We continued this day on Alternate US 90, on through Shiner and Gonzales, where the strong German and Spanish heritages made for interesting combinations of names and architecture. Gonzales is also notable for being the site of one of the first skirmishes in the war for Texas independence, and the Texian's motto at this battle - "Come And Take It" (referring to their town cannon) still echoes strongly today in these troubling times.
In Seguin, we briefly visited the "World's Largest Pecan" (or second-largest, according to other sources) on the courthouse square, commemorating a big branch of the local economy, and then enjoyed a meal at the Little House Cafe on US 90 - if you're ever passing through town on I-10 during lunchtime, stop by and visit this little all-non-smoking place with the friendly folks and fine food.
Then on the Interstate into San Antonio, where we remembered the Alamo (hey! it looks just like the motel we stayed at in Beaumont!) and visited this important shrine to Texas liberty and the price that 200 men paid in 1836 to defend their freedom. Despite the heat, the humidity wasn't too bad, so we walked the grounds, absorbed the history, dodged the squirrels, and quietly enjoyed ourselves. Then a stroll along the Riverwalk to cool off a bit, and back in the truck to keep heading west and north before nightfall.
As Texas farm-to-market road 1376 wound its way up and down and through the Hill Country, we understood exactly why Lance Armstrong lives and trains here - we're just glad that we have a bit of motor assist on these steep climbs! A bit later, somewhere between Boerne and Luckenbach, our late afternoon reverie suddenly came to a halt when a little armadillo wandered out right in front of us. Fortunately, the antilock brakes on Truckasaurus worked as advertised, and so we spent a few minutes blocking this quiet road as the little 'dilla (first live one we've seen!) zigged and zagged and sniffed and snuffled his way across the centerline. Soon after, we saw some emus alongside the highway, and we joked, "what's next - camels?"
We again slammed to a halt as we watched a group of zebras and African antelopes cavort and frolic incongruously across the Texas hillsides. So, after a few miles of this, nothing much surprised us anymore, and we made our way into downtown Luckenbach (pop. 3) to see Saturday evening wildlife of a different sort. Then, as the sun set, we rolled into Fredricksburg to see if we could find a place to bed down in this Teutonically-themed town.
Fredericksburg had a simple and clear message for us, though - "Keep moving, stranger." No (remotely affordable) rooms in the inns here, and so we continued over the hills and into the darkness. The longest day of the year got longer and longer as we passed the "No Vacancy" signs in Mason, and we started to worry that this might end up being a really long dark trip to San Angelo. Fortunately, we unlocked a place to rest our weary heads at the Gold Key Inn some miles down the road in Brady.
The wacky sights of the Lone Star State
Our very Brady morning was spent sleeping in as late at the Gold Key's checkout time would allow. Out on US 87 again, we found the town of Eden to be anything but paradise - a quick trip to the DQ drive-thru became an exercise in frustration due to the glacial pace of the service. After a chat with the manager (and a free cone for our troubles), we continued northwestward as we watched the landscape slowly change from the greenery that we'd seen for weeks to the more familiar brown of the West. In Sterling City, the sign in the center of town said "Welcome To Sterling City / See Other Side" - so we saw the other side of town, found it satisfactory as well, and continued on.
Just south of Big Spring, the irresistible lure of "Park & Putt", a classic miniature golf course wildly painted in Day-Glo colors, sucked us off the highway and into this 19-hole haven of happiness (see photos - eye protection recommended). Although the temperature was even higher than San Antonio, we were thankful to be back in the Land Of Low Humidity, and didn't much mind. The competition was fierce as our little balls dodged the bowling pins, gators, gooneybirds, paddlewheels, windmills, and other features, and in the end Richard had a narrow two-stroke victory, although both of us shot well (and we mean well) over par.
After breaking in a new waitress at Rocky's Tex-Mex in Big Spring, we continued on, rolling 190,000 miles on Truckasaurus' odometer as we proceeded to the town of Lamesa (pronounced "La-meesa"). Here we said hi to the giant fiberglass tire gal in the middle of town, and then loaded up on our (hopefully last) load of groceries from the friendly folks at the Thriftway market. In Brownfield, we saw the Hershey's Kissmobile heading south to spread chocolate-covered happiness to the people of Texas. Then west on US 380, set the cruise control, and before we know it, we're in Tatum, New Mexico, surrounded by hundreds of western-themed metal cutouts made by a local company in town.
After making our way through the two-dimensional wonders of Tatum, the highway then delivered us to the city of Roswell, which prefers to be known as the "Dairy Capital of New Mexico", but for some reason is better known for more extraterrestrial activities. We made our way under the alien-head streetlamps to the welcoming neon glow of the Frontier Motel, where we wrapped up a relaxing evening sitting out by the pool in the cool desert breezes reminiscing about all the fun we'd had so far along the way (well, except for that exploding pop can in the back of the truck - but that goes under the "unexplained phenomena" file).
Colorful fun at Park & Putt
This day commenced with us being transported to the UFO Museum in downtown Roswell, where our little 3-eyed traveling companion who's been riding under the rear-view mirror since 1996 felt right at home (see photo). After reviewing a remarkably well-balanced presentation of the "evidence" for unidentified flying/not-so-flying/downright crashed objects, we beamed over to the shops at and surrounding the UFO Center, where we were much less skeptical of the wacky items available, and cash was mysteriously abducted from our wallets.
US 285 took us through some of the most desolate territory we've seen on our travels - miles upon miles of absolutely nothing except a few moos and an occasional fence line. We vaundered through Vaughn, and on to Clines Corners, where our second visit of the trip was even more fun and rewarding than the first.
As we approached Albuquerque, we calculated that we'd hit downtown right at the peak of rush hour, and our previous traffic experiences in that city hadn't been pleasant. Both our maps showed there was a paved scenic alternate route around the north of the mountains directly to Bernalillo, and so we weren't too concerned as NM 536 led us up the slopes of the Sangre de Cristos.
When we got to NM 165, though, we knew that our adventures on this trip weren't over yet. While the maps showed this road as a paved state highway, the reality of 165 was a steep, rock-strewn, rutted dirt road barely wide enough for Truckasaurus (or not even that wide, given the scratches in the side). To give you an idea of the ride quality, we looked forward to the washboard stretches, since they were so much smoother that the rest of this highway. We reached pavement again at Placitas, did a damage check on the truck (only the aforementioned scratches), and rolled down into Bernalillo and onto US 550.
A number of miles down the road, a routine food stop in San Ysidro became very non-routine in a hurry. As we got out of the truck, we noticed that the left front hubcap, tire, and wheel well were splattered in fresh bearing grease, and a few minutes of more thorough inspection showed that the seal had failed on one of the wheel bearings that had just been redone last week in Alabama. To add insult to injury, the T-Freez restaurant closed their doors in our faces just as we discovered this problem (Travelers' Tip: don't patronize the T-Freez in San Ysidro, NM...) We coaxed the truck through the twilight up US 550 into Farmington, checking the bearing temperature and status frequently along the way. We made it to the Sage Motel, situated right across the street from two auto repair shops, and rested up from a most eventful day.
Our alien feels right at home in Roswell!
Truckasaurus made an early visit to Farmington Tire & Auto, where the mechanics slapped in yet another set of left front bearings and seals in short order (for $104) - and after a non-productive discussion with the previous mechanic in Alabama, that matter was referred to AAA for resolution. Fortunately, despite the mechanical mishaps, we were back on the road right on schedule.
In Shiprock, we stopped by the Native American food stands to get some good beef & pork on frybread that we'd enjoyed on previous trips, but were disappointed that nuttin' but mutton was being served this day. We were too sheepish to try the sheep, and instead got lunch at the Chat 'n Chew, a nice little food stand just east of the US 666, er, US 491 junction. Right across the street at the chapter house, we watched fuzzy prairie dogs who had burrowed under the driveways and sidewalks along US 64 as they scurried to & fro and popped their little heads out to watch the traffic go by.
Now it was time for Richard to get back to work, and so we rolled past the big welcome signs back into Arizona and up to the Four Corners area to verify signs for the upcoming reconstruction of the monument. Of course, since we were there, we had to do the obligatory quadrastate stand, and then we settled back and watched the other visitors perform their variants on 4-state-Twister ("left foot Utah!")
From here, our trip westward on US 160 took us right into the gritty reality of dust storms stirred up by the 30-50 MPH crosswinds scouring the sands and mesas of far northeastern Arizona. We plowed through the muck at a reasonable and prudent speed, taking a well-deserved break at Navajo National Monument, where we learned of the ancient inhabitants of Tsegi Canyon, and Suz got another stamp for her National Parks Passport book.
Then under the giant conveyor belt of the Black Mesa mine, up SR 98, and we turned to Page, where our first Denny's visit for the trip had some amusing misadventures involving a cheeseless cheeseburger, gravy, and some wandering chairs. Then over the Glen Canyon Bridge, into Utah proper, and over through Kanab to plop back into Arizona at Fredonia, where a cozy room complete with hot and cold running cats awaited us at the rustic Grand Canyon Motel.
P.S. If anyone finds a colorful magnetic-backed US map somewhere between Teec Nos Pos and Page, let us know - it seems the crosswinds were too much for our faithful tailgate companion - and we only had two (continental US) states missing! :(
Fun stuff in the Four Corners
We began the day in Fredonia sitting outside on this perfect morning, enjoying the cool temperatures, sorting through some ADOT paperwork, and writing up the previous days' activities.
After a brief check on the construction on SR 389, we continued westward past the remarkably large homes of Colorado City and again into Utah, plummeting down the hill into Hurricane, and then blowing from there to St. George, heart of "Utah's Dixie". Having had some considerable recent experience in the real Dixie, we found the comparison slightly odd, but understandable.
After fuel and lunch in St. George (hey, the Sinclair station got a new big green fiberglass dinosaur!), we cruised on down through the curves of the rugged and scenic Virgin River Gorge on Arizona's 29.4 mile long stretch of I-15, noting the condition of the signs along the way. Then on into Nevada, exiting just past the border at Mesquite, and settling into the Virgin River Hotel, our base of operations for the next 2 days.
After resting up, we walked over to the Eureka casino for dinner - but with a bonus, as Suzanne got to participate in the Wednesday night slot tournament at the Eureka. She didn't win, but did receive some lovely parting gifts, including a "freebie buffet". Then into bed relatively early to get ready for a busy Thursday.
Saying hi to the dino
This day began early, with Richard meeting up with his coworkers Bashir and Christopher to take care of I-15 business. ADOT has big plans for this little chunk of freeway, with bridge redecking, repaving, and sign replacement projects scheduled for the next three years. This kept Richard and the gang busy all day, as they bopped back and forth between Nevada and Utah, all the while investigating, measuring, and generally doing interesting and useful engineering work that we won't waste much more time discussing here.
Meanwhile, back in sunny Mesquite, Suzanne was out on her own sampling the temptations of this burgeoning burg. She hunted the elusive bingo over at the Eureka casino, and spent the afternoon enjoying yet more green-themed entertainment on this trip while watching "Hulk" at the theaters at the Virgin River.
We all got together at dinnertime to trundle over to the west side of town to stuff ourselves on the tropical delights of the Oasis resort's buffet. Happy and satisfied, we spent a bit more time at the Oasis, and were even happier when we found the "Trivial Pursuit" slot machine - a device perfectly suited to our absurd abilities to recall useless bits of information. The reels spun, the questions were answered - did you know that the Eskimo word "nanook" means "polar bear"? - and we strolled out of the Oasis into the clean desert evening well-rewarded for our time and wisdom. :)
I-15 winding its way through the Virgin River Gorge
Another early trip was had by Richard to look at some of the interchanges on I-15. This occupied most of the morning, as his cohorts dumped him off back at the hotel just in time for check out, zooming off to continue their work.
Together again, we wandered over to Uncle Buck's Secondhand Furniture to convert our Mesquite winnings into a pair of cool purple bar stools, and then said farewell to this town and rolled down the busy Interstate to fabulous Las Vegas. Here we checked into the Lady Luck hotel downtown (clean lodgings, low rates, convenient to lots of fun stuff) and promptly started enjoying this exciting and dynamic city - by immediately conking out in our room sound asleep until nightfall.
When we came to, the sun had set and the bright colors of Vegas had come out to play - and so had we. We strolled under the broad arch of the Fremont Street Experience canopy, joining the other bent-necked throngs of visitors watching the astounding sound and light shows that are shown hourly on the ceiling of this impressive structure. Between the shows, we poked our heads into many of the casinos lining this piece of artful architecture, and plunked down a few nickels (and even some pennies!) here and there with mixed results.
As for dinner, we decided to skip the deep-fried Twinkies advertised by one ostentatious establishment, and instead were satisfied by the late-night meal specials at the Golden Gate, a 97-years-young hotel anchoring the west end of Glitter Gulch. Then more 5 cent fun at the Fremont, where the "My Rich Uncle" slot machine was treating Suzanne like a favorite niece, while Richard was being amused by the ouchful antics of the "Evel Kneivel" slot machine (love that 'X-Ray Bonus!'!) We will have to admit that these wagering wonders kept us busy until very late into the evening (or is it early in the morning already?), and so it was that we were well past our bedtimes when we finally dragged our weary butts, and our newly won cash, back to the room.
Wicked snacks in Sin City
We originally planned to be heading home on this Saturday, but an odd ultimatum from our housesitter ("stay out of town through the weekend!") just happened to keep us on the road for yet another day. The fact that this meant an extra day in Vegas didn't hurt either. :)
Needless to say, we slept late, awakening to a fine Las Vegas morning, er, afternoon. Even though we'd seen some luck with the gambling stuff, we thought that we'd instead enjoy some of the other diversions that downtown Las Vegas has to offer.
On each year's big road trip, we try to accomplish four tasks, aside from eating, sleeping, attending meetings, and basic survival:
We accomplished two of these goals today in a place called Neonopolis, at the east end of Glitter Gulch. This brand-new place has 12 lanes of bowling, a bunch of movie screens, an amusement center (no, not _that_ kind of amusement center!), and a displayed collection of classic neon signs saved from the wrecker's ball when urban renewal claimed the original establishments - a truly happy sight to afici-neon-dos such as ourselves.
The bowling was fun in spite of the fact neither of us had any dreams of rolling a respectable score. The place featured overstuffed lounge-type seating, a full bar with great waiter service, and a video wall to distract you momentarily from the 7-10 split laughing at you (again!) from the end of the alley. After the bowling, we rested up for a bit, and then enjoyed something to "sea" at the movies - we found "Finding Nemo" to be a perfect afternoon's entertainment.
Even better, one of the benefits we received with the movie tickets were cards usable at the aforementioned "entertainment center" with a $5.00 value each, which we used for some fun shared games of pinball and air hockey - in which Suz won 3 straight.
When evening fell, we enjoyed live entertainment at an open-air stage, and more shows from the big Fremont Street roof. Of course, we didn't forget we were in Vegas, and so more nickels were ventured, and fortunately for the most part regained. Then finally another late-night food special to cap off the evening ("having a cow" takes on a whole new meaning in this town!), and then to beddy-bye to rest up for the final leg home.
We're still looking for that Tilt-A-Whirl, though...
Experiencing the sights of Fremont Street
After our abbreviated rest, we loaded up and checked out of the Lady Luck. Our good fortune in Las Vegas was seeming to continue, as we just missed being the guests of honor at an elevator-prying-open party held by the Las Vegas Fire Dept. at the parking garage - had we been a few minutes faster, it could have been us that got stuck between floors!
Then down I-515 / US 93 for the final southeastward leg home. There were the usual loooong delays at Hoover Dam, made worse when Truckasaurus was selected to be searched at the security checkpoint on the Nevada side ("please ask the large metal flamingo sitting on the purple barstools to step out of the truck for a moment...") Then on over the dam and back into Arizona for keeps, threading our way through the construction of the Hoover Dam Bypass - we're looking forward to that new bridge in 2008!
First stop after Hoover was at Keepers of the Wild, a place about 25 miles southeast of Hoover Dam out in the middle of the desert. This is a sanctuary for orphaned, abused, and abandoned critters of all kinds, and they care for everything from tortoises to tigers. Alas, the animals aren't for public viewing unless you "sponsor" a particular one, so we instead did our bit to keep the place going by buying lunch and a magnet.
Kingman was the final fillup for the expedition, with $1.45 fuel at the TA truck stop on Beale St, bringing our total for the trip to 339 gallons at a cost of $462. Then to the Kingman Powerhouse to see that new Route 66 stuff was in stock, and so it came to pass that Richard added another cool Route 66 shirt to his collection, while Suzanne found the perfect purse in a 66 motif.
Speaking of passing - why is it that drivers on US 93 between I-40 and Wickenburg feel the need to motor so maniacally? We saw far too many poorly-adjusted nuts holding down steering wheels, and although the recent US 93 4-lane improvements helped greatly, it was still a wild ride as we drove the speed limit (OK, maybe a bit over the speed limit) while others zoomed by, blithely ignoring the solid yellow lines and black and white signs. And so we made it in one piece to Wickenburg, where a stop for ice cream also yielded a few unexpected last-chance souvenirs for the kitchen.
Leaving town, we looked out over the blue skies and vast horizons of the Sonoran Desert (see photo) and breathed a dry sigh of relief - it's certainly starting to look like home - and as the last rays of the sun spread behind us, we spent the final miles congratulating Truckasaurus for doing such a great job (except for the bit about the wheel bearings) of taking us across the country and back, and to also note that the ol' truck would be celebrating its 15th 'birthday' tomorrow - not bad for such an "experienced" set of wheels!
Finally, after 5596 miles, those wheels turned into the driveway, we shut off the engine, and savored the final moments of our long adventure - which is always a good excuse to postpone all that unloading and unpacking... All done for this year, and don't forget - we're off to the great Northwest for more fun in 2004!
It's good to be home...
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Latest Historical Revisionism 01 April 2005Scripting: Richard C. Moeur