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Lombard IL; back home again! We left Coralville at about 11 AM, after a nice breakfast at a Perkins across the street from the motel. Heading east on I-80, it wasn't long before we got to the rest stop containing the cache we had decided would be our Iowa cache. A quick park and grab, and we were back on the road again. Approaching Davenport IA, signs warned of construction on the I-80 bridge over the Mississippi River, so we took I-280 across the river instead. Being a road we've driven quite a few times, it seemed to take longer than usual today, but finally we were just outside Joliet, merging with I-55 and then not too much later, with I-355 and then we were home! Both of us were glad to be back and wishing we were still somewhere out west, all at the same time. I'm sitting in my own comfy chair, with the laptop on my—laptop, and all's right with the world.
Well... almost right. I've got a rant that's been building since that first night in the motel in Pacific MO, and it's time to let it out. Every single motel room we stayed in from the first night to the last, regardless of chain, state, or time zone, greeted us with that same little card in the bathroom; I bet you've seen it too:
"Gee, we are just so into saving the planet that we'd like to ask you to re-use your towels and washcloths instead of using clean ones each day. That way we can save tons of detergent from being spilled into the water supply and we can conserve vast amounts of our precious water resources. THANKS for being an eco-friendly guest!"
Now, I'm not in any way making fun of being environmentally conscious, and I don't dispute that reusing the linens actually does result in the benefits they claim. What gets me is that I know full well that there is no way in this world these companies would do this just for the environment; they are doing it FOR THE BOTTOM LINE; TO SAVE THEMSELVES MONEY. And I wouldn't even mind that so much if they'd just be honest about it come right out and tell the truth:
"Hey guys, if you'll reuse your linens as much as possible we can save some money and we will pass some of those savings on to you in the form of NO RATE INCREASES or maybe even small decreases, and at the same time you'll be doing something good for the environment. How about it?"
I personally would be more likely to participate.
The trip was a gas (and took a lot of gas, too). We're tired and happy, and yes—the tumbleweeds are still stuck to the front of the Hopmobile! Thanks for riding along with us.
Bobbie & Chuck 11/9/2010
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Coralville (Iowa City) IA; we got up this morning and decided that today was a day to make up some miles. We loaded up the Hopmobile (still with the tumbleweeds attached; they've kind of become our mascots now) and headed east. One thing we noted was that in Nebraska, as in Wyoming, each entrance ramp to I-80 had a large railroad crossing-type barricade at the entrance (in the raised position), and a large sign saying that when the lights were flashing I-80 was closed and no entrance was permitted. Likewise, every few miles along the way there were large signs on each side of the road so they could not be missed, with two large orange lights on each, saying that I-80 was closed when the lights were flashing, and to leave at the next exit. All this is apparently radio controlled, and said to us that they get some serious blizzards out here. When you drive for mile after mile and see nearly forever to the horizon in each any direction, and see no trees, no bushes, no hills, no houses, no people... sometimes for an hour or more between tiny towns... you get to understand why.
You also get to understand why you didn't hear from the little blue car for nearly a day and a half. Partly, it's true, the radio got mis-set just outside Cheyenne. It normally lives on the dash, blocking view of the gear indicator (P R N D 3 L) and the temperature gauge. The day before, I'd felt that it would be smart to uncover the temperature gauge as we went up and down Pike's Peak (I know; I'm just an old fussbudget) and the radio went to live between the seats for a while. I did NOT take the precaution of locking the control keys on the front, and that was my undoing. Somewhere just past Cheyenne, as we were putting the radio back on the dash, a button got pushed (maybe more than one) that shouldn't have, and the poor fellow stopped sending out his beacons.
By the time I figured out what had happened, and THEN figured how to set everything back correctly (AND locked the controls, you bet!), we were into the Great American Nothingness of Automatic Packet Reporting Service (APRS is what's been moving the little blue car around on the map for you) and even though it was working correctly, there was no one to hear it. Finally, about two-thirds of the way through Nebraska, the first ham station heard and forwarded my beacon. After that, no one else did until we were nearly to Omaha. Then coverage was solid again.
We drove through most of Iowa (including the town of Newton, in Jasper County—did you know that there is also a town of Newton IL and that it is also in Jasper County IL? Cool.) until it began to get dark and finally decided to call it quits for the day shortly after 6 PM. We secured our room and then went back an exit to where we had seen a Texas Road House, which we like a passing fair amount. In the restaurant we encountered an old friend we'd been hoping to see on the outward part of the trip but had somehow missed. He was drinking at the bar when we came in and still there when we left.
We'll stop for an Iowa cache or two in the morning, and then go home. We have absolutely had the time of our lives, but we can't afford any more fun.
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North Platte NE; after a longish WINDY day that saw a total lack of APRS contacts from just outside Cheyenne WY all the rest of the way here (that's why the little blue car still looks like it's outside Cheyenne. There's also been some trouble with the programming of the radio itself and I'm working on that. The more astute among you have already commented that that last reading actually shows the van heading west, back into Cheyenne; you're correct. That's what we were doing.
Before Cheyenne, though, we woke up in Fort Collins (that was a pretty safe bet to happen, since that's where we went to sleep). We headed north on local streets and county roads until we came to what I'd been looking for: the antenna farm of WWV. I had known that no tours were given (not since 9-11) and it was Sunday besides, but I had hoped for a big sign on the road and a chance to get a picture of the building. Well. The big sign on the road just had the address (2000) and not even the name of the road, let alone the name of the facility. We went down the drive maybe 100 feet and encountered the only two other signs on the place: this one, and this one. Bummer. These people take their privacy seriously. On to Cheyenne (about 45 miles or so).
We wanted to get a geocache which was along the north frontage road just outside Cheyenne; the only way to to it was to exit I-80, get on the frontage road, go to where the cache was, look at it for a while (more in a minute) and then, because we didn't really know what happened to the frontage road, it seemed safest to just go back and get back onto I-80 where we got off. That's where we were when the APRS network saw us for the last time.
Now, speaking of the cache—it was a virtual cache, meaning nothing was hidden there, it was just a cool place the cache owner wanted us to see. To prove we had been there, we had to email him the answer to a question that could only be answered by going there. It turned out that this was a private farmhouse and yard in the middle of nowhere, and the yard was absolutely FILLED with metal sculptures (?) obviously made by the farmer. Most were big, all were welded together, and most moved in one way or another—many by wind power. Did I mention that today was extremely windy? We probably spent half- or three quarters- of an hour there before finally getting back in the Hopmobile and heading back to I-80. Unfortunately the owner wasn't at home and we weren't able to meet him.
What was there? Well, we saw an elephant, a girl on a bike, a worm, a (maybe) goose, a group of things, a giraffe, a spring flower, something up tight, another group of things, a cowboy, a cool car, still another group of things, an even cooler car, a guy in a helicopter, yet another group of things, and the Hopcar in the driveway. And they were all whilrling, spinning, and bouncing in the Wyoming wind. Wow.
Not too long afterward, we left Wyoming and entered Nebraska. We'd been under clouds all day but now it began to look as if we might run out from under them if we kept up our pace. We kept it up and so did the wind; we encountered literally hundreds of mostly small tumbleweeds, but today "tumble" wasn't really the right name for them, they were moving across the road so fast. When we finally stopped for the night we found several stuck in the grille of the van; I'll try to get a picture tomorrow. We stopped in Dix and in Potter to find geocaches in the local cemeteries there, and kept motoring on. I tried a little radio on 40 meters, but only made a few contacts, all in Texas, and gave up. We're getting pretty weary, and Bobbie has a bad cold.
Somewhere between Potter and North Platte we crossed into the Central time zone, so we feel as if we're mostly home already—until we look at the map! We'll make it somewhere into Iowa tomorrow.
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Fort Collins CO; the end of a tiring but very exhilarating day. We got up more or less at what is becoming our "usual" time (between 9:00 and 9:30 AM local time), had something to eat (don't remember just what; it might have been rock lizard) and headed off north on I-25. At that point we still weren't positive just what the day's agenda would hold, but we were still leaning toward going up Pike's Peak. Last night we'd done some reading up on line and knew that we would have to count on this being at least a two-hour adventure, that we'd better start with at least a half tank of gas, that we'd need to take some drinking water with us, that the road to the top was 19 miles long and not completely paved, and that the prudent driver made the entire trip in low gear. That's something to think about (several somethings, in fact). Fortunately, the good folks at A to Z Auto Repairs in Villa Park had spent a couple of days before we left making sure the van was in good shape for a long trip, and that had included new brakes all around, so we decided to go ahead and do it. We made it to Colorado Springs in about 45 minutes and turned off on US 24 and headed into the real Rockies for the first time. (Everything south of here that we've gone through, while technically a part of the Rocky Mountain range, has actually had its own local name, like the Sangre de Cristos.)
About 15 minutes or so up US 24 we came to the turnoff for Pike's Peak. Up we went, into the Pike National Forest, marvelling at the steepness of the road. Turns out we weren't actually on the road yet, but just getting to it. Blush. Here's an interesting side note for you while you're waiting for us to get to the beginning of the road—Zebulon Pike, who was the first among the Anglo explorers to encounter this peak and so "earned" the right to have his name on it, never reached the summit. In fact, he predicted that it was so steep that no one ever would reach the top! Guess he was mistaken, huh?
OK—we're here at the tollgate. Yes, I said "tollgate." It costs $12 per person to use the road and, even though this is in the Pike National Forest, it is NOT covered by the Senior Pass. Bummer! Cha-CHING! and up we go. Bobbie decided that it would be slightly less terrifying to drive up than to drive down, so she was at the wheel for this part. (As you will see, she was right.) Almost from the beginning the views were incredible, first on one side and then on the other, but they were somewhat tempered by the frequent lack of guard rails and the immense dropoffs. Still, cool. Very cool indeed. We didn't time ourselves on either leg, but it probably did take just slightly less than an hour to make the 19 miles to the top. I doubt we ever topped 25 MPH and that certainly seemed fast enough.
When we finally got to the top our GPS' altitude reading verified the reading on the sign at the summit; the few feet difference is due to the less than perfect accuracy of the GPS. We were greeted by a red fox, who was going from car to car looking for handouts. The camera wasn't reachable just then so we didn't get a picture, but he was a cute little guy.
Everything they tell you about the lack of oxygen at those altitudes is—true! Just walking from the car to the railing at the edge required frequent stops and standing up after having been sitting in the car left me dizzy and needing to sit down again! It never really did change or get any better the whole time (about an hour, I'd guess) that we were up there.
Much of our time at the top Bobbie spent just sitting and looking, talking to our two boys on the phone, and in the gift shop; I spent it in the car on the radio. What a treat to effectively be using an antenna 14,110 feet high! Signals from Hawaii sounded like they were coming from next door. I was able to spend quite some time talking to my brother Mitch back near Springfield IL and we each heard the other quite clearly. I started calling "CQ" (the signal that I'd like to talk to someone and I don't care who it is or where), giving my call sign, and saying, "calling from the top of Pike's Peak, CO." That brought lots of responses from several states, including one man from Vermont! I was even able to hold a good conversation with a ham in Minnesota who was also using a mobile radio in his pickup truck. All in all, a very successful radio experience.
Finally the lack of oxygen got to us and we decided that we'd better get lower as quickly as was feasible. I could have stayed and radioed until I passed out, but maybe that wouldn't have been all that much longer! I took one or two last pictures of the Rocky Mountains from the summit, and one of the top of a fairly intricate weather station that was poking its head over the side, and started down (my turn to drive, remember?).
The first part of the drive was fairly uneventful; I kept the van in low gear and used the brakes sparingly, and we maintained about 25 MPH without any real trouble. ("Without any real trouble?" you ask. "What would real trouble be?") Well... How about if the engine oil light suddenly came on, followed by all the other lights, and you realized that the engine had died and you had no power steering and no power brakes and you were on the steepest road you'd ever driven on in your life and you could barely turn the wheel with your GOOD hand? Would that be real trouble?
The advice of one of my old mentors flashed through my mind:
"When in danger or in doubt,
Run in circles; scream and shout!"
Ignoring the advice, I literally stood on the brakes and managed to manhandle the van into a small snowbank on the side of the road, which further helped to stop it. No problem. Piece of cake. A cinch. Nothing to it. I am such a liar! It was a scary few seconds that felt like a scary few hours. Once I was able to jump-start my heart and slow my breathing down again, I turned the key—the engine started right up—and we continued on our merry way. No more trouble all the way down. By the time we got to the brake check station at 10,000 feet (they use infrared to check the temperature of your brakes; if they are 300° or more you're required to wait there for at least 30 minutes for them to cool down) I'd figured out that the problem was most likely that the engine just wasn't getting enough oxygen, just like me! On the way up we were demanding power from it so it kept working, but on the way down we weren't, so it stalled. Our brakes were cool enough but we waited a bit anyway—and there was another red fox, making his rounds here! He didn't come to our part of the lot, and finally we started down again. In what seemed like less time than we were expecting, we were leaving the Pike National Forest and back on US 24 headed for Colorado Springs again.
We took a detour through Manitou Springs; neither of us had heard of it before, and we thought we might get something to eat there. Mistake! We got off the ramp and right into an old-fashioned Chicago-style traffic slowdown. It seems that Manitou Springs is to Colorado Srings as Wisconsin Dells is to Chicago; very quaint, very touristy, and an antique shop on evey block. Maybe more. We fought our way through and got out as quickly as possible.
Back on the road, we made it to the Springs and back on to I-25. About an hour later we were going through downtown Denver and right past Invesco Field, home of the Denver Broncos. Another hour and a quarter after that we slid quietly in Fort Collins CO, where we had decided to stay overnight.
Why Fort Collins instead of somewhere else? Because I grew up listening to WWV on my shortwave set, that's why. This is the station that, among other things, broadcasts the signal that keeps all of your "atomic" clocks correct. It's this station that broadcasts the signal that will change all your atomic clocks from daylight time to standard time tonight. It's just cool, that's all, and I'm not coming this close to it without seeing it in the daylight and maybe taking some pictures. So there. Time (joke intended) for bed.
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Pueblo CO; pretty much a straight shot up I-25 (well, when you're dealing with the Sangre de Cristo Mountains nothing is truly straight) except for one minor but memorable detour. We got off the Interstate at NM route 58 and went about 20 miles west to the small town of Cimarron (doesn't that name just call up all sorts of images of the wild west in your mind?) and then 4 miles south to Philmont Scout Ranch. Just before we got there, we found that it now rated its own historical marker! I had a wilderness camping experience there fifty years ago this summer, in the summer of 1960, in conjunction with attending the 50th Anniversary National Jamboree on the grounds of the US Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs. I've never forgotten the experiences of that month in the mountains, and being here again made it seem as if the intervening half-century had just melted away. It seemed that I could smell the food cooking on the piñon fires and see once again the porcupine that gnawed a hole in my hat (most likely after the salt in the dried sweat) while I was sleeping. The ranch emblem hasn't changed, and deer still roam freely about the grounds. So very cool.
We spent about an hour or maybe a little less, driving around the immediate headquarters and staging areas (Philmont in its entirety is huge—about 137,500 acres, or 215 square miles of (some) plains and (mostly) mountains). There was a statue I didn't recognize and many of the buildings seemed new, but the flavor of the place hadn't changed. Finally, deciding that I could never get enough but that I'd probably had all I needed, we headed back to Cimarron (passing one of Philmont's herds of Bison) and then by a secondary road to Raton NM, where we rejoined I-25 and, a very short time later, left the Land of Enchantment and entered Colorado. Another 75 miles or so brought us here to Pueblo. Tomorrow I believe I'll see just what a difference it makes when you send your radio signals out from an altitude of 14,110 feet (the top of Pike's Peak).
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Santa Fe, NM; a long day of driving but lots seen as well. We've come from just north of the Mexican border (in fact, we had to go through a Border Patrol checkpoint just north of Las Cruces; I rolled down the window, the officer asked if I was a citizen [he didn't even specify US citizen!], I said, "yes," and we were on our way) to not that far from the Colorado border today. We've climbed pretty steadily higher, and been amazed at the pine-covered mountains, especially in the area in and around the Mescalero Apache Reservation.
We didn't get a real early start, but were on our way well before noon, headed for Roswell NM to look for aliens, with stops along the way at the White Sands Missle Test Range and White Sands National Monument. The missle range showed up first and while it was interesting to have read about it and to see some of the missles on display we really didn't want to spend too much time there. The signs posted all along the miles of barbed wire fence and gates were enough to discourage wandering visitors, and my only real interest would have been in seeing the Trinity site, where the first atomic bomb was exploded in July of 1945—that site is only open on two days per year, by reservation, and this wasn't one of them. There's not much left there to see; just a small pylon, but it would be very cool for me to see anyway. Had to settle for a highway marker many miles from the actual site. Cool anyway.
Just about even with the end of the missle range is the White Sands National Monument, the area that gives the missle range its name. Neither Bobbie nor I had any real idea of what to expect when we drove in (free again, thanks to the good ol' Senior Pass), but we soon found ourselves in the middle of what looked like the winter in Chicago! Snowbanks everywhere! Now we know that this area (about 300 square miles in all) was formed and is continually re-forming when gypsum-laden water gets trapped in large shallow lakes and evaporates, leaving the gypsum sand behind—and it's pure white. The dunes really do look like snow drifts. In areas where there aren't large dunes, the desert looks very desertly... but white. Even the occasional lonely Yucca looked quite different in this setting. It was really quite an experience, and one we won't forget soon.
On July 8, 1947 the Roswell NM "Daily Record" reported that the Roswell Army Air Force base had captured a flying saucer on a ranch just outside of town. The next day the Army issued a retraction, saying that it had just been a weather balloon, and the whole affair was quickly forgotten. It remained that way—forgotten and no story, until some time in 1978, when an author interviewed a retired major, who claimed that the whole thing had been a huge cover-up and that he had witnessed aliens, etc., and the whole thing became an overnight sensation. It still is, among those who believe in UFOs and extraterrestrial life, and many businesses in Roswell have capitalized on this to make Roswell the self-professed "UFO Capital of the World." We made our pilgrimage there today. We found store after store (after store) either selling alien-themed memorabilia or with an alien theme in their decor. Even the lampposts downtown take part in the fun. I, myself, was accosted by an alien as I was walking along Main Street; he asked if I would have my picture taken with him. A local music store had an alien band demonstrating in their front window; the local Coke machine got into the act; it just went on and on.
What with the "alien" business being all we had ever heard of in relation to Roswell, we were expecting a small, dying town full of slightly nutty people. We were really pleasantly surprised to find that it's a town about the size of Elmhurst or Lombard, with very nice parks and playgrounds. It's the county seat of Chaves County, so it has the requisite stone courthouse complete with WWII howitzers at each corner, and the entire town had a neat and clean look. We really enjoyed our short time there—even outside and inside the "UFO McDonald's."
After all the sightseeing time, combined with the late start, it was getting dark as we left Roswell and started on the last 190 miles to Santa Fe. We arrived at about 10:15 PM or so and settled in for a good rest. We're still not sure where we're going tomorrow, but it might be Pueblo CO.
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Las Cruces NM; end of another day of mostly driving. We left Tim and Cynthia's house in Green Valley AZ (not really all that green, to be honest) around noon or noon-thirty, headed north on I-19, and took a cut-off to I-10 that saved us having to go all the way into Tucson and back (thanks for the hint, guys!). Along the way we saw two large unmarked (but painted in military camoflage) helicopters flying south to north across our path, going pretty slowly and flying low. Most likely Border Patrol; Tim says they are everywhere in this part of Arizona.
About an hour into the drive we came to the Texas Canyon rest area on I-10, in an area characterized by huge round rocks and boulders. T & C had told us to watch for them and they were very cool. Shortly after we hit the road again I was on the radio, talking to a ham in San Antonio TX, and when he heard where I was he told me that I was in the prettiest part of I-10, that the part in Texas was just boring, and that we should keep our eyes open for a place called Texas Canyon, where there were round rocks and boulders! I told him we had just that moment left that spot and he chuckled.
The ham in San Antonio was right, though; not much to see in the rest of the drive. We set our clocks ahead an hour as we crossed the NM state line and went from MST to MDT, and we saw miles and miles of... miles and miles. Frequent signs warned us of dust storms with zero visibility but fortunately none appeared.
Just before getting to Las Cruces we stopped at one last rest stop—not because we needed it but because we were intrigued by the giant head of a roadrunner we could see just over the hill. It turned out to be a metal sculpture of one, and a very nice one too. We finally pulled into Las Cruces just as the sun was setting. After a short rest we went out to find something to eat. What we mostly found was that this is one confusing town to try to find your way around in the dark! Made it back to the motel OK, though. Tomorrow: White Sands and Roswell. Aliens, anybody?
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Just a lazy day in Green Valley AZ. (The best kind!) Our friends (here they are on their terrace) gave us a tour of the area (in their car), we had lunch in a 50's diner, and we hung out in their beautiful home enjoying the excellent views, the nice breezes, and (later) the not-burned-even-though-grilled-in-the-dark pork chops compliments of Tim (trimmings compliments of Cynthia; plate-cleaning compliments of yours truly). We also got to see their resident pack rat who, unfortunately for him, is not much longer for this world (don't tell him; it would ruin his weekend).
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Green Valley AZ; home of friends Tim & Cynthia (our Tim's godparents). Today was a very long day! We slept in at Tim's apartment in Redlands while he went off to work (snicker), and finally hit the freeway (I-10 E) at about noon. Traffic was heavy but moving and we made good time. We were surprised, when we got to the desert, to see the wide variety of types of supports and types and numbers of vanes in the huge wind farms all along the route. The machines we've seen in IL and IN have all been pretty uniform but these came in many quite different varieties.
Past Indio CA we stopped at the Joshua Tree National Park (gotta love that Senior Pass!), which neither of us had ever visited before. (What's a Joshua Tree? This is.) We saw our first live road runner of the trip there; very cool but too fast for us to get the camera out, sad to say. We also saw a couple of very cute ground squirrels when we got out to hike down to Cottonwood Springs. Here's one of them, and here's the other. We also saw our first ocotillo of many, and some nice prickly pear cactus. We would have liked to spend more time in Joshua Tree, but we had arranged to meet our friends Mickey and Betty for dinner in Phoenix and really should have started earlier in the day so...
Back on I-10, we headed for Blythe CA. During the two or three hours between Indio and Blythe (including the stopover in Joshua Tree), we had been as low as sea level or slightly below and as high as 4,000 feet or slightly above, and the temperature had ranged from the mid-60's to the mid-90's. Quite a day. Anyway, the rest of the afternoon and evening was just pushing on, trying not to be too late meeting Mickey and Betty. We finally got to Tempe, where Betty works, and met them at about 7:30. We walked a few blocks to a restaurant called Z' tejas, where we spent a couple of very pleasant hours at an outside table. Finally, knowing that we were going to be really late getting to Tim and Cynthia's, we left at about 9:30 and headed for I-10 once again.
After getting to Tucson on I-10 (a couple of hours), we got onto I-19, which goes south to the border at Nogales. Green Valley is about 25 miles or so down this road, but you'd never know it—all the distances on this highway are given in kilometers! Of course by this time it was pitch dark and the stars were out as we NEVER see them in the city. About halfway down, Bobbie and I both saw a meteorite of the apparent size of a quarter, leaving a wide phosphorescent green streak right down the sky in front of us! The streak disappeared just before it would have hit the Earth, so I figured the aliens turned on their cloaking device then.
We finally got to the house just a few minutes before 11:00 PM and promptly crashed. We'll be spending the day here tomorrow, and heading on towards home on Wednesday.
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After meeting Tim at his old apartment Thursday night and going out for dinner, we all basically crashed. The weekend was taken up with moving out, cleaning, cleaning, and moving in. The van is a lot emptier now and the new apartment is fairly full. What it still lacks we're sure Tim and Jeannine will take care of in pretty short order. We got lots of tours of Redlands and the surrounding towns, ate at some of Tim's favorite restaurants, bought a growler of Hanger 24 Rotten Orange Wheat Ale (MUCH better than it sounds!) at the Hanger 24 custom brewery in Redlands, and went to church with Tim in Yucaipa. It really is a beautiful area.
On Sunday we decided that we really needed to finish the last leg of Route 66; that to come this far and not take it to its very end at the pier in Santa Monica would be a real shame. After church we went for that last bit—and had our second bit of bad car-related luck when Tim and another driver both tried to occupy a lane of the I-10 at the same time. The laws of physics being what they are, this attempt was unsuccessful and ended with both vehicles on the side of the road waiting for the CHP to show up. The responding officer was very nice and quite considerate both to Tim and to the other driver and basically said that from what they both said and from the damage he could see, if he were to issue any tickets he would have to issue one to each driver, or he could issue no tickets and let each insurance company hassle it out, and what did the drivers want to do? Didn't take long to get the answers and off we went. The driver's door of the van won't open all the way, but it does open enough to get in and out, and no damage to other parts. Put a damper on the Santa Monica trip, though, so we just drove to and past the pier but did not stop. Being Sunday AND Halloween, it was pretty crowded anyway.
We spent the rest of Sunday relaxing, doing laundry, and doing some planning for the rest of the trip. Monday: to Phoenix AZ for dinner with friends and then on to Green Valley AZ (south of Tucson) to spend a day with other friends.
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Redlands, CA! We have arriven (if that's a word). We got up about 8:00 AM, took our time getting ready, and cruised around Needles for a while looking for a good place to get a picture of the Needles themselves. We finally found an OK place (not great, just OK), took our picture, and were on our way. Most of our driving today was in the Mojave Desert; miles and miles of miles and miles. Very sunny but not terribly hot, with the temperature mostly in the upper 60's. We stopped in one rest area with the typical warning signs, and stopped in Victorville for a tank of that wonderful $3.15 gasoline. I played radio for a while and had a nice long, chatty QSO with Suzanne VE7IM on Vancouver Island and shorter QSO's with K7HPT (Mark, mobile in Spokane) and N7VQN (Wayne, in Billings MT, still digging out after the blizzard).
Shortly after Victorville it was time to switch drivers again, so I put the radio away and got behind the wheel and discovered that even in the desert, freeway driving is freeway driving! It was basically the Tri-State all the way from there into Redlands, which we reached shortly after 2 PM PDT. Now we're sitting in a Panera Bread store, catching up on some quiet time and blogging and waiting for Tim to get off work. We knew we'd have some down time by leaving Needles as early as we did but we REALLY didn't want to hit this end of the trip during rush hour, so this was the trade-off.
We'll be leaving Redlands on Monday, headed for Phoenix, Tucson, and Roswell NM; after that, plans are still up in the air.
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Needles, CA. We slept in a little today, and left the Mountain Ranch Resort at about 9:30 Mountain Standard time. As we left, we got a beautiful view of the San Francisco Peaks again, this time in their normal colors. What a treat it must be to wake up to this view every morning! Temperature: 39 degrees in brilliant sunshine.
Today ended up being mostly a travel day, as we headed for Needles CA on the next-to-last day of the outward bound part of our trip. We finally said goodbye to a sign that had become an old friend over the past few days, as we'd been seeing it since we entered the mountains of NM; I guess there aren't any elk in the desert. We added a good deal of distance to our day by sticking to old Rt 66, as the new I-40 cut off a large northern loop between Seligman and Kingman AZ. If we'd stayed on the Interstate, we would have missed such fine old towns as Seligman itself (now a couple of miles off the Interstate and the place where we found gas at $3.19 a gallon), Ash Fork (where we saw literally tons of flagstone piled everywhere, and signs proclaming Ash Fork the flagstone capital of America. Maybe.), Peach Springs, Valentine, and Hackberry, not to mention several Indian villages seen in the distance but not gone through. Much of the distance we were in the Hualapai Indian Reservation and we saw a number of schools which appeared to be boarding schools. Traffic was terrible; at one point we could see THREE cars all at the same time! Actually, until we got close to Kingman, we nearly had the road to ourselves most of the time.
We came into Kingman on Andy Devine Blvd and pulled in to a McDonalds (They're everywhere! They're everywhere!) to take a break and make a reservation for overnight in Needles. As we parked I saw a man in his late twenties, boots, jeans, western shirt, no hat—and what appeared to be a 9-mm semiautomatic pistol on a holster on his belt. I guess anyone in AZ can be a cowboy! Reservation made and confirmed, we were back on the Interstate for the last leg of the day.
A little while after leaving Kingman, just after going around the southern tip of a small range of mountains, we had the pleasure of crossing the bridge over Holy Moses Wash. No idea why it's called that, but it caught our fancy. We were still chuckling over that a short while later when, having crossed the crossed the Colorado River into CA and Pacific Daylight Time, we were stopped at a CA Agricultural Inspection Station where an inspector opened our cooler and took Bobbie's nice big Chilean oranges away from her! My apples were marked from WA state so I got to keep them. What a rip-off! If CA is so broke, how do they have money to pay these guys to take people's snacks away from them? Anyway? Grumble, mutter, gripe, etc.
Finally, around 4:30 or so PDT, we rolled into Needles CA. The town is named for some geological formations on the AZ side of the river but I didn't get a chance to take any pictures... maybe tomorrow. Tomorrow—on to Redlands and Tim!
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All along, we had planned that this would be a day off from travelling, so that we could go see the Grand Canyon (a first for both of us). We started by checking out of our motel and reserving a room in another motel just outside town; you can probably figure out why if you think about it long enough... that's long enough! We went to the Pine Country restaurant, which we had seen last night and which looked pretty good, for breakfast. While we were waiting for our meals a man who looked to be in his late 30's or early 40's walked in, dressed like an extra in a bad western right down to the revolver in a holster and a 30- or 40- gallon hat, and sat down to be served. We'll see him later. Our first mishap occurred during breakfast when Bobbie spilled a huge, nearly full class of iced tea on the table, the chair next to me, and the floor. She didn't see it.
After breakfast we started off up Rt 64 for the roughly 55 mile drive to the Canyon. I say, "started off," because about two miles out of town we were making use of our new AAA membership, waiting for the truck with the mechanic to come fix our tire. Second mishap, here we are. The tire had shown a low pressure warning in the morning and apparently the valve core somehow was damaged. We couldn't see trying to finish this trip on a spare tire, so the guy (a very personable and helpful man from a station in Williams) jacked up the van with a large hydraulic jack and we left Bobbie there to guard the car while I went back with him to buy a new tire. (Hey, she's a big girl, and besides—she had a stick.) Thirty minutes later and a couple of hundred dollars lighter, we were back on our way north. On the way, we saw an Arizona Dept of Trans sign, one of those signs that says who is doing the trash pickup for that mile of highway, that made me think of one of our club members!
It was about 1:00 MST when we got to the National Park. The pass I had purchased yesterday got us in free here today and we parked and walked to the nearest lookout point. Like you, I've seen all the pictures and the movies and the Cinerama shows and the IMax shows—but nothing I have ever seen prepared me for the real thing up close and personal. I always hate when someone says that something was "awesome," when they really mean it was just cool, but there's no other word. It was truly AWE-some. Breathtaking comes to mind also. We just sat there and looked and looked. To look down into a canyon and see a mosquito flying around, and then realize that what you are seeing is a helicopter, pretty much puts the whole size issue into perspective! The day was extremely bright and I was forced to buy a hat just to protect my eyes; I never wear hats. We used the shuttle bus service to see several different overlooks and the Canyon looked different from each one. I'm sure the same would be true from the north rim (we were on the south rim). One thing that struck us over and over was how often the path or trail came right up to a precipitous drop—and there was no railing or anything to keep the unwary hiker from taking that looong last step!
Maybe it was the altitude (about 7,000 feet) or just the fact that we've been on the go pretty constantly for nearly a week now, or (most likely) a combination of both, but after about four and a half hours we were ready to be done, so we made our way back to the Swallowtail parking lot (really!) and headed for home. The entire area, both here and all the way to and surrounding Williams, is part of the Kaibab National Forest, so there was mostly scenery and not so much of anything else to have to look at. Man-made stuff was at a minimum.
Our new digs for the night were at the Mountain Ranch Resort and what a difference $10 / night made! This was the real deal as far as a nice place was concerned, and it had an outstanding view of Mt. Humphries (if you're an Anglo) or the San Francisco Peaks (one of the Navajo's four sacred mountains). These peaks are snow-covered year-round and we arrived just at sunset to see them appearing as if covered in liquid gold. We each said that no one would believe we had not PhotoShopped that picture; a second awesome scene in the same day!
We got cleaned up and (figuring that there must surely be new people on duty by now and that no one would recognize us) went back to the Pine Country restaurant for dinner. We got a really good meal for a reasonable price and then went looking for a grocery store to stock up on our fruit and sandwich supplies. Found a Safeway store a few blocks away—and ran into the same ersatz cowboy from breakfast. Still dressed in his chaps and large hat, pistol and everything. I told you we'd see him again. Bobbie got some huge grapefruit and a couple of nice oranges and I got a couple of apples.
Went back to the hotel and called it a (very comfortable) night.
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Williams AZ. You may have noticed that yesterday's blog was not put up until Monday night (which this is as I am writing). The internet connection at the motel in Gallup (along with other things there) was pretty awful and I couldn't get it uploaded until we arrived in Williams, which we did after a day full of side trips, seeing things that have been on our "bucket lists" since long before there were such things. A straight line we did not make today!
We started by taking US Rt 491 north out of Gallup a short distance, then NM Rt 264 / AZ RT 264 to Window Rock AZ, which is nearly on the border. In doing so we had to change our watches again, because although AZ and NM are both in the Mountain time zone, NM observes Daylight Savings Time and AZ does not.
Many of you know that among my favorite books are the Tony Hillerman police procedural novels set on the Navajo Reservation (the "Big Res") that covers most of northwest NM and northeast AZ. They feature Lt. Joe Leaphorn and Sgt. Jim Chee of the Navajo Tribal Police; the police are headquartered at the capital city of the Navajo Nation—Window Rock AZ! I truly enjoyed actually seeing the rock formation that gives Window Rock its name, the Tribal Police headquarters, and many other sites in the area about which I've read so much. After sightseeing, we stopped at the Navajo Nation shopping center and bought some souvenirs. All the while we were riding around, we were listening to KTNN-AM, "The Voice of the Navajo." Lots of country music, lots of public service announcements, lots of political ads, lots of native chants and songs; more than half was in the Navajo language. Of course we couldn't understand it (neither could the Japanese, in WWII), but it made for interesting listening for an hour or so. Finally having had nearly enough of Hillerman country for a while, we headed south on Navajo Rt 12; next stop—the Petrified Forest.
My first act on arriving at the entrance ranger station in the Petrified Forest National Park was to purchase a Senior Pass. They cost $10, they're good for life, and they get not only the passholder but also his/her vehicle and all its occupants into every national park! We'll use it again tomorrow at the Grand Canyon. We entered the Park at its north end and drove the entire 30 mile length, exiting the south end. Neither of us had had a very clear idea of just what the Petrified Forest actually WAS—it turns out that it really was a forest in Triassic times, that eventually the trees all fell down and were covered by the soil, and gradually over much time had their organic components replaced by minerals. What's left in the Park now are pieces of logs that have surfaced as the soil has eroded; they're lying around all over. Some still look like regular logs, especially from a distance, while others look like polished gems. We stopped many times to look and take pictures. It was an enormously windy day on the high desert; in fact, at one time when I got back into the car I actually could not pull the door shut against the force of the wind, and Bobbie had to help by pushing it from outside! We encountered one raven in particular who wasn't appreciating the wind; he walked like he was drunk and kept turning his head away from the wind. It was at this spot that I made my one radio contact of the day, a 20 meter QSO with K9DVA, who was mobile near Branson MO. Ken was using the same radio and the same antenna as I am. We also found a geocache here.
We also had not realized (of course you had) that the so-called "Painted Desert" actually borders and encroaches on the Petrified Forest on its northern and western sides. As we drove through the Park there were dozens of overlooks where you could see for miles and miles over the colorful desert. The colors come from the different types of rocks and minerals found here. It's actually quite breathtaking.
At last we left the Park, and by that time we were quite a few miles south of either old Rt 66 or I-40, so we took AZ 180 the twenty miles back to Holbrook where we could pick up those roads. It gave us some second thoughts when we read the large sign that said, "This highway is not patrolled and not plowed when snowing," but it looked more like rain than snow and we pushed on. At Holbrook, we took I-40 the last twenty-seven miles in to Winslow.
YES! There I was—Standin' on a corner in Winslow Arizona, and I was such a fine sight to see! And so was Bobbie. And there was a girl in a flat-bed Ford, slowin' down to take a look at me! My life is complete. (If these references don't mean anything to you, click HERE.)
Of course, by this time it was late and we were tired and more than a little butt-sprung, so we stopped at a local eatery called BoJo's and had either a very late lunch or a very early dinner, you call it. Shortly afterward, we found one last geocache for the day and hit the road for the last time today, going through Flagstaff and thirty miles beyond to Williams. After settling down in the motel and discovering that THIS internet didn't work either, we decided that the meal in Winslow had been a late lunch and went to Cruiser's Diner, a very cool place indeed... and then it was well and truly bedtime. I'll try to find someplace to post this in the morning.
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Gallup NM. Tucumcari was a bit of a disappointment; pretty down at the heels and many, MANY businesses closed down. We grabbed a geocache (empty except for a scrap of paper doing duty as a log—fit right in with the town, somehow) and hit the road. We hadn't gone too far, maybe ten miles or so, when we were attacked by a suicidal tumbleweed tumbling eastbound right down the middle of the westbound lanes. I tried to avoid it but failed (it's hard to do quick evasive maneuvers when the speed limit is 75 and you're going five mph over that!). Later, when we got to the motel in Gallup, I pulled a piece of its corpse out of the frame, under the door.
We stopped in Santa Rosa NM to find a geocache at a place called the Blue Hole. The Blue Hole is a smallish spring, about 61 feet across and 80 feet deep. The water is so clear you can see the bottom, and it is coming out of the hole at the rate of 3,000 gallons every minute! It's a mecca for scuba divers, and there were lots there. We found the cache and took these four pictures (one of the sign at the spring, two of the spring itself, and one of an interesting grouping of cedar and cactus nearby). The sign, the hole #1, the hole #2, and the plant life.
In the early afternoon we stopped for a break in Cline's Corners NM (elevation 7200 feet) and as we reentered the highway we were passed by absolutely the wierdest vehicle we have ever seen. It had regular CA plates but looked as if it had begun life as a military vehicle of some sort. It was really moving and took some catching, but we finally did catch up to it, thanks to some steep hills and trucks ahead of it slowing it down. Bobbie got some pictures that are actually pretty good considering that most of them are taken through the bug-splattered windshield. Here they are, for your enjoyment. You can see the photographer in the side mirror in one of them. First pic Second pic Third pic Fourth pic Fifth pic.
Not much radio-ing today (is that a word?)—poor conditions again. I did talk with one guy in Washington state and tried again for a contact with brother Mitch. This time I was able to hear him, faintly but clearly, but alas! He was unable to hear me. We thought we would try again in the evening but storms in central IL kept him off the air.
And that's it for this day. Tomorrow we plan some shopping here in Gallup and then off to Williams AZ (just west of Flagstaff), with a number of side trips along the way.
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Tucumcari NM. Not so scenic in the usual sense of the word, but new sights for Bobbie and sights unseen for a few decades for me, so all in all a welcome change. Today was a steady climb into the high plains, and we are now at an elevation of over 4,000 feet. We've started looking forward to rest areas, as the states out here seem to be trying to outdo each other in the "clever" and "scenic" categories. As an example, the last one in Oklahoma had picnic areas shaped like teepees, and the first one in Texas (even though it did have to warn us about snakes), had a nice view, and clever charcoal grills that looked brand new.
Just past Amarillo we stopped for a closeup look at the Cadillac Ranch. This bit of "public art" has been moved a few miles from its original location as Amarillo grew, and now it's out in the ranchlands again. Google it if you want more info, but meantime here is a picture, and another picture, and yet another picture, and still ANOTHER picture. And that's enough pictures!
We entered the Mountain time zone shortly before getting to Tucumcari; it's still Daylight Time here, so it's now an hour earlier. I got a chance to play radio a few times again today but the band wasn;t in as good shape today. I'm guessing that the geomagnetic storm of yesterday and today is having an effect. I worked Calgary Alberta, Green Valley AZ, Des Moines IA, north central MN, Goose Island TX, northern CA, and Bonney Lake WA.
Tomorrow we will try to make it through the mountains to Gallup, where we hope to be able to do some souvenir shopping and let me see some of the towns (Ya-Ta-Hey, Window Rock, etc.) that figure so prominently in the Tony Hillerman books that are favorites of mine. With all that ahead of us, it's probably time to be calling it quits for the day, but we just went out for a ride to look at the high desert under the rising moon--just beautiful.
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Weatherford OK. Got an earlier start today and lit out for Oklahoma City. Stopped along the way just outside Joplin MO to find a geocache which led us to the spot where the states of Missouri, Kansas, and Oklahoma meet. Cool. We hear about the "four corners" further west where Arizona, New Mexico, Utah, and Colorado all meet but not so much about the "three corners" here. There's a large stone monument, erected by the National Youth Authority in 1938, and a plaque on the ground which is newer, identifying the exact spot where the states meet. You can click to see pictures of the HopMobile and Bobbie by the monument and Bobbie's finger touching three states at once. CLICK THE BACK BUTTON TO RETURN TO THE BLOG AFTER VIEWING A PICTURE.
Once again 20 Meters was cooperative (except when I tried to make a sked with K9ZXO—nothing doing there). Worked a Boy Scout jamboree in SC, a whole buncha club stations, and N9BX/4, operating from NA-069 in the FL keys. Got good reports all around.
Followed old 66 through a corner of KS; stopped in Baxter Springs and had lunch at Van's Steak House. Bobbie had meat loaf, mashed potatoes and gravy, green beans, a roll and a drink; I had chicken-fried steak, mashed potatoes, a roll and a drink. Everything was home made and neither of us could finish our portions. Everything was excellent. Total bill: $10.98! Wow. Got to OKC way too early to stop and kept on to Weatherford. It seems the APRS coverage ran out somewhere between OKC and Weatherford. Had a so-so supper at a local burger joint and called it quits early. Tomorrow we think we'll try for Tucumcari NM, with a stop at the Cadillac Ranch near Amarillo, TX.
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Springfield, MO. Slept in and didn't leave Pacific until early afternoon. Marveled at some of the huge caves in the limestone bluffs along old US 66 and stopped at Meramec Caverns but it was pretty late and the entrance fee was $18. Each. If we come back this way we'll probably stop and go in—if we have any money left. I stopped driving and started playing radio at that point. Twenty was jumping with lots of school stations in a contest and between the caverns and Lebanon MO I worked school stations in CA, CO, and SC; I also worked another mobile station, a fellow in his pickup truck in southern CO. A very enjoyable afternoon of playing radio.
We also stopped several times at interesting wayside places along the old highway, including one stop to buy some puzzles (picture-type) from what has to be the largest store of that kind I've ever seen. They make many of their own, too. The capper was a nice 34,000 piece landscape! Wowzers.
Probably the biggest reward for taking old 66 today was looking over at I-44 (they run parallel for miles and miles) and seeing it at a dead stop. At LEAST ten miles of dead stop westbound (our direction), then a horriffic truck-vs-something accident (already partly cleared by the time we got to it), then at least ten miles of stopped traffic on the other side... as we went blithely cruising past. BOY, did we thank our lucky stars for having decided to take the old road!
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Drove to my brother's house near Springfield; rebuilt the hitch mount to raise the base about 6" higher above the ground. Worked on getting some bugs out of the digital interface. A potential problem is that with the body of the van essentially acting as the other half of a dipole, there is no good way to ground the radio and we think RF is getting into the interface box and from there into the audio circuit. I'll keep playing but maybe that part won't be so hot. Had a nice SSB QSO with K9ZXO as we headed south to St. Louis.
Finally got to Pacific, MO on I-44 at about 2 AM local time and decided that was far enough for the day. Stopped at a Comfort Inn boasting a sauna and a pool and free internet, and here we are. Tomorrow? We'll see.
Today the mounting bracket for the hamstick(s) came in the mail, and so did the interface cable for the Garmin eTrex GPSr, to connect it with the laptop. Now I just need to find a serial-to-USB connector and I'll be ready to download the waypoints from GSAK to the handheld GPS unit. I took the bracket to my friendly neighborhood auto repair shop and had them install it on my trailer hitch (I've spent so much money there in the last week that they were just thrilled to do this for me). All I'm waiting for now is the mounting hardware to attach the hamstick(s) to the bracket and the mobile HF rig is good to go!
The rig will consist of the IC-706mkIIG, the IC-AT180 antenna tuner, Hamsticks for 20 and 40 meters, a small portable keyer for CW, the Heil headset / mike for SSB, and a Toshiba laptop with a homebrew interface for the digital modes. At the moment I'm planning on running PSK at several speeds, Olivia, JT65, and RTTY; possibly I'll try others as well.
Even though the 706 will operate on 2 meters and 70 centimeters, since I already have a Kenwood TM-D700 installed and connected to permanently mounted UHF and VHF antennas, I'll continue to use the Kenwood for repeater operation, etc.
The Heil Traveler dual headset with boom mike arrived via UPS from AES this afternoon; after a little playing around with the mike gain on the IC-706mkIIg, it was working like a champ. (Yes, I know you're not supposed to have both ears covered while driving... but I don't plan on operating except when parked or when the XYL is at the wheel—so no problem.) Getting close now to having the rig ready to go.