One of the most rewarding parts of my road trip has been meeting new people. By traveling alone without an itinerary for 4 months now, I’ve found that conversations with strangers and new friends often point me to the next road on which Princess, Yoda and I travel. These conversations take place anywhere from a gas station, to a grocery store, to a hiking trail, to a freeway rest stop.
My trip has taught me to love freeway rest stops. Stopping at one is a triple bonanza: (1) the obvious potty break and possible coffee refill if the vending machines cooperate; (2) a much needed walk and water break for Yoda; and (3) an opportunity to socialize with people. Some states are better than others. The Pacific Northwest has the most friendly rest stops I’ve encountered, offering free coffee, wild blackberries for the picking and well groomed hiking trails. Missouri has the most whimsical rest stops on Route 66 which are guaranteed to win a smile out of even the most cranky traveler. I was hard pressed to find any rest stops at all in Texas, however I did see plenty of “picnic areas” off the freeway (don’t stop here – they don’t have bathrooms and usually are littered with trash). Arizona has recently begun reopening some of the 13 rest stops it closed last year due to a budget crunch. It was at one of these recently reopened rest stops that I met two likeable lanky guys named Will and Brian. They were traveling from California in a red Honda with Alaska plates. I was feeling tired and yes, a bit anti-social, so initially I didn’t notice them. However Will called out to Yoda, and anyone who knows me knows that if Yoda takes a liking to someone, then so do I. And Yoda liked Will and Brian. As most rest stop conversations go, our conversation inevitably turned into “where are you headed?” I told them I was headed to a desert RV campground to visit with some 80 year old Country Music Swing Hall of Famers (you’ll hear more about that in a future post). They told me they were heading to a hot springs campground called Essence of Tranquility, located in Safford, Arizona about an hour from the rest stop. HOT SPRINGS?!!! Anyone whom has been following my blog knows that several times on this trip I’ve gone wildly out of my way to visit hot springs in Boise, Idaho; Lava Hot Springs, Idaho; and Hot Springs, Arkansas. In addition to rejuvenating my soul, hot soaks are about the only thing these days that relieve the spasm in my right hip, which is sorely out of joint from all the driving. I jotted down directions and told them I was going to search out the place the next day on my drive back from the desert RV park.
I did just that the next morning. The directions were cryptic and the hot spring highway signage not to be found, but with the help of a gas station attendant and my iPhone internet access to the Essence of Tranquility website, I finally found the place. It was quiet, and the first people I encountered were my rest stop comrades Will and Brian. They seemed surprised to see me, but were so welcoming that Brian gave up his favorite hot mineral spring tub for me to soak. The hot spring community is an interesting thing. There are of course the beautiful hot spring spas that I’ve visited in Palm Springs and in San Luis Obispo, California. But really, I much prefer a more crunchy granola vibe, which is a good thing because most hot mineral springs are in a rundown sort of state. Even so, the people that frequent these places are more genuine and likeable than what you usually find at a more expensive and pretentious spa. Essence of Tranquility is no different. Its own website even offers the following caveat: “THIS PLACE IS OUT IN THE DESERT, IN THE COUNTRY, IT IS NOT A CITY, GLITZY DAY SPA, AS SUCH IF THAT IS WHAT YOU ARE WANTING THIS IS NOT THE PLACE FOR YOU. IT IS A SMALL AREA WITH SOME GRASS, A FEW TREES AND PAPYRUS PLANTS. IT’S REALLY NOT TO (sic) BAD.” The website was right, it wasn’t too bad. In fact, it was fantastic. Each hot mineral spring tub offers a different theme and temperature and has a latch on the door to allow for private soaks. It should be no surprise that my tub featured a Buddha – which served as a reminder that the purpose of my road trip is to seek shama (inner-peace). For a mere $5, I was able to soak in private for an entire hour. If I hadn’t made plans to stay that evening in Tucson with friends of a friend, I would have rented one of the simple casitas in the adjoining campground and stared longingly at the treatment rooms (being a road trip girl with no salary, I have learned to forgo indulging myself in luxuries such as massages and pedicures!).
When I left, hip pain a bit milder than when I arrived, I realized my most recent lesson of the road has been there right in front of me this entire trip. TALK TO PEOPLE. The new friends I’ve made on the road have helped me realize I’m not alone in my journey to find inner-peace, and many have also led me to some pretty awesome off the beaten path road trip discoveries. In this case, it was Will and Brian who led me to this latest little slice of heaven. Thanks guys, I hope to see you again one day.
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