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« On the Road: Dalhart, Texas | Main | On the Road: Salome, Arizona »

On the Road: Flagstaff, Arizona

Click on Thumbnail for MapUnfolding the Map

I'm back.  After a year and a half since the last post, I'm finally set about finishing this trip and making this blog a regular occurrence.  First, it's exciting to be on Squarespace where I can host my maps as well as the blog.  Second, I'm excited about what this blog will be.  Littourati is not supposed to be academic criticism.  The blog's subtitle is "Life, literature and maps."  That's what it is.  The life is mine; it is what the literature evokes in me.  It is my points of reference on my own inner map, revealed by the physical map that is referenced in the work I'm reading.  You are all free to add your own points of reference; in fact I encourage it.  It is my hope that the melding of all of our inner and geographical points of reference will enrich our understanding of the literature we read.  After all, what is literature unless we can connect and relate it to our experiences?

So, strap in for the bus ride back to Paterson, New Jersey, and to whatever literary works, points in our imagination and points on the map this blog takes us!  And if you haven't figured it out by now, click on the map to see where we've been and where we are.

Book Quote

"Then we swung north to the Arizona mountains, Flagstaff, clifftowns. I had a book with me I stole from a Hollywood stall, Le Grand Meaulnes by Alain-Fournier, but I preferred reading the American landscape as we went along. Every bump, rise, and stretch in it mystified my longing."

On the Road, Chapter 14

Postcard of 1940s FlagstaffFlagstaff, Arizona

Flagstaff lies at the base of the San Francisco Peaks in Northern Arizona.  When I think of it, I think of it in an alpine setting, surrounded by mountain meadows in the midst of pine woods.  At least, that's how I remember Flagstaff on my four or so times visiting or passing through the area.

My first visit was when I met my wife in Sedona after a conference she was attending.  I drove past the outskirts of Flagstaff on I-40 and picked up my wife.  We wandered around the vortices and red rocks, and then camped in Slide Rock State Park in Oak Creek Canyon.  We visited Flagstaff, and then made a stop at some of the cliff dwellings that Jack speaks of in the quote at Walnut Canyon National Monument.  The other times I've been to Flagstaff, it has been mostly passing through.

Flagstaff is, I believe (but I don't know for sure), the highest point along I-40.  Route 66 traveled through here - the route that Jack's (and Sal's) bus probably traveled as it made it's way east.  To the north, past the mountains, lies the Grand Canyon and this juxtaposition of high points and deep chasms offers an interesting landscape of contrasts.  To the south, one descends toward Phoenix and its present air-conditioned, rip-away-the-desert life.  To the east, one marches along a plateau through Albuquerque until making a long, slow descent into Texas.  To the west, the road descends into California and eventually, the LA area.

Flagstaff is also a city of trains.  Sal does not mention the trains, but Flagstaff is a major railroad crossing point, with anywhere from 75-85 trains a day passing through.  When we got a motel room there, we made sure to stay away from the railroad tracks so that we could get some sleep.  I'm sure that when Jack passed through, the trains paralleling his bus had the assortment of down-and-outs hiding in boxcars, ready to jump off before they hit the Flagstaff railyards so they wouldn't get beaten and arrested by the railroad bulls.  I wonder if Jack ever rode the rails?  When I lived in Milwaukee in the 80s, I knew a modern day hobo, who would hop freight trains every so often to get to another place, and once I saw, standing on an overpass while a freight train passed underneath, a small group of people riding in an open car.  They waved up at me as they went past.

I see Flagstaff as a high point, where depending on one's perspective and direction, they can stop and take a look at the possible directions they can travel.  However, Sal's mind is set directly on East.  The book he mentions, but is not interested in, tells the story of a hopeless romantic at the crossroads of childhood and adulthood.  Perhaps Sal is at his own crossroads, passing from his previously romantic dream of the West, tarnished a little by his experiences and his lost love, and longing for that simpler worldview represented by the American landscape as his bus hurtles east, toward adult responsibility and the comfort of the familiar.

If you want to know more about Flagstaff

Arizona Daily Sun (Flagstaff newspaper)
City of Flagstaff
City of Flagstaff Blog
Flagstaff Convention and Visitors Bureau
Flagstaff Daily Photo Blog
Northern Arizona University
Wikipedia: Flagstaff

Next up: Dalhart, Texas

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