Tuesday, March 27, 2012

The Great Interstate Rest Stop Tour (long)

On Monday morning we started out on what was to be a drive out to Yosemite mostly via I-20 and then on the homeward trip, to stop at the Grand Canyon. You know what they say about the best laid plans.

Since we had reservations at Yosemite, MOTH calculated the route, dividing it into 5-6 hours of driving per day and we allowed 7 days for the trip out. Since I am the only driver, we wanted to make sure that I didn’t become too tired to drive safely.

The first day we made it to Newton, MS. Along the way we stopped at a rest stop and noticed that the flowering trees were just beginning to bloom.

clip_image002 Springtime in the south is quite beautiful.

The second day put us in the eastern part of Texas, the third day got us midway through Texas to Big Springs, and the fourth night we spent in El Paso. Texas really is as big as Texans always claim it is!

Some things I noticed while in Texas:

It is BIG.

The truckers must be on some sort of peyote, because I have never come across such consistently law abiding truckers. I don’t think I came across one that was going over the limit, they all stayed in the right lane for traveling…..the first time I have been able to comfortably share the road with the big rigs; no one tried riding my bumper to intimidate me into changing lanes so they could speed past. Hooray for Texas truckers, or maybe it is the cops, but we never saw any.

Texas has the interesting rest stops which include covered picnic areas. clip_image004

The covering at each stop seems to have a theme, we saw cute covers that looked like oil rigs, barns, teepees and other things.  One stop was even ‘open air’, and they restroom areas were decorated with tile murals—Texas themes of course. clip_image006

We saw oil derricks, which were smaller than I would have expected, and fields of wind turbines, which were much larger than I expected. clip_image008clip_image010 Some were right up near the interstate and from the rest stops, you could get a good idea of their size.

I loved the hill country, although we were too early for blue bonnets, and I really wanted to see them. It was interesting to watch the landscape change as we travelled westward. From hill country, to scrubby, to some mountains, to sandy and desert.

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We crossed into New Mexico and something odd happened. I began to smell….urine. I mentioned this to MOTH, and he didn’t smell anything and looked at me strangely. A little while later he noticed the urine smell, too. So we start to survey our surroundings. Lining the interstate were miles of what I guess must be stockyards. So many black and white cattle massed at feeding and watering devices that you had to look twice to realize that it was not just black and white landscape!

The countryside in NM, AZ and TX was so impressive. In spite of all the cowboy movies or National Geographic specials that I have seen, nothing can prepare you for the immense size of the southwest. The mountains are so different from those in the east, and so different from each other. Some appear to be enormous sand piles, ready to slide away if disturbed. Those reminded me of when my brother was a child playing in the dirt with his Tonka Trucks, making mountains and what not. But these were so much bigger-if God had been a little boy playing with God-sized Tonka trucks.

Others were sculpted and cut away, some perfectly flat on top, some ragged like the spine of a triceratops.

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clip_image020Different textures, different colors, shapes and different vegetation.

The rugged, desolate areas play with your imagination. You can see the Apache assembling along the ridge, watching you cross the desert. You wonder at the settlers who crossed in wagons, on horseback or on foot. How did they ever do it? Days of plodding through dusty, dry, endless areas. No water to be seen, the environment working against you. Amazing.

New Mexico and Arizona also have beautiful rest stops, landscaped and beautifully tended.

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I was further impressed that when we reached areas that had overpasses, or multiple overpasses such as the one in Atlanta known as ‘Spaghetti Junction’, these were also more than just functional concrete. The abutments and bridges had designs impressed into them, and were then painted. If the overpass had fencing, it wasn’t just chain link, it was something aesthetically pleasing with a design woven through it.

A little concerning were signs along the way that said Prison Area-don’t pick up hitchhikers! Or the signs that warned of possible high winds and sand storms.

When we finally crossed into California we encountered our first omen of what was to come. There was a sign that said that if the lights are flashing, there is a high winds or sandstorms occurring. Guess what? Yep, high winds. Not pleasant driving. To the west we could see ‘dust devils’ and at times lost sight of the mountains entirely behind a haze….that haze was the dust storm, and yes, it reached us, also not pleasant driving.

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When the sand stopped blowing, the wind didn’t and after several more miles, we reached very heavy rains (along with the winds). Further up the road, we encountered snow!

We spent our night in California in Victorville, and the wind and cold temperatures were very uncomfortable. At times we had difficulty standing, or opening car doors.

The next morning we called ahead to our motel at Yosemite, they informed us that the roads in the area were closed to any vehicles without snow chains, so be prepared to pull over and put chains on at the blockades. We stopped at Walmart to get some chains, but they didn’t have any. We drove towards Yosemite figuring that a store nearer the area would still have chains, and MOTH dug out the owners manual to see precisely what size we would need. Rude awakening-owners manual said chains cannot be used on our vehicle, there isn’t enough clearance for them. Time for a decision-drive all the way into the mountains hoping the roads might be cleared and we wouldn’t be turned back, or change direction.

We changed direction and headed off to Arizona to see the Grand Canyon. Very disappointed not to have a chance to see the Frazil Ice, or the many natural wonders of Yosemite, BUT, if the roads were that bad, did I really want to be driving on them, and could MOTH and his walker maneuver safely? Yeah, that’s what we told ourselves as we headed east across the divide. We traveled the high desert, again impressed by the scenery.

How amazing that you can see almost to the horizon without interruption. Look, over there it is sunny and spectacular, and right next to it is dark, and over there that really dark cloud is reaching right down to the ground-could Arizona be having a really heavy rain?? clip_image030

We stopped at a rest stop on I40, only slightly aware that only one other vehicle was there, and that the traffic seemed lighter. The woman in the car called me over and told me that I40 was closed at Flagstaff and east. She was planning on spending the night at the stop, in her car, because she was sure the motels in Kingman would be filled to overflowing. We went on to Kingman where we found a room easily (tons of motels and such). As we checked in, the snow began.

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It was pretty heavy. We decided it was better not to try to drive in strange surroundings in these conditions, so we had subs delivered to our room. We wound up staying two days in Kingman, until the authorities cleared and reopened I40.

Kingman was a nice place, I enjoyed it. I was impressed how you could look around, 360 degrees and everywhere you looked was an exquisite view (sometimes you had to look over the car in front of you, but the mountains were much bigger!) You could walk out of a restaurant, or grocery, or Walmart into a typical and unappealing parking lot and just look up and have your breath taken away.

When I40 was re-opened, it was still snowing at the Grand Canyon, and MOTH declared that he was overwhelmed, he had misjudged just how difficult this trip would be for him and that he couldn’t manage the cold and snowy/icy ground with his walker, he wanted to skip the Grand Canyon and head directly home.

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We started home, following a bad weather front. More driving in heavy rain and winds, the further east, the more traffic and those 18 wheelers really kick up a storm all their own. Something I haven’t mentioned yet was just how much road work is being done on both I20 and I40-combine narrowed lanes, reduced speeds, grooved surfaces and inclement weather….not fun.

In Checotah, OK, after a particularly harrowing day of bad road and weather conditions, we stopped for the night and as the rain let up, there was a brilliant rainbow that seemed close enough to touch.

clip_image038 There was a second rainbow, much lighter around it. We checked the weather and decided to spend an extra day in Checotah to rest and allow the weather front to get way ahead of us, and hopefully wear itself out.

Our last night was spent in Holly Springs, MS. We had dinner in a local place located on the town square. It was a very old, charming town square dating from some time before the Civil War.

From there, we arose extra early and put the pedal to the metal. We couldn’t wait to get home, through Mississippi and Alabama, through Birmingham and on to Atlanta.

5 comments:

Jack B. Nimble said...

Glad you got to see the west, but feel badly that you probably picked the only week that made Yosemite impossible.

I held my breath when I didn't hear from you, hoping that you were doing just what you were doing--letting the weather get out ahead of you.

I for one am glad you are home.

T said...

So sorry to hear you didn't get to Yosemite or the Grand Canyon. You did well finding the beauty and entertainment in what can be ordinary. I'm glad you made it home safely. I someday hope to get enough road experience I won't be nervous on strange roads. I can understand you not wanting to be on them in bad weather. Thanx for posting on you blog.

McIrish Annie said...

Enjoyed your retelling of the rest stop tour. We were in Yosemite last summer in July and the pass road through the park had JUST OPENED to traffic. There was still snow and it was about 30 degrees til you got to the lower elevations. My son lives in that area and you were smart not to mess with Mother Nature, she needs to be taken seriously. You just happened to hit their only good snowstorm all year.

Judy Laquidara said...

Can't believe you drove all the way to CA and didn't get to see your destination. But, you did see some pretty scenery and had a safe trip!

Teresa in Music City said...

What a wonderful story! I so enjoyed reading it this morning. You made the trip come alive for me. I'm sorry you did not get to do the things you had planned, but I'm betting this will be a trip you will remember forever and tell your grandchildren about for years :*)