Category Archives: Maps

Where to begin?

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I think it started with a picture of a derelict farmhouse in Almeria. What was standing was standing in a landscape that seemed to be made up of bits of rock and dust that had fallen off it. It was remote, and came with what looked like a quarry dotted with prickly pears and views of cardboard-coloured dusty mountains. It was available for a very reasonable £22,000. I could imagine myself sitting on the shaded deck of the minimalist pod I’d have erected beside it, sketching eagles while visiting friends, keen to work with their hands, rebuilt the walls of the old place. Then we’d all drink wine and eat olives and splash about in the infinity pool. Except there wasn’t any water.

The property, one of hundreds in a similarly parlous state, wasn’t far to the east of the Tabernas Desert, Europe’s only semi-desert; a place that manages to be too hot (peaking on a regular basis just short of 50C) and too cold (substantially below freezing on winter nights) but still rather compelling. The landscape goes on and on, mesmerically repetitive, gouged by rivers that haven’t run for quite some time, and the only things moving on a still day are birds of prey, riding the thermals in a rich blue sky, and their shadows. It’s the kind of place you can imagine being staked out to music by Ennio Morricone. Sergio Leone must have thought so too; An American wild west outpost was created in Tabernas for A Fistful of Dollars, and the spaghetti western was born (although the ‘pork chop western’ would be more gastronomically correct). You can visit the Mini-Hollywood set. It’s been used a zillion times. Look out for it in The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly, For a Few Dollars More, and The Magnificent Seven, as well as  great shots of the surrounding desert in Lawrence of Arabia,  Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, and most recently, the Ridley Scott epic, Exodus, slated for a December 2014 release (in which Christian Bale fresh from his success as a 70s sleazeball in American Hustle plays Moses). So, an interesting area but impractical for someone who likes a long shower.

Thanks to a chain of completely random events, I am starting my meandering quest for a somewheresville in not only the wettest part of Andalucia, but the most expensive inland area. Result. The Sierra de Grazalema, lies not far from Ronda, south of Seville in Andalucia’s southwest, the province of Cadiz. On the upside, it is a spectacularly beautiful area of lakes and mountains and white villages draped over the shoulders of a crag, the natives are friendly, the wine is good, and the walking and cycling (okay, the driving) a visual feast. I want to live here, of course I do. Who wouldn’t? From all that I have learned so far, however, this is one of the most difficult areas in which to find an affordable country house (for all sorts of reasons I’ll go on about at some length at some point). And given that it is also a National Park with strict rules regarding appropriate traditional Andalusian architecture, it is most definitely not the place to enquire about a suitable plot for a minimalist, modernist pod, even if I stress the fact it was always going to be white.

 

 

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To Memphis & Nashville

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Little Rock, Arkansas to Memphis and Nashville, Tennessee, and Atlanta, Georgia: 606 miles, 9 hours, 13 minutes

Great route for breathing in American political and musical history. An alternative – and a loop to boot – would be Atlanta, Montgomery, Birmingham, Memphis and back for your full immersion Martin Luther King and civil rights tour.

 

 

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Leaving Texas for Little Rock

somewheresville route mapFort Worth to West, to Huntsville to Little Rock Arkansas: 599 miles, 9 hours, 57 minutes.

I recommend a trip to the Czech town of West (B). I was itching to visit an Amish community south of West, and also Waco, but Dave said we didn’t have time. Anyway, if I hadn’t have been going to see Dan Phillips of the Phoenix Commotion at Huntsville, I probably wouldn’t have seen that patch of eastern Texas or gone to a drive-thru liquor store in a barn. The area down towards Huntsville, is hilly and forested and bucolic. Huntsville is better known as the birthplace of Sam Houston, and for it’s vast prison (and many Death Row inmates). The drive to Little Rock was pretty boring, a necessary evil.

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Santa Fe to Fort Worth & Dallas

Screen shot 2013-01-12 at 10.09.58Santa Fe to Fort Worth via Wichita Falls (B): 615 miles, 9 hours, 25.

If you fall victim to catchy tunes do not plan a route through Amarillo – that’s all I’m saying. Loved this journey for the flattest of flat roads, big skies, Russell Truck Stop on the New Mexico / Texas border where we met optimistic travellers in a West Virginia mobile pizza delivery van off to California in search of a new life, and the general weirdness. Broke the journey in Wichita Falls.

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Las Vegas to Santa Fe

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Las Vegas to Santa Fe: 831 miles, 14 hours, 2 minutes. 

This rather unusual route took us past the Hoover Dam, Kingman Airport and to Flagstaff for the night, then onto the Grand Canyon, New Mexico’s High Desert, some of New Mexico’s high mountains, a lot of remote one-horse towns and down a series of hairpins to what we call ‘a proper road’ and into Santa Fe.

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Yosemite: Where’s the edge?

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Not everything is plain sailing on the vague, meandering journey to somewheresville. Four lessons learnt on this very day:

1) Local knowledge is good knowledge;

2) A ‘one state per page’ map book isn’t really sufficient;

3) Ignorance isn’t always bliss;

4) Associate the word ‘Stop’ with sentences that begin ‘It might be more interesting if we got off the highway and . . .’

The idea was to drive from Bolinas, north of San Francisco to Las Vegas, Nevada. The people at Shelter Publications suggested “Drive down to Bakersfield and hang a left”. I like that kind of direction – Bakersfield is about halfway on a 600 mile journey, however it’s also pretty close to L.A. and we’d just come from there. So examining the map book and ignoring the snippets of information even this woefully inadequate navigational aid provided like ‘Closed in Winter’, and ‘Peak’ and ‘Graveyard Peak’, ‘Mountain’, ‘Mammoth Mountain’ and ‘Bloody Mountain’, I suggested we ‘cut through’ Yosemite National Park.

To be fair, we wouldn’t have passed through Oakdale (Cowboy Capital of the World – although this is contended by some other ones) or Selma (World Capital of the Raisin) or enjoyed some rather precipitous hairpin bends perched high up in fog above Groveland, but I saw enough of the drops from the passenger window before it got dark to regret opening my mouth. Some 6000 ft up, the GPS signal lost, the road behind us now icy, the Tioga Pass closed because of snow, and a recorded announcement on the Yosemite radio frequency basically saying turn back, turn back, we crawled into the forested national park and paused at the abandoned, ‘Information’ area to examine a sort of route map which was green with some zigzags on it by the light of a lighter. Actually Dave did; I stayed in the car eating whole bars of Butterfingers thinking about horror films where someone goes off to get help and doesn’t come back – although, I have to say, when coerced into opening the door, there was something wondrously exhilarating about the whistling wind and smell of pine and blackest of black nights. As it happens there seemed to be a road through. It would first punish us for being on it by leading us around for an extended series of icy hairpins then, when nauseous, remorseful and terrified by what could be glimpsed beyond the thin white protective line (aka air), it would spew us out on a bigger straighter icy road just south of where we had left it many hours before. So that was fun.

We proceeded in grim silence to Fresno. (Fresno being half way to Bakersfield).

Ironically, having been unable to see anything of one of America’s beauty spots as we slithered through it, the truck stop fast food suburb of Fresno we selected was lit by the sort of lighting normally associated with high security prisons; the Days Inn, the MacDonalds, In and Out Burger, KFC, numerous gas stations and flyovers and train tracks and container depots bathed in bright yellow light. The place smelt of the stuff pushed out of extractor fans at the back of burger joints, a sticky smell that stuck to everything. A second irony: having spent several tense hours up there, up there in Yosemite, looking out for the edge, we now embarked on a similarly tense and lengthy excursion to find the centre. Where was the beating heart, the gastronomic and carefree nightlife centre of Fresno? (Unfortunately I can’t answer that).

You know things are bad when to cheer yourself up the following morning you go to a Drive Thru Macdonalds. ‘Egg Macmuffin please’, I said. ‘Egg Macmuffin’ said Dave to the ear trumpet thing. ‘Grzz arc fast, ar’ comes the reply down the pipe. ‘What?’ said Dave. ‘Okay’ I said, ‘if they’re no longer serving breakfast, please could I have Oats & Fruit’. ‘Have you got any fruit?’ says Dave. ‘Grzz perrrin ar?’ says the person in the pipe. ‘FRUIT. Have you got FRUIT?’  ‘No, Dave. Look: Oats and Fruit. It’s a thing on the menu.’ ‘OATS’ says Dave tetchily to the ear trumpet. ‘OATS’. ‘And fruit’ I say. ‘OATS! FRUIT!’ Dave bellows, bewildered and cross. ‘Grzz fast ar‘ says the pipe, ‘Dragargarr! Dragargarr!’ Trucks were now honking above and behind us. ‘I think the person in the pipe would like us to move onto the collection hatch now’ I say soothingly. ‘Can I take your order?’ says the girl at the next hatch. Anyway, we eventually got it and it was disgusting swash but hot. I gave it to a homeless person panhandling at the Drive Thru exit and felt guilty for doing that for miles.

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