“If you want your boomerang to come back, first you’ve got to throw it.” – Steven Hall

My role as a boomerang finally came, it was time to return home. I got up early and left shortly after Kenneth left for work. In keeping with Los Angeles traffic, it took over 2 hours to drive 48 miles. OMG, I don’t like traffic! especially after driving so fast through the Southwestern states on the way.

I didn’t want to pressure myself with long driving days. But, I decided that I would stay in larger cities on my return trip. That meant that I needed to space things out to reach certain destinations on certain days. I decided that my first night would be in Flagstaff. I had skirted the edge of the town on the way out, so I hadn’t seen anything except darkness. The 7.5 hour trip ended up taking 8.5 so the day was much longer than I expected.

There’s not much between San Bernardino and Flagstaff except land, land, and more land. I had a keen eye out for the I40 sign in Barstow that announces the mileage to Wilmington, NC. Other than that, it was an uneventful drive. My dashboard readout said that I had enough gas to get the distance that matched the signs to Needles, AZ. That was the first exit that Google said had a gas station. That plan only helps if you don’t forget to get off at the exit. I ended up driving 1 exit too far which meant that I had to go to the only gas station listed which was about 5 miles off the highway to Golden Shores, a dusty little town on the banks of the Colorado River. On the way, I passed through Catfish Paradise (I resisted the urge to stop).

I got back on the road and realized that I hadn’t really seen the topography of that area on the way out. It was raining on the way out west. Even with the sunny skies, I just wanted to finish driving on the first day. With an 8 hour chunk, it meant that I had made some progress.

I stopped in Williams, AZ for dinner at In-N-Out Burger. It was my first and possibly last time to eat at one of them. For those of us on the East Coast, In-N-Out Burger holds a cult-like status for their fresh meats. I’ve always thought that their burgers were good, but I think that their fries are the star of the show. As a strict gluten avoider, I always know which fast food places that I can eat. I just needed to order the burger “protein style for gluten allergy.”

Things got weird when the counter girl repeated my order by grabbing the microphone and shouting “we’ve got an allergy!” At this point, the yahoo behind me repeated “allergic to these nuts.” Ugh! I knew to eat quick and get back on the road.

I bed down in Flagstaff at a Sleep Inn and learned that they are perfectly delightful hotels. The bed was very comfortable and the shower looked like a space capsule. As usual, I arrived well after dark….so I had no idea how pretty the mountain views would be the next morning. The snow-capped mountain views did not disappoint.

Just as quick as I had arrived, I was off once again: destination Albuquerque. Throughout the route, I had seen signage for different tourist areas. They all said to tune into an AM radio station for information about whatever site was nearby. I’m not sure what tempted me in to listen to one in the high desert but it led me to the biggest hole in the ground I’ve ever seen.

Meteor Crater is technically located in Winslow, Arizona-a-a. (Resist the temptation to sing along…because there are no corners in a crater.) But seriously, it was a fine sight to see. The crater is the most preserved impact site on earth. NASA used the surface to train before they went to the moon. It was a fun diversion and it had a fantastic view of the desert and snow-capped mountains.

Albuquerque was a spot that I briefly stopped in on the way out west. I drove out of the way to take a photo of the car wash from Breaking Bad. On this visit, I had coordinated a visit with my friend Tina. Her daughter had recently moved to the area for a position at the NM School for the Deaf. Tina has done a great job of visiting a variety of neighborhoods in the weeks before my arrival.

Lucky for me she had searched out the Nob Hill neighborhood. It’s a funky shopping strip between downtown and the airport. We had to get a chocolate fix before dinner. The Chocolate Dude had some tasty clusters that they make in-house. I really liked the Pine Nut Cluster in dark chocolate. Pinon nuts are a signature flavor of New Mexico. Tina told me about a shop that uses them in their coffee. She assured me that it was good. We had one of the most filling dinners of the trip at Lemoni Lounge.

I was impressed with Albuquerque. I love a mountain view, and there are mountains at every turn. It was gorgeous and it’s close enough to Santa Fe for a quick day trip. The folks that I met were really hospitable. And, there seems to be a great food scene in ABQ. I have followed Chocolate Cartel for a few years. I wasn’t able to make it on this visit. The Chocolate & Coffee Fest held each spring is the largest chocolate, coffee, & gourmet food event in the U.S. This was a town that I’d love to check out again!

The next morning I was back on the road. The destination was Oklahoma City which meant at least 8 hours of drive time. It gave plenty of time to listen to my varied musical tastes. For whatever reason, I felt the need to photograph 2 songs on the dashboard. Twisted Sister’s “We’re Not Gonna Take It” was a favorite of 6th-grade Joey and you should hear me belt the chorus to George Benson’s “Give Me the Night.”

First I needed an Americano fix in Amarillo. The 806 Coffee & Lounge seemed like just the right blend of artsy/funky/cool. The neighborhood looked a bit gritty but the barista was super friendly. Their bathroom graffiti included limericks, motivational phrases, & filthy drawings….a true feast for the eyes. Second time in Amarillo and I think the naysayers should give it another shot. An amazing sunset served as a picturesque background for those intriguing windmills.

Up next….the only city to merit a second stay, Oklahoma City.

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