The Western Part of Heading East

Leaving Monterey, we headed south to Paso Robles, then east to Tehachapi. We traveled Interstate 40 through Albuquerque, across the Texas panhandle, turned the corner in Oklahoma, and went south into Grapevine (near Dallas) where we will spend Thanksgiving.

We spent our first night at a Paso Robles winery, Rio Seco. They were closed when we arrived and weren’t going to open until after we left, so we didn’t get to taste the wine at all. We did enjoy walking among the grapevines, however.

The Mountain Valley Airport (L94) in Tehachapi is home to the Skylark North soaring school which also has some RV sites where we spent one night. The soaring school does training with the Air Force and Navy test pilot schools as well as NASA. On arrival, then to the nearby César Chávez ranch which is now a national monument. Chávez led a movement in the mid 1970s for better working conditions and pay for farm workers, mainly those of Mexican descent. We also went into Tehachapi to wander around town looking at the old downtown and the murals for a while. We left the next morning.

The Fender’s RV Resort on the Colorado River in Needles, California, had been neglected, so the Fenders folk from next door (a hotel and a few RV spots) bought it. We got a great spot overlooking the river for three nights; we saw the jet boat heading north from Lake Havasu toward Laughlin. We visited Lake Havasu City, to see the London Bridge. We also ran into an RC Modelers gathering (the Annual London Bridge Seaplane Classic) and watched seaplanes on the lake for a while.

Following the Route 66 theme (I-40 mostly follows the Route 66 path), we visited Oatman, Arizona, the ghost town that won’t die and where burros wander the streets begging for food. It was on the original Route 66 path when gold mining was booming, then the route changed to avoid the mountains. I-40 followed the bypass route. Otaman is a great day trip destination now; there were a number of cars, motorcycles, and off-road vehicles around town. There are regular gunfight shows and other cowboy entertainment as well as crafts to buy.

We drove back to Needles on the original Route 66. It led us by an old Harvey Hotel, the El Garces. It was one of the first train stations built of concrete and was a crown jewel in the Fred Harvey chain (coveted Harvey Girl assignment). It’s now mostly empty save for the Amtrak waiting room. We could see the outlines of the oval lunch counters in the floor tiles.

The OK RV Park in Holbrook, Arizona, near the Petrified Forest National Park was our next stop. The National Park road through the Painted Desert and the Petrified Forest crosses I-40, Route 66, and the BNSF rail line. There are many overlooks and spots to walk through petrified forest and ancient Indian pueblo sites.

Near the entrance is the Painted Desert Inn. It was built as the Stone Tree House using petrified wood and was redone in the 1920’s by the CCC to look like adobe. Fred Harvey took over management and ran it as a restaurant catering to Route 66 travelers. Unfortunately, it was built on bentonite clay which is unstable, cracking the walls. The building was almost demolished as unsafe in 1977, but has since been stabilized and renovated as a historic site.

Next, we stayed in the High Desert RV Park, just west of Albuquerque. We met Virginia Zeuli, Alex Voges and wife Heather, Erica (Voges), her husband Adam, and kids, at the Frontier restaurant, an Albuquerque tradition near the University of New Mexico. It was great to see a family we knew from Savannah and see how they’ve grown.

I’m not sure what we were expecting from Old Albuquerque, but the area is mostly shops and restaurants and not much preserved history. We walked through the old town to the Albuquerque Museum. The museum contains both art and history. The history section talked about the blending of traditions between indigenous, Mexican, and European cultures. There has been a strong influence from community of the San Felipe de Neri Catholic Church in Old Albuquerque as it was the social gathering place.

We also visited the National Museum of Nuclear Science which used to be on the Kirtland Air Force Base, but was relocated after 9-11 because of the base security needs. There is a good history of the development of nuclear science and technology, a mockup of the Los Alamos experiments, bomb and missile artifacts, and a heritage park which includes a reproduction of the Trinity tower and the fin from a missile submarine. There was also a temporary exhibit on the B-52 aircraft. According to one of the docents, the Air Force has announced they will retire the last B-52 aircraft in 2050. If they last this long, there will have been B-52 aircraft flying for 100 years! None of the individual airplanes will have been flying for 100 years, of course.

There was also interesting information about small modular reactors which could be built in a factory and installed with less cost, less land, and more safety than large plants.

From Albuquerque, we went to Tucumcari, New Mexico and stayed just one night at the Blaze-N-Saddle RV park. They have space for horses. There is a very interesting depot building, Union Station, that was built in 1926 and has been restored to house the railroad museum, but it wasn’t open when we could visit.

To break up our journey, we stayed a few days at the Palo Duro Canyon State Park, south of Amarillo, Texas. This is the second largest canyon in the nation. We hiked to the Lighthouse rock formation, and to the canyon rim on the Rock Garden trail. We were surprised to get a phone call from our son, Trow, while on the rim. There is no cell service down in the canyon, so his timing was perfect! As well as the great hiking, we saw deer, big horn sheep (aoudad sheep not native to North America), and a flock of turkeys. We had perfect weather for hiking; it started raining just as we left the park.

Our dash continued with rainy day of travel to a one-night stay in Weatherford, Oklahoma at the Stafford Air and Space Museum. Lt. Gen. Thomas P. Stafford, legendary test pilot and astronaut, is a native of Weatherford. The museum has a basic aviation history section with a number of real and replica aircraft. There are aircraft from Stafford’s time as commanding general of Edwards AFB, including a Russian MiG-21. Much of the museum deals with the space program and Stafford’s multiple missions.

After another rainy travel day, we arrived at the Vineyards in Grapevine, Texas, where the temperature was 77 degrees. We will spend about a week here enjoying Thanksgiving with our niece, Roxanne, and her two girls. It was nice to buy diesel at $2.58 per gallon after paying $3.88 in California!

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