Richard and Suzanne (and Duncan's) Big 2005 Road Trip
Stage 4 - If It Starts With '6', We'll Drive It
Buffalo, NY to Phoenix, AZ

Day 29 - Saturday, June 25th, 2005
Buffalo, NY to Mercer, PA
188 miles

We chose to take full advantage of the Hyatt's late check-out time allowance, and even expanded it far beyond normal human comprehension as Richard hauled load after load of stuff out to the truck. However, the Hyatt folks were understanding and gracious, and so we left downtown Buffalo with happy smiles and properly adjusted attitudes.

After some purposefully aimless noodling along the streets of Buffalo, we turned onto southbound US highway 62, which stretches from the Canadian border just north of the city (Niagara Falls, actually) all the way to another water-demarcated international boundary in an utterly different environment in El Paso, Texas. On 62 just outside the city limits in Lackawanna (just north of the botanical gardens and imposing Our Lady of Victory basilica), we discovered the Red Caboose diner, serving many yummy items from inside a - red caboose! We lunched amid all the railroad memorabilia, and enjoyed the cooling breezes wafting in from nearby Lake Erie. Then southward into Hamburg (one of the many civic claimants to the title "birthplace of the hamburger"), where an irresistible item or two for Duncan's future educational enjoyment was spotted at a yard sale just off highway 62. After paying the small child in shiny dollar coins appropriate for the value of the items, we continued southward through the hamlets of southwestern New York, carefully obeying the 30 MPH village speed limits as we rolled on through.

Late afternoon saw us (re)entering Pennsylvania, and a few minutes' drive brought us to Warren, source of many of those Whirley drink mugs we've accumulated on prior trips. A stop at the local service station was rewarding as well - while there, we spotted a food stand selling barbecue chickens benefitting the local American Legion. We secured one, flipped the bird into the cooler, and headed on our way.

US 62 wound in a very scenic way between the Allegheny River and the stony tree-festooned cliffs of Pennsylvania's hills as we motored southward from Warren. We didn't get oil in Oil City, and we missed by a few minutes the free evening concert on the lawn in Franklin, but the travel was enjoyable nonetheless. In the small town of Mercer, we checked into the Colonial Inn, where the folks were nice and the air conditioning system was a bit archaic, but after a while (and with the help of a few of the fans we carry for such an occasion) the room cooled down, and we rested peacefully while the growls of the cars at the nearby raceway competed with the frog calls to serenade us to sleep.

The Red Caboose in all its train-themed glory

Day 30 - Sunday, June 26th, 2005
Mercer, PA to Washington Court House, Ohio
262 miles

It's hot today, even by Arizona standards. The thermometers of far western Pennsylvania were registering all the way into the triple digits as we drove westward toward the Ohio line. Over the border, US 62 threaded past the shuttered and overgrown factories and mills of Youngstown, with many turns and twists that sometimes weren't well-signed (Hey ODOT - M1-4 and M6 turn assemblies aren't that expensive! ;)

In Canfield, better known to us previously as the source of all those Nashbar bicycle parts orders we'd made over the past quarter-century or so (still have catalog #25 at home somewhere), we stopped for reprovisioning at the Giant Eagle supermarket in town. This went somewhat smoothly, but might have gone a bit better had they not insisted on us signing up for their rewards card program in order to accumulate affordable food. Then onward on US 62 through the Amish lands of Ohio, again passing bunches of buggies and attractions promising sturdy furniture and "authentic Amish experiences" (facial hair apparently optional, of course). However, most of these were closed in observance of Sunday, and so we zipped on by relatively undistracted.

Columbus sits in the center of the round-at-the-ends-and-high-in-the-middle state, and US 62 led us right into the heart of the state's capital city. We veered off from downtown north on High Street and observed much merrymaking at a local festival, and then looped the Ohio State "Horseshoe" for luck and turned back toward Grove City and points southward.

When we reached the imposingly-named town of Washington Court House, we figured it would make a good stopping point for the night. We found shelter from the evening heat at the City Motel, and then paid a visit on the slimmer version of the big ol' Big Boy statue (carrying a differently-garnished burger than his heftier western {Bob's} and northern {Elias} cousins, no less!) at Frisch's Big Boy restaurant on the northeast side of town.

US 62 scene

Day 31 - Monday, June 27th, 2005
Washington Court House, Ohio to Shelbyville, KY
189 miles

We checked out (a leetle bit late) from the motel in W.C.H., and chose to have a Bob Evans experience for our lunchtime enjoyment. Food was good as usual, and Duncan again provided endless entertainment for the patrons. Then southwestward on US 62 to the border, and a scoot over the big new cable-stayed bridge into Kentucky.

For the past few days, we've followed US 62 from the banks of the Niagara River to the banks of the Ohio River. We were thinking about following US 62 all the way to the banks of the Mississippi River, but in our travels, it's much more important to follow the road that will take you on the right journey, not just the road that currently seems to have the right number. And so it was as we departed Ohio and entered Kentucky that we chose to follow US 68 and see where it would take us. We would have the answer very soon.

Several miles south of where we left 62, we saw a sign for a road leading to Carlisle, Kentucky. Now we didn't even know there was a town named Carlisle in this state, but we knew that any burg with the same name as Suzanne had to be a can't-miss destination. After a few winding miles over hill and dam, we entered the historic downtown heart of Carlisle and parked Truckasaurus right in front of the town square. Across the street, a row of historic buildings housing some interesting shops beckoned, and so we loaded Duncan onto Richard's shoulders in his baby backpack, and off we went to see the town. Duncan charmed the pants & skirts off the salesfolk in the shops and stores, smiling and cooing his way from store to store. The Carlisle Rexall drug seemed to be an oasis from a different time, with a pharmacist busy in the back and the shelves lined with Techmatic razors and Absorbine liniment. The store also had some flash cards for Duncan's developing brain and some basic black rubber combs for Richard's diminishing hair, and so these treasures were stowed in truck's remaining space. This storage capacity was tested sorely a bit down the street, when an adorable wooden riding giraffe rocker appeared at a price too low to pass up, and so Richard had to test his skills at creative logistics to secure this latest prize.

Alas, even Carlisles must eventually leave Carlisle, and so we turned westward and intercepted US 460 for a drive through Kentucky horse country, passing imposing mansions surrounded by prize horseflesh and stables better appointed than most places we've lived in. This part of the trip just north of Lexington also coincided with our encounter with a fully lightning-equipped storm cell, which dumped with much fury on us - but not quite sufficiently hard to wash all the accumulated grime off Truckasaurus' flanks.

The skies cleared over Frankfort, and we drove around the flowery grounds of the Kentucky state capitol and the office buildings loaded with cabinets of all shapes and sizes. Then westward out of town along US 60, the same highway that also traverses our home state's capitol city, and on into a monorail-free Shelbyville, where our overnight lodgings were in a genuine Kentucky log cabin on the grounds of the Greenview Motel.

Carlisle - a nice small Kentucky town

Day 32 - Tuesday, June 28th, 2005
Shelbyville, KY to Owensboro, KY
164 miles

We considered looping around Louisville, but instead chose to drive right through the center of the city on a mix of freeways and other streets. We missed the turnoff to Churchill Downs, but since we're not all that attuned to equine entertainment, twas no big deal. However, a good lunch is alaways a priority, and a satisfying meal was located at the Steak n' Shake on the southwest side. Then on through Fort Knox, home of many tanks and the legendary "Golden Hoard", and westward on US 60 past the wood-fenced pastures of northern Kentucky.

We'd been on the road so long that a stop to do laundry was quickly moving up our list of priorities. We pulled aside into the scenic small town of Cloverport, right on the Ohio River, to see if a small washouse could be located to fit our needs. While Cloverport was laundromat-free, it did have Rivertown Deli & Ice Cream, a very nice place right on Main Street where we could order a cool drink and borrow the local phone book to research laundry locations in towns along our route, while listening to the heavily-laden barges chugging their way up the wide watercourse.

From here, our travels took us directly to Owensboro, where our data indicated several washing emporiums could be discovered. We stopped at the first air-conditioned one we found, dismantled the strata of accumulated debris filling the back of the truck, and began stuffing the hungry open mouths of waiting machines with dirty duds and numerous quarters. While waiting for the churning kachunkers to do their work, we chatted with the locals, while Duncan continued to babble and smile in a danged cute way. Even with the AC, though, all that washing, drying, and folding made for warm work, and we were hot & bothered after the last clean clothes and all of us were reloaded back into the vehicle.

Things hit rock bottom not long after this. We were hot and tired and just wanted to get off the road, so Richard made the serious tactical error of taking the first cheap room we found in Owensboro. Two things could be said in the room's favor:

  1. it had a really big refrigerator
  2. it had a good hard-blowing air conditioner

However, the rest of the room could be described in terms varying from "icky" to "really really icky". Yes, Richard looked inside before accepting the key, but many things, including the unpleasant odor emitted by the AC only after it was on for a while, weren't readily detectable until we were already moved in, sad to say. Not even a big dinner at one of the best BBQ places on the planet (Moonlite Bar-B-Q Inn) could fix this one, and so we finally went to sleep while trying to ignore the many "fragrances" that assaulted our schnozzes.

Sights and scenes from our 32nd day

Day 33 - Wednesday, June 29th, 2005
Owensboro, KY to Van Buren, MO
284 miles

Time has a way of healing things (or at least making them barely more tolerable), and the morning dawned with a slightly better attitude than the evening before - helped a bit by the apologies of the motel manager regarding the condition of our room. On the road by 10, and in time for a McDonald's breakfast, our first fast food breakfast of the entire trip. We continued to traverse western Kentucky on US 60, passing over the numerous underground coal mines hidden beneath the green and rolling landscape. In fact, according to locals, there's a standard "undermining rider" tacked onto every homeowners' policy to cover the extra risk of that solid-looking ground being not all that solid under one's possessions.

Near the small town of Waverly, we celebrated Truckasaurus rolling 205,000 miles on the ol' odometer, and less than a minute later our attention was grabbed by a large sign on the roadside for Duncan's Auto Body in the heart of Waverly. Now we thought it was nice that they'd name their place after our child, and so we pulled off and started taking pictures of all the signs with Duncan's name all over them. Now this got the attention of the owners of the place, who started wonderin' why the folks in the blue truck were so interested in the place (no, we're not insurance investigators! ;) When they found out why we were snapping pix of the building and signs, they immediately invited us in for a spell to rest ourselves and enjoy the place.

Now we were expecting your typical auto body office - a precariously towering stack of parts manuals, a teeny desk, a restroom that hadn't been cleaned since Ford was in office. Instead, the headquarters of Duncan's is a spacious and perfectly maintained showplace to all things automotive, with classic motorcycles, gas pumps, and an impressive collection of original (not reproduction) pedal cars lovingly restored to better-than-new condition. It's a second-generation operation passed down from father to son, and they're hoping to keep it serving Union County residents for many years to come. Suzanne appreciated the comfy furniture, and our Duncan especially liked the shiny bright colors and the "Duncan's Crash Test Dummy" toy on the couch, which he hugged and squeezed the stuffins out of.

After setting for a while and talking about the big trip, the local area, and other things with the proprietors, we got our last few Duncan-themed pix, jumped back into our truck (one that's seen a bit of bodywork itself) and continued westward. A few miles west of Waverly the pattern of tree-lined highways and small towns every few miles continued along US 60 (interrupted every so often by a slow-moving truck grumbling its way up the short but steep hills).

We'd been in Kentucky for a full two days now, and were finally getting near the west end of this surprisingly wide state. In Paducah, we stopped for an air-conditioned break at Surplus City to use the facilities and pick up a few 90% off items, and then down the last few miles of rolling Kentucky roadway, round the sharp curve and up the big bridge over the Ohio River at its confluence with the mighty Mississippi, a minute of driving across the southernmost tip of Illinois, then over the equally big Mississippi River bridge, round the second sharp curve at the far end, and we're in Missouri and 2 states closer to home.

A short drive along US 62 (yep, we're back on 62 again) across the fertile river lowlands brought us into the Bootheel burg of Sikeston, where we stopped at the renowned Lambert's Cafe, known far and wide as the dining place featuring airborne cuisine - if you want a big, warm, and fluffy roll, you let 'em know, and one will be heaved your way across the room by an accurately-aiming server. It's a place where hand-eye coordination and some situational awareness is helpful for an enjoyable eating experience (heads up - incoming!), and so we ate hearty and tasty grub while handling the flung buns with varying degrees of success (Richard will admit to losing one in the lights and getting bopped in the forehead). Then the last sticker for Mizzou went on the tailgate map, we pulled out of the parking lot (the forehead felt better by now), and we turned westward on US 60 into the Ozarks.

We peered into the late afternoon sun as we popped through Poplar Bluff and continued on the much-improved US 60 expressway. About this time, the truck's VHF 2-way radio, which had been set on a near-silent 146.52 megahertz simplex calling frequency nearly the entire trip, suddenly showed some activity as local amateur radio operators chatted from town to town. Richard joined the conversation with his WC7RCM call sign, and the miles rolled by as he talked with them about the area, the trip, and other interesting stuff. The conversing continued all the way to the town of Van Buren, where we found a cheerful, clean and inviting room for the evening at the Hawthorne Motel and a sweet snack at the Jolly Cone stand in the middle of town. We turned off the 2-way, unloaded, settled in, and dozed happily in the Ozarks.

Duncan (the child) loves Duncan's (the auto body place!)

Day 34 - Thursday, June 30th, 2005
Van Buren, MO to Tulsa, OK
328 miles

After a satisfying rest at the Hawthorne, we bopped out of Van Buren and rolled eastward on a rolling and curving (but still high-speed) US 60 around the hills and hollers of the Ozarks. The miles rolled by while Richard chatted on the 2-meter with WQ8M, also heading west on 60 on a family vacation. We eyeballed at a gas stop in Mountain Home, and swapped stories of fun places and interesting travels.

Farther west in Mansfield, we had our final "Little House" experience of the trip by paying homage to Laura Ingalls Wilder's head at the city park (you may recall we'd explored here in greater depth in 2000, and that account can be seen on the webpage). The heat was briefly broken by a rumbling thunderstorm, and so we jumped back in the truck and rolled through the rain past Springfield, with a brief stop at Murfin's Market in Marionville for snacks and stuff.

We crossed the Oklahoma border and joined up with old route 66, yet another highway beginning with "6" that we seem to be drawn to along this leg of the adventure. We stopped by historic Afton Station to see the old 66 exhibits and purchase some 66-related resources, but after seeing the stuff we were scooted out of there rather quickly by the person running the place (apparently he had other things to attend to?). Then onward along old 66 through Claremore and Catoosa, waved hi to the big Blue Whale, now surrounded by much more development than was there in 2000 when we last visited, and then a most satisfying down-home dinner at Pauline's Buffet near the northeast corner of Tulsa town. A final drive along historic 11th St brought us into the east side of Tulsa proper, where a clean, comfortable, and inexpensive room was found under the exceptionally impressive neon sign of the Desert Hills Motel.

Fun on 60 and 66

Day 35 - Friday, July 1st, 2005
Tulsa, OK to Shamrock, TX
295 miles

The first day of the third calendar month of our trip began with a thunderstorm providing an early wake-up call and a welcome break from the heat plus humidity combo we'd been suffering through since leaving Buffalo. Got packed up and out of the Desert Hills before their ironclad 11 AM checkout time with a few minutes to spare, and then a drive through Tulsa's downtown and its unique Art Deco architecture brought us out to the southwest end of town. On to Sapulpa and gassing for $2.01 per, and then southwestward along the 66 corridor for some more roadtrip fun.

A short digression here: We don't typically follow or explore every single alignment of old US 66, preferring to stay on the "newer" old alignment used typically from the 40s through the 60s. We certainly have nothing against those who prefer to do so, and we've had fun exploring a few interesting older stretches ourselves; however, it seems that there are a few people in the world who say you're not doing 66 "right" unless you travel every single route used by the old highway, or visit every single place listed in the guidebooks. To do so would require far more time than we have remaining on this trip, or would have required us to cut short our earlier explorations on US 62 and 60 - a trade-off I'm happy to say we did not do.

Now where were we? Ah yes, we were enjoying the quiet roads and light traffic of 66. Down through Bristow and its 90 degree turn reminiscent of Holbrook, then a loop through the small town of Depew and its historic main street (Coaches' Corner Cafe looked mighty busy, so we didn't try to burden them more by dropping in), and then a curve into Stroud and around an unfortunate 2-vehicle crash that was blocking 66 and keeping the local emergency crews all too busy (we offered to help, and they thanked us, but said they had enough responders either there or on the way). We pulled off for lunch in Stroud at the Rock Cafe, and munched on some great grub before adding our small bit to the existing unique visitor-embellished decor in the restroom (for those interested: look on the east wall {the one with the toilet}, on the molding in the very far top left hand corner, and look for the US shield with our names in it).

Filled and happy, we continued westward out of Stroud past Davenport (so fa, so good) and Chandler and pulled off at the historically restored Seaba Station, only to find that the place was closed when we arrived. We were a bit disappointed, especially after looking in the windows at all the interesting stuff within, but realized we could visit on a future trip and again continued westward.

By now it was mid-afternoon, and we realized we had mucho miles still to go and fond memories of exploring the Oklahoma City area on previous trips. So, we turned toward the turnpike, flipped a Susie B. into the hungry maw of the tollgate, and set the speed at 75ish as we zipped our way through OKC among the trucks and other high-speed traffic on I-44, I-35, and I-40. We stayed on superslab most of the afternoon, passing many towns we'd made acquaintances with earlier on other adventures. A short pause at the Cherokee Trading Post for our personal needs and for a bit of Duncan-airing-out, then back on 40 for more higher-speed highway travel.

This didn't mean we missed everything on the older alignments, though. We stopped in Weatherford, the home of astronaut Tom Stafford, to pay homage to his heroically-posed statue standing proudly, helmet in hand, in the park next to City Hall. We made our obligatory Braum's stop in Elk City, and took a licking out of our overstuffed cones as we determined that we didn't have quite enough time to pay a proper visit on the National Route 66 Museum in town, and added that to our list of things for next time (we did visit the Route 66 Museum in nearby Clinton on a previous visit, and enjoyed it immensely). Then back on I-40, off at Sayre to see what happened to that classic old Phillips 66 station we stopped at back in 2000 (still in business, but no longer under the ConocoPhillips76 brand), and then back on 40 toward Erick and the Texas line.

We'd heard rumors of strange doings recently in Erick, and so we rolled into the town on Roger Miller Boulevard, turned left onto Sheb Wooley Avenue, and pulled up at the Sand Hills Curiosity Shop - to find out that the owners had sensibly locked the doors and gone home prior to our arrival. Undaunted, we wandered next door to Puckett's Food Store to restock for the final few days' food, and we and our credit cards were welcomed there with gracious Oklahoma friendliness as we had a most enjoyable chat with the staff and locals, and Duncan was kept away from most things breakable.

As Puckett's closed its doors for the day, we ambled out of Erick and into the setting sun on a very quiet old segment of 66, rejoined the Interstate near the old town of Texola and the Texas state line, and continued west. Earlier in the day, Richard had received reports from a very reliable source that Amarillo was plumb sold outta sleepin' rooms on this Friday evening due to many big doins' in the city over the weekend. It was suggested to us that we would instead find greener pastures east of Amarillo in the town of Shamrock.

And so it was we came to be on US 83 in downtown Shamrock, where the friendly folks at the Dollar General occupying one of the historic storefronts helped us find a few indispensables. The Irish-esque hospitality 'tis fine at the Blarney Inn, and Suzanne puttered in the room while Richard and Duncan (in the baby backpack) strolled the streets of Shamrock at twilight. Under the button-copy lettering of the Cool Time shaved-ice stand, just across the street from the spires of the historic U-Drop-Inn, a conversation was struck up with some nice people enjoying icy refreshment, and stories were told by one gal holding her great-grandson (she doesn't look it, though ;) of how she worked for many years at the U-Drop-Inn serving travelers during the heyday of old US 66. Then a few more pictures to capture the beauty of the neon-lined building, and a quiet walk back to the Blarney to rest up for the final two days.

Dropping in on the U-Drop-Inn at night

Day 36 - Saturday, July 2nd, 2005
Shamrock, TX to Grants, NM
460 miles

Since leaving Buffalo, our days have been mainly short on miles, but long on enjoyment (except for that night back in Owensboro, but we digress). However, a consultation with Mr. Calendar advised us that we'd better get our butts westward in a hurry soon, or we'd never get back to Phoenix in a timely manner.

An overnight thunderstorm had left Shamrock with some fittingly Eire-like moisture and low clouds, and so we turned westward away from the Blarney Inn (and some occasional close lightning strikes) toward the middle of the Texas Panhandle. The miles went quickly, and soon we were to and through Amarillo, noting that the brand-new I-40 freeway signs were sporting the new Clearview typeface now approved for US roads. The high-speed truckin' continued until we reached Vega, where we traveled old 66 through downtown and on along the frontage road to the small town of Adrian.

Whenever we are anywhere near Adrian, we make a point of stopping by the Midpoint Cafe, so named due to its location exactly halfway between Santa Monica and Chicago on the alignment of old US 66. This place serves very good breakfasts and lunches, and pies to die for, and attracts folks from around the area and around the world to stop a spell and sample. In fact, on this day, Fran Houser, the proprietor of this fine place, was trapped in the kitchen making up a batch of pies on short notice for a television network crew that would be dropping in at the cafe later in the day. Even so, she still made time to personally say hi to us again, ask us how our 2003 trip went, and to meet and greet lil' Duncan, who definitely appreciated the bright colors and yummy pie toppings. Also, while enjoying the great grub, we made the acquaintance of Roz and Ron Jones, two aficionados of old US 66, who were touring the area on a quick mini-vacation. Ron has certainly taken his love of old 66 to a level shared by few - he's had many of the iconic signs and places of Route 66 brightly and most permanently tattooed on his body, so that a view of his arms and legs almost serves as a mini-tour of this historic highway. After (tastefully) pulling his shorts up to show the carefully inked replica of the Midpoint sign out front, we pulled up chairs and swapped road stories, and are happy that some people show such a love of old highways - although none in our family expect to do it in the same unique way as Mr. Jones has (and that goes for you too, Duncan - no tattoos! ;)

After all this chattin' & chewin', we motored away from the Midpoint and on into the vast open spaces of New Mexico, obscured somewhat this day by the smoke from massive brush fires burning hundreds of miles away near our hometown of Phoenix. We took old 66 through Tucumcari (hope the Blue Swallow reopens soon!) and stopped at Tepee Curios, where our enthusiasm for the interesting items within was dimmed slightly by the absence of public restrooms. Then back on 40 to Clines Corners, where the facilities were most available, the trinkets were most amusing ("Duncan! Drop that M-80!"), and fun was had.

Just east of Moriarty, two overturned semis had made a mess of eastbound I-40 traffic, leaving miles of lines of stopped traffic. Fortunately, the State Police and others were on scene doing their job to clear the wreckage, while we westbounders slowed to pass the commotion and be thankful we weren't heading the opposite direction this day. Then up an' over the Sandias, down into the Rio Grande valley for a late-day drive on old 66 into the center of town, and an excellent dinner at the retro-themed 66 Diner, where it took much willpower to resist the hopscotch pattern worked into the floor tiles near the entryway.

After dinner, we drove around downtown (blocked off for some big shindig) and worked our way up westbound 66, passing the very impressively restored and installed neon work that lines Central Avenue in Albuquerque. The back onto I-40 for a drive through the darkness to the town of Grants, where we'd called ahead and reserved a room at the clean and comfy Sands Motel, and slept most soundly (that is, when someone wasn't testing fireworks in the lot behind the motel).

Duncan sez howdy to Fran at the Midpoint Cafe

Day 37 - Sunday, July 3rd, 2005
Grants, NM to Phoenix, AZ
380 miles

The trip's almost done. But time for a little more fun.

We checked out of the Sands, greeted the European tourists occupying the rooms on each side of us, and drove into town. We were pleasantly surprised by the big "OPEN" sign setting out front of the Uranium Cafe (they're usually closed on Sunday), and so we U-turned and set down for some big plates of good food. The Callahan family has run the Uranium Cafe ("food that will blow your 'mine'!") for several years now, and they personally treated us like honored guests as the upbeat gospel music played in the background.

Across the street from the cafe, the town of Grants was having an Independence Day weekend celebration in the city park. We relaxed in the cool high-altitude breezes, strolled among the happy celebrants, sampled the sno-cones and other wares, and dodged the occasional errant projectile from the water balloon toss that the kids were participating in (yes, you can do that in a few years, Duncan...)

Once back in the truck and back on the road, traveling old 66 west toward Thoreau, we made another discovery - little Duncan's first tooth had just made an appearance! Fortunately, he didn't seem too disgruntled or uncomfortable so far (we're sure that'll change soon), but the rocking and humming of Truckasaurus as it rumbled over the old concrete road soothed our son as we traveled homeward.

We galloped nonstop through Gallup and made for the Arizona state line, where a stop at Speedy's was anything but, due to waits for the plumbing and a non-functioning water dispensing machine. Then westward past the red rocks of the Navajo Nation and into Holbrook, where we popped in for a few moments to say hi to the Lewises and tell stories of our travels as they welcomed guests to their sold-out teepees at the Wigwam Village.

It wasn't long until we were in Flagstaff, and a final dinner on the road under the sign of the big green dinosaur at Little America left us calm and rested for the final miles down I-17 to the metropolis of Phoenix and home.

As we climbed out of the Verde Valley on I-17, we saw the plumes of dark smoke that demarcated the edges of the Cave Creek fire complex, already the second-worst in Arizona history (after the Rodeo-Chediski disaster of 2002), and the source of so much haze we'd seen all the way back to eastern New Mexico. Near Sunset Point, we saw that the fires (and the backfires to stop its spread) had burned all the way to the edge of the Interstate, with dry yellow grasslands to the west and nothing but blackness to the east. Further down the hill, we saw where the fire had jumped the freeway and neared Black Canyon City, but all was out now and hopefully out of danger (until the next one?).

The final few miles into Phoenix were pleasant and uneventful, as we reminisced about the past five weeks, pondered the rest of the summer, and began planning our Big 2006 Road Trip - Kansas City? Madison? Trout Creek? Who knows - but we'll try to share it with you when and as it happens.

Bright times at the Uranium Cafe

After 37 days, nearly 7000 miles, countless 2-lane highways, and more than enough motel managers trying to explain the meaning of "check-out time" to us - all done!

Richard, Suzanne, and Duncan

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