Richard and Suzanne (and Duncan's) Big 2005 Road Trip
Stage 1 - Little Truck On The Prairie
Phoenix, AZ to Trout Creek, MI

Day 1 - Saturday, May 28th, 2005
Phoenix, AZ to Gallup, NM
339 miles

Here we go again!

This first day started out with packing, loading, reloading, repacking, and finally heading out the driveway just hoping we'd remembered everything (including the kid).

Only a few miles north of Phoenix, we celebrated an important and historic milestone. As we exited off I-17 at Badger Springs, our Truckasaurus rolled 200,000 miles on its odometer. We said goodbye to the "1" that had been seen so long, and welcomed the "2" into view, and we're hoping that some of the other numbers on that first reel get their chance in the spotlight before the ol' truck falls completely apart.

South of Flagstaff, a late spring shower cooled us and washed all the bugs off, and then a loop west (yes, west) on I-40 took us over to Bellemont to look at the recently constructed I-40 freeway signing project. We proceeded to investigate some bent sign letters here and there (apparently caused by snow flung by plows during our rather wet winter) as we turned around and headed east again.

We looked at signs all the way out to Winslow, then grabbed some $2.07 gas and continued cruising to Holbrook splashing through the occasional rain (hey, a double rainbow!) In Holbrook, we had a great dinner at Joe & Aggie's Cafe - the oldest continuously operating restaurant on old Route 66 (63 years so far!) The 3rd generation of Joe & Aggie's family treated us great, while the 4th generation played peekaboo with Duncan as we enjoyed our meal.

East of Holbrook, under cloudy night skies, we investigated how the signs installed a few years ago were holding up and reflecting back to all those I-40 travelers. The signs shone brightly back at us as we rolled eastward, and we exited Arizona satisfied that those signs were doing a good job at telling people where to go and how to get there.

A few minutes later, we rolled into Gallup, New Mexico, where a spot for the night was reserved for us in the Rita Hayworth suite at the historic El Rancho Hotel on old US 66. We lugged our stuff in and spread it out around the rustic wood furniture and king-size bed, and all three of us rested well from a busy first day.

Hey, has the warranty expired yet?

Day 2 - Sunday, May 29th, 2005
Gallup, NM to Clayton, NM
423 miles

We spent the morning enjoying the cool Gallup breezes out on the balcony of the Rita Hayworth suite at the El Rancho Hotel, and then cleaned up and packed up to face our second day on the road. We hit I-40 a bit past noon, and zipped eastbound, interrupted only by a brief stop at one of our favorite Stuckey's to reload on GooGoo Clusters and other odd stuff. Then a stop on the west side of Albuquerque for some gas in truck and a change for Duncan, and off east again.

East of ABQ, we turned off I-40 to head northbound on the Turquoise Trail, a picturesque drive around the back side of the Sandia Mountains. Here we wound our way by the busy little villages and through the rumbling throngs of motorcyclists out for some Memorial Day weekend hellraisin'. At Santa Fe, the historic capital of New Mexico, we turned right and headed north, er, southeast on I-25, and curved our way along the route of the Santa Fe Trail and around some of those rugged New Mex mountains. A side trip to the small town of Pecos gave us another break from driving, and then back on around as I-25 finally straightened out and started heading in the same direction as the signs kept telling us.

We continued northward, rolling through alternating sunshine and rain showers, and watching the antelope cavort across the green landscape amid the herds of contentedly munching cows. A quick stop at the local market in Springer for ice cream and then eastward with the setting sun behind us on US 56 to the town of Clayton, tucked into the far northeastern corner of New Mexico. Here we found shelter for the evening at the clean and charming Mission Motel, built in 1937 and still sporting some of its original neon glow. The owners couldn't have been more friendly or helpful, and we settled into our spacious room just before a big storm ended our long but fun all-New Mexico day.

Look! It's Stuckey Boy!

Day 3 - Monday, May 30th, 2005
Clayton, NM to McCook, NE
374 miles

This Memorial Day began in a wet and foggy Clayton, where we waited for the visibility to improve by rearranging stuff and chatting with the motel owners and some of the guests. We swapped stories of epic bike rides, weather back home in Phoenix, some memorable motel moments, and other idle banter.

Once the fog lifted a bit, we drove down to the Clayton tourist info center, where we used their free wireless Internet connection to send stuff to the folks back home and so that little Duncan could meet Moonbeam and Spike, two happy giant dinosaur sculptures that greet Clayton's visitors in their unique prehistoric way.

After the last dino was straddled and the last byte was transferred, we headed east out on US 56 toward the point where New Mexico, Texas, and Oklahoma meet. A close look at a map will show that New Mexico sticks out a bit where it meets the Oklahoma Panhandle. This is due to an 1859 survey error that resulted in the TX/NM state line being set 2 miles or so too far to the west, and in Texas getting a big sliver of what was supposed to be NM territory - something that has New Mexico disgruntled even to this very day.

After we curved around the corner of Texas, we took a short side trip to visit the exact point where TX, NM, and OK come together. We balanced Duncan right on the survey marker, took lots of multi-state pix, and got to place two stickers on our new big US map on the back of the truck (long-time Big Trip fans will recall that our old US map blew off the back of the truck during our 2003 trip). While Richard & Suz managed to visit all the lower 48 plus Alaska prior to Duncan's arrival, this new map shows the states all three of us (including Duncan) have visited, and will fill up quite a bit on this journey.

We drove diagonally across the panhandle of Oklahoma, looping around the courthouse in Boise City onto US 56/64/287/412 just before grabbing some fuel and Dairy Queen snacks on the edge of town. While fueling, Duncan decided to try out the driving skills he'd acquired from watching Dad - which is fine, as long as the truck ain't moving. :) Then more diagonality on US 56 took us up into Kansas (our 4th state of the day) as we barely missed the corner of Colorado, and then a left turn onto US 83 led us onto the highway that will take us on much of our northbound leg. A quick stop in Garden City for leg-stretching and diaper-changing, and then on northward through many proudly flag-flying small Kansas towns.

Just north of Oakley and just south of I-70, we stopped in for a spell at a very lively location - Prairie Dog Town. Here we visited many funny fuzzy folks, including oodles of little yipping prairie dogs, gaggling geese, happy hogs, and other friendly fauna. The good thing was that the recent wet weather did keep the heat away and the dust down, but there were minor problems when the occasional rambunctious pygmy goat decided to distribute the mud on our frontsides in their zeal to get a tasty snack from us.

After the mud was brushed off and the souvenirs stowed, we continued northward on US 83 into Nebraska, our fifth state of the day. We pulled into McCook around sunset and spotted a nice room a block off US 6 behind the flashing neon sign of the Cedar Inn, where we were greeted by the friendly staff and their little black dog. After check-in, Richard was outside the room scrubbing all the animal by-products from Prairie Dog Town off the wheels of the stroller, while Suzanne was trying to calm a grumpy Duncan. As Richard scrubbed, a small green friendly frog hopped up out of the grass and into the stroller, apparently intent on making our acquaintance. Not wanting to be rude, Richard picked up our new friend and returned to the room so he could meet the rest of the family. Upon seeing Suzanne and Duncan, the frog was so impressed by the volume and intensity of Duncan's yowling that he decided to hop out of Richard's hands and right onto both Suzanne and Duncan - just in time for the motel staff to also enter the room with some extra towels and sundries.

Much hilarity ensued.

After our little froggy friend was politely and carefully escorted out of the room and to a slightly more suitable habitat, we calmed down and moseyed up US 6 to Fuller's Family Restaurant, where we enjoyed a hearty well "McCook-ed" meal, marred only slightly by the absence of a non-smoking section.

See? Day three!

Day 4 - Tuesday, May 31st, 2005
McCook, NE to Huron, SD
447 miles

Woke up, loaded up, made sure the frog wasn't tagging along, and headed out of the room, stopping briefly in downtown McCook to express-mail the keys for the Rita Hayworth room back to the El Rancho Gallup (oops!) and to grab some grub at Taco John's. Then north again through the cool weather up US 83 to North Platte, where $1.95 fuel awaited at the Flying J just off I-80.

We continued north on US 83 up and down the rolling hills and vast open greenery of Nebraska's Sand Hills country, zipping past the herds of munching mooing Nebrascows. It's a long way between towns here, so we entertained ourselves by conversing with the cattle using the truck's PA - they moo, we moo, everyone moos, and life is not bad.

There are a few towns out there, though. Seeing all those big beefers in the fields has us hankerin' for some jerky, so we wandered into the local grocery in the small burg of Thedford, and restocked on that and other tasty snacks as the friendly staff asked us about our trip and welcomed us to their fine state. Then back north on US 83 to the lovely town of Valentine for a brief soft serve stop, and then on into South Dakota (another state sticker!) past the many small reservation towns and many small reservation casinos.

We didn't have time to see the highly-recommended car museum at the junction of US 83 and I-90 in Murdo, so we put it on our list of things to do next time we're here, bade a fond farewell to US 83, and headed eastward on the Interstate. We turned off I-90 and crossed the broad Missouri River atop Big Bend Dam, watching the afternoon sun reflect off Lake Sharpe as it peeked below the clouds.

Then eastward on SD 34, veering around the occasional prairie dog or ring-necked pheasant loitering in the middle of the quiet highway (those pheasants do kinda resemble the roadrunners we see back home), and then on through Wessington Springs for a quick bite of pizza and up to US 14. A few miles further eastward, we rolled into the town of Huron, home of the South Dakota State Fair and our home for the evening. We settled in among the nicely appointed and very affordable 1920s-era cabins of the Westview Motel, and relaxed from a long, wet, and busy day.

Look Dad! There's too many green states on this map!

Day 5 - Wednesday, June 1st, 2005
Huron, SD to Rosemount, MN
300 miles

Our morning in Huron began with a friendly chat with the lady who lives next door to the motel, helping her with picking dandelions and talking about travel, the area, and life in general. Then into the truck to get some fuel at the local Cenex station (full service for the same price as self-serve), and then a zip across town to visit the world's largest pheasant (21 ft tall, with 40 ft tailfeathers!)

A half hour east of Huron on US 14 lies the town of De Smet, famous for being the real-life "Little Town On The Prairie" - the long-time home of the Ingalls family made famous in the "Little House" series of books written by Laura Ingalls Wilder. We stopped for a while to tour the homes of the Ingalls dating from the 1870s and 1880s, seeing many artifacts belonging to the extended Ingalls family, and learning about the history and challenges of settlement of the area back in the 19th century. We then lingered a bit longer to enjoy some tasty sandwiches at Ward's variety store & bakery downtown, and then headed out of town on the Laura Ingalls Wilder Historic Highway eastward toward Minnesota and still more Wilder adventures.

A while later, we visited Walnut Grove, Minnesota, which was briefly the home of the Ingalls family in the 1870s but is better-known as the town where the "Little House" TV series was set (fictionalizing and compressing 5 states' and many years' worth of experiences into one town, as Hollywood has a habit of doing). We learned about the history of pioneers in the region, and even toured the old town jail cells and a nearly-authentic sod house (some small amount of reinforced concrete added so it wouldn't collapse on the occasional tourist).

We wallowed out of Walnut Grove and headed east again, grabbing dinner at the local drive-in in Springfield (with "The Simpsons" playing on the TV in the corner, fittingly enough). Then off US 14 in Nicollet, up US 169 along the winding Minnesota River, through the sprawling suburbia of the southern Twin Cities, and finally a well-deserved rest at Suzanne's brother's house in a new subdivision in Rosemount. We said hi to the relations, unpacked a bit, and settled down to be rocked to sleep by the trains passing behind the house.

One of our "Wilder" days

Day 6 - Thursday, June 2nd, 2005
in Rosemount, MN
0 miles

Rest Day!

This day was spent just resting, relaxing, tying up loose ends, writing up the previous days' excitement, and enjoying the hospitality provided by Suz's brother & family. In the afternoon, Richard plopped Duncan in the "baby backpack" and took a tour of the neighborhood, seeing the sights (look - there's the refinery!) and watching the houses & streets being constructed in this too-new-for-Mapquest section of town. Later, after a great rib & chicken dinner cooked by our hosts, all three of us strolled outside, savored the perfect sunset weather, and said hi to the other folks also wandering the neighborhood streets. Then back in and to bed to prepare for the final day of the first leg of our trip - tomorrow, on to Michigan!

Pop and kid - packed for action

Day 7 - Friday, June 3rd, 2005
Rosemount, MN to Trout Creek, MI
362 miles

Got loaded up again and rolled down the winding streets of Rosemount, popping out onto Dakota County 42 - and noticing gas prices went up 10 cents 'round here (from $1.999 to $2.099) in the past 36 hours. Ouch! Grumbled & filled up anyway at Superamerica after grabbing some groceries at the Rainbow Foods where our sister-in-law works, and headed east toward US 10 and Wisconsin - where we saw $1.89 fuel right before the state line. Urk.

On US 10, we rolled on past the green pastures and weathered barns of west-central Wisconsin, stopping briefly in the town of Mondovi for sandwich snacks, ice cream, and slapping another state on the tailgate map. An hour or so later in the town of Neillsville, we came upon one of the wonders of Wisconsin - the ultra-modern styling of the Wisconsin pavilion from the 1964 World's Fair, and Chatty Belle, the world's largest talking cow. We stopped and chatted with Chatty Belle for a spell, and then into the pavilion (now the HQ for Central Wisconsin Public Broadcasting) to poke around and acquire some Wisconsineirs.

Just before Stevens Point, we turned northward on the US 51 / I-39 freeway and whizzed past Wausau and other mid-state metropoli, rolling nearly nonstop until veering off on US 8 to the town of Rhinelander, where we refueled and rested for a bit while admiring all the different manifestations of Rhinelander's mascot - the "Hodag". The best way to describe a Hodag is to take a big green lizard, add lots of spikes and teeth, and adjust attitude depending on location and/or business adjacent to said Hodag.

After running out of Rhinelander, we wandered over and up by Eagle River and Land O' Lakes, and into yet another state - Michigan - or more precisely, the state-within-a-state of the Upper Peninsula of Michigan (hereinafter referred to by the term used by the natives, "Yooperland"). We went up US 45 past Watersmeet (home of the Nimrods), lost another hour as we crossed the Ontonagon County line and entered the Eastern Time Zone, hung a right onto M-28 at Bruce Crossing, and rolled into Suzanne's mother's driveway just a few minutes short of 9 PM - with the sun still high in the sky. It took a while to finally unload all the junk, er, important items we'd carried all this way, but with Suzanne & Duncan spending 2+ weeks up here, we figured we'd rather overpack than underpack. Finally got everything unloaded & put away before nightfall, and settled in for a quiet night in the big woods.

Chattin' away with Chatty Belle

Day 8 - Saturday, June 4th, 2005
in Trout Creek, MI
27 miles (on the bike)

Our first full day in Yooperland was a relaxed one, just enjoying the cool cloudy weather and resting from many days on the road.

A bit of explanation here: Suzanne's mom is getting up there in years, and is, to put it politely, rather independent-minded, having lived in this house by herself for many decades. She doesn't like to be a bother to others - but sometimes she takes this a bit to extremes. For example: she had fallen down in the bathroom. We found her on the floor, and immediately started helping her up. Her response: "No, I'm OK, don't worry about me - I would've been all right". Needless to say, we've been helping her a lot, even though she's sure she'd be just fine without us.

In the early evening, Richard decided to get a bit of activity in, and so he assembled the Bike Friday, bobbled out the bumpy driveway, and turned east on M-28 for a bit of a bike ride on the rural highways of the U.P. The roads were wide and quiet, the weather was cloudy and cool (great!), and the breezes through the pines created little hindrance. He pedaled through Kenton and nearly all the way to Sidnaw before turning around, and then on the way back decided to explore a rail-trail on the roadbed of the old Duluth South Shore line as it made its way through the woods and swamps. This part of the ride was much slower and much bumpier than M-28, but wasn't too bad, although Richard did have to yield frequently to some of the wildlife also frequenting this trailbed. He made his way slowly past herds of turtles, bunches of birds, and even stopped for a family of field mice as they scurried from one side to the other. The Bike Friday held up fine under all the jiggling, although it seems that we will need to locate a couple extra nuts somewhere to reattach the taillight bracket (oops). Then home for a hearty family meal of sloppy joes as the rain began to fall, and into bed 'round midnight (your mom's stuck where now?) to rest up for another Yooper day.

Trail trottin' turtle

Day 9 - Sunday, June 5th, 2005
in Trout Creek, MI
5 miles

The weather reports leading up to this day were warning of rain and severe storms, so we prepared accordingly. Of course, the day was hot & sunny instead, with temps all the way up to the low 90s.

Today's outing was a grand adventure in downtown Trout Creek, as Suzanne herself piloted Truckasaurus to many interesting locations. Our first stop was at the Little Old Schoolhouse Cafe, which was indeed the very same little red school building where Suzanne endured first grade. The food was good and tasty, and the folks were friendly, as Duncan entertained the patrons with his happy infectious infantity. Then to the White Door general store for a few foodstuffs, and then to the old Trout Creek school, where we visited the playground still quietly sitting behind the boarded-up building. While there, an old family friend came up to say hi, and next thing ya know, we're driving from house to house and introducing Duncan to many fine Yooperfolk.

Later in the afternoon, after it had cooled off a bit, but with the sun still shining and the robins still twittering, Richard was thinking that a nice bike ride was in order. No sooner had he started getting ready than the first thumble of runder, er, rumble of thunder was heard in the distance. A few minutes later, the little house was pelted with pea-size hail and torrential rain, and the local TV station reported the county under tornado watch until further notice. So, the bike stayed parked and we finished the day watching the lightning and wetness from safely inside the Carlisle home.

The playground's a bit queter than it used to be

Next Stage:
Split Vacationalities - Trout Creek, MI and Phoenix, AZ

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