Tag Archives: navigation

Turn Here Honey!

“You said we need gas. Turn here!”

Gas Station on the road to Monument Valley

“Do you think the pumps are still working?” Standard Oil was broken up under the antitrust laws in 1911 some of which eventually became Exxon, Mobil and Chevron. As you can see we were in Cow Springs which is on Route 160 in Arizona on the way to Monument Valley not to be confused with Wild Cow Springs Recreation Area in western Arizona not to be confused with mad cows. Speaking of which himself may have brought them to mind when I entreated him to “Turn here!”:

Dinosaur tracks on the road to Monument Valley

It seemed a reputable tourist destination from the look of the sign. Don’t you think so? Though I am the designated navigator himself picks and chooses when to listen to me. He didn’t turn so I cannot confirm if they were real dinosaur tracks.

The good news is that we made it to Monument Valley despite my misdirection:

monument valley
That’s our black truck. It was very orange by the end of the day.

monument valley

monument valley

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This is Your SatNav Speaking

There's Mt. Shasta! We must be on the right road.
There’s Mt. Shasta! We must be on the right road.

On the one hand it’s a wonder we can find our way out of a cardboard box. On the other hand our navigational skills strangely complement each other so we get by, through or around most obstacles to our destinations.

Who planted these big trees right next to the road?
Who planted these big trees right next to the road?

Jimmy navigates by cities, towns, pubs (sadly few in the U.S.)  landmarks and an innate sense of direction. The last being something that eludes me as I can get turned around in a gas station as though I have been spun blindfolded. I can, however, read a map, use a compass, orientate myself (most days) with directions given in north, south, east and west and navigate by route numbers and road names on a town plan. “Turn left here, take the second right, go half a mile and the campsite will be on your left.” And there it is.

“How do you do that?” Jimmy is convinced a type of sorcery is at work when I find my way around an unfamiliar town merely by consulting a map. But he is quicker to read and interpret road signs, judge appropriateness of road conditions and take decisions. “I’m not turning there!”

“But the map says . . . . oh, no, you don’t want to turn there.” I’ve directed him to turn, trailer in tow, into a junkyard, a muddy farm track, dead end streets, supermarket parking lots and non-existent roads.

If this is the wrong road at least the scenery is spectacular.
If this is the wrong road at least the scenery is spectacular.

So between us and with a big dollop of tolerance for each other’s foibles we have found our way throughout Europe and the U.S.

Yes, this is the right road!
Yes, this is the right road!

Navigating in the U.S. comes easy to me as the road system – interstates and in towns – makes sense to me. I know my east from my west even if do very occasionally fumble my left and my right. Odd numbers on roads generally indicate north and south and evens east and west. In town, if we’re at 4400 Main Street then 5400 Main is ten more blocks. If we’re just passing First Street then Sixth will be five blocks away. Watch out for those pesky Streets vs. Avenues! Fifth Street is an entirely different notion to Fifth Avenue. Add Fifth Street SW and Fifth Avenue NE to the mix and then you really have to think it through before striking out across town but it’s all logical if you’re paying attention.

The grid work of a town plan is a just mathematical puzzle – up two, across three and down one block and voilà, there is the restaurant. There must be a bit of spatial awareness attached to this thinking that Jimmy doesn’t apply to the problem. But truthfully, I think he just doesn’t try. He doesn’t have to. No more than I have to get out of the car when it is raining (and even when it isn’t) and pump gas. By and large the U.S. road system is instinctive to me. I grew up on it. I don’t have to figure it out. It just makes sense to me like speaking English makes sense. Lubbock, Texas is the exception to this where even the locals can’t give you directions.

Generally I can follow squiggly routes on the map and end up where I intended except when under pressure, especially time pressure calling for quick thinking and spot-on decision making. Those are the times I give Jimmy as much information as I can and then let him make the mistake, I mean decision. He seems to think I don’t know is not an acceptable answer when asking me which way do I go here? and insists I say something specific even if when I have no idea.

Jimmy and I navigating our way up Lake Powell. Oh yeah, like that's us.
Jimmy and I navigating our way up Lake Powell. Oh yeah, like that’s us.

Perhaps the issue of blame is important when we are lost.

You thought I was kidding. There I am in the pink shirt under the left-hand arch of Rainbow Bridge. You can only get there by boat on Lake Powell. (I sometimes stretch the truth.)
There I am in the pink shirt under the left-hand arch of Rainbow Bridge. You can only get there by boat on Lake Powell. It was a slightly bigger boat than pictured above.
Córdoba: Back Streets of the Old Jewish Quarte...
Córdoba: Back Streets of the Old Jewish Quarter (Judería) (Photo credit: Jesse Varner)

The road system in Europe still baffles me. Their ancient roads have evolved over centuries, not been planned and laid out coherently like in the United States. Modern motorway systems are logical to someone who likes numbers but cities are often rabbit warrens of narrow lanes. Many streets have origins long before America was a twinkle in C. Columbus’ eye. The Jewish Quarter in Cordoba is one of many places to get lost on claustrophobic winding streets that even a Mini Cooper couldn’t maneuver. And I can’t apply any logic to European country roads.

How we ever made our way through France to the south of Spain and back again – new to RVing – is beyond me.

We even got lost in the Channel Tunnel Terminal and ended up on an empty platform – our departure time imminent and no possibility of a U-turn with a 26 foot trailer behind us. After a panicked phone call a Terminal Land Rover took us on a tour of the platforms, up one and down another, to lead us onto our train.

Now wasn’t that an omen of things to come?

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Another Dam Mistake

Can we? Can't we?
Can we? Can’t we?

What a couple of dopes we are.

“Are we going over Hoover Dam?”

“I don’t know.”

“Did you see that sign?”

“Yes. Let me look at the map.” Flip, flip, flip, flip. “Oh! Yes. Oops.”

Though we only had a journey of about 150 miles from Wikieup, Arizona to Las Vegas, we’d both studied the route several times to check our approach into Sin City. Hoover Dam nestles on the border of Arizona and Nevada, as bold on the map as the Boulder Dam that it used to be. The 247 square mile mass of Lake Mead shows as a big blue splash behind the dam on the road atlas, fed by the mighty Colorado River, downstream of the Grand Canyon.

Lake Mead NV
Lake Mead NV

How could we miss that? But neither of us had seen it, noted it or planned for it.

“The sign said ‘no trailers’.”

“It meant no commercial trailers.”

“Are you sure? It just said ‘no trailers’.”

“Well, yes . . . no . . . . I don’t know. We’ll just keep going and see if we get turned back.”

Flip, flip, flip, flip. “A hundred and forty miles.”

“What’s a hundred and forty miles?”

“A hundred and forty miles there and back to a junction where we can then go the long way round.”

“What should we do?”

Why does he ask me these impossible questions? I’ve learned not to commit myself. Equal blame will be allocated if the journey goes all wrong. I kept quiet while he concentrated on aiming the car down the road, possibly in the wrong direction.

“There’s another sign. It definitely says ‘no trailers.’ Ah, a phone number, 1-866 . . . oh. How are you supposed to read all that at 55 mph? Now what do we do?” I asked.

It was Jimmy’s turn to be non-committal to my question, perhaps pretending it was rhetorical. We’d only just passed through the town of Kingman and the landscape was looking barren as we climbed into high desert.

We’re always climbing. The slightest puff of wind on our nose causes our car to change down into third gear. We’ve traveled “uphill’” all the way from Washington State down to Florida and back to Washington again.

“If I’m quick, I might get an internet signal. Maybe they have a website.” And they did. “Commercial trailers are prohibited to drive over Hoover Dam but recreational vehicles CAN cross the dam,” and then I did lose the signal.

“Well this is a nice surprise. We’re going to drive over Hoover Dam. I didn’t know it was here, did you?”

Hoover Dam - too big to fit in my wide angle lens!
Hoover Dam – too big to fit in my wide angle lens!

We’d driven hundreds of miles specifically to see the Grand Coulee Dam in Washington State yet here we were about to drive right over Hoover Dam by mistake, or like the chicken crossing the road – to get to the other side, but in this case, to get to the other side of a river.

Hover cursor to read captions or click to enlarge:

It is a little concerning that in this late stage in our travels, with all our navigating experience that we failed notice Hoover Dam. It is so huge it contains enough concrete to construct a two-lane road from San Francisco to New York – a definite landmark.

The deep ‘V’ shape of this dam is an image familiar to both of us as it is to many people but who knew it was just 25 miles southeast of Las Vegas? We’ve probably missed more tourist destinations than we’ve seen as we hurtle around the three and a half million square miles of this country. Jimmy is an alien and I’m almost a non-native, having lived more years in Europe than the U.S., so what he never knew in the first place as a foreigner, I’ve forgotten as a repatriated ex-pat.

So, no, we didn’t know Hoover Dam was smack dab in front of us and we were going to tow our trailer right over it.

This country is so vast, that there are too many geological, technical and historical wonders spread over thousands of miles for us to be aware of every little (and big) one in our vicinity.

Anyway, I’m making excuses now for our ignorance. One would think we’d have a better system by now.

While the pleasure of seeing one of America’s great engineering marvels was still causing us to grin with our serendipity (a more pleasing word than stupidity) we drove straight into Las Vegas rush hour traffic on a main artery to the center. Memories of towing through Los Angeles, New York, Chicago, San Francisco, as well as the kamikaze driving styles around us raised some white knuckles in the car. I counted down the numbers to our exit to North Las Vegas where we proceeded to get lost and Jimmy became more terse.

Which is only funny when it is someone else’s husband.

We popped back three years later for the pleasure of driving over the new bridge. Disappointingly you can’t see nuthin’ as you drive across. I guess gazing at the stunning landscape while attempting to point a car across a high bridge vulnerable to cross winds is asking for trouble:

Mike O'Callaghan–Pat Tillman Memorial Bridge - photo taken from Hoover dam
Mike O’Callaghan–Pat Tillman Memorial Bridge – photo taken from Hoover dam. Old road visible below – waaaay down there!

It’s Magic!

Sunset on Pamlico Sound, Outer Banks, NC
Sunset on Pamlico Sound, Outer Banks, NC

With one last stab at having a warm, beach break on the east coast after a cool, wet summer we slipped down the narrow peninsula in Virginia that is isolated from the rest of the state by Maryland and the Chesapeake Bay. We leapt across the mouth of the bay on the 23 mile long Chesapeake Bay Bridge/Tunnel – one of the Seven Engineering Wonders of the Modern World – and on to the barrier islands that make up the Outer Banks of North Carolina (this is back in 2009 in our time machine).

In Cape Hatteras we received free full body exfoliation courtesy of sand blasting at the beach. Wrapping ourselves in our beach towel to stand with wind and sand stinging our legs, we admired the spectacular surf. A high tide with huge rollers was being pushed back by an offshore wind.

Brave souls testing the surf
Brave souls testing the surf

Breaking, crashing and frothing, the surf created spray rainbows. After watching several brollies turn themselves inside out and cartwheel down the beach, we abandoned the beach and sank into the dunes for protection from the wind. With no view of the ocean we persevered long enough to eat our gritty sandwiches.

We should have stayed in Puget Sound in Washington State on the west coast with their good view of Mt. Rainier. They had a wonderful summer.

This was prefaced by an evening of country music and line dancing in Rockyhock, North Carolina, after which we set off on an obscure route of roads so feint looking on the map that I knew an appointment with the optician was needed. I had pegged with my finger the junction where I should start looking – after a millimeter, maybe a mile – for a bridge. Jimmy drove and drove and drove. The bridge looked to be about three miles long on the map. Even I couldn’t miss that. But it didn’t materialize.

I was presented with a dilemma. Do I say something and set the scene for a possible “lost again!” scenario or just keep quiet and hope things will right themselves by magic. They sometimes do. I decided to voice my concerns without making it look like my fault.

“This doesn’t seem right. We should have come to a bridge by now.”

“You should have studied the map before we set off, shouldn’t you?”

Well that didn’t work did it?

“We can’t turn around here” he said, voicing his annoyance. We were on a narrow country road with deep ditches, possibly full of alligators, on either side.

Helloooo, my preciousssss
Helloooo, my preciousssss

I started to squirm and my sweaty palm wrinkled up the road atlas. As is usual in these circumstances we passed the next five minutes in silence.

“Oh, look. Route 94.”

“What?”

“Nothing,” I replied hastily. I could see my mistake. How stupid. I held my breath and willed the bridge to appear. By magic. And it did.

About halfway along the lengthy stretch of bridge over the Albemarle Sound, a poor pancaked rabbit appeared on the roadway. “How did he get out here?” himself asked.

“He probably had someone like me navigating for him,” I retorted without contrition.

No thanks to me, but we hadn’t taken any wrong turns after all.

Sunset on Pamlico Sound, Outer Banks, NC - my reward for navigating badly.
Sunset on Pamlico Sound, Outer Banks, NC – my reward for navigating badly.

It Wasn’t My Idea to Come This Way

“How wide are we?” I asked my driver.

My expert driver managed this one. Surely a canyon in Wyoming would be no problem!
My expert driver managed this one. Surely a canyon in Wyoming would be no problem!

“Eight feet,” he replied. “Why?” with an edge to his voice.

“Did you see that sign? It said, ‘All loads over 8½ feet wide require pilot’ That doesn’t bode well does it?”

“Do you think we should turn ‘round?”

“I have no way of knowing,” I said, unhelpfully. You’re not going to catch me that easily. “You decide.” Jimmy kept going towing our eight foot wide box home behind us as I knew he would.

After I had studied the road atlas and found two routes for the day, he had chosen this particular byway to Laramie. I refuse to have the final say in choosing a route for our wanderings after our fiasco of overheating and driving at 10 miles per hour up through the Bighorn Mountains with an unhappy parade of vehicles behind us.

Gradients are not shown on our road map, only the steepest elevations. If the engine is going to blow up, let it be on his head, figuratively speaking, you understand.

Is that where we're headed?
Is that where we’re headed? There’s snow on those mountains!

“Well, it’s pretty so far,” Jimmy said, optimistically as we drove through rolling countryside towards the snow-capped bursts of the Rocky Mountains.

“Yes, well it’s flat so far.”

The sign I’d just seen was obviously niggling Jimmy and visions of getting stuck in narrow winding canyons must have been plaguing him when he said, “It’s that 8½ feet that worries me. We’ll have three inches to spare each side.”

“Yup.” He still didn’t turn around and as the road began to climb I wondered if we should have an altimeter installed in the car.

“It’s 98° outside,” Jimmy informed me, avoiding both the gradient and width issues.

Well, that will help the engine temperature when we start to clamber through the Rockies won’t it? I thought uncharitably. We maintained a groaning 35 mph in 3rd gear as we climbed steadily upwards. The peaks loomed nearer and looked even more daunting from our new height. “How far have we come on this road?” I asked Jimmy.

“About two miles. Why?” he said abruptly. He is always suspicious when I ask a question I should already know the answer to.

“We’ve still got 50 miles to go on this mountain pass.”

“I only picked this short cut to make you feel better about your navigational gaff last week.”

It looks like a dead end but I assure you it isn't!
It looks like a dead end but I assure you it isn’t!

Yeah. Yeah. As we reached a high plateau, the road ahead formed a thin, looping ribbon and disappeared into steep altitudes. The landscape was barren with rocky outcrops and low growing, arid-loving sagebrush. The road narrowed and its surface deteriorated so I looked up into the sky, hopefully, only to see two nasty looking turkey vultures circling overhead so dropped my gaze to a disconcerting number of skid marks showing hasty exits from the roadway into the ditch. At least here in Wyoming there aren’t the disturbing little white crosses beside the road that show traffic fatalities as in South Dakota.

Of the 600 species of animals purported to be in this area, I was unnerved to see only the creepy turkey vultures. I sneaked a look at the gas gauge and was comforted to see we still had three-quarters of a tank to get us out of trouble but became uneasy again when checking my phone. There was no signal. Jimmy became quiet as the turkey vultures circled hungrily and the thrusting Rockies taunted us in the distance.

Who would find us out here? We hadn’t seen another vehicle in an hour. The only signs of human existence were the deadly skid marks.

Turkey Vulture
Turkey Vulture (Photo credit: Jim Bahn)

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