Monday, June 30, 2008

Day 20: Murphy's Law

Thursday, June 26

Fast Facts
Starting: Texas
Ending: Louisiana
Today's Mileage/Total Mileage: 404 mi (650km)/4601 mi (7404 km)

In the end, it's amazing that we broke 400 miles today.

We broke camp around 9:30 and hit the road. Our plans today were rather open. We did have a reservation in Beaumont, Texas (city motto: the last place of civilization in Texas), but it was at a place where we had to use our tent. Since that was impossible, we'd cancelled the reservation. Which kind of left us lacking in options, as there were no campgrounds in that area with any kind of cabins, or any other cities in any kind of proximity.

After consulting the books, we discovered a campground about 100 miles into Louisiana. So, we figured we could go to Beaumont & get a hotel room, or we could drive all the way to LA, and get the standard cabin we were used to - and have a bit shorter drive the next day.

As we were coasting into Houston (city motto: If you can see it off the freeway and wanted to go there, you should have gotten off at the last exit. Stinks to be you.) the skies completely opened up.

Now, we are from Florida. We are used to heavy rainstorms. This ranked right up there with the bad ones - the ones where you can barely see the lines on the road in front of you. For a while, we were okay; we'd be in it for a while, but then we'd drive back into the sunshine.

Except, Houston traffic being what it is, the storm would catch us everytime we slowed down. Kind of annoying. And then we heard the little voice from the backseat:

"Mommy, I have to go potty."

Bug is not prone to exaggeration. Or advance warning.

So now, in addition to crazy drivers & blinding rain, we needed to find an (indoor) restroom. And then somehow manever through all the construction to actually FIND the exit ramp. Finally, we noticed a Target & a shopping mall that not only had restrooms but a Chick-fil-a (meaning we are now near the East Coast again!).

We let the kids "play" (read: without the quarters) in the arcade for quite awhile too as we waited for the storm to let up. One of their favorites was this horse-riding game.

Anyways, around 2:30 we decided that we really needed to go. The rain was quieter, and we definitely wanted to be out of there before rush hour.

After breaking out of Houston, we were merrily cruising along amongst the sprinkles when


a rock smashed into the windshield.

It was a little rock, but it was loud and managed to chip the windshield. Immediately, all the horror stories I'd ever heard about a chip spreading & your windshield turning into powder began running through my head. We were close to Beaumont, so we knew we really did need to stop to repair it, but where? Wait, Husband said, we have AAA - call them!

I swear I am not making up the following conversation.

After maneuvering through several voice prompts, one of which asked me to input my membership number, I finally got ahold of a real person:

Jaime: Hi, I'm driving down I-10, just west of Beaumont Texas, and our windshield is cracked. I was hoping for a glass-repair...
AAA person: (interrupting, I might add) I have to transfer you over to Claims.

** cue hold music **

AAA person: This is ****. What seems to be the problem?
Jaime: Hi, I'm in Beaumont, TX, and our windshield is cracked. I was hoping to get a recommendation for a glass-repair shop.
AAA: I'll need your card number before we can do anything
J: Oh, I entered it earlier on the voice prompts...
AAA: There's nothing here on the screen. Are you going to tell me what it is or not?
J: It's 429 -
AAA: (cutting me off) That's your membership number. I need your insurance number.
J: We don't have insurance with you.
AAA: Then I can't help you.
J: But doesn't AAA make a list of recommended service providers available to their members?
AAA: Only to our members with insurance.
J: (silent)
AAA: You might as well just go look in the yellow pages.
J: I really don't want to do that - I have no idea who would be legitamate in a strange town.
AAA: Well, that's the best you're going to get from this phone call.
J: (eyes about falling out of my head) ???!!!
AAA: You can always call your ACTUAL insurance provider and have them recommend someone.
J: Well, that would have been the better answer earlier!

Which is what we did. And the lovely representative figured out where we were (because we've been driving this entire time), called around to find a place that was open and could take us then.

Around 4:30, car fixed, we jumped right back on the road.... into a traffic jam. Thankfully we'd just put the DVD player in, so the kids were entertained for the next hour and a half.

Finally (!!) we reached the campground in Louisiana at 7:30 - just minutes before they closed. We settled in amongst the crickets & mosquitos and crashed.

Day 19: Remember the Alamo!!

Wednesday, June 25

Fast Facts

Starting: Texas
Ending: Texas (am starting to wonder if we will ever LEAVE Texas!!)
Today's Mileage/Total Mileage: 123 mi (197 km)/4197 mi (6754 km)

We didn't have very far to go today because we'd planned on spending the day in San Antonio. Looking back, we should have just sucked it up yesterday & spent 2 nights in San Antionio in order to avoid all the "excitement" of Junction, but oh well.

Now, I can say I will remember the Alamo.

This is pretty much the only picture you can take of it, because they ban cameras inside the (really tiny) building. And I didn't feel like testing the guys in red vests - they looked hot & cranky & ready to use those bayonets. (Okay I'm kidding. But only about the bayonets.)

Outside in the garden they have lots of cannons on display. Bird thought they looked like wonderful horses.

Once we'd exhausted all that the Alamo had to offer (including a 15 minute film in an air conditioned room & checking out all the weird things made from chili peppers that you can buy in the gift shop), we walked down the street a bit until we went down into the Riverwalk.

The concept is a little hard to explain, but what you do is head down the street towards the river, and then go down a staircase. You will find yourself at the river's edge, in amongst all sorts of shops, hotels and restaurants.

Perhaps the main touristy thing to do is ride the riverboats. And we did. It takes you all around the river, and your guide points out things he hopes you will be interested in, all the while making really bad jokes.

I might have liked it better, had we not made the mistake of going immediately after getting there - around 3:30 pm. And it was still HOT!!!

Bug & Bird agreed.

Fortunately, there is a shopping mall right around there (because apparently it's not a civilied place without a shopping mall??) where we could spend some time drinking their cold filtered water & soaking up their lovely air conditioning.

We did have dinner on the Walk before returning back to the campground, where the kids spent quite a bit of time splashing around in the pool before bedtime.

Saturday, June 28, 2008

Day 18: Move along, nothing to see here folks!!

Tuesday, June 24

Fast Facts
Starting: Texas (Van Horn)
Ending: Texas (Junction)
Today's Mileage/Total Mileage: 314 mi (505 km)/4074 mi (6556 km)

Husband: (to KOA employee) Are there any activities around here?
KOA employee: There's nothing to do in Junction.

He wasn't kidding.

Day 17: Her Lungs Work Quite Well

Monday, June 23

Fast Facts

Starting: Arizona
Ending: Texas
Today's Mileage/Total Mileage: 345 mi /3760 mi

After yesterday's fun and games with the car, we had some territory to make up in order to reach the campground we had an actual reservation at for tonight.

There's not a whole lot to say about the trip itself. New Mexico looked a lot like I'd pictured it.

For that matter, so did Texas.

Therefore, today's entry will highlight Bird. After we'd done all the normal things in setting up camp (in a cabin! Praise the Lord!), I set about cooking dinner. I noticed Bird sit on the porch swing with a flashlight & start inspecting her foot, but really, nothing is truly out of the ordinary for her, so I didn't ask her what was going on.

Husband, being less busy and more curious at that moment, asked her what she was looking at. She said the bottom her toe hurt. So he looked at her toe, and discovered that there was good reason - she had a splinter.

She's already been messing with it, so the piece that was left was entirely below the skin. Which meant Husband & I had the lovely job of Splinter Removal. Which went something like this:

Jaime: Okay Bird, hold still.
Husband: (holds her hands)

(Some people do wander by and sagely contine to walk past the unfurling melodrama.)

Jaime: I have a tiny piece out.
Husband: Bird, this has to come out or your toe will get infected.

This contined for a while, until we let Bird pick at her own toe for a bit - silently and with no success.

Finally, I held her toe, Husband used the tweezers, and we finally got the sucker out. Bird spent all of dinner nursing her hole in her foot. We discovered that ice cream is indeed the cure-all for holes in feet. (and eardrums, for that matter.)

Day 16: Cowboy Cavalry

Sunday, June 22

Fast Facts
Starting: Arizona (Phoenix)
Ending: Arizona (Wilcox)
Today's Mileage/Total Mileage: 203 mi (326 km)/3415 mi (5495 km)

We were supposed to spend tonight in New Mexico.

Then again, a car is supposed to shift gears when you ask it to.

Let me back up a bit. Yesterday, amongst the trains & the pizza, we had the oil changed in our car - seeing as how we'd hit the 3000-mile-mark and all. Today, we went to church this morning with our friends, and in general had a nice leisurely lunch before hitting the road.

Before we jumped onto I-10 (realizing in a bittersweet moment that we were now heading East instead of West), we stopped at a gas station to fill the tank and realized it was a little hard for Husband to shift into Park. But it did shift in the end and had no trouble going into Drive afterwards so we thought very little of it. Husband convinced me to drive this portion because it was supposed to be uneventful & he could get some work done.

Now, if you look at a map of I-10, you quickly realize that there is NOTHING out there in New Mexico or Texas. So, in the interest of having enough gas, we decided to stop in the last known point of civilization: Wilcox, Arizona.

However, now the car REALLY didn't want to shift into Park. Both Husband & I sat there pushing with everything we had, until we thought we'd succeeded & could turn the engine off.

All was well until Husband tried to restart the car. Nothing happened. Furthermore, the car was really only in Neutral (as we discovered when I leaned a little too hard on one side. Good thing for emergency brakes!). While I muttered vile things at the oil-change folks, Husband called AAA. The lady there was full of information - once she figured out where we were (because saying you are at a Texaco in the middle of nowhere is not helpful), said she had a tow truck on the way and she even found a repair shop close by, though she was sure it wasn't open on Sunday.

So, we figured that since we were stranded in Wilcox, we might as well make the best of it. There was a Days Inn across the street, so Husband went & got a room. I took the kids to the McDonalds playground next door (because even if you go to a distant planet, there will be a McDonalds there), and Husband stayed at the gas station waiting for the tow truck.

About a half hour later, a pickup truck swung into the gas station parking lot, and stopped right in front of our car. Two crusty cowboys - complete with hats & overalls hopped out & sauntered over to Husband.

Cowboys: So, your car won't start?
Husband: (seriously hoping they are the tow truck people or mechanics and not crazy folks who get their kicks out of stranded people): Um... no?
Cowboys: Yeah, we're the mechanics from the shop back there and wanted to get your car fixed before quitting time if possible.

Turns out, the auto repair place was right behind the gas station. And they had the car fixed in about 5 minutes - turns out the battery cover had popped off & there was a hunk of plastic sitting in the gear shaft.

I took back the mean things I said about the oil change people, the cowboys filled out all the paperwork, and Husband paid them.

The night of AC and cable television in the hotel room? Almost made the heart attacks worth it!

Day 15: Heading South

Saturday, June 21

Fast Facts
Starting: Arizona (Flagstaff)
Ending: Arizona (Phoenix)
Today's Mileage/Total Mileage: 190 mi (305 km)/3022 mi (4863 km)

"LOOK!!!" screamed Bird as we made the treacherous way down 5000 feet in elevation.
"Straight pointy things!"

Sure enough, there were.

Personally, I can't look at a cactus without imagining it giving us the finger. But that's me. Bird & Bug were so enthralled by the whole concept of one that they would cheer everytime a field of them appeared on their side of the car.

Short trip today because we were actually visiting friends in the Phoenix area. They have a boy Bug's age, and they played in the way that 3-year-old boys do (Trains?! Yippee!). Bird played hours of fetch with their dog, who was roughly the size of me but very gentle & friendly.

For dinner, we decided to do something a little unique to the Phoenix area and visited a place called Organ Stop Pizza. The food is fairly basic: pizza and beer (soda), but the big draw is this huge gigantic organ that appears in the middle of the stage area:

In reality, it should really be called a Command Module. Although it did act more or less like a pipe organ (the pipes are behind all those panels), it also controlled about a bazillon other instruments located throughout the restaurant.

It was fun, but the organist was a substitute for the regular guy, and although you could theoretically request any song (am now kicking myself for not asking for Phantom of the Opera!), she had a penchant for showtunes. She played a version of "My Heart Will Go On" that must have lasted at least 10 minutes.

It didn't keep the kids from dancing in the aisles though. If the music got too dramatic, Bird would whip out her fancy ballet moves. Nice to know she still remembers those!

On a final note, after the kids were all asleep, I came to understand the nation's love of Rock Star Band. (shhh - don't tell anyone I actually really liked playing the guitar! We'll just keep that our little secret. ;) )

The End (??) of the Tent

I mentioned a while back about how one of the tent poles had broken. Since then we'd done the best we could, but here in Flagstaff the tent has met its Waterloo. Apparently folks flock here to camp because it's so much prettier (read: NOT DESERT) than the rest of Arizona. And it is - we found the nights to be downright pleasant, if not a little chilly. Flagstaff, however, is windy.

Partway through the first night, I woke to discover that the tent was swaying quite a bit in the wind. I suspect that if we were not at the bottom of it that it could be off amongst the tumbleweeds somewhere. As it was, when we woke up for real, one side looked a little funny. As we got out, we discovered why:

The rain shield (and I use that term loosely!) had partially come off, but the porch area had completely collapsed, and the poles cracked in several places.

We had no real alternative option for our second night there, so we jury-rigged it the best we could (all hail the Almighty Roll of Duct Tape!) and prayed that there would not be huge gusts of wind that night (there weren't). There was no way, however, that we would be able to sleep in the tent again on this trip (it was barely standing the next morning - would have collapsed if someone looked at it funny.).


Meanwhile, Bird & Bug were fascinated with all the pine needles at this campground, and set about making bird's nests. Here they are hard at work,

and here are 2 of their finished projects:

Friday, June 27, 2008

Day 14: There's a Reason They Call it "Grand"

Friday, June 20

Fast Facts
Starting: Arizona
Ending: Arizona
Today's Mileage/Total Mileage: 78 mi (125 km)/3022 mi (4863 km)

Today was the entire purpose of our trip: seeing the Grand Canyon, live and in person!!

There are all sorts of ways to get there, the cheapest (?) being to just drive yourself. We opted to drive a bit and take a train instead (and round out the trifecta of train rides this week!).

This was probably the most superfluous train ride that we did (since we really COULD have just driven), but it was also the most comfortable (very cushy seats, though no AC).

Before you leave the station, there is a Wild West Show, featuring a bunch of old men outlaws who need money, and a marshall who tells them there's no way they're getting on the train & taking money from all the rich tourists.

(On the way home from the Canyon, they do indeed hold up the train & "rob" everyone. Turns out the Marshall isn't very good at his job.)

We visited the South Rim. There are three main sections you can tour - you can walk them yourself, take a tour bus, or there is a free shuttle run by the Park Service that will take you to points of interest (that's what we did.)

Anyways, there are really no words that can do this sort of view justice, so I will just let the place speak for itself.

This shot is completely zoomed in about 2/3 of the way down the Canyon. If you click on the picture, you can see where I circled 3 people either riding mules or hiking down to the bottom.

The Colorado River

Bird & Bug were actually freaked out by the enormity of the Grand Canyon. Therefore, everytime we stopped to look, we found a spot (far from the edge) where they could just sit & watch us. Later on, their spots were a bit more shaded.

Though we did manage to get a few family pictures. This one was probably my favorite....

... though I am definitely framing this one for my wall at home!!

Day 13: Crossing the Desert

Thursday, June 19

Fast Facts

Starting: Colorado
Ending: Arizona
Today's Mileage/Total Mileage: 308 mi (495 km)/2944 mi (4737 km)

Today's journey found us in a place that many folks hear about but don't necessarily visit - the Four Corners Monument (where the borders of Colorado, Utah, New Mexico, and Arizona meet and you can stand in 4 states at once).

The land itself is part of a reservation, so you do have to pay a little bit of money to get in, but overall it's very lowkey - there's a raised platform (that has seen better days!) that you can stand on to take pictures, and the place itself is well-labeled.

In the very center is the official marker - I will crop the photo when I print it out, but I thought it was funny that you can completely see my shadow as I took the picture!!

Thankfully, the journey itself was unremarkable, so here are more pictures from the Dashboard Camera:

Colorado, as we left it:

The west size of Arizona is the desert side, apparently. Here we are losing the green and gaining the brown. There is a little bit of pink in these rocks, though it's hard to see.

The terrain gets more & more rocky & sparse.

This was all we saw for miles & miles. Good thing we filled up on gas ahead of time!!

I loved all the different striations on these rocks.

This rock just looked cool. Maybe aliens landed here?!

Church Rock (or Castle Rock, as Bird named it)

A semi-typical desert panorama.

Another shot where you can really see the striations on the rock.

The end of our journey found us in Flagstaff, where we encountered more campers in one place than I think we'd seen the entire trip!

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Day 12: Durango to Silverton Railroad

Wednesday, June 18

Fast Facts:
Starting: Colorado
Ending: Colorado
Today's Mileage/Total Mileage: 14 mi/ 2636 mi
(That's car mileage!! We traveled 45 miles on the train itself - 90 round trip)

When originally researching things to do while on this trip, the train ride from Durango to Silverton consistently came up in conversation. Checking out their website, we had to admit that it looked beautiful.

We boarded the train at the Durango station.

At the beginning, the scenery looked pretty Colorado-standard.

The tracks wind along the Animas River. At this end, the river is fairly mild.

This was just particularly gorgeous.

A view of the train itself. As regular folks, we had the option of riding in an enclosed coach, which you can see here, or an open gondola. We opted for the coach, and were very glad we did - much easier to keep the kids on the train itself! And more shaded, considering there is no AC on the train itself. (Though there are bathrooms.)

One of the prettiest parts of the trip was when we crossed over the river gorge.

One of the many waterfalls you see on the trek.

Husband took this picture as we were just about in Silverton.

As pretty as the trip was (and it needed to be - it's 3.5 hrs one way!), I have to admit that Silverton itself was a dud. Pretty much the whole thing looks like this - rows & rows of shops & restaurants/saloons. (If you are a shopper, you would probably have more fun there than we did.) We did eat lunch there & wandered around several of the gift shops - which really means trailing after the kids and reminding them what sorts of things you can and cannot touch (in brief: stuffed animals and clothing are okay; porcelain artifacts and fish bait are not.)

We returned to Durango thoroughly exhausted - the markings of a good day.


If I were to tell you that while passing a truck on US-160 in Colorado, one of us was clocked doing 79mph in a 65mph zone, pulled over, and given a speeding ticket, who would you think it was?

You have a 50/50 shot, since neither Bird nor Bug was driving at the time.

Do you have an answer in mind yet?

It was Husband.

Were you right or wrong??

Monday, June 23, 2008

Day 11: One Side to the Other

Tuesday, June 17

Fast Facts

Starting: Colorado (Colorado Springs)
Ending: Colorado (Durango)
Today's Mileage/Total Mileage: 302 mi (486 km)/2621 mi (4218 km)

Dashboard Camera
Today I was driving & Husband was the photographer. The best way to show you the difference from one end of Colorado to the other is by photos.

The West side: still a little brown and a little hilly

Starting to see mountains

Snow-capped mountains

A pretty waterfall

The view into this valley was just gorgeous!

Through the treachery, now onto green mountain areas

Chimney Rock

Very mountainous region!