Richard and Suzanne's Big 2001 Road Trip
Stage 3: West by South
Laurel, MD to Phoenix, AZ
After yet another late start (and a friendly yet inflexible motel staff), we made our way back upon US 1, and made it a full 3 blocks before our first stop - lunch at the Little Tavern in Laurel. This old-style hamburger stand (see photo) has been in business for decades, serving baby burgers to countless patrons who have been waited upon at its counter stools. After our fill of mini-burgers and chips, we doubled back northeastward yet again, this time skirting "Bawlamer" on US 29 and I-695 to make our way back into PA on I-83. Here we traveled through Pennsylvania Dutch and Amish suburbia, er, country, stopping briefly in Bird-In Hand just too late to catch the trained piggie show by the roadside. Wishing the twirly-tailed performers well in future acts, we instead agonized over hand-crafted wood furniture ("it's so reasonably priced - but will it fit in the truck?") and which hex sign would be just right to annoy the neighbors. Realizing the furniture wasn't going to fit all the way back home, we consoled ourselves with fresh-baked shoofly pie and continued eastward around the eternal road construction of Route 202 (different Route 202 from the one in Phoenix, but the construction & delays sure looked familiar). Then we found out for whom the Pennsylvania Turnpike tolls (it tolls for me), as we traveled east by north, traveling up the Northeast Extension at insanely high speeds until we turned off at Quakertown, where we got to see one of the local pastimes - impatient drivers slaloming aroung the orange drums and cutting through active work zones to avoid backups. :( We then toodled up the country backroads of eastern PA near the village of Coopersburg, where we found a warm welcome under the spreading trees of the Schubert homestead. John, Anne, and the whole family were exceedingly kind to us, offering a great garlic chicken dinner, a cozy place in the guest house, and interesting conversation, which we then tried to repay in some little bit with another one of those great shoofly pies. Then after dessert, walking the backyard and watching the fireflies flitter in the dark, we relaxed and enjoyed a restful Pennsylvanight.
Great little burgers in a great little place
After our enjoyable and refreshing evening in Lone Cedar Manor, we awoke to share breakfast with the Schubert clan as they prepared for adventures of their own on this day. Our adventure would wait, though, as we took this opportunity to catch up on rest, e-mail, and rearranging the back of the truck in preparation for the long push home to Arizona. We finally hit the westbound highway on I-78, with our first stop for world-famous chili dogs at Yocco's in Trexlertown. After this frankly satisfying stop, we continued westward - right into completely stopped traffic due to an unfortunate combination of a conked-out car in the middle of a crossover detour on I-78 with no room for traffic to get around. This gave us lots of time to stop and watch the Pennsylvanimoos munching nearby, and to nervously watch the truck's temp gauge as the intermittently applied A/C fought the unseasonable heat and humidity. After an hour or so, this was cleared out and we were moving again toward the cocoa-encrusted paradise of Hershey, where we found the Chocolate World factory "tour" tucked behind the real factories of Hershey Foods. While this may not be the actual factory where the sweet stuff is made, it does have many amusing diversions, including a free amusement-park type ride through displays showing just how cocoa beans, Pennsylvania cows, and California almonds get together to make that great stuff we enjoy, and also apparently showing off Herhey's equal-opportunity hiring policies - big Kisses create even more little Kisses! While this ride may have been free, this visit certainly wasn't without some cost, as we couldn't escape without taking some of this sweetness with us. Back on the road again, we drove out of Hershey along Chocolate Avenue (with its Kiss-shaped street lights) and toward and around Harrisburg on US 422/322. Further along I-81, we approached a very important place in our travels - the town of Carlisle, PA, where everything's named after Suzanne! Here, we cruised the historic streets, dodged the Turnpike-bound traffic, filled up on relatively cheap ($1.35) BP gas, and Suz basked in the glory of all things bearing her name. But alas, there was no room in the inns (at least for our budget), as hordes of car fans had descended for one of the many auto shows held in this city. After plotting our next move over dinner at Bob Evans, we continued out of Carlisle on US 11, finally finding our night's rest at the Carson Motel in nearby Chambersburg.
Kisses making kisses?
Today began with the crossing of many state lines along I-81, as we quickly passed from Pennsylvania into Maryland, then a short 10 miles later entering West Virginia, then less than 30 miles later ending up in old Virginny - with some tasty hot dogs at the West Virginia welcome center, courtesy of the local Cub Scouts. Also here in WV, we added the 13th and final sticker to our US map on the truck's tailgate, signifying all the places we've been (Richard, Suzanne, and truck) together. 46 states down - four to go! We shuffled down the Shenandoah Valley between the Blue Ridge and the spine of the Appalachians, and then turned westward along I-64 in southwestern Virginia, dodging the pokey Hokies on the numerous upgrades. We pulled off onto US 60 (it may be the same US highway, but it sure looks different from the Grand Avenue we know) near Covington, where we stopped at a roadside park and rested in the shade of another transportation landmark - the "Humpback Bridge". This bridge, built in 1835 for the Kanawha Turnpike (the predecessor of today's I-64), carried highway traffic for nearly a century, and still stands today as a fitting relic of an earlier time of transportation. Then back into West Virginia (sign says no hunting in the rest areas!), sipping Mountain Dew as we wound around the hills of the Alleghenies. In Beckley, we stopped for Mountainirs, then made our winding way up the West Virginia Turnpike toward Charleston, the capital of this flatness-challenged state. Near Charleston, we found a room at the Rustic Motel on the banks of the Kanawha River, and then went into Charleston for dinner, where we dodged the lane closures for the big local criterium bike race winding its way along the riverfront streets. Avoiding the urge to mix it up with the Cat 1s, we finally found a place downtown called the Blossom Dairy, which looked to be a perfectly preserved old-time soda fountain - so we entered in anticipation of frosty malts and sandwiches in red plastic baskets. However, little did we realize that this eating place mutates into a place of high-class cuisine once night falls - a fact we did not realize until we saw the "salmon en cilantro" and double-digit entrees on the much-different dinner menu. But we were hungry and seated, so we satisfied ourselves nicely with some of the variations on pasta offered by the chef. Then a final stop on the way back to the room for Krispy Kremes, and our day was complete.
Scenic and historic - the Humpback Bridge
We dragged our rusty bones out of the Rustic Motel and continued west along the banks of the Kanawha River through the rolling hills of western West Virginia. In St. Albans, a desperately-needed Bank One ATM was found - but with the town's weekend classic car show being held in the drive-thru lane. So, we admired the cars, grabbed the cash, and kept moving. After this, a flurry of flea markets near Hurricane, then past the Ashland Oil works, and onward into Kentucky. Here, we noticed the state recently changed the logo on the welcome signs to "Where Education Pays", since it seemed on previous visits that too many people were peeling off the "gr" on the earlier signs that said "The Bluegrass State". We followed I-64 across the hills and pastures, and continued into Lexington, navigating the loopy beltways while Richard cursed the fact that the Gall's showroom was closed on Sundays (grrr). Lexington is also where we found $1.15 Marathon gas (you'd be surprised how much fuel beyond "F" a Chevy pickup can be persuaded to take on when it's this cheap) and lunch at Frisch's Big Boy, where their Big Boy sandwich uses tartar sauce, not Thousand Island, and the big ol' statue out front looked a bit less "hefty" than ones seen elsewhere. With both truck & occupants filled to capacity, we set off down the Blue Grass Parkway and US 31E, where nearly every house near Hodgenville was equipped with a concrete Jesus (or other assorted saint), something you don't always see in this part of the country. This area is also a hotbed of Lincolniana, for here is where Honest Abe was born and raised. His birthplace is a national historic site, but is also interesting for another reason - how the commemoration of such sites have changed through the years. For instance, if this park was created today, care would have been taken to restore the simple log cabin in an "authentic" forest setting. However, this site was established in the days when great monuments were considered fitting for great men, so the log cabin is there - completely surrounded by a gigantic mausoleum-like structure, complete with marble columns and staircase. We would have liked to explore this site in more detail, but when the Park Service says it's closing time, they sure lock the gate in a hurry! Then, the final drive down winding, 18 ft wide KY 357 to Cave City, where we found our "reservation" awaiting us at the tacky splendor of Cave City's Wigwam Village Hotel - one of only three Wigwam Villages still remaining in the US (one in California, and the third being of course our favorite place to stay in Holbrook, AZ). Here we relaxed on the lawn, watched the sunset as we walked along the grassy fields to the local Dairy Queen, and enjoyed our old Kentucky cone, watching the kids and fireflies play outside, while the TV played inside (and by coincidence, was showing a movie featuring... tepee-themed motels!).
Some interesting Kentucky scenes
We enjoyed a late morning in our little cone at the Wigwam Village, enjoying the serenade of the robins nesting in the trees above the teepees. Breakfast at a original-edition Jerry's restaurant (complete with neon "Jerry" guy on the sign) followed, and then a trip back into Cave City to pick up some whimsical concrete planters that were just begging to come home with us. Then, finally onto I-65 and the continued trek southwestward, leaving exploration of Mammoth Cave to await a future trip. We zipped past the Corvette plant & museum in Bowling Green, and headed west on US 68, somehow managing to catch every red light in Russellville and Hopkinsville (home of Ebonite bowling balls!). In between the stop & go fun, we came upon a 351 foot tall obelisk towering over the town of Fairview that looked strikingly like a famous monument to the first president of the US - and was indeed created to commemorate a first president. Only in this case, it serves to mark the birthplace of Jefferson Davis, the first president of... the Confederate States of America. Since the monument was undergoing renovation (again similar to the one for ol' George back in DC), we didn't get a chance to visit the interior - so we just took a nice break at the park surrounding the memorial, and pondered the fact that both Jeff and Abe, who simultaneously presided over a divided land in the 1860s, were born only a few short miles from one another (and less than a year apart). After this, on down the road (and over a bridge) to a very interesting piece of real estate - the "Land Between the Lakes". Here, two lakes were created by the Tennessee Valley Authority to impound the Kentucky and Cumberland rivers, and the high ground in between was taken by the TVA and government to create a National Recreation Area. At the visitor center, the displays tell the stories of the dams and lakes, and of the people and towns who were displaced by both the water and the government. After another bridge for the other lake, we swung southwestward on the Purchase Parkway toward Tennessee, passing through the twin towns of Fulton, KY and South Fulton, TN on State Line Avenue, with one state on each side of us. Then further into western Tennessee, where we had some interesting moments in trying to find a simple postcard - we stopped at many places, but no Tennesseecards were to be found. So, we watched the sun settle over the horizon (see photo) as we crossed the wide Mississippi on I-155, and left the land of Gulf, Sunoco, Marathon, Hellman's and W behind, and again entered the familiar land of Fina, Chevron, Phillips 66, Best Foods, and K. With night coming on, we cruised through Caruthersville, MO looking for a place of rest, which we found at Pic's Motel. However, we found something a little more interesting as well - Casino Aztar, a floating-yet-going-nowhere "riverboat casino" where Missourians and others could throw their money around. After some initial bad luck with mutant nickel/dollar slots (5 cent slots that only eat dollar tokens - it's a complicated concept) , we both managed to get lucky and win "big"... so, at the end of a couple hours, we were about even. We took our regained loot and headed back to the motel to cash in a good night's sleep.
Sunset over the Mississippi
We careened out of Caruthersville on MO 84, and scooted across the Bootheel of Missouri, stopping only for a Dairy Queen lunch in Kennett. Alarmed by the rapidly rising fuel prices in TN, MO and AR (well, at least compared to the $1.10 - $1.15 of Kentucky), we stopped at a Fina station in Paragould, AR to fill up. This became interesting when we found out that our relatively new Fina card had been cancelled - replaced, the company said, by a brand-new card... sitting in our mailbox back home. After finding alternate means of payment, we grumbled and rumbled westward across north Arkansas, dealing with some of the too-slow and the too-aggressive drivers that chose to share US 62 with us that day. The town of Hardy looked like an intersting place to visit, but the crowds and traffic deterred us from stopping. Farther yonder, in Glencoe, we gasped at the prices of the superb hand-sewn quilts offered for sale at the Quilt Palace, but still managed to find a few quaint yet affordable items to take with us. Then over the hills and hollers to Mountain Home, where Hilbilly Bill's General Store (and Mini-Golf) offered us a bounty of Arkansasnirs, cool wind chimes, Pac-Man pins, and other goofy stuff. Farther along US 62, we rolled through Flippin and Yellville, and then found some low-cost Sinclair dino-gas near Alpena to keep our tank full. Finally, after deciding that Branson just wasn't doable this trip, we stayed on US 62 and instead chose to sample the charms of the resort town of Eureka Springs. Here we enjoyed a belly-whopping meal at the Ozark Buffet, and then a relaxing evening in a first-rate room (at a very reasonable price) under the cool sign of the Bluebird Lodge. Here we enjoyed our evening in the Ozarks, and listened to all the lil' critters out in the forest making their happy nighttime noises - that is, when we weren't watching HBO.
Happy blue neon bird over our Eureka Springs lodgings
We began the day with another full meal at Sheridan's Ozark Buffet, and then dropped out of the Ozarks, through the Wal-Martopolis of Bentonville/Rogers, and on into Oklahoma. After deciding not to try our luck at the Cherokee casino just over the state line, we instead decided to use up our loose change on the Cherokee Turnpike as we made our way swiftly westward. We turned south on US 69, hoping to find a small-town 4th of July celebration to enjoy. However, the towns we passed through did not have anything scheduled in the middle of the summer day - proving that Oklahomans are sensible folks, but leaving us a bit disappointed. We did stop in Wagoner for a lunch at the local Braum's, and then continued south past the Oklahomoos and endless fireworks stands. A brief stop at the Flying J just off I-40 near Checotah yielded $1.09 gas - bet that's the last time that we'd see that on the trip! Onward over the waters of Lake Eufala we went, and then a stop at Bob's Junk in Savanna had us stuffing a few very inexpensive Army surplus wooden ammo boxes (and a few interesting old books on transportation) into the back of the truck. Further south a ways, we re-entered Texas, and stopped briefly at the welcome center to read the story of the 1931 Free Bridge Controversy. Just south of here in Sherman, we jumped off US 75 to enjoy a carnival set up in the local K-Mart parking lot, where we had a fun ride on the "Tex-A-Whirl" (we were in the "Odessa" car). Then south again from here, where we drove down the lanes (and under the huge sequential signs) of the newly reconstructed US 75 freeway into Dallas. We drove downtown through Dealey Plaza, re-enacting that fateful final trip of JFK (but with much better results, except for the wrong turn onto I-30). Rolling westward again through the endless urbanity, we passed by yet another NFC East landmark (the despised/beloved Texas Stadium, depending on religion) and then the south edge of DFW (looks a lot different from the ground!). We finally got to Fort Worth proper about dusk, just in time to join the throngs of folks congregating to enjoy the nightlife and watch the city's fireworks show along the river. We had other things to attend to, though, and so we headed for Old US 80 to stake out a room for the night. Here was where our tried-but-true system of "coolest sign = coolest room" failed us, as the Landmark Lodge had a great old sign, but rooms that looked like they hadn't been renovated since Johnson was president (Andrew Johnson, that is). So, we found a much nicer room across the street at the Drummer's Inn (fortunately, no drummers were staying there that we could hear) and then moseyed over to the local Golden Corral for an excellent steak dinner, and to watch the local fireworks show(s) while sittin' on the tailgate in the parking lot.
Big lizard selling big boomies
Today we prepared for a long but interesting day across the vast expanses of Texas - and we weren't disappointed. We left Fort Worth behind, and a few short miles later jumped onto the end/start of US 180 near Breckinridge, remembering that the other end of US 180 is good old Bedrock City in Valle, AZ, a short 1127 miles away. Also in Breckinridge, a rather impressive county courthouse, and a Wal-Mart where we found bags of Funyuns and other vital supplies to get us across the desert. As we cruised westward appreciating the 70 MPH speed limit on 2-lane Texas roads, we looked out at the wide-open blue sky filled with white puffy clouds, watched as the passing countryside got browner and browner (ah, more like home!), and noted that there was nothing more forlorn than a fireworks stand on the 5th of July. The bustling burg of Snyder offered unexpectedly cheap fuel, but darned if we hadn't just filled up in Albany several miles before. Between Lamesa and Seminole, we had to apply the brakes in a hurry as a chubby prairie dog scampered across the highway in front of us. We spent a few minutes watching these cute lil' guys waddle about their prairie dog business, and then on into the southeast end of New Mexico we went. It was still too soon to stop when we reached Hobbs, so we kept rolling along until Carlsbad, where we found a very nice refrigerator-equipped room at the peach and turquoise colored (same as our house!) Royal Manor Motel. We ventured back out again for dinner at the local Dairy Queen, but this simple food run got complicated in a hurry. After experiencing a drive-thru clerk with poor math skills and a habit of dropping $20 bills, a 15+ minute wait for a simple drive-thru order, and a snippy young waitress informing us of how we were wrong to ask that the ice cream be served after the hot food, we grabbed our chow (fortunately, after all that waiting, it was rather good) and headed back to the room to rest up for the final push home.
Courthouse in the center of town
This day started with a detour that really got us down - into the depths of Carlsbad Caverns. This amazing wonder of a hole in the ground was almost an afterthought for us to visit - after all, we missed Mammoth Cave in our haste to hurtle westward. After descending into this subterranean wonderland, though, we were very happy to have taken the plunge, if for no other reason than the constant 56 degree temperature. Within these hallowed hollows we saw stalactites, stalagmites, and all sorts of calcium-carbonated creations (see photo), and marveled at the creativity of nature, a little running water, and some odd hydrogen sulfide and sulfuric acid here and there. Emerging batlike from the depths, we headed into White's City for a quick lunch (and a rather odd Ms. Pac-Man game), and then made the short drive to the second national park of the day - Guadalupe Mountains. This craggy monolith was once a massive living reef in a prehistoric sea (part of the same formation as the aforementioned caverns), but now has to settle for merely being the highest point in Texas. After this had "peaked" our interest, we turned westward and headed through the summer storms toward the west Texas town of El Paso (which is closer to San Diego than it is to Houston), where yet more interesting adventures awaited. It was here at the Mexican frontier that we achieved our goal of a border-to-border journey, and we celebrated by visiting our third federal park of the day - the Chamizal National Memorial. This park tells the story of the final major boundary dispute between the two nations, lasting for over a century until some good old 1960s civil engineering solved the political problem by realigning the Rio Grande to an acceptable alignment. After this, we had some border-town fun shopping at the numerous cut-rate stores that line the US side of the line, finding all sorts of useful items like 50 ft coily phone cords (don't leave home without one for your laptop - after you change the plugs, that is), plastic hangers in hard-to-find colors, and yet another way-cool classic Casio watch for Richard ("The case is pink!" "No, it's peach!") Tuckered out from all this sightseein' n' shoppin', we chose to let the rest of the trip's travel wait until tomorrow, and instead had dinner at Golden Corral (yet again - but again good), and picked up a few travel essentials at the Wal-Mart. Finally, after what was probably the most complicated transaction of the trip, we secured lodgings (for only $23!) at the La Posta Lodge on old US 80. This half-century old place was a classic case of "adaptive use", hosting a barber shop, two beauty salons, a Greek/Arabic restaurant, daily & weekly lodgings, and a sparkling blue pool within its classic Mission-style architecture. The only problem, as we found out later, was that the bed in our room probably dated from the original construction - but, after some adjustments, we eventually got a sound night's sleep.
Some hole in the ground!
Time to go home. After watching some rather odd Saturday morning cartoons involving giant chickens doing chicken dances, we left El Paso behind and crossed back into New Mexico. Our first problem of the day was courtesy of Mapquest, whose maps and directions assured us that NM 273 and NM 9 absolutely positively intersected near Santa Teresa. After some aimless wanderings, we found out that their Internet-age advice was just plain wrong, and so finally we found the road we were looking for using dead reckoning, the truck's DMI, and a bit of dumb luck. Back on course, we rolled westward on county route A-003, no, make that NM 9, with only the turkey buzzards and the countless Border Patrol trucks to accompany us. We stopped in the small town of Columbus at the former EP&SW depot now serving as the town museum, and learned about how a certain Sr. Pancho Villa made things unpleasant for the town back in 1916 - and how this event, and the American response to the raid, fit into the local, national, and global politics of the nineteen-teens, with Washington, Mexico City, and even Imperial Germany playing a role in the affair. After this stop was history as well, we chose not to bid at the used car auction being held in the center of town, and continued west through Hachita and Animas, and then south to the small town of Rodeo, hard by the Arizona border. At the Rodeo general store/cafe/gas station, we feasted on enchiladas and chimis along with the locals and the New Mexico state troopers, and then a triumphant re-entry to our home state on SR 80. We arrived in Douglas at the same time as a toad-strangling thunderstorm, so we cut our visit short and continued into the Mule Mountains and Bisbee, dodging the cascades of water and rocks coming off the hillsides. In Bisbee, Richard went 10-8 to help a pickup truck that had stalled in the middle of the highway, and we monitored the radios, listening to the good folks of ADOT Safford District and DPS District 9 deal with the floods and boulders that this storm had dumped. Fortunately, our active duty was confined to the single incident in Bisbee, and so through Mule Pass Tunnel we went on down into Tombstone, where we dried off and kicked back to the relaxing rhythm of the thunderclaps competing with the booms of continuous gunfights being staged in the streets and corrals of this notorious boomtown turned tourist trap. In one of the mercantile establishments, we picked up our final Arizona-themed souvenirs of our trip, and moseyed back onto SR 80 and the trip up to I-10. Once on the freeway, and eager to get home, we zipped right through Tucson and didn't stop again until the Picacho/Eloy area, where three quick stops got us our last fuel fill-up and some ice cream for the final miles. And in our final hour of travel, as the sun set on our epic journey (see photo), we reminisced about all the fun things we'd done and seen, all the things that were accomplished at the meetings, and even began planning our next big trip - to St Paul and points north in 2002!
The sun sets on a successful trip
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