroplane having aerobatics lessons.
Reminded me of my youth. I used to write humourous (or humorous, even) captions for photographs, and a young girl with whom I was having a "relationship" at one time used to draw amusing pictures at my request if I thought of something witty to write. This was one of those occasions.
Picture the scene, if you will. In an office, two men talking. Out of the office window you see an aeroplane in the sky doing some smoke-writing. The message reads
"F(obscured by window frame)K OFF".
One man says to the other "I think we should have waited until he landed before we told him he was fired".
Well, it was funny in 1983!
At last - midday. At midday :01 I was already at the counter. By 1:00 I'd gone. In that time the woman (the same friendly woman from yesterday) had heard my story about the proposed contest I wanted to organise and how FEDEX had fallen down, found some large cardboard boxes, then packed, weighed and parcelled up all the goods in a professional manner that wouldn't be bettered anywhere else, and loaded them on the truck. All for $335 and a tenner in the tea fund. Yes, $335 dollars, but that was less than half of the saving I'd made by buying them in the States anyway, so I wasn't complaining at all.
The irony is that when the parcels arrived in the UK to be delivered to my mate Paul, he got the "FEDEX Farmington" service from "UPS Stoke on Trent" - which just goes to show that you can't have it all and in the long run there's no-one any better overall than any other.
Another thing I hand't considered was what would have happened had I gone to FEDEX first? Would the treatment I received have put me off the whole idea? What would I have done then to get my stuff home?
The road out of Farmington was quite interesting, though. The town is described as being one of the leading oil exploration centres in the south west of the United States. Nevertheless I was still surprised, as well as being quite impressed, to see a depot selling second-hand oil rig equipment, like pumps, drills, pipes and so on. It's not the kind of thing you see every day in Europe, that's for sure, so I couldn't resist taking a photograph.
With the kind of car I'm used to owning, I'm going to buy myself a little oil pumping and drilling set up. When the world's supply of oil dries up, I'm going to start drilling and pumping on the driveway of my old house in Gainsborough Road, Crewe, where I used to park my taxis. I'll clean up, in more ways than one.
Now, a few miles down the road from Farmington is the town of Bloomfield. At the crossroads here, I turned right onto Highway 550 in the general direction of Santa Fe. All around here are several oil wells and oil storage facilities, as you can see in the photograph here.
Again, it's not the kind of thing you're used to seeing if you come from Europe, and as I'm in my "tourist mode" I reckoned a couple of photographs of this sort of thing is what I'm supposed to take.
These photographs are going to be of historical importance in 20 or 30 years time, so that everyone can see what an oil well looked like. In the same way that today in the United Kingdom, photos of coal mines are of some historical significance.
Yes, the road out of Bloomfield heading southeast has nothing but oil well after oil well, about every half mile or so. (It's Highway 550, Osama!). They are mostly small and unmanned, and just pump away slowly without any other visible sign of effort.
I suppose that in due course, these places will be something like the scene from Mad Max II with armed guards inside the fence to stop the looters, and gangs of locals outside the fence trying to break in to help themselves to the fuel.
And I don't know why you are laughing. Scenes that George Miller prophesied are commonplace in Nigeria. The country has been so indebted by the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund that it is obliged to export all its oil just to pay the interest, and there is none left for the local inhabitants.
Truth has a habit of eventually catching up with fiction, although many will say that Miller, writing in the aftermath of two previous oil wars, was simply describing the chaos that is inevitable once this western society that is floated on this absurd oil dependence runs out of oil and out of ideas.
This on the left is another photograph I couldn't resist taking, and I couldn't stop laughing, much to the bewilderment of the passing motorists.
Well, I mean. Here's an oil well, pumping up barrel after barrel after barrel of fossil fuel, and the whole thing works automatically via a control panel powered by - would you believe it - a photovoltaic panel. Obviously oil isn't any good for this sort of application. Hee hee
I wonder whether the Apache would have had reservations about letting me into their land if they had known in advance I was coming?
But one thing was certainly remarkable. You've seen the photographs of the oil wells along Highway 550, but once you pass the border into the reservation, there's absolutely nothing at all. I'm not in the least surprised!
What there were, though, were casinos. Gambling is illegal in many of the States in the USA, but perfectly legal and permissible on an Indian reservation, so it seems. Dunno, seems strange to me that after spending years complaining about being exploited by the white man, there is now the feeling that it's okay to exploit a loophole in the white man's law in order to use the white man's means of exploitation in order to exploit him back (although I suspect that it's not just the paleface who gets exploited by the Indian - there will be more than just a couple of Indians in the casino getting exploited too, but I don't suppose it's politically correct to talk about them).
I suspect that it was the threat of a severe and lengthy legal action by the native Americans that persuaded the United States government to allow gambling. But I thought that it was the Sioux that had the most lawyers, not the Apache. Nevertheless, it brings a whole new meaning to the dangers of travelling in indian territory. Do you get scalped by an Indian in a dry gulch or fleeced by an Indian in a casino? I shudder to think.
You might remember me talking about the Continental Divide on Page One, when I was at Pike's Peak. Well, here's an example of the Divide being almost imperceptible. You'd never have noticed it nor realised what it was, unless you saw the sign.
But you see how high I was here - nearly 7400 feet (2400 metres). This is higher than everywhere in the UK, and just about everywhere in "accessible" Europe, yet the landscape looks just like open country with gentle rises and slopes. Again, if it wasn't for the sign, I'd have said it was even lower than where I live in France (2200 feet / 700 metres).
There are two ways from Bloomfield to Santa Fe (where I was planning to spend the night). There was the main road via San Ysidro and Jemez Springs that was wide, tarmaced, smooth and more-or-less level, or there was the short cut over the dirt road over the mountains along Clear Creek and Fenton Lake.
I was in a Mustang, not a 4x4.
CLEAR CREEK AND THE RIO CEBOLLA
Well, some dirt road that was, as you can see from the photograph here on the left. I didn't think much of that!
I just wonder what on earth it is that goes through the minds of these Americans if they ned a 4x4 to tackle roads like this. I decided that from here on in, I was going to ignore the "4x4 only" signs.
This photograph on the right I took for my friend Nicole, who has a thing about log cabins, as well as sheep .
"Let me know if you see any nice log cabins" she said.
So here you are, Nicole - all for you. And for sale too.
What with stepside pickups, £99 sheds, log cabins, Volvo P1800s (see further on) flowers and so on, I was beginning to wonder if I took any of these photographs for my own pleasure.
And while we're on the subject of sheep, someone once told me that it takes two sheep to make the average sweater. That was news to me. I didn't even know that sheep could knit.
And while we are still on the subject, in November 2006 the chain of Aldi or Lidl, one or the other, was selling blankets made of pure virgin wool. As we all know, this is wool from a sheep that can run faster than the shepherd.
As you can see, the light is going fast up here, but some of the views were nevetheless really quite extraordinary. How about this view on the left for a likely spot for a band of marauding Indians to ambush a stagecoach?
But here you can just about make out the steep and sharp hairpin bend that goes downhill to the Rio Cebolla.
Now - Los Alamos. Everyone knows Los Alamos. The mystery town built at the start of World War Two and said to be the home of the Scandinavian Camel Corps, or was it the Ethiopian Ski Brigade? In fact a huge laboratory for the development of Atomic weapons.
Not that I've anything against atomic weapons as long as everybody's got them and no-one uses them. Remarkable that when we had two superpowers each armed with nuclear weapons bristling at each other, we had 45 years of peace, because each was afraid to use them. Since the USSR has collapsed, we've had one megalomaniac after another, a whole series of useless wars, and a whole series of complaints about other countries' arms.
Anyway, I digress once more. The roads to Los Alamos are clearly marked and signposted, until one arrives at the town boundary, when all signposts disappear. Furthermore, I drove around Los Alamos for an hour, and found absolutely nothing to say that I was here. There was no "Los Alamos mall", no "Los Alamos theatre", no "Los Alamos church" or anything.
Like I say, I drove around for an hour, and found nothing at all. Then, I came across a government building with a sign, so point and click and away. You all know that I made it to Los Alamos now. Next task is to follow the signs to Santa Fe.
The route out of town was for once clearly marked so this bit was easy. Then just on the edge of town I came across something like roadworks, with rows of cones and warning lights. So I slowed down, negotiated the cones, and drove away.
I'd gone about 50 yards or so when there was this "hey" from behind, so like a fool, I stopped. Two very out-of-breath soldiers came running up.
"Your badge - where's your badge?" said the fatter one.
"What badge?" I asked.
"Your badges to enter here" pouted fat boy.
"This is a public highway - why do I need a badge?"
"It's the road past the laboratory. you need a permit"
"I don't care if it's the road past the lavatory". I retorted "Why do I need a permit?"
I must admit, at this point I was genuinely wondering whether I should add on the famous lines of Gold Hat, the Mexican baddie in "Treasure of the Sierra Madre" "Badges? We ain't got no badges. We don't need no badges. I don't have to show you any stinking badges. "
The fat guard interrupted my reverie. "Since the 11th September"
"Well, you Americans are only 4% of the world's population. Maybe, just maybe if you listened to what the other 96% of the world was telling you, the 11th September wouldn't have happened and none of this would be necessary"
"I'm sorry, sir, but without a permit you can't go any further"
So I turned round and drove back.
Now personally I don't care - I find it quite amusing, but doesn't it worry you that the security to guard maybe the most important site in the USA in this heightened state of tension and alertness was asleep in a hut as a dangerous terrorist like me was free to drive past? Yes, the whole American internal security is in the hands of people like these guys - obviously too thick to send even to Afghanistan to kill a few poor innocent civilians. Let them sleep in a guard post.
I couldn't help it, but I found myself thinking of Han's famous line in "Enter the Dragon", almost as if he was directing them at me - "The battle with the guards was magnificent. Your skill is extraordinary.".
Yes I was rather pleased with myself, especially with what happened next.
Now one can hardly say that the Mustang is inconspicuous - so it was no surprise to me that a sinister dark-coloured car appeared on my rear bumper a few minutes later and followed me for a while around town. This annoyed me. Not my fault that there were no stop signs and the guards were asleep. So quick as a flash I pulled into a layby so the car behind was forced to drive past, then I flashed my camera at his rear number plate light. He sped away. Serve him right.
A few minutes later a Porsche came along, and challenged me to a race. What coincidence. So we had a jolly run through the traffic to the outskirts of Santa Fe, where the Porsche slipped off the highway and U-turned back to base.