16 May, 2009

From Arkansas to New Mexico

While trying to find the correct entrance to Lake Dardanelle State Park, we accidentally turned into another park. Sean and Andy went to read what they thought might be a map directing us to the correct place. They returned to the car smiling mischeviously. "Is it a map? What did it say," I asked. After a few moments of prodding they finally responded. "Ya know that giant smoke stack we passed on the way in? That's a nuclear power plant." I didn't believe them for about thirty minutes until it became clear they weren't changing their story. I guess the people describing the park decided including the information that Lake Dardanelle was directly adjacent to a nuclear power plant might take away from its natural appeal.

In addition to the fact that we were breathing nuclear waste all night, this camping experience was notably less enjoyable than the previous night in Alabama. Unlike the spread out, secluded camp sites in Oak Mountain, we were surrounded on all sides by humming RVs fully equipped with air conditioning and televisions. On a more personal note, the cooler somehow managed to leak onto my sleeping bag leaving in noticeably damp. The view of the lake itself and the backdrop of misty mountains was really beautiful as long as you neglected to look to the right where the filthy smoke stack loomed above the horizon.

Whether the result of the less than ideal conditions or sheer will power alone, we managed to get on the road by an impressive 8:00 AM. By the end of the day we had driven between 11 and 12 hours including a few brief breaks. We went from Arkansas through Oklahoma, accross the top of Texas without stopping, and nearly half way accross New Mexico before stopping in Santa Rosa.

At some point in Oklahoma we began playing what has been christened the Roadkill Alphabet game. The goal of the game is to list all the roadkill you see until your list includes animals beginning with every letter of the alphabet from A-Z. I had never seen an armadillo before in my life, alive or dead, and yesterday alone I must have seen at least 20-30 dead armadillos and I'm not exaggerating. I found myself getting excited to see road kill with hopes that it might begin with a letter we still needed at which point I started to dislike the game.

It was also interesting to see all of the signs for tourist attractions dedicated to Native American culture, casinos and gambling as we crossed Oklahoma. Casinos lined the highway on both sides and it seemed like once every mile there was a sign for Cherokee jewelry, Cherokee baskets, Cherokee crafts, etc. I couldn't help but think that even after all these years we still somehow manage to continue the exploitation of these people and their culture by reducing them to what are more than likely inauthentic trinkets. And yet, if these souvenirs truly are fabricated by Cherokee Indians we can feel decent as a society for allowing these people to continue their native traditions in order to sell them to uninformed American tourists with no concept of the injustices and indecencies we have inflicted upon these people.

Although most of the Texas drive consisted of flat, uneventful vistas, when we drove through Amarillo it became apparent that the saying "Everything's Bigger in Texas" is not unfounded. Every single building seemed to be the size of a super Wal-Mart and every billboard seemed to be enormous. Also along the highway we passed so and so's Quality Beef; cows were literally packed no more than three feet apart inside cruel looking metal fences. There must have been thousands of cows directly along the side of the highway spanning no more than a quarter mile long. I had never been more content to be a vegetarian than at that particular moment.

The New Mexico terrain was similar to Texas, except beyond the flat plains powerful, picturesque mountains seemed to rise up from nowhere. Certain portions of I-40 in New Mexico have the highest speed limit I have ever encountered at 75 miles per hour. After a long and grueling day of driving we will be stopping shortly at Santa Rosa Lake State Park and hopefully catching up on the sleep we lost last night in Arkansas. We have been in four states today; that blows my mind.

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