Trip Observations – The Places

I hope that all of you continue to take both joy and solace in the simple act of driving. There is nothing quite like firing up your own car and traveling on your own terms. We will miss it when it is gone. Let’s hope that day never comes.” ~ Jack Baruth – Avoidable Contact

This is a compilation of comments I have made in the thirty eight Blog Posts during and after  the trip. The number in word form that begins each comment is the post from which it was taken if you wish to get context for the comment. My hope is that the comments taken together here will form a picture of the impressions I had from the Places, Roads, Weather, People and the Elan itself on this once in a lifetime trip. Enjoy.

The Places:

One. We are very blessed to live in Colorado Springs. The further east I went from I-25, the sadder things look. It is too dry, too small, too poor and too late to change things. The folks who live out on the plains must be tough because each day is a challenge just to provide the necessities. Luxuries are somewhere else.

Two. Kansas is a thing to be endured rather than celebrated. It isn’t that it is flat, featureless and brutally windy, which it is, but that it is so long that it never seems to end.

Four. Alabama has hills!! It feels like a southern version of Iowa as I was always going up or down in complete contrast to Mississippi flatness.

Eight. Despite the great people I had the chance to visit with all over the state, I am really glad Florida is behind me. The people are the only redeeming thing in that whole, flat, over-signalized state!

Fifteen. Inland Maine is a very different world from the lobster filled bays of the down east. It is potato farming country and contains lots of little towns just barely hanging on but each one seems to have a brand new Dunkin’ Doughnuts store. In fact, the Dunkin’s may outnumber gas stations and they definitely had more business.

Sixteen. Bless the folks in Madawaska because they have an actual park to commemorate the fact that they comprise one of the four corners of the USA.

Seventeen. Gorham, NH could be a sister city to my home town of Colorado Springs but at a smaller scale. It is very outdoor activity oriented, has a snowcapped mountain adjacent with an Auto Hillclimb that has run for a long time and is filled with interesting people. The charm of the lake area of the Adirondacks is not lost on me, but there is still something missing and I cannot put my finger on it.

Eighteen. The best part of the day though was that I stumbled in to the Bass Lake Taverne and Inn in that little town of Chardon, Ohio. Once again the bleak situation for lodging turned out to produce a jewel. The Bass Lake Taverne and Inn would be worth another visit. Thanks Ryan and Courtney.

Nineteen. In the early afternoon, I passed by the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course and thought I’d drop in for a visit. Both Ohio and Indiana have lots of small towns about 5-10 miles apart that have enough history behind them that they have substantial buildings along main street that have been repurposed into things that are relevant today and thereby sustain the little main street as a viable downtown.

Twenty one. I reached the Geographic Center of the Continental United States! It was really kind of neat in an understated way, almost evocative of the spirit of this drive with a less fancy more analog presentation than I expected. But the good news, maybe even bigger than that claimed above, is that I made it all the way home.

West Two. What is CONMAZUT you ask? Some secret military complex? Nope. Just the abbreviations for Colorado, New Mexico, Arizona and Utah all joined together. That’s right, today was a four state day, which is why I saw such dramatic geography. New Mexico and northeast Arizona has red sandstone bluffs and arroyos that remind me of a John Wayne Western along with miles and miles of empty. From Page, AZ it is just a short hop to get into Utah and that is where things really change. The color of the rock changes from red to buff and the climb out of the river valley begins. The too warm temperature cools and the dry desert starts to show some vegetation. Then an occasional shrub tree appears and as I climbed from around 4,300 feet elevation to a high of 9,910 it changed to a full alpine forest. The geology changed too. The rocks were more craggy granite and schist instead of sandstone and their color was gray to dark brown instead of red or buff. The contrast between the four states whose corners touch is astonishing. And 90 percent of the contrast I saw today is within Utah itself. This may be one of the most unappreciated states in the country.

West Three. As I drove further along [in Nevada] I realized I was heading north when my destination is the southwest corner so I wondered if the Extraterrestrial Highway was leading me to the Twilight Zone. But no, it was the way around the Nellis Air Base Bombing Range, and, since I wanted to remain in one piece, I accepted the detour. The high desert is not an empty place of desolation at all. There is life everywhere and fascinating things to see out here, if we will take the time to look for it. Perhaps that’s a metaphor for other places in our lives as well.

West Four. I slipped out of the motel parking lot quietly at 6:15 and began what I expected to be a descent into Death Valley. Much to my surprise, the road began climbing sharply. Well, that’s odd I thought, since it is only 29 miles to the Furnace Creek turnoff which is already in Death Valley. Yet, climb I did for about five miles to an altitude of 4,317 feet before beginning a 13 mile descent to -255 feet before rising again to -190 feet at the actual town of Furnace Creek. Then I got my next lesson in geography…there is a nearly 5,000 foot pass to conquer to go west. That is one deep hole in the ground! It is amazing how empty a place can feel, and almost creepy.

West Seven. I was gobsmacked by the immensity of the redwood forest. It is yet another way of under-standing how small we are in the grand scheme of things just as looking out at the sea does for me.

West Nine. [The Pacific Northwest] is a really beautiful part of the country that has mountains, ocean, temperate climate and fun roads.

West ten. The high point was Deception Pass a very narrow gorge between the tip of Whidbey Island and the mainland. It is about 400 feet wide and the bridge is about 250 feet above the water. Very dramatic! There are three distinct Washingtons: The water Washington with the sound, straits and ferries, the Mountain Washington with its alpine climate and fauna, and the dry plains Washington east of the Cascades which is a lot like eastern Colorado.

West Twelve. Montana is a very wide state to cross, just like Kansas. What is NOT like Kansas though is that Montana is much prettier, cooler and calmer (i.e. much less windy) and carries much less truck traffic on I-90 compared to I-70. It also has up and down grades and left and right curves in abundance. I crossed the Continental Divide at Homestake Pass just east of Butte at an elevation of 6,329 feet which is lower than the elevation of my home in Colorado Springs, yet is the highest point on the entire 3,020 mile length of the highway which runs completely across the USA. [Open prairie] is pretty typical of eastern Montana which is much like South Park except much bigger. They talk about “Big Sky” country and I see why, there is little to block the view to the horizon.

West Thirteen. I stopped at the Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument. It is a quiet place which commands long vistas and evokes a sadness that always comes from a clash of cultures carried out to the last survivor. It was nominally a win for the tribes but the reaction from the US authorities was so severe it marked the end of their freedom to roam and the beginning of being stuck to the reservations.

[The] 50 state GeoCenter was a much bigger deal than the one in Kansas for the 48 states. That one was whimsical and simple; this was an entire complex with lots on display beside the center monument. As with every place one anticipates seeing, the actual place can either disappoint or excite. In this case I was pleased to find a very nice presentation and some gracious people.

West Fourteen. I drove gently for a while looking at the town and the scenery as I left the community. It is a pleasant place that has hung on despite the changes of time and it occurred to me that one could do much worse than a friendly little town like Newcastle now that we have learned that many of us can be wherever we want and still work productively. There are a lot of folks in the LA basin who might find the friendliness, pace and cost of this town mighty attractive.

I had a stop planned at the Miners and Stockman’s Steakhouse in tiny Hartville, WY because it was listed as the very best place to eat in the state of Wyoming on some magazine’s list of best places and I wondered how it came to be there.

West Fifteen. When I left Kremmling I knew I had plenty of time so I set a relaxed pace and just enjoyed motoring in the old car on an old road with an old driver going home. When I got to Dillon, the simple thing to do would have been to take I-70 west four miles to the Frisco exit, but instead I went east up the hill and drove across the Dillon Dam and took a moment to snap this photo of what is so perfect about Colorado. Then I took fifteen minutes and put the top down for the rest of the way home.

About Me

Hi, I’m Ross and I’m a tripoholic. I love driving especially in my old cars and then writing about the adventure that always follows. I’m old enough to know better but that doesn’t stop me. If you like stories of the road, every word true no matter how far fetched it may seem, then grab a beer or a cup of coffee and join me!

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May 2021


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