Wednesday, April 27, 2011

"Cowboys," Coyotes, and Tumbleweeds, Oh my...

I am not a religious man by any means, but I must confess, I prayed for a decent nights sleep last night and lo and behold Aldous delivered.  Woohoo!  We did not rush when we got up this morning because we knew we could knock out the last 650 miles or so in a day pretty easily.  We finally got on the road about 10:30 AM well rested and looking forward to getting to Albuquerque to see my uncle Bill and aunt Rebecca.

There wasn't much exciting to see in Oklahoma until we got past OK City and the wind farms started popping up.  I find myself very interested in the whole green energy movement and I've seen a couple of shows about these huge wind farms in OK, North Texas and New Mexico, but seeing them on TV and seeing them in person is two different things.  First off, the windmills are HUGE.  Without seeing them in person, it's hard to believe just how big they are (  Not only are they huge, but the wind farms themselves are massive and are stretched out amongst the three states I mentioned along I40.  We must have seen hundreds of them, maybe even up into the thousands.  Some people think they are eyesores, but I personally don't see that.  I actually think they look pretty cool, almost like some modern art out there on the barren landscape.

As we made our way out of OK we stopped at rest stop to have lunch.  The first thing you notice about the rest stops in OK is that the picnic benches are all under stone teepees.  It's kinda cool.  As you can imagine, the Native American influence is all over this place and this was kind of a neat way to pay homage to it.  We had lunch under one of the teepees and when we were finished I took Bella to the bathroom while Michelle finished feeding Aldous.  As Isabella and I walked up to the bathroom an older gentlemen, about 300 lbs walks out of the men's room headed for his car.  He was wearing the biggest cowboy hat I had ever seen.  Seriously, Aldous could have taken a bath in that thing.  He had a bolo tie and matching cowboy boots on as well.  As he approached us he said quite loudly "HOWDY!" and Isabella and I returned his greeting.  After he passed us, Isabella grabbed my shirt and tugged hard and was yelling and whispering at the same time as she said, "Daddy, Daddy, that was a real live cowboy!"  I was about to explain to her that he wasn't a real "cowboy" but  turned around a bit to look at him and he must have heard her because he looked back as well and was smiling.   I bet she made his day, even if he knew he wasn't  real cowboy.  At that point I figured what was the point of telling her he wasn't a real cowboy.  Sometimes perception is more fun than reality and this trip is all about the fun.  :)

Moving into Texas from OK the thing that struck me was just the extreme expansiveness of the landscape.  I've seen it on TV, but like the massive size of the windmills, it just doesn't compute the same as it does in person.  Everywhere you look, as far as the eye can see it's flat and just seems so immensely huge...and it goes on like this FOREVER, to the point you think the scenery will never change and then all of a sudden it does.  About 25-50 miles from the New Mexico border the scenery all of a sudden changes from totally flat land with a few shrubs on it or some sort of crop to what looks like a scene out of western movie with a landscape that is full of little canyons and  mesas of all sizes.  It's remarkable how quickly it changed and it surprised me even more how excited I got when the landscape changed.  This was the sort of stuff we took this trip to see!  Rolling into New Mexico it's much of the same, until we got closer to Albuquerque and all of a sudden you could see the mountains rising in the distance.  Our whole journey today was done in what can best be described as a massive wind storm.  We were fighting gusts of 40-60 mph the whole time.  I had to hold the steering wheel turned to the right the whole time just to go straight.  It's not fun fighting the steering wheel for 650 miles but it sure made it obvious why they have so many windmills out here. We arrived at my aunt and uncles about 8:30 local time and they were waiting for us with cold beer, fantastic homemade beef stew and chocolate chip cookies.  It was a perfect welcome for 4 road weary travelers.  :)

We will probably be here in Albuquerque for a few days.  My cousin Jim is flying in tomorrow and my cousin Kate lives in town so we are going to spend some time with them as well.  I'm not sure how much I'll have to update the blog in the next few days so I thought I would list the states we've been through and name the things that jump out at you as you travel through them.  Here goes...

Alabama:  Adult novelty stores, abandoned businesses and religious billboards.
Mississippi:  Adult novelty stores, abandoned businesses and religious billboards.
Tennessee:  Adult novelty stores, abandoned businesses and religious billboards.
Arkansas:  Adult novelty stores, abandoned businesses and religious billboards.  Are you noticing a pattern here?  I think it's a southern thing.  Arkansas also seems to have a Walmart on every corner.
Oklahoma:  FLAT, casino and religious billboards, dead coyotes (big ones) on the side of the road, windmills.
Texas: FLAT (till the last 30 or so miles of I40), religious billboards, windmills, tumbleweeds (we hit a big one blowing across the road today going 80 mph and it exploded like a giant dandelion seed head).
New Mexico: Beautiful scenery, windmills and casino billboards.  :)

After just 3 days the number one thing that jumps out at me is I can't believe I waited till I was 41 to do this.

Here are a few pics from today, but keep in mind most of them were shot from inside a car that was traveling between 75-85 MPH at a time, which did not help the quality.

PS, please forgive the typos, it's 3AM and I can't stay awake to proofread it.  :)

A landscape shot of TX to try an give you some idea of the expansiveness of the landscape....the pic doesn't do it justice.

The famous Cadillac Ranch in Amarillo TX,

We stopped to get Bella an Ice Cream and I saw this old abandoned service station on the other side of I40 from the Dairy Queen and I felt compelled to cross I40 take a pic of it.  I don't know why, we have literally seen hundreds of abandoned service stations like this, but it somehow called to me.  We get to Albuquerque tonight and my uncle Bill is looking at the pics and asks if this pic was taken in Shamrock TX.  I told him, yes, I think it was.  He said he recognized it because he had an old VW that broke down on him back in the 80s in Shamrock on a trip and he recognized this as the shop that repaired.  It just seemed an odd coincidence that that of all the abandoned service stations we saw I felt the need to take a pic of this one.

I had to take this pic because this was the first time in at least 15 years I've seen the old style gas pumps like these that were still functioning and in use!

They say everything is bigger in Texas....well, I can tell you that certainly applies to crosses!

Another landscape pic that doesn't look like anything special in the picture, but was awesome in person.

I'm now of the opinion that every rest stop should have teepee picnic table shelters.

I wonder what Don Quixote would have said had he come across these "giants?"

This kinda gives you an idea of the size of the windmills....although technically I believe these are called wind turbines as they turn turbines to make electricity, as opposed to turning mills.  :)

The sun had JUST set behind the mountains as we were approaching Albuquerque.  If we had been even 5 minutes earlier this would have been an incredible pic.

Monday, April 25, 2011

The King lived in a dump(y neighborhood).

 We started off the day by heading over to Graceland which was only about 15 minutes from our hotel.   Now admittedly, we didn't see much of Memphis, but the area we did see, which is to say the area surrounding Graceland, was, um, shall we say, less than graceful.  It's really bizarre, because as we were driving over there the neighborhoods started getting worse and worse.  It was just rundown 1/2 empty strip mall here, boarded up apartment complex there etc. etc.  We kept waiting for the neighborhood to get better....but it never did.  Then all of a sudden, you notice every business seems to be Elvis Presley related and you are at Graceland...well sort of.  You come to the Graceland parking lot where they want $10 just to park and then the tickets to actually tour Graceland are $30+ per person ($70 for the VIP tour).  While I actually wanted to tour Graceland, the combination of god awful surroundings, the exorbitant prices and a time schedule that really only allowed one site seeing stop today, we decided to bag Graceland and spend the time in Hot Springs Arkansas instead.

So off we headed to Hot Springs and promptly ran into a storm that would have looked right at home in The Wizzard of Oz.  Seriously, I have never in my life seen a set of storm clouds like the ones rolling towards us.  It was literally like something out of a movie.  They were magnificent and spooky at the same time.  I have to admit I was a little nervous when I realized we were in Tornado Alley and a tornado just took out the St. Louis airport a few days ago.  We got lucky though and there were no tornadoes to be seen (if I'm honest, I was a wee bit disappointed), just some of the hardest rain I've ever experienced.  We made it to Hot Springs in about 3 hours, which was pretty good considering the weather.  HS is a neat little town even if it's a bit run down.  I bet in it's heyday (which looks to have been sometime in the 20s or 30s) it was really quite the destination.  Even today though, it's worth spending a day or two there.  It's like a cross between Ocean City MD and Harper's Ferry, W. Va if you can imagine that.  It's got some serious natural beauty, but at the same time is very touristy with plenty of little nic nac shops.  Unfortunately the weather was still damp and very gray (but no rain!) so no decent scenic pics here either, but a few interesting one's nonetheless.

Bella Standing on a wall that sits atop a small mountain (large hill?) that overlooks Hot Springs.

Filling her water bottle at public filling station for the spring water.  Tasted awesome too, very mineraly (is that a word?)

Bella and I at a spring in the middle of the town.

The girls and Aldous at the same spring.

Downtown Hot Springs, AR.

At a neat little emporium in HS...Bella's face is not a put on...she was terrified of that wooden Gorilla....took me a few minutes to talk her into posing for this pic.  :-)

This had nothing to do with Hot Springs.  This was the sign for a restaurant in the same parking lot as a gas station we stopped at in OK.  The sign speaks for we didn't eat there, Michelle wouldn't let me.  :-)

 Next up, Albuquerque, NM where we are going to spend some time with my uncle Bill and aunt Rebecca and check out the local sites.

Sleepless in Memphis

Things we learned last night.

1.  Homemade beanie weenies (Bush's Original Baked Beans with bacon and brown sugar along with Trader Joes all-natural hot dogs) taste awesome....yea, we are on a budget.  :)

2.  While the kind of gas baked beans gives me usually leads to a night of entertaining complaints from my room mates, the kind of gas it gives Aldous is painful, wakes him up at about 1:30 and keeps him up crying till about 3:00 AM.  Poor little fella.  :(

3.  Michelle has a super human ability to pace back in forth in a hotel room in the pitch dark lugging this 30 lb crying fit pitching ball of kicking arms/legs for what seems like hours trying to calm him down.  I don't know how she does it.  My back won't last 5 minutes.

4.  The number one way to determine you didn't get enough sleep?  You wake up and your eyeballs are itching something fierce. 

5.  No more baked beans for Aldous...

Ok, back on the road and a quick stop to see The King before we head to Hot Springs national park.  The weather looks crappy today, so it may be slow progress.  We'll see...

Sunday, April 24, 2011

1 day down ? days to go....

Well, we didn't actually hit the road till 1:30 today.  Fatigue from my lyme disease has really been kicking my butt these last few days and as we were (still) packing last night I was ready to postpone our departure one more day so that we could get up early (like 4AM early), get on the road and spend 2 straight days driving to Albuquerque.  I just could not fathom getting up with 4 hours of sleep (we still had 2 more hours of packing) and driving all day.  Michelle, to her credit, had a MUCH better idea.  Go to bed, don't set the alarm clock, get up when the kids do, have a leisurely breakfast, finish the packing and hit the road.  Instead of two 12 hour days of driving, she suggested we just take 3 shorter days and also see if there was anywhere worth stopping for an hour or two along the way (we originally had not planned on doing any sightseeing until we made it to Albuquerque).  Well, as it turns out, our route takes us right past Hot Springs National Park in Hot Springs, AR.  

We had planned on trying to make it to HS today, but Aldous would not have it.  We made it right outside Memphis by about 8PM Eastern before he was done for the day.  We pulled into a truck stop and Michelle fed Aldous while I used her new smartphone (the HTC Thunderbolt ROCKS!) to go on Hotwire and find a decent cheap hotel.  Just about the time I was finished booking a night at a Holiday Inn Express about 2 miles away Michelle had finished feeding Aldous and we were getting ready to head out.  Just then, two shirtless  gentlemen in their mid-50s covered in home-applied tattoos and mud, rode over to our mini-van on 4 wheelers.  One pulls up to Michelle's window and the other one parks in front of the van.  The fella at Michelle's window starts talking to us.  Now, you have to remember, we are in Mississippi, and if you have never heard a DEEP SOUTH accent, they can be a bit hard to understand (hell, even if you have heard them, they can be hard to understand).  Michelle can't understand a thing he's saying.  I understood enough to get the gist of it, but before I could answer him, Michelle started complimenting their "mini trucks" (I don't think he understood what she meant at this you can surmise, Michelle has not spent much time around "four-wheelers" in her life :) ).  I think they made her a little nervous and that's why she started gushing over their "mini-trucks."   So there we are, a mini-van covered in sunflower, daisy and bee stickers surrounded by locals in "mini-trucks" blocking our path of escape.  Turns out they were just asking if we were lost and did we need directions.  We explained we were fine, just needed to feed the baby and I said they looked like they were having fun.  The talkative fella said "HELLS YES, WE'RE HAVIN FUN!"  Evidently, according to him there about 30 guys just like him and there are four-wheeler trails all around that area and they all get together every weekend to ride the trails.  They told us to take care, we said likewise and off they rode on their "mini-trucks."  Michelle looks at me and says, "I couldn't understand a thing they were saying."  At this point, Isabella pipes up.  "Are we still in the USA?" she asked, 100% serious.

Damn, this trip is gonna be FUN!  :)

We plan on getting on the road early and although I would never travel here to see it, I think since we are in Memphis, we might swing by Graceland, get a pic in front of the gates and then boogey on over to Hot Springs for a few hours.  Sorry about the lack of pics today, but there really wasn't much to take a picture of, though if I had to do it over I would have asked our 'mini-truck' friends for a pic.  :)

PS as I was typing this Isabella insisted we post a pic, so, by popular demand, or rather Isabella's, here is a pic of Isabella and Aldous in bed for the night in the Holiday Inn Express in Olive Branch Mississippi...

 While I think this pic is cute, I hope future pics will be a little more scenic in nature.  Ok, I'm off to bed, it's now midnight for me and I'm beat.  :)