Leg 3: Colorado to Gilbert

Day 9: Colo Spgs to Gallup, 515 miles This was the least fun day of the trip. In fact, I might even call it a bad day, except we got to see Marty and Susan, and that is a good thing, enough to offset the suckiness of the rest. Part of it was just the mileage, but I have a feeling it would have been worse had we stopped 100 miles earlier. Mostly it was the heat, misleading maps, and Alex and I getting on each other's nerves.

Out of Springs, 5 a.m. Yeah, that's part of the frayed-nerves thing, but we needed to make Santa Fe by lunch. First stop (other than one of us changing out of pajamas), breakfast in Las Vegas NM. When we came through here two years ago I remember thinking it was a nice little town, but I had just seen the historic downtown. This time, it looked beat-down.

Lunch: much better. Marty was my first boss at the Mercury News, and now he lives in Eldorado, a little desert community outside Santa Fe. It is always nice to see him -- I always come away from our visits feeling a little more clear-eyed about life in general.

The quest for a playground was a big sinkhole in the middle of our day. A 45-minute fiasco in Santa Fe was largely due to a map with a very liberal interpretation of "park." When we moved on to Bernalillo, we found most of their city park was now condos, expect for a small pocket with no shade and stinky portapotties that of course Alex needed to use. Didn't get back on the road until 4.

Slushee: drink, toy or physics experiment? Discuss among yourselves. At any rate, one was worth about half an hour of amusement to Alex.

Decent camping options were presented in Grants, but Alex was lobbying for a pool so we drove on to Gallup. If there were any other campground with a pool I would have taken it over the one with the signs proclaiming "100% American-owned! We support the war on Islamic terrorism!" The kids at the front desk were fine, but there was one guy -- patron or proprietor? -- who circled the place on his bike during all daylight hours, perhaps looking for WMDs. By the time we got through swim, playground and shower, it was dark. My dinner: the rest of the Rock Springs bread with ranch dip on its way to bad, and a warm Haymaker.

Day 10: Gallup to Gilbert, 300 miles The dinosaurs are still there near Holbrook. Alex informs me they aren't real. No real breakfast in Holbrook, either, so we went on to Snowflake. I was expecting nice forest by taking this alternative route through Show Low and Globe, but it wasn't that attractive -- I probably would have preferred desert.

Got to Gilbert in early afternoon. It was really hot (I know: shocking!). I made the sudden decision that Alex could not set foot in the Mapas' house if that foot was in an embarrassingly stinky sneaker, so we stopped at Target and got a new pair. A nice house it is, too, and we were both really happy to be there. Alex was in the pool within an hour of arriving. I confess I was so relaxed that I fell down on the picture-taking, and I apologize for that.

Days 11-12: Gilbert Phoenix in July, you kind of schedule all your activity around the heat. We took a few excursions early and late, and mostly hung out inside and in pools during the middle of the day. The first day we drove over to Tempe, where I lived for a couple years when I was little. Driving by our old house on E. Balboa Drive, I got out and talked to a woman who was working in the yard. She's the house's third owner (we were the first) and has lived there for more than 30 years. The neighborhood is not bad these days, and I had a sort of dreamlike recognition of many of the places, including the apartments where we lived when we first moved there. On what I remember as the site of Hobo Joe's, Rural and Apache, is a student hang, the Vine Tavern.

The monsoons, the TV people kept telling us, were late in coming. Maybe they were waiting for us. On our second night there, after dinner, I noticed the sky was a weird pinky-brown. "Uh-oh, dust storm," said the Mapas. Alex was very excited by the prospect and ran around telling everyone, "We're waiting for the storm!" There was quite a lot of wind and dust, then quite a lot of lightning and rain, but not enough to wash the dust off my poor car.

Gilbert is, I think, the fastest-growing city in the United States. It's really strange to drive around and see everything so new, and big subdivisions checkerboarded with cattle pasture. It's apparently growing so fast they have run out of good street names. My favorite bad one is Revolta Avenue.

Apologies, again, for the lack of photographic documentation, but it was a very good visit, with much swimming and eating and a minimum of melting.

Leg 4