Long Trip

Cross-Country: Adventures Alone Across America and Back

400T E cover

I am proud to announce the publication of my new book, a non-fiction travel narrative entitled  Cross-Country:  Adventures Alone Across America and Back:

After a childhood of summers spent in the back seat of a car, and four months before the turn of the millenium, M.M. Justus decided to follow in the footsteps of her heroes John Steinbeck and William Least-Heat Moon, not to mention Bill Bryson, and drive alone across America’s backroads for three months.  Like the bear going over the mountain, she wanted to see what she could see.

The places she visited ranged from the homely to the exotic, from the Little Town on the Prairie to Scotty’s Castle, from New York’s Twin Towers to an ‘alien’ landing site in Wyoming.  From snow in Vermont to the tropical heat of New Orleans. 

After over 14,000 miles, history both public and personal, and one life-changing event, she finally arrived back where she’d started from, only to discover it wasn’t the same place she’d left behind at all.
It is available in print through Amazon and CreateSpace, and through other retailers coming soon, and as digital editions through Amazon and Smashwords, with other retailers coming soon:

You can read the first chapter for free here:  http://mmjustus.com/fictionCrossCountry.html

Thank you for your time.

M.M. Justus
Categories: books, Cross-Country, exploring, highways, Long Trip, museums, national parks, outdoors, parks, philosophy, self-publishing, travel, writing | Tags: , , , | Leave a comment

Once upon a time on a trip to Alaska, day 45

Fullerton, California

Monday, July 30, 1973

HOME!!!”  Which is all that my diary says for that day.  And plenty.

Just out of curiosity, I put our itinerary into Google maps’ directions screen, and discovered that in 45 days, we went roughly 7600 miles, not counting side trips or out-and-backs.  That equals roughly 180 miles a day.  Which really doesn’t sound like much, until you think about it being the equivalent of 180 miles every single day for 45 days.

When I was forty years old, I made what I still refer to as my Long Trip (uppercase intentional).  I drove over 14,000 miles by myself in a little under three months.  I went from here near Seattle across the top of the U.S. to Vermont, down the east coast to Florida, then across the South and Southwest to California, where I rolled my car in the middle of the Mojave Desert.  I then managed to make my way to my sister’s home in the Bay Area and flew home from there.  A year ago I blogged that journey day by day.  Like our Alaska trip, this was another journey from which I still date events in my life.  It was one of the best things I ever did.  The really funny thing is, I drove an average of almost exactly 180 miles a day on that trip, too.  And I thought I was being leisurely about it.

I am hoping to make another Long Trip in a year or two, if I can afford the gas and figure out what to do with my two cats for the duration (for my last long trip, the pair I had at the time went to stay with a friend, but I don’t want to impose on her twice).  This time I want to drive across the middle of the U.S. and come back across Canada.  If I do, I hope to blog it in realtime, or as close as I can manage given where and when I can find wifi.

Anyway, for all of you who stuck with me through forty-five days of driving to Alaska and back, I hope you’ll stick around to see where I’m going in the future.

And I hope you will want to check out my novels:

Repeating History is the first of my Yellowstone stories, and is available from Amazon, Smashwords, Barnes and Noble, and iTunes.  It is about a young man, Chuck McManis, who, by virtue of being in absolutely the wrong place at the wrong time, is flung back in time from 1959 to 1877 in Yellowstone National Park, straight into the middle of an Indian war — the flight of the Nez Perce to Canada, pursued by the U.S. Army — and into his own family’s past.

True Gold  is the second in this series, and picks the story up in the next generation.  It is available through Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and Smashwords.  It is the story of Karin Myre, a Norwegian immigrant teenager living in Seattle, who decides to escape a future of too much drudgery and no choices by running off to the Klondike Gold Rush in 1897.  Stowing away on one of the many overcrowded ships bound north, she finds herself trapped in the cargo hold with a crowd of second thoughts.  But her rescue from the captain and a fate worse than death by a determined young prospector from Wyoming and his photographer partner is only the beginning of her search for a future of her own making.

The third novel, tentatively titled Finding Home, picks up the story of the widowed father Chuck left behind in Repeating History, his search for his lost son, and what that search reveals to him about his own murky past.  It will be available for purchase in the spring of 2013.

Categories: Alaska trip, books, cats, exploring, Finding Home, highways, Long Trip, national parks, philosophy, Repeating History, self-publishing, travel, True Gold, writing, Yellowstone | Tags: , , , | 2 Comments

11 years ago today, Day 81

The last day, for all intents and purposes.  I drove up I-5 in the rental car, to my sister’s in the Bay Area.  I had been supposed to arrive there just before Thanksgiving, but due to the wreck, I’d decided to cancel the reservations I’d made at Sequoia and Yosemite, and just go on to her house. 

I got there about the middle of the afternoon.  She helped me unload the rental car and return it, and I accidentally got more bits of glass in her washing machine when I attempted to wash the rest of my clothes (I’d shaken them out as well as I could, honest).  At least it didn’t damage her machine like the one in the motel. 

I spent the weekend with my niece at her apartment, then went back to my sister’s for the last couple of days before Thanksgiving.  The day after Thanksgiving I climbed aboard an airplane headed for Seattle. 

The plane ride was a bit — boisterous.  You see, I arrived home in Tacoma the day before the World Trade Organization riots in Seattle in late November, 1999, and the plane was full of protestors.  I’d been so out of touch that I had no idea what was going on, but my memories of the WTO protests are mixed in with apartment hunting and car shopping (don’t ever, ever try to buy a new car and find a new apartment in the same week) and pouring rain and a lot of running around like a chicken with my head cut off. 

I did eventually find an apartment.  And a car.  And, in the midst of all this, before I moved in, I went to the library to check my email and found a message from my other sister (I have three) telling me that my oldest brother-in-law had died.  The message was a couple of days old, and they were holding the funeral as I read the message.  I liked my oldest brother-in-law.  I wish I could have made it to his funeral, but I like to hope he would have understood.

At any rate, on December 1, 1999, I moved into my new apartment, went to bring my cats home from their temporary lodgings, and settled back in to normal life again.

Even given how it ended, I still wouldn’t have missed that trip for the world.  It certainly didn’t cure my itchy feet — in 2000 I drove to both Crater Lake and Yellowstone, and went on a kayak trip down the Missouri River, and I’ve been traveling as much as I’ve been able to ever since.  I hope someday to make another long trip, this one across the midsection of the U.S., north to the Maritimes and back across Canada.  Maybe in another four years…

And maybe I’ll blog that one as it happens.

Categories: Long Trip, philosophy, travel, weather | 4 Comments

11 years ago today, Day 80

Picking up the pieces.  The first thing I did the next morning was finish arranging for a rental car.  I was out in the middle of nowhere.  I had to drive myself out.  Fortunately, Ridgecrest was large enough to have an Avis franchise, and they rented me — another Chevy Cavalier, just like Owl, only two years newer and red. 

My next stop was the towyard, where I finished salvaging what I could out of Owl’s wrecked innards and took a few pictures for posterity.  I’ll inflict just one on you:

He was pretty crunched

“Salvaging my stuff was an interesting experience [now that I think about it, in the Chinese sense].  I found everything but the sweatshirt I’d bought at Niagara Falls.  It may very well be in amongst all the clutter, but I didn’t see it.  I left all but a couple of the audio tapes behind.  They were ruined with the dust and dirt.  Ditto for a bunch of the paperbacks.  The cooler [which was smashed].  The food.  I did salvage most of the cooking implements.  And I rescued the magnets and [some gifts].  Most of the brochures I’d picked up.  All my clothes except for the aforementioned sweatshirt.  And the little pot I’d bought in Death Valley was sitting on the back seat, its box open, most of its padding gone, without a damned scratch.  I laughed so hard I think I was a bit hysterical.”

I said goodbye to my poor dead Owl, climbed into the rental car, and headed west towards Bakersfield.

“It was scary driving at first, and I had to consciously keep myself from squeezing the steering wheel, and I know I drove the people behind me mad because I didn’t go very fast, but I did okay.  And I’m back in the saddle, which is good.”

After I crossed 395 again, the road climbed “over the southern end of the Sierra Nevada.  I went over a 4500 foot pass, then stopped at Lake Isabella for a late lunch.  The road down from Lake Isabella was narrow and winding, but I was careful and handled it just fine.  It was also very beautiful,” but there weren’t really any good places to pull over and take a picture.

“I drove on through Bakersfield to Buttonwillow, which is on I-5, and found a motel.  Tomorrow I’ll be at [my sister’s house — she lives in the Bay Area].

“And I’m alive and in one piece, dammit.  The top of my head hurts a little, my left shoulder aches, and I’m stiff and sore all over, but I’m alive.  And I’m not in the hospital.  And I didn’t put anyone else there, either.”

Which was saying quite a lot right then.

Categories: Long Trip, philosophy, travel | 2 Comments

11 years ago today, Day 79

This is going to be the hardest post of the trip to write, especially as I don’t particularly want to shortchange what was mostly another lovely day on my Long Trip.  So bear with me, please.

Anyway.  I spent most of the morning exploring more of Death Valley.  First I drove up to Scotty’s Castle, an extremely absurd place up on a hillside overlooking the valley:

The castle
The main entrance

I’ll let you read the link for yourself, but suffice to say that the living history tour (given by a docent who pretended it was 1939 during the house’s heyday) was fascinating.

After that, I drove up to Ubehebe Crater, a placename I never could find the origin of.  It’s a meteor crater, way up on the hillside, and it was very cold and windy up there, at least for someone wearing no more than shorts and a t-shirt:
From the edge

After that I headed back to Stovepipe Wells where I bought, among other things, a small pottery jug as a souvenir, and ate lunch.  Then I headed west, out of the park and over the Panamint Mountains to U.S. 395, the highway that runs north-south east of the Sierra Nevada mountains.  I needed to go south almost to the bottom of the Sierras before I could cross them, because most of the more northerly passes, here in late November, were closed for the winter (I suppose I could have gone north a hundred miles or so to I-80, which stays open all year in spite of the snow, but I don’t remember why I didn’t do that). 

On my way out of the park I stopped to take a picture of a coyote:

He was interesting to me because he was so different from a coyote I’d seen in Yellowstone a couple of months before.  Longer legs, thinner fur, bigger ears, longer tail.  Obviously the Yellowstone coyote was compact and furry because he needed to stay warm during the long, cold winters there, while this Death Valley coyote was lanky and less furry because he needed to stay cool in the desert heat.  At any rate, I found the contrast interesting (and I still regret not being able to get a photo of that Yellowstone coyote to demonstrate it).

Outside the park, I turned south on US 395, a route my parents and I had traveled many times on our way from LA to Oregon and Idaho for summer vacations when I was a kid, and drove south through the desert for an hour or so:

The Panamints from US 395

I was headed for the town of Ridgecrest, which is about the only community of any size in that neck of the desert.  I had just turned east on CA 178 when I glanced at my map, as I had hundreds of times before, for over 14,000 miles in fact, to see how much farther I had to go. 

It didn’t turn out the way it had hundreds of times before.  Apparently I bumped the steering wheel by accident, because the next thing I knew the car was on the shoulder of the road about to plow headfirst into the sand.  I panicked, waythehell over compensated, and, well…

I came to hanging upside down from my seatbelt.  I let myself out of it and, carefully avoiding a number of sharp, pointy things, managed to get myself upright.  I shoved on the door.  It wouldn’t move.  I reached up to the steering wheel and honked the horn.  It worked. 

A few minutes later, I heard scrabbling noises outside the car, and a couple of minutes after that, the door opened.  I crawled out and stood up.

There were about a dozen people, half a dozen cars, and at least three cell phones.  When I asked how they knew to find me, there was a chorus of “dust plume.”  A state trooper arrived a few moments later and took charge. 

I and my car (which had to be loaded on a flatbed tow truck) were hauled to Ridgecrest, where Owl was taken to a towyard (after the trooper liberated some clothes and other belongings for me — including my camera and binoculars, which were undamaged inside the armrest storage thing between the front seats) and I was taken to a motel, after declining a trip to the hospital since I had survived, so far as I could tell at the time, remarkably unscathed (I did develop some interesting bruises and a small sore spot on the top of my head by the next day, but that was it — yes, I know how lucky I was).

I will be the first to admit I was in shock.  My heart is pounding now even just thinking about it.  I made phone calls, insurance and family and a rental car.  “I walked two blocks to a little fast food joint called the Golden Ox and struggled to keep the tears back long enough to eat half a hamburger.” 

Oh, and I tried to run a load of laundry, only to have the washing machine at the motel die in the middle of the cycle, apparently from all the crud in my clothes.  Bits of glass and rocks, mostly — oh, and mud.  If I may make one recommendation for anyone who travels with a cooler, it is to please empty the melted ice out every morning before you set out.  Just in case.

Anyway. I didn’t get much sleep that night.  I spent quite some time on the phone with a friend back home, but I couldn’t close my eyes.  I kept seeing the accident, over and over and over.

And that was how I came to roll my car out in the middle of the Mojave Desert.  As my brother-in-law told me a few days later, “You understand that this was a once-in-a-lifetime experience, don’t you?”

Categories: Long Trip, museums, national parks, outdoors, travel | 4 Comments

11 years ago today, Day 78

More desert.  Actually, much more interesting desert, in my not so humble opinion.  I got up and out fairly early, and headed west into Nevada, then north to the town of Searchlight, which has got to be one of the niftier place names I’ve ever run across.  Along the way I took this picture of a rock formation that struck my fancy:

Before I reached Las Vegas, I turned west on I-15 for a few miles, then off on a two-lane highway, crossing into California and on to the town of Baker, where I attempted to grocery shop (Baker’s supermarket was nothing to write home about — I’d have shopped in Kingman, except that I was expecting to have to go through a California agricultural inspection station, which the road I crossed the border on did not have).  Then I turned north, heading towards Death Valley National Park, and lost all my traffic, which was very nice. 

My next stop was the hamlet of Shoshone, where I bought gas at what seemed to me at the time an appalling $1.70 a gallon (for my non-U.S. readers, yesterday I paid $2.99 a gallon, which is fairly normal this year, but I’d been averaging somewhere around $1.35 on my Long Trip).  I thought about stopping for the night at the hostel there, but decided instead to call ahead and see if I could get a room at the Stovepipe Wells Inn in the park.  Which I did, and could.  So I ate lunch in a funky little restaurant which had one wall completely papered in foreign money, with notes written on the bills.  “Turns out some Chinese fellows left a note for some friends there, and sort of started a tradition.”

“After lunch, I drove up into the park over a 3300 foot pass, which doesn’t sound like much until you realize that most of the park (well, the most important part) is below sea level, and down, down, down into the valley.”

 ” I stopped at the place with the lowest elevation in the western hemisphere, 282 feet below sea level.”

The sign says “Badwater” and the elevation.  And I’m not arguing about the description.

See that white dot a bit more than halfway up the hillside?  That’s sea level.

“I drove through multicolored bluffs on a narrow one-lane road.” 

The sign says “Artist’s Palette,” and tells about the minerals that create the colors

“I stopped at the visitor center at Furnace Creek, where the temperature was in the 80sF, and saw their exhibits and picked up a guidebook.  I walked a short trail out to an old borax works (still haven’t figured out what makes borax so valuable).”  And then I came on up to Stovepipe Wells and settled in.

The last time I was in Death Valley I was about seven or eight, I think.  My parents and I drove up there from LA for a long weekend in February one year.  I have two really strong memories of the place.  One was of my dad pulling over at a rock formation called The Devil’s Golf Course (they’re big on Satanic names here), my mother opening her car door, putting a foot out, and yanking it right back in.  Turns out there was a rather large tarantula waiting to show her around. 

My other memory is of getting rained on.  Yes, in Death Valley, where the average annual rainfall is less than 2″, we got rained on.  It wasn’t enough to do more than stir the dust on the car, but still.  How many people can say they were rained on in Death Valley?

I sat out at a picnic table to eat my supper while darkness fell around me.  The stars were spectacular that night.  It’s too bad I couldn’t get any decent photos of them.

But I was awfully glad my motel room was air conditioned.  Even if it was the middle of November.

Categories: history, Long Trip, museums, national parks, outdoors, travel, weather | Leave a comment

11 years ago today, Day 77

I made a rather late start eleven years ago today, after discovering that my milk had leaked into the melted ice in my cooler, and, worse, vice versa.  That was pretty much the most horrid-tasting milk I’ve ever tasted, which is saying quite a bit.

I spent the morning at the Heard Museum in Phoenix.  I was less than impressed by it, “mostly because I was expecting a museum of Southwest Native American history, and what I got was Southwest Native American art.  Which is all fine and dandy, but I’m not real enamored of art museums.  They did have a room full of kachina dolls, which was excellent, and a couple of examples of their housing (a hogan and an Apache brush shelter) and a few exhibits on the different tribes, but most of it was art.” 

I will be the first to admit that I’m not a big fan of art museums for their own sake.  If I’m interested in the period and place the art was created, or if I’m interested in the people who created it or are depicted in it, then I last longer.  But as it was I only spent about an hour and a half there.

“Since it wasn’t even noon yet, I decided to go on to Kingman, in the northwest corner of Arizona.  The road leading out of Phoenix took forever, stoplight after stoplight after stoplight, but I finally got back out to the desert. …  I headed northwest, out across a vast plain of Joshua trees.”  I hate to say this, but “they are so ugly.  They’re all contorted, as if they’re in pain, and they don’t have enough foliage on them for a self-respecting carrot, let alone a twelve-foot tree.  Can you tell I’m getting tired of the desert?”

I arrived in Kingman fairly late in the afternoon.  “Kingman’s a funny town.  It grew up along Route 66, the famous old highway that used to run from Chicago to LA, and that’s still its claim to fame (one of the few parts of of the route not buried under I-40 is on either side of Kingman).  I stayed in the Route 66 Motel, next to the Route 66 Gift Shop.  It was kind of cool, in a kitschy sort of way.”

And Kingman did provide me with one of the more glorious sunsets of the trip:

Sunset from the Route 66 Motel
Categories: history, Long Trip, museums, plants, travel | Leave a comment

11 years ago today, Day 76

“I just noticed that the last few days I’ve been writing 10 instead of 11 in the date.  Wishful thinking or the heat confusing me?”

“I was about three miles down the road when I suddenly realized that a) I hadn’t made a note of the car’s odometer number this morning (as I had been every morning since I’d left home) and b) I couldn’t find my journal.  Panic ensued.  I drove back to the motel and there it was, sitting on the dresser in the room I’d just vacated.  Scared the crap out of me.  After all, it’s only two and a half months of my life in there…”

After I rescued my journal, I headed west out of town again, to Tonto National Monument, which, of course, is more cliff dwellings, as well as desert views and lots of saguaro cactus:

I don’t ever remember seeing saguaro cactus in person before

The reservoir in the distance is Lake Roosevelt, part of Phoenix’s water supply

Cliff dwellings

Up close

And again

Another view from the cliff dwellings

Tonto National Monument is up on a hill, actually in sort of a canyon (kind of hard to have cliff dwellings without a cliff, after all).  There was a nice little visitor center with an interesting video telling the story of the place, and a ranger that reminded me very strongly of a friend back in Tacoma.

The half-mile trail to the cliff dwellings themselves gained 350 vertical feet in that distance.  Which isn’t much except in 90dF+ temperatures and sun beaming down like it was August in November.  I drank almost an entire bottle of water out there.  “In spite of the enormous difference in scenery and the fact that I only met four people on the trail instead of hundreds, it reminded me a lot of the trail up to Clingman’s Dome in the Smokies,” too.

After I left the monument, I drove back to the main highway towards the little town of Miami, where I got gas and asked the attendant where I could get some good Mexican food.  She directed me to a very crowded restaurant (I think the entire town was eating Sunday dinner there that day) that was excellent.  Shredded beef tacos with homemade shells, rice and beans and sopapillas for dessert again.  By the time I was through I was so stuffed that I didn’t bother with supper that day.

After I waddled out, I headed west over the Superstition Mountains to Phoenix, and spent as much time crossing Phoenix to the motel near a museum I planned to visit the next day as I did driving from Globe in the first place.  Then I settled down in the air conditioning and read my Sunday paper (an Arizona Republic).

“I have to say that Phoenix is way too much like Southern California.”  I grew up in Southern California.  This is not a compliment.  And the desert was starting to get a bit old, too.  I was really looking forward to the Sierra Nevadas in a couple of days.

Categories: Long Trip, national parks, outdoors, plants, travel, weather | Leave a comment

11 years ago yesterday, Day 75

Life got a bit out of hand yesterday — I’m also doing NaNoWriMo this year, and starting up a new business, and well…

Anyway.  Eleven years ago yesterday, I climbed into the car and headed west out of Silver City for forty miles, then when that highway turned north, I turned west again onto a smaller road.  The warning signs were a bit off-putting, “steep mountain grades, sharp curves, no commercial traffic,” but the road itself was much better than what I’d been driving on for the last two days.  The worst was a couple of 15 mph switchbacks.  “And it was very scenic — ponderosa pines, junipers, golden cottonwoods, wide grassy fields.  At one point it took me out on the end of this finger of land jutting out into a valley, then in gentle swooping curves down to it.

A nice desert view

“I was, however, having a hard time enjoying it this morning.  Something in the car (not the car itself) was rattling.  It sounded like someone crumpling a piece of paper over and over and over again.  It was about to drive me mad.  I must have pulled over to the side of the road half a dozen times and rearranged where I thought it was coming from, but the problem with that, of course, is that the noise stops when the car does, so I didn’t have a prayer of pinpointing it.

“The strangest things can drive you bonkers when you’ve been traveling alone for a long time.  That sort of thing has been my bete noire off and on during this trip.  Car noises.  People snoring.  People acting like idiots on the road or in hostels.

“Anyway, the rattle mysteriously vanished when I stopped for lunch in a little town amidst the cotton fields called Safford.”

I arrived in Globe, Arizona, about 2:30 in the afternoon.  I’d been having a craving for ice cream all day, so I hit a Dairy Queen for a butterscotch sundae, then went looking for a motel.  It was a good thing I didn’t put that off any later.  There was a rodeo in town, and I got one of the very last rooms for the night. 

When I asked the desk clerk what there was that was interesting to do, she told me about an archaeological site on the edge of town, so I went there.  “Another group of Indians contemporary with the Anasazi except that these folks built pueblos rather than cliff dwellings.”  They were called the Saludo, and the site was called Besh ba Gowah:

A view of the site

One of the exhibits

A closeup of one of the reconstructed buildings

After that I prowled the main street, bought some milk, and went back to my room to rest. 

I think the heat was beginning to get to me.  There’s something just Wrong about 90dF+ temperatures in the middle of November.

Categories: history, Long Trip, museums, outdoors, plants, travel, weather | 2 Comments

11 years ago today, Day 74

Another day, another road that thought it was a Slinky. 

This one led north from Silver City to the Gila Cliff Dwellings National Monument.  Which is only about 45 miles from Silver City, but…  “I wound up and over ridges and down across valleys and around switchbacks so tight I thought I’d run into myself.”  The drive took me about two hours.  That tells you how twisty the road was.  The views along the way were pretty, however:

You can see a long way from the ridgetops in southwest New Mexico

And the drive turned out to be worth it when I arrived at the monument, which was pretty tiny.  “The mile-long trail to the ruins led along a small canyon with views of the dwellings, then switchbacked up the hill so that it’s possible to walk through some of them.  It was a small community, about 40-60 people, and they weren’t Anasazi.  They were a related group called the Mogollon (muggy-on).”  The Anasazi are the folks who built Mesa Verde in southwest Colorado, and I’d mistakenly thought till that day that they’d built all the cliff dwellings in the region.

Here are some of the pictures I took on my walk:

Doesn’t this formation look like a gigantic foot?

My first view of the cliff dwellings


And more dwellings

And really close

It’s amazing how much cooler it is under those rock overhangs.  Natural air conditioning, circa 1000 CE.

After my walk, I ate my lunch at the monument’s picnic area, in the company of rather a lot of Steller’s jays, and some smaller gray birds with a chestnut patch on their backs that I’d never seen before.

Then I headed back to Silver City, by way of a longer road that wasn’t quite so tightly corkscrewed, and got back in time to hit a used bookstore, where I got a cat fix from a little gray and white fur person named Rue.  Then I went looking for a library, and ended up at the University of Western New Mexico, which had Internet access for the public.

“I think I know which way I’m headed tomorrow.  Sort of.  Or at least I thought I did.  Either Show Low, Arizona, which is northwest of here, or Globe, which is southwest.  I guess I’ll make up my mind when my hands hit the steering wheel in the morning.  I haven’t been this indecisive on the entire trip.”

Categories: history, Long Trip, national parks, outdoors, travel | 5 Comments

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