Friday, November 16, 2012

Day 18 (52): Home...Murphysboro, IL

We slept amazingly last night. We woke up just in time for a great hotel breakfast. We stopped to get gas and hit the road. And again, we drove and drove and drove. Eventually we started to get close to Kansas City. Kansas City is the OTHER location of the Harley Davidson manufacturing plant. I did some searching on my phone and we took a detour north to go to it. I mean, how often to people get to go to one, but both? In the same month?

When we got to the factory there were very few people, and when we actually went on the tour we were the ONLY ones on it. We had this very nice young man leading our tour...much nicer than the older guy the last time. This guy was very laid back, it probably helped because it was just us two and him. Kansas City manufactures Sportsters, Dynas, and VRods. The factory was shut down at the time for maintenance. It was cool to see the one in Pennsylvania going but it was neat to see this one on 'pause.' For one, you could actually hear things. Two, you could get a good idea of how it ran. This factory was smaller than the one in PA, and, although newer facility-wise, the PA factory had just been upgraded so the technology was a little older. We got a lot closer to the pieces and parts...they had a huge rack of just painted tanks. Being by ourselves was much nicer because we were able to ask a lot more questions. We were shown the assembly and testing room for the VRod engines. The tour went faster than the other one, and after buying some souvenirs we went on our way. We didn't take any pictures; you can't take them in the facility and we didn't care to get any outside either. We stopped at an HD dealer on the way back to the interstate so Dev could get some bolts or something.

Our trip back was fairly uneventful. We had lunch at Hardee's just outside Kansas City, with dessert at Krispy Kreme. Nothing beats a road trip with hot, fresh Krispy Kreme's. We passed through Columbia, MO, home of Carl Edwards, but I couldn't convince Devin to stop by his house...maybe next time ;-).

If you're an avid TV watcher like we are you may remember the show Truck Stop USA, which featured a truck stop on I-70. This truck stop has a tattoo parlor, hotel, antique shop, etc. The show only ran for a few episodes, but Devin enjoyed it and had made a plan to get gas there. The place looked so nice on TV. When we stopped it was a different story. One pump had apparently had a mishap and an employee was washing gasoline off the ground. The bathrooms were, well, 'acceptable.' Everything else was run-down and quite frankly looked a little shady. Goes to show that TV sure does glamorize things! Anyway, Devin has driven almost the entire time, so I offered to drive for a while. He accepted the offer, and I successfully backed out of the space. A reminder, his car is a of the few things I'm not well-versed in. Unfortunately, the exit onto the access road was on a hill; not a big deal until there was oncoming traffic and someone pulled behind me. And then a semi behind him. After some shouting and several tries at, well, revving the engine, Devin and I did a half fire-drill and he took back over, speeding off onto the interstate.

After several hours we made it through St. Louis and were very, very close to home. We stopped to get gas where he let me give it a go one last time. Only a few yips at each other later and we were home, safe, around 9pm.

It's good to be home. Real good. But in the last several weeks since we've been here we have often dreamed about being back on the open road with the wind (and snow, and rain, and sun...) in our hair. We've ridden several times; the bike is all put back together. We've got our new gear and have successfully tested it out (well, thankfully not the rain suits, though).

We had initially planned to take one more trip on the bike down to Key West, FL. It was going to be about 11 days and we had to leave within the week of getting home to beat a cold front that was essentially bringing the last bit of fall and early bit of winter. We mulled it over until the very last possible day and finally decided not to go. Why? Well, after all we'd been through, and everywhere we'd been through, we didn't want to race to Key West just to say we'd been there. We want to go and be able to really enjoy it. Part of our dream was to ride the bike in every state. Since we had to take the car out east taking the bike all the way down wasn't as much of a wasn't the finale we had planned.

So that's it. There isn't a finale. We aren't done yet. We've got a lot more riding still to do...a lot more places to take our steel horse. We're done for a little while; Devin has applied to become a Naval Officer (we won't know anything until after the new year). I'm back in my office grading papers. We've both started working on new quilts. We've done a few puzzles, caught up with family & friends. We've laughed a lot about all the places we've been and things we've seen and done. And we continue to daydream about the next big trip (back to the NE? Florida? Alaska...?).

We are so blessed. We are so thankful. We recognize that this was a literal once in a lifetime opportunity that most do not get. We are blessed that God watched over us for 52 full days on the road and kept us very safe...and kept us married! (Sometimes people comment that the fact we got along the entire time was more of a feat!) We love the support we've gotten; the encouragement from everyone along the way and the interest during and after. Where to go from here? Well, stayed tuned…even if it isn’t soon, there is still more to come!

Today we traveled 544.9 miles across America for a total of 6,384.9 miles on leg 2 and a grand total of 16,609.6 beautiful miles across America.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Day 17 (51): Sand Dunes, Buffalo Bill, & Salina, KS

Well I really dropped the ball on this one. See, when we were on our trip I had this nice long beautiful post about this day, but had forgotten to get the mileage. I saved it, ready to put the mileage in the next day when, what do I find, but Blogger had deleted my post. Since we had returned home it has taken me, well, weeks to get back to finishing up. So I apologize, but do want to tell you about these last days!

We had a pretty restful night's sleep and ate a really good breakfast at the hotel before heading off. We had a long day ahead because we were on our way home and had planned for several hundred miles. Alamosa is very close to the Great Sand Dunes and we had initially planned to go there on our first leg but had decided, after a very long trip, to forgo it. Devin was the one who really wanted to see them; I wasn't convinced it would be all that interesting. See, I had been to Sand Dunes in Michigan; ya know, the kind on a lake. Big whoop. But since we were so close and he wanted to go so bad we made the very short detour.

We drove down this long road, right next to all of these beautiful pastures with mountains rising up our of them. It was quite beautiful. Then, all of a sudden, there was this huge pile of sand. No lake. No river. Just sand. Lots of sand. Lots and lots of sand. In the middle of this valley of mountains. We stopped at the visitor's center before going down the road to go out to the dunes.

The Great Sand Dunes is home to the tallest sand dune in North America, some 750 ft tall or something like that. There is a creek that runs beside it in the spring and summer, but when we were there it was dried up. The creek is fueled my the snow melt of the mountains, and it has something to do with the weathering on the mountains and the wind movement in the valley that keeps all the and pile up right here, in the middle of nowhere.

So we made the hike out to the dunes. I'll let the pictures tell most of the story. Naturally, Devin couldn't resist burying poor Mini-B in the sand.

So what do you do at a sand dune? Well you can hike them, but we didn't really have the energy or time for that. So, you jump off of them instead. We picked a fairly small one that was pretty close. First you have to convince yourself to do it.

 Then you go for it!
 Ok, so I'm not good with willingly jumping off of ledges, but if Dev can do it so can I! Maybe not as graceful though...
 If you actually jump, and manage to make it without sand in your pants (which I was not so lucky), the worst part is the climbing back up.
 But it really doesn't stop you from going round two. Dev got some good air on this one.

 Of course, Mini-B wanted to jump off too. Can you find him?
 He had an easier time climbing up.
 Although it took him a lot longer...

We had an amazing time at the dunes. Lots of people go out with sleds and things, sliding down the dunes. On our way out we passed some 20-somethings walking in with snowboards. They have showers and feet wash stations. It's much like a beach just without the ocean! Now we don't hide the fact that there are many places we've been that are not kid-appropriate. While we support taking children to the great outdoors there are many National Parks that are not appropriate for small children. We see many small children climbing on railings and more interested in things like squirrels than the 'sites' that these parks feature. As a science educator (yes, that's my career) not all NP's are age appropriate for small children, they don't understand the 'coolness' of it and oftentimes damage natural features. However, this is one NP that we would very much advocate bringing children to. Especially when the creek is running. There is something for kids to do and play with without the fear of damaging the area.

After cleaning out our shoes and socks we hit the road. We drove. And drove. And drove. Nothing very exciting. We made it La Junta, CO where we stopped for gas and lunch. Devin had found on Yelp a little taco stand "Lucy's Tacos" where we stopped. He had horchata and Tacos. He said it was one of the best he'd ever had. I had a burrito, but it wasn't anything to write home about (or blog about). We hit the road again...

When we crossed into Kansas we passed by the town of Oakley where Devin said "isn't that where the Buffalo Bill statue is?" I did a quick search on my phone for confirmation. When we were in Kansas on the first leg of our trip our relatives said that, on the way out of KS, to stop at the Buffalo Bill statue. We didn't, and although I remember wanting to I don't remember why we didn't...probably because we had had such a long day at that point. Anyway, we turned around and went back. I'm glad we was SO cool!

 Can you find Mini-B?
 In true Mini-B fashion, he had a stand-off with the buffalo. It took a while to pull him away...

We hit the road a final time on our way to Salina, KS. We listened to the Cardinal's game and I worked on the blog (yep, the post that got deleted). We made it back to Salina and, after getting Wendy's, checked into the hotel. We stayed at the Sleep Inn. It was an awesome room with a couch and those big cushy beds and it was clean. Twice now we've stayed in Salina, KS and it has been a really great town! We crashed out, one last time before home.

Today we traveled 588.1 miles across America for a total of 5,540 miles on leg 2 and a grand total of 16,064.7 miles across America.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Day 16 (50): 4 Corners & Mesa Verde

We had intended to get up early but, yeah, that never happens. We are starting to feel much better. After getting coffee & soda at McD’s we stopped at Subway for breakfast. This has been quite a fast food trip, and we’re both ready to eat food from home, especially now that it’s almost soup season. But I digress…

We drove, and drove, and drove. We refilled our sodas at McD’s somewhere in the middle of nowhere. Not exactly nowhere, but in the middle of Native America reservation land. It seems like the entire top right 1/4th of Arizona is reservation land. Anyway, we finally hit our first stop, 4 Corners. You may be familiar; where Arizona, New Mexico, Colorado, and Utah all meet. It, too, is on reservation land and cost $3 per person to get in. Not bad. They’ve got a real nice area done up.
Devin did push-ups in all four states:

I did a backbend:

Mini-B stood the best he could:

And yes, Devin and I were both sore the next day for our ‘showing off’ at the monument.

We looked at all the vendors selling things before jumping back in the car. We kept driving, stopping for a late lunch at Sonic and eventually reaching Mesa Verde.

Mesa Verde is on top of a mesa (seems like a mountain) where there are a lot of ruins and ancient cliff dwellings. You are able to do a self-guided tour of one; One area is blocked off in September; there are two other dwellings to can take a ranger guided tour of but we got there too late. The self-guided tour is really neat, and you are right up in the dwelling:

We then did a driving tour and saw many mesa top ruins and several other cliff dwellings. Here’s the biggest one:

We left the park just at sunset and drove into the night, stopping for a Subway dinner. We went over a mountain and eventually made it to Alamosa, CO.

Today we traveled 514.1 miles across America for a total of 4,951.9 miles on leg 2 and a grand total of 15,476.6 miles across America.

Day 15 (49): Grand Canyon

We woke up feeling a little better than yesterday. We took more medicine and headed out to brave the cold. It was about 40 degrees when we left. We grabbed a fast food breakfast and headed up towards the Grand Canyon. Around 10am we were reaching the top of a mountain and encountered a lot of snow; it was actively snowing and sleeting for miles and miles.

It’s about 80 miles from Flagstaff to the Grand Canyon’s south rim. We had initially planned to go to the north rim on the advice of Uncle Mic & Carol, but with having a cold we decided to go to the south rim and stay an extra night in Flagstaff. We eventually reached the south rim visitors center and sat in the car for about 15 minutes to take a quick nap. We went into the visitor’s center but it was not as interesting as we had hoped. We had planned to take their shuttle bus around the rim area where cars aren’t allowed but as we left the visitor’s center it began to rain and sleet pretty good. We went back to the car and sat for another twenty minutes trying to figure out what we wanted to do.

A good look at the map revealed that going east there were several lookout points and an exit that would take us back down to Flagstaff. The south rim is the most popular and is usually (as was the case today) pretty packed with tourists. The busses that passed were pretty full. In addition, we didn’t want to wait out in the cold & rain on busses all day only to fight the crowds when we weren’t feeling so well. We are kind of a DIY people…we like to do our own thing. So we took off east. We didn’t have high hopes for the day because of the weather and the weather forecast. But we hit several great lookout points and were only obscured one of them because of fog and rain. It really is most spectacular in person:

We hit rain and snow all throughout our sightseeing. Can you see the streaks of sleet?

We stopped and saw some Native American ruins too. They had a little museum there that was pretty cool. Our very last stop was to the Lookout Tower, a building designed to get a 360 degree view of the area. It was intended and is still used as a gift shop and visitors center. Commissioned in the 30s, the inside was painted by a Hopi artist in authentic Hopi symbols. It was super cold when we left.

We exited out the east side and headed down to Flagstaff. We were really pleased with what we saw. I’m sure we’ll be back someday to do hiking and see the north rim. After getting back we walked to a diner behind our hotel that was designed in the Route 66 50s theme. It sat on historic Route 66. Devin had a breakfast and I had fish and chips. It was okay. I ordered a diet Dr. Pepper (my premier soda of choice, and one they usually never have at restaurants) and I had to send it back twice because it wouldn’t hold any fizz. It was really awful. When we got our bill he had charged us for it but the hostess took it off. My dinner was on special and it had rung up the regular price so then she had to correct that. We walked back to the hotel and watched the end of the NASCAR race before deciding to go down to McD’s for mochas. I ordered a small mocha, fat-free milk; he got the carmel mocha. We drove the four blocks back to the hotel and I used the trip to cool my drink down. When I took a first sip it tasted like old watered down, gas station coffee. Awful. Super awful. I took another drink. Made Devin take a drink. Dumped half in the sink to see if maybe it wasn’t stirred right. At this point I just want a good drink for the night. We drove back to McD’s, went in, and they apologetically made me a new one (a medium size too). The girl behind the counter said ‘this doesn’t even look right, it’s not the right color at all.’ After going back to the hotel with good drink in hand we watched the unbelievable end to the Cardinals game before hitting the hay.

Today we traveled 217 miles across America for a total of 4,437.8 miles on leg 2 and a grand total of 14,962.5 miles across America.

Day 14 (48): Petrified Forest, Meteor Crater & Flagstaff, AZ

We woke up today feeling even worse than the day before. The Alka Seltzer helps but can’t cure it all. Thankfully we had already planned for a relatively short day. It was only about 40 miles to our first big stop, the Petrified Forest. After getting delicious donuts at a local donut shop we went on our way and made it to the park quickly. We stopped at the little visitor’s center and headed into the park. The north side is actually “Painted Desert”, with spectacular views of layers of colors. They have a historic building on property too, an inn, that was pretty neat. It was built by the CCC in the 20s and features a hand painted stained glass ceiling.

We kept driving through the park, mostly just looking out the window (and feeling like crap) until we came to the Route 66 marker. They have an old car out there:

You can see the telephone pole behind our heads; it runs perpendicular to where we were standing and the road to the left.

We went on, stopping at some ruins and petroglyphs. At the petroglyphs site we saw a couple WAY out in the middle of the field. When you enter the park they give you a green card that says “DO NOT…” and it tells you what you are not allowed to do and the fines associated with violating those rules. They include DO NOT take any petrified would or artifacts, DO NOT get off paved surfaces when paved surfaces are available, etc. Well these people were off the paved surface, by a lot. The card also gives you a phone number to call and report violators. We called and reported. We didn’t stick around to see the action but I’m hoping they got a fine. I mean, they give you the rules when you enter, and they are posted all over the place. Moving on…

While at the petroglyphs we also saw our first (of many) ravens which was cool. We kept driving through the park, seeing more beautiful color striated hills before doing a drive through of a large petrified forest collection. One pull off had a log there:

We went further and stopped at another area full of logs which was really cool. We ended the park trip by going to the visitors center at the other end and looking at fossils. They had a big book there of letters from visitors who had taken petrified pieces and wanted to return them. Aside from being against the law, several ‘thieves’ claimed unending bad luck since taking the pieces.

You can purchase petrified wood at lots of roadside stands. These are pieces collected from private land. Petrified wood is made by trees that have died and fallen into a river or stream bed that is rich in silica. A lack of oxygen prevents them from decaying and the silica turns them into stone. Volcanic ash is the source for the silica. They referenced that the many trees downed in the Mt. St. Helens blast may one day become petrified if the conditions remain right.

We pushed on down the road, stopping west of Winslow, AZ to see the meteor crater. Again, super cool. This is on private land and costs a little to get in but was worth it. When we got to the rim the wind had started to pick up and really started to blow:

They have a nice little museum and the largest piece found left of the crater:

Another thanks to one of my teachers, Jane, who told me about this spot…it was SUPER cool. The meteor hit the earth about 50,000 years ago at a speed of more than 46,000 mph. The entry into Earth and subsequent impact destroyed most of the meteor; the largest piece of the 150 ft diameter rock being displayed in the museum. To put value to the size, you could play 20 football games inside, simultaneously, while 2 million spectators sat on the walls. If you ever go through the area it’s worth the one-hour stop. We checked out their astronaut wall of fame before hitting the road towards Flagstaff, AZ.

We stopped for the night in Flagstaff, eating at an authentic Mexican restaurant as recommended by those on Yelp. Unfortunately, like the Stockyard Cafe, it was only so-so. We finished with a trip to Coldstone Creamery before hitting the hay.

Today we traveled 200.5 miles across America for a total of 4,220.8 miles on leg 2 and a grand total of 14,745.5 miles across America.