Richard and Suzanne and Duncan's Big 2008 Road Trip
Stage 5 - Kicking Back At 66
Trout Creek, MI to Phoenix, AZ

Day 34 - Friday, July 11th, 2008
Trout Creek, MI to Hancock, WI
210 miles

A cool cloudy morning greeted us when we began this busy day, and we were hoping that the temps would stay reasonable for our final day in the Upper Peninsula. However, after a while the sun shone through and the mercury was flirting with 90 as we cleaned up the house for its winter repose and sweated our belongings into their proper places (or maybe any convenient place) in the truck. The half-day of packing time we lost due to L'Affaire Alternator was definitely noticed as noon came and went and we still weren't ready to roll, and 'round midafternoon we were ready to leave - no, wait, we need to do this, and this too...

Finally, at 4 PM Eastern, we locked the door and started off - for the 1/4 mile to our first stop to say bye to Iris and Fred and to leave a thing or two with them. Just then, their daughter Lorelei and her gang popped in, and so we spent a few minutes socializing with the extended family. Once this set of goodbyes was completed, we were really leaving town - just before 4:30 Eastern. Not an early start by any definition, but at least we're reasonably certain we didn't forget anything (we hope).

We headed west on M-28, turned south on US 45 and toward Wisconsin, getting an hour back (that we could really really use today) as we entered the Central Time Zone, and cruised south by the pines and occasional deer. We were trying to avoid Rhinelander, since the Hodag Festival had that place more than hoppin' this weekend, and so we headed straight south on 45 past Eagle River and Monico. Near Three Lakes, the porcelain and neon of the Petroleum Museum by the side of the highway beckoned to us to come in for a while, but a glance at the watches made us realize that this interesting destination would have to wait for another day.

We drove nonstop for over 100 miles south into Wisconsin, emerging from the north woods and into the farmlands right about the time we saw the sign for J&P Liquidators (and figured it was time for the second letter). As noted in last year's log, this joint has way too much stuff, and so we took a break from the highway selecting an item or two (or eight, or nine) that might come in handy later (hmmm - will the colorful 99 cent spray paint see action in a future episode...?)

After our J&Perience, we got food to go in Antigo, continued south on 45 at a bit over 55, waved hi to the big Badger of Birnamwood as we whizzed by, made a turn or two, and found ourselves on Route 66 already! OK, it's just Wisconsin route 66, and wasn't a part of the more famous highway, but it did take us over to Stevens Point in a scenic and enjoyable way, with the farms, barns, and classic cars (and many Wisconscows) basking in the late afternoon light.

Now it's nightfall, and we need to get in some serious miles to stay on schedule, so we merged off the backroads and onto I-39 for some high-speed haulin' through the state. We put in a good chunk of driving, and then exited into the small village of Hancock. We pulled up at the Motel 51, named after the original highway that traversed the town (but long since bypassed it), phoned the proprietors, and got us a nice woodgrain room for the evening. This would have been a nearly-perfect night, save for a queasy belly that Richard picked up somewhere on the Wisconsin roads, but some rest (and 2 episodes of the Upside Down show courtesy of the cable) spun the rest of the evening back in a positive direction.

Cleaning out of the house, rolling out on the road

More pictures from Day 34 here!

Day 35 - Saturday, July 12th, 2008
Hancock, WI to Creve Coeur, IL
288 miles

The sun rose on Richard's 45th birthday (and if we'd stayed on US 45, it would have made a clever thing to note in the trip log, but, er, never mind).

We arose from our beds in the Motel 51, and were soon rolling down the main street by the brick buildings and back onto I-39 southbound for a high-speed start to the day. We moooved nonstop for a while until we spied the giant black-and-white friendliness of Sissy the Cow, standing proudly outside the Ehlenbach Cheese Chalet in the town of DeForest, just outside Madison. Here we located our recommended allowance of genuine Wisconsin cheese curds, along with other items emblematic of the mooosy cheesy state. We almost bought Duncan an official Cheesehead hat, but realized that the yellow foam in such proximity to his impressionable brain could cause side effects such as an insatiable desire for Packers season tickets, so we decided to be prudent and forego the large wedgy headwear. Across the street, a Culvers stand welcomed us, and we grabbed a lunch to go of butterburgers, although Richard decided as the birthday boy he was good enough for the pot roast special. Then frozen custard for everyone - it ain't birthday cake, but it's darn good nonetheless.

A few miles on, we were already at the bottom end of WI, and so we rolled by Beloit, into Illinois, and onto the tollway - and promptly found ourselves in the long line of cash-paying customers as the I-Passers zipped by. We then had an opportunity to savor our dollar's worth of tollway driving for a while longer than we'd planned on when the construction north of Rockford has us crawling between the barriers at a snail's pace - complicated by inconsiderate drivers who haven't seemed to fathom the concept of the simple word "yield". So, as soon as we had an exit opportunity, we veered off onto old route 51 and continued into the Illinois countryside past the big white windmills plunked in the middle of the tall green cornstalks.

North-central Illinois is criss-crossed by many rail lines, befitting its role as a manufacturing and agricultural center and as a hub for many transportation modes. And so it was that as we drove into Rochelle on historic route 51 that the map and GPS showed several railways converging on this town. In fact, this place is famous among railfans as it is the site of one of the busiest locations in all of US railroading - here is where the busy main lines of the Union Pacific and the Burlington Northern Santa Fe cross one another right in the middle of town. There's a city park tucked into one of the corners of the X-over, and we parked and watched for a while as the multi-million-pound UP and BNSF freight trains thundered through in their synchronized dance of scheduling. Duncan loved watching the big choo-choos rumble on by, and also loved the little choo-choos in the gift shop (and Dad assured him that someday we'd build a railroad of our own when he's old enough). Dunc also loved the old locomotives set up in the park, and went "woo woooo" as he stuck his head out the window while the other kids helped to stoke and conduct in their imaginary adventures.

$128.00 - the most expensive fillup in Truckasaurus history. It had been almost 500 miles since that last tankful in upper Michigan, and while driving down old US 51 several miles out of Rochelle the needle just disappeared past E. We pulled into a BP station in the town of Mendota and noticed that the going price for gas was somewhat higher than back in WI ($4.189) - but a truck and its owner gotta do what they gotta do. Just one thing, though - you'd think an establishment which just made such a large sale would be more upbeat about it, but there was a surprising rudeness from the kids behind the counter when the transaction was completed.

Full of fuel (and no small amount of irritation), we made our way south on old 51, still seeing signs of the recent flooding that has afflicted the area. Many fields are still inundated, and even a few roads remain underwater. We steered around the ponds and puddles and soon found ourselves crossing over I-80 and arriving at that mecca of automotive accessorizing, the JC Whitney Outlet Store. This mail-order place has provided remarkably useful (and sometimes just plain silly) equipment for Truckasaurus for many years, and we poked around the store and warehouse to see if there was anything else indispensable we could find for our fleet of vehicles, while Duncan tried his hand at 12 volt marker light wiring and we tried to keep him from crash-testing a motorcycle helmet or two. The staff was friendly and helpful, but it seems the good news (for us anyway) is that we really do have almost everything we need for now.

We departed JC's place and cruised west on our old friend US 6 into downtown LaSalle to see if we could find a bit of birthday feeding. The big sign out front of JJ's burger stand brought us into the colorful tiled interior, and we stood under the big neon voice balloon ordering us to "Order" and got served up some serious sloppy joes, frankfurters, grilled cheese, and other road food. We chewed and chatted with the locals, while Duncan made friends with two new gals - an almost-three Emma and her very very little sis, a 2-week-old Lily.

Well-greased for the day's final miles, we drove highway 6 by the brick facade of the abandoned Westclox factory and yielded to the folks congregating for an outdoor concert in downtown Peru. We veered left down a stretch of very scenic route 89, crossing over the barges coursing the Illinois River on the high steel truss bridge and curving by the farms and fields of the central part of this state. The "supercruise" in the town of Metamora was just wrapping up as we rolled through, and we shared the road with Corvettes and other cool cars as we drove the four-lane out of town and into the setting sun.

We skirted the highrises of Peoria on the other side of the broad Illinois River, cruising the Caterpillar Trail (named after the big yellow hometown brand) on into the twilight until we saw the red sign of the Ragon Motel setting by the roadside. We settled into the double double beds, reminisced about an eventful day, and Richard rested his feeling-a-year-older-already body along with the rest of the family.

Old men, young kids, and choo-choos too!

More pictures from Day 35 here!

Day 36 - Sunday, July 13th, 2008
Creve Coeur, IL to Sullivan, MO
269 miles

We rolled out of the Ragon and steered south on IL 29, passing the proliferating power plants of Pekin lining the Illinois River. 29 made for a scenic and uneventful drive, although the minor detail that the speedometer and odometer seemed to decide they wanted to take the morning off did make it a bit more interesting. Fortunately, the speed readings on the DMI and GPS were still working, and we kept the velocities reasonable and figured out the missing miles as we cruised by the cornfields. We twiddled the dial on the AM radio, and found a tourism advisory station calling us over to visit historic New Salem - but looks there's not enough time today for that visit (maybe some other day).

Springfield is the capital of Illinois, and is also where we joined up with historic US 66 as it winds it way through the center of the city. We'd had a good meal previously at the Cozy Dog on the south side of town (not just corn dogs - Cozy Dogs), but weren't sure if it was open on Sundays. We drove in under the cute cartoon couple on the sign, and confirmed that Sundays aren't the day for Dogs of Coziness. We asked the GPS for some suggestions for something non-fast-food in the area, and embarked on quite an unexpected wild goose chase, as destination after destination suggested by the GPS turned out to be either closed on Sundays (must be a government town) or closed entirely. Our GPS-induced gallivanting had taken us all the way back up to the north side of the city when we found the Homestyle Cafe sitting by 66, with its very good food at even better prices. This meal made us forget our previous troubles, and even though Duncan did decide to turn his crankiness meter up a bit when we first got there, a walk around the block and watching the Amtrak train toot through town brightened him up just fine, and once inside and settled he was more than happy to spin on the stools at the glass-block and neon lunch counter and play with his car collection on the Formica countertops.

Ah, we see the speedometer's awakened. The post-Springfield part of today's trip took us south on Illinois highway number 4, which was also the route of US 66 for its first years in the late 1920s. Some of the narrow concrete roads from the very first days of 66 still exist here, and evoke memories of an earlier era when cross-country travel was truly still an adventure (not that our trip hasn't been one too - just in different ways). We rounded the Carlinville square with its stores and gazebo, turned past the columns of the majestic courthouse (still the largest in the US), and then on by the motels on the south side of town and back into the vistas of rural Illinois.

Highway 4 took us on into the town of Staunton, where we made a turn on the main street, veered off to another alignment of old 66, and rolled up to a place we'd heard of and been looking forward to visiting for quite a while - the bunny-blessed expanse of Rich Henry's Rabbit Ranch. Duncan had even worn his Blue Bunny shirt for the occasion! We hopped out of the truck, bounded over to the door - and were most dismayed to see that we'd arrived on the bunnies' day off. There was still a lot to look at on the outside, including some neat old trucks, gas pumps, signs, and a giant fiberglass rabbit remarkably reminiscent of the one we know back in Arizona - but it was still sad that we couldn't visit the live little lepi inside the building. We took our pictures, started getting back in the truck...

...and then a Rabbit appeared on the horizon.

Out bounded Rich Henry, and our day was saved. He had just coincidentally come over for the afternoon feeding, and was more than happy to take time out of his day of rest to show us around his place - and we were thankful. He spoke about some sad times that had happened recently - his number one bunny, "Montana", who was legendary far and wide for her way of working a crowd and greeting guests, had just gone over the Rainbow Bridge to that Great Hutch in the Beyond a couple of weeks earlier. Montana will be impossible to replace and will be sorely missed (wish Duncan could have seen her in her prime), but another bunny, Guy, is slowly stepping in on his padded feet to try to take on a public relations role in this enterprise. We helped (just a teeny bit) with Guy's apprenticeship as he sat on the counter and "signed" our Images of 66 book, and then looked around the place at many other of Mr. Henry's "hare-brained" ideas. Meanwhile, Duncan had found the amazingly extensive model car collection, and all thoughts of cute little bunnies (what bunnies?) were replaced with appreciation of all the cool colorful wheeled objects in the display cases. Rich then took us out back to meet his dozens of his other long-eared fuzzy friends in their neatly kept hutches, and just to make the experience complete, a local rabbit from the nearby fields even hopped in to visit.

After more than two hours of bonding with our new bunny buddies, it was time to continue on down the road, and after accepting an Important Mission from Mr. Henry (deliver a package down 66 to the Midpoint Cafe in Adrian, Texas - at all cost!), we waved farewell and turned out onto 66 south into the oil fields of Illinois and on toward the St. Louis area.

"Hey! Where's the catsup bottle?" was the question asked by Richard as two loops of Collinsville's diagonal downtown streets yielded no sighting of the colossal condiment. This town a few miles across the big river from St. Louis is notable for having a very tall water tower shaped like (and painted as) a big red bottle of catsup in honor of a local manufacturer of this critically important eating accessory. In fact, on this very day was a town festival celebrating the big bottle - but our usual impeccable timing meant we got there right as everything was wrapping up. But they were able to answer the question, and we found the big big bottle, appreciated its crimson majesty for a while, and then headed on out, circling around St. Louis on the south side, crossing the Mississippi for the fourth time this trip under the graceful arches of the I-255 bridge, as we tried to make up a bit of time by avoiding the busy bustle of the central city.

We rejoined 66 just west of Eureka, and spent an enjoyable late afternoon winding on the old highway, with brief glimpses of the Interstate through the canopy of the trees. The miles took us westward by the small towns and big truck stops of eastern MO and on into the darkness, and then we'll admit it became a bit hard to see the scenery by the light of the fireflies. So we jumped on the freeway and began seeking lodging. In Stanton, two sets of bright neon signs shone on either side of the highway, and so we investigated. Unfortunately, the Stanton Motel had no rooms left that were big enough for all of us, and the Delta Motel had some sort of unspecified "management problems" that kept any rooms from being rented from behind its curved front wall. Saddened that the promise of Stanton's neon couldn't be fulfilled, we continued a couple more miles into Sullivan, and although it didn't have a fancy sign, the Family Motor Inn on the north outer road (50s-era 66, according to the guidebook) did have a clean and spacious room at a reasonable price, and we ended a long day happy.

Bunnerific Illi-fun on 66

More pictures from Day 36 here!

Day 37 - Monday, July 14th, 2008
Sullivan, MO to Afton, OK
279 miles

We gathered ourselves and our belongings and sailed on out of Sullivan, heading into a bright Missouri day on historic route 66. Our first stop was a few miles down the road in the town of Cuba, which is notable for its display of several very large and very artistic murals documenting the rich history of the town and the surrounding area. We drove past murals commemorating local industries, memorable events, and lost sons of the town in wars for our country, and stopped in for a bite at the Route 66 Cafe in the heart of town. Richard regrettably wasn't much into munching this day due to some sort of indeterminate belly bug, but the rest of the gang enjoyed some good food as Duncan chomped, stomped, and scooted happily around the place. Across the street at the grocery store, we located a few essentials, and then headed west on the old route, noting with a bit of dismay that the Route 66 fudge shop was closed due to a family emergency.

Right about the time when the odometer finally decided to wake up for the morning (whereya been?), we hit the small burg of Fanning, and were surprised by a superlative chunk of seating. A most impressive piece of furniture, the "world's largest rocking chair" is a new addition to the town's skyline, and we were most impressed by all 14 tons and 42 feet of it as it sat on its curved steel rockin' rails.

We weren't planning on stopping again so soon after going off from the rocker, but the Mule Trading Post looked too fun to resist. This was a wise choice, as the variety of oddball stuff in this place was a refreshing break from the sameness of souvenirs that sometimes tends to show up along the corridor. Duncan loved the plethora of new and used toys available, and was most sad that he couldn't bring them all home (along with the arm-swingin' motorized hillbilly beckoning folks in off the Interstate).

A few miles on yonder, we explored the old alignment along the Hooker Cut, waving to the MoDOT crew doing their part to keep this historic highway in usable shape. We then turned off onto the even older alignment by Devil's Elbow, and carefully crossed the aging truss bridge while our lil' devil misbehaved in the back seat ("don't make us hang you out over that parapet, young man!")

Some more miles of mixed old and new road driving brought us near to Lebanon, and a large sign advertising a plenitude of puzzles pulled us off the highway. However, the place of puzzlement wasn't open that day, so we proceeded on into town to pull into the parking lot of Wrink's Market. Wrink's has been a 66 fixture for many decades, and is seeing new life now that Terry Wrinkle, the son of the original owner, is running the place and greeting visitors from near and far. Under the striped tin canopy we found some meat-enhanced sandwiches just right to satisfy appetites, while Duncan found a limited-edition Hot Wheels Wrink's truck that just had to join his collection of travel cars.

Once we wrung ourselves from Wrink's, we realized that there were many miles to go and not so many hours left, and so we jumped on the freeway and zipped on through western Missouri, bypassing Springfield and its colorful Peterbilts lined up in a row in the lots by the side of the highway. We veered onto old 66 once clear of the city, and after a spell we spied a most impressive service station advertising 15 cent gas - 'tis a pity that one can't purchase for such prices anymore. While the Gay Parita station may not dispense fuel, the proprietor, Gary Turner, was indeed most ready to dispense something more valuable - nuggets of history of the station and its contents, some wise commentary on the current state of the Mother Road and the people that so dearly care for it, and the recipe for success on 66: "Imagination - that's what it's all about." As for Duncan and his search for enlightenment, he seemed to find it reflected in the bright yellow paint of the restored pickup truck in the even more-nicely restored stone garage, and then couldn't get enough of the satisfying slam of the old-time screen door - although the rest of us did get our fill of it very quickly ("now cut that out, son!")

Although we could have easily spent hours more at the Parita, the sun was lowering in the west, and we'd better start chasin' it. We cruised through Carthage (pity about the current state of the Boots Motel - we really enjoyed our stay there back in '00), took the roads 'round and 'round Joplin, and krossed the Kansas border and kontinued on into Galena. Here in this town sits a most distinguished (albeit a bit rusty) vehicular resident - the original tow truck used by Pixar as the model for "Mater" in the movie "Cars", sitting proudly outside the converted service station housing the "4 Women on the Route" cafe and store. Due to our prior tarrying, we'd arrived after the four gals had high-tailed home (we are sorry we missed 'em, from the stories we've heard), Duncan was most sad that he couldn't enter the store, and so the quiet streets of Galena were treated to the plaintive cries of a three-year-old ("waaannnt innnnnnnnnn storrrrre!") as we photographed the old-style gas pumps and the now-famous truck of towing.

Duncan had recovered by the time we saw Eisler Brothers Store in Riverton a few miles down the road, and was very happy to take his toy cars and drive down the two-lane road painted in the aisles, while his parents browsed the souvenirs and sundries and chatted with the owners. Once the car-rolling in Riverton was complete, we continued across the corner of Kansas, passing famous bridges and contented cattle munching in the sunset's light. It was starting to get dark as we entered the state of Oklahoma and the town of Miami with its 4-way span-wire overhead traffic signals (just like in Radiator Springs!), so we veered off under the bright neon sign at Waylan's Ku-Ku and grabbed a quick snack at the big yellow birdie at the drive-thru window. This lasted us nicely until we found ourselves in Afton at the 66 Motel, with its most charming and unique Hollywood-themed decor. We settled in among Cary and Bogie, said nitey-nite to the kitties in the parking lot, and turned out the lights on another most eventful and entertaining day.

Many 'MO' things to do on 66

More pictures from Day 37 here!

Day 38 - Tuesday, July 15th, 2008
Afton, OK to McLean, TX
390 miles

Four days out of Trout Creek, two to Albuquerque. Over 1000 miles down - but nearly 800 still to go. Looks like there's less time for sightseeing, and more time for high-speed haulin'.

Our first stop, though, was only 2 miles down the road in downtown Afton, where the smiling face of Laurel Kane greeted us at Afton Station, a place we'd been by several times previously - but this time we felt much more welcome. Duncan made a circle through the store to meet the Tulsa Tripper penguin, rearrange the souvenir magnets to maximize sales opportunities, and to crank the penny-smoosher - and then made a beeline (with his mom in pursuit) to see the classic restored Packards and other motorized museum-quality pieces in the garage. Meanwhile, Dunc's dad was meeting David Schaubert from our home state (out Flagstaff way), who runs the website and was busy taking panoramic 360 degree pictures of the station while his daughter provided directorial commentary. We all enjoyed passing time with Laurel at the Station, but there were more places to go, and so we carefully pried our son's hands from the glossy enamel on the bodywork and strapped him (and us) in for more Oklatravel.

Although there are numerous interesting and worthwhile sites to stop at along 66 in northeast Oklahoma, many of which we've enjoyed before, today it was imperative that we cover distance quickly, and so we traveled 4 lane superhighways into, through, and beyond Tulsa town. We exited by the smiling Turner Turnpike tolltaker back onto 66 and on into Bristow, then continued to Depew, where the nice lady at the flower shop broke the news to us that our luncheon plans at Coaches Corner Cafe were not to be, as it had closed for good.

Speaking of cafes in central Oklahoma, many long-time Big Trip readers remember our fondness for the Rock Cafe in the town of Stroud, and that the proprietor was the model for Sally in the movie "Cars". Alas, on May 20th, the interior of the Rock was consumed by fire, destroying the insides, but leaving the walls - and the will of the owner to rebuild - intact. We quietly and respectfully made our way around the timber bracing and assorted charred items at the site, and then had our planned meal, leaving our lunch money at Wright's Family Restaurant, right around the corner from 66. Here we found good food, and Duncan enjoyed making "Dunc-kabobs" out of selected items from Dad's club sandwich using the fancy toothpicks stolen from him earlier.

After our Stroud satisfaction, we made our high-speed way over to Arcadia, and our not-so-high-speed way in Arcadia - the limit's strictly enforced inside the limits. On the west edge of town, a titanic tower of soda looms over a brand-new 66 attraction - the carbonated confabulation of "Pops". Behind the multicolored bottles lining the glass-walled exterior and the angular architecture of the overhanging canopy (Duncan's response: "library!" {Phoenix residents might get that one}), Pops possesses one of the world's largest selections of soft drinks, with hundreds to choose from from around the US and beyond. Richard decided he was in the mood for a Boylan's Natural Root Beer, while Suz selected a Berghoff Diet straight from Chicago - and Dunc got to share in both while learning the finer points of sipping from a cold 12-ouncer without sending it up the nose (oops).

Our son wanted to stick around to count every single bottle, and Richard wouldn't have minded seeing the big bottle out front at night (allegedly very impressive with thousands of colored computerized lights), but we need to keep moving, so we burped our way into the bumper to bumper traffic of Oklahoma City's rush hour. 66 looked most congested on the west side, so we chose to explore a new road this day.

Once past the mania of Mustang, Oklahoma state highway 152 (the "Scenic Route of West Oklahoma") was a danged good drive, giving freeway-style speeds in between the far-between towns, only with much better scenery and without all that truck traffic (well, except for that big ol' oversize load we had to pass, but we digress). We purchased gas at an older station in Union City still sporting 70s style pumps with real spinning numbers, and then headed westward, "moopling" the thousands of Oklahomoos grazing on the green ranchlands. We spun round the temporarily-domeless Washita County Courthouse surrounded by scaffolding just after a summer shower, and finally found 66 again at Sayre, where the "buffalo soldier" stands guard outside the Beckham County Courthouse and a quick break with the nice people running Jack's gas station and convenience store in town.

The sunset was trying to peek under the rain clouds as we took old 66 thru Erick, but finally the precipitation won, and we had a wet drive as we entered Texas. The rain let up just in time for some excellent views of the brilliant green neon of the restored U-Drop-Inn in Shamrock, and then the final miles into McLean, where a room awaited us under the spiny yet welcoming arms of the Cactus Inn. The Sheplors are fine hosts, and we remembered fondly our stay here back in 2006 - and in a nice coincidence their son lives right down the street from us back in Phoenix, and they know well the streets of our home neighborhood. After some last friendly banter enjoying the cool temperatures of this showery Panhandle evening, we closed the door on a long and busy day, and looked forward to tomorrow's Texas fun.

A normally-great Day 38

More pictures from Day 38 here!

Day 39 - Wednesday, July 16th, 2008
McLean, TX to Albuquerque, NM
369 miles

After the usual morning's dawdling, er, preparation, we waved goodbye for now to the Sheplors as they worked on their (what else?) cactus garden at the Cactus Inn, and set course to depart McLean. We discussed the metaphysical aspects of the movie "Cars"* as we drifted across the high plains of the Texas Panhandle, watching the grain elevators, water towers, giant crosses, and humongous Dairy Queen signs appear in the windshield and disappear in the rear-view mirror. We angled through Amarillo, and though we were tempted by the buffet at the Big Texan, we were more focused on something else on the west side of town - something a bit "stuck up", you might say, or perhaps "finny".

On the west side of 'Rilla lies one of the most storied of modern sculptures - the ten tall-standing nose-buried car-casses that comprise the omnihued wonder of the Cadillac Ranch. We had every intention of adding to the countless coats of paint adorning these Detroit dinosaurs, and our cans (the ones we purchased back in Wisconsin for just this stop) were rattling as we walked purposefully across the cropfield upon which the artwork is situated. We carefully selected the tailfin to serve as our canvas (fourth one counting westward, field side) and set about preparing our masterpiece. First, a base coat of pastel green (selected by Duncan) befitting the original colors of these Caddies, and then the text, in brash bold primaries, and finally a fitting border in fluorescent orange. Duncan more than did his part as the propellants and globules flew, and other than a bit of confusion over which way to point the nozzle (it'll scrub off - we think?) he gleefully coated the tires and fenders (and himself) with his chosen colors. In between bouts of inspiration, we talked with the many other people also leaving their mark at the Ranch, and swapped road trip stories with new friends from all over as Duncan alternately sprayed, played in the more-than-ample mud (remember it rained last night), and romped far and wide over the stubble-covered field.

Once our masterpiece(s) were painted to perfection (and will probably be obliterated by fresh markings by nightfall), we dragged our paint-spattered bodies (and a very muddy Dunc) back to the truck, and started thinking happy thoughts about tasty lunches farther west. About 50 miles out of Amarillo lies the small town of Adrian, which itself lies halfway between the endpoints of the historic route of US 66. Hence the name of our old food-feedin' friend the Midpoint Cafe, and we were most pleased to again walk through the doors and set ourselves down on the pastel vinyl chairs. Fran, the owner, treats Duncan like a long-lost grandson every time he bops through the doors, and Christina and Joann also treated us like family (in a good way) as we sampled the bovinirific burgers and phenomenal pies. The Important Package (remember episode 36?) was delivered, and revealed to be three matched Sheriffs from the movie "Cars" that she had been seeking for her collection. So imagine our surprise when Fran in turn presents one of these precious three to Duncan as a gift! Dunc was overjoyed as he promptly ruined the car's collectibility by ripping open the blister pak and zooming it across the table, but take heart - there's a new sheriff on patrol in Duncan's toy car case, and that's a good thing, even if he gets some of his paint "loved" off in the future.

Once we finished our meal, checked out Fran's truck "Gus" under the canopy (thousands of signatures from visitors from all over the world now cover every inch - even the steering wheel), we headed our full bellies west and got another hour back as we crossed the New Mexico line. Now Indian trading posts are still commonplace out here in the American West, but near San Jon we can honestly say that this is the first time we'd seen a billboard for an Indian truck stop - where much of the text was in Hindi! Now that's a real Indian place!

We considered toodling through Tucumcari, but instead opted for a stop beside the distinctive peaked roof of a genuine Stuckey's at an exit for old route 66 several miles west of town. Stuckey's used to be a frequent fixture along the highways of America, but many of them have closed, converted, or vanished, leaving a stubborn few to continue the tradition of selling pecan log rolls and fun junk, er, accessories to travelers like us as we pass through. We weren't planning on buying much, but once it was noted that they had cool Route 66 bola ties in stock, Richard couldn't resist adding another one to the collection.

The original plan was to take our last break at our traditional stop at Clines Corners, but instead the shiny billboards of the Flying C Ranch seduced us into exiting into their trap of tourism. The Bowlin folks treated us friendly-like, and when Duncan spotted a black toy PT Cruiser that was missing a tailgate from some earlier "test drives", the nice lady gave him a hefty discount so he could enjoy his new vehicle at an even better price.

From the driver's seat as we swerved through the Sandias: "This is your captain speaking - we're beginning our descent into the Albuquerque metro area, and as you've noticed out the windows there's a pretty wild storm out there - yes, that was a close lightning strike a moment ago. So please remain seated with your seat belts securely fastened, and we'll have you at the hotel in a few minutes."

Truck took a bath on the monsoon-flooded lanes of I-40 as we motored into the midsection of the city, but, like the truckers, the storm passed quickly and we were mostly dry when we rolled in under the finely restored neon sign at the all-nonsmoking Monterey Motel along Route 66 in Old Town. Once we were unpacked for a couple days of meetings, we were hankering for a bit of chow, so we cruised Central eastward through the hoppin' downtown nightlife to the buzzin' 66 Diner by the UNM campus. Here we feasted on sloppy joes and meatloaf amid decor most fitting for a 66-themed joint, while Duncan skipped over and over around the hopscotch pattern in the tile by the entry. Then back through downtown on 66 listening to the bands and the beer joints, and to bed to prepare for one more bit of official business the next day.

* Sample discussion: "OK, let's say they have no creation legend - no 'Almighty Ford', no 'Big Backfire'. Don't you think that they'd still be interested in how they came into existence, even if there were no visible churches in the movie?"

Cadillacs, Midpoints, and other Panhandle pleasures

More pictures from Day 39 here!

Day 40 - Thursday, July 17th, 2008
in Albuquerque, NM
18 miles

Nothing like an early morning after a late night, and Richard dragged his groggy self up Rio Grande Boulevard to the AASHTO Subcommittee on Design meeting amid the Spanish-style decor of the Hotel Albuquerque. A breakfast was served in the expansive courtyard, and Richard slowly brought himself to a sociable state as the attendees basked in the bright morning sunshine. Then into the arena, er, meeting room to make his third presentation of the trip on the US Bicycle Routes initiative, assisted again by Ginny Sullivan from Adventure Cycling Association (the heroine, as you'll recall, of Episode 10). Richard and Ginny did their darndest to describe all the benefits that a coast-to-coast system of bike routes could bring to the nation - to an audience of highway engineers fully aware of budget limitations and operational concerns. Still hopeful for a positive outcome, though.

The meetings wrapped up a bit earlier than expected, and Richard headed over to rejoin his family's fun (already in progress). Turns out something was fishy in Albuquerque this day, and we didn't just mean the tilapia special at the local lunch counter. Right around the corner from the Monterey and on the banks of the Rio Grande is the Albuquerque Aquarium and Botanical Gardens, where the fins, flippers, and tentacles of sharks, eels, turtles (and even jellyfish!) swim and mingle in their vast vats of waters fresh and salty. Duncan and the family watched for quite a while as the inhabitants of waters from up the river and down the sea swam by in their colorful cavalcade. There's even a restaurant on the premises, where diners can watch the the gill-breathing gang on the other side of the thick glass, while the more toothsome members on the seaward side are probably thinking while looking the other way: "Ah - tasty people under glass!"

As noted by the name, right next door is the Botanical Gardens, where for the same admission fee folks can enjoy a variety of arboreal specimens, along with a children's garden maze complete with gargantuan vegetables protected by a towering stone dragon. Duncan loved zipping and skipping around the colossal carrots and prodigious pumpkin although by this time his parents were starting to get a bit tired out from the combination of our son's and the Sun's near-endless energy (we're still gettin' used to being back in the Lands of Dry Heat). So we scooted back for a bit of timely hibernating in the Monterey's air-conditioned confines to prepare for the evening's adventures.

Once we were rested and recovered, we rounded up the family, headed over to the other hotel to inflict a Truckasaurus back seat experience on poor Ginny, and plunged out into the slow-flowing Albutraffic for one more presentation on US Bike Routes, this one at the local REI store on the north side of the city. This crowd was friendly, and seemed very interested in the success of this initiative. Meanwhile, Duncan had found something much more directly bicycle-related to occupy his attention - the very nice folks at the REI store let him take a little extended indoor test ride on one of their bikes, and so he ably demonstrated his cycling skills as he made his way around the displays and racks while his mom gave appropriate commentary and guidance.

After this event, a late-evening dinner sounded like a great idea to us all, and so we sought sustenance along the neon of Route 66. A restaurant was spied that looked like it had just warped in from the swingin' 60s, and so we walked into the stone and woodgrain laminate interior of Milton's Restaurant, past the odd abstract carvings, and set down in the Naugahyde booths for some eatin' action. Turns out Milton's is the real thing - a well-preserved former Denny's maintained in its original motif, and now with a management that does seem to believe in very good food and very good service at very reasonable prices. The conversation with the very helpful staff turned to scenes that had recently been shot at the place - it seems that Hollywood directors keep Milton's on their short list of places that clearly evoke a certain time and place (and the food ain't bad, either).

Once we'd filled at Milton's, we cruised back along 66 to Old Town, dodging the happy jaywalkers and angry lightning strikes, wished Ginny good travels on her way back to Montana, and parked back at the Monterey for a good night's rest.

Wet, wild, and rolling in Albuquerque

More pictures from Day 40 here!

Day 41 - Friday, July 18th, 2008
Albuquerque, NM to Holbrook, AZ
239 miles

And so it came to pass that the Moeur family was doomed to wander this land for forty days and forty nights - anyone up for a couple more? :)

We'd thought we would have lots of "quiet time" yesterday, with Richard in meetings and the rest of the gang hibernating in the Monterey, but that plan got submerged in the fun of the aquarium. The result was that this morning was spent doing all the mundane tasks planned for Thursday - which also meant another checkout time as stretched as "Gustav", the fun brown weiner dog patrolling the lobby of the Monterey on his stubby little feet.

After our delayed departure, we proceeded up the hill on old 66 and merged onto a busy I-40, flying along the freeway for a while until some construction had us hankering to get off to a less-stressful path. This "exit-stential" action led to a winding segment of old route 66 in the scenic lands of western New Mexico, where we bopped through Budville and cruised through Cubero, and passed several pueblos with their quiet streets and ancient ways.

There once was a Stuckeys near Grants,
With Goo-Goos and bolas and plants,
but now it's a Skyway,
But if I had my way,
It'd be back to its original stance!

Although the Skyway travel center is shiny, new, and completely adequate for serving the needs of I-40 travelers, it's been thoroughly genericized in the process, and we sorta miss the tacky charm and wacky merchandise of its earlier Stuckeys incarnation. But at least it's still open for service.

As we entered Grants proper, we were looking forward to some quiet time in the playground at the city park in the center of town, where fun frolics for our family have been frequently found. However, this particular day the park was anything but quiet, as it was the epicenter of the heck-raisin' Fire & Ice Motorcycle Rally. Undaunted, Duncan rode his stylin' three-wheeler under the winged 66 logos and on by the lines of Sportsters and Hardtails, and his parents made their way through the throngs of leather-clad ralliers (and more than a few members of the regional law enforcement community) to check out the happenings. Dunc did put in some time on the monkey bars and slides with all the other biker tykes and native tots, but was more interested in cruising the scene on the three-wheeler as the bystanders watched with bemusement. Although we weren't really in the market for any chaps, do-rags, or exhaust accessories, we did find a rally shirt for Dunc so he'd fit in with the culture of cycle.

Leaving the smell of V-twins and burning butyl behind, we got our motor running and headed out onto the highway, looking for adventure in whatever might come our way. We galloped toward Gallup, watching the BNSF freight trains thunder along in the distance with the red rock cliffs as a backdrop, and surmounting the forbidding peaks (OK, the slight change in the grade) of the Continental Divide. Once in the seat of McKinley County, we grabbed a seat or three at Earl's, and again enjoyed big tasty meals delivered on brightly-hued genuine Homer Laughlin Fiestaware. This was mostly uneventful, except for that slightly messy "cow wandered back into the Ranch" moment, and the Native vendors came by the table with their carefully crafted wares. Although we weren't really in the market for most of their excellent work, Suzanne did find the perfect gift for a little friend back in Phoenix.

Then back in the truck for a bit more official business, as Richard needed to check the progress of the NMDOT project right at our shared state line (looks like the eastbound bridge reconstruction is nearly done, and 66 makes a good detour), and then we zoomed under the goofy animals on the cliffs looming over the tepees and Yellowhorses in Lupton, right by the 16 foot wide welcome sign with its bright state flag and copper star, and back into our home state of Arizona.

We continued motoring on I-40, skipping some of the interesting paved, unpaved, and somewhat-paved segments of historic 66 we'd explored on many previous adventures in the region. Although the scores of brightly colored billboards did create some temptation to stop at the many trading posts that congregate around the exits of this stretch of highway, we just couldn't think of anything that we lacked that they might offer (although we're sure Duncan could have offered some suggestions, like a shiny truck or two). So we just moved along and enjoyed the extensive vistas of eastern Arizona.

Scene from milepost 314: "Duncan, get that blimp out of your nose."

After a spell of driving, our son spotted the large silver water tower that serves the town of Holbrook, as we exited the freeway and made our way down Navajo Boulevard, cruised under the somewhat new overhead guide signs Richard designed a couple years ago, took a right at Hopi, and parked in the wedgy shadows of the Wigwam Village #6 Motel. John Lewis greeted us and led us to our deluxe wig-digs, and we settled in as a magnificent Holbrook sunset appeared under monsoon clouds. Duncan made his usual circuit around the parking lot to say hello to every one of Clifton's classic cars parked out front of the teepees, including the 'new' tow truck and family wagon, and then set about playing with some other kids who were also enjoying the Wigwam's welcoming charm. The plan for later was to sit out under the full moonlight and catch up our trip writeups, but the silent swarms of unseen buggies put a stop to that, and so a fine "Plan B" was drafted that involved a raid on the Safeway's ice cream aisle, but for some reason our memories are a bit fuzzy about that part...

Triker boys, red rocks, and big teepees

More pictures from Day 41 here!

Day 42 - Saturday, July 19th, 2008
Holbrook, AZ to Phoenix, AZ
231 miles

OK - just gotta make it through one more day - just one more...

We woke from our Wigwam-enhanced rest, and made plans for breakfast, while Richard made some checks on the vehicle and chatted with some folks who had stayed the evening at the place (or wished they had). Then a hop down Hopi to Joe & Aggies, a Route 66 fixture for over six decades. We were greeted by Stanley and Alice and the gang, plopped down in a booth, and looked forward to some good chow in a nice setting. Duncan, though, was far more interested in the cool toy trucks in the display case than in any old food, but the scent of bacon 'n toast eventually coaxed him back to the booth. Interestingly enough, we'd been up here on a "practice trip" in May and bought the astonishingly good "Images of 66 - Volume 2" picture book at Joe & Ag's, and when Alice offered to sign the book it started another tradition for us, and now we've been having notable folks sign both Volumes 1 & 2 next to the photos of their places as we have made our way from Illinois to home (and thanks to all who did this for us).

We wigged out of the wigwams a bit late due to breakfast, apologized to the cleaning staff, and made one more stop in Holbrook, reporting to Sergeant Hobby, a favorite store full of fun stuff just a few feet off 66 on Erie Street. Duncan behaved himself remarkably well as we viewed the room after room of cars, trains, rockets, crafts, and games, and was allowed to bring home one more road-trip vehicle, a die-cast ambulance just perfect for responding to his many small-scale vehicular incidents. Richard will admit that he couldn't resist picking up an item as well - a pull-back die-cast Smart car (almost actual size ;) which would look just right amid his piles of official papers at the office.

After securing from Sergeant Hobby, we barreled westbound for one final day of fun. Several miles along, we were looking forward to giving the Jackrabbit Trading Post some of our fuel-filling business by topping off our tank with their Stop 'N Go gas, but as we pulled up across from the brightly repainted world-famous "Here It Is" sign, we saw that gas wasn't here - the nozzles were bagged and fuel was not to be found. Going inside, the owner mentioned that with the volatility of petroleum prices, it just didn't make sense to buy and sell gas anymore, especially when the wholesale price offered to him is higher that what's on the signs at the truck stop down the road. So, from here on in it seems the only "refined products" available will be those high quality items of bunny-themed merchandise for visitors from far and wide.

As we attempted to leave the gift shop to get our pictures on the back of the big fiberglass jackrabbit (bring a towel in the summer - the bunny can be a bit toasty in the Arizona sun), Duncan decided to do a re-enactment of a Jerry McClanahan postcard as it took some effort to pry him from the rocks, shirts, and silver and into to the great outdoors for the photo op. Speaking of photo ops, the BNSF mainline runs right behind the famous sign, and we thought it might be cool to snap some shots as the diesels thrummed by. This led to some moments of slight frustration, as Richard's Nikon Coolpix 2500 camera, which was flipping-edge technology when new back in 2002, was starting to show its age by deciding to do nothing but buzz back a bit when the shutter button was depressed. Fortunately, over 135 trains per day rumble by on the Santa Fe's twin tracks, and an acceptable photograph or two was finally captured.

Once all the bunny business was done, we were rather hot and tired, and so the occupants of the truck dozed (well, most of the occupants, anyway) as we rolled uphill toward the cooling clouds on the horizon. Although corners could be stood in Winslow, we weren't much in the mood for more stops right then, and so we made our nonstop way to Flagstaff and the promise of brisk breezes and a bit more travel fun. At this point, we were a short two hours to our home driveway; however, we were fully aware that our front door was bathed in 105 degree heat, while Flagstaff was currently a cloudy low 80s. So it was entirely understandable that we extended our road trip experience a bit longer by piling out at Thorpe Park, just west of downtown and right under the long-gazing lenses of Lowell Observatory, and stretching out and having fun on the green grass and colorful playground structures. Duncan had a ball (literally) playing tackle football with another family also enjoying the park's amenities, while Suzanne unwound on the benches and Richard engaged in a close examination of the insides of his eyelids while sprawled on a shady spot of lawn. This could go on for hours - and sure enough we let it go on for hours, as we thoroughly enjoyed some final stress-free time amid the pines.

After all that hard work (ha!) we were a mite hongry, so we made our way to the peaked roof of the Route 66 Dog Haus just east of downtown. Here were were served some very fine chili-slathered frankfurters to fortify us for our final travel hours, and took in the panorama of the passing traffic (and a few near-misses involving bicyclists on the sidepath alongside the street). Now it's after 6, and the planned trajectory would get us to our front door just after the blazing sun went below the horizon. However, a fresh batch of summer storms was moving in, and so the drive south on I-17 was slowed by drenching (but badly needed) rain, and some rocks plummeting off the cliffs above. Even with all this, we were better off that the northbound folks - a rolled-over SUV had that traffic crawling as it splashed up the hill. A final brief break in Cordes Junction for dad and Dunc to explore the rocks by the too-busy McDonalds, and then the final minutes into the 5th-largest city through the miles of construction to try to accommodate the still-growing traffic.

After 42 days, 6,502 miles, $1694.59 in fuel, and more repeat showings of the "Cars" DVD than we'd care to remember, we whoop-de-dooed over the hill on Sweetwater, turned into the driveway, shut off the engine, and brought a successful finish to the longest single trip we'd ever taken - and likely will ever take.

Although there's still lots of things left to unpack and resolve, and more than a few fixes pending for our four-wheeled friend (and a dead battery on his lil' buddy Putt-Putt the Geo), we are happy we had the opportunity for such an epic adventure, courtesy of some oddball AASHTO meeting scheduling, an understanding housesitter and agency management, a bit of support from LAB and ACA, an excellent staff to keep things humming back in AZ, and all the people we met, stayed with, and helped us along the way - thanks - and hope you all enjoyed the journey as much as we did.

And look - there's Richard's sunglasses, in the package from Michigan.

BNSF, bunnies, bouncing, and balls!

More pictures from Day 42 here!

And one final word from Duncan: "Want go another road trip!!!"

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