Recently we journeyed north to spend the Thanksgiving holiday in the United States. While expats can find turkeys in the frozen section of Sam’s stores south of the border the last Thursday in November has no significance in Mexico. Mike and I began mentally planning for this holiday travel in September. At that time, our vision of the trip started with a non-stop flight into Oregon, a car rental and a leisurely, southbound drive on PCH where we would take in the amazing sights of the Pacific Coast. This excursion would deliver us to Los Angeles in time for the holiday and conclude with a flight home to Mexico. Sounds great. While envisioning the landscape rolling by like scenes from Sideways or Big Little Lies I recalled our responsibility for our 16 year old, somewhat crotchety, somewhat blind, somewhat deaf canine who is a true piece of work when we are out of sight. We had not calculated Lola into our west coast cruising. Our plans needless to say were abruptly altered to include the pooch. Thanksgiving 2019 was now a twenty eight hour road trip. We knew LA would be filled with fun, feasting and family so we decided our “joyride” needed a touch of funky.
Instead of stopping in the charming coastal towns of Crescent City, Big Sur and Santa Barbara we opted for staying in towns where we could find hotels oozing in oddity. First stop, Gila Bend, Arizona. The giant sign on the outskirts of the little whistle-stop boasts, “Gila Bend a Town of 1917 Friendly People and 5 Old Crabs.” The five bellyachers, Earl, Scott, Clyde, Peggy and Pat are listed by name. In this neck of the desert solar panels outnumber residents and according to Prince Harry, you can find the best pizza in the world. Yes, that Prince Harry. Most importantly however, Gila Bend is home to the Space Age Lodge.
As we neared Gila Bend, our first stop was a quick detour to the nearby Painted Rock Petroglyph State Park. There we found an ancient archaeological site with over 600 boulders displaying hundreds of etchings created by prehistoric people. These artistic symbols resemble human figures, the spiral of the Milky Way and lizards a plenty. There are also various squiggles potentially representing nearby water sources long drained as the result of new agricultural influences in the area. The state park is operated by three hosts who are happy to share the history of the area and its influence on the Great American West.
Making our way toward Gila Bend, we came upon the Solana Generating Station. This solar energy plant houses over 3,200 solar collectors on approximately 550 acres of land. The enormous mirror like panels follow the movement of the sun throughout the day. They collect enough energy to power over 70,000 homes annually while dispelling zero CO². Fittingly, in español the word solana means sunny spot.
After two educational detours we unknowingly passed through what must have been a time warp to find a 1950’s style, door on the outside, motel that would prove to be a Big Bang in our travels. One cannot miss the quirky facade of the Space Age Lodge.
The mission control, registration area is located inside a neon lit, Starship style dome. Once inside a slight tilt of the head upwards reveals a mural of astronauts, constellations, asteroids and planets in the rotunda above. Guests are given a boarding pass, a.k.a. room key, then advised to navigate down the sidewalk toward the bright blue doors. The exterior of the building is painted gray with iridescent glitter embedded in the paint creating a glistening starlight effect. Upon locating the correct chamber, with the help of U.F.O. signage, you find small, clean, plain rooms filled with photos of various USA Space Shuttle and rocket launch missions.
The property is compact so it’s just a short “spacewalk” to the pool area decked out in EVERYTHING silver. While unused due to the time of year this area is decorated with sleek lounge chairs, tubular lighting arches, metal tables and satellite style sunshades. As an added bonus, of course, the nearby hot tub glows an eerie extraterrestrial green. Interestingly, but not surprising, this tiny motel in the middle of the Arizona desert is packed for the night quite possibly with alien beings.
After the long drive and dinner at Harry’s favorite, Little Italy, we completely cratered for the night. We were awoken every so often by the sound of the trains rumbling down the tracks located behind the motel. While some may think of this interruption of sleep as a nuisance, I’m choosing to think of it as an imitation of the sound of “lift off” fitting in nicely with the whole theme.
Following our questionable celestial slumber we felt a gravitational pull toward the neighboring Space Age Restaurant. The diner style establishment offers all-day meal service while doubling as the local bar open until the wee hour of 10 pm. We opted for the “Out of This World Breakfast” fare. The service was stellar and the pancakes no doubt added to our individual masses. After filling the black holes in our bellies at the cosmic cafe we were ready to blast off on the reminder of our quest for oddity. While Gila Bend is not a land of little green men, it is a location that can only leave visitors with a glowing aurora.
November 27, 2019
Quote: “This is Ground Control to Major Tom.”David Bowie, Space Oddity