Tag Archives: roadtrip

Traveling to Tucson

24 Apr

Despite posts to the contrary, I do get out of the house on a frequent basis, but I rarely get out of town. So when I get the opportunity to go see a friend down in Tucson, I took some days off from work and did it, despite my misgivings.

For those not in the know, the drive from Phoenix to Tucson can take anywhere from an hour and a half to two and a half hours, depending on where you want to go in the metropolis… and how willing you are to speed. There is a whole stretch of nothing, so apart from the obligatory speed traps, it’s really a close drive.

So I have to ask myself–why do I only see my friend twice a year if he’s that close? Well, the first is because I’m a family man, with responsibilities at home. Although I can easily demand that I have a couple hours off one evening, I can’t demand a whole day trip without seriously inconveniencing my wife and kids.

The second is… my friend’s a bit agoraphobic. That’s the best term I can give. He won’t drive up to Phoenix to see me because a) my car’s not working well, b) my cat’s sick, or c) some other BS reason. It’s very hard to nail him down to a time/date to hang out. Even when I offer to come down to see him, there’s a chance he’ll bail on me for some excuse which would sound reasonable from another person, but sounds lame after hearing variations on it over the years.

So you might ask, why do I bother going to see him? Well, it IS only twice a year, but more importantly, I don’t have that many close friends. My friend in Tucson met me in college, we were friends, we were dorm roommates, we were roommates after we left school… we know each other pretty well. It’s very hard to maintain that kind of relationship. So I value these relationships as I have very few of them left.

I’ve found that it’s harder to make friends the older you get. I’ve been blessed with the fact that I am able to make a couple… but only a couple. I certainly get stuck in my ways, and it’s a lot more difficult to be flexible to a new personality, when you’ve already put up with the crap before.

However, the longer you know someone, the more of their crap you’re willing to take because you know them so well. (See marriage.) You realize that someone being crabby with you is not to be taken personally. And, just like any relationship, you get comfortable with them being around and accept them, regardless of their eccentricities. Because after all, they put up with you, right? 🙂

So how do you deal with old friends that really make it hard to maintain a relationship with? Let me know in the comments below! Then if you want a relationship with me, get out one of my books. I guarantee my old friends have never read my writing, despite me throwing them free copies. However, if $1.99 is too steep for a new relationship, go ahead and download one of my stories for free. Then we’ll have something to talk about.

Death Race Kansas (Part 2)

19 Aug

When you get off the interstate, you discover many things: abandoned buildings, lots of farms, and a lot of traffic crammed into narrow lanes. Having grown up in the rural Midwest, this was not that surprising, but then I met the orange semi.

But first, I needed to get around Great Bend, Kansas first, since I ran into two crippling construction SW of town, so I was going to vary my trip to add a few miles south to save half-an-hour. However, as I was laying on the gas NE of there, I got busted by the state troopers for going 15 mph over the limit within 10 minutes of reaching the Kansas highway. This was really stupid on my part since I always believe in the 8 mph over the limit principle… or the cop’s motto: “over 9, you’re mine.” I was more annoyed that I was in the flattest, most open area of Kansas… not a city, not even a small town, FARMS and this guy busted me. But that was on me–now I gotta see if I can pay someone to fight it or pay the… rather reasonable $150 fee. Considering red light cameras in AZ are closer to $250, it’s relatively inexpensive. Still a pain, but… (shrug).

I kept with my 8 mph limit after that on these two-lane highways. The main difference on these highways is that trucks block five cars behind them and make convoys. And there is rarely NOT traffic coming from the other direction. So I had to book it to 90 mph to get around these semis and then pray I didn’t get hit. Along the way, I saw many interesting things, including the stock yards, fields of (what I later confirmed to be) sorghum, and one guy flying a stars-and-bars (first Confederate) flag in panhandle Texas. I really appreciated that, having studied the Civil War and having met many reenactors, the “Heritage not Hate” is conveyed by not flying the more common southern cross battle flag.

Unfortunately, you can’t see it in the previous picture, but here’s a better shot.

The coolest small (mostly abandoned) town I passed through was Nara Visa, NM. All the stores were closed, even though there were a lot of trucks parked there, they obviously didn’t make enough business to support the old Ira’s Bar or Truck Terminal. Ira’s Bar looked like a really cool building, though. It was past here that was the most dangerous.

This one orange semi was holding up five cars going 58 mph down a road that was listed for 65. No big deal, this happened all the time, except now there were no passing lanes, no easy moves to get around it, and of course, no chance in hell he was going to getting off the road before Tucumcari. So I had to bolt it to get past him and the other four cars that were behind him. Boy, was he pissed. He flashed his lights, slammed his horn, and didn’t give it up for a solid minute. So I was determined to get the hell away from this guy.

The only problem is that you can only go so far without getting behind another semi. So every time I was getting more minutes between me and pissed off trucker, I felt like there was a lot more chance that Mr. Orange Semi would catch up. Of course, Asher had to go pee in Tucumcari, so sure enough, we had to pass him again once we reached the interstate. And because my boy was downing water like it was going out of style, had to stop and pass him AGAIN before we reached the brother-in-law’s place. I was sure I’d have to have a slugfest at some truck stop.

Did you ever get some guy who decided to become your driving nemesis? Tell me in the comments below!

Death Race Kansas (Part 1)

18 Aug

As the great Led Zeppelin once wrote, “There are two paths you can go down, but in the long run, there’s still time to change the road you’re on.” So instead of taking the two interstates from Nebraska to New Mexico, I took the smaller highways to find the more direct 13-hour path. This turned my leapfrogging into Death Race 2020.

Gee, Marcus – exaggerate much? Well, if you’re reading this… yeah. It got you to keep reading, didn’t it? 🙂 Actually, I rather enjoyed taking the smaller highways–often two lane–between Tucumcari, New Mexico (“It’s a long way to Tucumcari, it’s a long way to go….”) and Beatrice, Nebraska (pronounced “Be-ah-tris”) I discovered that interstate driving was usually pretty dull and involved a whole lot of passing trucks, waiting for some guy who had the audacity to drive two miles an hour slower than you to pass the guy you’re trying to pass, and coming up on another person to pass again. With highways, there was a lot more to see, a lot more cities (that shows you more), and as I learned, a lot more dangerous to pass on the crowded two-lane highways.

Somehow when you drive home instead of flying home, you acquire a lot more stuff. Take this, for example, Mom’s toy chest. Or at least, we think it’s Mom’s Toy Chest, and it’s not even my mom’s toy chest, it’s my wife’s. And of course, no toys. It might also have been Grandpa Miller’s WWI army chest, but as far as I know, he never served. Uncle Walt would have been Vietnam and they certainly didn’t have something like this.

The point of my rambling? Four years ago we stopped by the Miller farm in Gretna and somehow Uncle Walt or my wife (memory fades) insisted we take this old thing and shoved it into our car. Of course, it was a rental, since we were flying, so we dropped it off at my dad’s place until we stopped there again. Well, guess what? We stopped there again and Dad got tired of having it fill up his shed when it was already filled with other wood products. So we picked it up. Oh, and we got a big screen TV (from a friend who didn’t need it), a bunch of microwave popcorn (from a great-aunt who didn’t need it), and a book and a mug (because I wanted it).

We left at 5:20 am from my dad’s place in Nebraska and proceeded to pour my sleepy son into car where he slept until we reached Concordia, Kansas. When there’s no interstate, often US highways make up the slack for busy roads by creating four-lane divided highways, so we enjoyed a smooth ride from Hays, NE to Salina, KS (which I always want to add an additional S to the end). Then had to navigate another hour of interstate before turning off towards Great Bend, KS.

This is getting too long, so we’ll continue the obstacles of getting past Great Bend later. Do you prefer the highways or interstates? Let me know in the comments below!


13 Aug

Crossed Iowa and finally got home to Northwest Illinois only to find that the Deracho ™ completely messed up my hometown and knocked out power and cell phone service. So I had traveled 24 hours to reach a disaster zone.

Somehow, the last 6 hours of the trip were the worst, more likely because I was tired of driving so long. We stopped in Iowa City for lunch, watching all the college students buying supplies out of the local Target. Think about that for a second. College students are back physically at school. Too dangerous for high schoolers, just fine for kids one year older. That speaks for itself.

So we reach Morrison and see… Well, this. Trees had fallen all over due to 100 mile winds, messing up power lines, throwing the entire turn black. We made it to the visitation all right and said hi to the family. After a half hour, the boy got bored, so I took him on a walk of (one of my) old neighborhoods and even ran into my good friend’s mom sitting on her porch with her grandson. So had a good conversation.

The place we’re staying still has no power, but we made do on movies we had already downloaded and battery power. (Neither of us brought physical books, so we were at a disadvantage.) Hung out with a friend and my cousin before crashing in front of the “TV.”

Power is still out in the morning, but it did get restored to half of town. My situation is unusual, because of the wind storm, but what did you do when your family last lost power. Let me know in the comments below!

The Long Road Home (Part 2)

12 Aug

Here’s where things are gonna suck. A 14 hour drive across the Great Plains to reach our next destination. And then Google suggests an alternative to the interstates.

Naturally, I’m a little suspicious. But we get up early… Okay, I get up early and drag my son out of bed… And then we got the road at 6 am Mountain time. So that’s an estimated arrival at my dad’s place in Nebraska by 8 pm. Not looking forward to this trek.

One thing I’m shocked by is how green the Llano Estancado is. Knowing how little rain gets to Eastern New Mexico and West Texas, I’m expecting Arizona levels of desert. Nope, green as far as the eye can see. Apparently, not enough water for crops, but plenty for grass!

I turn off the interstate at Tucumcari, NM, and am pleasantly surprised. We’ve got hills, we’ve got scenery, we’ve got… A two lane highway, but hey, I’m thankfully not behind too many trucks. We cross the panhandle of Texas and Oklahoma no problem.

Even Asher was doing great on this leg of the trip! We’re doing fine until Kansas when we realize a) how frickin big Kansas is and b) remember that summer means construction. We get stuck behind three one lane roads, one for twenty minutes, so that throws off my estimate.

However, once we reach Nebraska and have to cut across country roads (still US highways), things get easier. Mostly because I can beat the estimate thanks to driving way over the speed limit in this rural area.

I forgot how beautiful this region is. You get a very sckewed view of how the Great Plains look from the interstate. It’s really quite beautiful once you get off it. As my Dad says, “Nebraskans made I-80 the most boring stretch of road so that no one would be tempted to stop and stay.”

Made it to my dad’s place at 8:30 pm, safe and sound, and had a great time talking and relaxing. Have you ever been surprised on a road trip? Tell me about it in the comments below!

The Long Road Home (Part 1)

11 Aug

My grandmother died on Friday – her and my grandfather were my surrogate parents in college, so I’m driving home to Illinois with my son to go to her funeral. From Phoenix, that’s 24 hours of driving… Ain’t this gonna be fun.

The first leg is not too bad. Cut through the mountains northeast until you hit interstate. It’s a lot of windy road which made my son sick. Then once we got Payson, we just fed him, and he was fine. Then through the Rim Country and you hit the high desert.

There’s a whole lot of flat for a while. Then you hit New Mexico, with the mesa and pueblo which is quite beautiful. Heading through Navajo country (largest reservation in the US) and several smaller rezs, I was drawn to gas and cheap tobacco at one of the stops only to find everything but the gas closed due to COVID-19! You put up twenty signs lauding this place and you didn’t think to put up one that says you’re closed?!

Then we got Albuquerque, which is absolutely gorgeous from a distance, and went to my brother in law’s place. He and his lady were so nice to us.

We even broke out the padded swords and let Uncle and Nephew play for a bit. It’s a good start to the trip. Of course, this is the easy part!

Wacky in Wickenberg

26 Jul

Last weekend, I went on a roadtrip to Wickenberg, Arizona – for reasons that even the locals weren’t really sure why I came. Sometimes I just like to explore places, and considering this small town’s downtown was decorated just like a Wild West town, made it pretty neat… and a little creepy.

Wickenberg is about an hour northwest of the outskirts of Phoenix, still within the same county (because that’s how the southwest works). and it’s just under 8,000 people. Personally, it kinda reminded me of the town where I grew up (without the Wild West kitsch). I chose to travel there because a) I’ve never been there, b) it was referenced in an MST3K short, and c) because I knew that a chapter of the club I belong to would be open.

The decoration was one thing – the statues were another. Apparently, they decided to a “Cows on Parade” thing, but instead of cows, they put up people statues in Wild West outfits. That was pretty creepy.

Not sure if it was because they were life-size or just really good or I simply wasn’t expecting it. However, when I checked out the local chapter, the people there were incredibly friendly, great to talk to, and it made it worth the trip.

Unfortunately, the trip getting there wasn’t that exciting – it was flat, it was desert, there was precious little between Phoenix and there. However, I did take a different way back, avoiding the 10 to get home (really crowded interstate).

However, it was a really nice place to visit, and would really like to go back sometime. Have you ever traveled to a place and discovered a hidden gem? Tell me about it in the comments below!

East of (the) Superstitions

17 Jul

If you’re driving one of the most lonely parts of scenery in Arizona, you might as well take some pictures. The road from Globe to Payson runs east of the Superstition Mountains and past a whole lotta nothing… except for a lake. And wildfires. And a thunderstorm.

I realized that I hadn’t finished my roadtrip story from last weekend, so I might as well finish it off. After being rather disappointed with… almost everything closed in Globe, I decided not to dwell on it and drive up to Payson, where I knew something would be open. Along the way was a whole lotta nothing. Beautiful nothing, but nothing none the less. 🙂

It took about an hour and a half to drive from the mining town to the Rim Country. I knew I would pass by Lake Roosevelt, without which, there would be no Phoenix today. But what I didn’t expect was the Tonto National Monument.

Quick history lesson: About seven to eight hundred years ago, there was a vibrant native civilization that existed in Arizona. The Hohokams occupied what today is Phoenix and about five other nations existed in relative harmony. Then about 1500, they left; climate change, exhausting natural resources (trees), no one really knows for sure. This was about the same time mound builders out east also disappeared. From these tribes came the modern native tribes that exist today.

Well, there are several cliff dwellings around Arizona, including as I learned, west of Lake Roosevelt. (Named after Teddy, who visited its dedication after he left being president.) So I pulled into Tonto National Monument, but didn’t feel like hiking up from the parking lot in 113 degree heat to see them first hand. That’s not why I was there… although the cute forest ranger in the mask did make it tempting.

So I took some pictures and left. Then I drove past lots of burned out scrub land. The wildfires this year really ripped through the part of the national forest (yes, the forest is cactus, but technically…). I even saw the fire–which is hard to make out from the pictures–but there was a whole lotta char.

After passing many signs thanking the firefighters, I got hit in a thunderstorm just south of Payson. Now this might not sound that exciting for anyone outside the Southwest, but it hasn’t rained in Phoenix since April. Let me repeat that… four months! So to suddenly have to slow down in pelting rain (that was hitting a brush fire, mind you) was pretty amazing.

Finally got into Payson, found the open bar I was looking for (this is a pic of their back parking lot), smoked my pipe (tobacco), and had a drink. I’m not going to mention which one because it’s technically illegal to be open due to the governor’s executive order… and it’s technically not, because it’s a restaurant and… other reasons. Being in a legal gray zone, which is where I love to be, I went in and enjoyed myself.

Then I drove back home down a really gorgeous highway which had more of purple’s mountain majesty that I didn’t bother to take a picture of (because it looked kinda the same as what I already showed you), because I’ve been on this particular stretch . The back of Four Peaks (the biggest mountain you can see from the Phoenix East Valley) was completely burned. It was great to get out of the house and enjoy seeing parts of the state I live in.

What kind of things have surprised you on a roadtrip? Tell me in the comments section below!

Rocky Road to Globe

14 Jul

With the missus and chillins out of the house, it was time to get out and explore Arizona. Except… there was no where to go and no one to see. So when in doubt, choose somewhere you’ve never been. So I got in the car and started driving east… right through God’s own Lego pile.

When you live in the Valley of the Sun, you tend to forget the most important thing… you’re in a valley. So to get out of it, you have to cross a mountain at some point. In this case, the Superstition Mountains bar the way east to Globe, Arizona, which is the mining capital of Eastern Arizona.

To those of you not from the great southwest, in Arizona History, they teach the Five C’s: Copper, Cattle, Cotton, Citrus and Climate. Guess what, this is where they strip mine copper, out in the middle of the mountains. In exchange, I got to drive through some of the most beautiful valleys I’ve seen in this desert!

So it takes an hour and a half, I managed to follow Route 60 all the way to Globe, which is part of the “Tri-Cities…” which is really just one big mining town after another. The strip mining I saw was one of five different mines I saw there. A lot of driving up and down along the way. The place I was hoping to visit was closed (no real surprise), but I was hungry, and I kept looking for a restaurant.

Now before I go on, let me explain. In Arizona, we’re still allowed to eat inside the restaurant, allowing for 50% capacity. However, each municipality gets to set its own restrictions. Apparently, Globe being a mining town is very… (ahem) union-majority. So no dining-in was available. Therefore I ate a very disappointing Taco Bell (is there any other kind?) meal followed by lots of peanuts.

However, there turned out to be hidden gems in Globe. For example, there was a city park which had an ancient village with a museum (both closed) called Besh Ba Gowah. From what I could see of it, it looked pretty sweet. Probably dates back five to seven hundred years, but I didn’t look it up.

Also, the city park (empty – because it was 113 degrees outside!) was really beautiful. You could see all the mountains I passed through to get there. Anyway, I had to make a choice at that point. Either go back the way I came, or take the road east of the Superstitions to Payson, where I knew I would find my goal. So I decided to go to Payson… but that will wait for another post.

Where have you gone on a whim? Tell me about it in the comments below!

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