Road Tripping USA #3, Day Five

Posted by: elraymundo at 11:40 am on Sunday, July 12, 2009
From: Great Falls, Virginia
Filed under: Euphoria, Lotus Blossom, Travel, Friends, Jeep

Ah, driving down the road in the Jeep on a gorgeous, soft-aired summer day with a headful of peace of mind, a bellyful of Five Guys cheeseburger and an earful of Ted Nugent’s Stranglehold. Pure bliss.

Ok, so maybe it’s not everybody’s bliss, but it’s my bliss.

La Raymunda and I did the walkthrough of our new townhouse in Herndon today. Debra arranged the rental while we were still in Southern Calipocalypse and the place is great. 2800 square feet of living space with a two-car garage and hardwood floors. The rent is the same as what we paid in Irvine last summer when we rented before buying the house on Stonehaven Drive. The chief difference is that for the same money we get twice as much livable space. Score!!

Our new place is walking distance from the Metro connection in Herndon and just a couple of minutes from the Dulles Toll Road. The supermarket is also within walking distance, as well as restaurants and shopping. There is a Gold’s gym just down the street so I can start dumping all the weight I put on after eating my way through the last several months of turmoil, and Ned Devine’s Irish Pub is two doors down from the gym so I can refresh after my workout. (Just ignore the obvious incongruity there.)

As for the last stretch of our drive across the country, we did it in one fifteen hour shot, driving from Jackson, Tennessee to Virginia and arriving at the townhouse at just before 1:00am Saturday morning. We parked in the driveway, got out of the Jeep and walked up the front steps in the dark and touched the front door to signify the end of the journey home. Then we headed over to Chris and Cindi’s back in our old neighborhood where we are staying until our stuff arrives later this week. Total miles for the cross-country trip was 2841 miles door-to-door and the route was Yorba Linda, CA -> Flagstaff, AZ -> Santa Fe, NM -> Weatherford, OK -> Jackson, TN -> Herndon, VA. Along the way we saw a giant meteor crater, Petrified Forest National Park, the city of Santa Fe, blew through Oklahoma on powerfully gusting winds, ate cheese dip at Stobey’s in Conway, AR and lit our lips on fire at Prince’s Hot Chicken Shack in Nashville. Debra wants to write a guest column about Prince’s Hot Chicken Shack, so I won’t say much more than that the place is a Nashville soul food institution and the chicken will burn your lips off. We survived the flames, though, and made it the rest of the way to Virginia.

It’s sure good to be home

Trip Stats
Total Distance: 2,841.68 miles / 4,573.24 kilometers
Arrival Time: 12:50am Saturday July 7
Overall Average Speed: 58.1mph / 93.5kmh
Moving Average Speed: 65.3mph / 105.1kmh
Maximum Speed: 86.6mph / 139.4kmh
Travel Time: 43 hours 30 minutes

Road Tripping USA #3, Day Four

Posted by: elraymundo at 5:46 am on Friday, July 10, 2009
From: Great Falls, Virginia
Filed under: Lotus Blossom, Travel, American Idol, Family, Jeep

We’ve decided to go from Jackson, Tennessee to Northern Virginia in one shot today. It’ll take about twelve hours of driving, and since the front desk forgot our wake-up call (and I didn’t have an alarm clock as a back up) and we’re running late, this will be brief recap of yesterday’s drive.

Oklahoma was hot! And windy, too. 103 degrees and 100mph winds (it felt like) as we rocketed across the Sooner State. I saw a boot brush outside the front door of our hotel in Weatherford, OK…just one of those small details of place that usually go unnoticed but which go a long way to reminding you where you are on the planet.

Since I-40 passes just alongside El Reno, where my dad grew up, I decided to take Debra quickly past his old house in town. We didn’t have time to visit with relatives but we did find the house on West Rogers street. It’s a small, simple place just off a gravel road and it looked better than I remembered - it’s been re-sided and the old dead tree out back that we used to play on as kids has been torn down. I sat out front in the Jeep talking to Dad and a fellow wandered out onto the front porch, brushing his teeth and obviously wondering who we were. After I hung up I went up to the porch and spoke with him and an elderly woman who turned out to be the mother-in-law of my father’s half-sister’s daughter (the daughter owns the house now, I believe) and I chatted with them about how we were related. Then I snapped a couple of pictures and we went on our way.

Eastern Oklahoma and Arkansas are beautiful drives. The roadside through Arkansas is lined with trees, thick and green, and emerald farm fields dotted with rolled up bundles of hay that look like they were sliced one by one from a giant hay sausage.

Conway, Arkansas is the hometown of recent American Idol winner Kris Allen and Debra thought it would be fun to stop at a local joint in Conway which promised a lifetime supply of its locally famous cheese dip to the singer after his hometown visit during the show. Debra called Lisa in Minneapolis, she Googled “Conway Arkansas cheese dip Kris Allen” and got Stobey’s, we plugged it into the GPS and stopped by for dinner. Conway itself is a pretty cozy town. The main drag downtown, which was very small-town-America, was lined with Kris Allen banners and small shops that were actually open (as opposed to other downtown we’ve driven through where the shops are shuttered due to their being Wal-Marted out of existence). Stobey’s itself is a tiny little place which sits in a residential neighborhood - which reminded us a lot of a larger version of Carruthersville, Missouri, the Mississippi River-side town in the boot heel of Missouri where William grew up - among mature trees and well-kept lawns and where locals came in for dinner and greeted each other by name. Across the roof is a stretched a banner congratulating Kris Allen and their are photos inside with Kris and the Stobey’s staff sitting around a giant cake. One thing we noticed about both Oklahoma and Arkansas - both are very proud of their favorite sons and daughters (e.g. the water tower in Yukon announces not only that you are passing through the hometown of Garth Brooks but also lets you know that the high school team won state championships in ‘72, ‘82 and ‘84 - I might be getting the years wrong, but you get the point - Henryetta lists Troy Aikman’s birthplace among the local attractions on a large blue sign along I-40 and 2005 American Idol winner Carrie Underwood gets her own green freeway sign outside Checotah, Oklahoma). Debra had a spicy (and very good) blackened chicken quesadilla and I ate the restaurant’s signature sandwich, the Stobey (three choices of meat, two choices of cheese, lettuce and tomato with Stobey’s sauce. I had mine on rye. The food was tasty and the cheese dip wasn’t bad either.

From Conway we barreled through Arkansas, dipped down as we approached the Mississippi River with insects smashing into our windshield with such speed, volume and ferocity that I thought I was in the battle of Zion from The Matrix, then crossed the wide wide wide river into Memphis. We continued on to Jackson and that’s where I’ll leave off for now, because Debra has finished drying her hair, the time is getting on, and we have a long drive ahead of us to get home.

Road Tripping USA #3, Day Three

Posted by: elraymundo at 8:31 pm on Wednesday, July 8, 2009
From: Great Falls, Virginia
Filed under: Jokes, Euphoria, Lotus Blossom, Travel, Jeep

This evening we found the humidity we’d been missing in the perfect climate in Southern Calistupida: it’s in Weatherford, Oklahoma. Something else we found in Weatherford: the proceeds from the sale of the house! Well, the money isn’t actually in Weatherford, but we are and that’s where we looked online to see if the money had been deposited into our account. And hoo-Lawdy there it was. We’ve got our money! Life is good. High-fives all around, my fellow babies!


I may have to rethink my position on Amarillo, Texas. In this post, which I wrote as we crossed the country last June (2008), I described the Texas panhandle as the place “where God ran out of ideas.” That thread evoked an impassioned response from a native of Amarillo who staunchly defended the city. (Check it out - it’s definitely worth reading.) Today, we passed through the area again and to be quite honest it was nowhere near as bad as I recalled it from last year. The weather was nice today - perhaps that was the difference maker. Both Debra and I remember the weather last year as we crossed the Texas panhandle as horizon-to-horizon iron-grey clouds with a fierce, blinding glare from reflected sunlight and high winds that blew crap all over the roads and buffeted the Jeep every which way. Today we had blue skies, 104 degree temperatures and some wind, but nothing insane like it was last year. And as we drove through Amarillo we both commented about it not being such a bad place after all. So, Mr. Amarillo Dude, please accept my apologies. :smile:

I do think, though, that it’s possible Amarillo may have more roadside signs per square inch than anywhere else on earth. Except maybe Vegas.


To the guy we met at the filling station in Tecumcari who lost his wallet in Oklahoma - I hope you made it to Phoenix ok. If we had to do it over again we would have just filled the tank all the way. But I hope we were able to help some and that the nectarine was tasty.


The landscape changes in a hurry once you turn south off I-25 east of Santa Fe and head toward I-40 (assuming you get past the road construction that was underway on every road in New Mexico). The rolling green mountains (not the craggy, granite-y stuff of the Rockies farther north) quickly gave way to scrub lands just north of Santa Rosa, which then flattened out as we turned east and stayed pretty much flat and sagebrush-y until we got to the easternmost part of the Texas panhandle, where the land broke into gently folded canyons cloaked in green. That part was quite pretty. Once we hit Oklahoma the greenery broke into patches of the red clay which Oklahoma is famous for. And somewhere along the line we picked up the humidity. Training sessions for Virginia, I guess.


The enchiladas at Johnny’s Comet II New Mexican restaurant were just as fantastic this time around as they were last year. We both ordered one red, one green. If you’re ever passing through New Mexico on I-40 and hit Santa Rosa, you owe it to yourself to try the enchiladas at Comet II. The restaurant is just off the interstate on Historic Route 66 and the food is affordable and simply out of this world. Service is friendly and fast, too. Sandy, thanks again for the tip!


There is an indelicate joke which goes like this:

Q: What’s the last thing to go through a fly’s mind when it hits your windshield?

A: It’s asshole.

Judging from the looks of the Jeep’s grill and the constant squeegeeing of the windshield I’ve had to do over the last three days, there is a veritable galaxy of sphincters stuck to my vehicle.


Last but not least, Soly and Jovan, thank you sooooo much for your hospitality! It was great to see you both and thank you for putting us up and taking us out downtown and for sharing the fig bodywash. Best I’ve smelled in years. :)

Road Tripping USA #3, Day Two

Posted by: elraymundo at 6:59 am on Wednesday, July 8, 2009
From: Great Falls, Virginia
Filed under: Euphoria, Lotus Blossom, Travel, Jeep

In the early afternoon on Tuesday, on I-40 just west of Gallup, New Mexico, we finally exhaled.

That’s when Genelle called with the news that our house sale had finally recorded. The loan had funded, the title transferred and we were no longer responsible for the property. The last hook this idiotic year had in our lives was gone.

We’d held our breath for almost four months, from the day in mid-March when I lost my job and we knew we had to sell. Given the way the rest of the year had gone, we only wanted to get rid of the financial obligation before some other shoe dropped and screwed us further. Two offers fell through on the same day, less than a week after the house went up for sale, and the final offer - the one that closed yesterday afternoon - was riddled with delays. Final close, for example, was seven days after the contracted date of June 30. But with that one phone call we felt the burden of the house slip away. We high-fived in the Jeep, laughed and whooped and celebrated as we drove, knowing that now we can really truly get on with our lives.


I smell like figs this morning.

We left Flagstaff late yesterday, not getting out until 10:00am, and after stops at Meteor Crater and Petrified Forest National Park we ended up on the short end of time and decided to take the Interstate to Santa Fe to have dinner with Soledad and Jovan instead of making the long, scenic drive across the top of the state to Taos. I’m glad we did, not only because it was great to catch up with Soledad and to meet her man, Jovan, but because Santa Fe is coooooool.

Soledad took us downtown, where we ended up at The Cowgirl BBQ on Guadalupe Street, drinking margaritas and mojitos and eating appetizers for dinner to celebrate our house closing. The downtown area is built around a central square like many of the South American cities we’ve seen, and the architecture is consistently southwestern, which was great because it gave the downtown area a well-defined sense of place. Cowgirls starts with an open courtyard, jammed with tables and backed by a bar, with an indoor dining area off to the side. The crowd was eclectic and funky - lots of dreadlocks and biker leathers and some mohawks and body piercings - and when I asked Soledad if the crowd was locals or tourists she said, “Both. But if they look a little strange then they’re locals.” The city is filled with art galleries and performing arts centers and seemed very walkable and I was surprised when Soledad told me only 80,000 people live in Santa Fe. I guess I got used to much bigger populations in the LA area, where someplace like Fullerton has over 100,000 residents. Anyway, I’m making a mental note to keep Santa Fe in mind if and when we ever decide to move again.

Oh, one other thing. Soledad and Jovan’s shower: awesome. Great water pressure, heats up quickly, and well-stocked with shampoo and other shower stuff, which is why I smell like figs this morning.


My iPod died as we left Meteor Crater. This did not please me. I reset the stupid thing over and over and all I could manage to get from it was a frowning iPod icon with a message in tiny font telling me to visit Apple’s site on the web. The Debra tried to get me to de-grump by playing ABBA on her iPod - her logic being that no one can be grumpy while listening to ABBA. (I bet Jeff Watson could, though.) So we rolled across the desert listening to Dancing Queen. Miraculously, the iPod started working again at a gas station in Gallup. Unlike a previous well-known resurrection, it only took three hours, not three days, for my iPod to come back to life. And I’m glad that it did. It made celebrating that phone call from Genelle much more fun.


Meteor Crater is HUGE. You can see the rim of the crater as you approach from the north. It looks like a low ridgeline off to the left, but it is actually where the rock and sediment settled after being thrown into the air when a massive meteor impacted 50,000 years ago. The place is privately owned and cost fifteen bucks a pop to get in, but it’s well-maintained and the visitors center has a museum, with a small movie theater and several displays describing meteor impacts, how and why they occur, and the incredible amount of energy and devastation they release when they kiss the earth. The crater itself is 4000 feet across and the sediments around the bowl of the crater were flipped upside-down by the impact: the really-old-stuff is on top, near the rim, and the less-really-old-stuff is near the crater’s floor.

We took a spin through Petrified Forest National Park and Painted Desert after leaving Meteor Crater. Since we were there at midday the light was no good, but it was worth the drive - especially for the roadside views of Painted Desert, which stretched northward in tumbled red hills and canyons. If you’re into rocks, there are plenty of petrified trees scattered all over the park, with a huge collection at Crystal Forest. Apparently the area used to be low-lying wetlands and when trees fell there, they were instantly immersed and minerals seeped into the wood and what you had left afterward was a petrified tree. I’m no geologist, so having seen one petrified tree I had pretty much seen them all, but it really is interesting stuff if you can catch a ranger talk and explanation of the petrification process.


Debra had a nice moment yesterday. We were driving between Gallup and Albuquerque when she looked backward out her window and suddenly asked me to stop. I took the next exit, for a town called McCartys, and she pointed to a mission built against the north face of a cliff on the south side of the interstate. The church was Mission Santa Maria and I drove along a frontage road until we were directly across from the building with a field between us. “I saw that church seventeen years ago when I came through her with Wendelin,” said The Debra, “and I always wanted to take a picture of it, but I couldn’t then.” She had been watching for the church ever since we crossed the state line and she just happened to look back at the right moment and see it settled on the hillside against the cliff. The light was perfect - it was late afternoon - so I drove among the roads of the ghost town until we got to the base of the hill. Debra happily took pictures and then we returned to I-40 and continued east.


We have a long drive today through eastern New Mexico and the Texas panhandle and into Oklahoma. It doesn’t look like we’ll get an early start since the beautiful wife is still asleep. I’m sort of hoping we can catch one of Oklahoma’s famous late-afternoon thunderstorms.

Road Tripping USA #3, Day One

Posted by: elraymundo at 9:51 pm on Monday, July 6, 2009
From: Great Falls, Virginia
Filed under: Lotus Blossom, Travel, Jeep

I wanted to flip California the bird with both barrels as we crossed the state line into Arizona today. I hoped there would be a “Thanks for Visiting California” sign where we could stop for a photo op, but no such sign existed. My backup plan was to turn around after we crossed into Arizona and drive back across the state line and give the “Welcome to California” sign both fingers, but the Colorado River got in the way and once I was in Arizona I really didn’t feel much like going back into the Golden State. So we drove on through Blythe and across the Colorado and into Arizona, where we stopped for lunch at a Carl’s Jr in Quartzite and watched the outside world melt in 113° heat while we ate our hamburgers.

Quartzite, it seemed, was having a pleasantly cool day. It was 114° on Interstate 10 just outside Rancho Mirage, where we said goodbye to Debra’s parents.

Cactus and Hardpan in the Arizona Desert
View from the Carl’s Jr. Parking Lot - Quartzite, Arizona

Our target for tonight was Flagstaff, which is where we are, shacking up in a Travelodge just off Interstate 40. I’ve never seen so many motels jammed into one area. There are so many that they actually have duplicates from the same chain on the same road. The only thing we can figure is that all the motels accommodate tourists heading for the Grand Canyon, which isn’t far away from here. Either that or they host a lot of conventions in Flagstaff.

We thought it would be fun - and a pleasant change from the monotony of I-10, to take smaller highways up to Flagstaff. We exited California, leaving the dreary, nearly barren moonscape of that part of the Mojave Desert behind and then detoured onto a series of highways in Arizona, which split off I-10 and meander generally northeast toward Prescott, Sedona and Flagstaff. (The route was 60 to Aquila, 71 to Congress and 89 on up to where it intersects with I-40.)

Amber Hills Motel in Hope, Arizona
Amber Hills Motel - Hope, Arizona

Roadsign outside Hope, Arizona
Exiting Town - Hope, Arizona
(Hope is unincorporated and doesn’t show up on Google Maps - but here is a link to it’s location.)

Debra got carsick on an especially twisty section of Highway 89 just southwest of Prescott, so we nixed the original plan to drive backroads to Sedona and instead kept on 89 north to I-40. The series of highways took us from the desert floor, with its sparse, low-growing vegetation dotting the surrounding hills, making them look like low-res pics of distant mountains full of digital noise, up through crumbled cliffs that looked like they were made of Oreo cookies (without the cream fillings) and up through craggy rock outcroppings and mountains blanketed with fir trees. The temperature dropped fifteen degrees and by the time we hit Interstate 40 the air was clean, clear and warm. The drive into Flagstaff was gorgeous, with the roadsides flanked with alpine trees and a fat, luscious moon rising slowly…nearly full…through a thick stripe of violet sky, over which was layered pale pastel layers of pink and orange and red.

The plan tomorrow is to try - against all odds - to get an early start and stop by the massive meteor crater between Flagstaff and Winslow, then drive through the Petrified Forest. From there we’ll most likely head north on Highway 191 through the Navajo Nation Indian Reservation, from which we’ll pick up Highway 160 headed east until we hit Highway 64, which will take us to Shiprock and northern New Mexico. With some luck we’ll end up in Taos for the night. And then we’ll have a full state - Arizona - between us and the stupidity of California.

Oh, we came up with a name for our experience in California. Actually, Debra thought of it and it’s a classic. Ready? Here it is:

The Anaheimville Horror.

Major Tom Had It Easy

Posted by: elraymundo at 4:16 pm on Friday, June 19, 2009
From: Great Falls, Virginia
Filed under: Random, Jeep

I guess if Major Tom was willing to buy peace with his life then I shouldn’t be too worried about buying peace which allows me to keep a few thousand dollars, right? Even if the rest of the dollars are flowing away like water thundering over Iguazú Falls?

If only my Jeep had a connection to Ground Control…

TeamRaymond Across America - Day Five

Posted by: elraymundo at 10:10 am on Saturday, April 19, 2008
From: Great Falls, Virginia
Filed under: Lotus Blossom, Travel, Jeep

Blanding, Utah
Written from bed in room 220 at the Comfort Suites
Miles today: 466
Total miles: 2719
Number of states: 13
Number of McDonald’s stops: 2
Today’s route: Denver -> Moab, UT -> Blanding, UT

Greetings from Blanding, Utah!

It was dark by the time we pulled into Moab, which sits just outside the gates to Arches and Canyonlands National Parks. The place was crawling with people - not at all the sleepy, laid back town we visited on our spin through the southwest last year. We drove up and down Highway 191, the main drag that runs through town, and every motel - and there are a lot of them in Moab - was full. Even the mangers out back had no vacancy signs on them.

At the Comfort Suites we spoke with the maintenance guy, who was pulling night desk duty. He confirmed that every bed in town was claimed. There was a Jeep Jamboree in town all week, and some other event which included tail-gating in the motels parking lots and it was also a three day weekend for parents and kids due to some school holiday in Utah, so Moab was just overrun with people. He suggested we try Green River, which would require backtracking an hour the way we came or Blanding, which was a little more than an hour further along our planned path.

“We could just push through to Flagstaff,” I said.

“You could if you were on meth,” said the maintenance guy.

So Debra called the Comfort Suites in Blanding and we thanked the maintenance guy for letting us use the rest rooms and for his offer of coffee and cookies and we headed over to Pasta Jay’s for Tortelone Alfredo with chicken, which was just as delicious this time as it was when we ate it last year after the Death March up to Delicate Arch. Then we piled into the Jeep and rolled into Blanding for our night’s rest.


There is a lot more highway patrol activity in Colorado than in any other state we’ve been through. I didn’t see any highway patrol cars in Wyoming, South Dakota or Iowa. There was one in Minnesota and perhaps one in Illinois. But as soon as we got to Colorado, the cops were everywhere. In a single one-mile stretch there were three of them with cars pulled over, issuing tickets. They were hiding behind overpass pillars, parked on the side of the road aiming radar guns at oncoming traffic, and slinking around through traffic. It was like an infestation.

The drive through the Rockies was incredible, though. Wyoming was pretty with its sage-colored scrub and wide-open Old West landscape of buttes and mesas and plains, but the drive through the mountains…wow! April is the perfect time to make the trip - the roads are clear but the mountains are still flanked with pristine fields of pure white snow. Dark green fir tress march down the sides of the mountains to the roadside and we saw several big horn sheep grazing along the way. And the twisting road through Glenwood Canyon, winding among towering, rugged cliffs alongside the Colorado River was breathtaking. And we had perfect weather during our drive - with cloudless, azure blue skies - while the syncopated zik zik zik of bugs splatting their guts all over my windshield played a road trip symphony.

The landscape changed as we emerged from the mountains and western Colorado slowly changed from towering, snow-capped mountains and forests of firs to the rugged, jagged, red-soiled canyon country that Utah is so famous for. We drove on into the evening, and as we crossed into Utah we watched the sun set with a brilliant orange glow behind a distant mesa.

We’ve got a long day ahead of us today. We decided last night to try and push through all the way to Palm Springs in one shot from Utah. Along the way we’re hoping to see Valley of the Gods, Monument Valley, some dinosaur footprints in Arizona, the Grand Canyon and Sedona. So wish us luck! Here’s a link to our itinerary for today.

TeamRaymond Across America - Day Four

Posted by: elraymundo at 10:49 am on Friday, April 18, 2008
From: Great Falls, Virginia
Filed under: Lotus Blossom, Travel, Friends, Jeep

Denver, Colorado
Written from Mark’s office in his home in Parker
Miles today: 376
Total miles: 2252
Number of states: 12
Number of McDonald’s stops: 2
Today’s route: Hot Springs, SD -> Chugwater, WY -> Cheyenne, WY -> Denver

Greetings from Denver, Colorado!

Debra and I stopped at a McDonald’s in Iowa the other day for a restroom break and a snack. I looked around at the employees and the customers and realized we were in Racial Homogeny Central.

“These white people all look the same,” I whispered to Debra.

She, being ultra-PC, smiled knowingly and didn’t reply.

I didn’t realize how multi-cultural and multi-ethnic northern Virginia was until we got to the Midwest. I mean, I knew most of the people in the Midwest were white, but it didn’t hit me how abundantly white the area was until we were standing in line at that McDonald’s waiting to order. I mean, not only were all the people white, they were the same kind of white. There were no Italian- or Greek-looking white people in the restaurant. Everyone - except Debra - looked like they were yanked up out of Sweden by the hair and plopped down into the middle of Iowa to serve fries.

When we drove through Ellettsville - the über-American small town in Indiana - Debra looked around the place and said, “I bet there’s not a Jew around here for miles…”

So, anyway, not to belabor the point, but if you ever need to know where all the white people are at, look in the Midwest. The place is jam-packed with them. :)


Jonesing for a yummy, home-made cherry pie? Stop at the Sinclair gas station in Orin, Wyoming. Not only can you get a cherry pie that will knock your socks off, but you can eat it while looking out over a sweeping panorama of rugged Old West scenery that stretches for more miles than you can count. And on top of all that, the Sinclair gas station signs still have that really cool big green dinosaur on them.


Jonesing for some really yummy chili and a malt or shake made the old-fashioned way? Stop at the Soda Fountain in Chugwater, Wyoming. The town is just north of Cheyenne by about 45 miles and still has a soda fountain so authentic (it’s been there since 1914) that, were she still alive, you might expect Lana Turner to breeze in through the doorway. And they serve local-made Chugwater Chili which was deeeeeeee-licious.

Chugwater is mostly deserted now - the population shown on the sign as you roll into town is 244 - and apparently it was a bustling place until the Interstate went through in the 1960s. At that point, traffic on the old highway that was the main drag through town dried up and the town shriveled. Now the townies drive to Cheyenne (45 miles) or Wheatland (25 miles) for their groceries. But they still have their Soda Fountain - yum!


Last night at dinner, Sam, Mark and Keri’s daughter, looked at me with big wide eyes and said, “I have a boyfriend. His name is Sam, too.” Sam is 5 years old.

“And what are his plans for the future?” I asked Sam.

“We get in trouble. We play in class,” she said. Then, “Jessie has a boyfriend too.” Jessie is three. “Jessie’s boyfriend is named Mason and he squirts mustard on his butt. And he squirts ketchup on Jessie’s butt.”

I really don’t know how to wrap this up. So I’ll just stop.


TeamRaymond Across America - Day Three

Posted by: elraymundo at 10:53 am on Thursday, April 17, 2008
From: Great Falls, Virginia
Filed under: Lotus Blossom, Travel, Friends, Jeep

Hot Springs, South Dakota
Written in room 120 at the Super 8 Motel
Miles today: 450
Total miles: 1876
Number of states: 10
Number of McDonald’s stops: 2
Today’s route: Sioux Falls -> Hot Springs

Greetings from Hot Springs, South Dakota!

We’re parked at the Super 8, which sits right next to the Mammoth Site. We’ll be heading over there in a bit to see whatever there is to see wooly mammoth-wise.

The weather was mostly junk yesterday. No rain, but lots of grey clouds which did break up some in the late afternoon. I was hoping for some good, low-level evening light when we passed by Mount Rushmore (the photo-geek in me wanting his photo ops) and even though we didn’t get it, the carved face of the mountain was still awesome and inspiring. Even from the road outside the park the sight of the sculptures in incredible - especially the way they pop out from behind the trees as you round a bend in highway 16a when coming south from Cedar Rapids. It’s just incredible.

The road continues winding through the Black Hills with the mountain on the right, and every once in a while the clouds would part and the dark green hills would light up with evening sunlight. We didn’t stop at Crazy Horse this time, having seen it and climbed to the face a couple of years ago, but we did see it from a distance…Crazy Horse’s arm pointing forward out over the neck and head of his war horse.

Also along the way yesterday we took a drive through the Badlands and then up to Wall, where we stopped at Wall Drug for donuts (we ate A LOT of donuts at Wall Drug when we were there in 2005). Unfortunately, the time of day and the grey skies made photography in the Badlands pretty much useless, but we did enjoy the drive among the rock pillars and spikes and needles and buttes and mesas and never once did we see an anvil crashing on a coyote’s head.

Then again, we were probably in the wrong area for that. Maybe in a couple of days, when we get to Arizona.

Today we’re heading south and a little west from Hot Springs. We’ll slice through the very eastern edge of Wyoming and down through Cheyenne on our way to Denver, where we’ll stay with Mark and Keri, their three daughters, one dog, cat and obscenely-stocked wine cellar.

What I am hoping is that we’ve seen the last of the fierce headwinds that have blown since Indiana. On the ocean crossing to Antarctica last year we learned that fetch is the distance across which wind can blow unobstructed. Since wind causes waves and waves cause rough seas, fetch is a good thing to understand when sailing. Well, from the Rockies to the Appalachians there is nothing to break the wind - meaning that there is a hell of a lot of fetch in the oh-so-flat Midwest. So driving a canvas-topped cube at 85mph into super-strong headwinds has not been fun. I think we’re getting about 5 miles to the gallon as a result of the wind resistance and the sound of the wind inside the Jeep has been FEROCIOUS. The guys at the dealership said they had fixed the air leak where the canvas top meets the top frame of the windshield. The fact that Debra and I have to shout to hear each other over the wind noise tells me that the dealership guys don’t know squat about fixing air leaks.

And so it goes. But we’re having a good time.

Ok, we’re off to see the Famous Woolly Mammoth of Hot Springs. More tomorrow!

TeamRaymond Across America - Day Two

Posted by: elraymundo at 9:54 am on Wednesday, April 16, 2008
From: Great Falls, Virginia
Filed under: Lotus Blossom, Travel, Friends, Jeep

Sioux Falls, South Dakota
Written from Carla and Colin’s guest room
Miles today: 787
Total miles: 1426
Number of states: 10
Number of McDonald’s stops: 2
Today’s route: Bloomington, IN -> Peoria, IL -> Davenport, IA -> Albert Lea, MN -> Sioux Falls

Greetings from Sioux Falls, South Dakota!

La Raymunda and I are staying with Carla and Colin in their sprawling mansion behind the driving range. This place is HUGE! And their bath towels…mmmm, plush!

(I’m downloading last night’s episode of American Idol as I write this so we can watch it in the Jeep as we drive across South Dakota to the Badlands.)

We drove 787 miles yesterday, which, together with the previous day’s drive of 638 miles, puts us more than 1400 miles into our trip in just two days. The good part is that the boring parts of the trip are largely finished (sorry to anyone offended, but Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Iowa, and southern Minnesota just aren’t very exciting) and we’re looking at five days of short trips through much more interesting parts of the country. Coming up: the Badlands, Mount Rushmore, the Rockie Mountains, the red rocks and canyons of Utah and the Grand Canyon. I’m really looking forward to the next few days of the trip.


Ellettsville, Indiana sits just outside Bloomington on IN-46. We used that and IN-231 to get us to I-74 which took us up diagonally to the northwest through Illinois to Iowa and I-80. The town is quintessential Americana, at least judging by the view from the road. A small, wooden, white-spired church just off the main drag, clusters of homes with large backyards dotted with swingsets, a clean, tidy brick fire station and flags fluttering from flag poles.

“Wow,” I said to Debra. “This town is so America.”

“I was just going to say that,” she said.

“This is the image of ourselves we like to portray.”

“Mm-hmm,” she assented.

“As opposed to that other one with the guns.”

On another note, we had a lengthy discussion about which route to take through Iowa to get to Sioux Falls. Debra spent and hour or so plotting and measuring different routes and found that they all came out to roughly the same distance. So when she asked if I would rather go to Sioux Falls via Nebraska or Minnesota, I chose Minnesota. Not only did I grow up there, but it makes a much better story to say that you drove from Washington, D.C. to LA via Minnesota. You know, because most people think Minnesota is in Canada.

One final note (I hope) on the odd products sold from the condom vending machines in the roadside men’s rooms of America. I’m not convinced that the makers of the products are aware of what is actually going on down there when two consenting adults engage in amorous enterprise, because in a restroom in Indiana they sell a product called the Tickle Ring, which looked like a dog collar that Sid Vicious would have worn. It had three rows of spikes - made of latex, I hope - circling the ring that apparently enhance one’s experience. “Studded for increased sexual pleasure!” the label claimed. Studded? Oh, the humanity!

And with that final salvo we are off to have breakfast, or perhaps brunch, with Carla and Colin (thanks for letting us crash with you!!) and then bid them and their lovely mansion and their plush bath towels au revoir as we continue west to the Badlands and our night’s rest in Hot Springs, South Dakota. Along the way we’ll pass the Corn Palace, Wall Drug (whose first billboard we spotted in Minnesota on I-90 - “Wall Drug…only 355 miles!”), where we’ll get a maple-frosted donut, the Badlands and perhaps Mount Rushmore, which is equally stunning in the daytime or at night.

Next Page »