Once upon a time there were two girls named Laura, who met when they were in 9th grade, which is longer ago than either of them cares to think about.
Laura Rooney (hereinafter referred to as Lauri, since that's what the gang in school called her to distinguish her from Laura Gilbreath), temporarily relocated to Miami in August of 2001 to work on the Miami Film Festival. She shipped her car to Miami, but planned to drive it cross-country back to L.A. after the Festival was over.
It just so happened that Laura Gilbreath was in Orlando visiting Walt Disney World at the time Lauri was planning to start her drive home - so it was obviously destined that the two travel together.
Our story begins...
(And no, it's not a "Thelma and Louise" type of story!)
Sunday, February 10
Lauri drove up to Orlando from Miami (290 miles), and met me at my hotel (Old Key West) around 8:00 p.m. We headed over to Downtown Disney to shop (needed some Disney CDs for the road trip!) and have dinner at Wolfgang Puck's Express (yummy Butternut Squash soup.)
Monday, February 11
Day One - Orlando to Pensacola, 490 Miles
After placing the first of our antenna balls (a princess hat with Minnie ears) on the antenna of Lauri's Saturn, and posing for a "Before" picture of us and Tigger and Bear, we hit the road. First stop was Orlando Airport so I could return my rental car. Somehow I managed to lose Lauri in the parking garage, but we finally ended up back together and on the Florida Turnpike.
Several weeks before the trip I had visited the AAA web site and mapped out a tentative route, and the folks at AAA sent me maps and guide books and a customized "Trip Tix" book which had some more detailed information (including city street maps) of the places we planned to visit - this proved to be *extremely* helpful.
So I was Chief Navigator - Lauri did most of the driving. While we were going along I read selected sections of the guide books to Lauri (some of the people who write for AAA have a very dry sense of humor - it was very funny at times), and we tried to figure out if there was anything upcoming that we wanted to see. We used the phrase "it's not important to me" a lot. :-)
Lauri was pretty tired of Florida by that time, and it seemed like most of the interesting things were over along either the east or west coast. We (being tourists) HAD to stop at one of the tacky "Florida Visitor Bureau" tourist traps, though - you could see the (stuffed) 13' alligator, and they had (real) dried alligator heads and claws and teeth and fascinating things like that for sale. No thanks.
We hit I10 and made a left hand turn - finally heading west to California! Our route didn't take us all the way to CA on I10, but we could have done it that way.
We'd thought about visiting Wakullah Springs, just south of Tallahassee, which is supposedly Ponce de Leon's "Fountain of Youth", but it was after 5:00 when we got in the vicinity - and as we quickly learned on this trip, *everything* of interest *closes* at 5:00. So instead we pushed on toward Pensacola, planning to see some of its sights first thing the next morning.
Found a Red Roof Inn for the night and had dinner at the Waffle House next door - we had seen signs for Waffle House all along I10 and we were curious. Some exits had Waffle Houses both on the north and south sides! We had to try a waffle to go along with our dinners - it was a little sweet and had a nice flavor, but it wasn't crisp at all. Definitely not nearly as good as my dad's waffles.
Tuesday, February 12
Day Two - Pensacola to Slidell, LA, 200 Miles
We took the "Blue Angel Parkway" towards the Pensacola Naval Air Station - planning to visit the Naval Air History Museum on the base. Fortunately we must have looked harmless because the guards at the gate didn't seem concerned about Lauri's *very* packed car, and let us on the base. The Museum is very nice - they have a LOT of planes in there, but it seems very open and airy with a lot of natural light - especially the "Atrium" where they have several of the Blue Angel planes hanging. They had aircraft ranging from a Sopwith Camel (complete with Snoopy!) to a Japanese Zero to a Harrier to an Apollo space capsule. And a Flying Tigers plane - Tigger especially liked that one. :-)
There's also a mini bus tour that takes you away from the museum to some other aircraft, but we didn't take the time to do that. It's really a very nice museum - especially considering that it was free!
Then we were off to Alabama - we planned to visit Mobile and tour a mansion there. But it was Mardi Gras Day. It had never occurred to us that Mardi Gras would have much of an effect outside of the New Orleans area, but we quickly discovered that along the Gulf Coast, just about everything shuts down on Mardi Gras Day! We already knew the main visitor center in Mobile would be closed (that was in the AAA guidebook), but we had no idea there would be a Mardi Gras parade in Mobile - they gave us a map of the parade route at the Welcome Center that was just inside the state line, though.
Once we got into Mobile we discovered that the Bragg-Mitchell Mansion (which according to our guidebook is a combination of Greek Revival and Italianate architectural styles, and one of Mobile's finest antebellum mansions) was closed for Mardi Gras. Sigh. We were close enough to the parade route that we decided to try to see it, but we got oh, 6 blocks away and traffic just stopped. The area of town we were in didn't look too good, though we DID see "Dinette World", so we turned around and headed back to the freeway...made one more attempt to get close to the parade but gave up, and figured we'd just head off to our next planned stop in Biloxi.
At the Mississippi Welcome Center we learned that there was *also* a Mardi Gras parade in Biloxi. Who knew??? The lady working there told us that traffic would be really bad, and that we probably wouldn't be able to get anywhere close to Beauvoir, Jefferson Davis' home and museum, but we decided to try any way. By the way, this was by far the nicest Welcome Center we visited - the interior had some beautiful antique furnishings and was very nicely decorated. In addition, they served free soft drinks!
When we arrived in Biloxi, we were able to park only about 2-3 blocks from the parade route - not nearly as bad as we were expecting. We were much farther from Beauvoir than we thought, though, and it was not in walking distance, so we missed that - though it's likely that it was closed anyways. It *was* Mardi Gras Day. :-)
But we found a nice spot to watch the parade from - without a huge crowd around us. And we got beads. Oh boy, did we get beads. And we didn't have to do anything to get them, either! No, really! Of course part of our success was because we ended up following several of the floats back along the parade route until we got back to where we'd parked the car, so we had many opportunities to catch them. It was a lot of fun. Those beads get heavy, though! Lauri ended up with 99 strands, and I had 79. I won't say what she had to do to get those additional 20. :-) (I think it was the Mardi Gras crown she was wearing, actually.)
Ok, so we didn't see Beauvoir, but hey, WE celebrated Mardi Gras in Biloxi, and how many people can say *that*? :-) It was actually a very nice place to do it, though - and I know we had a much better time there than we would have had in New Orleans. It was a much more family-oriented celebration, and not nearly as crowded or raucous as I'm sure New Orleans was. And so many beads!!!
We were able to get out of Biloxi pretty easily, and back onto I10. We stopped for the night in Slidell, LA - given the proximity to New Orleans, and it being Mardi Gras Day we wondered if we'd have trouble finding a room, but we were able to get in at the La Quinta with no problem at all. We even got to watch some of the Olympics coverage that night - that was one of our nightly rituals - I'd watch the Olympics and Lauri would read her email and write postcards. We had dinner at the Cracker Barrel that was next door to the La Quinta - that was another restaurant that we saw quite a few of along the way. Good homestyle comfort food, though too heavy for me to want to eat every day.
Wednesday, February 13
Day Three - Slidell to Beaumont TX, 355 Miles
The morning *after* Mardi Gras Day... :-)
We made the short (~1 hour) drive from Slidell into New Orleans' French Quarter. One of the streets we came in on was a MESS - they were practically loading trash into trucks with a bulldozer - but it was amazing how much clean-up they had already done in the rest of the areas we walked around in. I guess they've had lots of practice. We learned one thing very quickly, though: New Orleans smells REALLY bad the morning after Mardi Gras...
We parked and used the "Walking Tour" map in the AAA guidebook to take us on a tour of the French Quarter. We saw the French Market, and Bourbon Street, and the typical New Orleans style houses with their wrought-iron railings, plants, and Mardi Gras decorations, and found Laura's Candy shop. We went to the St. Louis Cathedral but because it was Ash Wednesday they were discouraging tourists from going inside. We slipped in quietly - it's just beautiful. We didn't take any pictures, though.
We HAD to go to the Cafe du Monde and have beignets (and Lauri had coffee). The beignets were awesome - so much better than the ones I've had at several other places. Lots of powdered sugar, though. :-)
And we did some shopping - had to have some Mardi Gras paraphernalia for Tigger and Bear - and got some pralines and postcards and masks and other stuff. One thing we certainly *didn't* need was Mardi Gras beads. :-)
The French Quarter was pretty deserted when we first got there around 9:00, but it was busy by the time we left around 12:30. The streets in the French Quarter are very narrow and the buildings are old - it was amazing to get just one block outside the area and find ourselves on wider modern steets with typical downtown highrises around us. Quite a contrast. Traffic was bad, though, and it took us over 30 minutes to get back to our old friend, I10. We began our "Dome Tour", though - we passed by the Superdome!
We kept heading west, because we were planning to tour the "Laura Plantation" in Vacherie. When I read about someplace called the "Laura Plantation" I knew we just HAD to visit that! Another of those "destiny" things. :-) We missed the exit off the freeway and had to improvise a bit - we didn't have very good directions to begin with - but we managed to make it there a little before 3:00. It's in a town called "Vacherie", which means "place where cows are kept". We didn't see any cows, though. It's less than 1/4 mile away from the Mississippi River, though now you can't see the river at all - just the levee.
We had to wait a while before we could join up with a group and tour the
Plantation. We learned that it was a Creole Plantation - which were quite
different than the types of plantations we're used to seeing in "Gone
With the Wind", etc. ONLY French-speaking people were allowed in the house,
and of course all the inhabitants, including the slaves, spoke French. The
house was painted several different colors, with a red roof, rather than
being white, and the interior was laid out much differently - guests entered
the house through the Gentleman's Bedroom, rather than through a front
We don't know the original name of the plantation - it is called the Laura Plantation now because the last Creole owner, Laura Locoul Gore, wrote her memoirs about life on a Creole sugarcane plantation, and they discovered her diaries at some point when a group of investors was trying to restore the plantation. She was born around 1865 and lived to be about 101. She actually didn't live on the plantation as an adult - even though she inherited it she didn't want to live her life that way, so she married an American (yes, technically she was an American, but she married a non-Creole, which was probably quite scandalous), sold the plantation, and moved to St. Louis.
Our guide was a little bit strange...he had lots of interesting stories about Laura and her family (her great-grandfather originally established the plantation), but he said a couple of weird things...he was talking about how of course slavery was bad - that slaves were merely property and could be sold away from their families and never see them again - but then he said something like "You know, things weren't so easy for the owners, either...they always had to worry about slave rebellions, because they were outnumbered". Somehow Lauri and I couldn't feel too sorry for the owners.
The plantation grounds still held several of the original slave
quarters buildings - each building had 4 separate rooms, and two
families lived in each room. It was NOT a lot of space. Definitely
a sad chapter in American history.
Oh...the other claim to fame of the Laura Plantation is that this is supposedly where the stories of "Compair Lapin", better known as Br'er Rabbit, were collected.
We took the "scenic route" back to I10 which paralleled the Mississippi river, and passed through a number of small towns. The bridges that span the Mississippi are just HUGE structures - not surprising considering the width of the river!
We joined up with I10 again just west of Baton Rouge. We headed towards Lafayette, the "heart of Cajun Country", but didn't get a chance to stop because it was already after 5:00. We did continue our Dome Tour as we passed by the Cajundome, though. :-) We drove past lots of swamp/bayou lands...just what IS the difference between a "swamp" and a "bayou" anyways? And we saw some unusual billboards in Louisiana - including the one advertising "Vasectomy Reversal" along with an 800 number. Guess there's a big demand for that in Louisiana? We also saw a sign for a drive-through wedding chapel.
Oh, and did you know that there are no rocks in Louisiana? (Or not in the area we were in, at least.)
Lauri wanted to try some Cajun food before we got out of Louisiana, but it proved a little elusive since we didn't have any detailed maps. We finally found a small fast-food type place (with indoor seating, though), and it was obviously very popular with the locals. Lauri had the gumbo and we both tried the hush puppies, which were VERY good. Then it was back on the road and into Texas. It must have been about 9:30 when we arrived at the Best Western in Beaumont - definitely our longest day in terms of time, though not in miles, since we'd stopped several times. We were really tired.
Thursday, February 14
Day Four - Beaumont to San Antonio, 329 Miles
Alas, the Princess Minnie antenna ball was long gone (blew off about 5 miles from Walt Disney World), but since as Californians in Texas we felt like strangers in a strange land, we decided that the very patriotic stars-and-stripes Mickey antenna ball might afford us some protection, so we affixed it to the antenna.
As I mentioned earlier, one of the daily rituals was Lauri checking her email and writing postcards...I'm not sure how many she sent, but after I got home I received 10 different postcards - it felt just like I was on the trip with her...oh, that's right, I *was*! :-) She is such a nut sometimes...which is no doubt one of the reasons we get along so well. :-)
After finding a McDonald's for Lauri's morning coffee (another of
the daily rituals), we were able to see Texas in the daylight.
It's a BIG place! Our first stop was the Johnson Space Center
outside Houston. That's a BIG city! Definitely the biggest city
we visited on our cross-country journey. Though technically I
guess we really didn't visit Houston - we went south of it, and
then took the beltway around as much as we could.
Anyway...Johnson Space Center was great - I enjoyed it much more than my visits to Kennedy Space Center. Part of that is probably because it wasn't as crowded! There really weren't very many people there. But they had a lot of interactive exhibits, a couple of movies, a walk-through space shuttle mock-up, and even a moon rock that you could touch.
The exhibits were fun - they had a big section called "Grossology" that had a lot of interactive games and demonstrations where you could learn about fascinating topics like burping, farting, poop, and mucus. I must admit we played with some of those, and saw an older retired couple having fun there, too! :-) For what it's worth, Lauri is much more of an expert on Grossology than I am. Enough said. :-)
In the more "space" oriented exhibits you could try to land the
space shuttle (Lauri and I both crashed it), dock your MMU with
the shuttle (I did manage to do that), and design your own mission
to Mars - I couldn't get it under budget or payload - Lauri did,
but then the mission was scrapped because of sabotage by one of
the crewmembers she'd selected (never did find out who the dirty
dog was!) Anyway, that was very impressive, but it seemed a very
sophisticated demo to find here, considering how long it took to
try to put a mission together. In another area you could try
on different space helmets, like those used in the Gemini, Mercury
and Apollo missions. VERY claustrophobic!
In the theater where we saw the movie "On Human Destiny", they had the podium President Kennedy had used when making his speech about going to the moon.
Let's see...other things that we learned...
All moon rocks are kept in a 100% nitrogen atmosphere
The 109th shuttle mission will repair the Hubble Space telescope - the telescope is 5 stories tall. (As of when I'm writing this, the telescope has been repaired and released - hope it works better this time!)
Tiles don't often fall off of the space shuttle on re-entry now, though they get knocked off by debris on the runways occasionally.
The space shuttle astronauts really don't have much living space!
In the interest of time we didn't take the bus tour of Mission Control and the rockets, but those were included in our admission. But we had time for the gift store, of course, and "the kids" (aka Tigger and Bear) got nifty NASA t-shirts just their size.
We got out of the Space Center and back on the road just in time for 1:00 traffic in Houston - even though we didn't even try to go through the center of town. We did pass by "Slick Willie's Family Pool Hall", though! :-) And continued our "Dome" tour by driving by the Granddaddy of them all - the Astrodome.
It was still about 200 miles to San Antonio, and we'd hoped to make it to the Alamo before it closed at 5:30. Even though people go *really* fast on I10, most of them don't have California plates, and Lauri got pulled over by a state trooper outside a small town. The citation came complete with instructions on how to pay it - interestingly enough the money order or cashiers check (no personal checks accepted!) is supposed to be made payable *directly* to the judge! Hmmm...At least they didn't make us pay cash on the spot, which I've heard is sometimes what happens.
We hit traffic getting into San Antonio, too, but did continue
our tradition by driving by the Alamodome. We found the Alamo
and a parking lot fairly close to it, and made it to the Alamo 7 minutes
before it closed. Which was enough time for a quick walk-through
of the museum and gift shop - so the kids got "Remember the Alamo"
We were only a couple blocks away from the "Riverwalk" and we wandered around down there. Neither of us had seen it before - on reading the description of it in the AAA book I was astonished to find that they close it for cleaning for a couple of weeks in January - I didn't understand how you could possibly close a river. Well, it turns out it's really a *canal* rather than a river, so that at least makes sense. Very pleasant along there, and there were some waterfalls and fountains and trees and other decorative touches. The walkways aren't terribly wide, though, and there were a lot of people out and about, especially since it was Valentine's Day. We had dinner outside at a nice Italian place - they had really good garlic bread.
Eventually we went back to the car and found a nearby Red Roof Inn
that met our two major requirements: Double, non-smoking. :-) We
had intentionally stayed downtown since we intended to go back to
the Alamo the next morning - 7 minutes really wasn't quite enough
Friday, February 15
Day Five - San Antonio to White's City, NM, 467 Miles
Back to the Alamo - this time we were able to hear a talk about the Alamo, including the events leading up to it, and what happened afterwards. At the Battle of San Jacinto, in addition to "Remember the Alamo", Sam Houston's soldiers also shouted "Remember Goliad!" We'd never heard of Goliad, though, and it was actually more chilling and barbaric than what went on at the Alamo. A couple of weeks after the Alamo fell, the 350 men in the Texas Republic Army at Goliad surrendered to Santa Anna, after having been promised their eventual release. But instead of being released, they were marched out of town and executed. So much for honor on Santa Anna's part.
(And speaking of Santa Anna...Lauri was curious about what happened to him. She found that Sam Houston actually *prevented* his men from executing him after the victory at San Jacinto, and he was returned to Mexico around a year later, where he became President several more times (in between periods of exile) before dying in poverty.)
We needed postcard stamps and noticed the nearby courthouse/Post Office. I've never been in a post office where my bag had to be x-rayed and I had to walk through a metal detector before, though - but then I've never been in a post office that was in a courthouse building, either!
Something about San Antonio had my sense of direction completely turned around, so I was having a hard time navigating in the area around the Alamo - the streets did weird things around there. Fortunately Lauri was able to get us back to where things were more "normal", and we got back to our old friend I10 again - but of course we couldn't get out of town without encountering *some* traffic!
According to the guidebook, we were entering the "Quintessential Texas Hill Country". As far as we could tell it was miles and miles and miles of the same thing...except that it got less interesting the further west we went. There's a whole lot of nothing in Texas, but at least there's fences to keep all of that nothing from escaping! Or at least we think what's what all of those miles and miles of fences were for...
But there wasn't as much traffic on I10 (especially trucks) as there had been the rest of the way, particularly between Houston and San Antonio.
We stopped in Ozona at a Burger King - and noticed a sign for the "David Crockett Memorial". (Everything we saw was "David Crockett" rather than "Davy Crockett". We had the Disney CD with the "Davy Crockett, King of the Wild Frontier" theme in the CD player for much of the trip home.) According to our trusty AAA guidebook there *weren't* any special sights to see in Ozona - guess they missed this one. :-) It was an art-deco statue by some semi-famous sculptor. The best part was the inscription, though: "Be sure you are right then go ahead". :-)
Which reminds me that at the Alamo we learned why Davy Crockett became an *ex* Congressman and headed off for Texas...seems he had the bad habit of referring to Andrew Jackson as "King Andrew the First"... :-)
At Sonora we said goodbye to I10 and headed north on 285 towards Pecos, Texas - had another one of those pre-5:00 rendezvous to keep! :-) I was driving at that time and there was almost *no one* else on the road - at one point I went a little over 4 miles without seeing another car coming the other direction.
We reached the Pecos Museum about 20 minutes before it closed at 5:00...and that was about all the time we needed. :-) The museum had a rather eclectic selection of exhibits - from a saloon to a schoolroom to an 1880s doctor's office to a 1920s beauty parlor (and this device actually is NOT an instrument of torture, though it's rather hard to tell!).
Pecos' claim to fame is the fact that they hosted the first rodeo in 1883 - the idea of a rodeo was proposed to settle in a (relatively) bloodless way the question of whose ranchhands were the best. After that first one they didn't have another one for 40 years, but now it's an annual event.
We said adios to Pecos and drove off into the sunset, and entered New Mexico. Funny...it didn't look much different from Texas...still a whole lot of nothing. :-) Though there weren't as many fences to contain it - we were a bit concerned that all the nothing might escape and wreak havoc. Or maybe all the owners of nothing in New Mexico didn't feel like they had to keep *their* nothing separate from their *neighbor's* nothing.
But I digress. We made our way to White's City, New Mexico, which is the closest settlement to Carlsbad Caverns National Park. In fact, Carlsbad Caverns seems to be the sole reason for the existence of White's City. There was a large Best Western resort there - which included an RV park, restaurants, gas station, and arcade as well as the motel. It wasn't very busy - surprise, surprise. :-) It was COLD, though, which shouldn't have been a surprise since it was winter and we were at around 3600' of elevation, but it was.
I needed to do laundry, but found that the laundry was at the RV park part and not at the motel part. Once we found it, we found that only one machine was working, and there was no laundry soap available. We improvised, though, and while we waited for the washer to finish, we spoke with the only other soul who was using the laundry room that night - a man who had been travelling for the last 6 weeks in an RV with his wife, two 11 year old boys, a 4 month old baby, and a big German Shepherd named Rusty. They were from Vancouver Island and he certainly seemed very nice, and in need of some adult conversation! :-) Definitely a bit of a free spirit.
We put the laundry in two dryers and went to the only restaurant within 20 miles, The Velvet Garter. It was expensive for what we got. When you stay at White's City, they know that you're a captive audience!!! Lauri said her steak was good, but the chicken in my chicken pasta marinara had that rubbery over-microwaved taste and texture. And the vegetables looked like they had begun life as Birdseye frozen vegetables - then overcooked. Ewww. The pasta and pasta sauce were pretty good, though. Even though there were only two other parties in the restaurant, our service was rather indifferent. Oh well.
We got to visit a bit more with our Canadian friend when we went back to finish drying and folding the laundry (Lauri had brought the rest of her steak back for Rusty), before heading back to the room for more Olympics and postcards.
Saturday, February 16
Day Six - White's City to Grants NM, 389 Miles
After our meal at The Velvet Garter the night before, we weren't sure what to expect for breakfast, but we both decided to have the oatmeal, which was actually quite good. Then it was off to Carlsbad Caverns!
We arrived at the Visitor Center only to discover that the only maps they had available were in Spanish. Oops - poor planning on someone's part! But everything was well-marked anyways, so we didn't really need one.
I'd been here back in 1973, but obviously that was a while ago! It was actually even before I met Lauri. There are two ways into the Caverns - you can take the elevator down 750 feet, or you can walk the trail that goes down into the natural entrance. In the summer, Mexican bats live inside the Caverns, and one of the attractions is the nightly "Bat Flight" when they leave the Caverns around sunset. At this time of year they're all wintering in Mexico, though!
We walked down into the Caverns - the rooms are VERY large, and I hardly ever felt closed in at all. The trail down is quite steep - definitely something you want good footwear for, and in fact there's a ranger at the top who acquaints you with the rules (don't touch anything, stay on the trail, etc.) and makes sure you have good shoes, before you're allowed to proceed down the trail.
And yes, that means that Lauri actually wore *shoes*!!! (Those of
you who know her will realize how rare this really is - I think she
wore flip-flops the rest of the trip.)
The Caverns are a constant 55 degrees - it was actually warmer inside than it was outside. It was also quite humid, because there's still a lot of water inside, even though it's desert outside.
We saw many different types of formations -
stalactites (the ones
that point down), stalagmites
(the ones that point up), columns
(huge thick stalagmites like the "Temple of the Sun" Lauri is posing
with above), draperies (collections of multiple
stalactites), popcorn, and grottos (like this one). Really beautiful,
and hard to describe. We walked around "The Big Room" and saw the
Rock of Ages and the Bottomless Pit (which is only 134 feet deep)
before taking the elevator back up to the top.
Next stop: the International UFO Museum in Roswell, NM. We really hoped to find some wonderfully goofy postcards and tacky touristy stuff here. But alas...these people take themselves waaaay too seriously. Mostly the museum had walls and walls of framed newspaper clippings of various versions of the 1947 "UFO" incident as well as the resulting "coverup" and conspiracy theories. There was also alien artwork by local artists. Not nearly enough info on alien abductions! :-)
Though we were disappointed in the museum (we did get a really cool alien head antenna topper, though, to replace the patriotic Mickey head we'd used all through Texas), we have to give credit to the city of Roswell for taking advantage of their claim to fame. We saw "The Crash Down Cafe", signs on restaurants saying "Aliens Welcome", a sign on a gas station showing an alien filling up his flying saucer at the pump, and other clever things. Good for them. :-)
For some reason I have in my notes that the speed limit in New Mexico was 75 mph...I'm not exactly sure why that was important, since it was also 75 in about 1/3 of Texas, but it is duly noted here.
We said goodbye to highway 285 after this second day and joined up with a major interstate again - I40. We could tell when we were getting close by the line of trucks we could see...we certainly hadn't missed THAT part.
We had another of those 5:30 deadlines in Albuquerque to see the Pueblo Cultural Center...we got there at 4:50 only to find that the *museum* closed at 5:00 while the *shops* closed at 5:30. Oh well. We did get some information on the various Native American sites that were in the vicinity, including the Zuni Pueblo we planned to visit the next day. There wasn't really anything else we wanted to see in Albuquerque, so we pushed on another 90 miles or so to Grants.
After an exciting stop at the Walmart SuperCenter (for postcards and fruit and water) we found a nice Best Western - but when we asked for our usual "double, non-smoking" (doesn't have nearly the ring of "shaken, not stirred" though, does it?), the woman asked us if we had any discounts - AARP, AAA...Ok, I KNOW it had been a long day, but I don't really think we looked like we were eligible for AARP...
I must say that we were very happy with all the Best Westerns we stayed at - they all had VERY large rooms, very clean, with comfortable beds. Most of them offered at least a Continental breakfast, and we got a hot breakfast at White's City and Grants. (And this photo illustrates one of the nightly rituals - me studying maps and guidebooks to figure out where we were going the next day.)
We'd seen a Denny's Diner nearby which seemed like a quick and easy place for dinner. Let's see...we waited about 5 minutes to be seated - watching the waitresses get stuff for other people while we waited...were finally seated in the "non-smoking table" that was closest to the smoking area...Lauri did get her coffee but never got the cream she requested (twice), watched while other people who arrived after we did (and had the same waitress) were served *before* we were. The service was horrible. At least the food was ok, though. And it wasn't like they were really busy, either.
While we were waiting, we entertained ourselves by looking at the big sign on the Days Inn next to Denny's (for some reason all the motel signs we could see looked like they belonged in Las Vegas), which said "Welcome Quadrathlon". Now, we knew what a triathlon was, and when Lauri asked me what the fourth event in the "Quadrathlon" was, I said the first thing that came to mind, which was "tennis". Which we both found extremely funny, but it was probably one of those "you had to be there" moments. We later found out that the Quadrathlon was running, biking UP a mountain, snowshoeing, skiing, then doing it all in reverse! I still think I prefer our version: swimming, biking, and running followed by an invigorating set of tennis. :-)
Sunday, February 17
Day Seven, Grants to Prescott, AZ, 379 Miles
From I40 we went south and west on highway 53. We had climbed a bit, and there was actually some snow along the road. We crossed the Continental Divide and not long after that stopped at El Morro National Monument. This is a sandstone cliff that is best known for its petroglyphs and the inscriptions that were carved into it by early Spanish and American passersby. We pulled into the Visitor Center not too long after it opened, and were the only car there. We walked in and were met by not one, not two, not three, but *four* park rangers (ok two of them were trainees, but still.) We felt vastly outnumbered and a little intimidated, even though they nicely asked how they could help us.
They were very happy to see us and were very helpful - and we helped
them out, too, by enabling them to show their trainees how to sell a
National Parks Pass, and then do both cash and credit card purchases.
:-) They told us about the "Inscription Rock" loop, and loaned us the
guidebook so that we'd know what we were seeing.
Now, sandstone isn't very hard compared to most rocks, but it's still not THAT easy to just carve something into it...Especially considering that there were no power tools and all of the carving was done by hand, many of the inscriptions in the rock are quite ornate and beautiful. There are petroglyphs that predate the inscriptions, but the earliest dated inscription is from a Spaniard in 1605. There are later carvings in English.
There are also some Anasazi ruins on the top of the mesa, but we didn't have time to go up there.
Our next stop was in the Zuni Pueblo - because it was Sunday all of the historical/cultural stuff was closed, but the shops were open. That was a dangerous place. :-) They had a lot of beautiful pottery and carved Zuni fetishes...let's just say we did our part in supporting the local economy! :-)
After leaving Zuni we were pretty quickly in Arizona - other than Texas,
New Mexico is the only state we spent parts of 3 different days in!
We stopped at Petrified Forest National Park and drove to several viewpoints of the Painted Desert. The day was overcast (and *quite* windy!), but the colors were still beautiful - you can see where it gets its name! We didn't get down to the Petrified Forest part of the park, but there was a petrified log at Kachina Lodge that we were able to see. It's very strange seeing something that looks like a log (complete with bark!) but is a rock. Of course you're not allowed to pick up anything in the park, but there are tons of tourist places outside that sell petrified wood - you could buy an entire tree trunk if you wanted to! :-)
Speaking of tourist places...after we left Petrified Forest, we passed a sign for "Dinosaur World", and we just HAD to check it out. Admission was $5.00/car and that allowed you to drive along a gravel road that had lots of petrified logs laying around (brought in from elsewhere) as well as various fiberglass dinosaurs on exhibit. Yep, it was a tacky tourist rip-off - but sometimes you just HAVE to do something like that! :-) Actually the gift shop was a disappointment - it wasn't nearly tacky enough (it actually had some NICE things!), and didn't have any merchandise with a "Dinosaur World" logo or something like that - not even a postcard! One of the few places where Lauri *didn't* buy any postcards. :-)
We found a Sonic Drive-In on a corner in Winslow, Arizona - such a fine sight to see. :-) We don't see drive-ins around here, so we had to check it out...they don't actually bring you a food tray to set on your window any more, though.
We had originally planned to drive to the Grand Canyon, but it was 4:00 (and VERY cold and VERY windy - don't know how all those truck and RV drivers were managing to stay on the road!) by the time we got to Flagstaff. So we decided to drive down through Oak Creek Canyon, even though it was getting dark. It was still a beautiful drive, though our catch phrase was: "It would have been a lot prettier an hour ago!" :-) This was definitely our "Red Rock Day" - lots of red buttes in New Mexico along 53, then all of the reds and pinks in the Painted Desert, followed by all of the red formations in Oak Creek Canyon and Sedona.
It was getting dark by the time we left Sedona, and quite dark on the twisty mountain roads we had to drive through Jerome on our way to Prescott. It probably would have been quite pretty a few hours earlier! :-)
We arrived in Prescott around 8:00 - and we learned that the locals pronounce it "PRES-kitt" and not "PRES-kaht". We tried to find the Comfort Inn but ended up missing it (by one block as we discovered the next morning!), and went back to the Best Western we'd seen. (Not that I had anything against the Best Western, but thought maybe we'd try something different on our last night!)
It was late and we were tired and hungry and slightly chilled (and really hadn't seen any restaurants on our tour of town in search of the Comfort Inn), so we went to the Country Kitchen that was right next door. Wow...what a contrast to our experience the previous night! The hostess/cashier (who was actually the manager) seated us right away, took our drink orders, and was almost immediately back with a cup of coffee (and lots of cream!) AND a small carafe of coffee for Lauri, and a cup of hot water, two tea bags, and another small pot of hot water for me! Our waitress also arrived quickly and we were served our dinners promptly. Ok, so it probably wasn't 4 star service, but it was SO different from the night before that it blew us away.
Monday, February 18
Day Eight, Prescott to San Diego, 406 Miles
It was chilly (34!) that morning when we got down to the car. Only to discover that we'd been the victims of an alien abduction...our antenna ball was gone. It had to be one of the motel guests, since it had been there the previous evening after dinner. That's pretty low...
We got on the road, and you remember that flat tire I mentioned at the very beginning of this trip report? Yep, this was the day. We got about 20 miles out of Prescott (fortunately OUT of the narrow mountainy no-shoulder part) and the right rear tire disintegrated. Fortunately there was a place to pull out. Unfortunately the spare tire was allll the way in the bottom of the trunk under all of Lauri's possessions. We started pulling stuff out of there until we could get to the spare and pulled it out. (We did have AAA, but figured we could change the tire long before AAA would have the time to get there.)
About that time, two Good Samaritans pulled up behind us...they had actually passed us going the other way since they thought we looked like we knew what we were doing, but then turned around since it occurred to them we might have trouble getting the lug nuts off (and that had been my main concern, too, but as it turned out they weren't on very tight). Anyway, it was a good thing for us that they did show up, because Lauri's balloon spare didn't have enough air in it, and luckily for us, our two heroes had a portable plug-into-the cigarette-lighter air compressor with them! They inflated our tire, finished putting it on the car, and told us they thought we'd find a tire store about 8 miles down the road, and went on their way - though Lauri had a bottle of really good Tequila that she made them take. They were really very, very nice, and we were so grateful to have their help!
Lauri got most everything packed back in the trunk, except for the tire
which had to ride on top of the ice chest in the back seat (wafting
that lovely "eau de burned rubber" aroma through the air) and we
headed down the road - at 45 mph. Got to the next town only to
find no tire store, nor anything even resembling it. The next two
towns were little more than settlements with no services at all.
We finally ended up having to drive about 45 miles to the town of
Wickenburg, and there just about the first business we came to was
a Goodyear Tire Store! I can't tell you how happy we were to see
They got us right in and replaced the tire and two others that were not in great shape either, plus replaced the spare, which had pretty much reached the end of its useful life, and we were out of there in about an hour. But not before Lauri made a new friend - the lady who worked in the office had a new beagle puppy named "Cooper" (like the new tires on Lauri's car!), and he just loved being cuddled and held...in fact he started whimpering when Lauri gave him back to his "mom". Sooo cute!
So, all things considered we were very lucky - we were *especially* thankful that the tire had NOT blown the night *before* when we were on those narrow mountain roads in the dark!!!
And after that all we did was drive...there was *nothing* to see between there and California...the only "attraction" listed in the AAA guide book was the Yuma Territorial Prison Historical Site...and that just didn't seem too interesting to us. We did pass lots and lots of makeshift RV parks, especially around Quartzsite (my in-laws who are RVers tell us that among some RVers it's considered THE thing to do in the winter, though neither they (nor I) can see the attraction. I think there's even more nothing in that area than there is in West Texas!).
After 8 days we were finally back in our home state of California, but unlike the "Welcome Centers" that the other states had along major interstates, California had nothing but an agricultural inspection station. Welcome to California??? Though the AAA guidebook section on California was particularly amusing:
"Besides physical appeal, perhaps nothing epitomizes the 'Left Coast' more than the people and their almost mythical lifestyle. Populated by entrepreneurs, visionaries, counterculture radicals, trendsetters, go-getters, and - truth be told - a few eccentrics as well, the state has long been fertile ground for innovative ideas, technological breakthroughs and entirely new ways of living. No wonder Americans looking toward the future often face west."
It was another windy day, but we made it the rest of the way to San Diego without incident, arriving about 5:00. 3015 miles from where we'd started in Orlando. Lauri still had another 132 miles to drive to her home in L.A., plus she'd driven the 270 miles from Miami to Orlando, so her total trip was 3417 miles.
We celebrated with a last picture, affixing the final antenna ball (sorcerer's hat with Mickey ears) to the antenna.
It was a terrific experience, and I'm so glad I was able to do it, and share everything with my wonderful friend. In fact, we're ready to do it again - and try a more northern route, say sometime in October...but probably not this year. :-)
Yes, we had to rush through a lot, but we were still able to visit a lot of places - there's a couple I'd like to spend more time in (New Orleans and Northern Arizona and New Mexico), but I've seen PLENTY of West Texas! :-)
Things We Learned Along the Road
The on-line photo album (just the pictures and some captions)
Tigger and Bear's Cross-Country Adventure
Text and photographs copyright © 2002, by Laura Gilbreath and Laura Rooney. Feel free to link to this document, but you may not redistribute it in any form without the express written consent of the copyright holders.
Laura Gilbreath, email@example.com
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