I Almost Prayed in Albuquerque: Spirituals in Sunshine and Shadow

In Summer 2007, I drove from San Diego to Cooperstown for Tony Gwynn’s induction into the Baseball Hall of Fame. This is Part 7 of a nine-part series covering the first day of my journey.

I stuck around for a couple innings and then got back on the road. The route north took me through Tonto National Forest — at nearly 3 million acres, it’s the fifth largest in the United States — and Coconino National Forest, past Agua Fria National Monument and Montezuma Castle National Monument.

Agua Fria contains more than 450 ruins left by the Native Americans who inhabited these lands in the 13th to 15th centuries. It’s good to remember that our nation’s history long predates European settlement, and I would have enjoyed a brief visit had time permitted.

On this day, however, I could not stop at any of these places, nor could I swing a visit to the picturesque artist community of Sedona. I tuned instead to NPR and listened to its mix of classical music and news as I climbed up into the mountains, toward I-40.

Somewhere between New River and Black Canyon City, the rain hit. With the water came a welcome shift in temperature. The downpour continued all the way to Winslow, though, and three hours of thunderstorms and poor visibility kept me from enjoying the cooler climate as much as I might have.

The difference in elevation between Phoenix and Flagstaff is roughly 5000 feet. It’s a gradual climb, but there are stretches where you’re driving uphill for a long time. When the rain is falling faster than your wiper blades can wick away the water and you slow to 40 mph on the interstate, it feels like swimming upstream.

Between flashes of lightning and flood warnings, I listened to a dramatic piece for orchestra by American composer Peggy Stuart Coolidge called Spirituals in Sunshine and Shadow. I had never heard it before, but the music fit the mood and helped me concentrate on the road in front of me rather than the various other distractions that Mother Nature had set into motion. I’m sure the downpour helped the locals, but I would have preferred more sunshine and less shadow, more green and less grey.

I eventually hooked up with I-40 in Flagstaff and took it east. Here the rain was less punishing, so I could enjoy my surroundings. Near the mile 219 marker, east of Winona (don’t forget it!), I’d spotted a sign for “Padre Canyon” and the thought of it brought a smile to my face as I evaded puddles outside a service station in Winslow. It was a good omen, I’d decided, despite my lack of belief in omens.

Tagged as: , , , , ,

1 Responses »

  1. I’m enjoying the road trip, Geoff. I went to school in Flagstaff so the SD-Yuma-Gila Bend-Phx-Flag stretch is one I know well.

    You’re a madman for pushin’ on to Albuquerque in one day!