2009: In one week, my 11-year old grandson Mikie and
I will set off on my first cross-country trip since 2004.
had originally intended to make this trip last summer, but I moved
out of my duplex that I'd lived in for 30 years, and that required a
change of plans.
We will be
visiting friends in Oklahoma, Mississippi, Alabama, Missouri and Georgia, and cousins in Texas and Florida. It will be my
first visit to the extreme southern part of the U.S., although I've
traveled across the Texas panhandle twice, and it will be my
second visit to the friends in Oklahoma, an unbelievable 31 years
having passed since the first stop.
discussed in my report on this year's Parkfield
Bluegrass Festival, after over 25,000 miles with my 26 foot
travel trailer, towed by a Ford F150 truck, we have moved on to a 26
foot motor home - something that's easier to park and maneuver, and
with some built-in items that used to be cargo, such as a generator,
TV set, and DVD player.
Parkfield report I made mention of problems that I had with the
motor home, primarily the refrigerator. When I returned home I took
it to the dealer's repair shop, along with a list of several minor
problems that I had noticed, plus the very major one of a tire that
obviously had a bolt in it before the vehicle was delivered.
A few days
after I took it in, the dealer went out of business, but assured me
that they would finish up work that was already scheduled. This
proved to be untrue, although they did fix the major problem, the
refrigerator's failure to operate on propane. By the time I picked
up my RV, they had laid off most of their service and sales staff,
and no one had much interest in the problems of their customers.
the manufacturer, I found a dealer that would do warranty work, but
they are six weeks behind, by which time I will be on the road. I
ended up paying for a new tire, since the tire warranty does not
cover punctures, the manufacturer does not cover tires, and the
dealer now ignores all complaints. On the other hand, they had
previously installed valve stem extenders, and they waived the
charges on this, so it came out fairly even. I fixed a couple of minor problems myself, and after I get the thing washed
at a truck wash on June 10, I will be ready to roll.
I don't like
to drive very far or very late in a day. For one thing, I stop
fairly often; for another, I probably won't go above 65 MPH (which
faster than the trailer). We like to find a place to stay, get
things set up, and have time for swimming, reading, resting, etc. It
will be over 1,500 miles to the first visiting stop, so I expect to
take about five days for that. I may add a night in the mountains of
New Mexico. After we get to Oklahoma, the longest distance between
visiting stops will be about 840 miles; there's one 700 mile
stretch. All the rest till we start the 2,000 mile trip home from St. Louis will be
less than 500 miles.
I expect to
have WiFi internet service at some stops along the way, so I will
send this report in sections, as I did in 2002
and 2004. In
fact, these reports started in 2002 with a brief email to several
work colleagues who asked me to keep them up to date on my travels after
I retired, and have grown into something apparently unstoppable.
got an early start today as planned, after three days of arranging
items in the motor home and loading everything needed for our trip.
We followed a route that I have driven a number of times, especially
since my retirement in 2002. From Fresno we headed south on State
Highway 99, then east at Bakersfield on State 58, and east from
Barstow on Interstate 40. We'll be on I-40 till we get a little past
We were able
to move along between 65 and 70 MPH most of the way, and arrived at
Needles around 2:30, a trip of about 385 miles. After getting
situated, Mikie and I played catch for a while, then headed for the
swimming pool. As I do at home, I did about four laps across and
back, then settled down with my drink and a book. Mikie stayed in
the pool well over an hour - great exercise for him in his
quest to stay in shape for baseball next fall.
weather has been very pleasant in
with highs in the low 80s and a few clouds. It's noticeably warmer here; supposed to be about 95. There are
some clouds now, but nothing that threatens rain. Still it's warm
enough at 7:30 to have the A/C on in the motor home.
June 15: We
traveled three miles farther today then yesterday, ending up in
Gallup, NM. Comparing this trip to the one we made in 2004,
following the same route, we are at least a hundred miles farther on
day 2 than we were then. This is mainly because I do 65 MPH nearly
all the time, and a bit more if the road is smooth. I even went 65
into a construction zone, which was a mistake, because there was an
Arizona CHP officer sitting right there at the start of the zone, waiting
for me. My mistake was to decide to pass a cement truck at the last
minute, stupid on two counts - one, I could have easily passed him
once we got through the short construction zone; and two, he pulled
off into the construction zone anyway. Needless to say, my driving
habits in construction zones have improved greatly.
today's drive, we climbed from Needles, probably under a thousand
feet elevation, to just above 7,000 at Flagstaff. This really took a
toll on gas mileage - yesterday I got nearly ten MPG, and today it
was not quite seven.
interesting aspect of traveling with an almost-teenager is the debate
over which music we listen to. Five years ago Mikie hadn't developed
any special musical tastes, and didn't have much choice but to
listen to the CDs I played. Now he is into rock & roll,
preferably heavy metal, preferably Metallica. I don't mind some
heavy metal, preferably Bill Monroe's mandolin, and I can handle two
or three Metallica songs, but after a while my ears hurt and I fear
for my hearing. So we have a plan whereby we play my music for an
hour or so, then his; and he also listens on the earphones some of
the time. We also take a break from music to talk and work on our
summer learning project, which is to learn or re-learn the capitals
of all the countries in North and South America, the provinces of
Canada, and some of the
states of Mexico. We worked on this in 2004, but we've both
forgotten some of the more obscure Canadian and South American
We had some
beautiful scenery today, going through the mountains west of
Flagstaff, which are covered with ponderosa pines. After a lot of
desert country with only small, gray-green bushes, it was a treat to
see the dark green of the pines. In the lower elevations we went
through a lot of areas of juniper forest and some piñon pine. Past
Flagstaff, the country turned dry and gray again, but there were
quite a few rock-topped mesas and sandstone cliffs, especially in
the far eastern side of Arizona and into New Mexico.
place is only 16 miles into New Mexico, but we got a later start,
and didn't arrive till about 4:30. There was a strong breeze
blowing, so although the swimming pool water was warm, it was very
cold when you stepped out. I limited Mikie to a little less than an
hour because I was getting cold sitting in my wet bathing suit.
I need to go
grocery shopping already, so we decided to eat out, walking down the
road about 300 yards to a small restaurant that had a varied menu.
Mikie had a grilled chicken sandwich, and I had enchiladas, both of which were
very good. The name of the place is The Ranch Kitchen, bringing back
memories of a restaurant of the same name that existed in Fresno
many years ago.
June 16: As
often happens, we got a little later start on the third day, and only traveled about 280 miles. When we got to Albuquerque, we turned
north on I-25, heading for Las Vegas,
NM. This destination choice was
inspired by the Kevin
Kearney books by Michael McGarrity, which are set in various
intriguing locations in New Mexico. If you're a fan of
mystery/crime/detective fiction, I highly recommend this author.
through Santa Fe, so I decided to see the old downtown plaza. We
followed signs for the plaza for several miles, then followed signs for the state
capitol, but never found either. I also didn't see a place where we
could park a large motor home and walk around. Santa Fe is a big
city with lots of traffic, and a stop here would work out better
with a little advance study of the map and research on the Internet. We did
drive through the old part of the city, and also got some grocery
shopping done, and we can now say we have visited the capital of New
We continued another 55 miles or so, arriving at Las Vegas about 4:30. On the
way we went through more tree covered mountains, and past a fairly
large forest fire burning on the side and top of a big mesa. The
elevation here is 6,200, but it was quite warm, although the swimming
pool water was a bit colder than the previous two stops. We are
actually a mile or two from the western edge of the town, so haven't
really seen it yet, but I have a brochure that lists some historic
facts about the "other" Las Vegas.
legendary Doc Holliday owned a bar here
was the site of Teddy Roosevelt's Rough Rider reunions
Mix made a number of his movies here
the Mexican War, General Stephen Kearney took possession of New
Mexico for the U.S. here
The RV park
is situated on a large, sloping section of land, so there is a
fairly nice view, looking down the slope and to mountains across the
valley. It's a bit more like "real" camping than the usual
RV park experience.
By the way,
after the various early problems, the motor home has been working
fine. It is fairly comfortable to ride in and easy to drive,
considering its size and weight. With the cruise control set, it
goes up virtually every hill at 65 MPH, and the engine holds it at
the selected speed going down hill. With my pickup, the cruise
control was virtually non-existent going downhill, so it's a
pleasure to have this one working so well.
As it turned out, we never got Las Vegas, since the RV park was close
to NM highway 84, which would take us back to I-40. However, I was
happy with the detour, since the forested terrain around the RV park
was the setting I was looking
84 almost directly south, losing elevation rapidly, and going
through the most desolate stretch of the state that we had seen. It
was still a nice landscape, with lots of scattered cholla cactus and
low-growing grass. Not long after we turned east on I-40,
we saw dramatic sparks of cloud to ground lightning in the distance,
which Mikie found to be very exciting. We eventually had rain for a
short time, but never got close to the actual storm center.
It looks as
if there has been lots of rain across this area, since we entered
green, rolling country soon after we got to Texas, and it was that
way all across the panhandle. Having lost an hour entering Texas,
5 p.m. seemed to arrive early, and we started looking for a place to
stop at Shamrock, about 10 miles from the Oklahoma border. My travel
book didn't list anything there or for the first 60 miles in
Oklahoma, but just as we crossed the border, we
saw a sign for an RV park at Oklahoma Exit 1, so we stopped.
For the first time we didn't have WiFi or swimming, but it was still
nice and green, and in the morning Mikie found a wooly bear
caterpillar. I used to see these regularly in the Sierra foothills,
but I haven't seen one there for over 20 years.
When we got up, we knew we were close to our first real stopping
place, since my map program showed it was a little over 300 miles to
Wagoner OK, about 30 miles southeast of Tulsa, and ten miles
north of Muscogee.
I met Steve
and Roseanne McCullough through a mutual friend when they lived in
Bremerton WA, and helped them move to Fresno about 1970. They moved
from there to Missouri, where Steve was born, then to a place in
Oklahoma, a few miles out of Wagoner and a half mile from
Gibson Lake. They returned to Washington for about 17 years,
but kept the property in Oklahoma, and moved back there when they retired, about 2003. My daughters and I visited them during their
first years here, 31 years ago, and now Mikie and I are here to see
what changes have taken place.
We made good
time across Oklahoma, going well past Oklahoma City and turning north on US 69 through Muscogee and
Wagoner, arriving about 3 p.m. It's about ten miles from town to
their place, in a site that's now fairly well developed, but still
quiet and rural with large lots, and forest separating them from the
nearby streets. We were able to pull into the yard and back up close
to the house on a level spot.
dinner with them, consisting of pulled pork sandwiches and potato
salad, and got caught up on what's been happening since we last saw
each other, which was during a stop they made in Fresno about ten
June 21: We
have been doing a lot of loafing, fishing, resting, playing
dominoes, and napping. Actually, Steve and Mikie take care of all
the fishing, something that does not interest me. Steve has
taken Mikie down to the lake early for fishing every day. They've
only caught small crappie and perch, which they threw back, but
Mikie is in 7th heaven. The lake
is up a few feet above its normal level, so rocks that would
normally be visible are waiting underwater to snag hooks, and Steve
has spent a lot of "fishing" time replacing hooks and
Steve barbecued steak, and yesterday we went into town for pizza and
to shop for groceries for today's dinner. Their two daughters and
all their grandkids are coming for Father's Day, so we will join
them. The last time I saw the girls they were 12 and 17, and now the
oldest has a son who just graduated from college, so time has been
passing as it inevitably does.
never played dominoes, and I hadn't played since I was a kid, but we
have been having fierce partnership contests each day, and now Mikie
loves it. We play dominos on a shaded patio, and although it's quite warm outside, there is usually a breeze,
and it is not at all
unpleasant to sit out.
done some walking around, spotting squirrels, a rabbit, and a few
deer. The area is heavily forested where it's not cleared for homes,
and it's very humid and green. There are some unoccupied houses
where no one is mowing the lawn, and the forest is starting to
reclaim those lots.
the barbecue going about 8 a.m. today and is cooking a brisket which
will be done around 1 p.m.; everyone is expected to arrive around
that time. We will stay here tonight, then head for my cousin
Darlene's place in Kingwood, near Houston, arriving there on
24: I've been lazy
and/or busy and have got a little behind on this journal, and
tonight I really don't have time to do a lot, but I'll get a little
of it done.
enjoyed getting reacquainted with the McCullough daughters, and
meeting their husbands and kids; and everyone enjoyed a great
their place Monday morning, heading
south on US 69, which goes nearly to Dallas. We stopped at a fruit
stand somewhere in southern Oklahoma and got some good peaches and
plums. I mentioned our attempt to eat healthy, and Mikie loves most
kinds of fruit, so that kind of purchase helps a lot.
The country we went
through, both Oklahoma and Texas, was green, hot and humid. Most of
it was flat, but there were some areas where we went through
wooded hills. We got on I-45 north of Dallas,
and made it through some fairly heavy traffic there, finishing the
day in Corsicana. The RV park was five miles off the Interstate, so
I assumed it would be quiet, but instead we traveled four miles
through city traffic, then a mile on a state highway that had a
noisy concrete surface, so passing trucks were somewhat annoying at
We survived and got a
late start heading for my Cousin Darlene's place in Kingwood, a
suburb of Houston. At Conroe we took Texas 105 east to US 59, and
turned south. I had looked up several RV parks on the Internet,
and the closest to her house was the Barefoot RV Park in Humble. We
had some trouble finding it, down a country road past a gravel pit, and
it lived up to both its name and the city name. We decided it was
not for us, and went back north on US 59 a little past Kingwood to
New Caney, where I had spotted a park close to the highway.
We got set up, took
showers, then headed for Kingwood and Darlene's place, having
arranged to get there about 4 p.m. and go out for dinner. Her
husband, Bill, started a new job about a year ago that requires
quite a bit of travel, and he was on his 4th trip to Finland, so we
missed out on seeing him.
They have a beautiful
home in an area that features big trees, ponds, and numerous
subdivisions. Although she is from Michigan and Bill from Oklahoma,
they've been in Texas a long time, and raised their three kids
there, all of who are now approaching or in their 30s. We didn't
get to see any of the kids; one is in Alaska, one travels and is in
South Carolina, and their daughter had just been there for the
weekend and lives an hour away.
We had a nice visit, and
went out to a great Italian place that they go to regularly. The
calzone I had compared well to the best one in Fresno (Mike's
and Mikie enjoyed his pizza, and Darlene her eggplant parmesan.
When we got back to the
house, Mikie went swimming while Darlene and I caught up on family
history, then we headed back to our RV park for the night.
We headed down US 59
again this morning, but instead of following it south to I-10, I
took Texas Farm Road 1960 east, then picked up US 90, which brought
us to I-10 at Beaumont. Within a few miles we were in Louisiana, the
first state we've traveled in on this trip that was not a repeat for
both Mikie and me. For a while, new states will be the norm, with
Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia and Florida on the agenda.
We left I-10 at Baton
Rouge, following I-12 about 40 miles into Hammond,
where we are stopped for the night. Just this side of Baton Rouge we
stopped at a Bass Pro
Shop. Mikie knew about them, but had never
seen one, so he had a great time looking at the fishing equipment -
and the fish. It's set up with a bayou theme, and they have a pond
and tank with large catfish, alligator gar, and other fish, as well
as a huge turtle and several smaller ones.
After we left there we
had a short thunderstorm, with some of the hardest rain I've ever
experienced. Traffic slowed down to about 40 MPH on the Interstate.
It only lasted about 10 minutes, and I was glad for that, since I
was considering getting off the highway.
Traveling through the
Basin, Mikie spotted an alligator on the bank, but I
couldn't look away from the road.
There is a pond at this
RV park, and Mikie found a stick, took out his shoe strings, made a
hook from staples, and is trying for a big catfish, using gum as
bait - a real Huck Finn experience for him.
25: We had a good
day today, traveling across southern Louisiana and Mississippi. Our
destination was Vancleave MS, which is on Mississippi highway 57, about five miles north of I-10, not far from the Alabama
We followed I-10 most of
the way, but I took a detour down to US 90, which runs right
along the Gulf of Mexico. I decided it would be foolish to be so
close and not even have a glimpse of the gulf. We hit the coast at
Bay St. Louis, and from there to Gulfport the road runs right next to
the white sand beach. There are many pullouts where you can park and
step over the curb to the beach and walk down to the water. At
Gulfport we turned back north and rejoined I-10 going east.
Our destination was the
home of Fender and Judi Tucker a few miles out in the country from
Vancleave, but we first stopped and registered at an RV park just
off the Interstate. Although I had never met the Tuckers in person,
I have had an extensive correspondence with Fender. He edited Loadstar, a
Commodore disk magazine, from 1987 till the early part of this
century, and I was heavily involved with Commodore computers as a
member, officer, and newsletter editor of our local user group.
Fender and Judi met because she was a co-owner of Softdisk
Publishing, which produced Loadstar, as well as disk magazines for
the Apple and PC.
The Loadstar operation
was fairly small and informal, and in his editorial writing Fender
sometimes extended an invitation for subscribers to visit the "Loadstar Tower" if they ever made it to Shreveport, LA. Before I
could take him up on that invitation, Loadstar had become a separate
operation, owned by Judi and Fender, who turned it over to another
Commodore enthusiast, Dave Moorman, around 2002.
I continued to stay in
touch with Fender, who started Ramble
House, a small business
producing books, mostly reproductions of long out of print mysteries
and other "pulp fiction," whose small cult following keeps
the company going. He started with books by the now unknown but
prolific Harry Stephen
Keeler, and the company now offers over 350 titles, and has
produced around 4,800 individual books. Most of the finished books are now
print-on-demand printers, Lulu.com and
but a few are still printed and hand bound by Fender
himself. Total sales are around 12,000 books.
We arrived at their home
about 1 p.m., and after official greetings and introductions, we
went into Ocean Springs, about ten miles away, for lunch. Although
we went to a popular seafood place, only Judi actually had seafood,
it not being a favorite of Fender or myself; and Mikie liking a
different type of fish than what is served in the south.
On the way back, Fender
and Judi very kindly took us to a Wal-Mart on the way so that Mikie
could get a fishing pole, having observed that there was a place to
fish at our RV park, and also about 50 yards from the Tucker home.
When we got back we walked down by the bayou, which has a nice
wooden dock for fishing, and immediately saw a large alligator gar,
about four feet long. Mikie immediately swore he would catch it, but
in fact I suspect the gar would have won that battle. The Tuckers
had informed us that a baby alligator had been seen in the water
there, and we were lucky enough to get a good look at him later.
While Mikie fished, I
checked out Fender's huge collection of old paperbacks that he has
either scanned for reproduction, or will do so in the future. He also
showed me how he puts a book together, a task involving a glue gun
and a hot iron, and a small amount of pain when pressing down on the
hot back of the book to get everything smooth (photos of the process
can be seen here).
We had a great visit,
discussing the good old days of Commodore and Loadstar, and learning
about the couple's backgrounds. Judi is originally from Missouri, but also
lived in Alabama; Fender was born in Louisiana, but spent most of
his growing up years in Farmington NM. One of my favorite quotes of
all time is a sentence he wrote in a Loadstar editor's notes one
time: "I had a Huck Finn childhood, a John Lennon adolescence, a Jack Nicholson adulthood, and now I’m looking forward to a Timothy Leary old age."
Before becoming a Commodore disk magazine editor, Fender earned his
living playing in bar bands in New Mexico, and proudly proclaims
that he has never had a "day job."
In addition to fishing,
Mikie got to play one of Fender's electric guitars, while Fender
taught him some chords, so it was a great visit for both of us, and
we took our leave about 6:30, very happy that we had included this
corner of Mississippi on our journey.
Mikie fished some more in
the bayou at the RV park, and although he saw fish at both
locations, he didn't catch anything. I was just as glad, since I
don't like to eat fish, clean fish, cook fish, touch fish or catch
26: Today we
traveled some of the back roads of Alabama. We left our RV park
about 8:30, hoping to make the 410 mile journey to Huntsville.
Looking at the map, it seemed that it would be shorter, if not
faster, to take some US and state highways, and we left Interstate
10 at Mobile, went a few miles on I-65, then took US 43 straight
north. At Linden we took Alabama 69, which was a fairly direct route
into Tuscaloosa. This route was mostly 55 MPH, with some stretches
that allowed 65 MPH, but went through very scenic country, including
a lot of fairly hilly terrain. I decided to stop for the night at
Cullman, less than 70 miles from Huntsville, so from Tuscaloosa we
took I-59 to Birmingham, then I-65 once again to Cullman, a total
journey of 341 miles.
We stopped for lunch in the small town of
Greensboro on Highway 69. I spotted a McDonald's as I went through an
intersection, but then lost track of where it was. We parked in an
empty dirt lot and started walking. We asked directions from a woman
on the sidewalk, which resulted in a conversation about where we
were from, and the fact that she had relatives in California.
Before we found the McDonald's, we came
to Lyle's Diner and chose that instead. I had a great
lunch of baked chicken, black-eyed peas, and green beans. We also
chatted with the owner, who also had relatives in our state.
The RV park we are in has
a nice pond, and Mikie spent about two hours fishing, catching three
small fish and hooking but losing his first catfish. The pond has a
catch and release requirement, so I didn't have to deal with dead
fish, and Mikie had a great time.
June 27: Last night Mikie
asked me to wake him up early so he could go fishing before we left.
I wasn't sure if he would still feel that way in the morning, but
when I got up to use the restroom at 5:30, he was ready. He fished
for nearly three hours, catching two more fish, before I called him
in for breakfast.
We were only about 50
miles from our camping destination, Ditto Marina on the Tennessee
River in Huntsville, so we arrived well before noon and got checked
in. We are here to visit Lew
Koch, who I have known since 1966. Long
ago in another life I worked in TV stations, writing commercials and
doing promotion, and in that year I moved from Bakersfield to Fresno
and started working at KJEO, channel 47, then the ABC affiliate. Lew was the production
director, filming and editing commercials as well as other duties,
so we worked closely together and became friends. I left the station
in 1974, staying in Fresno, and he left in 1979 and moved to
Huntsville, where he was a producer for the local public TV
station. We’ve kept in touch through letters, Christmas
cards, and Email, but have not seen each other in 30 years. Originally
from Kentucky, Lew is an accomplished musician and since his
retirement, has been performing with guitar and harmonica, mostly
putting on shows featuring the music of Tin Pan Alley. Before that
he was part of a trio known as Legends, who performed folk music,
and produced a cassette of their songs.
After we got set up at the campground, we called Lew to make
visiting arrangements, and he was kind enough to pick us up so we
didn't have to disconnect everything and drive the motor home. We went first to his home and
met his 14-year old dog, Buddy, and took him for a short walk. We
then went to Five Guys, a hamburger and hotdog place that has earned
rave reviews all over the east (it's where President Obama took a
group of friends recently). We had excellent hamburgers and fries
(the fries being made from actual potatoes instead of coming frozen
in a bag).
Lew then drove us up on a
nearby mountain (what we would call a foothill in California) to a
hiking trail. It was a very nice hiking area, about 1000 feet above
the city, and very pleasant in the shade. We went only a short
distance around the lake there, to the cabin apparently occupied by John
Hunt back in the early 1800s. Crossing a covered bridge across an arm of
the lake, we saw about eight turtles, and many small fish. On the
way back we found part of an old cupcake that we threw in for the
turtles, which already had some chunks of bread to munch on. The
turtles and small fish would come up and take tiny bites, when
suddenly a huge catfish came up and ate the entire piece of cupcake
in one bite.
We went back to Lew's and
watched some video he had of people from Channel 47 days; then we did
a little singing and guitar playing, and around 4 p.m. he brought us
back to the camp. Mikie immediately got ready for fishing, while I
got started on the huge collection of laundry we have accumulated in
the two weeks since we left.
There are hundreds of
people here, many camping but many others here just for the day with
their boats. The landing leads out into the open river, which is
several hundred yards across, so boats are constantly coming and
going. Mikie fished in the harbor area, but had no luck.
When he came in, I
can of chili for supper, while we settled down for our usual
evening of TV watching, interrupted for a while to fold laundry.
June 28: Today we
visited the U.S. Space and Rocket Center
in Huntsville. Lew has been
there many times, so we agreed that he would pick us up at the RV
park, drop us off at the museum, and run some errands. We would then
call him when we were ready to leave.
We arrived there a little
before 11, and started our tour. I won't go into a lot of detail
since the web site can do a much better job of that, but both Mikie
and I greatly enjoyed the experience. There is nothing like standing
next to a full size Apollo rocket replica to make one feel small.
Our admission price included a half-hour movie on the Mars Rover
project, with 3D footage from the planet.
We saw lots of photos and
hardware from rocket development starting with World War II,
plus information on a possible manned mission to Mars, which would be
a nearly two-year journey. In a historical exhibit, I was surprised
to learn that the concept of a space station served by reusable
shuttles was under serious consideration as early as the 1920s.
After seeing the first
section of the complex and watching the movie, we had lunch at the
food court, then continued our tour, calling Lew to pick us up
around 2:30. We went to his house for ice cream, then he brought us
back "home," stopping so I could get a few groceries. At
the motor home, he tried out my guitar, and we did a couple of
guitar-harmonica duets. We said our goodbyes around 4 p.m., and Mikie and I did our usual afternoon/evening activities, including
another load of laundry, but NOT including any fishing.
30: After sleeping in a little and fixing a good breakfast, we left
Huntsville late on Monday morning, June 29, heading to Tom &
Westa Liddle's home in Dallas
GA. Tom is the brother of my
son-in-law, Tim, and Mikie's uncle. They moved here from San Diego
in 2002. The trip was short in miles, a little under 170, but long
in time. We made reservations at a park in Marietta, about 20 miles
from Tom & Westa's, and I had visions of arriving by 1 or 2
p.m., getting caught up on email and this report, swimming, and a
generally relaxing afternoon.
Instead, much of our trip was very
slow, through urban areas, or somewhat slow on winding US and state
highways. In addition, the GPS wanted me to turn right in the middle
of a high bridge which appeared to be fairly new, and we spent 15
minutes driving in circles to get to the right road at that spot.
on our way to
and the GPS led me on a 30 minute tour of downtown Marietta, including
an attempt to get me to turn the wrong way on a one-way street. As
it turned out, we were only able to get in a 30 minute swim before
it was time to leave.
back to Dallas to Tom and Westa’s later on, the directions
were much more straight forward. Tom does not get home from work
till a little after 7 p.m., so with visiting, cooking, eating and
more visiting, we did not leave till 11 p.m., which meant another
frustrating trip down the same wrong way street, this time in the
dark. However, Tom grilled some perfectly aged rib eye steaks, and we also had corn, beans, fruit salad and potatoes, so it was a
wonderful dinner. We had a nice visit, and they were interested to see
how their nephew had grown since they were last in Fresno about four
June 30: This
morning we left Marietta around 9:30 or maybe a little later, having
slept in and taken our time getting going. We drove south on I-75,
with over 250 miles of Georgia yet to cross, then east a few miles
on I-10, and finally stopped around 5 p.m. in Lake City
FL, about 30 miles from
Mikie's delight the RV park we chose had two fishing ponds, and
within 15 minutes after our arrival he was down at the closest pond.
He soon figured out that the best bait was bread, so our supply has
been depleted. He threw in a few crumbs to get the fish's interest,
then threw in his line. In about two hours of fishing he caught two
nice size perch, but was required to put them back.
of the country we've been going through since Texas has been green
and heavily wooded. On the lesser roads we see some farming, but
most of it seems to be hidden behind the woods along the highways.
As we entered Florida we saw some small open fields, but everything
was still bright green. Alabama and parts of Georgia were quite
hilly, but Florida is as flat as the San Joaquin
1, 2009: We have reached the farthest point in our journey, Jupiter
FL, 3,943 miles from our starting point in Fresno. At the advice
of the RV park manager in Lake City, we continued east on I-10 to
Jacksonville, then turned south on I-95, close to but never in sight
of Florida's east coast. Here we will be visiting my cousin Mary
Defilio, her husband Louie, and their daughter Elizabeth.
trip was fairly uneventful except for a short, moderate rain storm,
and we completed our 330 mile drive around 5 p.m. Getting set up in
the RV park was a major chore - it was built to squeeze in as many
units as possible, with narrow access roads that go uphill. The map
directed us to our site in the wrong direction so that we were
headed forward instead of positioned to back in, so I had to
continue on through our road to the cross road. People have parked
their cars in the street, leaving a narrow lane, and I had to scrape
by the car beside my turning point with literally one inch of
clearance. I found a place where I could turn around easily, but
turning back into our street past that car was equally difficult. We
finally got positioned, although even with blocks under the front
wheels, the motor home slants downward more than it should.
we got set up, Mikie went fishing in the pond about two hundred feet
below our space, and I went swimming. I had finished my usual laps, dried off, and got settled with a book when it started to rain,
along with thunder and lightning. Storms here start with a few light
drops followed immediately by a downpour, so I got completely wet
again returning to the motor home. Mikie came up from the pond just
as wet as I was. It has rained off and on through the rest of the
day, but nothing very hard.
the first big rain, Mikie went back to the pond, where he had the
best luck yet. Again using bread, he caught seven or eight fish.
Many were big enough to eat, but he returned them all to the pond.
When he first started, his bait immediately attracted several medium
size turtles, so he had to contend with them competing
with the fish for the bait.
we arrived fairly late in the day and had things to take care of, we
did not see my cousin. I called her, and she will pick us up around
1 p.m. tomorrow, after competing in a morning golf tournament.
Originally from southern California, she had a career as a flight
attendant and lived in Connecticut for
some time. Louie was involved in real estate
development there. They moved to
Florida in 2001, although Louie commuted back and forth for another
July 2: After playing in a golf tournament this morning, Mary picked us
up about 1 p.m. We got lunch at a nearby supermarket deli, then went
to their home, which is located on a canal that leads out to the Intracoastal
Waterway, and then to the ocean. There is a dock a few feet from
their patio, so Mikie was again in 7th heaven, fishing as much as he
could, in between the several thunderstorms that passed through.
Near the end of the fishing day he caught his first catfish, at
least twelve inches and three pounds, something he's been wanting to
do since our time in Oklahoma.
evening the Defilios took us to Matteo's,
an excellent Italian restaurant, where Mikie had salmon and I had
chicken marsala. With bread, antipasto, salad, wine and a fruit
plate for dessert, we both brought home enough for our Saturday
and I had a good time catching up on family news, and I enjoyed
meeting Louie for the first time. Although they have been married
nearly 25 years, he was not able to be at the family reunion in 1992
where I last saw Mary and Elizabeth. They have a beautiful home in
an upscale development, where all the houses have water access, and
many have boats. Because it's off season, many of their neighbors
are gone for the summer, escaping the heat and humidity.
storm lasted longer than usual, but there was very little thunder
and lightning, and it cooled things off very nicely, to where we
have the coolest evening since Dallas GA.
and Mary brought us back to our RV park about 8 p.m., and we visited
for a few minutes. After they left Mikie went down to the pond where
he met Gabriel, who was fishing and whose family was camped right
next to the water. Mikie had lost his last hook at the canal, but
Gabriel lent him one, and he caught four more fish, while Gabriel
caught a catfish.
July 3: We had a fun and relaxing time for our final day before we turn
the rig around and head west once again. We got up a little after 8
and had a light breakfast. Mikie had made plans to go fishing with
Gabriel and went down to the pond a little before 9. Gabriel's
family then decided to go down to the pier,
about three quarters of a mile away, so Mikie walked down and fished
in the ocean with them for a couple of hours. It was his first sight
of the Atlantic Ocean, and he saw barracuda in the water, althoughhe
didn't catch any.
picked us up about noon and we had a great lunch at the Hurricane
Cafe. Then we headed down I-95 to the Museum
of Discovery and Science in Ft. Lauderdale, about an hour's
drive south of here. They have a nice exhibit of fish and reptiles
including several small alligators. A large part of the museum is
taken up with exhibits related to space and air flight, including a
flight simulator that visitors can try out. We spent about three
hours there, including a brief live animal show, then headed back.
did a little more fishing off the dock at Louie & Mary's, while
Louie grilled hamburgers and hot dogs for dinner. We ended our visit
stuffed with good food and delighted that we had included this stop
on our itinerary.
July 4: We're back at the RV park in Lake City FL, where we spent Tuesday
night. Mikie likes the fishing, we knew exactly how to get here, and
it's a little more than our minimum drive of 300 miles. I'm hoping
to observe a very quiet 4th of July. Tomorrow I will probably take
some "back roads" around Atlanta, and end up in north
Georgia, somewhere south of Chattanooga TN.
July 5: We didn't get as close to Tennessee as I had hoped, but we still
traveled 340 miles, which was good considering most of it was on
U.S. highways in Georgia. Very little of this route was freeway, so
we had to go slow and stop at traffic lights in every small town, and we probably
took a half hour going through Columbus GA. We also had
some winding roads, and a very heavy rainstorm that slowed us
down to 40 MPH.
the most part the scenery today was beautiful, and worth the extra
time. All of Florida is flat, as was the first 50 miles or so in
Georgia. After that we got into hilly country, sometimes with long,
sweeping vistas. All of it was green and heavily wooded, with lots
of pine trees. There was one area in Georgia where it seemed to open
up and there were green fields. We also saw an area south of
Columbus where there had been recent logging.
at Yogi Bear's Jellystone
RV Park, a chain operation, near Waco
GA. It's a tiny village of less than 500 people, off I-20 less than 10 miles from the
Alabama border. It's a very nice park, almost brand new, but has no fishing, so Mikie was disappointed about that.
will continue up US 27 to Chattanooga, then will get back on the
Interstates through Nashville, into Kentucky, across Illinois and
into Missouri, which should be a shorter than usual drive the day
we're watching TV, and getting ready to batten things down and head
north and west to St. Louis in the morning.
6: We made good time again today, traveling 341 miles to Eddyville
KY, where we're in an RV park by Lake Barkley. Mikie finally got
to indulge his love of fishing, unlike last night. He had quite a
few bites, and caught one small crappie.
the way we went through some impressive mountains (by eastern
standards), traveling through northern Georgia and Tennessee. We
followed US 27 from last night's camping spot to Chattanooga, then
got on I-24, which cuts northwest across Tennessee and a corner of
Kentucky. The land flattened out in this area, and we went past
miles of cornfields, so much so that I thought of changing
Kentucky’s nickname from the Bluegrass State to the Corn State.
Much of the route was through valleys lined with trees, or through
forest country with fairly long vistas. In Tennessee we crossed back
over the Tennessee River, which we had first seen at Huntsville AL
on June 27. We're about half way across the Kentucky
section, and a little over 200 miles from our next stop near St.
July 7: We had a relatively short journey
today, traveling just 276 miles. We were only about 210 miles from
St. Louis, but our actual destination is well west and about 20
miles north of downtown, in Troy MO.
continued across Kentucky and into Illinois on I-24, then north
about 50 miles on I-57, finally turning west toward Missouri on I-64.
Much of the country we went through was gently rolling hills, but it
flattened out significantly during the last stretch. Coming in from
the east, we were treated to a view of the famous Gateway
symbolizing the area's history as the Gateway to the West.
some grocery shopping in the town of Troy, then continued
nearly ten more miles to our camp in the Cuivre River State
This is a hilly, wooded preserve, standing out from the
surrounding farm land and the St. Louis metro area. Water activities
take place at Lake Lincoln, but the campsites are considerably
farther from the lake than Mikie's usual fishing locations have been. The country around the RV park is green and heavily wooded. After
getting set up, I walked with him down to the lake,
while he rode his bike.
he found a fishing spot, I headed back to the camp. I'm not sure of
the distance, but it was somewhere, between a half mile and a mile,
mostly up hill, a 20 minute hike.
We later measured it at .7 miles. Mikie stayed till it was getting
dark, and caught one good size bass.
here to visit the Mills family, former Fresno and Bay Area
residents. My daughter and Eydie became friends through the YMCA
Indian Guide program when my older grandson was a child. Darryl and
Eydie's oldest grandson, Zack, is a little younger than Mikie, and
they have been friends all their lives. When we visited them here in
2004, Zack was the only grandchild. Since then their daughter
Samantha has had two more sons, Peyton, age 5, and Shiloh, age 1;
while son Kenny provided them with a granddaughter, Allison, earlier
been trying without success to call them and let them know we were
about to arrive, but finally made contact tonight after getting set
up. We have very poor cell service here, and when Darryl called, we
realized without discussing it that it would be impossible to make
plans by phone. It took three tries before I was able to give him our space
as soon as he understood it he said, "We're on our way." Darryl, Eydie and Zack drove
up about a half hour later, with Mikie and his bike in their van, having
seen him riding back as they drove by the lake area.
visited for a short time and arranged for Eydie to bring Zack out to
the park on her way to work in the morning, so the boys can fish,
swim, and whatever else they decide to do.
July 8: Zack and Eydie arrived a little after 7 a.m., and after a quick
breakfast, he and Mikie rode off on their bikes to fish in the lake.
I took advantage of the quiet and solitude to wash dishes, vacuum
the motor home, and do some reading. The boys returned around 10:30,
having caught no fish, but getting several bites. They played a game
Zack invented, throwing rocks at a nearby tree (one point), a wooden
post (two), and a metal post (five). They played several games, with
Mikie winning twice and Zack once, all of them by one point. They
also rode their bikes around the camp area, played on the computer,
and just hung out, catching up on the last five years.
lunch we all walked down to the lake and they went swimming for
about an hour, while I read. Just before we left, Mikie caught a small bluegill with his net. Eydie
picked us up about 6 p.m. and we went to their house for dinner.
Darryl barbecued hamburgers, while we visited with their kids and
grandkids. It was our first time to meet Payton, Shiloh, Allison,
and Kenny's wife Christa.
Darryl and Eydie brought me back to the camp, Mikie stayed behind to
spend the night. Darryl is off work tomorrow, and has some errands
to run, and will bring the boys out here around 9 a.m. We
really appreciated this pick up and delivery service, since it’s a
ten-mile trip, one way, from the Mills' house, and very inconvenient
to use the motor home for local travel.
July 9: Darryl delivered Zack and Mikie to the campground about
10:30 this morning. They played the rock throwing game and played
chess on the computer for a while, then we had an early lunch. They
wanted to go swimming again, so this time I made the huge sacrifice
of carrying my chair down the hill so I could be comfortable while
keeping an eye on them.
swimming for a while, they started catching small creatures for bait
along the shore, ending up with a number of tiny fish, several crawfish,
seven tadpoles and a couple of larger fish (still small enough to
fit into a water bottle). They also caught a couple of frogs but let
them go. They swam some more, and we stayed for two and half hours,
so I got a lot of reading done. They rode their bikes down, which
took about five minutes, but had to push them part of the way back,
so they only beat me to camp by a few minutes. Walking up takes
about 20 minutes, and walking down is not much quicker. After making
the trip three times in three days, I realized that I have some
muscles that are not used to that much exercise.
they get out of the water they are starving, and would eat right
then if they could, but of course, we had to get back to the
motor home, and they had to take showers (the lake water is murky
and certainly not clean). We had sandwiches about 4 p.m., then they
played at various activities, while I washed the dishes and got some
more reading done.
morning I had asked if we could take them out to dinner, but Eydie
was scheduled for a late shift, lasting well into the evening (she
manages the shoe department at the Wal-Mart in Lake St. Louis).
However, when they arrived about 6:30 she had arranged to get time
off, so we went to a pizza buffet at a nearby town. They had many
different kinds of pizza, and once you got your first selections,
waiters were continually stopping by offering more. They also had
many dessert pizzas, including apple and cherry, and we all ate too
decided to spend one more day and invited Zack to spend the night,
but he wanted to get home and into his own bed, so they will bring
him out early in the morning. He has been loafing around a lot this
summer, and has not normally been as active as he was the last two
his appetite has improved, along with his need for rest.
they left Mikie and I walked about 200 yards on a trail that leads
out from the campground. There are thick woods on one side, while
the land seems to have been cleared on the other, but is covered
with many low growing plants and bushes. The main purpose of our
walk was to look at fireflies, one of our favorite things about
trips to this part of the country.
10, 2009: Zack arrived about 7 a.m., obviously still in need of more
sleep. After we said a final goodbye to Eydie, Zack immediately lay down on the table seat, so I gave him a
blanket and went back to bed. Mikie also woke up briefly, but all of
us managed to go back to sleep till about 8:30. We had a late
breakfast of bacon and toast, and hung around the motor home for a
while. A light rain had started about 6 a.m., so I had gotten up and
closed the vents at that time.
10:30 the rain had stopped, and the boys set off for the lake, while
I went to the entrance station to pay for one more night. Then
I did some reading and got in a short nap.
came back after a couple of hours, having had no luck fishing, and
spent the rest of their final day riding bikes, eating, and watching
TV. Darryl arrived a little before 6, and we said a reluctant
farewell till next time.
the afternoon I walked around a one mile loop trail that leads out
from the camp. It's much more heavily wooded than the one where we
took our firefly walk, and I was rewarded for my efforts by seeing a
wild turkey, as well as another large flying bird, which was
probably a vulture, hawk or eagle.
has been a fun stop, and Mikie and I are very grateful to Darryl
and Eydie for the transportation service, which will add up to seven
20-mile round trips. It will give them a lot of miles this week,
since they both commute some distance to work. Eydie works in the Wal-Mart in Lake St. Louis, where they lived till a few months ago,
now a 40-mile round trip. Darryl drives a package delivery truck,
but his route is in Bloomington IL, so it's over 400 miles a day for
him, most of it in a company vehicle.
11: We had a fairly uneventful trip today, traveling just under 370
miles. We left the state park a little before 9, and stopped in Troy
for gas and groceries. A jaunt of a little over 20 miles brought us
back to I-70 and we turned west on the final segment of our journey.
We stopped for the night at an RV park a little bit east of Abilene,
Kansas, where there is fishing, swimming and WiFi.
would like to stop for an extra day where Mikie can fish in a lake
or stream in the Rockies, and I had hoped we could make it there
tomorrow, but we're still over 460 miles from Denver, too far for a
day's drive as far as I am concerned.
first half of today's drive was through terrain much like what we've
been seeing for weeks - rolling hills, lots of wooded areas, and
everything very green. Not long after entering Kansas, the trees
thinned out except in drainages, and we are in relatively flat prairie country now. It
will get even more open and dryer on tomorrow's drive. There has
been a lot of up and down, with the highway crossing wide creek or
river bottoms, then going up over the divides between
July 12: The first part of today's drive took us through a lot of wooded
land again, but it soon began to thin out in the middle of Kansas.
The rolling terrain also flattened out considerably in western
Kansas, but we still had a lot of up and down territory, especially
after entering Colorado.
of the route is familiar, since we're following the same path we
took going home in 2004. At that time we went across Illinois north
of I-70, and joined that highway in western Missouri about 30 miles
from Kansas City. We're staying tonight in Limon,
Colorado, where we
turned southwest to Colorado Springs five years ago, so tomorrow's
run into Denver will be new; then we'll again trace our footsteps
into central Utah.
a hard thunderstorm about 5 a.m. today, and arrived here just before
another storm hit. We were stopped and set up by the time any
significant rain fell, and it was never as hard as this morning's
event. It stopped before sundown and the breaking clouds treated us
to a spectacular sunset.
we're still in flat plains country, the land has been gradually
rising, and the elevation here is about 4,700 feet. With the storm
cooling things off, this will be the coldest night since New Mexico.
Cold, of course, is relative; as of 1 a.m. I had not needed a
blanket, but I did wear my flannel pajamas.
July 13: For several days we've
been planning to find a Rocky
location with a lake or stream so Mikie can fish for trout, and
today was the day. Our destination was Sylvan
Lake State Park, which we selected after getting some brochures
at the Colorado
route took us through the rolling plains east of Denver, and soon we spotted the
Rockies, peeking up over the horizon, decorated by patches of snow. The
climb out of
Denver on I-70 is quite steep, but after the first portion, there is a lot
of up and down.
after we started uphill, there was a hard rainstorm, and later more
rain with thunder and lightning. At
one point along I-70 there was snow on the side of the road - not
old patches of snow from winter, but snow that had obviously fallen
that morning or perhaps during the night.
stopping place we chose was well
past the summit, and after going through the Eisenhower
Tunnel at 11,000 feet, we still had over 60 miles to go. I was
concerned that we would be in the high desert country instead of the
evergreens and mountains I had pictured.
park is located south of Eagle, with a ten mile drive on a narrow
paved road to the visitor center, and another five miles on a very
good dirt road to the lake and campground. When we turned off I-70
at Eagle, the first few miles were not encouraging - the road ran
through farm country and sage brush. However, as we approached the
park, the valley narrowed and the road began to climb, and we were
soon among evergreens and aspens at 8,500 feet.
we called the park for information in the morning, they said it was
"pouring down rain," but all the rain had stopped and it
was nice when we arrived, after a relatively short drive of about
helping with setup, Mikie headed for the lake, bent on removing
several trout. He caught one but it got off, so our dinner was
frozen fish filets instead.
night was the coldest of the entire trip, and before it was over I
had to get out an extra blanket, and Mikie unrolled his sleeping bag
for the first time. In the morning I gave the motor home heating
system its first test, which it passed handily.
14: We left the park about 8:30 a.m., with a 40-minute, 15 mile
drive ahead of us before we got back to the Interstate. A lot of the
freeway driving was also slow, through winding canyons, but we
reached Richfield UT about 4:30.
down the Colorado River on I-15 we passed through Glenwood
Canyon, a very beautiful spot. The canyon is narrow, giving
views of vertical walls with the river below. The westbound lanes
are mostly built on a causeway, with the eastbound almost directly
below on the river's edge. I wanted to take pictures, but there is
rarely a place to pull over on any of the highways we have traveled.
road through Utah begins climbing the Colorado
Plateau, and there are a number of vista points offering views
of cliffs, canyons and other features, so I did get some nice photos
July 15: We're now in a full "getting home" mode, traveling to
put miles behind us, with very little sightseeing and no visiting.
We drove 310 miles today from Richfield to North Las Vegas. We did
take one scenic detour, taking US 89 south from Richfield, following
the Sevier River,
then heading west on Utah 14 (also known as the Markagunt
High Plateau Scenic Byway) to Cedar City, where we got on I-15.
first part of our trip on US 89 went through a typical Colorado
Plateau canyon, with weathered sandstorm formations, mostly grey.
The valley then opened up and we drove through farmland for a while,
then through another small canyon.
14 was very scenic all the way, going through timber up to 9,000 feet
past lakes and streams. A stretch of two miles or so went through an
old lava flow, with jumbled black rock on both sides of the road. Just beyond the pass there is a view down
into Zion National Park, where you can see the land drop off into
the canyon. It was pretty hazy, so I'm not sure the photos will do
road then went down another canyon, including a place where the
creek ran under a natural bridge, and out to Cedar
City. We spent about a half hour here, trying to get onto the
Interstate, since the obvious route was closed due to construction,
and the detour was not clearly marked. I set my GPS for St. George,
about 50 miles south, and headed away from the construction area,
eventually finding a spot where the GPS guided me to a different
going through St. George UT, I-15 crosses a corner of Arizona for 30
miles. For the first few miles the road passes through the gorge of the Virgin
River, so we had more nice canyon scenery. The upper part of the
river was dry, the first time I have seen it that way, but there was
water in it about half way through the canyon.
rest of our trip was uneventful except for bad cross winds, which
required me to keep my speed down a bit, but we gained an hour when
we returned to Pacific Time entering Nevada, and we got to the RV park about 4 p.m.
is the hottest place we’ve been on the entire trip. In the south,
after connecting the water, sewer, and electric cable, I would be
drenched in sweat. Despite the higher temperatures here, it was not
so bad, because, as we in the desert and the Central Valley like to
say, “It’s a dry heat.”
16: With a little over 400 miles to go, I made sure that Mikie
understood that getting home today was not guaranteed. However, we
got an early start and moved along with few slowdowns, and by the
time we reached Tehachapi, it was not quite 1 p.m. Therefore we both
knew we could make it home with no trouble, and indeed, we arrived
just after 5 p.m., having traveled a total of 7,275 miles.
has suffered from home sickness throughout the trip, especially the
last few days as our return grew closer, so he was excited and happy
when his mother drove up to pick him up.
had a great time, and would like to thank all the people we visited
for their hospitality, and for going the extra mile to help us with
local transportation. The motor home was capable of making its way
down narrow country roads and into residential subdivisions, but
that kind of driving was a challenge, and it was very helpful when
our hosts were able to give us a ride.
saw some new parts of the country, and met a few local people who
added to our enjoyment. My favorite area as far as just driving
through it was the "back roads" of Alabama and Georgia,
where we left the Interstates for long stretches and enjoyed a more leisurely
course, Mikie's favorite part other than seeing friends and
relatives was fishing - he had the chance to fish in the bayous of
the deep south, in the Atlantic Ocean, and in ponds and lakes in
of Coming Travels
next trip of any significance will be the 9th annual Stargazer
Rock Campout. We have a number of new people planning to come,
and it looks like this year's outing may rival the size of the early
September I will embark on sort of a bluegrass
tour. At the Parkfield
festival I won tickets to the Brown
Barn festival in San Martin (off US 101 near Morgan Hill), so
I'll be going there around September 10. Then I'll do some sight
seeing as I make my way northeast to the 2009
Bluegrass in the Foothills in Plymouth. After my return home, I
plan to attend the Hobbs Grove
festival in Sanger, just 20 miles from home. I'll combine those
events into a single report.
other obligations will prevent any further travel before November at
the earliest, but I have some ideas in mind. During this recent trip
we spent a lot of days just driving, trying to get somewhere.
Although our deadlines were fairly flexible, there was not a lot of
time for spontaneous exploration, and I passed up many places I
would have liked to visit. I realized that my ideal trip would be to
avoid the Interstates as much as possible, stop any place that
caught my eye, and if I only drove 100 miles in a day, no big deal.
My ultimate destination would be to get back home "whenever I
got around to it," which is the time that retired people should
I also drove by lots of things I would have liked to
photograph, but even on the state and US highways, there is seldom a
place to pull off, and even if there is, by the time I get stopped,
I'm probably a quarter mile past the thing I want to photograph. I'm
trying to figure out how to deal with this - pulling over on the
shoulder is not a good option, and on some country roads, there just
is no shoulder.
As I do on most trips, I managed to get in a lot of reading. Several
years ago I read The Exploration of the Colorado River
by John Wesley Powell.
Recently I got Frederick Dellenbaugh's account of the second Powell
expedition, A Canyon Voyage. Both books are of great interest to me, since
I always enjoy visiting that region of the country. Powell's trips
started at what is now Green River, Wyoming, and went down the Green
River, then the Colorado. Both trips used three 22 foot wooden
boats, and the first time they had no idea what lay ahead. Most of
the canyon was inaccessible at the time, and had not even been
visited by native Americans. Throughout their journeys, they ran
difficult rapids. In many places they let the boats down by rope,
standing in the cold water to guide them; while in other places they
unloaded everything and carried their supplies, equipment, and boats
around dangerous rapids. In some cases, they had to build trails
through the rock at the base of the cliffs to get through.
lighter reading project has been to go through my large collection
of Elmore Leonard
then give them away. He has been writing since the 1960s, and is a
master of the crime novel, although some of his early works were
westerns. He wrote the book that became the Paul Newman movie Hombre,
and many of his later books have been filmed, most notably Get
Highway and road conditions vary widely, but the majority of the
miles we've driven have been on roads with good to excellent surface.
Even when we travel on the older US highway system or state roads, we
usually have smooth travel, and traffic is lighter.
In a lot of areas it can be seen that sections of the road were
resurfaced recently. The worst roads
are older concrete surfaces, which have a noticeable bump where each
section of pavement meets the next. Traffic has been light to moderate most of
the way, with a significant increase in large cities. The worst
traffic seemed to be in Dallas, partly because I was trying to find
an exit, partly because I got off the highway on a poorly marked
interchange, and mainly because there were just lots of vehicles on
the roads. The only place we hit a real traffic jam was in Atlanta, and I was able
to get into the carpool lane and zip along about 50 MPH, while cars
crawled in the other four lanes. Traffic slowed
down to about 40 MPH in Birmingham, but it was a spot where two
Interstates and a US Highway met, and the slowdown lasted less than
best marked roads were in Nashville. Here we transferred briefly
through two or three different Interstates, but there were large,
clear signs indicating well in advance which lane to be in. Other
state highway departments could study and learn from
Before leaving home I had read that there would be more road
construction than usual, due to Federal stimulus money. Since I
never kept track of how much construction I encountered in the past,
I have no way of gauging that claim, but there is certainly a lot.
Most of it is short, and we had to stop for a flagman only once or
twice; all the rest were slow-down zones, and in some cases, work
areas where no one was working. The vast majority of sites funnel
traffic from two lanes to one, but most are well marked and give
plenty of warning. The best were Arizona and New Mexico, which give
a long warning when a lane is closed ahead, and have you reduce
speed in increments, usually to 65, then 55, then 45. One of the
worst places was in Oklahoma. Traffic was funneled down to one lane,
and the speed limit was 55, but suddenly without warning there were
men working practically with one foot in the traffic lane. On the
does the best job of placing cones to guide traffic into a single
down US 59 north of Houston, we came to a section that was four
lanes on both sides, very unusual for non-Interstates; then I saw a
sign saying that 59 was soon going to be I-69.
Prices & Mileage: When we left home, gas prices were approaching $2.99 in
Fresno, and we paid that in Barstow, CA, and in Arizona. After that,
prices were significantly lower, down to $2.45 or so in Mississippi,
Alabama, and Georgia. Prices were somewhat higher in Florida, often
up to $2.65, but we found it for $2.45. The lowest anywhere was
$2.29 in Missouri, and we saw prices as low as $2.25. On my return,
gas in California was $2.65, about 20 cents lower than when I left.
on the other hand, is terrible. I didn't expect over 10 MPG, but I
have averaged 8.2. It's hard to get a precise reading; some pumps
seem to shut off quicker than others, and the generator draws from
the gas tank also. I only ran it a few hours, while at
Steve and Roseanne's in Oklahoma; and at the state park in Colorado.
Everywhere else we had electrical
hook-ups. The best mileage on a tank was in Georgia, 8.94, while the
worst was the day we made the climb from Needles to the 7,000
elevation at Flagstaff, 6.99. My spread sheet showed over 9 MPG for a
couple of fill-ups, but I question the accuracy of the pump's
were very fortunate with weather throughout the trip.
We had one really bad storm, in Louisiana, when traffic slowed down
to 40 MPH and visibility was disturbingly poor, and similar
conditions going up through Georgia. All the hard rain was very
brief, and most of
the rain we saw was relatively mild. Storms in Florida start
with a few drops, followed by a downpour, but we were only outside
for one of those. It rained each day in Florida, but didn't really
interfere much with our activities. There were a couple of times
that Mikie had to come in from fishing because we were concerned
about lightning, but he fished in the rain for quite a while during
one quiet storm. One day the rain continued for a few hours, instead
of passing through quickly, but it was just a light shower most of
however, have been rather harsh, especially when combined with the
typical humidity of the region. The one night we spent in Georgia
was delightfully (and unusually) cool, and the first night in Jupiter
FL was nicer than usual, but otherwise it was way too hot and
humid from the time we reached Oklahoma, until we got into Colorado.
The evening was cool in eastern Colorado, and downright cold at the
state park. Heading home, we encountered typical "worst case
scenario" temperatures in Las Vegas and Fresno, where the
ten-day forecast predicted no days under 102 degrees.
Bugs: We have not seen very many live animals, but on the other
hand, we have not been plagued with bugs as much as I expected.
Mikie saw a large alligator while we were driving in Louisiana, and
we both saw the baby one near the Tuckers' place in Mississippi. We've seen a lot of
squirrels and a few rabbits, hawks, vultures, deer, many turtles, some frogs, a lot of large water birds,
a wild turkey, a
wooly bear caterpillar, and of
course, fish everywhere. Mikie saw barracuda swimming in the ocean
while he was fishing off the pier. We had lizards in our RV park in
southern Florida, and saw them on Mary and Louie's patio.
on the road to the state park in Colorado, I saw a small squirrel
run in front of the motor home. Usually they keep going, or
sometimes safely turn back, but this guy found himself right in the
middle of the road as we approached. I saw him shrivel up into a
tiny ball, and we passed over him harmlessly. This was probably an
instinctive reaction to make himself as small a target as possible -
a good technique if a hawk is approaching, but not very useful if he
had ended up in front of a tire.
felt, but not seen, a few biting bugs. I have a few mosquito bites,
and Mikie had over two dozen bites, mostly while fishing in Florida.
In Lake City he received an especially painful bite from a red ant.
We've had a few flies and other flying insects in the trailer, but
they escape or die within a day or two.
at Zion Overlook in Utah, I got stung by a yellow jacket. It was a
quick, "incomplete" sting, and although it felt like a
burn the first few minutes, within a half hour I could not tell
where I had been stung.
Quality and Price: There is always a wide variation in the cost
of a night's stay at an RV park. Price has little to do with
quality. Camp Journey's End in Ocean Springs MS was the worst and
one of the most expensive
at over $35. The WiFi service did not reach into the area where we
were camped, and instead of individual electrical service at each
site, there were four outlets on one post. I had to pull out my cord
to its full length and fit it over and under other campers' water and
One of the best
was in Alabama, where we paid $18, the lowest price of the trip. The
manager was very friendly and helpful, it was far enough from main
roads that there was no traffic noise at all, and there was fishing
for Mikie. The one in Lake City is also quite nice, but there is
some traffic noise, and the price is a little over $32. The highest
price of all was in Marietta GA, $43, and while it was OK, it
certainly did not offer anything to justify the extra cost. I
expected to pay more in southern Florida, and it was a little over
$32. It was very nice, with fully paved camping spaces, but the
sites were crowded together and the streets were narrow, so it was
hard to get into.
Commodore: Fender Tucker
turned Loadstar, the Commodore disk magazine, over to Dave Moorman, a Methodist minister in a small town
on the Kansas-Colorado border. Due to unforeseen circumstances,
including a transfer to another town, Dave has had to put Loadstar
on hiatus, and its future is in doubt. However, when anyone
proclaims that anything Commodore-related has reached its end,
diehard devotees keep bringing it back, so who knows?
Zoned Out: We
traveled through four time zones, which had some interesting
effects. Going east, we would lose an hour, and it seemed that
evening came rather quickly. When we gained those hours back going
west, we could stop driving at 5:30, and it would actually be only
When we got home I was
surprised at how early it gets dark - the sun is below the horizon
before 8 p.m. Normally in summer the days gradually get longer till
June 21, then slowly get shorter. Because we crossed time zones, and
did some north-south travel, twilight came at different times. When
you are on the western edge of a time zone, as we were in Dallas GA,
it stays light later. On the eastern side of the zone, dark comes on
more quickly. It also stays light later the farther north you are,
although for the most part we were pretty far south.
If you'd like to check out some more travel information, I highly
recommend Clayton Walker's reports on his
various trips. There are lots of great photos,
and his writing is sharp and clear. He and his wife have traveled
extensively throughout the country.
--Dick Estel, July 2009