The McCullough Clan

Dick & Mikie's 2009 Southern Journey


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Prelude   Under Way   Oklahoma   Texas   Mississippi   Alabama     Georgia

Florida   Missouri   Heading Home   Previews of Future Travels     Miscellaneous Notes


June 7, 2009: In one week, my 11-year old grandson Mikie and I will set off on my first cross-country trip since 2004. I 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.

As I 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.

In the 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.

By calling 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 is still 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.

Under Way

June 14: We 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 Oklahoma City.

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.

The weather has been very pleasant in Fresno, 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 Highway Patrol 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.

During 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.

One 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 capitals.

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.

Our stopping 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.

We went 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 Mexico.

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.

►The legendary Doc Holliday owned a bar here

►It was the site of Teddy Roosevelt's Rough Rider reunions

►Tom Mix made a number of his movies here

►During 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.

June 17: As it turned out, we never got to 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 for.

We followed 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.


June 18: 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 rural Oklahoma, a few miles out of Wagoner and a half mile from Ft. 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.

We had 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 years ago.

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 sinkers.

On Friday 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.

Mikie had 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.

We've also 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.

Steve got 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 Tuesday.


June 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. 

We enjoyed getting reacquainted with the McCullough daughters, and meeting their husbands and kids; and everyone enjoyed a great dinner.

We left 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. We've been trying 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 night.

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 Pizzeria), 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 Atchafalaya 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.


June 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 border.

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 produced by print-on-demand printers, 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 fish.


June 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 fixed a 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.


June 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.

We passed Dallas on our way to Marietta, 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.

Going 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 years ago.


Still 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 the border.

To 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.

Most 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 Valley.

July 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.

Today's 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.

Once 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.

After 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.

Since 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 few years.

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.

In the 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 night meal.

Mary 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.

Today's 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.

Louie 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, although he didn't catch any.

Mary 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.

Mikie 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.

For 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.

We are 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.

We 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 after tomorrow.

Now we're watching TV, and getting ready to batten things down and head north and west to St. Louis in the morning.


July 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.

On 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. Louis.

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.

We 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 Arch, symbolizing the area's history as the Gateway to the West.

We did some grocery shopping in the town of Troy, then continued nearly ten more miles to our camp in the Cuivre River State Park. 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.

After 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.

We're 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 this year.

I had 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 number, but 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.

We 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.

After 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.

When 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.

After 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.

When 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.

In the 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 much.

We had 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 days, so his appetite has improved, along with his need for rest.

After 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.

July 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.

By 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.

The boys 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.

During 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.

This 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.

Heading Home

July 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.

We 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.

The 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 drainages.

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.

Much 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.

We had 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.

Although 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 Mountain 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 Welcome Center yesterday.

Our 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.

Shortly 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.

The 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.

The 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.

When 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 260 miles.

After 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.

The 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.

July 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.

Heading 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.

The 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 there.

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, NV. 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.

The 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.

Utah 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 it justice.

The 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 on-ramp.

After 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.

The 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.

This 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.”

July 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.

Mikie 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.

We 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.

We 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 pace.

Of 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 several states.


Previews of Coming Travels

My 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 ones.

In 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.

Some 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 do everything.

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.



Reading: 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.

My lighter reading project has been to go through my large collection of Elmore Leonard books, 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 Shorty.


Highway Conditions: 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 two miles.

The 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 Tennessee.


Road Construction: 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 other hand, Oklahoma does the best job of placing cones to guide traffic into a single lane.

Going 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.


Gas 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.

Mileage, 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 shut-off switch.


Weather: We 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 the time. 

Temperatures, 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.


Animals and 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.

Driving 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.

We've 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.

Stopped 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.


RV Park 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 sewer hoses.

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 4:30.

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


(Photos open in a new window)

Dick Estel, March 2009 Our new ride Mikie Liddle, April 2009
Smoke from forest fire
above I-25 in New Mexico
Along I-25 between Santa Fe & Las Vegas NM South of Las Vegas
A wooly bear from Oklahoma Steve & Roseanne in Oklahoma The McCullough Clan
Darlene, Mikie & Dick in Texas Along the gulf coast in Mississippi The bayou near Fender's house
Mikie fishing in the bayou Judi & Fender Tucker A small part of Fender's library
Working on a book cover Fender and a completed book Mikie catches a fish in Alabama
Catch of the day Tennessee River bridge in Huntsville Mikie and the Apollo 16 Lunar Lander
Dick in front of the U.S. Space & Rocket Center Rocket Park Full size Saturn rocket replica
Saturn booster engines With Tom & Westa in Georgia Fishing at Lake City Florida
First fish in Florida Spanish moss on trees at Lake City In the RV park at Juno Beach
Storm over Jupiter FL Fishing in the rain at Jupiter Florida Florida catfish
Dinner with the Defilios - Mikie,
Mary, Dick, Lizzie, Louie
The Tennessee River again,
this time in Tennessee
Lake Barkley at Eddyville KY
Reunion The rock throwing game Back with Zack
Dissecting a tadpole Last day Darryl & Eydie
Christa, Kenny & Allison Samantha & Zack Mikie, Shiloh, Zack, Peyton
Woods in Cuivre River Park Unidentified purple flower Concave mushroom
West exit, Eisenhower Tunnel on I-70 View from the tunnel Along the road to Sylvan Lake State Park
Meadow near Sylvan Lake Sylvan Lake, Colorado Looking north on road from
Sylvan Lake to Eagle CO
San Rafael Reef, eastern Utah Eagle Canyon Eagle Canyon again
Navajo Lake on Highway 14 Zion Overlook on Highway 14 Natural bridge, Utah Highway 14
Highway 14 toward Cedar City   Heavy blue line shows our route;
red arrows indicate direction

Related Links

Walker Family Trips Atchafalaya Basin Commodore Loadstar Magazine
Intercoastal Waterway U.S. Space and Rocket Center Museum of Discovery and Science
Cuivre River State Park Sylvan Lake State Park Glenwood Canyon
Las Vegas, NM Colorado Plateau Ft. Gibson Lake
Virgin River Huntsville, AL Highway 14


Travel Reports
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Before 2002
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Early Stargazer Rock Camps 1961 Monterey Jazz Festival
Bluegrass Odyssey
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Journey of 2002 (Ohio & Back) Logandale & Utah Parks 2002
Arizona & Bluegrass on the River 2003 Grand Canyon & Logandale Bluegrass 2003
Parkfield & Huck Finn 2003 Early Frog Camps (2003-2005)
Paso Robles & Parkfield 2004 Road Trip 2004 (Ohio & Back)
Bullhead City Bluegrass, Mesa, Superstition Bluegrass 2004 Bluegrass in the Foothills 2004
Arizona-Southern California 2005 Huck Finn Bluegrass 2005
Morro Bay 2005 Stargazer Rock Camp 2005
Parkfield Bluegrass 2005    
Huck Finn Bluegrass 2006 Las Vegas Commodore Expo 2006
Rock Creek Non-Camp Stargazer Rock Camp 2006
Parkfield Bluegrass 2006 Oregon 2006
Bluegrass in the Foothills 2006    
Bullhead City, Bakersfield, Joshua Tree 2007 Frog Camp 2007
Eastern Sierra Journey 2007 Las Vegas Commodore Expo 2007
Stargazer Rock Camp 2007 Roundup #1
(Mother Lode; Kings Canyon, Yosemite)
Bluegrass in the Foothills 2007    
Nevada-Arizona Hockey & Bluegrass 2008 Parkfield Bluegrass 2008
Frog Camp 2008 Las Vegas Commodore Expo 2008
Stargazer Rock Camp 2008 Bluegrass in the Foothills 2008
Hobbs Grove Festival 2008     
Roundup 2009
Las Vegas, Mariposa, Table Mountain, Orange County
Frog Camp 2009 Southern Journey 2009
Parkfield Bluegrass 2009 Stargazer Rock Camp 2009
Bluegrass Tour 2009
Brown Barn, Plymouth, Hobbs Grove   
Hensley Lake Camp
Mojave National Preserve & Havasu Bluegrass Roundup 2010
Hensley Reservoir, Mojave Preserve 2 & 3
Parkfield Bluegrass 2010 Lake Almanor & Mt. Lassen 2010
Las Vegas Expo Summergrass
   Brown Barn, Watsonville & Hobbs Grove
Roundup 2011
Mariposa, Hensley, Table Mountain
Frog Camp 2011
Parkfield Bluegrass 2011 Frank, Pat, Dick & Ted's Excellent Adventure
Northern Coast Journey 2011 Las Vegas Commodore Expo 2011
Good Old Fashioned Bluegrass Festival Chilkoot & Stargazer Rock Camp
Kings River & Brown Barn Bluegrass Festivals Hensley Camp 2011
Parkfield Bluegrass 2012 Four Squaw Leap Hikes
Northern Coast Journey 2012 Las Vegas Commodore Expo 2012
Stargazer Rock Camp 2012 Bluegrass in the Foothills 2012
A 3-Event Weekend
Farmer's Market, Kings River Bluegrass, Antique Fair
2012 Las Vegas CAN AM Hockey Challenge
Fall Hikes
Finegold Trail; Bower Cave
Into Los Gatos Canyon
Silver Stick Tournament - Canada Sierra Foothills - Winter 2013
Finegold Trailhead, Hensley Lake, San Joaquin Gorge
Death Valley - Alabama Hills - Whitney Portal Sierra Foothills - Spring 2013
San Joaquin Gorge Hike, Big Creek Drive
Parkfield Bluegrass 2013 Shaver Crossing Station & Big Creek
Lake Almanor & Caribou Crossroads Mono Hot Springs
Good Old Fashioned Bluegrass Festival A Wedding in Duluth
Sequoia Park Hiking Roundup 2013
Kings River Bluegrass, Buena Vista Peak Hike, Hensley Lake Camp, North Fork Mono Museum, White Rock Road, Hockey in Denver
2014 Winter Hikes
Millerton South Bay Trail, Clovis Trail, Hite's Cove Trail
San Joaquin Gorge Campout
Colorado Springs Hockey Tournament Lake Havasu Bluegrass
2014 Spring Hikes
Stockton Creek Preserve, San Joaquin River Trail, San Joaquin Gorge, Millerton Lake, Sycamore Creek, Buena Vista Peak Again
NORCAL Hockey Playoffs and Santa Cruz Visit
Greeley Hill Road Trip Parkfield Bluegrass 2014
Journey of 2014 Journey of 2014 Photos
Nelder Grove Hikes 2014 Sentinel Dome Hike
2014 Fall & Winter Hikes
San Joaquin River Trail South & North, Red Rock Canyon Nevada, San Joaquin South Again
California Flat Campout
Snow Day with the  Upshaw's   
Rambler Hikes 2015 Part 1 Rambler Hikes 2015 Part 2
Adventures of 2015 - February to May
(Goofy Smith Flat, Coast Redwoods & Big Sur, Pine Flat, Finegold Trail, Edison Point Trail, Nelder Grove)
Adventures of 2015 - June to December
(Lewis Creek Trail, Kaiser Pass, Kaiser Pass Again, Taft Point, Kings River Bluegrass, Shaver Logging Road, San Joaquin River Trail, Lewis S Eaton Trail, San Joaquin River Gorge, Thanksgiving at the Gorge)
Lake Tahoe & Virginia City Parkfield Bluegrass 2015
Colorado Springs Cousin Convention 2015 Las Vegas Commodore Expo 2015
Stargazer Rock Camp 2015 Grand Canyon & Arches National Parks
Adventures of 2016 Part 1 Rambler Hikes 2016 Page 1
Adventures of 2016 Part 2 Rambler Hikes 2016 Page 2
Adventures of 2016 Part 3 Rambler Hikes 2016 Page 3
Adventures of 2016 Part 4 A Pennsylvania Adventure
Adventures of 2016 Part 5 Parkfield Bluegrass 2016
Adventures of 2016 Part 6 Las Vegas Commodore Expo 2016
Adventures of 2016 Part 7 Stargazer Rock Camp 2016
Adventures of 2017 Part 1 Rambler Hikes 2017 Page 1
Adventures of 2017 Part 2 Rambler Hikes 2017 Page 2
Adventures of 2017 Part 3 Rambler Hikes 2017 Page 3
Adventures of 2017 Part 4 Hiking and Hockey
Adventures of 2017 Part 5 Lake Almanor
Adventures of 2017 Part 6 Northern California Redwood Hike
Parkfield Bluegrass 2017 Stargazer Rock Camp 2017
Travel Blog 2017 (an experiment) Zion and Bryce Canyon National Parks
Adventures of 2018 Part 1 Rambler Hikes 2018 Page 1
Adventures of 2018 Part 2 Rambler Hikes 2018 Page 2
Adventures of 2018 Part 3 Rambler Hikes 2018 Page 3
Adventures of 2018 Part 4 Parkfield Bluegrass 2018
Adventures of 2018 Part 5 Northern California Journey 2018
Adventures of 2018 Part 6
Adventures of 2019 Part 1 Rambler Hikes 2019 Page 1
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Utah National Parks Rambler Hikes 2019 Page 3
Adventures of 2019 Part 3 Parkfield Bluegrass 2019
Adventures of 2019 Part 4 Adventures of 2019 Part 5
Adventures of 2020 Part 1 Adventures of 2020 Part 5
Adventures of 2020 Part 2 Adventures of 2020 Part 6
Adventures of 2020 Part 3 Adventures of 2020 Part 7
Adventures of 2020 Part 4 Rambler Hikes 2020 Page 1
Adventures of 2021 Part 1 Rambler Hikes 2021 Page 1
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Adventures of 2021 Part 3
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Updated September 16, 2020