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Southwest Road Trip - May 2012

Encinitas, California

Sunday, May 13, 2012

My first taste of real freedom came by way of my first car. A friend had a 1967 VW Bus which sat unused in his side yard. Eventually I won my dad over and he loaned me the 1200.00 to buy it. Life really felt different for me the day I drove that thing for the first time.

So now, many years and several kids later I have another VW Van. Of course it has way more power, heated seats, etc. But the feeling it gives me is similar. I feel free, like adventure awaits!

In 4 days I'll pull my two younger kids out of school to go meander around the southwest for a couple of weeks. I anticipate that we will "camp" for about half of the nights. We have a loose route marked out with some must-sees, but, I am fighting my need to over plan so that we can really go where the wind blows.

San Diego to Marana, Arizona

Thursday, May 17, 2012

It's a strange time when fantasy transforms into reality. I've romanticized the cross country road trip for over 20 years. Reality looks and sounds different...It's louder and has more complaining going on from the backseat. But it is beautiful out here in Big America. The kids worked at getting good with finding information we need on the iPad (something I never had on road trips.) They did NOT love Date Shakes from Dateland (something I did have on road trips!)

263 freight train cars

1 date shake split in to 2 cups

414 miles - 6 1/2 hours (only stopped for gas at Dateland...loving the Luggable Loo potty!)

Marana, AZ to Alamogordo Nm, New Mexico

Friday, May 18, 2012

First stop of the day (after coffee, of course) was the Santa Rita skatepark in Tucson. It was hot by 8am. After burning off some of Nate’s energy we turned onto the 10 east and I remembered reading about and old mission in the area. The Mission San Xavier del Buc was built in 1692. It is the oldest European style building still standing in decent condition in all of Arizona.

So we made a quick stop. The inside was extremely ornate and beautiful. There were several old Indian ladies there sitting in silence. A group of native children were there from the attached mission school. They were so cute.

The next stop was a 31 mile detour off the 10 to the old mining town / tourist destination of Tombstone, founded in 1879. At the cemetery we found some very entertaining headstones... “3 Fingered Jack Dunlop shot by Jeff Milton"..."Freddie Fuss, 1882, small boy who died from drinking stagnant or poison mine water"..."Billy Kinsman, 1883, who was shot by a woman much older than he who was jealously in love with him (information given by his niece)"

We did a quick walk through town, saw the courthouse and were greeted on each corner by friendly, period styled cowboy types who told us that the gun fight show would be starting shortly at the Wyatt Erp Theater...sell...sell...sell. It seemed a tad hokie so we fixed lunch in the van and got out of Dodge.

None of our 12v. plugs were working in the van so any electronic diversions for the next long leg of the drive were sidelined. We have visited a few of Arizona's and New Mexico's finest O'Reilly Auto Parts stores (wonderful, kind, helpful people) to try to figure out the problem and have now one plug out of three working.

On toward the Land of Enchantment, through Las Cruses and north, to the White Sands National Monument. After a very long, straight, flat road to nowhere, the kids began to lose hope that we would Ever begetting Anywhere, we arrived at White Sands. It was amazing. Out of nowhere appeared these bright white sand dunes. We just made it in time for sunset which was spectacular.

The ranger lady told us that Oliver Lee State Park was the place to camp for the night so we drove another 23 miles and pulled in well after dark, hungry, tried...dare I say ...grumpy? Thankfully the microwave cooking plan worked out and we quickly ate and set up the van for camping and sleeping. It was a bit of a challenge and I lost my organization...but only briefly.

117 car freight train

30 state lic. plate sightings

852 miles

Life lesson #47: Don't put your head out the window on the highway if you are wearing a hat.

Life lesson #48: You can always depend on your mom.

(I recovered Nate’s hat from the highway successfully)

Cost for the day (outside of gas) $21.00

Alamogordo, NM to Carlsbad, New Mexico

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Finding a place to camp near Alamogordo was the stop I was apprehensive about. It turned out to be really nice. Nate was crazy to skate before we left town so we found the local skate park... a sad and dismal place. We left after about 3 minutes and began the climb up the grade to the Lincoln National Forest. The top elevation was 8750. By the way, I'm so impressed with Big Blue (the van). Her consistent power and willingness to GO is a source of comfort for me! Along that drive we saw a significant change in plant life and felt the fresh, cool air. Beautiful. On the downhill side we stopped at a small petting zoo and pond and saw HUGE frogs. There was a long desolate stretch of road that led to the small, grim little town of Hope, NM...all boarded up. Eventually the 82 E. took us to Carlsbad. We easily found the Pecos River RV Park where I had made our only was easy to find because it was located on a very busy thoroughfare. Our next door RVers helped fix our bad fuses and now we have more "high-tech" capabilities.

At about 3:30am what had been a cool breeze began to grow in intensity and I could smell a raininess so I got up and started trying to put stuff away without waking the kids up. By 6:00 I'd done all I could so I got them up and cleaned up (loose interpretation of "cleaned") and we headed over to Denny's for breakfast before making our way to Carlsbad Caverns. We arrived right at opening time and were the first ones to walk down into the huge cave opening. I can't imagine what it would have been like for the first people to find it. It took an hour to walk all the way down into the massive...dare I say "cavernous" Big Room, and another hour to make the loop around inside. The marvel of the place was lost on the kids. They had a hard time getting past the smell of bat guano. The elevator ride up was extremely quick and we were out of there in exactly 2 hours and 15 minutes. Chevy Chase style! The rest of the day was the long road to Pecos, TX, through Ozona and on to Junction, TX. My buddies were extremely good travelers and seemed pretty content to be out of the cave and in the car.

1 deer close call

1 cross country roller blader

1 duct tape vinyl hood cover repair

Milage: 1399.6

Carlsbad, NM to Junction, Texas, United States

Monday, May 21, 2012

The haul from Carlsbad Caverns was a big one. We had a very close call with a deer crossing the road...and further down the roads of Texas we have seen that that is not unusual. We have also seen how the vulchers like to deal with those unfortunate deer. Once we shifted into cruise control I knew for certain that we were in Texas. As a kid I remember it being horrible to drive those long "boring" stretches. Now, I love it. I do wish I could find a Starbucks or Peets....But a 1/2 sweet and 1/2 unsweetened iced tea from the DQ works too. However it makes the long stretches difficult for other reasons. That's where the Luggable Loo has come in handy! We found the South Llano River State Park in Junction TX and were so excited about how beautiful it was... Serene. Dozens of deer and beautiful red Cardinals. It's a turkey hunting area but I think the season is over and maybe they've all been eaten because we didn't see one. We pulled in and set up camp...we're getting better at doing that. The Texan 5th wheel types are really nice and had tips about where to go next etc. They were all very curious about the van. We havent seen another Eurovan since leaving San diego, and it seems that most of them hadn't seen one before.

We had split pea soup and hot Korean pork buns (!), showered up and went to bed. It felt super safe so I slept well. In the morning the kids did some homework, played frisbee and we rented some tubes and floated on the river for a spell.

We finally got on the road around 2:00 and it was nice to not be driving for the whole day. We only had to cover three hours on the road. The first real "town" we've come across in a while that wasn't sad and tired was Boerne (pronounced Berney). Nate thought it looked like it would have a skatepark so we found it and they got their exercise, then we were back on our way. Our next stop was Guadalupe River State Park. Oh boy....are we out in the middle of nowhere.

Guadalupe River State Park, Texas, United States

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

There was no one around at this park when we arrived. It was really remote and the 5thwheelers all grouped themselves quite far from the bathrooms where we need to be, so we were alllll alone! I knew as we moved further east and south we would soon encounter bugs...and we now have. Thankfully we have screens for the van doors because we have to leave them open. As soon as we went to bed I began to hear noises right outside the van. I was freaked out and got the "small fry" stun gun and big knife ready. I had to go OUT into the wild and dark and make sure that everything was cleaned up so "it" would leave us alone. Even so,It did keep coming back and I threatened It and drove It back into the thicket will my cellphone light. We were out of there first thing and onto civilization and The Schlitterbahn waterpark, New Braunfels, TX.

Guadalupe State Park to San Antonio, Texas, United States

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Arriving in New Braunfels too early to go to Schlitterbahn, we found the Jaws skatepark so the kids took a spin. While following them with the camera I took a fall! Classic old lady move. My tailbone took the worst of it, but the impact was shared with my elbow and pinky finger. The camera was spared!

Pulling into Schlitterbahn parking lot reminded me of Wally World from the movies. The place is massive and the kids were super excited. Chum had to face her fears to go on some of the slides. I had to face mine and walk around a vast amusement / waterpark in my bathing suit! It was a great way to celebrate Chum's birthday (1 day early).

On to San Antonio. We pulled into the parking outside the St. Anthony Hotel looking like some hillbilly bunch. The van is plastered with insects and dust. Chum was passed out in her bathing suit in the back and there are towels and clothes strewn about. I couldn't bring myself to let the valet guy park the van for us, and opted to self park.

The hotel was built in 1909 and has a history of many famous people having stayed there. There was an old glamorous feeling about it with huge crystal chandeliers and lots of wood and marble. Thank you Priceline.

After cleaning up we walked to the Riverwalk area where the canal is lined with restaurants and shops. We picked a Mexican place to have Chum's birthday dinner.

Tomorrow we will have to get the van to a vw dealership and see why my 6 month old a/c unit isn't working properly and is making chugging noises. Then we will decide our next destination.

Hopefully we can be touring the city and the Alamo while it gets looked at.

San Antonio, TX to Comanche, Texas, United States

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Will they really remember the Alamo? That's debatable. However, I've done my job by showing it to them.

We started the day with a lovely breakfast at the St. Anthony Hotel then walked over to the Alamo...Oddly, right there in the middle of town. In my mind it was out in the middle of nowhere with a lot of dust around. But no, it's right across the street from a Ripley's Believe It Or Not museum and a Guiness Book of World Records museum. After a quick, yet thorough walk through at the Alamo we took a tour on the river and got a good deal of information about the history of San Antonio and finished up in time to check out and move on toward Austin. We decided to skip the mechanic and just unroll windows as needed.

On the way down to San Antonio we passed a huge sign that said SNAKE FARM and we decided to stop by on our way back north. The "farm"" had an extensive collection of snakes from all over the world, but compared to our excellent San Diego Zoo the condition of the snakes and other animal's pens was very sad.

I'm not a fan of "big" city driving, especially when I don't know where I'm going. Some boys at a skate park back in Boerne, TX told Nate that "House Park is the skate place to go to if you are anywhere near Austin", so we drove all around the area near the capitol until we finally found it. There was no shade and we aren't built for all that heat and humidity so Chum and I did math in the shade of the car while Nate burned some energy.

We took a quick loop around the beautiful capitol building and then went to an IMAX movie and learned more about the state at the Texas State History Museum.

The decision was made to call Austin our eastern most point due to heat, bugs, lack of a/c, etc. Doing this trip on a nickel instead of a dollar is part of the adventure so camping for the majority of the nights is our (my) goal and I think it will be more tolerable as we move north and west. We opted to skip Dallas (due to my city issues) and cut across from Belton to Abilene on the 36 west. It is a wonderful country road (evefryone still drives 80) and we chased the sunset while enjoying cows, sheep, goats and Hallelujah, our first armadillo! I hope there will be more.

This is the road trip picture I had in my mind... warm wind blowing in the open windows...Chum yelling "Moo" at the cows...a little singing (me) and being totally without an agenda. I felt really blessed today in spite of some automotive challenges.

This back country road led us through the tiny towns of Jonesboro, Gustine, Hamilton, and past the turn off for Pancake, TX, as well as Ft. Hood. Well after dark we finally found a town with a hotel and decided that Comanche was the stop for the night.

ps. Most of these entries are either made late at night or very quickly at a stop along the way. When I've had the opportunity to go back and read them I am appalled at the mistakes with auto correct and with my spelling. I've tried to make corrections but will miss many.


Lubbock, Texas, United States

Thursday, May 24, 2012

We did a load of laundry at the hotel and after a fine hotel breakfast of white breads and sugars we set off toward Abilene with the goal for the day to make it to Caprock Canyon State Park. We were all looking forward to the camp thing again after a couple of hotel nights.

Some of the clothes didn't get quite dry so we hung them on the line in the mobile unit.

I didn't expect temperatures to be as high as they are. Summer is getting near and the temps are higher than normal for this time. Today was about 100 (can't find the degree symbol).

With about 45 minutes of driving left to Caprock, cruising peacefully at about 70...Chum reading in the backseat and Nate sitting shotgun. Suddenly, on the passenger bumper is, as best as I can recall it, a big eyeball looking in the windshield, followed by a loud thump and explosion of hair. We hit a deer. The car was filled with screaming...I don't think it was mine, as I let off the gas and coasted to a stop. I was faced with the thought that I had to make sure that it wasn't still stuck up underneath us. Once I saw it was clear, we limped down the road as far as we could before the engine shut off. There we were in the middle of nowhere, in the heat of the day.

Nate gathered all our computers and chargers and important things and put them in a backpack, then began to try to wave down a passing car...all without being told or asked to do anything, while I tried to get a call off to Steve. Shortly a lady from the Texas Dept of Transportation pulled over and squeezed us into her truck to deliver us to the Sheriffs office in the town of Matador. Town is a large term for Matador. They took good care of us and had a State Trooper take us back in his car to wait the two hours it would take to have a tow truck come from Lubbock to pick us up.

As we sat there in his a/c we talked about God's goodness and how he protects and provides for us.

One of the reasons I wanted to do this trip was to let the kids see some real life. Today did not disappoint. They dealt with uncertainty, some fear and discomfort. They witnessed the plain old goodness of people who did what it took to see us through. I don't know what is going to happen with the van, but it wasn't a bad day all in all.

Commanche TX to Lubbock, still..., Texas, United States

Friday, May 25, 2012

You'll have to read these last few entries with a long, Texas drawl 'cause that's the accent in my head as I'm writing.

We wanted to hang out in Lubbock to find out the destiny of Big Blue. She's over at Hub City Auto Body being assessed and estimated. However, it's a holiday weekend so they won't have the diagnosis ready until Tuesday. So, we forge on in a fine, 2011 Chevy Traverse...with a back up camera, strong air-conditioning and "satellite extra charge Ma'am". Steve made a rental reservation for us from Encinitas for a "midsize SUV". We found out that, although Everything is bigger in Texas, that does not include rental vehicles! They consider a RAV4 midsize. I asked what the small size would be, just out of curiosity. I also asked if they gave Mercy Upgrades, because I would like something bigger than a "midsize" to continue adventuring in. And, being Texan, 'cause that's how they roll, he gave us a very sweet deal and a somewhat larger car. No more camping...and the nickel trip has now become a dollar trip to the end. But we are resourceful people and we will figure out how many corners can be cut to make that dollar go further. To me, that's part of the learning that I want to happen on this trip.

So while the auto shop was doing what they do we headed on over to the Buddy Holly Museum. It's really well done and the video presentation brought the kids up to speed on 1950's rock and roll and the influence Buddy Holly had on rock to this day.

Nate knew of an indoor skate park in Lubbock so we looked it up and headed over there when it opened. It was located in an old cotton storage warehouse made of corrugated metal. We had hoped that because it was an indoor park that there would be a/c, but if it was 100 outside (which it was) it was 105 a/c. But fun. Soon some other "kids" trickled in and when some of them weren't smoking they watched and learned from Nate.

Two little kids were dropped off by their mom. They were riding boards that were in horrible condition and the 7 year old brother asked Nate if he could wear his helmet and happily wore it the rest of the time we were there. That same boy saw Chum stringing some beads that she had just bought and asked if he could make something too. I listened while they talked and strung and I could tell that it was very enlightening for Chum to see a totally different perspective on haves and have-nots. Where you live, what's around makes what you have look completely different. It was good for them to see that though they often talk about what they don't have, what they are really doing is taking for granted all the do-haves. We sweated it out in that metal-silo-thingy for four hours and left to find our way to a grocery store and back to the hotel. We decided on a delectable microwaveable chicken fried rice, orange juice and apricots. Lights out and both were asleep in two minutes.


Lubbock, TX to Santa Fe, New Mexico, United States

Saturday, May 26, 2012

It was pretty sad and some what defeating to leave Lubbock without the van. It's not just the's the whole vibe of the trip...hippie chic! ...and we had a groove going with camp set up and where stuff goes...and cheap lodging. But I totally believe that God allows stuff to happen and it all works out for our good.

Regardless, we left her behind and set off toward Santa Fe. The road map from AAA is nice but it doesn't show a lot of the smaller highways and back roads. It's nice having Google Maps because I can narrow in on those small backroads that connect us from one major highway to another where you really see the country...without 18 wheelers and power lines...but with deer. I am a little road/deer shy today on our first driving day since that event.

We passed through some towns that I remember the names of from when I was a kid. Clovis, NM. It is such a classic old town that really looked like so many of the places we went through. Boarded up old favorites are the old gas stations. They were always configured the same way. Every time we pass one I can't help but think of all the ways I'd love to repurpose those old places.

We followed along the railroad tracks and Chum counted freight train cars but we've yet to come close to our record of 117 cars that we counted in Alamagordo, NM. I stuck a sticky mount for the GoPro Camera on the hood of the rental car and tried to get the camera charged enough to take some photos, one every minute for 2 hours. I sorted through the pics tonight and out of 60 or so before the battery died I kept about 4 but its an easy way to get overview pics of the road and surroundings. (I hope the adhesive comes off before we have to return the car).

We aimed for Santa Rosa, NM for the phenomenon known as the Blue Hole. It is an 81 foot deep hole in the earth that is fed from underground springs. The outflow is an amazing 3000 gallons per minute. It is a constant 61 degrees and a refreshing break from the dry, hot dusty, howling wind. I was totally up for it except that there was no one over 25 jumping in and no females over 15 and I didn't feel that much like bucking the trend. Nate, of course went straight to the high jump and Chum circled around the lower jump area, not afraid of the jump but a little shy of the swim over the deep, dark unknown depths below her. The water is crystal clear and it is easy to see the shallows vs. the deeps just by the color.

Santa Rosa is on the historic Route 66 and there were a lot of people in that area celebrating that nostalgia....including a large tour bus of Brits. I love the old motels and diners along the way.

Somehow we ended up on a major highway fighting for space with truckers...angry truckers... We saw a good number of FireWorks stands in Texas which excited Nate but they were all closed down. So when I started seeing the numerous signs for the Circle (something-or-another-) Ranch...can't remember) and they were advertising fireworks, I figured we needed to stop. WOW! POW! They had a lot of fireworks and we surely bought some. We've been trying to find license plates from all the United States and have a running list. In this one parking lots we found two that had alluded us along the way...Arkansas and Virginia. We came completely and surprisingly unglued when we saw a yellow Ferrari with Alaska plates outside of Clovis...of all places.

We finally spotted the Route 3 turn off of the 40 freeway and headed again, out into nowhere, north toward Santa Fe. The side roads feel so much better. That is where real people are living and making what sometimes appears to be really difficult circumstances work...for multiple generations. When we drive through some desperate looking "town" the kids say that no children must live there, but they clearly do and their lives look very different from ours...and we see them sitting on tractors and playing in the Pecos River and I wonder if they dream of something bigger than their little "town" or if they have a rich satisfaction from working with their parents on land that has been in their family for generations. I'm pretty sure that those kids have their heads on straighter than our "civilized" children who want...and want...and want...

We pulled into Santa Fe and it is an expensive town to stay in. We started close to the heart of old town...656.00 / night and quickly moved down the road to the south, checking Priceline as I drove....flirting with the notion of the old southwestern motels....but not quite ready to pull the trigger on that.

We finally Pricelined the Days Inn and pulled in behind a small gaggle of 60 year old, super cushy Harley riders who are Wild Hogging their way down Route 66 from Memphis. They made the otherwise sketchy hotel seem a little safer. But truthfully, both the kids and I have agreed that the rather gritty folks we've met along the way are neither dangerous or menacing. The gals who are a couple of doors down from us at the Santa Fe Days Inn, all tatted up, that are here for a bike-polo tournament are as nice as can is the guy with the dreads in the parking lot. I'm not trying to be in any way demeaning. My point is that we live in a very white bread, Purel society and I am enjoying showing something different to the kids. On the other hand I am also enjoying seeing that my kids do have a good sense of discernment. When in Abilene, Texas Nate was skating at a skate park within a park and Chum was on the swings. I parked under a tree for some shade and made some sandwiches. Nate came over to the van much sooner than I had expected. He told me that one of the "older" guys who was there when they were just leaning on a fence in the shade suddenly said "hey, anyone wanna go rob a bank?" I like the fact that Nate had the good sense to just leave at that point. That works.

Tomorrow we will see what some po' folks can do in Santa Fe.... Tonight I look at the map to see what's next.

Santa Fe, NM to Farmington, New Mexico, United States

Sunday, May 27, 2012

The Days Inn Santa Fe has a loose interpretation of "breakfast", but there was juice and coffee. We sought out a Starbucks once we were in town which made everyone happy and we wandered around town. We weren't there very long, but long enough to check out the main sights and buildings. Because it was Sunday morning there were church services going on in the St. Francis Basilica, and we weren't dressed for church so we didn't go in. The Loretto Chapel was closed. It's such an artsy town and there were a few different areas in town set up with artisans and crafters selling their work. I could have looked around for hours, but the kids were freezing since it was only around 60 and we were still dressed for 90-100 degrees. Back in the car before our meter ran out and off to Bandelier National Monument.

We were basically alone on the mountain road climbing out of Santa Fe yet knew we had arrived at Bandelier because of the line of cars waiting to get into the park. The road down into the canyon is breathtaking and I couldn't help but wonder how people first stumbled upon this place. We were given a large map-folded type brochure with facts and information but I couldn't read it while driving, so my questions will remain unanswered until later tonight when I have a chance to look it over. We hiked the loop around to view and surprisingly, to climb in a couple of the cliff dwellings. The air was fresh and crisp. Really beautiful. Our ice has held up well in the cooler since leaving the oven that was Lubbock. Our lunch was nuts, fruit and some ice cold yogurt.

I didn't want to rush our time at Bandelier, but couldn't help but wonder if we would make it as far as I had hoped today because it was a really long drive. There was a great deal of time spent on winding mountain which made for slow progress. We passed through several Indian Reservations and pueblos where the speed limit was VERRRY LOOOW, the Jicarilla Apache, the Zia Pueblo, San Idelfonso, the Jemez and others. The change in scenery, foliage, and dirt color was dramatic as we climbed up one side of the mountain range and dropped down the other side. As the road curved around, suddenly there opened up a huge, I mean really huge grassy valley that was spectacular. Very shortly afterward the Pines and Aspens disappeared and the earth was deep red. Coming into the small Indian village of Jemez we saw that there was some kind of festival going on and pulled over. Each booth had different kinds of jewelry of silver and turquoise and pottery being sold by the people who made them. There was a group of guys gathered around some drums and they were drumming and singing. It was really neat to look around at the red mountains while listening to the native music. Super cool.

Once we were out of the hills the landscape became more what I would describe as typically southwest looking...dry layered earth of red and tan with the flat top mesas....and long, straight stretches of highway. The kids are road warriors and are doing really well. Which is good considering that there is nowhere to stop and stay....and I'd prefer not to drive at night due to the unbelievable number of roadside cross and plastic flower memorials we've passed. How did all those people die? Deer is one guess.

After an eternity and a really good Life question and answer session we pulled into the town of Bloomfield and a road junction. The plan was to get dinner here and go on 10 miles to Farmington to stay the night. This was one of my best decisions. The Triangle Cafe was dead ahead so we pulled in next to a couple of old farm trucks and went in. The Triangle is an original late 1940s, early 1950s diner that hasn't been redone since. There are some antlers on the wall and one of those old dessert cooler display cases with a sliding glass door. It had jello and cream pies in it that are still made from the same recipe that was handed down from the mother who first owned the diner to her daughter who took over in the '80s. Chum ordered the chicken fried steak with mash potatoes and gravy (that surprised me) and ate the whole thing. Nate and I had burgers and onion rings. Amazing. It was our first dinner at a real restaurant on the trip. The only other real meal out was breakfast at Denny's in Carlsbad, NM (I can't really even remember how long ago that was....but it seems a very long time). Subway has carried a few of the other required eating, but most of our meals have been cooler sandwiches, soup, etc. Simple.

Just when the town of Bloomfield ran out Farmington began and I pulled over to Priceline a hotel. I saw a Motel 6 up the road a bit that had the price posted on it's sign and thought I'd check it out since it was significantly less than the Priceline places. There is a reason this place isn't on Priceline. I'll leave it with that. But I am remembering what the goals are. Safety and security are the things I am most concerned with. Granite counters and amenities aren't. Which is good..there aren't any here. However, I don't think I'll skimp quite this much in the next few nights. I'm taking the safety switch off the stun gun now.

Good night.

Farmington, NM - Durango, CO to Blanding, Utah, United States

Monday, May 28, 2012

Last night at the Motel 6 Farmington, NM was dicey and long. I finally fell asleep around 2am...sometime after that barking Chihuahua. I woke at 4:50 feeling cold but afraid to touch the blanket. So I got on the map and figured out where next and how fast we could get on the road. I went into the office to check out and told the lady how dirty the room was... not so much a complaint as a notification. She quickly wrote me a voucher for a free night at any location, good for one year. We'll see. Chum suggested giving it to a homeless person. I think that's a good idea. We pulled into the Safeway which had a Starbucks so we loaded up. We decided first thing this morning that river rafting on the Animas River was going to be cold, so the kids agreed (that was nice) that they really wanted to go on a trail ride instead. We found Buck's Livery just north of Durango, Colorado online. The scenery took our breath away just getting up to the place. We got turned around and a little lost, but Ben (Buck's stepson, age ? 50 something) was kind enough to tell me that it didn't matter when we got there, they would be ready for us. Ben runs the place now. He has 4 brothers and a sister and his mom was loving and tough, raising them alone until she married Buck. Buck's retired now, and surprisingly, living in Farmington, NM. His favorite place to eat, not surprisingly is the Triangle Cafe. It was a beautiful ride with really wonderful people. As we rode I talked with Ben a bit. Cowboy wisdom. My parents took my brother and me to a dude ranch in that same area of Durango when we were kids. I asked Ben if it was still there and he seemed surprised that I knew the place. It's been sold but he knew the guys who used to run it back when I was there. McCaslin, I think the name was. The kids, who have now gone tubing and spent a day at the Schlitterbahn said that this was the most awesome thing they've done. It was.

We hopped out of the saddle and back on the road, picked up some hotdogs and gas on the 550 and veered right up the 190 toward Monticello, Blanding and the Canyonlands, Moab, Natural Bridges areas. Again, was a beautiful drive. There was a good deal of white knuckly beware of deer and even bigger, beware of elk stretches and I did have another close call where we stopped clear of the deer but threw the contents of the car around. All of a sudden we happened along a clear, bright blue lake which was a total surprise. I believe it was the Recapture Reservoir. We took a small dirt road off the main road and I began to wonder if I was going the right way, but the rutted road was on a bluff and there was no, NO turning around. We finally made it down to the water's edge and took a quick look see. Then off to Blanding which seems to be the launching point for several of the major National Parks. My main goal was Natural Bridges National Monument but we've run across another bunch of Wild Hogs (old white collar bikers) who just came out of Esclante and Capitol Reef and said they are must sees. So I'll check our time left and possible routes and see what we can do in the few days left.

It was too late in the day and after working on homework in the car the tension was super thick. I know the kids are exhausted from the pace, but I don't second guess anything, any routes or choices we've made. We're just going to have to finish strong. Nate found the Blanding skate park and we went down to blow off some steam. Unfortunately the super quiet town also had a community pool with major water slide which sent Chum into a bummer landslide. At that point I figured that we really just needed to get something to eat and go "home" to the Prospector Motor Lodge (2nd best stay of the trip) and microwave some dinner up.

The Prospector is top rated by Priceline for the town of Blanding. It looks like a run down motor lodge from the street but the rooms are huge, super clean and equipped with coffee, microwave and fridge and like I said, really huge.

The loved ones are at the end of their mileage tolerance. I may have to do more during the day and drive more in the late hours. I, however am still enjoying every mile of the journey. The beauty of God's creation we've seen in our amazing country blows my mind. I truly could keep going.

Blanding, UT to Tuba City, Arizona, United States

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Except for our first hotel in Tucson, every hotel we've stayed in was run by Indians. Until tonight they were all India, Indians. Tonight they are American Indians. None of that matters about anything. I just noted it as a trivial thing.

This morning we handled some homework business before heading over to the Blanding Dinosaur Museum. That doesn't sound that impressive, but it really was quite well done with some amazing artifacts and fossils. Not far down the road out of Blanding is the turn off to the Natural Bridges National Monument. I'd seen photos but they can't capture the magnitude of the place. Rather than go back the way we came we turned south west when we came out of the park. That was a long, pretty straight road with slight dips that went on for miles. On this road we had to watch for cattle and over one dip, there they were. Three mamas and three babes. I slowed way down and took some pictures. One mama stood still just looking at us and I felt certain that if she felt threatened she was going to ram me. I don't know anything about cows though. Maybe she just wondered why my hair looks so bad.

At one point there were signs posted to slow way down to 15 miles an hour, and that there was gravel, hair pin turns and a steep grade ahead. I had no idea what we were coming upon. Suddenly the bottom dropped out of the high desert and what we saw took our breath away. The tight curves on gravel on the steep decline...with no railings was a little unnerving for the kids. Just about the time I began to feel nervous about this being a real vs. some park worker road we came upon an overlook and the other cars there confirmed that we were going the right way. The red earth and great monoliths are amazing and I was glad the kids were as taken with the sights as I was.

We stopped in the "town" of Mexican Hat, just beyond the Mexican Hat monolith and had lunch. While at the Natural Bridges I overheard a family speaking German and found out they were from Bern, Switzerland...another couple from lunch two French couples and a family from Austrailia... People travel from all over the world to see these incredible sights.

After passing the last great stone tower we came into the small Indian village of Kayenta in Navajo county. There were numerous dogs and horses just cruising unaccompanied and as quickly as we found ourselves in town we were on our way out...until we saw a skatepark. It was all metal ramps and 1/2 pipes, but the kids said they wanted to go back. There were a few kids there doing more hanging out than skating but one of them started skating with Nate and talked to us a little bit. It was hot, dry, windy and dusty so we peeled out of there after a little bit and drove the last 75 miles of the day to Tuba City, Arizona.

I was pulling up Priceline as we came into the "city" which was bigger than many of the places we've been through, it has a Subway, but no Dairy Queen. We passed a couple of small motels at the edge of town and decided we'd better drive all the way through and at least look at the outside of the places that were available. Chum hollered out "SKATE PARK!" and there, right next to the Quality Inn was a great park full of kids skating and on bikes. We checked into a delightfully nice room and went over to skate. Again here, the kids are kind of a spectacle. Their coloring alone is kind of startling in contrast to everyone around them...add to that the fact that they can both skate well...they get a good deal of attention. The kids were super friendly at this park and a group of girls were asking all kinds of questions about Chum and her skateboard, etc. She had a great time hanging out with them for a couple of hours. Nate too found some kids to skate with. It really seemed like bringing out the boards set the common ground and they just went from there. The nearest skate shop is in Flagstaff which one of the girls told me was 72 miles away. The equipment they had showed the signs of use and it was a little hard not to feel bad about what we had and they didn't...and want to give it to them. It was a nice evening and the kids had a great time and reprieve from the touring and sightseeing.

We did a mental count of animals and oddities seen along the way, including road obstacles:

2 deer near misses

1 deer not missed

1 zebra


1 dead armadillo

cows on the road

horses on the road

mule on the road

goat on the median

sheep dog darting across Hwy to drive sheep back up embankment on the other side

multitudes of llamas

turtles on the road shoulder 1 dead, 1 alive

several dead snakes on shoulder....still looking for a live one

1 cross country roller blader

7 cross country charity runners (

Miles traveled: 3114

Tuba City, AZ to Kingman, Arizona, United States

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

So frustrating to have written the whole blog for the day and have it disappear.

I'll do it, but it may be somewhat lackluster as it is 10:37 and I'm starting over... Dang.

I was awakened by Nate telling me it was 8am...We never sleep that late so I felt a jump of angst to get it together. I went to bed with my hair wet last night so there was an immediate need for some follicular work to be done. We headed over to the Hogan Restaurant run by the Navajo and had an exceptionally large breakfast which included really good sausages (at about 1:30 my system would argue that point). Behind the Hogan was the Navajo Museum which had a remarkable exhibit on the Navajo Code Talkers who aided the US during WWII with communications. We watched a quick video which explained how the coding was done. I loved the simplicity that foiled the enemy. The Secret Weapon!

If we calculated correctly it should have been about 2 hours to the Grand Canyon but we will have to add in several stops at the trading areas for jewelry and arts. I love that stuff. Apparently Chum gets that from me.

We did a little better than Chevy Chase at the Grand Canyon but decided that if we skipped every other view area we would be doing ok. Chum swears she hasn't been there before but I assured her that she was there when she was about 18 months. I loved her gasp when she first took a glimpse. It is breath vast..and colorful.

We were set to head over from the GC to Kingman and that road goes through Williams....Route 66, old town, super cute. I would have loved to stay there but that would have added another 2 hours to tomorrows drive which is already 6 hours. When we pulled into Wiliams we saw a sign for Bearizona which is a drive through zoo. There are walk through parts too, but the idea of driving through wolves, buffalo and bear was more than we could pass by. We saw baby bears climbing trees, beaver, raccoons sleeping a a tree. Who knew that porcupines sleep in trees? It was fantastic. We bee-lined it the next 2 hours to Kingman while doing more math and quizzing on the state abbreviations. It seemed to be a heavy deer and elk area based on the indicator signs, which explained why my arms and hands were tried from the extra strain on that stretch. Along the way we had some great discussions on Book smart vs. Street smart...where they come from and how to get from book to street. That's good to know. Street smart works in the office too.

We did a drive by overview of Kingman's hotel row and picked what looked good. The Best Western Kings Inn, something' something' fit the bill. The girls at the front desk waited for me to make my Priceline registration which was a nice savings and told me about the restaurant next door that would give us a deal because we were guests. Best onion rings.

Sadly, it's time to end the journey. The kids have worn thin, although they are still enjoying the open road. We talked about best campsites, best hotels ( Best Western Kingman is in the running for favorite), best food (camping and restaurant categories), favorite and funky people... Except for complaining and crying (which I actually expected more of) it had been a most enjoyable trip...including the good, bad and horribly ugly. Wouldn't replace any of it.

We were supposed to stop by my mother in laws in Rancho Mirage on the way home but she said she wasn't up to a visit, so we'll see her another time.

Chum received a text and a phone call from the Navajo girls at the skate park. She's not sure what to do with that. Nate thinks it's creepy, but I think it's cute.

Miles: 3427

License plates: all but Delaware, Rhode Island, and Maryland. We found West Virginia, South Carolina and Hawaii today. We've decided that Rhode Island or Delaware are the holy grail.

Kingman, AZ to Encinitas, California, United States

Thursday, May 31, 2012

This morning the kids were really slow to get up and ready for the last 6 hours. I am only including the driving time, because the kids, especially Nate just want to run hard to the looking around. Six hours. They are done. We even discussed Soak City in Palm Springs and renting jet skiis in Bullhead City....NOPE, Go home.

So home it was. Through Needles. Through Barstow. Through Victorville. Through Rancho Cucamonga.... Norco, Corona, Elsinore...more lanes, more cars....and brake lights.

I-15. The pace changed. Shoulder tension. John and Ken on KFI. Familiarity.

Reentry after a trip can be tough sometimes...but within a few minutes after pulling into the driveway and unloading the car we were back in the groove. Laundry. Feed the dogs. Laundry...

This journey was truly amazing. Some of what I had hoped to accomplish didn't materialize, but there were other things, conversations that occurred that I couldn't have even dreamed of or hoped for.... rich stuff. Stuff for life. I think the kids had opportunities to see themselves in different ways than they had before, in different circumstances....different perspective.

I see that they enjoyed chances for excitement and adventure and yet liked falling into a regular routine for each day...something predictable, secure.

I wouldn't have guessed that we could have spent that much time in the car with as little fussing as we did... don't get me wrong...there was some fussin'.

I know there are some who will consider me irresponsible, but we folded the 3rd row of seats down in our bigger than mid-sized car and Chum set up a pillow nest back there. She made it from Lubbock to Encinitas without a seatbelt...back of the station wagon...old school. I'm really proud of them for toughing it out and making it work.

I'm super thankful for Steve encouraging us all the way...from planning, to departure...even allowing us to finish the trip, not to come home defeated, half way. Thanks Madison for sticking it out at home and taking care of Dad. So thankful.

The rental is to be checked in to Hertz at Palomar Airport at noon tomorrow. The Trip A odometer reading stands at 1731.9.

That brings the total miles traveled to: 3800.4

6 states

2 cars

3 Hougards

4 campsites

9 nights at 8 hotels

12 packs of gum

cheapest gas, Pecos, Texas - $3.19 / gal



Lubbock, Texas, United States

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

It's time to go back to pick up Big Blue in Lubbock so I set off with my friend Carmel for this last chapter of the journey that started back in May. We left San Diego toward Denver on United. Once we hit Denver we found a big mess of delayed flights and our connecting flight was in the midst of it. We were pushed out 2 1/2 hours which closed in on the end of the day for operating hours of Hub City Auto Body. I called to let them know we'd be getting in late and just minutes before closing time, but being model Texans, they said that they'd take care of us no matter what time we got in.

The United Express flight from Denver to Lubbock was on one of those little seat A on one side and B C on the other side of the aisle, only 19 rows on the plane. Well doggone it, if we weren't on row 19. A well fed family came into seat A of row 19 and all three seats of row 18 and we were feeling very packed in. It was a rough flight and that was demonstrated well when the 3 year old in the seat in front of me unloaded the contents of his stomach. Carmel and I just had to laugh. Yes, Adventure!

Once we arrived in Lubbock we called back to Hub and they sent a driver....who happened to be Angel, the owner of Hub City. It used to be her father's company. She let us know that the a/c on the van still had some problem that was in the process of being diagnosed and they had moved it into the hands of the VW dealership. Angel said that she wasn't about to send us out without good a/c. She drove us to Enterprise "Rent car" and got us set up in our sweet black Crown Victoria. We then headed over to the hotel that Hub had reserved for us until the van is ready. It's a Holiday Inn Express... so I'm sure I'll know more about the van a/c situation tomorrow.

When the kids and I were here in May we met up with a little kid at the Skate One 9 skate park who just wanted a helmet so bad and he had nothing but a really worn out board. I had told him that when we got home I'd send one to him but I lost his address and was just sick about it. Once Carmel and I got settled into the hotel we took a big bag of helmets, pads, wheels, boards and some really nice skate and surf clothing over to the cotton silo skate park to ask if anyone knew the kid I was looking for. Thankfully the guy who was working at the park when we were there in May was the first one I ran into as we walked in ...two decently dressed white ladies, getting out of a black Crown Victoria in the back side of the Hood, showing a photo of a little black kid and asking if anyone knows who he is... yea, that wasn't weird. I had a sudden idea of what my new show on TLC or BRAVO would be. "Lesbian Feds..the new Cagny and Lacey". Anyway, the guy remembered me from May but said that the kid doesn't come there very often and he didn't know who he was. I told him I had some stuff and though it wasn't great that I'd like to leave it for whoever needed it. He lit right up and said that Skate One 9, based on the bible verse 1 John 1:9 wasn't just a skate park but it was run by a church (Sk8 Church Lubbock) and was a bit of a homeless shelter too and they could totally use the things we brought. They were so excited about what we pulled out of the car. It's not hard to be a blessing.

So, now we've gone over to the Walmart Super Store and purchased a cooler and got some dinner and we are tucked into our beds and wondering what tomorrow holds. Could it be antique shopping on 34th street? or, headed home? Stay tuned...

Lubbock, Texas, United States

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Today we took the Woman Detective role up a notch and decided to do some looking around the VW dealership and see if we could get a location on Big Blue ourselves since our informants at Hub City Auto were vague, at best. We sat low in our seats as we circled around to the east of the service lot. I'm sure we looked odd cruising around so slowly. We parked and I casually meandered into the service bay to make inquiry regarding the status of the van. I spoke with Jennifer, service manager for Gene Messer VW, Chevy, Buick, Ford, Honda, Toyota, Cadillac, Kia, Suzuki, Hyundai.... (Messer is apparently the Mossy of Lubbock) and she gave me the basic run down and ET of delivery on parts that have been ordered and when we will be road and a/c ready. After feeling that I had gotten all the information there was to get, we pulled out and I called over to Hub City to see if they would give any more or any different information. Between VW and Hub's stories we were able to pull out a best and worse case scenario of the departure time from Lubbock.

We blew some time looking around As Time Goes By Antique Mall but we find ourselves in a weird place of trying to be patient and yet eager to get on our way. We tried to enjoy our current situation, but find ourselves unprepared for the extra time this is going to take (read: need razor and round brush).

We anticipate pulling out tomorrow afternoon and aiming for Ruidoso, NM, one hour west of Roswell. We'll start the day by going to the Market Street United grocery store and Pete's coffee to get our travel groceries and put them back in our hotel fridge until we're ready to go.

On a hygienic note: We spotted some funky black hairs on Carmel's pillow which confirmed what I had suspected, that the bedding had not been changed by Housekeeping Holiday Inn Express before we arrived. It was late when we finally got to bed our first night here so Carmel just used the pillow she had brought from home and we decided to address it the following morning. We were gone all day the next day and took a good look at the sheets and pillows when we returned and found that the beds had only been remade, not changed. Before leaving for dinner we stopped downstairs and explained the situation to Adrian, the young man working the desk. When we returned he let us know that he had changed the beds but he was sorry that he isn't very good at making them neat. Poor guy! He had left the desk and run upstairs and changed the sheets himself!

Hopefully tomorrow this will once again be a travel blog and not a sitting-waiting-shopping blog.

Lubbock, Texas, United States

Friday, July 13, 2012

When the owner of Hub City Auto Body picked us up from the airport on Tuesday and drove us to our hotel she spent a good deal of time telling us about the shopping opportunities available to us while in Lubbock...Carmel and I laughed later about that...obviously she doesn't know us. We're not shoppers. However, several days into our stay here we have, by virtue of the fact that there is nothing else to do, we have, indeed, shopped. We started today with shopping at the Market Street grocery and gathering the food we would need to have in the cooler for the 3 days drive home.

After receiving several versions of the status of Big Blue from VW and Hub City Auto Body, Carmel and I threw our sleuthing into a higher gear and managed to eek out further documents / invoices / work order copies from the VW dealer to get a clearer timeline on what has really been going on and what brought us to this point. A conference call with the USAA insurance rep, the owner at Hub and us further clarified what and where we believe the problems are coming from.

At this point the parts required for the repair to be completed at VW haven't arrived. We opened up the van today and found filth that wasn't there when we left the van in May, including rodent remnants, and animal hair from an undetermined source. I'm heart sick for several reasons, not the least being the realization that completing the road trip isn't going to happen. My legal counsel has made it clear that we are not to leave Lubbock at 6:00 pm on a Friday evening to drive off into the desert in July in a vehicle that doesn't have a tested engine cooling system... and since I have my legal counsel's wife with me, I think I will have to listen.

Once those decisions were made and airline tickets home were purchased, we settled in to eat our way through 3 days worth of I write I am enjoying some AkMak crackers with Boar's Head sliced turkey, muenster and a fine smoked gouda. We've got a ways to go 'till we're done.

In an effort to go out with a bang we decided to go on over to the Wild West club tonight just for fun to be a part of the Hunks In Trunks Best Chest contest... mostly because we so obviously have no business being there. They carded us at the door. What nice young men.

We enjoyed watching all the "kids" come in and style, two-steppy type stuff for about two hours, thinking that soon the competition would start and we could snap a quick pic and go home to bed. 11:30 rolled around a suddenly getting home and washing off the smell of the ciggie smoke seemed way more important to us than being there to witness the Hunks In Trunks in action.

Tomorrow, which is actually now "today" we will arrange the last necessary details that need to be cinched up and we'll fly home... a bit defeated and again one car short of a two car family.

Encinitas, California, United States

Friday, July 13, 2012

We're home from the non-road trip-road trip and I'm..hmmmm?. ...well I'm left with lots to think about. There are a few different kinds of people in the world.. There are the really bad guys who don't care about anyone other than themselves... and the bad guys who at least will care for their loved ones. There are the "good people" who politely smile and will help others until it somehow encroaches on their comfort, their finances, their time. And there are the godly people who put their time, comfort and finances aside and truly seek to do the good thing, the right thing, the thing that serves another, serves one in need... maybe even sacrificially. I thank my friends Carmel and Greg for being those kind of people. I love you guys.

So I'm thinking about those kinds of people in this world... We saw some sweet ones in Texas... At the Pete's coffee place, the old guys in plaid western shirts...old Texans having black coffee as they sat in a cluster of tables with some younger guys in trucker caps having large iced vanilla lattes , talking about whatever they're talking about... I'm thinking about a world where people have time for say "hey! How ya'll?" I want more of that world. I hope to shape those kinds of kids, the ones that two step instead of who will shape that world into more of that.

I think that, unfortunately the people who influenced me most in Lubbock left me emotionally scraped. There were smiles and nods of understanding up front, and calculating done in the background. "Truth" isn't truth just because it's convenient. Truth is Truth. Anything else isn't.

I still think that over all people would choose to do good, to do raise kids who would do the same. I'm going to keeping counting on that.

Encinitas, California, United States

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

If you had told me on May 24, 2012 that when I hit a deer in Texas that I wouldn't get my van back, in working order until August 15th I wouldn't have believed you. The damage just wasn't that bad... to the van. Now if you had told me that it would take 91 days to get that deer back in workin' order I may have had an easier time believing that.

So here we are, 91 days post White Tail....91 days.

For you mothers out there, let me make that resonate a little bit more.. From the week before the end of school until the week before school starts!...The whole bloody summer...3 kids. My transportation for the summer was a 1959 Chevy Bel Air with no power anything. All was manual.

Now I must be absolutely clear. The insurance company has thus far done a fine job, outside of the fact that they have (had?) a completely inane, lying, incompetent, back woods, cousin' lovin' shop as one of their contracted repair Lubbock...but once we got the van back in California, still dented, just painted and shined up and, oh by the way, NOT running, and full of rodent poop... this same insurance company got it to a local shop and their very competent representative got everything handled and in order, super clean and back to us today...91 days.

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