The Space Age Lodge, Gila Bend, AZ

By the time you get to Phoenix…..you’ll be starving. I think that’s what Glen Campbell really meant. The same might be said about your trip to San Diego if you happen to be going in the opposite direction. While photographs of the Sonoran Desert may be beautiful, to actually drive through the reality can sometimes be an arduous journey. Even the short 3-hour tour from Phoenix to Yuma through the open desert can feel like forever, especially if your “tank” is empty. Lucky for you, there’s the Space Age Lodge in a little town called Gila Bend.

c360_2017-01-15-13-16-55-725_wmArizona is rather large, and because of the nature of the environment, it is fairly inhospitable and impractical for living in, often making road trips feel a little long and somewhat boring after a while. There is no “easy” way to get anywhere, and there’s really nothing new to see, as you’ll probably be looking at the same mountains and sagebrush for a good couple hours at a time. Roadways and thoroughfares are few and far between, and travelers are limited in the routes that they can choose from, and as we desert dwellers always say, “Gas up when you see it, not when you need it.”  That goes for food and bathroom, too. Situated about half way between Phoenix and Yuma along the I-8, where the Gila River turns, is Gila Bend. It’s a strip of street about a mile long, and if you sneeze, you’ll have to turn around and go back a few miles. There’s no water in the river, but you can get gas at the Texaco station and a cool drink and hearty breakfast at the Space Age Lodge…an atomic-age space themed Best Western hotel and diner. The hotel is open for travelers, and no reservation is necessary to enjoy the great coffee and eggs the diner has to offer.

0121172332afb

The Southwest is famous for Atomic Age and Space Alien memorabilia, but what sets the Space Age Lodge apart from the others is the true story behind the building and its decor. Built in 1965, owner Al Stovall was less interested in Little Green Men and more interested in the Race for Space. The owner of a plastics company and a partner in a copper mine, Stovall was interested in space exploration and research and offered his materials in support of government contracts. He built the saucer on top of the restaurant, which was formerly accompanied by copper satellite models as a tribute to his admiration for space exploration and development, and with his connections in the Space Program he acquired many autographed NASA photos of astronauts and space missions. However, in 1998, the diner was almost nearly consumed by fire, and the satellite models were not rebuilt. Furthermore, upon Stovall’s death, his beloved photos were returned to the family. In their place are ginormous murals of space exploration, including a depiction of the Constitution Class USS Enterprise that greets you when you walk in the door.

C360_2017-01-15-13-21-52-853_wm.jpg

c360_2017-01-15-13-22-50-476_wm

America is full of this wonderful “kitsch” that sets us apart. No other country in the world has diners with flying saucers and satellite metalwork on top of a roadside diner in the middle of nowhere. The Space Age Lodge isn’t a HUGE roadside attraction or a big deal, really. In fact, if you’re not paying attention, you’ll miss it. The lodge is a Best Western Plus that is open for business, and each room and hotel area has its own space-y decor. The diner isn’t fancy, so don’t look for the food to have any sort of theme, but it is unique and does offer travelers a bit of Americana on the long road east and west in an otherwise wasteland. The restaurant offers your average diner fare offering your basic breakfast all day, sandwiches and burgers for lunch, and traditional American and Mexican dinner platters at diner prices, small salad bar, and if nothing else, the coffee is good. It’s just a nice little landing pad to stop and stretch your legs at, grab a bite, and maybe snag a shot glass or coffee cup souvenir before relaunching.

untitled-1

 

The Bridge of Sighs, Venice, Italy

Santa Lucia station is the last stop on the line from anywhere to Venice…but only because if you kept going you’d end up in the lagoon from which the city rises. Lucky for you, as you continue on foot, there are many bridges for you to keep your feet dry, but none so globally iconic as the 17th century white limestone bridge connecting the New Prison to the Doge’s Palace on the far side of the city.

Nicknamed the “Bridge of Sighs”, the legend says that the name is inspired from the Italian, “Ponte dei sospiri” given by Lord Byron in the 19th century after a romantic notion that convicts would walk across this bridge from their trials in the palace to their sentence in the prison. As they passed over the canal, the stone-bar windows would afford them the last view they would ever see, which was a magnificent view of the City of Venice, inspiring them to “sigh” heavily with regret for their future view as they trudged their way to their cells. OK, maybe we’re being a little over-dramatic here, as the bridge was built long after the inquisitions and trials by ordeal. Nonetheless, Byron isn’t completely wrong….The bridge is exceptionally beautiful and famous all over the world, and while it may not be true from the inside, there is no shortage of romantic sounds emanating from the tourists would flock to see it.

Bridge of Sighs North View

View looking north from Ponte della Paglia

Truthfully, there isn’t much of a view of the city from inside the bridge. You can access the bridge itself and personally trudge from palace to prison if you like, but you can only do so by purchasing a tour of the Palazzo (fancy Italy talk for “Palace”) and the Prison. The bridge is not accessible from the outside, and there are no free corridors. Once inside, however, you will find that the tiny, thick windows aren’t quite large enough to inspire much of a view of anything. On the north side is a commanding view of….more white limestone….as the buildings are tall and the canals narrow, and all that is visible is canal water and the shadowed blocks of the nearby buildings. To the south, however, if you trudge at just the right time, you may catch a limited but still inspiring glimpse of  the Church of San Giorgio Maggiore at sunset, and perhaps you will see what Lord Byron saw and respond accordingly. This is the extent of the view of Venice from the bridge, but if this is your sole interest and you’re not inclined to tour the rest of the building, there are three other methods for bridge-viewing.

Bridge of Sighs South View

View of San Giorgio Maggiore from Canonica Bridge

The Bridge of Sighs is one of the most famous and easily recognizable bridges in the world, so if you want to find it from the outside, follow the crowd. On the outside, the only vantage points to see it from are the Ponte della Paglia on the south side (which is where the largest crowds gather) or the Canonica Bridge on the north side. You cannot see the bridge from the windows of the Palazzo or the Prison. This, however, is only two ways to view this structure, and I did promise three, didn’t I…. 😉 The third method of viewing is perhaps the most “touristy” and exceptionally romantic (*sigh*), and that is to hire a gondola, which will take you on a ride through the canals of Venice and pass beneath this bridge. Gondola rides are not just for lovers and can be purchased by groups, families, or couples. However, if you happen to be a loving couple, you’re in luck! A second legend has it that lovers who kiss on a gondola beneath the Bridge of Sighs at sunset while the bells of St Mark’s Campanile toll will have a love that lasts forever……..Awwwwwwww.

Bridge of Sighs at Night

A view from an evening water taxi

Quick Trip Tip:  If you’re looking to photograph this bridge, there is no real time of day where the lighting is particularly good. The buildings are very tall, and the canals are narrow. The bridge faces north and south and is positioned on the inside of a small canal, so it is always in shadow. However, some shadows are better than others. Sunset and Sunrise should be avoided as the height of the buildings will prevent any western sunset view and cause deep shadows, unless there is significant cloud cover and color directly over the bridge. Shortly before and after Noon, when the sun is higher in the sky may provide enough light, however, the shadow of the angles of the buildings often fall across the bridge and the white of the sun on the limestone may overexpose the details of the artwork. A speedlight may be necessary to dispel shadows.

Cadillac Ranch, Amarillo, TX

West Texas. I could leave the rest of this page completely blank and there would still be more to see than what the Panhandle has to offer. If I’m gonna drive it, it’s usually going to be at night where you can at least watch the red lights of the oil derricks bobbing up and down….uuuuuup and downnnnn….upppppp an….OK maybe that’s not such a good idea. Luckily, there’s a lovely little piece of Historic Route 66 along “The 40” to break up the monotony, and that little gem is, of course, Cadillac Ranch, which should be a Bucket List stop for anyone traveling east to west….and bring your spray paint. Yup! I said it.

Sky High FB

Traveling west, about 10 minutes outside of Amarillo, if you look to your left, you’ll see a line of…..something….poking up out of the ground in the middle of a field that is in the middle of nowhere. Pull off the freeway and motor on over to the south frontage road. You’ll come to a pull off and a gap in the highway fence decorated with a couple of trash cans and dumpsters. “You Have Arrived” as the GPS Lady says. Yep. That’s it. There’s a sign on the fence that says “STATE OF TEXAS PROPERTY. GRAFFITI PAINTING OF ANYTHING ON THIS SIDE OF FENCE IS ILLEGAL” You might be the only one there…for a minute. You get out of your car, look around, maybe hide the spray can under your coat and reconsider what you’re about to do. Don’t. I mean, don’t reconsider. The sign is old, and on my recent trip, I noticed that some wisenheimer had sprayed the word NOT in front of “illegal”. So, really…spray. Empty the whole can if you want, but make sure you take plenty of pictures because some other bucket-lister will be along behind you in an hour or so and will cover your handiwork with his…or her…own *cough* Sorry 😉

Paint Chip FB.png

Layers upon layers upon layers. That’s a YUGE paint chip!

So, what IS this thing?? That’s it…It’s just a thing. It’s art. We don’t ask questions of art. OK, sometimes we do. It’s a public art installation of 10 Cadillacs buried nose down in the dirt that was erected in 1974 and represents the evolution of the car’s body features from 1949-1963. You can read all about it here. It was actually put in place to “baffle the locals” as the artists put it, so you can sit there and read about it and ponder its existence, or you can get out of the car and have some fun. If you find yourself looking up at a rainbow Caddy with nothing to contribute with, cheer up. there’s a home improvement store right off the freeway just as you cross the city line into Amarillo. Pit stop. Pro Tip, though, mind which way the wind is blowing, and leave your leather jacket in the car. If you get any on your clothes, you can show everybody the pictures and say that you had to 86 that shirt because it accidentally got 66’d.

If you like the pictures you see here, visit the full gallery at LivingDedGrrl: Cadillac Ranch.

Spray Painting FB