Friday, November 22, 2013

A Road Trip Adventure Across America - Part Fourteen

“Who has not known a journey to be over and done before the traveler returns? The reverse is also true: many a trip continues long after movement in time and space have ceased.”
                                             John Steinbeck, Travels with Charley

I awoke to the sounds of boys playing, mixed in was my daughter’s voice egging them on to do something that would make them even louder.  Avery was still asleep next to me and I struggled to try to get a couple of more winks in before getting up.  That didn’t last very long as Avery’s eyes opened and he heard his cousins.  He was out of bed and out of the room quicker than a mouse at a cat convention.  

Avery & Cousin
It was Thursday morning - the last day of our road trip adventure across America.  Part of me didn’t want it end and if I stayed in bed it wouldn’t, but then I thought about seeing Johanna and her kisses and our house and…well, I jumped out of bed so we could get on the road and home as quick as possible.  Okay, I didn’t exactly jump but extended a lot of energy considering I had just driven through three states with two wild kids and sustaining on only five hours of sleep.

Kristen and new house
It was early, like 6am, and Nick had already left for work several hours earlier. That’s just crazy.  Kristen was struggling to try and get her boys dressed and ready to leave, but since the four kids were enjoying each other’s company I think it was easier to just let them be.  Their dog was also in the mix with abundant energy that added to the chaos.  

Haskell new house

Relaxing before the big drive
I tried to break up the mayhem while Kristen was on the phone with the hospital.  They were telling her she was on hold and didn't have to come in at that time but they may need her later.  In the meantime we let the kids have fun together as she and I chatted for a while.  But soon it was time to get the kids dressed for daycare.   

I got my kids cleaned and dressed and packed up what little we brought into the house.  As I was loading the car I lamented over the poor Honda that had been sparkling after its detail back in Dallas but after a trip to Mississippi and the several days on the road since leaving Winnsboro it had succumbed to the bugs, dust and spilled Capri Sun and Cheese Nips droppings. 

When I stuffed our bags in the car I noticed I forgot to bring in my Great Grandmother’s cacti.  I had been diligent in carrying them into every hotel room and making sure they had water but I guess it was inevitable that a couple of spills would occur along the way as they were jostled around during blind searches for snacks and drinks while driving.  They looked a little weary but they were hanging in there and with just 8-9 hours to go until they would be in their new home I hope they weren’t mad at me for leaving them in the car overnight.  Cacti can be cruel sometimes.

After thanking Kristen for her kindness we all left the house at the same time.  She gave us directions to get to the interstate and we were off under the bright Arizona sun.  

There was nothing until we got to I10 and a couple exits down I saw a large retail area so I exited for gas and breakfast.  We filled the car up and then found a Dunkin' Donuts to fill ourselves.  A nice hot cup of coffee was just the thing.  I’m sure filling the kids with sugary donuts wasn’t ideal knowing I’d be cooped up with them for six hours but I knew we’d be home soon so what the heck.

between Phoenix & Quartzsite
The road from Phoenix to California is as nondescript as they come.  The flat Sonora desert was sandwiched between various mountain ranges that loomed far in the distance only to be used to judge how far we’ve driven. 

The only real town you go through is Quartzsite until you get to Blythe, CA on the other side of the Colorado River.   

Sonora Desert
The same is said for the stretch from Blythe to where the California Sonny Bono desert communities begin to spring up – Palm Desert, Palm Springs, La Quinta, Thousand Palms and the rest.  I never understood the names – Thousand Palms, 29 Palms or Thousand Oaks that's next to Moorpark.  Did someone count the amount of palms or oaks and decided why not name the town that?  What if they planted more or cut down some to build a Walmart – what then?  Do they change the name to 898 Palms or Five Thousand Oaks?  Just saying.

While passing by the exit to the George Patton Memorial Museum (I wonder if they have a huge American flag) I got on the phone with Johanna and she had a request for us to delay our arrival as she was trying to get the house in order before we got home.  As much as I just wanted to get home as soon as possible I had been in that same position and understood her dilemma.

Remembering that somewhere along this route were those roadside dinosaurs that appeared in the movie Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure – where Pee Wee Herman, on his search for his stolen red bike, meets the Paris pining waitress, Simone, whose mammoth jealous boyfriend thought Pee-Wee was going to steal his sweetheart away after seeing them emerging from the giant plaster T-Rex where Pee Wee urged Simone to follow her dream as they sat in the T-Rex’s mouth (that was a mouthful).  She responds by telling him, “oui oui, Pee Wee.”

still from Pee-Wee's Big Adventure, 1985
Anyway, I looked it up on-line and found that the place still operated – Robotic Dinosaurs and Museum and promoted their place as having the “world’s biggest dinosaurs” and an educational adventure featuring work from scientists around the world.  Our desire is to help the young and old explore what is known and not known about dinosaurs, man and the creation of the world in a practical, factual and fun way.”  They were right off the interstate in Cabazon, just passed the San Gorgonio Pass Wind Farm – it would be a good divergence for the kids and enough delay to satisfy Johanna.

San Gorgonio Wind Farm
The good ole GPS was in fine form again as it sent me to the opposite side of the highway and to an abandoned shack which didn’t even possess one dinosaur.  I quickly deciphered that I needed to go back over the highway where I quickly spotted the T-Rex and Brontosaurus (actually I think you’re supposed to call it an Apatosaurus but we won’t get into that now).

Cabazon Dinos
The kids were excited about our stop and boy was it blazing hot outside the car.  We quickly purchased tickets and went inside the “museum” where the robotic dinosaurs were located and conveniently on the other side of the gift shop.   

It wasn’t crowded at all and we pretty much had the place to ourselves.  The kids were more interested in all the toys on display than the robotic dinosaurs, which were okay but a far cry from those we saw at the Discovery Museum in Tyler.  They did have a bronco dino ride that Avery had fun on – for a brief minute.  It was our last day so I allowed the kids to get something from the shop.  Avery got some dinosaur eggs so he could grow some little dinos at home.

Here little kitty...


After the museum we ventured outside to walk the trail of dinosaurs, a walk where every conceivable type of plaster dinosaur was on display.   

they're so life-like
dino dinner?
scene from Jurassic Park X
They also had a “dino dig” where the kids dug for fossils and got a prize if they found one.  Then there was the mini-panning sloop where they could pan for fossils.   

digging for fossils
panning for fossils
We then ended up at the giant T-Rex.  Olivia was scared to walk up the steep stairs to the head but Avery was up on top and in the head before I was half way up.  It wasn’t like the movie, which I’m sure was shot on a sound stage, as there isn’t much room to sit, but it was a cool experience none-the-less – staring out through the T-Rex’s teeth.  We could see our car from there.  Avery tried to get his sister to come up but she just wouldn’t do it.

climbing in the guts of T-Rex

in the mouth of T-Rex

After a bathroom break we gladly headed out, with a stop in Burger King next door to cool off and get lunch.  All in all, we were able to kill three hours and give Johanna the time she needed.

Before getting into San Bernadino – the birthplace of McDonald’s – we veered off the 10 and took the 210 North and then West, which would take us to the 118, the Ronald Reagan Freeway, that would take us all the way into Moorpark and a couple of miles from our house.

By the time we got outside Pasadena it was late afternoon and the traffic situation turned sour.  We slowed down to a trickle, which for Johanna was a good thing but not so much for two tired kids who were anxious to get home.

typical LA traffic

As is commonplace in Southern California, the traffic suddenly loosened up for no reason at all and it was smooth sailing as we veered off North again and away from Pasadena and towards the Northern San Fernando Valley.  Anticipation snuck up on us as we drew closer and closer to home.  First we passed the 5 and then the 405 and then we went through the Valley and up through the Santa Susana pass and finally into Ventura County, down the hill into Simi Valley. 

Ventura County Line

It was sinking in that our adventure was coming to an end.  School would start next week with Avery starting Kindergarten in a new school, which just happened to be right across the street from our house, and Olivia entering 7th grade.  But for now they had a few more minutes of the summer to enjoy and reflect…okay, they were playing on their EDs and I was reflecting on all the places we had been: 

We began in June, with our first stop Death Valley and then Las Vegas and the infamous Sam’s Town.  There was Hoover Dam and my computer, which I’m glad didn’t stay in Vegas.  Our luck in getting a cabin right inside the Grand Canyon and seeing the majesty of Monument Valley and almost getting left in the dust.  

There was not seeing the Four Corners and getting sick in Bandelier.  A nice visit with the Brooks clan in Colorado Springs and the personal tour of The Garden of the Gods and the Air Force Academy that spawned an idea in a little boy’s head about seeing where his Poppa trained before going to Vietnam.   

We explored ancient geology and the kids became Junior Rangers at Capulin Volcano.  Then it was a tour of Ft. Sill, including the artillery museum and the grave of Geronimo. 

Finally getting to Texas and the love of family.  There was fun in the pool, Olivia's drama camp and performance,  Avery and Carla at Camp Deer Run, losing a first tooth and fun with grandma Helen all in picturesque Winnsboro.

Ranger’s baseball, visits with cousins Ashley and Cooper in Allen and a ride on the Tarantula Train from Grapevine to the Ft. Worth Stockyards and back.   

The mini road trip to Mississippi where BB guns, water parks, scooter & tractor rides, playtime with Nana and Poppa and watermelon at Aunt Annette's were loads of fun, oh and eating at Mack's, of course.

There was visiting with old friends and making new ones.  Spending quality time with Grandma, Aunt Kim, Uncle Van, Molly, Uncle Kevin, Aunt Kimberly, Ashley and two-legged Cooper and the four-legged Cooper and Lola and Quinn and Freidolin and Harry and saying goodbye to Molloy.

There was a train ride to downtown Dallas and visiting where JFK was shot and showing the kids where Dad learned to make movies - at his alma mater, SMU.  We can’t forget about learning how you milk cows at the Southwest Dairy Museum and giving the moon in the U.S.’s only all-mirrored public bathroom in Sulphur Springs.  The hot Tyler zoo and letting imaginations go wild at the Discovery Center.

Then leaving family behind and blasting off to Space Center Houston and dipping toes in the Gulf of Mexico off Galveston Island.  The debit card scare and resolution.  Finding where the nectar of the gods - Blue Bell Ice Cream - is made.   

We got close to history while seeing the hallowed Alamo where Texas bravado was born.  I can't forget driving 85 mph in the middle of West Texas and going down into the New Mexican earth to explore Carlsbad Caverns.  Visiting cousins…again...and getting eaten by T-Rex.  It was a trip full of amazing experiences that I hope will be in our minds for the rest of our lives.  

But we had to get home first.  Our collective hearts began to pound as we entered Moorpark and drove down Los Angeles Avenue towards home passing familiar hangouts.   

Well, at least Avery and I were excited.  Olivia was fast asleep after a long summer.

When we got to the house there were no parking spaces so I had to just stop in the street.  I let the kids out to ring the doorbell.   

You don’t know how wonderful it was to see Johanna in the flesh – not on a Skype or Facetime facsimile.  We were home.  A very clean home…all thanks to Mom.  

I hope you enjoyed these recollections – it was fun reliving the trip.  Keep coming back here for more – it may not be about travel but I hope my posts will make you think a little, maybe learn something and most of all entertain and make you feel a little better.  Until next time, safe travels wherever you may go.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

A Road Trip Adventure Across America - Part Thirteen

Do you realize we know less about the earth we live on than about the stars and galaxies of outer space? The greatest mystery is right here. Right under our feet!
From the film Journey to the Center of the Earth, 1959

Waking up in a cigarette smelling room in a rather unattractive, need of renovation motel surrounded by ugly petroleum vehicles in the middle of the Southern New Mexican desert wasn’t the cheeriest thing to have happened to us, but the knowledge we’d be exploring the wonders beneath our Earth in a few hours made it tolerable.

Like most mornings on the road getting the kids clean and dressed required channeling a drill sergeant.  Shower…now!  Clothes packed…now!  Idiot check…NOW! I moved the car a little closer so we wouldn’t have to lug all our stuff from the second level, all the way down the walk way, down stairs and across a parking lot.  Once the oil field guys had gone a lot of parking spaces opened up.   

After another quick complimentary (read barely ok) breakfast in the “lovely” dining hall – I saw ghosts dressed in white shirts and skinny ties sipping coffee – we headed to Carlsbad Caverns National Park, with a little side trip to fill up the tank at the gas station next to the Walmart that didn’t have a gas station despite what the desk clerk at the motel told me.

It was an easy trip down the highway through the Chihuahua Desert.  Not much to look at except a lot of prickly pear cactus and abandoned Indian trading posts, but interesting none-the-less since I’d never been around those parts before.   

Prickly Pear Cactus
Once we got off the highway and on the road to the caverns it became a little mountainous and picturesque.  The drive seemed to last longer than expected (7 miles) as we slowly wined upwards, but isn’t that the case always when you drive someplace for the first time.  The return trip back down that same road (also 7 miles) went a lot faster, amazing how that occurs.

Avery from near the visitor center looking South
The visitor center sits atop a small mountain in the Guadalupe Range of which the caverns lay below, with a modern Southwestern architectural flair.  The buildings seemed fairly new and I wonder what it was like decades ago when they first opened in the 1920’s.  It became a National Park in 1930.

Carlsbad Canyon Visitor Center

In the parking lot we noticed a variety of license plates from all over the country, including another blue compact from California.   

The heat of the day was creeping up towards the triple digits so it would be nice to get down in the caves for some cool temperatures, usually hovering around 53 degrees or so they say.  It was easy entry – you just have to wait for the elevator to come back up and a ranger takes you down into the cavern.  

waiting to go down 750 feet
Carlsbad Caverns National Park contains more than 118 limestone caves, the most famous of which is Carlsbad Cavern and though popular thought is that they were carved out by running water like many limestone caves in the world, rather these caves were dissolved by very aggressive sulfuric acid.  One fact not known to most is that the caves sit atop a field of natural gas and oil, which are the source of the sulfur-bearing water that formed the caves. 

rare ceiling to floor speleothem
The magnificent speleothems (cave formations) that continue to grow and decorate Carlsbad Cavern are due to rain and snowmelt soaking through limestone rock, then eventually dripping into a cave below and evaporating.  Wherever that water drop evaporates and releases carbon dioxide in an air-filled cave, a small amount of mineral-mostly calcite, is left behind. Thus, drip-by-drip, over the past million years or so, Carlsbad Cavern has slowly been decorating itself.  Now you know something new.

The ranger explained to us that we were going 750 feet down into the cavern.  That’s a long way.  Once down we decided to take the Big Room self-guided tour.  It was dark, so we had to let our eyes adjust.  Olivia was a little apprehensive at first but as time went on she got used to the dark and damp alien surroundings and became comfortable.  Avery…well, he wasn’t scared at all…maybe a little, at first, but don’t tell him I said so.

where we were heading
I won’t give a moment-by-moment tour, suffice it to say, it’s an amazing journey everyone should see at some point in his or her life.  It’s a geological wonderland and I just wish I had a better camera to capture the beautiful images that you saw everywhere you looked.   

crazy spelunkers

Avery holding our hometown paper
It took us over an hour to walk around the Big Room, which covers 8.2 acres. If we had time we could have hiked to the Natural Entrance 79 stories above, which would have been a site to see – emerging from the cave and into the sunlight, but we had places to go and people to see.
Carlsbad Cavern Natural Entrance
The kids wanted to eat in the Visitor Center lunchroom and of course get stuff in the gift shop, which I negated on both counts.  I told them their gift shop allowance was all used up and that we’d stop for lunch in El Paso.  After getting some entering shots out front and some pictures by the park main sign to send to the relatives we headed out to begin the long and winding road to Phoenix.   

Ranger Ave
Ranger Liv
Ranger Rick & Friend
By this time I nixed the idea of stopping at Tombstone because we wouldn’t get there until near sundown and still had to get to Kristin’s at a decent time.  I didn’t want to put them out.

We got on US Highway 62 and headed South-South West towards El Paso.  Once passing back into Texas we drove by Guadalupe National Park and Guadalupe Peak, the highest spot in Texas.  I stopped to get some pictures and video as I had never been to the highest spot in Texas before or at least at the base of it.  I needed proof that I was there.  The kids stayed in the car playing their EDs.  I guess they did not see the significance.

Weren't we just there?

Guadalupe Peak - highest elevation in Texas

 Once out of the mountains it was really desert and at one point we drove through a salt flat – white on both sides as far as you could see.   

Salt Flats East of El Paso
Slowing things down was some road construction.  We came to a standstill for more than fifteen minutes waiting for cars to pass by on the one lane open.  It was a relief when it finally came to our turn. 

The desert finally gave way to civilization as we entered the outskirts of El Paso.  A light industrial landscape seemed to go on and on forever but we finally got into a more suburban atmosphere and came upon a McDonald’s.  My phone was tapped out and I had to download video and photos to my Mac so I could take more photos and video.  I hadn’t the energy the night before to download and so it was packed full.  
McDonald’s stops always take longer than expected but we finally got on the road.  We eventually hooked back up with Interstate 10, passing by downtown El Paso, and onward back to California.   
Downtown El Paso
I had a flash back seeing a shopping center parking lot I was at the last time I was in El Paso.  It was on our move to Cali from Texas, driving a U-Haul pulling a trailer with our Explorer on it.  We had driven all night but somewhere outside Odessa the trailer had a blowout.  It was pitch black and we could hear the coyotes howling in the distance.  It seemed to take the tow guy forever to get there and I recall having quick remembrances of those camp ghost stories about the guy with the hook terrorizing the couple stranded along a desolate road.  The tow truck eventually showed up and the tow truck guy fixed the tire without incident.  We got into El Paso right after dawn and parked the truck in a shopping center near a place to get a bite to eat.  I think that’s when we discovered that two of the tires on the Explorer had been slashed by something, which meant we had to get two new tires once in California before we could give up the U-haul.  We ended up pulling it to the Sears in Thousand Oaks the day we arrived to get new tires.  Not much fun after driving over 24 hours with only cat naps.  Ironically, we were traveling with our cat Angel who, unfortunately we believe got eaten by coyotes a year later.  The circle of life.

Anyway, El Paso wasn’t the most attractive city I’ve seen but not terrible.  We were soon past the city limits and back into New Mexico before you could say Chihuahua.  Once passed Las Cruces there isn’t much to see.   

New Mexican desert and clouds
We did go through some stormy weather and when your driving on mostly flat terrain the clouds and lightning looming in the distance always give a good show, especially with mesas and mountains as a nice backdrop.  We skirted most of the rain but at least it was entertaining in a rather nondescript area of the country.  

We stopped in Deming, NM for some ice cream.  I looked up and found where a Dairy Queen was supposed to be but when we got there it was out of business so we scrambled and ended up at McDonald’s.  Oh, my, losing precious time.

Arizona-New Mexico border
As we made ourselves west, entering Arizona, signs appeared promoting a roadside attraction called The Thing, Mystery of the Desert.  I didn’t give it much thought but we were somewhere between Wilcox and Tucson, Arizona when the need to stop for gas, pee break and snacks became apparent…I saw there was a place coming up which looked like a Stuckey’s, which some of you may remember  – they have a famous pecan roll.  This place had a Dairy Queen attached to a large souvenir shop and the infamous museum.   

The large place was full of all kinds of stuff, Native American trinkets that collect dust on shelves and usually end up not selling at garage sales around the country.  They even sold luggage of all things.  Plus, I guess out back you could gaze at The Thing for a dollar.  I avoided both Dairy Queen and The Thing but had to let the kids get a snack and a drink.  Olivia had trouble deciding on a snack.  I walked her down one aisle and up the next and she just couldn’t decide.  Then we passed the “sale” table and she saw IT, a mermaid figurine she just HAD to have.  Luckily, it was on sale for $2 or $3 so I said fine – more so we could get on with our lives.  The guy at the counter was nice enough to find a new box for it and packed it up nicely.  Friendly folk in Arizona and coincidentally I left with an Arizona tea.  Oh, and by the way The Thing is some mummified woman the original owner bought for $50 from a traveling salesman...or is it?  Where’s Mulder when you need him.

We were three hours from Kristen’s house and the sun was falling fast.  It was still light as we passed through Tucson but getting dark fast.  I wanted to try to drive through Oro Valley, where I came a few years ago to interview champion decathletes and their famed Academic Decathlon coach Chris Yetman from Canyon del Oro High but alas not enough time.

The sun set below the Arizona mesa somewhere between Tucson and Phoenix.  I stopped along the highway to get pictures of the colorful sunset, some of the prettiest you’ll find anywhere.  

Somewhere along the way I typed in Kristen’s address to let the GPS guide me – it sure was useful finding her parent’s house in Colorado and so I figured it could help me again since I’d be searching in the dark.  Their new house was in Goodyear, AZ, a suburb of Phoenix on its western side so we had to drive through the city to get there, though at night there was no traffic slowing us down.  It was getting late and though I had texted her earlier letting her know we’d be arriving after dark, I was unsettled that it was this late.

I followed the iPhone directions and when the blue dot reached what was supposed to be the house we found ourselves on a desolate stretch of road.  I drove around a little looking for their street but I quickly surmised the GPS screwed up.  I doubled checked to make sure I put in the right address but it still was telling me the wrong coordinates.  I had no choice but to call Kristen.  Not knowing the area and with it being night made it difficult explaining where I was but she figured it out and gave me directions to get to their house.  Boy was the GPS wrong by miles.   

Even when we got to their neighborhood, a new development, we couldn’t find the house.  The next day I figured out that there were two sections to their street, which were disconnected from each other – I’m guessing the two would connect at some later date when the development was completed, but it made it difficult to locate.  I was on the phone with Kristen as she walked the street to wave us down.  What a comedy of errors.

The house was very nice and I was surprised they were already unpacked - they had just moved in a couple of weeks earlier. That would never happen with us – the amount of stuff we have would take a month or two. Unfortunately, Logan and Braidan were already asleep, as was Nick, Kristen’s husband, who had to get up at 3am for work.  Logan had given up his room for Olivia and Avery and I slept in the guest room.  Nick arose, I’m sure because of the ruckus the kids were making (playing with their dog) and helped make some food for the kids.  After a short visit we grabbed our bags and went to bed.  Kristen told us she and the kids had to get up early as she had to get to the hospital for an early shift.  Nick at the time worked for University of Phoenix but now was accepted to Goodyear’s police academy and is becoming a police officer.  He’s also a decorated Army National Guard veteran, having served four tours in Iraq.  He is currently in the Reserves, as is Kristen.  They, along with Kristen’s brother Mathew who is an Army captain, deserve a hearty and heartfelt thank you from all of us for their service to our country.  
At Kristen's 2nd Lt. swearing in at Disneyland Oct. 2013

After a long drive though the desert it was easy to go to sleep and in such nice surroundings – a far cry from the stench filled motel we slept in the night previous.  This was our last sleep over of the trip and come tomorrow we’d all be sleeping in our own beds.  Ahhhhh!

(Next on A Road Trip Adventure Across America: The final stretch – six hours to Moorpark with a stop to see where PeeWee said oui oui in the mouth of T-Rex and finally seeing my sweetie after two months.)