Here we are on the road in our happy Truckasaurus again for a projected 29-day adventure to beautiful Savannah and back! But first, before we go east, we must go north!
I-17 north was the usual fun drive, but a truck with the name "Rhett Butler Produce Co" reminded us that our final destination lay in Georgia. We speculated: is their slogan "Frankly my dear, we give a yam"?
As we turned east on I-40 thru Flagstaff, we were surprised by a welcome rain shower - the moisture and the free truck wash was appreciated. Other than the rain, a brief stop to say hi to the big bunny at the Jackrabbit Trading Post (see photo), and some field work at ADOT's Sanders port of entry, it was a relaxing and uneventful trip (well, except for the misreading of the fuel gauge near Lupton, but that eventually worked out OK).
We checked in to the Tom Mix suite at the historic Hotel El Rancho in downtown Gallup, and then said hi to the little critters at the local pet shop down the street, including a true rarity - a cuddly 4-year old hamster, still friendly and active at such an advanced age. Then it was dinner at Earl's, one of the best eatin' spots on New Mexico's segment of Route 66. One feature of dining at Earl's is that you can shop for Native crafts and jewelry without leaving your seat - the artisans stroll from table to table showing their wares to the feeding throngs. We hadn't planned on buying anything, but one little bear necklace (and its price) proved irresistible to Suz.
After dinner, we watched the sunset from the balcony of our hotel room, and planned out our evening's adventure. Now you may already be thinking it's a bit strange to be heading for Savannah by way of I-40, but there were things to do and signs to see - literally. It seems I had promised a night sign inspection on I-40 out near the AZ state line to the good folks at Holbrook Construction, and they weren't going to let us go without it. So, after dark we were back in the truck and back in Arizona, and after a whole lot of staring at a whole lot of big green signs, we noted our findings and took our pictures and headed back to Gallup 'round midnight for a well-deserved first day rest.
The rabbit's ready to ride
We slept in late (reeally late) at the El Rancho after last night's work, then continued east on I-40 as the clouds crept in and started dumping more of that wet stuff. We were looking forward to a brunch at the Uranium Cafe in Grants, but it seems they're closed on Sundays, so we instead had a fine lunch at a great Stuckey's (complete with 2 souvenir rooms - one tasteful, one tacky) just east of town.
As we rolled down the hill into Albuquerque, the heavens opened, and soon we were driving in a 3 inch deep pond known otherwise as I-40. Surviving that drenching, we crossed the Sangres and were out on the open plains - only now it was raining sideways! We steered through the downpours and buffeting winds until a welcome stop was made at Clines Corners. Although they had lost main power due to the storm, they were wired wisely - emergency power flowed to the bathroom water pumps - and cash registers. Then a break in the rain, and a pretty rainbow (see photo) along I-40 greeted us as we rolled east.
On thru Santa Rosa and into Tucumcari, where we chose to end the day's drive early due to all the moist excitement we'd had earlier. We were again welcomed by the Bakkes at the wonderful Blue Swallow Motel, and then dinner at Megan's Biscuits & Burgers (good, but the shake machine was a bit, um, shaky). After dinner, we walked over to Bubbles, Tucumcari's combination book store / video rental / convenience store - and pet shop! For the second day we relaxed by handling some fuzzy & fun hamsters, and talked with the friendly folks who ran the place. Then back to our cozy nest at the Blue Swallow for a good night's rest (and some chatting with some Route 66 motorcycle tourists) before tomorrow's fun.
Heading east under the rainbow
Up and at 'em (relatively) early today for more road warring. Into Texas by 10 AM - make that 11 AM, due to yet another time zone, and lunch at the Midpoint Cafe in Adrian. It's called the Midpoint because it's exactly halfway between Chicago and LA on old US 66. We'd visited here before, and Fran and her staff again served up great food and excellent discussion about Route 66 and what it means to people and the towns along the road. Another thing about the Midpoint: there's a strong sense of pride and ownership here, as evidenced by the waitress talking about "her" entrees and pies, and Fran's ability to keep things running even with all the tourists, locals, and German biker gangs. ;)
After this was Amarillo as we honked as we whizzed by the Cadillac Ranch, and then off of I-40 & 66 and onto a new road, US 287, as we started trending toward the southeast. Across the Red River (it's really red!) near Estelline, and into Childress, where a roadside ornamental iron stand proved to be irresistible to us - and a metal kitty flowerpot holder joined us for a trip back to our backyard.
At Red's Drive-In in Quanah, we fed ourselves on fine Texas fare, and then continued southeast, enjoying the 4-lane road and the very reasonable 70 MPH speed limit (65 at night, though). By the time we got to Wichita Falls, we saw innumerable moos, herds o' horses, some sheep or so, grazing goats, a llama or two (or was that an alpaca?), and of all things - camels - just west of Iowa City!
At Henrietta, we exited on to US 82, the highway that we will follow all the way to Alabama, and also celebrated 187000 miles on Truckasaurus' odometer. West of Ringgold, we were astounded by the Lone Star Hereford Ranch, where happy normal cattle surrounded a giant steer statue (at least we think it was a steer). We passed on under the gaze of this mighty moo (see photo) and through Nocona (home of the boots), St. Jo, and Muenster as the lengthening afternoon shadows followed us. Nightfall found us in Gainesville where US 82 meets I-35, and where the bright neon sign of the Wagon Inn Motel beckoned us into a big room at a great price - with microwave, fridge, and (most important) a big honkin' AC unit.
Big moo at the Lone Star Ranch
Back on US 82 after our rest at the Wagon Inn, our odd animal sightings continued as we saw bison and cattle cavorting together in a pasture and pond a piece east of Gainesville. Past Sherman, we chose to leave the modern alignment of US 82 and take the side roads for a while. We followed Texas 56 (old 82) through the town squares of northeast Texas, and obeyed the command of the "Texas stop sign" (aka Dairy Queen logo) in the sweet little town of Honey Grove.
Although we missed the Eiffel Tower replica (complete with ten-gallon hat) in Paris, Texas, we did manage to spy another odd sight - two large passenger aircraft just settin' there in front of an old business just west of town. A few miles further past Paris, the town of Blossom opened before us as we continued on our eastward trek.
While we've been traveling, our trusty Apple iPod MP3 player (and backup hard drive) has been consistently serving up an interesting variety of songs for our listening pleasure, with selections grabbed at random from over 1600 songs stuffed in there from our CD & tape collection at home - everything from Dr Seuss to the Specials to Enya to Esquivel to Wagner to Warren Zevon - and a lot of Suzanne Ciani too. So, as we rolled into Clarksville, the iPod serenaded us with the Monkees singing about Clarksville and its last train.
Afternoon found us cruising down State Line Avenue (US 71) in Texarkana as the shops and businesses of the Lone Star and Razorback faced each other across the busy five lanes, and we finally bid goodbye to Texas for now and ventured east into the greenery of southern Arkansas.
On 82 in Arkansas, the combination of narrow roads, busy traffic, and construction started to frazzle our nerves, and we pulled off to relax and shop for a spell on the square, er, triangle of a nice little town called Stamps. The walking around, cool air and bargains at Bill's Discount and Fred's Dollar Store soothed us as we selected low-price sundries for our travel needs and said hi to the locals.
After making our mark on Stamps, we continued on a less-crowded US 82 into the metropolis of El Dorado (pronounced "Ell Doe-ray-doh"), and found ourselves thoroughly enjoying the downtown historic district. In a manner similar to how other cities have used themes for their public art, it seems that some El Doradans have gotten very creative with old 55 gallon drums, and we had a barrel of fun tracking down all the different wild & wacky ways these steel containers had been redecorated (see photo). An excellent dinner was had at Tiger Harry's Diner in downtown El Dorado, and then onward past the rice paddies and catfish farms as the sun set behind us.
In Lake Village, just west of the Mississippi River, we had to spurn the beckoning glow of the La Villa Motel after we found that the room rate was a bit high for our budget, and we soared across the Big Muddy on the old US 82 bridge built in 1940, as the new cable-stayed bridge is being built just downstream.
We entered the state of Mississippi and the city of Greenville as the mosquitoes piled up on the windshield, and after a few odd turns, found a large and very reasonably priced room at the Relax Inn on the east side of town.
The Drums Of El Dorado
Since for some unforeseen and unpredictable reason we were now well ahead of schedule heading across the country (something that normally never happens), we decided to take a day off here in Greenville. And so we relaxed in the Relax Inn until early afternoon, shaking off the accumulated fatigue of our previous travels.
We finally ventured out in the early afternoon into the refreshingly unseasonably cool weather, with temperatures in the 70s. This was the kind of weather we expected last year when we went to the north country, and instead got 90s & high humidity - so it's nice to finally get such a climate, even if it's in an unexpected location.
Our first visit was in Leland, a few miles east of Greenville. This town is notable in that it was the boyhood home of a certain Jim Henson, who wandered along Deer Creek exploring nature and playing with frogs - which when combined later with his considerable puppetry skills, created a legendary frog-based empire which continues to entertain to this day. The Lelanders have created a museum to Jim Henson and the history of Muppetdom on the banks of Deer Creek, and we enjoyed the stories and information - and the photo op with ol' Kermit himself (see photo). After the museum, we also stretched our legs along Deer Creek and said hi to the lazily swimming turtles and other fun fauna.
Then, back to Greenville to see what else was going on. As we made our way down the side streets of town, we spied an old-fashioned all-American sort of entrepreneurship - four smiling kids at a roadside stand selling pink lemonade trying "to raise money for their grandmama's medicine". We of course purchased two big glasses of sweet pinkness, and savored them as we drove westward toward the downtown waterfront.
Here a different sort of entertainment awaited us. We tied up along the banks of the Mississippi past the levee, and visited the riverboat casinos that line the shore, giving a slightly different meaning to the term "Greenville". At the Jubilee, good fortune was with us, and we snacked on big cheap hot dogs as we played machines like "The Platypus Game" that were generous with the entertainment and sound effects - and nickels. After this, we zipped over to the Lighthouse Point casino, which unfortunately was not as generous, either in terms of financial reward or quality of service - but we made sure to skedaddle while we were still on the plus side.
A quiet interlude in the truck followed as we relaxed, breathed clean non-casino air, rearranged all the items that had somehow been deranged, scattered, and strewn over the previous days, and watched the sun set over the Mississippi. Then back to Relax Inn for more rest before the final push into the great Southeast.
Our new big green friend
We finally got out of Greenville and continued east on US 82 into the green hills of Mississippi, rolling past a Dairy Queen converted into a church - which makes sense, somehow, given the near-holy place of soft serve in our lives. During a brief break on Poor House Road just east of Winona (we didn't forget this Winona either), we were amazed by the alien sight (at least to us desert folk) of the everpresent kudzu vines, which made goofy shapes out of old trees, power poles, junked cars, and everything else it covered and climbed.
Lunchtime found us in the picturesque town of Eupora, where the old Central Service station in the center of town next to the old train depot has been converted into the Central Service Grill - a great example of adaptive reuse in action. If you're ever in Eupora, don't miss this place - fun decor, great BBQ (and desserts!), and excellent service. Then on into Oktibbeha County and through Starkville, home of the Mississippi State Bulldogs, and then we doggedly continued into the state of Alabama.
Our first stop in Alabama was in Reform - which we suppose makes this the first time we've chosen Reform today instead of tomorrow. ;) We stopped along Reform's main street at an oddly named store called Goodstuff's - which was indeed filled with a few items of good stuff. Here we picked up some interesting odds & ends, all at 75% or more off, including a cute little travel atomic clock which will now tell us with incredible accuracy just how late we really are.
Then we rolled like a not-quite crimson (more like blue) tide through Tuscaloosa, and onto the thundering traffic of the I-20 & I-59 combo. We steeled our nerves for the twisty drive through Birmingham, and then east of town got off I-20 for the more relaxing drive on US 78. The sun set as we cruised past the huge tri-oval of the famous Talladega Superspeedway, and then on into Anniston. The Midtown's Motel's greatest asset, though, was that it was, well, there - and although the staff was friendly, the property regrettably had seen better days.
Good eats in Eupora
While we slept, a whole bunch of subtropical moisture caught up with us, and so as we left Anniston and continued into Georgia, persistent heavy rain was our constant companion. We chose to find a room early today so we wouldn't have to hunt for one after our day in Atlanta, and this led to some interesting incidents. We'd read of a mom & pop place called the Crown Motel right near the MARTA subway station, but when I asked to see one of the rooms, they said "no" - and so we did as well. We wandered back toward the Six Flags area and found a rather nice place called the Fulton Inn, and unloaded some of our stuff before the afternoon's adventures.
Since we didn't know what kind of parking opportunities there would be for our 20 ft long truck in downtown Atlanta (and to avoid more rainy driving), we chose to park out at the Holmes MARTA station and take the subway into the central city. We zipped into downtown and up to Midtown, and popped out on 10th Street right next to our first destination on the corner of Peachtree and Peachtree.
The Margaret Mitchell Museum contains not only the long-time home of the celebrated author, but includes other galleries devoted to her book, her support of African-American empowerment, and some movie that came out in 1939 having something to do with some place called Tara and some guy named Sherman. We lingered here until closing time looking at the original papers, costumes, and movie props, knowing that everyone at home would be pea-green with envy. Then a moist stroll south on Peachtree Street and over on North Avenue toward the Georgia Tech campus brought us to our dinner destination.
"Whaddallyahave, whaddallyahave, whaddallyahave??" is the constant shout from the counter staff at the neon-clad Varsity Restaurant - the world's largest drive-in, established back in 1928. We told 'em that we wanted some of their famous chili dogs, and we got 'em quick. We enjoyed these well-behaved dogs as we watched the throngs of folks milling in and out of this tasty place and watched the clouds roll in engulfing the Atlanta skyline in a foggy mist.
Then back on MARTA for the quick trip back to the truck, and then back to the Fulton Inn for more dozin' - after all, tomorrow is another day...
Still wet again today as we rolled nonstop through downtown Atlanta and started our march across Georgia. While still in the endless suburbs, we grabbed lunch to go at a Steak n Shake, and then had lots of time to eat and digest when a 20-car pileup blocked I-75 - a crash apparently reaffirming the fact that dumb driving and water definitely don't mix. The GDOT HERO truck showed up just before we got to the scene, so no help was needed from us outastaters, and so we continued through the rain at a saner speed - but being constantly passed by those who had greater faith in their skills, tires, and/or insurance deductibles.
When we got down near Macon, we loaded up some $1.20 fuel and decided to leave the rainy Interstate to them what were driving like they had numbers and sponsor logos on their sides, and relaxed along the quiet of US 80. While still in the Macon area, we stopped at Ocmulgee National Monument for an interesting history lesson on the mound-building Mississippian culture and how their successors handled the forced relocations and other troubles of the 19th & 20th centuries, and to get another stamp in Suz's well-worn National Parks Passport book.
We drove quietly through the towns of rural Georgia, passing through burgs such as Dry Branch and Dudley. Amidst the greenery of Dublin, we stopped at one of the local Piggly Wiggly supermarkets to replenish our larder - heck, they even have two flavors of Yoo-Hoo! Then on and on, following the wet winding road through Twin City and Hopeulikit, and then into Statesboro, seat of Bulloch County and home of Georgia Southern University.
Just south of town on US 301, we found one of the best classic motels we've ever discovered during our travels - the Parkwood Motel. We checked into the Coca-Cola room (apparently the Elvis rooms were busy that night) and unwound from all the wet. Then a quick spin into town for some classic down home cookin' at Franklin's Restaurant, and then back to the room for some rest before the final day's drive into Savannah.
Fun at the Parkwood
We lingered this morning in our cozy room at the Parkwood Motel, enjoying the greenery and scenery and conversing with the owners about the pride they have in their property. We of course timed our checkout to perfectly coincide with a toad-strangler torrent, and so we gurgled out of Statesboro back onto US 80 toward our long-awaited destination.
We savored our relaxing drive along winding US 80, enjoying the last few miles on the eastbound leg. Then past I-95 and into the suburbs, and before we knew it, we were under the US 17 Talmadge Bridge (see photo) and at the Hyatt Regency Savannah, our home for the next six nights. We didn't want to keep the bell staff waiting while we sorted through the mess in the back of the truck, so we made three trips and got some exercise unloading on our own. Then handed the keys to Truckasaurus off to the valet ($15 a day to board ol' Truckasaurus is a bit steep, but cheaper than walking home if it's stolen), and up to the room to clean up before the first AASHTO activities.
The first event that we attended was a reception in the Hyatt's river-level ballroom, where we enjoyed the view of the waterfront and met all the other traffic folks from around the country and swapped stories about our travels - 9 days in the truck sure beats 3 hours at LaGuardia! Then back to our room with a balcony overlooking the atrium to continue unpacking, unloading, and unwinding.
Of course, now it was time for Richard to put his finishing touches on tomorrow's important presentation on restarting the US Numbered Bicycle Route network - and unfortunately it was still a long way from being a finished product. After a few hours of writing, rewriting, tinkering, and all-out rework, it looked good to our bleary eyes, and so we went to sleep well after midnight as our printer hummed away at the long task of crunching out handouts for the next day.
Talmadge Bridge soars over Savannah
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