Richard and Suzanne's Big 1999 Road Trip
Stage 4: Wandering Westward
Memphis, TN to Phoenix, AZ
After a late start due to the explosively fun time we had the night before (and to watch just one or two more Elvis movies), we again crossed the mighty Mississippi, and resumed our westward wanderings. Today, we were traveling along US 70, a much more relaxing alternative to busy I-40. We passed through many interesting small towns along the way, until we found a town with Suzanne's name written all over it - Carlisle, Arkansas. Needless to say, we spent a while here, shopping, looking around, and taking many photos of all things Carlisle - signs, buildings, etc. After all, it's not all that often that you get to see your name in so many places! Then the final drive into Little Rock, where we found a place to stay and finally decided to stop and eat at one of those countless Waffle Houses we'd seen along our travels. Waffle Houses are small black and yellow 24-hour diners, typically found plopped next to freeway interchanges, that serve breakfast and other diner-type chow. We liked the food and the prices, but the utter absence of a non-smoking section (or a non-smoking clientele) did make dining a bit challenging. Later that evening at the motel, we noticed some other vehicles with bike racks and cycling stickers. We found out from these friendly folks that the national masters cycling championships would be held in nearby Fort Smith over the next few days - unfortunately, we probably won't have time to stop in and watch the action.
Where they make those big green signs - Interstate Sign Co.
Our first stop this morning was at a very interesting place - Interstate Highway Sign Company. They are one of the nation's major suppliers of freeway and highway signs, and their big green (blue, yellow, white, black, etc.) products can be seen along highways across the country. We saw firsthand the process of constructing freeway signs, and noted how each state's signs have slightly different details in copy size and style, reflective sheetings, route shields, and so on. After this stop, we headed into the Ozarks and the town of Hot Springs, an interesting mix of frou-frou boutiques and good old fashioned tourist traps. Here we found one of the true highlights of our entire trip - the amazing and amusing thespians of the Animal Actors Zoo. Here we saw guitar-playing ducks, bombardier bunnies, hoop-shooting and mind-reading raccoons (which unfortunately read Suzanne's mind about as well as Richard usualy does). The show also featured talented chickens who danced, walked the high wire, and played home-run baseball. We also saw a brief excerpt from the show "Batpiggie", and an interesting reinterpretation of "Star Wars" featuring "Luke Skyhopper" and "Darth Gator". The climax of the show was a touching tribute to "Titanic", starring the famous quacktor "Leonardo Duckcaprio". We then made our way to the petting zoo, where we got up close and personal with many happy ducks, goats, baby turkeys, and a 4-week old baby deer, who lovingly fawned over us. Unfortunately, we didn't have time for all the other attractions along Whittington Drive, such as the alligator farm and Tiny Town, but they are highly recommended by others. Then onward through the Ozarks, where, due to the heat, many of the cattle we saw were not out in their pastures, but were instead submerging themselves in ponds until all that was showing was just the tops of their heads and their backs, making them look like big beefy alligators. Lacking any better description, we called these peculiar animals "cowapoatamuses". Later in Alma, we sat down for a tasty dinner and ice cream at the local Braum's, and then north up brand-new Interstate 540 to Fayettevile, home of another U of A - this one full of Razorbacks. Here we found a nice budget room at the Hi-way Motel, and rested from our day's travels.
The famous quacktor "Leonardo Duckcaprio" in fine feathered form
We headed north through the Fayetteville/Springdale/Rogers/Bentonville megalopolis, passing many buildings of the Wal-Mart and Tyson empires. We paused briefly to take pictures of the near-famous giant fiberglass chickens and turkeys on US 412 in front of the 4 State Poultry Supply building (just west of the McDonald's with an airplane over its roof). We also finally located a replacement latch and lock for the truck shell (and some very friendly puppies) at a local dealer, and regained a bit of the security we had lost back in Orlando. Then north into Missouri, where we enjoyed a relaxing stop in the old-fashioned town square of Cassville. Since we were in the vicinity, we had the opportunity to drop by the factory of Able 2 Products, which makes many of the lights used on our vehicles. Here we saw many innovative and interesting vehicle lighting and other emergency products, and we bought replacement "Sho-Me" brand auxiliary lights for the front of the truck to replace an older pair damaged earlier in the trip. Then onward along the county roads of Missouri, which we called the "Vanna White highways" due to the fact that they use letter designations instead of numbers. This leads to the following amusing situations at junctions - "We'll take a 'D', or should we buy a vowel and take an 'A'?" Then westward along US 60 into Oklahoma, where we bought dino-gas at a Sinclair station, saw many more cowapotamuses, and tested the scientific phenomenon known as the "Moopler Effect" - i.e. how speed-related frequency shifts affected how many cows stopped and looked up at us when we used the truck's PA system to moo loudly at them. Many hours of scientific fun for humans and bovines alike. We stopped briefly in Vinita for postcards and Little Debbies, and then continued west along scenic US 60. Now whata? Nowata! In Nowata, we stopped at the Half Dollar Cafe, a converted rail depot that had very friendly folks, great food in huge portions, and free entertainment in the form of freight trains thundering by just outside the window. After this great meal (and some banana cream pie for the road), we continued past the vast Phillips 66 complexes in Bartlesville, and ended up for the night in Ponca City, also known as the final resting place for our Conoco credit card statements. Ponca City also brought back some memories for Suzanne - it was 11 years to the day that the had passed by here on I-35 on her way to her new home in Arizona (she was unemployed then, too!)
It's a chicken, I tell you, a giant chicken!
The beginning of this day found us once again on US 60, with the knowledge that if we just kept going on this road, we'd eventually end up home in Phoenix. However, we had other plans, and other highways to follow. We instead turned north toward the vast open plains of Kansas, after a brief stop in Cherokee, OK for pizza (coincidentally, exactly one week earlier we'd also eaten lunch in Cherokee - that time in North Carolina). At Greenburg, we fueled up at a friendly Cenex station, but passed on visiting the world's largest hand-dug well. Instead, nine miles west on US 400 in Mullinville, we came upon one of the most amazing exhibitions of roadside sculpture that we have seen in all our travels. Here, on a farm along the north side of the highway, a local artist / political advocate has created a celebration of artistic individualism, freedom, (and considerable anti-leftist sentiment). Dozens of figures and sculptures in varying shapes and vivid colors are arranged to present a clear political message somewhere well to the right of mainstream American politics. We can't say that we agree with all of his views (though his commentary on the Second Amendment was right on target), but we are enthusiastic about the uniquely American way that he has expressed them along this highway. Also on this property, there are other artworks that are much more appealing to traffic fans of all political persuasions - large metal pinwheels made of old traffic signs that spun beautifully in the Kansas breeze. A truly creative and aesthetically appealing way to recycle old highway signs. We then continued to another place historically linked with rough-and-tumble discussion - Dodge City, Kansas. Here we stopped at the information center, familiarized ourselves with the history of this frontier landmark, and then chose to forsake the museum admission (and staged gunfights) to instead wander up Gunsmoke St. to find a few more interesting items and Kansasnirs, including a rather cute Beanie robin for Suzanne. Realizing we still needed to create our own little Western (travel) before nightfall, we got outta Dodge and moseyed on into Garden City, where we enjoyed chili dogs at Herb's and a quick dessert at the Dairy Queen next door. As we traveled on US 50 (the legendary "loneliest road in America"), we encountered one of those unpleasant Plains thunderstorms, though fortunately no tornado watch was posted. Then into Colorado at dusk, and a nice room (complete with carpeted walls!) at the Golden Arrow Lodge in Lamar.
Amazing roadside apparitions along US 400 in Mullinville
This day was wet and stormy (and much cooler - finally!) - a fitting backdrop for the mountainous driving that would engage us for most of the day. However, the rain certainly wouldn't make the mountainous motoring easier. The day began uneventfully, as we passed through the flatland towns of southeast Colorado. At Walsenburg, we finally encountered the sharp spine of the North American continent, and made our way up US 160 over La Veta Pass without too much difficulty. After 160,000 miles, Truckasaurus has been a trusty traveling companion, but he just doesn't have the get-up-and-go of earlier years. Then through Alamosa and Monte Vista (home of the motel that's also a drive-in theater - current feature: "Tarzan"), and then onward to the challenge of climbing Wolf Creek Pass in the rain. At the summit, we stopped at the Continental Divide monument, and watched the raindrops make their separate ways toward the Gulf of Mexico or the Gulf of California. Then we zipped, er, carefully rolled down the pass and into the touristy burg of Pagosa Springs. After this, a relatively short drive brought us into the traffic-enhanced nightmare of Durango. We figured this might be a nice place to think about bedding down, so we started looking into the motels. We found out quickly that many motels didn't provide one-night lodging (or charged rather high rates), or had other complications (no parking, etc.) After passing up many upscale places to dine, we instead chose to stop for dinner at a quaint and charming little eatery - Denny's. Refreshed, we escaped the traffic (and the rain, too!) and continued on through Mancos (changed somewhat from Richard's first visit in 1971) and ended up in Cortez. Here we had a chance to get up close and personal with a full-grown bull buffalo at a roadside shop (when they say no petting, they mean it, even if he is friendly - he's just too big!) and found a extremely well-maintained room at the very nice (and all-non-smoking!) El Capri Motel on (eeek!) US 666. Here we sat outside, enjoyed the perfect temperature, and watched a breathtaking sunset behind the neon motel sign, and reminisced about all the fun things and good times we had shared over the past four weeks.
Sunset in Cortez at the fabulous El Capri
As they say, all good things must come to an end. However, we still had one good day of travel fun left, and we intended to exploit it fully. Our first stop was at the Ute Mountain Tribe Factory Outlet, where we examined the fine ceramic work of the local craftsmen. Then, off to the Four Corners Monument, where we enjoyed lots of geodetic glee, did the usual quadrajurisdictional gymnastics, and picked up some cute Coutnmaz souvenirs. After this, a short trip into our home state of Arizona to review the four miles of US 64 in AZ (only 2381 miles to Manteo, NC!). Then back through NM and CO briefly, in order to travel instead through southern Utah. We shared a Navajo fry bread taco (native cuisine) and Ben and Jerry's (not so native cuisine) in Bluff, UT, and crossed the gorge of the San Juan River at Mexican Hat, retracing a journey Richard had last made on his 8th birthday. We stopped for the obligatory Kodachrome moments at Monument Valley, and then celebrated as we completed a full second set of US license plate sightings as a Hawaii-registered sedan sped by. We wandered through the red rocks and sweeping vistas of the Navajo Nation, pausing briefly in Ganado to be nice to a mama cow and calf that had wandered too close to the US 191 pavement (go home, little cows!). At Chambers, we rejoined the Interstate system that we had left so long ago in Arkansas, and again sped westward. In Holbrook, just off old Route 66, we found a curio shop with giant concrete dinosaurs out front (and, oddly, signs requesting payment if photos are taken). However, sadly, the shop was closed, so we could not contribute for our photographic exploitation. We instead found a great gift shop just up the street in Linda's Indian Arts, where we saw many appealing and interesting crafts and other items. Then back on I-40 through Winslow and Flagstaff, and the final southward turn along the familiar curves (and darned good looking signs) of I-17 toward Phoenix. As Jackson Browne's "All Good Things" played on the stereo, we arrived at our happy home, and savored the final moments of a honeymoon/vacation/adventure well spent. Of course, we then shuddered at the monumental unpacking job that faced us, but that's a job best saved for later.
Paleolithic fun just off Route 66 in Holbrook
Richard and Suzanne
Miles Traveled: 6,339
Number of Interstate Highways: 20
4, 10, 110, 610, 17, 20, 24, 26, 30, 35, 40, 240, 440, 540, 45, 55, 65, 75, 95, 295
Number of US Highways: 54
(from US 1 to US 666)
Fuel Consumed: 429.9 gallons
$0.939, Diamond Shamrock, San Antonio, TX
Most Expensive Fuel:
$1.259, Shell, Cortez, CO
(not bad for a middle-aged V-8 truck)
$1,086 over 27 nights (average: $40.22 for 2 persons incl. tax)
Total Fun: Priceless
Previous Stage: In the Land of Pedros and Elvises - Orlando, FL to Memphis, TN
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