Not much to report about our first day on the road - we assembled a month's worth of stuff, stuffed it into the truck and trailer, and got ready for another Big Trip.
Oh yes - the trailer. On this trip, we'll be lugging along a 5 x 10 enclosed cargo trailer with us, so our vehicular contraption will be even longer than usual (and with a hinge in the middle, too!) Here's the explanation: the main reason for this trip is to go to Suzanne's mom's house up in the U.P. of Michigan. Her mom unfortunately had to go into a nursing home earlier this year, and our mission this time is to sort through 50 or so years of family heirlooms/junk/stuff, and bring back a few items and memorabilia - hence the reason the trailer is tagging along.
We hitched up, locked up, and headed out under the (very) hot desert sunshine up Interstate 17 northward toward the cooler country of northern Arizona. We hung a right at Flagstaff while the trailer dutifully followed behind (so far, anyway...), and watched the sun set behind us as we rolled eastbound to Winslow and points beyond.
Our stop for the evening (after only about 4 or so hours of travel due to our late start) was in Holbrook, at one of our favorite places - the conic confines of the Wigwam Village Motel. Elinor Lewis gave us a very warm welcome, and Duncan happily greeted her in return. While we chatted up Elinor about all that's been going on Holbrookwise recently, Duncan found one of the Lewis family's prize possessions - the mechanical "Mobo" toy horse that they themselves played with as children a half century ago. Elinor graciously let Dunc learn how to ride Mobo, and he gleefully bounced up and down around the Wigwam's lobby on the experienced yet reliable plaything. Then into the teepee for some sleepee, and dreams of the days ahead.
Our 6-wheeled hinged-in-middle contraption ready to go
Early this morning, Richard got up, rolled the Bike Friday out of the trailer (it is nice to have such a convenient although slightly large "bike carrying case" with us) and rode down Route 66 through the heart of Holbrook up to the ADOT district office for some morning meetings & briefings with the staff. Then back downhill to the wigwams, pack up the family, and cruise out eastward along the historic highway to begin the second day of fun.
We rolled through the easternmost stretches of Arizona past the red rocks and blocky buttes that so closely resemble the ones near Radiator Springs in the movie "Cars", and popped out of our home state and into New Mexico - and lost an hour (anyone see it anywhere 'round here?) Then into the bustling town of Gallup, where a drive down the main drag brought us again to Earl's Restaurant, where we were personally greeted by Mr. Richards, big platters of moo and cluck were served, and we were tempted by some of the interesting artworks offered by the artisans.
The miles beyond Gallup were spent in the usual roadtrip ways, such as trying to figure out the pronunciation of "To'hajiilee" and noting all the different license plates found on the vehicles traversing I-40 and historic 66. We flipped back & forth between the scenic old road and fast new road, and headed into the Grants area just in time to miss visiting with the fine folks at the NMDOT District 6 office on some joint projects that are coming up soon. Somehow we overcame this setback, and pressed on past the numerous pueblos and seemingly more numerous pueblo-run casinos dotting this part of the state.
Historic US 66 in Albuquerque can be a nice fun drive, but our getting there right at the afternoon rush hour wasn't the best timing. We instead stayed on the freeway through town, sacrificing scenic cruising for time we might need later, given that the white fluffy clouds behind the Sandias to the east were starting to get rather dark & rumbly. We trundled thru Tijeras Canyon and onto the open plains beyond, and were greeted by afternoon showers - and a wonderful double rainbow that accompanied us as we entered the east side of the state.
The last rays of the sun had the rainbow ending at Clines Corners, a weapons-grade tourist trap (complete with weapons & explosives) positioned alongside I-40 ready to suck in travelers and equip them with items useful and senseless. We've always enjoyed our Clines Corners raiding missions, although the addition of Duncan to our raiding party does make for some distraction from all the fun stuff ("Duncan, put the Devil Ducky down NOW!"). We got some ideas for some current & future presents for folks back home and across the country, and then back in the truck for a wet nighttime drive to find a place to bed down for the night.
Santa Rosa has been a notable Route 66 destination for many decades, and there's still a lot of bright lights left along the historic route. We pulled in under the majestic neon sign of the Sun N Sand Motel, but unfortunately the remaining rooms had a problem or two that left us somewhat disappointed (of course, a doorknob that traps you in a room could be useful under other circumstances, but...) We reversed back to the neon-clad La Loma Motel, where the proprietor refused to let us pre-inspect a room, but the kittycat also working the counter somehow hornswoggled us into staying anyway. The room turned out fine, with its 60s era furnishing remarkably intact, and we relaxed while chatting with our fellow La Loma tenants and unwound from a busy travel day.
Moist fun on Route 66
Our little version of "24":
When we last left our intrepid adventurers, they had decided to enjoy those cool night breezes in Santa Rosa by leaving the windows wide open. There was one minor drawback to this idea, though:
It seems one thing that we overlooked as we tucked ourselves into bed was the Union Pacific tracks running behind the motel. Although remarkably musical, the horns of the UP's locos weren't really what we were looking for in a lullabye. Fortunately, with the windows closed up and the A/C running, the noise level was reduced to well within our sleepability range, and the trains rumbled and we snored for the rest of the evening without further incident.
Who set the alarm so gawdawful early? Oh, that's right - we did. Suzanne started the daily preparations while Richard jumped on the Bike Friday and headed out into a foggy Santa Rosa morning to ride up & down the hills of old 66 to gather some breakfast for the gang. Had to make 2 trips because someone forgot to check the order, but hey - bonus bike miles!
Everyone's fed, everything's packed, and we're rolling east on 66 out of town, as the antelope congregated by the highway to watch us go by. A Stuckey's stop just west of Tucumcari enabled us to stock up on essentials such as GooGoo Clusters and US 66 bola ties, and then a nice cruise down Tucumcari Boulevard allowed us to check out a few recent improvements along this stretch of highway.
11:30 AM, er 12:30 PM:
Welcome to Texas, and goldurned if we didn't lose another hour. Veered off 40 at Gruhlkey Road, and rolled down the frontage (old 66) to the little burg of Adrian. Long-time readers of the Big trip logs will remember just how much we enjoy visiting this small town and the Midpoint Cafe, home of legendary "Ugly Crust" pies and a gaggle of fine friendly folks led by the legendary Fran herself. We were happy to be here again, and we caught up on all the recent happenins' while also meeting some other folks traveling 66, including a rambunctious gang of three gals from Michigan celebrating their 50ths by traveling the Route. Duncan was most amused by all the fun new stuff at the cafe, and delighted in examining one item after another from the gift shop (be careful, son!) We also got to freshen up our earlier scribblings on "Gus", the pickup truck of Fran's that is covered with inscriptions from travelers from all over the world - and also manages to take her around town, too.
It was great to see Fran & the gang again, and she made us promise to drop by the next time we were within a coupla hundred miles of the place, but we had to keep moooving east, and so we packed up our full bellies & other stuff and headed back out on old 66. Cruised past the Cadillac Ranch and on into the funky west side of Amarillo, where the stores looked like a lot of fun - if you didn't have a trailer to park. We bade farewell to old US 66 on the east side of 'Rilla, and turned northeast on state route 136 toward the far corners of this big state.
The afternoon sun glinted off the surface of Lake Meredith as we drove over the dam and zipped up & down the hills on the farm & ranch roads of the Panhandle. We saw an inviting little park in the town of Stinnett, and stopped for a while to let Duncan play for a spell with the local kids. The human-powered merry-go-round gave Dunc and the other kids a fun lil' spin, and the ladders & slides let Duncan burn off some energy and build an appetite for dinner.
A few more miles along route 15 brought us into the town of Perryton ("Wheatheart of the Nation"), where we found a king-bed room at the Great Plains Motel and a big Texas-style meal and welcome from the locals at the Pixie Dog diner. Then back to the room to digest, unwind, and ponder the next day's route across the quietly waiting plains and prairies.
Big fun in bigger states
Richard began the day with a ride along the brick-paved streets of Perryton, while Suzanne & Duncan caught a few more ZZZs in the room. We packed up while watching "Yo Gabba Gabba" on the TV, and puttered out of Perryton on highway 15 to seek our day's adventures.
Our first stop was only a few miles down the road in the burg of Booker, where a small store with a neat row of bright yellow toy trucks lined up proudly on the front lawn caught our eye. Inside, we found a useful item or two for truck and home, while Duncan busied himself with ensuring all the little trucks were fully functional. After all was selected (including a truck for Dunc) and settled back in, we exited the far northeast corner of the Texas panhandle into the inside corner of Oklahoma - we will refrain from calling it the "armpit" of OK, as the people and places are fun & friendly. A spell of drivin' up US 283 brought us into the town of Laverne (home of Jane Jayroe, Miss America 1967!) The Main Street Soda Fountain gave a big ol' Oklawelcome in for a yummy lunch and some creamy treats, and a stroll thru the Western Auto and Gambles stores next door allowed us to digest and relax before leaving Laverne behind, jogging over to route 183, and heading over the 37th parallel north into the next state of Kansas.
The town of Greensburg in southern Kansas has been a favorite stop of ours for food, fuel, or just a quick break from the long road. It's also notable for having the world's largest hand-dug well, along with other attractions such as a huge meteorite found in the area nearby. On this day, though, the clerk handling our fuel transaction at the Kwik Stop said with a wry smile, "Yes, the place does look a bit different these days..." As anyone who saw the national news back on May 4th is aware, this town was nearly wiped off the face of the map by one of the largest and most powerful tornadoes ever recorded. 95% of the town was utterly destroyed, and all that is left of nearly every home or business of the seat of Kiowa County is nothing but bulldozed lots, twisted trees, and empty streets. But like the trees that were showing a second growth of leaves on their remaining few branches, Greensburg was beginning to show signs of renewed life as well, with builders busily reconstructing a few of the dwellings and businesses (although the county hospital is still housed in army-issue tents). We dropped a donation into the rebuilding fund (you can too at http://www.neighbor-to-neighbor.net) and headed north out of town wishing Greensburg well for the future (hope they find the meteorite again soon!)
Several more miles about halfway up Kansas is the town of LaCrosse, where we dined at the Happy Trails burger stand, stretched a spell kicking the leaves at the city park next door with its giraffe-shaped play structure, and watched the sun begin to settle on the western horizon. Then a few mile twilight drive into the bustling town of Hays (where Richard's Rans recumbent began its life nearly 25 years ago), and a spacious 2-room suite at a bargain rate under the red neon of the Budget Host Motel at the corner of old US 40 and US 183 on the south side of town.
Scenes from the heartland
Richard rode the streets of downtown Hays on the bike at first light, scoping out the brick buildings and quiet streets - and raiding the Daylight Donuts for sustenance for the family. Back in the suite, we took our time packing up and then rolled the truck and trailer eastbound on old US 40 for another day's fun. Some rollin' on 40 brought us to the town of Russell (home of Bob Dole - the politician, not the pineapple) and US 281 for some northbound driving past fields of grain and munching moos.
Where's Waldo? Well, it's in north-central Kansas, and seemed like it could be a lunch stop for us. However, we couldn't find an open eatery in Waldo, so we let our appetites build until we noodled into Osborne and found the not-so-mysterious "Malt-Teas Fountain" - and its hidden secret. This eatery seems at first like a great small-town burger & ice cream place, but lurking in its basement is a sinister shrine to all things day-glo - the infamous Retro Room! From the teen-idol photos on the walls to the shag carpeting near the wood veneer coffee table, the eye-popping carpet and the jukebox laden with 60s & 70s rock, this basement takes you on a trip back to the days of long hair, stagflation, and WIN buttons. We munched our tasty food while averting our gaze from the wild carpeting & vinyl upholstery, while Duncan played against Duncan on the foosball table (he beat himself, 3-2). Then more yummy ice cream among the shocking pinks and yippy yellows, and back up the multicolored stairs into the reality of truck & trailer and northward on 281.
As we were leaving Osborne, our minds befuddled by the aftereffects of the psychedelia of the Retro Room, we made the first serious navigational error of the journey. We completely missed the turnoff for US 24 and bypassed Cawker City, home of the world's largest ball of twine! Egads and gadzooks! Fortunately, a yard full of happy lined-up refurbished bicycles just south of Smith Center caught our eyes and drew us in to meet Jim Tharp (and his chickens, too!) Jim explained (over the squawking poultry) that he gets the bikes from landfills and other cast-off places, carefully refurbishes them ("I hate them 10-speeds, but I fix 'em", he explained) and then offers them for sale to locals and visitors. He says a lot of them end up on church missions around the globe, where a sturdy bike can make a big difference in getting the good word out. Although we didn't need another bike that day, we were happy to make Jim's acquaintance and wish him the best in his bike-fixing endeavors.
Although we'd missed the big big ball o' twine, there were still some other amazing sights still to see in Kansas. Just northwest of the town of Lebanon with its fun little playground is the Geographic Center of the Continental United States, smack dab in the middle of some sorghum fields a few miles south of the Nebraska line. We stopped to admire the survey marker while Duncan rearranged the gravel (don't throw off the balance of the country, son!) and then stopped briefly to pause for a bit of spiritual renewal at the teeny little chapel sharing the site - you might say it helped to "center" us to face our continuing travels.
After muddling through the middle of the lower 48, we kept rolling up into Nebraska as the fields of ripe wheat waved to us as we entered the state. A right in Hastings took on our old friend US 6 (we're a long way from Bishop, though), and we motored steadily east on route 6 as the afternoon grew long - and the fuel needle began to disappear under the left gauge horizon. Richard wanted to hold out for some bargain-priced ethanol-laced petroleum, but finally we made the people of the town of Friend happy by forking over $90 for a full tank of plus-grade gas, while Duncan watched with fascination as a BNSF grain freight rumbled by (and give a toot-toot just for our kid) right behind the station.
We'd heard tell that Lincoln was hosting a big football game this weekend (ah, it's just another Pac-10 team...), so we gave Nebraska's capital a wide berth and scooted around north & east on US 77. It was definitely dark when we said "wahoo!" upon reaching the town of Wahoo, and the Chief Motel looked like a cozy place to stay on this unseasonably chilly night. Turns out we were more than right, as the fine friendly Chief with its historic structures offers comfy accommodations (and internet!) at a very reasonable price. Then a walk next door to Zesto's Drive-In gave us some warm grub and cool ice cream to end the day's fun, served in a hot-rod-riffic setting of a converted garage, complete with small-block hanging from the ceiling. Then a brisk stroll back to the room, and a snuggle in to rest up for more fun.
Boy, 'kan' we have fun in Kansas!
Our morning in Wahoo began with Richard biking around the stately brick facades of Wahoo's downtown buildings, spinning around the old-style full service gas station, poking into the local discount store for a few items, and hitting up an early garage sale for a new musical toy for Duncan to entertain us with as we drive across the prairies. While Dad was cruising the streets, Duncan was also putting in some mini-miles in the saddle by gleefully looping the motel's parking lot on a tricycle graciously lended by the motel's owners.
After our Wahooing was wound up, we zipped northward on US 77, watching all the flag-festooned vehicles and their red-clad occupants rolling the other direction down Lincoln way for the big game with #1 USC. Air conditioning was certainly not needed on this cool & overcast Midwest day, with the temps definitely different than what we left behind in the desert. We can live with a late summer day in the upper 50s once in a while...
Just after we arched over the Missouri River, we made a little side trip to visit the pointy tip of South Dakota (too many casinos, too little time...), which then led us into the winding streets of Sioux City, Iowa. We woobled and wended our way up the hills and down the streets of the City of Sioux, and finally popped out onto US 75 for the fast drive north by northeast to our next exciting destination.
The city of Le Mars, Iowa has the audacity to label itself the "Ice Cream Capital of the World", but upon further examination it's clear that this town certainly has the ability to back up such a claim, with its multiple massive dairy production plants and humongous ice-cold storage warehouses. Wells Dairy, makers of Blue Bunny ice cream and other famous frozen products, has set up a fun visitors center in the heart of town to expound on the history of ice cream, show how the chilly stuff is processed and packaged, and of course an old-fashioned soda shop where one can obtain tasty treats and silly souvenirs of the icy experience. Duncan was delighted by the dairyesque displays, and his parents were pleased by the whole Blue Bunny hullaballoo. While it's a bit different than Blue Bunny's other ice cream mega-emporium in St George, Utah (documented in last year's trip report), it's still definitely worth a stop if you're out Iowa way. Oh, and one more thing - if you're looking for something more substantial, Bob's Drive-Inn kitty-corner across the street (home of the "Bob Dog!") has good grub as well.
After all that creamy goodness, we pointed our chilly bellies eastward on Iowa highway number 3 and motored along through the afternoon overcast while listening to the local AM radio stations, catching the exciting Iowa-Iowa State football game, followed by interviews of the junior exhibitors displaying their prize stock in the 4-H barn at the Clay County Fair, punctuated by ads for the latest tractor & harvester accessories. We waved a big hi to the tall statue of Pocahontas in the town of the same name, and continued across Iowa on highway 3 as the sun disappeared behind us. As we approached the small town of Allison, the sign for the Crest Motel switched on as we drove up. Taking the hint, we pulled in and settled down in a spacious room, while we conversed with the motel's owners about travels near and far. Then a fond good night to a nice cool day, and a restful doze.
Cool blue fun on a cool day
The doctor looked down in concern as Duncan lay quietly on the emergency room gurney. But we'll get to that part in a bit.
First thing this morning, Richard had his way with Allison as he rode all over town on the bicycle, stopping in at the local cafe to pick up a hot n' hearty down home breakfast to deliver via two wheels to the awaiting family back in the motel room. Then 'au revoir' to Allison as we traveled north past the simple circular route markers of Iowa state highway 14. Got a green light in Greene as we made our way past yet another bridge under reconstruction, and then continued along the narrow and bumpy concrete pavement of the secondary roads of Iowa, as we saw quite a few shiny old fire trucks heading southward on trailers or on their own experienced wheels.
Today's roadside pronunciation test: "Wapsipinicon"!
The original plan was to try to make it to Trout Creek, Michigan by the end of this day, but it seems over the past week that our projected 350-mile days somehow became 250-mile days due to all those interesting places and people along the way. Today didn't have too many distractions, though, as we passed through the closed-on-Sunday towns of northeast Iowa. Did find lunch at a Culver's restaurant in Decorah, where our butterball had a Culver's "butterburger" and we enjoyed some heartier fare (they even serve vegetables as a side dish), and then topped it off with some yummy frozen custard. Duncan obtained a new friend as well - "Scoopie" the Culver's mascot has joined our traveling show, and Duncan loves showing Scoopie the sights out the window as truck and trailer roll along.
Our one notable touristy stop of the day was in the small town of Burr Oak, just a bit south of the Minnesota line. Turns out this town is also a shrine to Laura Ingalls Wilder, as she spent two years here as a little girl back in the 1800s. Since Suzanne is a big Little House fan (evidence: see previous Big Trips), we stopped and enjoyed the sights of the visitor center and museum, learning about life on the frontier (3 to a bed - cozy...?) and further tidbits about Wilder lives and times.
As we left Burr Oak and cut across the southeast corner of Minnesota, we looked at the odd harvest-induced geometric patterns in the cornfields, but started noticing odd patterns starting to appear in our son's face. We grew concerned when Duncan's facial features started swelling to the point of resembling someone whose sparring partner was not holding back much. Our junior welterweight was looking a bit worrisome was we crossed the Mississippi at LaCrosse, and as we traced the route of old US 16 we called home to our healthcare provider to see what their recommendation was for our swollen son. To be safe, they recommended we find an urgent care facility in the next good-size town we entered to make sure that he wasn't infected with anything really nasty, and so it was that Duncan kept his Wisconsin emergency room visit streak alive for two consecutive years as we rolled up to the hospital in downtown Sparta to drag our little lumpy in for professional medical consultation. Fortunately, the wait was (relatively) short, the prognosis was positive (just a surprisingly strong allergic reaction to something along the way), and we left the ER and settled in under the red neon sign of the Spartan Motel much relieved about Duncan - but still dreading the hefty co-pay that would be awaiting us later.
Good times, old times, bad times, puffy times
One almost-good side effect from yesterday's unfortunate incidents was that Richard now had a chance for an early morning ride in Sparta, the "Bicycling Capital of America". Just before sunrise he set off through town on his Bike Friday, his destination the legendary lair of humongous statuary, the Fiberglass Animals, Shapes, and Trademarks (FAST) factory on the northeast side of town. We visited here five years ago and were amused and impressed by the wide range of wacky creatures found there, and this trip revealed no shortage of oddly shaped colorful creatures littering the grounds awaiting deployment to places far and wide, including crazed squirrels, fountainous lions, froggy slides, and the occasional beaver, giraffe, or cow. Then back to the Spartan, with a brief stop at Ginny's Cupboard downtown for some rolls & muffins for the folks back at the room.
Once everything was packed & prepped, we hauled ourselves and our Benadryl-filled son into the truck and down the road to complete what we hoped would be our last day of driving on the outbound leg. The rain started falling and our hunger started growing (guess the muffins didn't last long) as we made our way through Nekoosa and Wisconsin Rapids, and so we descended on the Southpoint restaurant in Stevens Point for a repeat performance of inexpensive food in a local-town setting (still could use a bigger non-smoking section, though).
We intended to leave Stevens Point on route 66 (Wisconsin state route 66, that is), but couldn't find the turnoff, and soon ended up on I-39 north (first Interstate since west Texas), with the ongoing construction giving us no choice but to keep going to Wausau. We wandered through Wausau onto route 52, which took us over hill & dale over to US 45 for the final leg north to the UP. We had earlier realized that we'd forgotten a few things for the packing procedure, and as we spied A&C Liquidators on the outskirts of Antigo we recognized they likely had a few items we needed for the household-moving process. They had all that and more in their cavernous confines, as we selected discount packing tape, storage bags, and other stuff. Then back in truck and some final northbound driving as we zigged through Monico and zagged through Three Lakes (the town, not the lakes themselves - trailer isn't all that submersible) and zooped through Eagle River and finally entered the state of Michigan a bit before 7 PM Central Time (8 Eastern). Got dark as we rounded the corner at Bruce Crossing, and we successfully dodged the deer the final miles to the little house in Trout Creek - and our outbound journey is complete.
FAST fun in Sparta
Back to The Big 2007 Road Trip #2 Page
Back to Our Big Road Trips Page
Richard C. Moeur's Home Page
Latest Historical Revisionism 22 September 2007Scripting: Richard C. Moeur