We continue with our travelogue of adventures in a fictional parallel universe where everything is familiar, except the United States has split into six major separate countries and several smaller independent city-states, the result of an insurmountable divide between left and right with the inauguration of Donald J. Trump as President of what is left of the USA, predominantly red states united in a loose federation. The independent states consist of three culturally and economically diverse nations on the West Coast, and two states in the Rocky Mountain West, based on religious conservatism on the one hand and extreme right-wing ideology on the other. Islands of blue across the eastern two-thirds of the country comprise most of the city-states, with a few in the west that don’t fit well with the surrounding territory. We also see increased independence in the indigenous peoples’ territories. Meanwhile, we enjoy visits with family, whether or not they agree with our politics, and travel through regions where we might be considered “foreigners” in a fractured country. And, we hope, present the reader with some thought-provoking questions about what it means to be an American: whether we are a diverse unity or moving toward a uniformity intolerant of diversity that strains our constitution to the breaking point.
Leaving Greater California, we crossed over into the Mountain Time Zone and into the patchwork Federation, putting up for the night in Eloy, a desolate stop with minimal services midway through the Arpaio Protectorate. We ate from our travel stash and the meager breakfast offerings at the hotel the next morning, driving 60 km to the nearest Starbucks for our morning coffee.
Figuring we might not have freedom to travel in the future, and eager to see places we’ve read about in books, we veered off the I-10 at Benson, driving through Bisbee, where fictional Sheriff Joanna Brady keeps the peace in the series of novels by J.A. Jance. (We’ve also stayed at the B&B in Ashland, old Oregon, where fictional detective J.P. Beaumont stayed during one of his cases.) Old Town was much more colorful than portrayed in the novels, which mostly take place in the more sedate new part of town and the surrounding desert. Moving on through Douglas, we passed under the shadow of the tall prison walls that rise ominously near the Mexican border that separates Douglas from Agua Prieta, foreshadowing the rise of the Trump Wall.
We stopped for lunch in Lordsburg, where we needed to make the choice between “red, green, or Christmas” chile that is the essential part of every meal in this region. Moving on, we find the effects of the new order fairly pronounced in the *real* universe. Our B&B hostess in Mesilla, a transplanted Australian, was trying to sell, having lost her job and fearful of expulsion or worse as the wave of xenophobia sweeps over the land.
We spent a day in the old city of El Paso, visiting historical sites and museums with our granddaughter and son, and a few more days visiting with children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren, and great-great grandchildren in Las Cruces before heading north for more family visits. [The cultural diversity of the region makes it impossible to consider closing the border here, hence we find it logical to assume our alternative universe provides an extended city-state composed of two American counties in two states and a Mexican city that is surrounded by a new border, which, in many ways, already exists, and has for decades.]
Choosing the old road along the Rio Grande was perhaps not wise, as we endured a bit more grilling at the border crossing between the El Paso/Doña Ana Free State and the Southern Exclusion Zone than we probably would have traveling on the Interstate, where traffic moves through the checkpoint more rapidly. (See photo at beginning of this post.) Fortunately, we still have passports issued by the former United States, which got us through, with acceptable answers to questions about our itinerary and choice of routing.
Lunch at Truth or Consequences (known as Hot Springs in early 20th Century maps of the old United States, before it was renamed to become the mail drop for a 1950s television quiz show) just up the road reminded us that the northern region’s cuisine has crept in, confining the southern style to the Free State to the south, where culinary influences remain influenced by Texas and Chihuahua.
Little seems changed in New Spain: Albuquerque continues to expand up the mountain and spill out west of the river, as well as grow inexorably toward the capital to the north. At lunch the next day, I had a southern version of the Québécois poutine: hash browns smothered in chile and cheese and topped with a fried egg.
After celebrating a great-grandson’s 4th birthday with an evening at the local roller rink, we headed west on our long journey home. The pueblo regions define the area outside the modern city. The indigenous people stand to lose even more than they already have under a regime with no regard for the environment, so they band even stronger. In Gallup, a mosque stands at the edge of town, as yet not burned to the ground, thanks to the strong indigenous presence, and at the west edge of town, a series of hogans built with modern materials mark the core of a native religious academy.
At the western boundary of the Navajo-Hopi confederacy stands the Ryan Zinke Mineral Reserve, which we tour. While the petrified wood formations in the reserve still stand, the town of Holbrook is surrounded by acres of stone yards stacked high with the gem-like remains of ancient trees. We overnight in Flagstaff, where it is winter, with icy streets and piles of snow in the corners of parking lots.
The next morning, we head westward, clearly back in the Arpaio Protectorate, noted by the broken asphalt and potholes in the main roads so common in the Federation heartlands. Squads of police from several local jurisdictions cluster in the highway median crossovers, possibly looking for non-patriots, this far north of the Southern Exclusion Zone. Unwilling to take a chance on being detained for scrutiny, we turn off onto the old highway, through indigenous lands once more.
Near Kingman, the largest northwestern city in the Protectorate, we drive past gated communities and full RV parks, a sprawling city not on the maps, no doubt filled with refugees from the liberal states to the west and more moderate loyalists from the north. We continue on the deteriorating old road, which rolls up and down across the desert arroyos, fortunately dry this week, but bearing marks of recent flash floods. The narrow track winds across the mountains, with few guard rails, through old mines and the steep main street of Oatman, sometimes blocked by wild burros.
Finally, we reach the Colorado River and cross into Greater California, where our clearly Cascadian appearance (old Washington registration plates on a hybrid vehicle) gets us a perfunctory wave through customs at the border. Having last filled the tank in the Navajo territory at $0.56/liter, we fill up, shocked at the $0.95/liter prices. The difference in price is the tax burden, between countries that don’t care about the environmental impact of fossil fuels and those that do. The price also reflects the contribution to highway maintenance from fuel taxes. We cross the Mojave Desert and over the mountains, past wind farms to Bakersfield for the night.