Road Trip to Utah
A travelogue by Evelyn C. Leeper
Copyright 2017 Evelyn C. Leeper


October 1: Today was a driving day, from Old Bridge, NJ, to Washington, PA.

Lunch was at Sheetz, a 7-11/Wawa sort of place. My bratwurst was a cute little bratwurst, about half the size of a Costco hot dog. Mark's burrito was large, and the habanero sauce satisfyingly hot, but it had a very high proportion of carbs.

Dinner was supposed to be at Los Amigos (a.k.a. Los Patrones), but apparently it closes at 6PM on Sunday, rather than the 8PM listed in Yelp. Washington is not exactly a jumping town (it looks very depressed, with boarded-up storefronts, etc., so we ended up at a Wendy's. Mark had the taco salad, which he said was probably the most healthy item on the menu. I had a Jr. cheeseburger, and we shared a Frosty.

Mileage driven: 490 miles

October 2: We drove the rest of the way to Hopewell Culture National Park. On the way we passed such fascinating Indiana sights as the Ted Lewis Museum in Circlesville, and a museum commemorating the first dental school in the United States in Bainbridge.

The Mound City site of Hopewell Culture NP was also the site of Camp Sherman, which was almost exactly 100 years old. (In fact, the ranger said that training had begun exactly 1000 years ago from the day we were there.)

We did not even have to use our Senior Parks Passes, because this Park is free.

We showed the ranger the book we were using for "research": Robert Silverberg's 1970 book, THE MOUND BUILDERS. Though almost fifty years old, it is still respected enough that the Hopewell Culture NP tiny bookstore stocks it (though it was currently sold out). (And the Cahokia Mounds State Historic Park in Illinois stocks it as well. It may not have the results of the recent archaeology, but it does a very good job of covering what was done (and thought) up to its publication.

The Hopewell sites scattered through the area all are based on a small circle, a square, and a large circle, all identically positioned. The small circles are all the same size. The other two figures vary from site to site, but the square is always of a size that it would fit perfectly into the large circle.

We also went to the Seip Earthworks site. After this we were hungry, but the selection of eating places in the Middle-of-Nowhere, Ohio, was not stellar. We ended up at a Frisch's Big Boy, from a combination of desperation and nostalgia. I had an incredibly turkey dinner, Mark had a chicken-fried steak, and even though the milk shake we got was made with real ice cream, they somewhat ruined it by topping it with Cool Whip rather than real whipped cream.

After this we proceeded to Cincinnati, where we had a problem finding a motel that had a room--we had not been sure how far we would get, so had no reservations. It took us three tries to find a motel.

Mileage driven: 264 miles

October 3: More Indiana sights we did not stop at included the "World Famous Tree in the Tower" in Greensburg. For some reason, the Midwest seems to have a lot more of these than other areas, or maybe we have just driven through so much of Ohio and Indiana on various trips we have seen a lot of small towns.

The Spurlock Museum at the University of Illinois in Urbana is basically an ethnographic museum, with separate galleries for East Asia, Southeast Africa/Oceania, Ancient Mesopotamia, Ancient Egypt, Africa, the Americas, Europe, and the ancient Mediterranean (meaning Greece and Rome). Each gallery is arranged topically rather than geographically or chronologically. That is, there is one display case of musical instruments from all of Africa, another with food-related items from all of Africa, and so on. For me, anyway, there was no enough context or comparison of the items to be really informative. Your mileage may vary.

Most of Mediterranean gallery seems to be plaster casts of marble copies of bronzes that have since been lost.

After this we drove north to Rantoul, where I lived sixty years ago (ages 9 through 13). It has changed a lot, but also kept a lot the same. This is partly because it never grew the way other "villages" did. (It is officially the "Village of Rantoul".) When Chanute AFB was open, the combined population was about 25,000, but after Chanute closed in 1993, the population dropped to 5,000, though it is now about 13,000. (Chanute AFB itself is now an EPA Superfund site.)

My old house (1329 Fairlawn Drive) looks so small, with only two windows and the door in the front. The giant willow tree I used to climb and sit in to read is gone from the front lawn, and they have installed curbs in the neighborhood. My best friend's house on the corner is flying a rainbow flag--my friend's mother, a very strict and devout Baptist, is probably spinning in her grave.

The cornfield I used to cut through to school has been turned into a pond and a trailer park (pardon me, a "mobile home park"). The church on the corner of one exit of our neighborhood (where I once bought a box of books at a charity auction) is now the home of the Rantoul Historical Society. It had to move when the Octave Chanute Aerospace Museum, which was the main occupant of its previous building, closed in 2015. (The Museum's Minuteman missile, left over from when the base was active, remains because when it was installed at the base entrance it was filled with concrete, and the village would have to demolish it to remove it.)

Maplewood Elementary School was boarded up on our last visit; it has been demolished and the area turned into green space. The Baptist church my friend belonged to demolished their wooden structure and built a brick one. St. Malachy still has the same building, though the exterior has been updated and upgraded. It also added a Hispanic ministry at some point, reflecting a change in the demographics. Even though the Hispanic population is only about 3%, there are several Mexican restaurants and other businesses aimed at them (signs in Spanish, etc.).

All the businesses are new: no more Zander's Grocery, Piggly-Wiggly, Burger Chef, Ben Franklin, and so on. There is a Walmart on the edge of town where the drive-in used to be (the regular theater closed long ago as well), and a Dollar Tree. There is also a Family Video, apparently a local (?) chain that has survived Blockbuster and Netflix. The one remaining familiar business is the Century Restaurant, where I first discovered at the age of eight that not all spaghetti sauce was like my mother's. In fact, no other spaghetti sauce is like my mother's.

We drove back to Champaign, partway on Route 45, which is now a four-lane divided highway rather than the two-lane highway it used to be. I wanted to drive the whole way from Champaign to Rantoul on it, but the signage in Champaign was incomplete, and the GPS seems to know only interstates. Going back we passed Thompsonboro, an even smaller town than Rantoul (it was 495 when we lived in Illinois, but it has grown to about 1200).

Dinner was at Maize Grill: a chalupa, a tlacoyo, and chorizo tacos, as well as (non-alcoholic) sangria soda.

Mileage driven: 297 miles

October 4: We drove from Champaign to Springfield and the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum. When we arrived it was raining, but not hard, and the parking garage was just across the street.

We started with a short film, "Lincoln's Eyes", narrated by an artist who painted a portrait of Lincoln for the rotunda. From the photographs of Lincoln, he realized that Lincoln had "lazy eye", probably from when he was kicked in the head by a horse when he was young. Another photograph shows one side of his mouth smiling and the other frowning--well, sort of.

Everything portrays Lincoln as an abolitionist reluctantly slowed down by popular opinion. In fact, he actually said, "if I could save the Union without freeing any slave I would do it, and if I could save it by freeing all the slaves I would do it, and if I could save it by freeing some and leaving others along I would also do that." And he certainly did not believe in total equality of the races, or social mingling.

Not surprisingly, there is no mention of the latest theory--that Lincoln suffered from clinical depression. (There is a quote from a friend that indicated he thought Lincoln might be suicidal after the death of his first sweetheart.)

The drawings of Abraham and Mary Lincoln seem to show their height differential too small.

There was a list of recommended biographies; Carl Sandburg's was not on it.

[My notes are garbled here, so I will be brief.]

Before the Civil War, slaves outnumbered slave-holders 10-to-1 (and not all whites owned slaves).

It is more difficult to have a museum of a President not in people's living memory.

One of the most interesting displays was a room full of political cartoons.

Mileage driven: 108 miles

October 5: It rained on the way to Cahokia Mounds State Park, but cleared up by the time we got there. We watched the film, and watched around the area looking at the mounds, which are pretty uninteresting in themselves. We did not climb Monk's Mound, which seems to be the only thing to do other than look at the mounds.

One of the displays was of the "Circle of Life": seeds sprouting, growing, dying, and nourishing new seeds, snakes shedding their skin, etc. The "Circle of Life" in The Lion King somehow does not really emphasize the dying part.

The claim is that the inhabitants here independently invented both agriculture and writing, though the writing seems more on the level of glyphs than a complete writing system. It was also claimed that at its height, Cahokia was the biggest "city" in the Americas.

We also saw "Woodhenge", an astronomical arrangement similar to Stonehenge, but made of wood. (What we saw was a reconstruction based on the discovery of the post holes.)

Mark and I got into a discussion/argument about inter-culture communication that ended up reminding us of the couple in Woody Allen's Radio Days who would argue about anything--the example in the movie was whether the Atlantic or the Pacific was the greater ocean.

In Illinois and in Missouri, we saw lots of different, unusual, and downright strange signs and billboards. There are lots of anti-abortion billboards. There are lots of pro-gun billboards and signs. There are the usual signs announcing everything from the Mother Jones Monument to Ozarkland. There was a "Burma Shave"-style set of signs with the entire "Hail Mary" on it. (If the driver is reading them all, they will definitely need it!) There are lots of pawn shops and fireworks shops. There are lots of billboards for bookstores--adult bookstores, that is. And a lot of places we went had signs indicating no guns were allowed inside.

Mileage driven: 368 miles

October 6: This was basically a driving day. We gave up on the GPS around Kansas City (Kansas) because the Kansas Turnpike is far to confusing: it starts as I-70, then goes to I-370, then to something non-Interstate. We ended up heading west on I-70 until the GPS stopped trying to get us to make a U-turn.

Dinner was at Bogey's, a shake and burger place. I thought my raspberry chocolate chip shake was pretty good, but Mark's chocolate hazelnut shake had ice crystals in it.

Mileage driven: 254 miles

October 7: Today we spent at the Cosmosphere. We had visited this before, in 2004; see here. Not much had changed in the basic exhibit, but they had added on more information about the ISS and various private space companies at the end.

Odds and ends I did note:

Dinner was at Hog Wild--pretty good barbecue.

Mileage driven: 11 miles

October 8: This was a long drive day through Kansas which was too boring to write much about.

We stayed at the Drury Inn in Denver, which includes not only breakfast, but also dinner and three drinks. (The dinner is more like a lunch buffet, but certainly sufficient.

They predicted a winter storm for tomorrow--not good news.

Mileage driven: 457 miles

October 9: Winter Storm Adrian started sometime after midnight. We left early (7:15AM) and the first part, in the metropolitan Denver area) was not bad--no real accumulation on streets or I-70. As we headed west, though, and left Denver behind, things got worse--much worse.

We started to see fewer cars and more accumulation. What does "Passenger Vehicle Traction Laws In Effect" mean? We did not know so we kept driving. For the first 150 miles of driving, we averaged 35 miles per hour, at times going only 10 or 15 miles per hour. There were also occasional (minor) fishtails. It was ... exciting. Mark chose the music from LOST HORIZON to listen to--not the Shangri-La music, but the music played while they are slogging through the blizzard to get there. Visions of the Donner Party danced in my head.

When we finally made it over the top (the Eisenhower Tunnel at about 11,000 feet), the temperature was down to 19 degrees Fahrenheit. The snow had eased up a bit and we stopped to clear the car. (With a Prius, the hood does not get hot enough to melt the snow.) We also had to remove two ices of brown ice that coated the entire nose of the car (including lights) which had been thrown up as slush.

Both of us were short of breath from the exertion. Well, we were at about 10,000 feet at the time. Thank goodness we brought brushes and scrapers. (We also had a shovel, but did not need it.)

The last 100 miles to Fruita we averaged 60 miles per hour. We arrived around 2PM and went straight to Colorado National Monument. (To be clear: National Monuments are not monuments in the usual sense, but functionally equivalent to National Parks.)

The Monument was very scenic, and also very empty. When we stopped, we could hear nothing but the wind: no cars, no people, not even birds. As you can see below, Colorado National Monument gets about half the visitors annually as Canyonlands National Park, and one tenth as many as Zion National Park.

Dinner was at El Tapatio, an okay Mexican restaurant, but somewhat gringo-ized. For example, the tacos were hard tacos, not soft, and the mole sauce had peanut butter init.!

Prius data: We had a 16-mile stretch where we got 118 miles per gallon, and a 6-mile stretch when we got 200 miles per gallon! (It might even have been more, because the read-out maxes out at 199.9 miles per gallon.)

Mileage driven: 313 miles

October 10: We drove to Moab, where the first stop was the Moab Film and Western Heritage Museum, in Red Cliffs Inn, Mile 14 on Route 128. The road itself is as scenic as the National Parks, running along Colorado River and Red Cliffs Country.

A description of the Museum from a previous trip can be found here.

We watched a new half-hour documentary, "Lights! Camera!! Moab!!!" This actually grouped some of the movies by location (the "Auto Tour" brochure is really just a chronological listing of films and locations, not useful for driving):

The first movie filmed here was Wagon Master in 1949, then Smoke Signal (which was a Western that was all on the river and had no horses), Rio Grande, and Cheyenne Autumn,

The exhibits had not really been updated since our last visit (in 2008), but there were some more recent posters and photos in the hallway.

We drove further down Route 128, through more gorgeous scenery. We also drove down into Hidden Valley, where a lot of Westerns had been filmed. There were quite a few homes there, widely separated from each other. Are these people farming? Are they homes retirement homes? It seems incredibly isolated.

Dinner was at The Blu Pig, a barbecue place right next door to the motel. We shared a combo plate of tri-tip, Cajun sausage, and pulled pork, with fries and fried okra. It was pretty good--not quite up to Hog Wild, but definitely better than most of the places we6ve been eating at so far.

Mileage driven: 195 miles

October 11: The motel claimed they offered a free continental breakfast, but it included waffles, eggs, and a lot of other things not usually included in a continental breakfast.

Today we went to Canyonlands National Park, the first of the five in Utah we will be visiting. Some statistics about the various parks (and monuments) we are visiting:
Park Altitude Annual Visitors Year Made a National Park
Colorado National Monument 4500' 455,000 (1911)
Canyonlands National Park 6100' 776,000 1964
Arches National Park 4000'-5600' 1,586,000 1971 (1929)
Capitol Reef National Park 6000' 1,065,000 1971
Zion National Park varies 4,295,000 1919 (1909)
Bryce Canyon National Park 8000'-9000' 2,365,000 1928
Chaco Culture National Historical Park 6200' 39,000 1980 (1907)

(Dates in parentheses are when the area was made a National Monument.)

By comparison, Hovenweep National Monument gets 43,000 visitors a year, Natural Bridges National Monument, 101.000, and Grand Canyon National Park, 6,000,000. Most of the Grand Canyon's visitors go to the South Rim (from Arizona) rather than the North Rim (from Utah). But it is clear why southeast Utah is trying to create its own "Big Five" of Arches, Canyonlands, Capitol Reef, Hovenweep, and Natural Bridges, Given how crowded Zion and Bryce Canyon have become, staying within a smaller area and seeing the Parks and Monuments in that area makes sense. (One could even add Monument Valley Tribal Park without having to travel too far afield.)

When we first visited Canyonlands in 1995, we hiked on the trails at the Shafer Canyon Overlook, Mesa Arch, Grandview Overlook, and Whale Rock, as well as Cave Spring Trail in the Needles District. We were much less ambitious this time, and limited ourselves to what could be seen from the road or after a very short walk. The altitude affects us much more now, and while I have recovered from my broken hip, climbing is still a bit of a problem, and in general age is catching up with us.

See here for details of our first trip and here for details of our second.

Mark pointed out a formation he called the "Nativity Formation" because it was a rectangular "fin" with three pillars next to it, looking very much like the Three Magi.

One thing to remember is that the roads outside the Parks are as scenic as the Parks. For example, the approach to the Needles District of Canyonlands contains "Parthenon Row", so named by Mark because it looks like a long sequence of mesas topped by Greek temples.

More Prius data: We had a 44-mile stretch where we got 104 miles per gallon.

Dinner was at Center 98, a Vietnamese restaurant at 98 Center Street. I had a vegan pho which was tasty, but smaller than the pho we get back home, and higher priced. Oh, well, Moab is a tourist area.

Utah's liquor laws have definitely changed since our first visit. Restaurants now serve alcohol: beer, wine, and hard liquor. Evidently during the Winter Olympics in 2012 there was a lot of pressure to ease up on the laws so that foreign visitors from places like France and Germany could have wine and beer. However, after a couple of weeks of more liberal alcohol laws without a huge upswing in "local" drinking, the rationale for the strict laws was effectively undercut, and a lot of changes were made.

Another change was that Postum, a grain substitute for coffee that had been a staple in Mormon Utah for decades, had disappeared from the grocery shelves in 2007. It was not produced from 2007 to 2012, when the rights were transferred to another company, who produced it for mail order, and has just recently started distributing it to grocery stores again (though only in Utah at this point).

Mileage driven: 275 miles

October 12: This was our third visit to Arches National Park. See here for details of our first trip and here for details of our second.

The first time we were here, we hiked the nature trail, Balanced Rock, and the Devil's Garden Trail. This time we walked partway towards Double Arch and a little way around Balanced Rock, but as I have noted, our hiking days (such as they were) are over, at least at this altitude.

All parks change over time. Arches has undergone more obvious changes. Wall Arch completely collapsed in 2008. A large piece of the top of Ring Arch fell off in 2015. (The arch on the Utah license plates is Delicate Arch; unlike the "Old Man of the Mountain" on New Hampshire's plates, it is still in one piece. Mark says that there should also be an Oboler Arch.

There is a formation called "The Three Gossips". I have been calling it "The Three Sisters"--I must have been reading too much Chekhov.

Thank God for the backup camera in our Prius! After walking over to see one of the arches, we got in. I looked at all three rear-view mirrors--nothing. So I put the car in reverse and looked at the screen, only to see a woman crouching down behind the car, taking a picture of our license plate! I got out to see what was going on, and she got concerned she was doing something wrong. Well, yes, crouching down to the point of invisibility behind a car that might be backing up is wrong, but not taking the picture. She was Dutch and taking photos of license plates for as many states as possible. Whether she survives to get all fifty (plus extras), given her mode of operation, is questionable.

The dead wood and the soil in this area are various shades of green from surface lichen and bacteria.

After this we drove to Torrey, where we had dinner at Slackers, another burger place. I had an Outlaw Burger, with jalapeños, banana peppers, bacon, lettuce, tomato, and barbecue sauce.

Mileage driven: 209 miles

October 13: This was our third visit to Canyonlands National Park. See here for details of our first trip and here for details of our second.

The first time we walked on the Grand Wash and the Narrows Trail; this time we considered driving on the Grand Wash, but decided it was a bit rugged for our car.

Because we had some extra time we drove down Utah Route 12 through the Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument, but only as far as the Hogsback. Not only is the Hogsback a twelve-mile stretch of road atop a fin with drop-offs on both sides and no guard rails, but it is also apparently being repaved and traffic was one-way with a lead car to take the cars across. We had driven over the Hogsback twice before, which is enough for anyone, and the construction would probably make just crossing it and returning an hour-long trip.

Dinner was at the Capitol Reef Inn and Cafe. I had their ten-vegetable salad: lettuce, beets, tomatoes, cucumber, alfalfa sprouts, bell peppers (red, yellow, and green), zucchini, and broccoli. It is often difficult to get vegetables when traveling, so it was good to see something like this on the menu.

Mileage driven: 125 miles

October 14: The high altitude and low humidity have combined to give me nosebleed problems. Oh, goody. (These persisted for several days until we got down to a lower altitude.)

Yesterday, we had driven down Utah Route 12 as far as the Hogsback. We had already decided to drive to Bryce via Route 89 instead of over the Hogsback, but just in case we needed another reason, there were very strong winds this morning, made worse by all the dust they were whipping up. The Hogsback is scary enough under normal conditions, but with half the road width closed off, a possibly uneven road surface from the paving, and strong winds, it was definitely not on.

It was also cold this early in the morning. The fields had their irrigation sprinklers going, but the water was freezing as it hit the fences, equipment, and even the crops, leaving them all iced over in a very way.

This was our third visit to Bryce Canyon National Park. See here for details of our first trip and here for details of our second.

The first time we did a lot of hiking: Navajo/Queen's Garden Trail, Rim Walk, Inspiration Point, and Fairyland Canyon. This time we settled for driving the nineteen-mile scenic drive and stopping at all the lookout points. Being even higher up than other days, and with the wind, it was very cold, so even walking along the paths at the lookout points was uncomfortable. (We had several layers on, but no warm hats--who knew?)

The Visitors Center says that Bryce Canyon is one of the darkest places in North America. Have they considered the center and western parts of Puerto Rico lately?

Dinner was at The Soda Fountain in Kanab, now in its 101st year of operation. I had a "Cali Wrap": turkey, bacon, avocado, cheese, lettuce, mayo, and Dijon mustard in a spinach tortilla. Mark had a "Club Wrap": a club sandwich except in a tortilla. As with many of these small towns near National Parks, there is not much choice for restaurants, and while I don't mind spending more for better food, I do not want to spend more for mediocre food.

After dinner, we took a picture of the Sinclair dinosaur at the gas station next door (we don't see those back east). Then we visited the Little Hollywood Museum, which is a collection of sets used in the Moab area. Their "centerpiece" was the homestead from the film The Outlaw Josey Wales, one of Mark's favorites. It looks like a realistic stucco building until you get up close and discover that it is just fiberglass. There are a few small props, but there is really no overlap in displays between this and the Moab Museum, which is primarily photos and a few props. (And of course, they have different movies and locations.)

Mileage driven: 234 miles

October 15: Today we visited Zion National Park. This was our fourth visit. The first was in 1995, when the valley was closed due to mudslides. We hiked Watchman Trail and Canyon Overlook, and because of the closure also had time for Kolob Canyons. The second was in 2003, as a day trip from Las Vegas to make up for 1995. The third was in 2008, with Mark's mother. Descriptions of these can be found here, here, and here.

This time we hiked (well, walked) only the River Walk and the Grotto Trail. For us, the scenic drive through the Park is really the best part; the valley is just some extra.

Parking at Zion was even worse than last time. Last time we parked inside the Park (possibly at the Museum rather than the Visitors Center); this time we had to park in Springdale, take a (free) shuttle to the Park, and then take another shuttle to the valley stops.

Because of this, we brought water bottles and snack stuff in a backpack, as we would be away from the car all day. (We have a couple of small water bottles given out at science fiction conventions in Reno and San Antonio, which were perfect. There is water within the park, but not at every stop.)

Both Zion and Bryce are way too crowded to really enjoy, even in October. They are both small, yet their proximity to Las Vegas makes them very popular as destinations, and even in October the crowds are big, the parking impossible, and the experience less of unspoiled nature and more of the Jersey Shore on a weekend.

Dinner was at the Rocking V Cafe in Kanab. I had Almond Crusted Chicken Marsala on wild rice and grains; Mark had a Deep-Dish (vegetarian) Enchilada.

Today we saw mule deer, chipmunks, and squirrels, to add to the bison, wild turkeys, and llamas(!) we had previously seen.

Mileage driven: 76 miles

October 16: Today we drove from Kanab to Scottsdale through a variety of scenery and landscapes, including along the southern edge Vermilion Cliffs National Monument.

Lunch/dinner was at Sweet Tomatoes, a buffet chain in the area that has a large salad bar, half a dozen soups, some pasta/pizza offerings, and desserts. The soups vary from day to day and are interesting: rosemary cream of potato soup, pumpkin bisque, sriracha udon, and so on.

Mileage driven: 356 miles

October 17: Today was spent with family in Scottsdale.

Dinner was at Jade Palace (on Shea--there are actually two different Jade Palaces in Scottsdale). I had the Homestyle Tofu, which was very good--the tofu had a chewy crust, but was still soft and silky inside. Mark's Mongolian Beef was also very good.

Mileage driven: 8 miles

October 18: Today was spent with family in Scottsdale.

Dinner was at Habanero's, which even Mark's mother liked. (She had quesadillas.)

Mileage driven: 11 miles

October 19: We drove to Tucson, where we spent about an hour at Bookman's, a chain of really big used book (and DVD) stores. I found a couple of books. We usually go to the branch in Mesa when we go to Scottsdale, though we once went to the Phoenix branch. The main store is the Tucson one, though they all look about the same size. The Tucson store had moved, but was still easy to get to.

We entered New Mexico, greeted by chiles on their "Welcome to New Mexico" sign. Supposedly, the legislature passed a bill threatening to deport anyone who spelled it "chili" instead of "chile," but apparently that applies only to the peppers themselves or the sauce made from them. The dish with meat (and/or beans) is "chili", which explains why the restaurant chain Chili's has not had to change its name in New Mexico.

We got to drive through really dark skies, lightning, rainbows, hail, and rain before arriving in Deming.

Dinner was at Irma's. I wish I could remember now (two weeks later) what we had.

Mileage driven: 461 miles

October 20: A soapstone yucca plant looks like a triffid--just sayin'.

We drove to the City of Rocks State Park. In addition to being able to walk around the rock formations, which supposedly look like rounded sorts of buildings with crooked streets between them, they have a "Planet Walk". This is a path with markers at the relative distances of the planets. I suppose this is because of the observatory in the park, because there is very little else to make it meaningful. It did convince us that if this was supposed to be a prepared path/trail, we did not want to try to climb around between the rocks where there was no trail. We couldn't even get past Uranus on the Planet Trail because it turned into a climb up a rocky slope covered with loose gravel.

Hint: If you feel like you are losing your balance, do not grab a random desert shrub for support--most of them have sharp thorns!

The rocks do provide nesting areas for thirty-five species of birds, as well as bats and other animals. I even saw a rabbit.

We drove through Hatch, New Mexico, known for its chiles, but also apparently where all sorts of promotional statues (e.g., "Big Boy" restaurants statues) go to die--the town was full of them.

We also passed "Spaceport America", just north of Truth or Consequences. Though there have been some ground-based and low-altitude tests there, it is basically a "ghostport", and we are glad we did not decide to take the $50 a person tour.

We missed our exit off the interstate, and were a tad concerned when the GPS then said, "no road to destination"! However, exiting the next exit up and getting back on the southbound side solved the problem.

Dinner in Farmington was at Francisca's, where I had posole. Back in New Jersey, all the posoles I have seen have been white--made with chicken--and with lots of cilantro. This was red--made with beef--and with a reddish oil on the soup which was probably from the beef (but definitely not tomato) and no cilantro. It was good, but I was somewhat surprised by it.

Mileage driven: 474 miles

October 21: Today was a complete wash-out. We had planned to see the Bisti Badlands, but when we got there we discovered that it required a long drive over a really bad unpaved road. Given that there are no trails and we had problems walking around at City of Rocks, we decided to give it a pass. So we went back to town, planning to see a movie.

The downtown movie theater listed in our GPS has been closed for ages.

The used DVD store a block away had nothing of interest (or if it did, it was so badly arranged as to make finding things impossible--there were no categories, just everything in alphabetical order). However, they could tell us where the other movie theater in town was. We drove there.

They were closed this week to install recliner seats.

At this point we gave up, went back to the room, and watched DVDs we already had: Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein, Galaxy Quest (partly filmed in Goblin State Park), Duplicity, and Midnight in Paris. It was actually kind of nice to be able to rest up instead of rushing around, hiking at high altitudes, etc., and we did see nice scenery on the way to and from Bisti.

Mileage driven: 98 miles

October 22: Today we went to Chaco Culture National Historical Park, and did not let the unpaved road deter us. Although it was thirteen miles, it was (mostly) not as bad as the one at Bisti. There were short stretches, however, which were terrible, and involved thinking out carefully which side of the road (or the middle) to drive on to avoid not just the next potholes and ruts, but the ones just beyond them as well.

Seeing this, I remembered one reason why we never came here before on our various trips through the Southwest. In addition to its remoteness, the access road is impassable when wet (i.e., if it has rained any time in the previous few weeks). Since we did most of our traveling in this area in the late spring, it would have been impossible without at least a four-wheel-drive vehicle.

After the forty-five minutes to drive the thirteen miles, we arrived both shaken and stirred--shaken by the road, and stirred by the scenery and the history of the place.

Almost all the cars we saw on the road were SUVs or other "rugged" vehicles. Mark was not entirely convinced that the Park was designed for Priuses, and asked me to point out any other Priuses there.

Amazingly, in one of the pull-offs, there was one!

The good news was that the roads in the Park are paved.

What one can see in the Park itself is a single loop road which passes by five clusters of buildings, including Pueblo Bonito, the most extensive (covering three acres and having 800 rooms). There are also four backcountry trails to more remote sites.

In spite of its size, this was not a large city, but rather a ritual center. (This was concluded from the lack of middens, among other clues.)

Although anthropologists such as Brian Fagan rank this site up with Teotihuacan, Machu Picchu, and Stonehenge, it is certainly less known and less visited than the others. (It gets less than 1% the number of visitors as Zion, for example. Remoteness cannot be the only reason; Denali National Park in Alaska gets twenty times the number of visitors.)

There is a tension between those who want to preserve the buildings in Chaco Canyon, and those who believe everything should return to the earth ("ashes to ashes, dust to dust" and that sort of thing). The latter are primarily the Native Americans whose ancestors (or not) lived here a thousand years ago. The Ranger who gave a tour of the largest set of structures said this was also expressed as "emulate the clouds"; that is, embrace constant change.

After another rattlingly good thirteen-mile ride, we got back to the paved roads and returned to Farmington and Freddy's Burgers for dinner. We stopped at Safeway to replenish our snacks, and then watched part of the TCM "Dracula" fest of the evening: Dracula Prince of Darkness and Dracula Has Risen from the Grave.

Mileage driven: 158 miles

October 23: We drove to Albuquerque and went to the Explora (a hands-on science museum), where we spent most of the rest of the day. It was fun, but we thought many of the "stations" were under-explained (Mark's word). One example in the Paradox Cafe was the "readability of scrambled words" example. Since the Explora is entirely bilingual, it was in both English and Spanish, but both had the same "tricks" that made it work: none of the short words were scrambled, and within the longer words, many of the letters were in the same order as the original. (Google to see why a true scrambling would render the sentences basically unreadable.) It is true that the Spanish words tended to be a bit longer (more Latinate than Anglo-Saxon), but even I could still read most of them.

When we first visited Albuquerque in 1992 the population was 385,000. Now it is 560,000. (That is just the city itself. There has also been a lot of growth outside the limits; the metropolitan area is over a million.) It seemed like an appealing place to live twenty-five years ago, and it still does to some extent, but it seems a larger, more sprawling city than it did before.

Dinner was at Frontier Restaurant, just outside the University of New Mexico campus, where I had a truly excellent bowl of green chile stew.

Mileage driven: 190 miles

October 24: We had visited the New Mexico Museum of Natural History and Science back in 1992; my report can be found here.

With another couple, we got a half-hour "tour" from a docent/volunteer who started by telling us about the dinosaur skeleton of the seismosaurus in the rotunda, but then moved on to other paleontological topics. For example, Elephant Butte near Truth or Consequences was so named because it resembled an elephant, but in 2014 some guys out there for a bachelor party noticed a fossil sticking out of the ground. It turned out to be a stegomastodon skull--in effect, an elephant skull.

The docent also showed us the lab where they work on the finds. It included a lot of drawings and models, including one of the very inauthentic-looking Manny from Ice Age.

The arrangement here is chronological, rather than topical.

They had a Japanese version of Tom Leher's song "The Elements", but it was an extended version, including the new elements discovered between when Leher wrote the original (1959), and when the translation was done (2010).

The seimosaurus has been found only in New Mexico and is actually a deformed diplodocus.

They still have the "evolator"--a room that pretends to be a time machine, going back in time and showing what the outside looks like on a viewing screen.

An exhibit on NASA's "Dawn" project pointed out that Rheasilvia on Ceres is the highest mountain peak in solar system. (We formerly thought Olympus Mons held that distinction.)

Dinner was a good pepperoni and mushroom pizza at Saggio's, across the street from Frontier.

Mileage driven: 16 miles

October 25: This was a driving day, Albuquerque (NM) to Weatherford (OK). Driving on I-40 east one sees a lot of trucks--from the crest of a hill they look like a string of white rectangular beads.

Dinner in Weatherford (Oklahoma) was at TJ's Diner, a true diner (with a counter and open 24 hours a day). Mark had the fried chicken and I had the Cajun boneless chicken breast. Mine was rather small, but Mark gave me a piece of his much larger meal. The mashed potatoes were real mashed potatoes (with bits of skin) and came with sausage gravy. All in all, a good meal.

Mileage driven: 472 miles

October 26: Before we started this trip, we did not even know about the Stafford Air & Space Museum, but it was mentioned at the Cosmosphere, and since we were driving within ten miles of it on our way home, we added it to the itinerary.

Its association with the Smithsonian means that the Stafford has lots of stuff from them and from the National Museum of the Air Force (Dayton). There are three types of items: replicas, flight-ready artifacts, and flown artifacts.

Apparently the requirements that the Wright Brothers met with their plane in 1903 was that it had to raise itself by its own power, sail forward without reduction of speed, and land at a point as high as where it started. It turns out now there is some debate about whether the Wright Brothers were really the first to do this. Gustave Whitehead claimed to flown in 1901 and 1902, and has eyewitness reports to back that up, but no photographs. Alberto Santos-Dumont's claim is that the Wright Brothers took off from a rail or used a catapult for their flights, while his 1906 flight did neither.

One question I had about the replica of the Wright Brothers plane on display is how much of the hardware is replica, and how much is modern structural support that would not have existed in the original??

They had a display about airships and specifically the Hindenberg. One little-known fact: two-thirds of the passengers and crew survived the crash, including cabin boy Werner Franz, who died at age 91 in 2014.

The museum was generally well-done, but they had a lot of typos: "un-presidented" for "un-precedented", "$25,000" for "$2,500", "lightening" for "lightning", and so on.

The Agena rocket was apparently not named after anything or anyone.

The MMU (Manned Maneuvering Unit) used to be called the AMU (Astronaut Maneuvering Unit). Admittedly not every space traveler is an astronaut, but I am pretty sure all the ones who use the MMU are astronauts, while they are not all men. I am not trying to be a fanatic on this, but at a time when everyone is trying to get rid of "sexist" language, changing the AMU to the MMU seems odd.

They had an American flag flown on one of Stafford's missions. All the crew members signed it. Is writing on a flag disrespecting it?

After this, we had--you guessed it--more driving, ending up in Fort Smith, Arkansas.

Dinner was at Las Americas Too, a Salvadoran/Nicaraguan restaurant. We had Pollo Guisado, which was excellent, and Gallo Pinto, which was even better.

Mileage driven: 329 miles

October 27: Luckily this was a driving day, because we added heavy rain to our list of weather experiences.

In Arkansas, we saw a traffic sign saying "Do not impede traffic in the lefthand lane." In Tennessee, one said that "inherently low emissions vehicles" were allowed in the HOV lane. These use more esoteric words than one usually finds on traffic signs.

In Arkansas, we also saw a billboard which said, "Use the rod on your children and save their life." Yes, I know it is Proverbs 23:14, but it is still offensive.

We drove down Buford Pusser Highway and past signs for the Buford Pusser Museum before arriving in Savannah (Tennessee).

Dinner was at The Hickory Pit, baby back ribs, chicken, baked beans, and fried okra.

Mileage driven: 404 miles

October 28: We spent the morning at Shiloh National Military Park. They were having a special event--Chickasaw Day--but we did not have time to stay for all the events.

We had visited Shiloh before, in 1997; a description of that visit can be found here.

Not much has changed since then, except that they apparently keep re-arranging the driving tour. The audiotour CD that they are selling in the bookstore is keyed to the old stops, and the clerk recommended against buying it. Based on postings on Usenet, I have the impression that there was a different order even before the audiotour version. At any rate, the driving tour, while convenient geographically, is all over the place in terms of chronology: first you see something from Day 1 Morning, then Day 2 Afternoon, then Day 1 Evening, and so on. We saw a group of teenagers with an adult guide walking around, and I hope they were trying to see the park locations in their chronological sequence.

For that matter, we have visited various Civil War sites on our trips but, again, in geographical order. To really understand them, I suppose one should, for example, follow Grant's campaign in the West (or the East) in the same order.

I asked the Ranger if the vegetation has changed. No, in the sense that what was pasture is still pasture, the forest was still forest, and so on. Yes, in the sense that the forest areas now have undergrowth. In the 19th century, free-ranging cows, pigs, goats, etc., tended to keep the undergrowth down.

Iowa had several monuments on the battlefield, not surprising when you realize that Iowa provided more soldiers per capita than any other state. Except maybe Ohio, California, or Nebraska, who all claim that same honor. (Given the sloppy record-keeping of the time, and the fact that not all soldiers enlisted in their own states' units, this seems like an argument that will never be resolved.)

One of the areas looked familiar: Duncan Field. But I remembered it as having cannon at one edge, and there are no cannon now. I also remember a huge swarm of butterflies.

The most famous location of this battlefield is "the sunken road", but the most recognizable name of the battlefield area would be "Owl Creek", as in Ambrose Bierce's "Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge".

There are also Indian mounds here--it is actually pretty surprising how little known they are considering how widespread they are.

We drove to Knoxville, Tennessee, passing an enormous number of churches. (One road had four churches in a row!)

Mileage driven: 344 miles

October 29: We drove to Roanoke, trying Arby's new "Deep-Fried Turkey Sandwich" on the way--nothing special. We got in early enough that we even had time to see Blade Runner 2049.

It was close and rainy and bowls of pho at Pho Viet Nam were the perfect choice.

Mileage driven: 274 miles

October 30: Today we finished our driving.

In Virginia, instead of giving you an AM station to listen to for traffic information, they tell you to dial 511. Really? While you're driving? What were they thinking?

It seems that the more billboards one sees for an attraction, the more commercial and less worthwhile it is. We saw at least a half dozen billboards for Luray Caverns, and another half dozen for the Virginia Safari Park.

Mileage driven: 432 miles


Why are so many tractor-trailer trucks registered in Indiana?

Why do motels put the shower heads so high that short people cannot reach them to adjust them?

One major annoyance of traveling is that every remote, every television, every clock/radio, every set of switches works differently.

Motel rooms are kept so dark and dressers are usually made of dark wood, so that it is easy to lose things (especially things like dark socks) in the back of them and forget them when you are going to leave.

The hotels are trying to provide more and more accessible electrical outlets, but they often have the same drawback as power stripes: they are too close together for those giant "wall warts" that all the companies put on their chargers. (I realize that it would be more expensive, but can't they put these things two or three inches along the cord?)

All too often, motels give a double room a single luggage rack and no dresser space, meaning if there are two suitcases, one person has to use theirs on the floor.

Having a car means you can bring more. It also makes it easier to misplace things.

As far as packing goes, I keep improving my list, but I find that you have everything you need the day after you need it.

License plate spotting is not what it used to be. My need to wear sunglasses, the increase in the number of plate holders that cover the state name, and the increase in varieties of license plates per state all make figuring out what state a plate is from a tricky business. Still, I saw all the states, and in addition saw a DC plate, a US Government plate, and plates from Nova Scotia, Quebec, Ontario, Alberta, Manitoba, and British Columbia. I did not see Hawai'i until a rest stop after Scottsdale, and then saw not just the first, but the first two Arkansas within a half-hour after that! The first (and only) South Dakota was in Chaco Culture National Historical Park. I did not see New Hampshire until the last day, and then two plates, one in Virginia and one in New Jersey.

At the end of the trip, the car readout said we drove 7444 miles at 59.8 miles per gallon. The actual gasoline used was 130.62 gallons after 7464 miles, or 57.14 miles per gallon. This means that the dashboard calculation is off by about 5%.

T H E     E N D

Evelyn C. Leeper (