Saturday, October 5, 2013

8 Days On The Road To California

We’ve made it to California and we’ve made it to the town where my cousin Alan and his wife Judy live.   I have not seen him since we were both kids.  His folks moved their family out to San Diego area back in the 50’s.  Our grandparents followed soon after that.  When my grandfather had a stroke, my father packed up my brother, younger sister and me and drove out in a 55 Chevy station wagon pulling a homemade camping trailer.  I was about 12 or 13.  Now, Alan invited us to join them for dinner at their home on Tuesday.  Before we were to arrive, H and I did some shopping and also found several historic places and parks to explore, including the Yucaipa Regional Park.  Too bad everything was so very dry and what was left of the 3 lakes was a slimy green like the Algae Bloom in Lake Erie.  Prospect Park was the home of a historic mansion but we enjoyed the park’s shady grove and fixed lunch instead.  Alan is a retired teacher, now turned artist, fisherman and excellent cook.  Judy is still teaching and when not working, she serves tea parties or sweet-talks her 3 kitties!  Together, they travel and run marathons in ALL 50 states!  It was well after dark when we said our last goodbyes and trusted our GPS to get us thru the narrow, up and down roads back to the interstate and our motel.  Only one miss-turn but we made it!

Now it was time to head for the beach!  We’d been on the road for over a week and still have not see the Pacific Ocean.  You’ve heard all the horror stories about the smog and the crazy traffic and the confusing expressway signs in and near Los Angeles  - They are ALL true!   White knuckled, H maneuvered our grand old van thru traffic and we safely exited Rt 5 in San Juan Capistrano and found the beaches and then headed south, keeping as close to the them as we could and stopped at the various fishing piers or sandy shores.  Every stopping area had its share of surfers, patiently waiting on their boards for a good ride, however, most of their rides ended in topsy-turvy crashes in the roaring white waves!  In Oceanside we walked out on the longest wooden pier on the coast.  What a grand view of the endless coastline!   In the morning we realized we were traveling on “Historic Rt 101” and learned that this eclectic road was just like our Beloved Historic Rt 66!  The original road was a 1777 Spanish trail built to go from one mission to the next all the way from Mexico to the Canadian Border.  In 1925 it was designated the Pacific Highway.  She led us all the way down the coast, thru Encinitas, Solana Beach, in and out of several mile long state park beaches.  Sometimes the road wound along high cliffs and sometimes thru towns that celebrated the California life, complete with OLD VW buses, Mustangs and antique Winnebago motorhomes.   In LaJolla we pulled into another parking spot. This one clung to the side of a high windy cliff.  The foul odor that smacked us in the face as we opened the van doors was unmistakable – below us on the wet rocks were sea lions!  LOUD squawking sea lions! Pelicans, sea gulls and cormorants, too!  We had unknowingly found the Seal Beach and Ecological Underwater Preserve.  Huge white waves crashed on the cliffs and rocks all along the rugged, curved shoreline.

San Diego is not the quiet peaceful town anymore.  It was by accident that we found Old Town Historic Park, most of which is now restored to its 1872 era.  From there we sifted carefully thru the rows and rows of traffic and found the Harbor and the Midway Aircraft Carrier Museum.  Luckily we got a great parking spot and were surprised to see the same Naval Sailor Kissing the Girl – Just like the one in Sarasota Florida!  San Diego is also famous for the Coronado Bridge and the Strand Boulevard.  After all that, H was done – and it was time to get out of town.  Did I mention the traffic?   We know the van does not make “U turns” as good as the bike does but she did her best and we did get out of town.   The beaches and the surfers are gone – we are heading east.

Friday, October 4, 2013

Las Vegas

 There may have been frost on the van at 7am but by noon it was 80 degrees and then up to the mid 90s by mid afternoon!

Our last section of Route 66 for a while was from Williams to Kingman and from there we headed north on Rt 93.  The next stop was in the very bottom corner of the state of Nevada - the 726 ft tall Hoover Dam and the magnificent view of Lake Mead behind it.   In 1994 we flew to Las Vegas with R&N and rented a car to drive out to see the famous huge dam.  If you are wondering – the dam is 45 ft thick at the top and 660 ft thick at the bottom! Now there is a skyscraper tall bridge that spans the Colorado River just 1500 ft down stream from the dam.  The river looks as if it is a mile below us but is really only 900 ft down.  ONLY?   The dam and bright blue lake that it holds back is just as breath taking as ever, however the lake level is way down and various islands are now clearly visible where there were none before.
From there it was 30 miles to Las Vegas.   Once we were settled in our motel, we bravely set out to walk the block to the “Strip”.  H’s first objective was to find one of the newer casinos – New York New York.  We recalled how busy the street was back in the day and today the street is 6 lanes wide with even more bumper-to-bumper traffic and sidewalks crowded with even more camera and cell phone toting tourists.  Thankfully there are now pedestrian escalators and walkways that cross over the streets, joining one brightly lit casino with the one next to it.   We started out at Bally’s, checked out Paris, crossed over to Excalibur, then to New York New York.  Down on street level we kept going, past Mirage with its red rock waterfalls and volcano and finally reached the Treasure Island Casino with the old pirate ship show.  The ships are still there and still put on a good show but it’s no longer all pirates but are now “vixens”.  As we journeyed the mile hike back to our motel after the sun had set, the millions of bright lights and flashing neon and LCD screens did their best to put our senses on overload!

In the morning we climbed in the van and attempted to go downtown but there were more casinos in front of us.  We parked in the Tropicana’s mostly empty lot and passed thru the spacious marble entryway.  Their breakfast buffet was $18 each so it was thru Tropicana and over several more bridges, finally ending up back at MGM.   In 1994 the downtown casino area was just being covered up with a high domed canopy and the streets were being turned into pedestrian walkways. Yes, the Golden Nugget’s flashing gold sign and the tall neon cowboy are still standing high up in the metal arches.  The cowboy’s hat is not as tall and his arm no longer waves to the passersby below.

Monday morning – we are both ready to blow this town and head for some peace and quiet.  We got it -  Rt 93 then further south on Rt 95.  The busy traffic of “Lost Wages” gave way to rolling low hills of the California high desert, passing thru small gray towns before ending back on Rt 40 and a portion of our Route 66!    Rt 62 led us west thru towns like 29 Palms and Yucca Valley before we entered into Joshua Tree National Forest.   From the highway the “forest” and mammoth rock formations were almost non-existent but once we were a few miles into the park the trees appeared everywhere and in the most twisted forms.  H even noticed that several of the cactus looking trees had bursts of pale yellow clusters of flowers growing out of the palm tree looking branches.  Double click on that picture and you should see the clusters just beginning to bloom!   Back on the highway we headed for Redland and Yucaipa California.

Sunday, September 29, 2013

California or Bust part 2

 Gotta keep moving!  Oklahoma, Texas, New Mexico and Arizona!   We’ve been putting between 350 and 450 miles on the van each day – jumping on and off of Interstate 44 ( and then 40 ) to catch the highlights of Historic Route 66.  Each day we’ve gone thru another time change that has thrown our body’s time systems off!   We’ve watched the terrain change from rolling farms to vast prairies of blowing waves of grasses, to miles and miles of scrubby brush with flat-topped dark colored hills in the distance.  Miles and miles of  - - miles and miles!  Cool at night and up to 90 degrees in the daytime!   Most of our accommodations have been just fine but we’ve also stayed in a typical “Route 66” vintage motel with no wifi and not much of any other accommodations – including a comfortable bed.

In Claremore, Ok, we stopped to see the Davis Gun Museum with its collection of OVER 10,000 guns.  Even H had trouble taking them all in! We saw a big silly looking blue whale sitting in a small pond just outside of Catoosa.  We drove thru towns with names like Sapulpa, Depew, Stroud and Chandler.  In Chandler we spotted a restored 1889 round red barn.   In Elk City we had our own early morning tour of their restored “Old Town” complete with the biggest Route 66 sign of all.  Texas had its share of small towns with their own collections of 66 memorabilia.  In Groom it was a leaning water tower and in Amarillo it is the line up of half buried Cadillacs, standing nose deep in the dirt by the highway.  In Santa Rosa, NM, we stopped to see the Blue Hole and adjoining park.  What a treat!  Too bad we left our snorkel stuff at home!  The water was deep rich blue and the temp was 61 degrees. The boulder-lined pool was 60ft across and 81ft deep and bubbled with 3000 ( Yes - 3 zeros! ) gallons of water per minute!

  We drove the entire Central Ave in Albuquerque, NM – the longest main street in the USA according to our “Route 66 Adventure Handbook”!  Arizona made us stop and once again drive thru the beautiful and ever amazing Painted Desert and Petrified Forest National Park!  The last time we were here we were on the bike and did not get to stop at too many turnouts.  This time, H gave in and was amazed by the colorful vistas and the mammoth deep veined logs that have been turned to stone and crystal over the millions of years!  Holbrook Arizona has a Wigwam Village Motel that drew us in to check out the restored tourist cabins, each in the shape of a large white teepee.  Each had a sweet old classic car parked by its door.   Several old tow trucks were parked under the front canopy as if ready to go assist a tourist having car trouble on a hot day.  

And then there was Winslow!   Remember the Eagles’ song – “Take It Easy”?  The lyrics call for standing on the corner in Winslow Arizona and also a line about a girl in a flat bed Ford, slowing down to take a look at me.  You bet – we were there!

Our goal for that day was to make Flagstaff – a pretty college town nestled at 7000 ft up in the mountains and surrounded by dark green Ponderosa Pines.  But I must mention that it is the home of Northern Arizona University and it was “Parents Week” so we pushed on - 27 miles more to Williams where motel rooms were more plentiful and lots more affordable!  Alas – they were also without the above-mentioned amenities.   H said we did have wifi but the room was too small to get the laptop in it!   The antique air-conditioner/heater did work well enough though since it was almost 90 degrees when we parked and there was frost on the van when we left the next morning!

Next is Nevada – Hoover Dam and Las Vegas, aka Lost Wages.