I didn't have access to the funds necessary to commission Boris to paint a poster for our vacation similar to the National Lampoon's Vacation poster.
And I didn't have access to a Wagon Queen Family Truckster (imagine my disappointment).
…but we decided to go on the quintessential cross-country vacation anyway. The logic for this is almost infallible: You only do this once, with the infamous "your kids will remember it forever" rider, which is meant to shore up any chance of some one shooting a hole in your plans as crazy or ill advised.
A few years ago we dragged the kids across the United States from Washington, D.C. to Virginia Beach and home through the Carolinas, Georgia, Mississippi and Alabama. So it only seemed natural to drag them the opposite way and take the Route 66 path out to California. We have friends that live in Huntington Beach, California and during a trip here to visit us, they encouraged us to come out and visit them. They had plenty of room and would put us up during our visit.
"How could you pass this type of trip up?" came to my mind. "You only get to do this with your kids once in life." I'm not sure the kids would have chosen the course my wife and I chose but they couldn't tell me where the Grand Canyon was located on a map, so I can't blame them for not knowing "how to get to California" and what to see on the way. Thank you Norman Public Schools.
We all agreed we to go "to the beach" as part of the vacation. Hawaii and Mexico were both out based on funding. Florida has been done and that left the invitation from Killer Dave and California on the table. So my planning began. We set aside the dates, made the reservations for the way points and off we went.
I have already posted on the OkieRover Blog about the vehicle selections for this trip and getting the Discovery ready on subsequent posts. It was the only logical choice and I "really wanted to drive it". The exceptionally high gas prices were my only deterrents but I had made my mind up to drive it.
We departed Norman, Oklahoma on Friday evening after work to make time that would later allow us to see some of the sites on the way. It's a long stretch to Arizona and I was concerned about being exhausted from marathon drives. Breaking the trip into shorter segments made a lot of sense.
Our plan to reach Tucumcari the first night turned out to be a good decision. As my wife put it, "you'll be mad at yourself if we just drive to Amarillo on the first night." She was right. And sleeping overnight with the smell of Amarillo in my nostrils would have made me very angry. I'm not sure I could hate Texas any more than I already do I don't know how people can live there.
I really enjoyed the drive once we hit New Mexico. The long stretches of road were beautiful to me. It's nice to get out and see that the entire world is not subdivided into shopping centers and neighborhoods filled with ranch-style homes butted up against one another.
A popular activity for Rover owners is photographing their vehicles traversing passes high up in the mountains. This trip did not offer many chances for that. The highest we managed to get was 7200 feet.
At this point the scariest part of the trip began. I let RovErica take the wheel.
It was scary because her attention span for highway driving is incorrectly calibrated. She would often drift in the lane and to correct she would "whip" the truck back in line. She also had the only section of the trip with serious road construction that piled traffic up and narrowed the road with what my wife calls the "walls of death". Her drifting in this section just about undid my normally calm and cool collectiveness. Considering her skill level, she actually did pretty good. If we had been in a longer wheel based vehicle I don't think the over corrections would have been as noticeable.
We crossed over into Arizona without any other incidents and made our way to Williams, Arizona. We stopped for the day and unloaded. I have to share my family's ability to pack with you. Basically it doesn't exist. It seemed like everyone had two bags. At least the kids had two each. And they didn't bother loading them where only one had to be carried in to each hotel stop. RovErica packed 18 shirts for a 8 day trip. My wife and I shared two large bags. Left to my own, I could have traveled in one small bag. And considering I had a Land Rover Discovery as a traveling gear locker…well I digress.
We brought an array of snacks and drinks to eliminate the frequent 'carb stops'. You can see Mrs. OkieRover here enjoying a Twizzler. Which I'm pretty sure are made by the devil himself in a kitchen on the 2nd level of hell. Like beer and rum drinks, I can't say no to Twizzlers. Having tried for a year to loose now 35 pounds, having Twizzlers in the Rover with me is an evil, evil act.
A word about ice chests. We bought a new ice chest last year for our trip to Norman Day (Fourth of July) and got really lucky with it. That thing keeps things cold for days. Even in the worst heat, ice is still present 3 days after we put it in the cooler.
The next day we ventured to the Grand Canyon. We started early and packed the Rover as we were going straight to Las Vegas from the canyon. The drive is about an hour off of I-40. We arrived just after 9am local time and the crowds had not quite managed to find their way to the canyon.
I made Mrs. OkieRover reenact the famous scene from National Lampoon's Vacation. It was badly done, but I felt it was a moral imperative to do it.
Thank you for suffering through that. The canyon was truly amazing. We stayed a little over two hours. I could have sat there all day. RovErica said we need to go back and hike down into the canyon and spend the night. I'm thinking we need to hike down and back out on the north rim or visa versa. I know some of my friends would like to do the trip with us and wimps that don't want to trek with us can just drive around and meet us on the other side.
We left the canyon and headed to Las Vegas. In route we were to cross the Hoover Dam. Very impressive. To think they built the whole thing without a single computer aided model should tell you something about our "lost generation". They had the can do attitude and as you know passed it along to the greatest generation. Back to the dam, as you may or may not know they are closing the dam to traffic in the future.
The have begun construction on a bridge to pass over the gorge instead of the totally inadequate two lanes that serve as the only crossing point for quite some distance.
I can't say enough how totally awesome it was to see the bridge in its incomplete state and to have the privilege of driving over the dam. There will be a day when people won't be able to claim that.
We then headed to Las Vegas. Our goal here was to show our kids "the lights". Las Vegas is indeed a lesson in excesses and decadence. The fact that they continue to build and build there amazes me. There is a lot of money flowing through there for them to be able to sustain that type of growth.
I would have liked it better if the cards for the girly shows were not littering the ground by the hundreds. It was quite a scene for the kids. My son was on his phone to his buds back home sharing all the sights, "Dude won't believe this place. A truck just drove by with a half naked girl on the side, 20 foot long!"
The next day we headed to Huntington Beach. The drive was uneventful except for the traffic. The highways in Southern California were very busy and it was two o'clock in the afternoon! As we got closer to the coast the temperature seemed to drop 10 degrees every hundred miles. When we pulled up at my friend's house the temperature was a pleasant 75 degrees.
We walked down to the pier for dinner and sightseeing. My best friend "Killer Dave's" suggestion in our planning emails. "…that we bring sweat shirts…" was a good one. The breeze off the ocean cooled things off quite a bit. My cold-natured wife would have worn a coat if she had brought one. We had a great dinner at the edge of the pier.
The next day Killer Dave took us, at my wife's request, to Rodeo Drive. We managed to find parking and walked up and down the shops. We didn't go in any of them, what would be the point? I'm sure I could have gotten us thrown out of several by commenting on the prices people will pay for …a shirt. Ain't Capitalism great?!
It was then off to Hollywood. We walked up and down and looked at the stars.
We snapped a few of our favorites and then went to Grauman's Chinese Theatre. The sidewalk was packed with tourists.
We looked at the foot prints and hand prints. John Wayne had really small feet, and my fist is bigger than his by a pinky. It was getting hot and we wanted to get to the beach for the remainder of the afternoon so we got our picture taken in front of the Hollywood sign and booked it back to Huntington Beach for some boogey boarding in the cold surf.
The next day we tearfully left our friends and headed to San Diego. My friend putting us up for two days was awesome. The most relaxing part of the trip was staying at his house. His wife Elizabeth and his kids are awesome. As we drove south my wife and I were already planning the next time we could return and stay with them.
On the way I had a miscommunication with my wife and the planned drive down the Pacific Coast Highway did not happen. By the time I conceded to drive us that way, instead of I-5, the PCH along the beach had ended. We continued down I-5 and on the way saw a very rare sight. A white Chevy SUV with an Antartica tag.
I didn't even know that Antarctica had government formal enough to mess with tagging vehicles. Crazy.
We also passed what my friend said would appear to be Dolly Parton on the way.
Which is in fact the nuclear power plant at Diablo Canyon. I'd never seen one of those before. We drove by Oceanside and Camp Pendleton where I was stationed while I attended the United States Marine Corps School of Artillery at Area 43 aka Las Pulgas. They moved the school to Fort Sill, Oklahoma in the late 1980s.
Our main objective for San Diego was Sea World. We found our hotel and went down to the Gas Light district for dinner. On the way we passed Marine Corps Recruit Depot. I would have given anything to take my kids to the barracks I lived in back in the day. We went down to Seaport Village and had dinner. I inadvertently found myself in a street performer's show. He was really bad, but I was a good sport and tolerated all the jokes long enough for him to finish his show. We drove through the Gas Light District on the way home. It was a really hopping place.
The next day we headed to Sea World. We got our fill of the animals and shows and decided to head back to Mission Beach for some more surf. We had a great time and went back to the hotel and decided to return for a walk down the boardwalk and dinner.
The next day we had a long drive ahead of us. It was the lion's share of the return trip to Oklahoma. Our first day we had to make it to Alamogordo, New Mexico. We took I-10 out of San Diego. I was sad to leave. I've never understood why anyone would want to live in California. Aside from the laws and the massive amount of people it's a nice place.
Across the desert we went. If you check out the map below you'll see that along I-8 you get extremely close to Mexico.
View Larger Map
The dunes you see there are pretty cool. Every other vehicle is a Border Patrol vehicle of one type or another.
The Border Patrol also have impromptu check points along the highway. They pull up a couple of 18 wheeler trailers dump out a check point and get busy.
RovErica was driving when we approached the first one. The Border Patrol guard in a very thick accent asked, "is everyone in the vehicle American citizens?" I could see on the surface how you might think a second before answering. And that second RovErica thought about the question caused her to lock up and she just turned and pointed to my wife, who of course didn't hear the question, and had to have it repeated. To which she answered in the affirmative. I was in the back and rolled the window down to get a picture and tease RovErica. The guard was a good sport and waved us on.
We continued on and I-8 turns into I-10 and turns southerly for a bit before heading again east to New Mexico. I had been waiting all day to get a picture of a saguaro cactus. Finally we came to section of the highway with only a few cars per mile. I got us pulled over to get a pic or two.
I picked up some rocks when I got out that were very hot from their day baking in the sun. So much so I had trouble holding them while I opened the door to get back in the Rover.
When we stopped near the Marine Corps Air Station in Yuma I snapped a pic of the dead bugs on the front of the Disco.
And along the way I got to play with the camera a bit.
We kept an eye on the air temperature and vehicle's temperatures as well. I did not want to break down along this southern stretch. Although I used to be in good condition I sure I wouldn't have lasted 10 minutes working on the truck in that heat.
I've been in 125 degree heat before. I had forgotten how much like a blast furnace the air feels like. But "it's a dry heat", whatever.
We managed to make it through the heat to New Mexico.
As we came in we could see a storm building up ahead of us. After a few hours we finally caught up with it. As we headed into it we had the added treat of a little gust-nado. It spun up there and blew by us. It was pretty close to us, but it was weak enough we could have probably driven through it.
We couldn't get any weather on the radio. The wind was gusting to around 60mph and the rain was blowing straight across. We got around the tornado and decided not to wait the storm out.
The rest of that stretch was pretty challenging to drive with the wind, rain and dust.
I've been in worse dust storms but not with my family in the car. It turned out not to be anything to worry about. And we pulled into Alamagordo around 9pm local time.
The next day we turned north and drove through "Billy the Kid" territory. William Henry McCarty aka William Bonney participated in the Lincoln County War (Wikipedia). The John Wayne movie, Chisum was loosely based on the war.
As was Young Guns.
It was easy to see why the ranchers would fight over the grazing land. As you drive up the highway the land goes from scrub to grass land in an instant.
This was a very pleasant part of the drive. We finally managed to make it back to Tucumcari. We proceeded to find a place to buy the kids some t-shirts. The gentleman running the shop had been at the opening of the vault that held the Plymouth Belvedere in Tulsa and had a photo on the wall from the event. He told us a very funny story about how the Belvedere's radiator burst just as Boyd Coddington was standing in front of her, soaking his shoes. And if you remember Boyd's legacy as a not very personable guy you know why that's funny.
We hooked up with I-40 and made the rest of the trip home with only a single incident in which an 18 wheeler cut my wife off and we had to take a left exit on to Business I-40. A few tense moments between the two of us and we were back on I-40 in the right direction. It was good to be home. We had seen a lot. Over all the vacation was an 8 on a 10 point scale. It could have only been better if we had had another week to look around and play.
Thanks for reading and happy Rovering.