Southwest Road Trip

I have always been a fan of road trips. As someone who prefers to be unsettled, road trips are a welcome way to spend a vacation. I have driven around the majority of Iceland and England. I have driven from Rome to Calabria and back. I have driven from Las Vegas to Philly. I have driven from Philly to Iowa. I have driven, alone, from Philly to Nashville and back.

I wanted to go somewhere for winter break. While a few options were considered, we chose a road trip through national parks in the southwest. 

Starting in Los Angeles, we drove clockwise through Las Vegas, Utah, Santa Fe, Albuquerque, Flagstaff, Phoenix, and back to Los Angeles. We visited seven national parks: Joshua Tree, Zion, Bryce, Canyonlands, Arches, Petrified Forest, and the Grand Canyon. 

We also made stops at Frank Lloyd Wright’s Hollyhock House, Seven Magic Mountains, took a tour in Antelope Canyon, stayed overnight on a Navajo reservation in Monument Valley, took pictures at Four Corners, experienced the weird wonders of Meow Wolf, visited the Georgia O’Keeffe Museum and the Museum of International Folk Art, stayed overnight at Paolo Soleri’s Arcosanti, and saw a show at the Comedy Club in LA. The trip was 3070 miles over eleven days. One might say that I avoid relaxing vacations.

I relish the kind of in-depth planning required for this trip. Google spreadsheets and maps were involved – hours of research and planning. I worried about weather and checked the national snow cover map on a daily basis. While there was the chance of snow and closures, I like to visit sights in the off season. I’d been to the Grand Canyon twice before, both in the winter. I had visited Zion in March. I prefer to be where people aren’t. The shuttle busses don’t run throughout the parks in the winter, so you can drive through at your own pace and make stops. 

While I’d been to various parts of the trip before, in its depth and breadth, the trip was the road trip I wanted. I took twenty 4x5 large-format photos, ten rolls of color film, and three rolls of black and white film. We were up for nearly every sunrise, saw the World Famous Crochet Museum, ate ramen noodles on New Year’s Eve in a tiny home at the edge of Bryce Canyon, relaxed in ceramic teacups at a Japanese-style spa in Santa Fe, ate Animal Style burgers and fries at In-N-Out Burger, drove through Sedona to the Chapel of the Holy Cross, discovered the joys of Blake’s Lotaburger, stood on the corner in Winslow, AZ, and ate (high) expectation-meeting food in L.A. at GuisadosPizzeria Mozza, and Sqirl. The only disappointment was Marc Maron’s last-minute cancellation of his spot at the Comedy Store. One day I’ll see him there. 

The trip may sound like a list, but it never felt that way. The days melted into one another. The rental car became familiar. And, to keep going felt more natural than standing still.

Mexico, Never Really Been

I knew I wanted to go to Mexico City a few years ago. I’d never been to Mexico and I’m not exactly a beach person. I’d rather be in a city than relax near the ocean. My thoughts about visiting Mexico were fueled by the James Taylor song, Mexico: “Whoa Mexico//I’ve never really been but I’d sure like to go.”

Mexico City, somehow, seemed the appropriate location for a Labor Day vacation. I like to leave the country for U.S. holidays. The flight to Mexico City isn’t too expensive and, once you’re there, everything is cheap. The city has a fantastic modernist-design element; mid-century modern Airbnbs are plentiful. 

Eerily enough, two weeks after my visit, the busy neighborhood I stayed in, La Condesa, saw the worst damage from an earthquake. There was something odd and unnerving about seeing the place I had enjoyed on the news. I recognized a mural next to a decimated building in a photo and Google-mapped it to find that the location was around the corner from the AirBnb.  

I had no expectations for the trip. And so, the time away was better than I could have hoped. I did my usual food planning and neighborhood mapping. Every piece of food was fantastic and affordable. Everyone was nice. Uber was more efficient than in the US. I managed to order food and get around without speaking Spanish.

After spending two weeks in Switzerland and Italy doing all things art, I wanted to take it easy. My art obsession is never ending; when it feels like an obligation, I take a break. There weren’t any exhibitions I was particularly interested in and, while I should have, I didn’t feel compelled to go to Frida Kahlo’s house. Everything I read about visiting the house seems like a nightmare. I’ve been on house tours and sometimes the crowds and lines can make it feel too rushed. So, I skipped it. Instead, there was walking around, eating food, drinking beer, sleeping in, and a gorgeous visit to Teotihuacán.

I made a Google Map with preferred spots for eating and drinking. Here are the highlights, if you’re looking for recommendations. Coffee and pastries at Buna 42and Panadería Rosetta (visited everyday to try every pastry). Pozole at La Casa de Toño. Street tacos at Taqueria Los Cocuyos and regular tacos at El Califa. Full dinners at La DocenaYubanContramar, and Lardo. Beers at D Taproom by DrakonusFiebre de Malta and El Deposito Condesa. Cocktails at Licorera Limantour. Churros at El Moro.

When I told people I was going to Mexico City, most replied that the trip would be scary and terrible. While the latter part was untrue, the former was, at times, true. For reasons related to safety and beyond, I’m glad that I didn’t go alone. Right at dusk, in combination with the ever-present haze of pollution, the vibe became different. Stores closed and sidewalks rolled up. Everyone went inside and it seemed like you should too. Uber is incredibly cheap in Mexico City; we always took an Uber home. Even in the vibrant, hipster, restaurant-heavy neighborhoods, it didn’t seem like walking a few blocks was a good idea. We erred on the side of caution. 

But, everything else was a dream. I can't wait to explore other regions. While Mexico City isn’t the Mexico that James Taylor wrote about, it did make everything all right.