We were up at 3 AM Phoenix time to begin what would likely be our final day of residence in the old house, as we made up for our previous procrastination by getting the furniture and breakables loaded up and stowed away in an accelerated manner. Breakfast came and went, and the pile of boxes steadily migrated from the rooms and porch into the rapidly-filling trailer and truck. But after some gruntin' and huntin', it seemed everything was in place, and it was time to say goodbye again to the little house, unsure of whether we'd ever stay within its walls again.
A light snow was beginning to fall as we started the fully laden Truckasaurus and trailer down the driveway, past the weathered old street sign, and onto the highways of upper Michigan. We turned south on US 45 and were soon in Wisconsin, as the icy northwoods tableau unrolled beside us. We were getting a later start than we would have preferred, and so our first homeward lunch was just a quick run into a McDonald's amid the resorts of Eagle River.
Then a few miles farther south, just north of Three Lakes, we spied through the swirling snow a very impressive collection of service station signing, and decided this time to stop and take a closer look. We crunched to a snowy stop on top of the black rubber hose ("ding ding!") in front of the Northwoods Petroleum Museum, and were promptly greeted by Ed "Jake" Jacobsen and his trusty assistant, Walter the basset hound. This place contains a truly awe-inspiring collection of memorabilia and artifacts of 20th century gas station and automobile history, and Duncan and the family were most happy to be out of the snow for a bit to bask in the neon and bright colors of all things Sinclair76GulfTexaco. Although it was very tempting to make this a "Marathon" visit, we knew we had to get "Mobil" again, as our "Holiday" time was running short. So we exited the "Shell" of the museum and wished Walter and his owner well, and Richard and his "Esso" clambered back into the truck for some more southbound driving (after a bit of snow-cavorting under the icy eaves).
With the freezing temperatures and blowing snow blanketing the maples and spruces of the whitening landscape, this was the kind of day that lent itself to snuggling up in front of a warm roaring fire with some hot cocoa. But instead we settled for sitting behind a warm roaring V-8 with some questionably healthy snacks, and the truck's heater made an adequate approximation of a fireplace (and is a bit easier to clean as well).
Another hour of driving brought us into the town of Antigo, where the oddly-stocked shelves of AC Liquidators allowed for a break from the snow. Although Duncan would have preferred that we loaded up that fort/bunk bed (with a slide, too!), we instead stocked up on a few little odds and ends, and then continued our Columbus Day voyage down Wisconsin's midsection. We were hoping to do some backroads cruising, but with the blue highways filling with white snow and black ice, we chose to instead merge onto the less-interesting but better-maintained I-39, and leave the small town visits for a nicer day.
We splashed along at high speed along the Interstate, as the snow turned into a messy cold rain. To try to make up some time, we kept going a while past nightfall, until the neon marquees of US 51 in Portage guided us to a place to rest from a busy wet day. The motel staff and their kittycats were friendly and helpful; however, the room had definitely seen better days (and could stand a bit more cleaning). But we were too tired to try to find another place, and so we sank into the soft beds and dreamt of upcoming adventures.
Day 19 pix!
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We began preparing for another day on the road, while our little tyrannosaur terrorized the motel room as he watched "Dinosaur Train" on the TV set. We popped our heads outside, and were very pleased to see a clear blue sky, confirmed by a scurrying squirrel rearranging his nuts, er, acorns in the picturesque green courtyard of the motel.
Then it was off across the Wisconsin countryside. First thing, we bobbled over to Baraboo, which used to be the home of some major circuses, and still contains quite a bit of history and memorabilia from the heyday of the big-top shows. It was unfortunate that we wouldn't have time to see everything - in fact, the best we did was to look at a few interesting posters and exhibits while waiting for a hot breakfast at the local McDonald's.
One drawback of the truck/trailer combination is that once it gets rolling, it wants to stay rolling, and doesn't allow for much flexibility in quickly stopping or turning to get all the photo opportunities that the Wisconsin roadside presents, such as a weathered round barn framed by brilliant fall colors, a monstrous pumpkin occupying most of a trailer, or the occasional welded-steel dinosaur dominating a cornfield. So unfortunately you'll have to take our word for it.
But then a few miles south on US 12, we saw something that did have us applying the brakes in a hurry. When we saw the colorful displays, hay bales, and oodles of orange orbs at the Pumpkin Land festival at Green Thumb Farms, we knew it was a can't miss stop. As we leaped out of the truck and over to the entryway, we were momentarily dismayed when we found out they were only open that morning to host a group of schoolchildren from the area. But seeing our disappointment, Duncan was quickly made an honorary Baraboo kindergartner, and off we went. We bounced very happily on the hayride to the pumpkin patch, where each of us selected the perfect pumpkin to grace our tables and entryway back in Arizona. But the fun wasn't done yet - the next stop on the hayride delivered us to Pumpkin Land itself, where the whole family fell for fun amid the fall-themed activities. The sheep and donkeys were more than happy to have us scratch their ears, and Duncan was delighted to cavort on the slides and structures along with all the other children.
Once we brushed off the pumpkin junk, we stowed our gourds and and resumed our trip through the southwest segment of this cheesy land. We saw lots of fall reds in Spring Green, and made notes of all the places we'd have to comer back and visit sometime, such as Taliesin, the House on the Rock, and the the big silver & blue plane parked in front of the Don Q Inn. We continued rounding the curving backroads on this cool yet sunny day, and after a spell found ourselves in Mineral Point, where the smiling elephant of Crazy Frank's welcomed us again. We weren't planning on a long stop, but the bargains sucked us in, and sure 'nuff after a while we had another box or two of useful stuff of the kind we can't find back home to place in the trailer.
All this driving and stopping had us rather hungry. One good thing about Wisconsin is that there are many local restaurants; however, the clock was telling us that our schedule wouldn't permit us the pleasure of a sit-down meal. We were hoping to spot a locally-owned place where we could grab a quick to-go bite to eat, such as a drive-in or dairy stand, but the relatively few ones we'd seen were were either closed for the season or boarded up entirely. So we continued through the trees, by the cornfields, and under the railroad bridges, and into Illinois while still looking for that perfect place to eat. But after a while, hunger overcame preference, and we finally settled for grabbing food to go under the golden arches (for the 3rd time in 2 days), this time at a McDs alongside busy US 20 in Stockton. The food was up to its usual standards, fortunately, and we munched away while the miles rolled by.
Consulting the map, we saw that our options for the next several miles consisted of either a longer down-then-over drive on state highways, or a diagonal option on a smaller county road. We thought the second alternative might work out much better - until a couple miles out of town we realized that Illinois' signing of county roads isn't quite as well-developed as Wisconsin or Missouri. Based on a glance at the AAA map, dead reckoning, and a blind guess, we turned south on the first substantial-looking paved road and hoped we'd be on the right track. After a short distance, it was clear that this narrow, winding, and centerline-free country lane wasn't going to give us any room for turning around with the trailer attached, and so we were somewhat committed to going forward for a while. We turned to "Gypsy", the dash-mounted GPS unit, to ask whether this road would send us down a hopeless dead end or deliver us closer to our destination. Note that some longer-time Road Trip readers may remember some of the arguments we'd gotten into with the GPS's mechanical-voiced directives last year, and so we kept her securely on "mute" most of this trip. But this time we actually needed some reassurance, and it turned out that according to her satellite-aided calculations we were actually on a road to somewhere, and we followed the twists and turns south and west, until a plummet through the twisty streets of Savanna brought us to the banks of the broad Mississippi.
We crossed the great river on a narrow metal-decked truss bridge carrying US 52, and then entered Iowa (the land of cheaper alcohol-laced gasoline) via the bridges and causeways of Sabula, "The Island City". Then a late afternoon drive on US 67 had us winding along the river, and a brief cruise along the Lincoln Highway amid the red brick and industry of Clinton allowed us to continue southeast on US 67 toward the Quad Cities.
We spanned the Mississippi yet again on the twinned suspension bridges connecting Bettendorf and Moline, as the sight of the Moline waterfront brought back some 20-below-zero memories for Richard (he enjoyed the Quad Cities' hospitality in January of '08 to make some presentations - nice folks, but very chilly walking). Then south again on a second roll through the Illinois cornfields as darkness descended upon the nation's midsection. The town of Preemption offered no station breaks, though, and the road continued to take us southward by the globular streetlamps of Monmouth's town square and the curving bypass around Roseville. We began to have good hope for a place to stay as we entered Macomb, and so it was (after a brief delay for a BNSF freight train thundering through town) that we found a clean and very friendly place to rest our heads at the Star Motel.
Day 20 pix!
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We were remarkably hungry upon departing the Star Motel, and western Illinois certainly looked to have quite a few good small-town cafes. But we also don't have anything against an inexpensive, quickly served meal from a chain restaurant, so we grabbed a Burger King breakfalunch thru the drive-thru window, and were pleased with the food and the fast service as we munched our way by the continuing cornfields.
This morning's drive took us through towns both teeny and moderate-sized, but when we rounded the curve and spied the high-rise birdhouses and mural-bedecked streets of Griggsville, the Purple Martin Capital of The Nation, we figured it was time to see what the birdie business was all about. It was explained to us that purple martins have two interesting characteristics: one, a seemingly-endless appetite for small biting bugs, and two, unlike most birds, a preference for living in clustered bird-sized "apartments" where the martins can brood in style and comfort (and hopefully without association fees). A plethora of these condo-style nestominiums lined the main street, and the central part of the city boasts the tallest bird house we'd seen in a while - over 50 feet of stacked-up birdboxes that looked to be able to shelter many hundreds of the little wingers. Also along the main street is the town grocery store, where the friendly folks vended us brightly-hued snack foods and delicious apple cider from a farm right down the road. And right next door is the local cafe and bakery with its purple-winged bird motif, and although we couldn't stay for the buffet lunch with the local DAR chapter, a few of the pastries in the glass case up front somehow made their way into the truck for future nibbling pleasure.
We then winged our way out of Griggsville and on past the courthouse in Pittsfield, where the fuzzy tails of the red squirrels popped up here and there amusingly on the lawn. Then a few miles further on, we departed Illinois as we crossed the Mississippi River for a roadtrip-record-breaking fifth time on the US 54 truss bridge inserted into the Missouri bluffs.
Only a few minutes later, a few miles beyond the interestingly-named town of Louisiana, Missouri, a plaintive voice came from the back seat: "have to go potty bad". A quick command decision (largely influenced by the truck/trailer combo's turning radius) was made to go forward instead of turning around, and we struck our way sparing no speed into Bowling Green, the next town down the road. We veered onto the business route and slid to a rainy halt at the first place that might have a public restroom, which was the Kountry Store collectible emporium. This definitely resolved our most urgent problem - but did result in this stop becoming more interesting than planned, as there was just too much good fun stuff on the shelves, including a working play traffic signal perfect for Duncan's neighborhood driving.
We rolled out of Bowling Green along the twisting curvy roads of state route 116 as it followed the folded terrain of the Ozarks. Richard was pondering whether to stop and get some inexpensive Missouri fuel at a little gas pump out front of a general store, but decided to keep going instead.
Which meant, of course, about a minute or so later, a voice from the back seat...
Fortunately, we were able to make it to Montgomery City in time, and the 66 station served both our fuel and family needs well. After that, some "MO" driving along the convoluted route of highway 19 brought us over the Missouri River (for only the second time) and into the town of Hermann, named after the "liberator of Germania", as the statue in the median of the highway proclaimed - although I think the Romans might have a slightly different opinion about that little altercation in the European woods that occurred two millennia and one month ago.
After heading out of Hermann, another call emanated from the back seat, and so another stop - this time at a nice little MFA station (in the shape of an old Dutch mill) at the picturesque corner of highway 19 and US 50 near the ducky town of Drake. A few miles farther south, one moment of inattention led to several wrong turns complicated by our hard-to-maneuver trailer, which suffice it to say will be recorded in Big Road Trip legend as the "Owensville oopses".
As you've likely noted, we've been traveling blue highways and back roads for the most part since we set off from upper Michigan, but even a style of travel as enjoyable as this gets a bit old after a while - especially when a glance at the calendar and road map is starting to show a disturbing divergence between remaining miles versus remaining time. So, when we intercepted the corridor of historic US 66 near the muralificent town of Cuba, we chose to merge onto a most busy Interstate freeway, and remember the fun we had along that stretch of old highway in last year's installment of the Big Road Trip.
Some rainy zooming along I-44 brought us into Rolla, as our bellies were beginning to rumble a bit. We saw the checkerboard sign of the local Steak & Shake restaurant, and remembered several of the happy meaty meals we'd had previously at their white-tiled locations. However, this visit quickly descended into disaster, as the portions were small and overpriced, and then a peek by Duncan out the window toward US 63 resulted in a flying chair, a gravity-assisted plummet of a full soft drink, followed by the "thump" of a small child. When we tried to comment on the food/price ratio and other issues, the manager flatly stated that we should have known the sizes in advance - and then shorted Richard on his to-go drink cup on the way out the door.
Trying to put that S&S BS behind us, we rolled thru Rolla on old 66 ("there's a Maid-Rite that we could have eaten at instead? aarrgghh!") and then merged back onto I-44 as the evening darkness descended. On the outskirts of Lebanon, the glowing sign of the Munger Moss Motel tried to lure us into its historic rooms, but our calculations showed that a stop here would put hopelessly (but enjoyably) behind schedule. But Lebanon wasn't done with us yet, as a badly needed stretch break was accomplished at the factory outlet store (forty zillion artfully displayed things, but nothing we desperately needed) and the neon-bedecked Sinclair station next door, where $2.22 dino-fuel poured into our large tank.
All this recent neon had us thinking about the subject of glowing gases, and as we continued westward we discussed the sad fact that the number of neon signs visible from 66 and other highways had diminished substantially since we began bigcrosscountryroadtripping back in 1997. We still have our memories, but it's a pity that newer travelers will never see such majestic sights as the Big 8's glow, Finn's allure, and other now-nonexistent neon.
Fortunately, not all the great neon signs are extinct (yet). As we exited off I-44 on the east side of Springfield, and entered town on old 66, the magnificent glowing sign of the Rest Haven Court still stands in front of this historic property. Duncan wasn't looking at the sign, though - as soon as he saw the small playground on the green lawn, he was out the car door and onto the swing sets in spite of the cold rainy conditions. The friendly innkeeper offered a clean room at a very modest price, and we moved in while a steady stream of emergency vehicles were screaming eastward to some unseen event, and a very wet and happy kid continued to cavort outdoors. There was one culturally-induced hiccup in service, as our room didn't have a fridge, and we had a piece of Vollwerth's ring bologna (a little bit of Yooper yumminess) that needed to be kept cool. We asked the proprietor if he could toss our baloney and a couple ice packs into his freezer, and he very firmly but politely replied that his religious convictions prohibited the insertion of any animal-derived items into his personal appliances. We understood, figured out another way to keep the Vollwerth's chilly, and we dozed comfortably in our room as the rain washed over the truck & trailer outside.
Day 21 pix!
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We began the day in all-American style - watching good old fashioned violent Tom & Jerry cartoons on the motel TV. Yay! Thwack! Suitably prepared for more road trip action, we loaded up the truck, taking a brief break to allow Duncan and his dad to give the Rest Haven's playground see-saw a workout. Then a wave to the owners and a turn to follow the blue Missouri historic 66 signs (blue? BLUE?), and we sprang out of Springfield and onto the open highway. Although old 66 west of town is a most wonderful drive, as noted in last year's reports, we instead chose to follow I-44, while our son improved his scientific wisdom by experimentally verifying what happens when one blows into the straw inserted into the milk container (look! a milk volcano! cool!!!)
Once Duncan and assorted truck surfaces were wiped up, the oodles of billboards for Ozark Village in Sarcoxie began beckoning us to exit. Well, we never quite made it there, as the old road signs and flashing beacons of the Cimmaron Antique Mill sucked us in instead. Dunc gleefully yelled "junk! junk!" as he scooted around the old bathtubs, tractor seats, and railroad crossing signals outside, and the parents found an interesting relic or two under the pointy galvanized roof.
We resumed cruising 66 in Joplin, where somehow we managed to hit every single red light passing through town. Then westward on the old 4-lane took us past the brightly-painted rides at the amusement park (will we ever catch them when they're open?), and then a turn onto an ancient segment of the old US highway took us by the taverns lining the roadside smack against the state line - and then bumpetythumpety into the state of Kansas.
And less than one mile later, we had ANOTHER road trip tow truck experience. But this one was nothing but fun, as it was a planned visit to see the one and only "Tow Tater", the actual model and inspiration for the Tow Mater character in the movie "Cars". Tater is owned by the infamous "Four Women On The Route", who own and lurk around a restored Kan-O-Tex gas station on the main street of Galena. We came by on last year's trip, only to find that we'd arrived after they'd closed, which left Duncan very unhappy. But this year we made absolutely sure we'd be there when some women would be within, and as we opened the door it was Renee and Melba ("The Mouth From The South") who excitedly greeted us and welcomed us in. Needless to say (but we'll say it anyway), Duncan was much happier this time, catching Melba's mile-a-minute enthusiasm and amplifying it manyfold as he excitedly visited all the items and even got to sit in Tater's front seat!! Although the diner section of the station was closed for the winter, we still had a wonderful time as Melba gave us and some other visitors from Connecticut a comprehensive history lesson on the station, Tater, and Galena in general - a multi-volume saga that Melba has the talent of firing out in about 30 seconds flat. :)
We galumphed out of Galena and through the other towns of 66's short sojourn through Kansas, looking for a restaurant recommended by Melba. Didn't find it, but as we crossed the line into Oklahoma and on into Quapaw, the green sign of Dallas' Dairyette invited us in for some friendly service and good food (including a pork tenderloin sandwich big enough to be a spare tire for the truck). Then down the road a piece to join up with our old friend US 60 at it briefly runs concurrently with old 66, stop at a local fruit stand for some apples for dessert, and then another very enjoyable visit to Afton Station, where Laurel Kane & Ron McCoy made us feel very welcome as Duncan thoroughly appreciated all the excellently-restored Packards and other classic cars.
Around Afton, we realized it might be a good idea to get to our next destinations expeditiously. However, the signing and instructions at the turnpike entrance were quite confusing, and resulted in us contributing quite a bit of added revenue to Oklahoma's highway budget, between us inadvertently paying the higher toll for the wrong direction and the substantial added charge for the trailer. But we eventually merged onto the hi-speed highway and were conveyed swiftly into the Tulsa area. Duncan's alert eyes spotted a friendly green dinosaur out front of a truck plaza, and informed us that we were to immediately proceed to the dino's location for a rest stop. Of course we complied, and were happy to make yet another new fiberglass friend on our travels.
Then back on the turnpike, being sure to accurately note both correct lane & toll, and onward into the middleness of this oddly-shaped state. We exited the toll road and scooted into Stroud, where the excellently-restored Rock Cafe was again serving up meals. Last year, this historic eatery burned, leaving only the bare stone walls still standing. But due to the indomitable sprit of Dawn Welch, its owner (and the model for "Sally" in "Cars"), it has literally risen from the ashes and is again serving locals & travelers. We didn't even make it in the door when we saw the helpfulness of the staff - seeing us outside, the waitress came out and offered to take our picture in front of the restored walls and the "Cars" displays. But we did make it indoors, where the variety of options on the menu prompted Richard to order the combination of a chili dog and green beans (why not?) - which elicited a playful response of "you're weird" from the waitress.
Our meal at the Rock went reasonably well, except for some minor interruption from a grumpy Dunc, which was resolved with the assistance of a stern word or two, a porch swing, and some very understanding patrons & staff. And then into the restroom. But why are we talking about the facilities? The Rock allows patrons to memorialize their visit by scribbling tastefully on the restroom walls, and we wanted to do our part. However, the flood of post-rebuilding well-wishers had the walls all filled up, and so it came to pass that we inscribed our contribution... on the ceiling!
It was dark outside (the better to see their great old sign) once we walked back out of the Rock and back into the truck to resume our journey west down 66. But soon the road had us saying "oh deer" - it seems this stretch was also infested with those hard-to-see antlered animals, as evidenced by the bright yellow signs and occasional whomped carcasses. So we peeled eyes and drove carefully to avoid any altercations - and to our relief, the only thing we saw was an open quiet roadway undulating in the moonlight.
But rounding the curve as we ambled through Arcadia, we beheld an eye-popping sight, as the giant soda bottle in front of the 'Pops' super-duper soda store was blinking in nearly every color imaginable. We paused for a while to bask in the glory of this 66-foot-tall monument to carbonation, as Duncan had an extraordinary amount of fun running and spinning with all the other visiting kids in the bottle's gorgeous glow.
After bopping out of Pops, a very short drive placed us in the Oklahoma City area, and a glance at the fuel gauge had us planning for a fillup. As part of our pre-departure planning, we had downloaded fuel prices along all our return route, and expected this town to have the lowest prices of the trip. However, the signs in front of the gas stations were not cooperating with our plan, as they were showing prices about 25 cents per gallon higher than expected (apparently due to a price spike earlier in the day). Given that we have a 32 gallon tank, even minor variations can have substantial impacts, and suddenly our brilliant judgment in skipping a top-off in Tulsa (or even Stroud) was looking in hindsight rather... fuelish. So we swallowed our pride, stuck the nozzle in, watched the numbers add up, and made notes to do better next time (and hey, at least it wasn't $4.19 like last year...)
Once we were done a-gassin', we followed I-44 through OKC, and merged for a starlit late-night drive across western Oklahoma, with a snoozing kid in the back seat (and fortunately a non-snoozing Dad in the front seat). We passed the closed-for-the-night towns of Clinton and Weatherford, quietly cursing the brightly lit sign mocking us above a very closed Braum's. Then on farther and farther into the darkness, on past Elk City and Erick, and on over the border into Texas, our fourth state of the day (well, other than fatigue, satisfaction, and occasional mild disgruntlement).
If the tower of the U-Drop-Inn Shamrock had a bell, it would have been tolling midnight as we turned past the green neon and bumped over the curb into the driveway of the Blarney Inn, with the Rest Haven being a full 14 1/2 hours (and a seeming lifetime) ago. The room was comfortable and affordable, and we drifted off to sleep while being serenaded by the trucks driving over the rumble strips on the nearby freeway.
Day 22 pix!
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We made ready for yet another day of road-running in the Blarney, while Duncan decided to give his little cars a wash in the motel sink to clean off all that travel-induced grime. Now if we could only get him to wash the big truck, too... :)
The open road beckoned (or at least gestured), and we swung the truck out of Shamrock, zooming west at a whopping trailer-controlled 64 MPH. We rumbled over the concrete joints of the Interstate, seeing the towns (most which we've been fortunate enough to explore or stay in on previous trips) come and go. Very few interruptions to our morning's freeway reverie - well, except for Duncan's exclamation of "holy moley!" at the size of the giant cross in Groom, and there was that moment when a heavily loaded pickup truck had a tire delaminate and disintegrate right beside us (kaboom!), and the stop in Conway to view the beetle-bedecked Bug Ranch (we didn't bring spray paint this time? oops!) and tank up on 2.39 fuel at the truck stop - but other than that, just another morning on 4, er, 6 wheels.
It's been said that Route 66 is just one big little interconnected small town, a few miles wide and about 2,400 miles long. This was again indisputably proven when we phoned ahead to the Midpoint Cafe, a favorite stop of ours several hours farther west in the town of Adrian, to check on their hours and to inquire about the pie selection. It turns out that Fran at the Midpoint was not only aware (in that small-town way) of our impending arrival, but that she had a pie fixin' just for us! Not only that, she informed us that it was her understanding that we were expected for lunch at the Big Texan Steak Ranch in Amarillo, and that we'd darn better stop there first, before she'd see us later for pie.
Now we thought for a moment that we hadn't remembered making such plans, but since it sounded like a lot more fun than just driving, we happily exited the freeway on the east side of 'Rilla and pulled up in front of the giant fiberglass steer guarding the entry of the Big Texan. This emporium of massive moo-ness (home of the 72-Ounce Steak Challenge - eat it & all the side dishes in an hour and it's free) is blessed to have Becky Ransom, a gal with a smile and heart as big as her state, as a key employee. We'd conversed often with Becky via e-mail and phone, but had never had the chance to meet her in person. And so it was that the chain of events unfurled this day to have her personally welcoming us to one of Amarillo's finest establishments. Despite Becky's busy schedule, she made a point of spending some personal time with us, which was deeply appreciated. Not only that - she's an avid collector of items related to the 66-themed movie "Cars", and Duncan absolutely loved being allowed to play with Becky's (I guess she's "Aunt Becky" now :) cool toys and fun memorabilia - and she even gave him a wonderful gift! (now if he only deserved it...) Then off to the dining room for a well-deserved Big Texan lunch - and in case you're wondering, no, none of us attempted to eat the 72-ounce steak, but we did partake of the prime rib and filet, and found it most satisfactory.
Once we'd said our Big Texan farewells, we hauled our full bellies a spell west, and again found ourselves walking through the friendly and familiar doors of the Midpoint Cafe. Fran (the inspiration for "Flo" in "Cars") greeted us with a big grin, gave Duncan a huge hug, and sat us down for some excellent chocolate peanut butter pie - and to catch up on everything that had happened since our last visit over a year ago. Fran also had a little 'Cars' gift for Duncan, which kept him very entertained as we caught up on events along the Mother Road and other assorted highways.
We'd kept up the gabbing until long after the 'OPEN' sign had been unplugged, and although we knew we had to keep moving, we really didn't want to tear ourselves away from such special moments in a place that feels so much like home to us. But then the synchronized roar of a passel of Harley pipes were heard outside the windows, the OPEN light was quickly switched on again, and we graciously withdrew while Fran and the gang geared up to serve the unexpected company... while we carried a few extra slices of pie for us (for later, of course ;)
We finally escaped the Central Time Zone as we scooted into New Mexico, and about half an hour into the state is the town of Tucumcari, notable for its wide array of motels and other lodgings. Although it was a bit too early to get a room, Tucumcari also has a variety of places where one can get a meal or snack. Although we'd already had more than a day's worth of dessert a few miles back at the Midpoint, the bright blue sign of Ken's Ice Cream had us saying "why not more? we're on vacation!", and so we pulled in for some cold treats. Richard just happened to be wearing one of his Route 66 shirts, which generated a lot of conversation from some of the others also visiting Ken's. And after a few minutes, we were setting down with Fabbie & Mickey and several other friendly local folks, discussing our previous adventures, upcoming weddings and get-togethers for their extended families, and many other pleasant topics.
But we weren't getting any closer to home, and so we left Tucumcari with the sun in our faces and headed across the tablelands of eastern New Mexico. About this time, the combined effect of many days of travel began to take their toll, with the non-driving occupants of the truck slowly slipping into moods somewhere between "ennui" and "zombie". As that in-the-face sun finally settled behind the mesas and ridges, our travel and lodging options were discussed in some detail, with a strong message from the passengers to avoid another long night of driving and make up the mileage tomorrow (now, we're not quite calling it a mutiny, but there were rather strong, um, 'suggestions' to find a nice room - and SOON.) Fortunately, before things got out of hand and the driver ended up defenestrated, the glow of Santa Rosa appeared on the horizon. We exited onto a neon-bedecked stretch of historic US 66, and pulled the trailer in under the glowing sign of the La Mesa Motel. The room was spacious and affordable, and Duncan was most entertained by performing gymnastic routines using the V-shaped steel pipes supporting the neon-lined canopy. Then to bed for a good rest, and to prepare for what promised to be a very very long day ahead.
Day 23 pix!
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We're scheduled to be home by tonight.
There's almost 600 miles between us & home, though.
Let's see what happens...
We loaded up out of the La Mesa and rumbled through Santa Rosa on route 66, eventually merging onto I-40 to continue our westbound trek across the plains of eastern New Mexico. We were hoping to spot an antelope or two peeking out of the grass, and were pleased to see at least one gang of 'em out there watching the traffic whiz by.
An hour or so of driving brought us to within sight of Clines Corners, a classic tourist trap catering to highway travelers. There's certainly no lack of interesting objects within, and Duncan was more than happy to prowl the aisles and declare his absolute need or undying love for a tchotcke here or thingiemabob there (especially the big shiny toy semi-trucks). But things remained somewhat under control until he saw that sooper dooper hunting action figure play set (with ducks, and a truck!) - and a price tag of $46.99. When our son was informed that it was far beyond his budget (or his parents'), he didn't take it as well as we'd hoped - in fact, he went into full-on meltdown mode, which required a good stern talking-to in 'Dad's Office' - you know, the one with the tile walls and the interesting chairs. After Duncan had the basics of family-level macroeconomics explained to him, he agreed to be a good boy, and indeed was very well-behaved for the remainder of our visit. But he did comment on how much he'd really like to have his own hunters and wildlife sometime (pleaseplease!), and when Mom & Dad surprised him with the much-less-expensive hunter play kit (no trucks, lots of ducks), he was the happiest kid in the whole world (or at least the intermountain region).
We breezed through Tijeras Canyon and on into Albuquerque, where a quick fuel-up allowed for a stretch break and for the kid to work on his squeegee skills (ya never know when that might come in handy in the future). Then up the hill slowly with the trailer and on into the red-rock country of the other side of the state. Route 66 in New Mexico is an old friend to us - not a lot of surprises anymore, but we enjoy the experience nonetheless. But we also appreciate the efficiency of the Interstate, and we tried to balance our travels accordingly - but given our ambitious mileage goals, it was mostly freeways this day.
We were about ready for a break as we rolled into Grants, and the park along route 66 in the middle of town is always a great place for a stop. Dunc knows the tubes and ladders of the play structure very well from previous visits, and was swooping down the slides in no time. The park was also the site of a wedding that afternoon, and as soon as the ceremony was completed a whole bunch of other kids in their day-before-Sunday best came over to play with our son. But wait - Duncan realizes that the stop would not be complete without some playing with his new hunting set, and so for a few minutes the colorful picnic table was the scene of many different "spectquackular" scenes.
Once the ducks were plucked and the Dunc was stuffed back in the truck, we started westbound again on 66, but didn't get all that far before the old-style sign in front of the Dairy Queen reminded us that a park visit is fun, but ice cream after a park visit is even better. So another stop for frozen yummies, while Dad looked at the clock and pondered arrival times (hmm - get back an hour, but at least 4 hours to Flag, and then...)
Not-So-Great Moments in Signing Credibility: on route 66 leaving Milan, there are bold signs sternly announcing "CAUTION - LIMITED VISIBILITY"... silhouetted by a scenic backdrop of distant peaks, as the 4-lane highway continues arrow-straight.
Is that a Delaware plate we see motoring by the red cliffs of western New Mexico? Yes! With the addition of that one to our running list of state plates, we only need 3 more to complete the set (not counting DC - that's a bonus). We can understand Hawaii folks not driving over (though we've seen the plate occasionally), and Rhode Island is small and far away, but why does it seem like West Virginia people never come out onto the highways?
Speaking of states, the dwindling numbers on the mileposts and the ever-more-familiar landscape were telling us we were getting close to our own home state. As we went through the curves between the BNSF and the Rio Puerco, and saw the plastic animals on the cliffs above the Yellowhorse Trading Post, we were most pleased to re-enter Dunc & his dad's (and grand-dad's, and great-grand-dad's) native land. We exited into the rest area, itself facing an uncertain future due to budget cuts, and proceeded to play around the majestic 16 foot by 16 foot full-color Welcome To Arizona sign, rejuvenated several years ago as part of a freeway signing project that Richard personally managed. This gave us a chance to stretch our legs, turn back our watches, and just generally celebrate being that much closer to home - tempered by the knowledge that we still had nearly 300 planned miles to go.
I-40 west of the state line traverses the Painted Desert, and the undulating hills offer expansive vistas of the Hopi mesas and far-off plateaus. But unfortunately we couldn't see much of anything, for we were being treated to a brilliant sunset - RIGHT in our eyes. Speed was reduced to reasonable and prudent until the red disk disappeared from our red eyes, and we continued along into the twilight as the spots disappeared from our vision and the stars began to blink above.
As we reached the lights of the town of Holbrook, still over 200 miles from home, the plan was to just stop by the front desk of the Wigwam Village Motel, give a big hello to our friend Elinor Lewis, recite an accelerated 5-minute summary of the entire trip, and continue on our way. But when Elinor saw our slightly vacant and weary expressions (or should we say our even more vacant and weary than usual expressions), she mentioned that there was a 2-bed tepee available that evening, and strongly implored us to rest in conical style instead of blearily continuing along the elk-infested highways. After a few minutes, the consensus decision was to plop down in the tepee for the night and finish up our adventure on a "bonus day" tomorrow. This also gave us a chance to wander down the street and visit our friends at the historic Joe & Aggies restaurant, where the extended Gallegos gang made us feel at home and Duncan did a bit of "junior waiter" apprenticeship as he startled, er, served the customers. Then back to the Wigwam for some coney dozing, and to wonder if we'd ever get home (and how much more fun we might have on the way).
Day 24 pix!
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After our cozy-cone rest, Richard was up very early to check on the truck and trailer, and was treated to the unexpected bonus of an impressive sunrise behind the white tepees on a crisp fall northern Arizona day. Duncan was up and at 'em soon after, and got his morning exercise running lickety-split to and fro behind the Wigwams, pursued by his dad and "Aunt Elinor". A short time later, we were very happy when Ms. Lewis volunteered to play hooligan-sitter for a while and keep the kid entertained, as the parents tried to get their act together on this final day of an unexpectedly extended road trip.
We finally got things loaded and moving one more time, and noted that although Holbrook has several good eateries, many of them are closed on Sunday morning. So it was back to our old standby of McDonalds, where our patio dining led us to meet this nice couple from Milwaukee by way of Sun City West and trade road trip stories for a while, as Duncan tumbled down the tubes of the play structures with some kids just liberated from Sunday school.
In the interests of time (and with the slight admitted influence of trip-induced fatigue), we bypassed most of the interesting sights along old 66 between Holbrook & Flagstaff that we'd been happy to see many times before, and kept haulin' on the Interstate as the grasslands and vistas of northern Arizona rolled by. We did stop at the soon-to-be-shuttered Meteor Crater Rest Area on I-40 for a break, where Duncan was more than happy to clamber, leap, and scamper all over the red sandstone boulders, while his mama wisely watched from the ramada area. From our previous visits, Dunc is quite familiar with some of the traverses and crevasses, and dad was hard-pressed to keep up with his very energetic son - but somehow managed to stay close while teetering on the ledges and plopping down the escarpments.
After dusting the ruddy sand off the extremities, we again took our seats and zoomed westward for another high-country play break just off 66, at Thorpe Park in downtown Flagstaff. Duncan loves the fire-engine play structure, and recruited some of the other kids into an impromptu engine & rescue company to save the city from fires and other disasters. While Duncan was engaging in his emergency management, Suzanne struck up a conversation with one of the other moms watching the gleeful anarchy of the playground. One thing led to another, and the other mom asked "Your husband went to University of Arizona - did he know Richard Moeur?"
It turns out that Suz had just run into Dolly Beaver, one of Richard's best friends from college, who he hadn't seen in over 15 years (Richard's take on it: "I thought it was her, but given the length of time..."). Duncan got all sorts of Bonus Play Time as everyone caught up on over a decade's worth of happenings and events, and enjoyed a good renewed friendship under the cool breezes and pines.
But eventually all Truckasauri must head south, and so we bade our farewells and steered down a very busy Interstate 17 for what we expected would be our final two hours of our journey. The volume of traffic & travelers on the highway as we watched the sun set (at Sunset Point, most appropriately) boded ill for our timely progress, and so it was as we approached New River that the freeway degraded into a near-endless parking lot of nose-to-tail vehicles and exasperated occupants. Fortunately, Richard remembered that the county had just opened a new street that would allow us to bypass the freeway mess, and so we cruised through Anthem and Deer Valley, obeying the signs and laws (unlike some of our fellow bypassers - sheesh!), occasionally getting a glimpse of the poor souls still trapped on a thoroughly tangled freeway. A turn here and there (would you let us in? NO? same to you, jerk...) eventually brought us onto the familiar streets of our neighborhood, and with some happiness and relief we whoopsidooed over the final hill, turned onto our street, made the 14-point turn to park the trailer in the driveway, and shut off the engine to complete our 24+1 day journey. Then to unload, get ready for a busy week (Richard's right back on the road for another 1000 miles this week for work), and look back on a most eventful, yet very enjoyable, trip.
Hope you enjoyed it too - and hope to see you next year!
Day 25 pix!
(click on 'em to open a larger version in a new window)
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Latest Historical Revisionism 28 November 2009Scripting: Richard C. Moeur