Sunday, November 30, 2014
I've been in San Diego for seven days now and it is time to turn around and head back east. I have eaten my way through pre-Thanksgiving, Thanksgiving and post Thanksgiving. I should POP soon. Loved visiting with family. Wish I could stay longer. After limited driving for the past few days, it does feel good to get out on the road. Today's journey took me from San Diego to Tucson. Really easy drive up through the mountains and back to the flat lands. The wind mills were really moving fast today and the car was buffeting in the wind in the mountains especially in the wind tunnels between the mountains. There was only one border patrol stop in eastern California. The border wall is very close at this point. I passed the sand dunes just west of Yuma and saw the dune buggies racing around in the sand hills. It looked like a lot of fun on a Sunday afternoon. There were a lot of RV's on the roadways today pulling an extra trailer loaded with ATV's. fun,fun I pulled into Tucson at sunset. Beautiful night. Tomorrow, on to Texas.
Tuesday, November 25, 2014
I made it. I'm in San Diego. Right now. As we speak. The drive from Yuma to San Diego was short, about three hours. I started at sea level, climbed to 4,000 feet crossing the mountains and then back to sea level. I was able to take the right turn off from the 8 onto Sunset Cliffs Drive in Ocean Beach and find my destination on Cape May Avenue. I will be here for a week before I start my drive back east and I am not planning on doing a lot of driving while I am in town. The traffic is big city crazy and not to my liking. But, I need to step out of my comfort zone and do this. I shall. Starting tomorrow.
Monday, November 24, 2014
I-10 has been described as the loneliest highway in the U.S. The stretch of road through western Texas, New Mexico and into Arizona has the fewest cross roads of any highway in the system. After nearly two thousand miles of driving west between Lake City, Florida and Casa Grande, Arizona on the I-10 I turned onto interstate 8 which should bring me into San Diego. Along the way I stopped in Yuma for the night. The name Yuma conjures up thoughts of the old west. Set in the middle of the desert next to the California state line Yuma sits alone, yet offers the traveller and resident everything they need. Then and now. My stay is short. One night. Today I will drive parallel to the Mexican border. But not before I gas up the car. You never know. I don't want to be caught short on the highway. Onward to SD.
Sunday, November 23, 2014
Van Horn has a population of about twenty five hundred. That's hundred, not thousand. And it sits by itself, along I-10, miles from anywhere. I found this out from the woman who worked at the front desk in the motel where I was staying. She agreed that there wasn't much to do there and it was the kind of town where the young people grew up and left for a while and later in life, they may return. I think it takes courage, strength and guts to live there--so far from everywhere. That's just my opinion, but then again, I grew up near a large city. Maybe there is true peace here. Certainly no distractions. I topped off the gas tank and proceeded to drive toward El Paso and onward through Las Cruces, New Mexico until I reached my destination of Tucson, Arizona. This trip was done entirely in daylight hours and I was able to see the terrain clearly. The table top mountains of the previous day had given way to the jagged peaks of the mountains I saw today. The mountains were always in the distance, never close up. This looked like cattle drive country. There was cactus and sagebrush and lots of sand. The land was flat with the mountains in the distance breaking up the landscape. All three (3!) of the cities I drove through today had public art attached to the highway supports. I call it public art though some might say it is just decorative handiwork. It is there for the public to see and enjoy. The theme is southwest desert with stylized lizards, swirl patterns (the wind?) and native designs in turquoise and earth tones. Very nicely done. I appreciate it. I have been to Tucson before and I am looking forward to seeing it again.
I stayed in San Antonio for two days. I had a very nice time visiting with family. Time to go and I know I am traveling farther west on I-10 than I have ever travelled. The rolling hills through the Fredericksburg area are lovely to view. The vegetation is low and very green. I am hoping that this topography will last a longer time and distance but it slowly gives way to the wider expanse of flat desert conditions that will take me into west Texas and further into New Mexico and Arizona. My destination for the night is Van Horn, Texas. For some reason I was thinking my drive was going to be about five and a half hours but I was mistaken. The distance covered between these two points is about 450 miles so at that rate I would have to drive 90 mph to accomplish that time schedule. I didn't, of course, but I must say it was easy to hit 80 mph (the posted speed) without any trouble. The driving was fine with just minor buffeting from the wind but the loneliness was creeping in since vehicles were few and far between. I dared not think what would happen if I had car trouble out here. I had a full tank of gas in the car when I left San Antonio and I made sure to stop in Fort Stockton to refuel when the gauge started to dip below half. I had another 120 miles to go at that point and I really didn't care to "chance" it. I have never driven through a total radio dead zone before but now I was in one. I popped in some music to keep me company. The road was very straight and level and the desert terrain stretched on forever (or as far as I could see). There is beauty in starkness. There is also an overwhelming feeling of smallness. For all the times I think I am in control of whatever I am doing at the moment, I now feel like a very tiny part of something. Very tiny, indeed. As daylight gave way to darkness I began to see lights dotting the landscape. I was not alone out here. In daylight, although I could see everything, I saw nothing. I was by myself (or so I thought). But at night I could see lights and movement and this gave me comfort. I saw only the road before me, the lights beside me and the stars above me. And I was comforted. And contented. I was a part of something. There was beauty in the light and comfort in the dark. Both were welcome.
Saturday, November 22, 2014
Throughout Texas there is a chain of stores that operate along the highway called Buc-ee's. They are a gas station/convenience store like none I have ever seen. They are huge; about the size of a large grocery store. As I travelled along I-10 between Houston and San Antonio I stopped at the Buc-ee's near Luling, Texas. I have been here once before and I know what to expect. The store has every food item you could possibly want. There is a large sandwich counter where all the sandwiches are made fresh and to your specific order. If you want a pulled pork sandwich, there is a counter for that. Gourmet fudge? Got it! Ice cream and dipping' dots? Got that, too! Massive selection of cold drinks lined up in a larger than life wall refrigerator. ummmmm...carmel corn. Everything you want is here. The place is very busy and I'm thinking the local people support the store as much as the highway travelers. Gas up, fill up (your tummy) and go. That's what I say. But before you go, please admire the brightly painted oil barrel animal sculptures adorning the indoor entryway. A must see place to be. See ya' next time. Now, on to San Antonio.
Docked in the Houston shipping canal across from the San Jacinto war memorial lies the battleship USS TEXAS. This ship was in service during both WWI and WWII. It was built in 1912 and is of the dreadnaught classification. If you like exploring old battleships, this one is for you. You can climb the narrow stairways to the gun turrets and descend steep stairwells to see the small city of rooms along the maze-like corridors. Below deck you can get a glimpse of what life was like for the sailors. The commissary, sick bay, laundry, eating facilities for both enlisted men and officers, chart room, radio room, library and even the soda shop look as though they had been untouched for decades. Today a large group of school kids are visiting the ship and the stair wells and gun turrets are quite congested. I believe I saw several kids riding on the canon barrels and I know I heard "Get down from there!" followed by "Where's (fill in the blank)?" spoken LOUDLY by the chaperones. Busy times! Lots of fun. All in all, I'm glad I stopped and took the tour. Ongoing restoration efforts are keeping the century old ship afloat and available for all of us to see a part of our nations history. Please come visit.
Friday, November 21, 2014
I have seen the exit sign many times along the highway on my way to Houston that directs people to the San Jacinto war memorial. The memorial is located on the site of the definitive battle for independence by the Texans from the Mexican government fought in 1836. It is here that the Mexican general Santa Ana was defeated by the much smaller band of soldiers lead by Samuel Houston. Today is the day I decide to stop and see this memorial. There are three parts to the site visit that are covered in the admission price. This is not a part of the National Parks service so no discount admissions apply here. It is run by the state of Texas. The museum and theater cover the first floor. The movie gives a full explanation of the events leading up to the battle and the ensuing victory on behalf of the Texan army. Very good overview! The museum is filled with artifacts from the battle and enough pictures, hand written letters and military equipment/soldier uniforms to give the visitor a good picture of what went on during that eventful day. An elevator ride takes you to the observation tower high above the battlefield and provides a very good opportunity to see the lay of the land as well as a very good view of the Houston area. There are nature paths that surround the memorial and picnic facilities, as well. This memorial site is well worth the stop. Now heres the thing. If you are driving west on I-10 and you get off the highway at the appropriate exit you will drive approximately 21 miles to the site over smaller state roads, across expansive bridges and through small town streets until you come to Independence Boulevard and the monument. However, on the way back to I-10 (as I found out by asking an attendant for directions back to the main highway) I was told all I needed to do was drive about two blocks, get on the ferry and after leaving the ferry I would be within a mile of the I-10 entrance. It's a straight shot to the highway. Hmmmmm... What!! How did I not know this before?? A SHORTCUT!! Oh, my. The laugh is on me. hahaha Go anyway. Go anyway you can. It's worth it.
Thursday, November 20, 2014
I left the Infinity Science Center in the middle of the afternoon and drove west through Louisiana toward Texas. (side note: The gas prices are cheaper in the eastern half of the state than they are in the western half of the the state with Baton Rouge being the central dividing line. So, gas up early if you are planning on driving west or hold off if you are going east). Between Baton Rouge and Lafayette is the 22 mile long bridge that crosses the bayou in that area of lower Louisiana. Nice ride, lower speed limits and a big ol' drop off from the bridge to the swamp below. As I drive over the bridge today the lowering sun is blinding and the wind shield visor has a hard time holding back the rays. I bear with it as the sun seems to be lowering quickly. I have a local radio station playing zydeco music mixed with local news and community banter and as the sun sets and the zydeco music fades and the radio picks up the tejano music, I know I am leaving Louisiana behind and entering Texas. Beaumont is 25 miles down the road and a bed awaits me there.
Wednesday, November 19, 2014
Many times during my travels along I-10 I have seen the highway sign announcing the John C. Stennis Space Center. It is located in the vicinity of the Mississippi welcome center at the first rest stop area along the western border of the state. Although I have stopped at the welcome center a number of times I have never taken the time to tour the facility. This is the day that I decided to make that stop and take that tour. The visit is broken into two parts--the information center and the bus tour. I started at the information center, named Infinity, and viewed the exhibits which pertained to the history of man's explorations. Starting with man's first exploration of his immediate environment to the voyages to new territories and global discoveries and ending with space travel and moon missions, each exhibit was well done entertaining and informative. There is a very large children's interactive room and the entire facility, including the outside exhibits, walkways and picnic area, is well suited for school groups. The forty minute bus tour took us to the government facility a mile or so away and we were able to ride around the secured area and see the test areas where rocket engines are put through pre-launch testing. All of the rocket engines for the NASA space program are tested here before being installed in the rockets that are launched from Cape Canaveral. There are a number of different launch/test pads at this site and all are enormous structures. The viewing stands and parking lots are set back a substantial distance from the launch pads because of the burning heat generated from the engines. According to the guide, wildlife in the area sense the impending tests and scatter prior to the blast. (No wildlife was injured or destroyed in the testing of this engine!) About a half hour after the testing is over the wildlife returns to the area and all is well as life goes on. If you are ever traveling along I-10 at the western border and care to take an informative rest break, I suggest you stop here. I did. And I'm glad I did.
I woke up to the sounds of church bells. It isn't Sunday but I am staying across the street from a lovely church with a tall steeple and this church plays hymns at the top of the hour. So peaceful! Every time I hear church hymns I start to sing the words to the songs. Having grown up in the church gives me a jump start in hymnology. I can't help breaking into song. It's just in me and I love it. My drive today is a simple one. Just drive west on I-10 from Mobile to Beaumont. The drive should take about five hours. I have one planned sightseeing trip along the way and that's about it. So, off I go.
Tuesday, November 18, 2014
I have traveled I-10 many times over the years. It started some time back with road trips between Mississippi and Florida. I became very familiar with the 296 mile stretch of highway along the panhandle between the western state border and the southern turn onto I-75. The route is flat. Live oak trees line the highway. This is a road filled with pockets of radio silence. I come prepared with CD's and occasionally cassettes (yes, my car is equipped for both!) but I also enjoy catching the small town local radio stations I pick up, though fleetingly, along the way. The programs are filled with local news, primarily the actions of the local high school athletic teams, and upcoming events such as pot luck dinners and swap meets. I think of the closeness of the communities and the feeling of belonging. I sometimes 'wish I were there'. Today as I turn onto I-10 I know I am heading straight into a brewing storm. A major cold front is coming preceded by a storm front. It is coming in from the west and I know it is better to just drive straight through it than pull over and wait it out. Visibility became poor and the hazard lights came not. The speed dropped to 30 mpg and I assumed the white-knuckler grasp onto the steering wheel. Staying in the far right lane I kept an eye on the white painted line marking the outer edge of the road and just held on. I could see the sky getting lighter in the distance and I literally just road out the storm. Not fun, at all. The rest of the drive across the panhandle was rather uneventful, thankfully. I stopped for gas at the same truck stop outside of Marianna that I have been to every time I travel this route. After gassing up the car I went next door to the fast food restaurant for some simple road food. That's road food for me but for people who live in the area it is a local dine-in restaurant. Families, couples and workers were all taking the time to sit and enjoy their meals. Interestingly enough, if you visit the same places over a period of time, you begin to recognize people you have seen in the past. Even if you don't really know them, it feels like you do. Vicky took my order. I've seen her before. She is in her late 20's or early 30's and has braces on her teeth. For some reason I tend to focus on people with braces partially because I had braces at one time and I know what they are going through. Also, adults with braces impress me because they have made a conscience decision to correct a situation that may have been bypassed in their teen years. I noticed Vicky was in the rubber band phase of treatment. I had asked her about a food item and she had to admit she had never tried the item due to her braces. She quietly laughed. She is so sweet! I asked her how long she has had her braces and she said thirty months. Not ABOUT thirty months but exactly thirty months. She knew. The clock was ticking! She had had some trouble straightening her teeth but she was in the home stretch. We joked about occasionally breaking the rubber bands and the surprising snap they make. Ouch, the memories. I left the restaurant thinking of Vicky and suspected we would meet again someday, with or without braces. Go Vicky! I drove on toward Mobile, my destination for the night. Just before leaving Florida I passed by Pensacola. It is known for it's naval base, among other things. Now highway infrastructure may not be all that special with the basic concrete grey color scheme built into the overpasses but every once in a while you pass a town that treats the driver to a visual art gallery display in unexpected places. Pensacola is one such city. The overpass columns are painted a light cream color and emblazoned on the columns are mini sculptures of six jets in the flying formation. The jets fan out across the columns and give them character. Very nice. I appreciate that. Thanks Pensacola. Onward.
Monday, November 17, 2014
I left Venice, Florida this morning. Perfect driving weather. I drove north on I-75 on my way to Lake City. My actual destination was the intersection of I-75 and I-10, just north of this city but I know when I see the highway sign for Lake City that I am close to my destination. This drive usually takes about three hours but today it took longer going around the Tampa area because a tractor trailer truck had dumped a load of steel beams on the highway and northbound traffic was basically at a stand still. I popped a Christmas music cd into the dashboard player and let it run two cycles while I crawled along with the traffic. Very soothing, considering. After that...smooth sailing. The reason I mentioned Lake City earlier is because there is a log cabin sales lot along the highway near exit 427 and several model homes are on display. I like the modern rustic look of the buildings. I can just picture these cabins moved onto private lots, perhaps in the woods near a stream or in the mountains with a view of a valley. Anyway, I always look forward to seeing these log cabins as I drive by. Maybe someday I will stop and see for myself what the interiors look like. But today I must press ahead. I have "miles to go before I sleep" (thanks, Robert) and I keep driving.
I really like to drive and I drive a lot. Driving around town does nothing for me but give me an open road and I'm gone. Just gone. I've always been this way. I may have been born in the dead of winter on a snowy, freezing day but I do believe I was born with a heavy dose of spring fever in my blood. I have this urge to keep moving and driving my car plays a major role in how I move. Perhaps it is my desire to see what is around the curve in the road or what lies just over the next hill. Maybe it is my restless spirit. I don't know. But I do know I like to drive. So, this blog is all about my travels and my thoughts on what I see. Read on and enjoy.