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A Gentle Drive to Cowtown

or it would've been had it not been for a slow puncture!

sunny 36 °C

Room 212, Best Western, Wickenberg, AZ
4.10pm, Sunday, 27 May 2012

A quick Blog tonight to keep up to date. We have to pack to fly tomorrow so having to throw away all the dross you pick up when on the road.

Unfortunately, what could be a cactus needle sticking into one of the tyres is causing a slow puncture. Luckily, we were able to monitor tyre pressures as we drove and, having returned to Flagstaff to blow it up, we only needed to blow it up again on arrival in Wickenberg. We stopped twice on the way but it seems working air-lines are not a priority here. Luckily the gas station up the road is open 24/7 and the air-line works (but only after Bob went into the office and emerged with a bizarre machine with a big button on it which had to be pointed at the air-line equipment before it worked!). So will go first thing in the morning to get us to Phoenix airport where we drop off the car.

Sshhh, don't tell them about Schultz Pass yesterday!

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Ignoring that aggro. We started early from the Hilton Garden Inn (sounds posher than it is!)

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as we anticipated a busy drive because Oak Creek Canyon and Sedona are popular spots and this is a holiday weekend. Traffic jams are quite usual through the canyon on busy weekends.

We were amazed that we beat most of them to Oak Creek Canyon, which we loved, and Sedona, which was not our cup of tea so skipped through (sorry Marycon!).

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Then on through beautiful countryside, gradually becoming hotter and drier and leaving the pine trees, then then the junipers behind until we made it to the Saguaro Cactus which grow round here.

Through quiet Clarkdale

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Then through arty-f*rty Jerome, perched on a mountainside, once a silver mining town, now an artists' and tourists' haven.

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and then on to Prescott, a town we'd been looking forward to and where we expected to have breakfast on a quiet Sunday morning. But it was heaving with bikers and would-be and actual cowboys. For today there was a splendid and enormous Western Art exhibition in County Court Plaza. Wow! We were in 7th heaven and bought a couple of pictures to bring home. We chatted to a young sculptor and artist from Spain who now lives in Colorado and another who was about to visit Spain.

We were lucky in finding a parking space and, after only a short wait for a table, had breakfast in St Michael's historic hotel.

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John's eggs with Canadian ham (he did only have salad & fruit yesterday!)

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and Bob's corned-beef hash. Better than Encore's in Las Vegas!

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Finally a great drive through mostly desert and range land dotted with dude ranches, to little Wickenberg. Our view is not quite up to the one in Las Vegas but we can see and hear the freight trains going through (and have just seen a big jack-rabbit with enormous red ears nibbling weeds by the Stop sign.

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A huge room in a pretty old Best Western, right in town. Bob has just come back from a short walk round town where he said it must be 100F and also found an air-line round the corner at the KMart store. Even better. These little things are important.

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He also came back with a picture of Saguaros right here in town.

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So tomorrow, we fly from Phoenix Arizona to Kansas Missouri (and Kansas: part of it is in Kansas and part in Missouri), to start the 2nd of our Just Drives! See y'all there.

Posted by Johnash 17:07 Archived in USA Comments (9)

Kansas - Dorothy lived here!

"No wonder Ray Krebbs moved from Emporia, Kansas to Dallas!"

sunny 32 °C

Room 104, Best Western, Dodge CIty, KS
3.09 pm, Tuesday 29 May, 2012

Well, Dodge City is just that, quite a big city that, in part, looks a bit dodgy. We knew before coming that this place was no longer the place of the Westerns. Although it has a Boot Hill and Front Street, where there are gunfights each day, it's all a bit of a fake. It has a genuine Victorian downtown which we will be visiting after Bob's finished the laundry (he gets all the best jobs). But for some arriving here expecting to find the little town that Marshal Dillon, Miss Kitty and Chester Goode used to roam in Gunsmoke, they could be in for a bit of a shock.

Yesterday we left the little town of Wickenburg, skipping our free breakfast, to make sure we got to Phoenix airport with our leaky tyre safely. Wickenburg was great and just what Dodge City isn't. A genuine Western town with restored Victorian buildings and little cafes and shops and not too much arty junky stuff! A place to go back to.

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We blew the offending tyre up and kept an eye on the pressure. And we had enough time and were confident enough that we were going to get there OK, that we stopped for breakfast in a Phoenix suburb called "Surprise". Surprise! Arthur found a Denny's, but down to all the nagging from commentators on here, we had the healthy option of fruit and oatmeal. However, this being USA, that did come with two strips of bacon, albeit turkey. Yuk!

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We found a gas station near the airport to top up the tank (tyre still OK!) and there was a black lady begging for change. John gave her a few coins and assumed she was addicted. But chatting to her, it was clear she wasn't. She was thin and on the streets as she had lost her job and fell out with her partner. Land of the free!

Good flight to Kansas City but when you get upgraded to First Class, this is not really what you want to see:-

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Nor this..

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... huge wildfires burning, we think, in New Mexico. The smoke stretched nearly to Kansas City.

Her little brother was also there, but these rich kids were very well behaved and no problem at all. And that is John speaking!

Problems at Kansas City airport in finding where to collect our bags. Signage at this old airport stinks. The signs also took us out of the end of the building for rental car shuttle and the buses were the other way. Grrrr! Oh, and one of our bags was last off. Know that sinking feeling?

Problems getting the right car from Hertz: first car dirty, 2nd car had been smoked in and had a chipped windshield. Third car was dirty but we took it anyway. Were getting tired! Just a regular Chevvy SUV this time.

Easy journey to our hotel in Lawrence KS and quick dinner in an Applebees. No pics of the blackened Cajun shrimp on rice (John) nor the Chicken Fundido (cheesy chick) for Bob. Nor of the waiter, Taylor. Sorry.... But here's a library shot of the chicken which was delicious, as was the shrimp.

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We'd lost two hours (moving from Mountain time, no DST, to Central time DST. We will gain an hour back tomorrow moving back to Mountain time DST.

So the drive through the long, straight, empty roads of Kansas, past Dorothy's house, was really enjoyable. Not most tourists' cups of tea, but then, we ain't most tourists (hence our not going to the Dodge City gunfight!).

It started off tree lined and undulating with small farms and old farmhouses. Then larger fields full of wheat (now being harvested) and corn (maize) as well as cattle ranching. Finally to huge fields of wheat and big open prairie dotted only by huge grain elevators and tiny towns. And in many places, there were the iconic "nodding donkeys" in amongst the wheat, pumping oil into nearby tanks.

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We stopped on the way in the small and delightful, off the main road and still living, town of Cottonwood Springs. The owner of the cafe held court at the back of the room, while worshipping locals came in to pay homage to her and have coffee. She reminded us of Harvey!! We guessed she had to be Emma Chase, grand daughter of the founder of the county (Chase County) but no, Emma Chase did not exist and her name was Smith. But we overheard that she had recently found out that she was half Mennanite (similar to Amish). Not sure if she thought that was good or bad.

Cottonwood Falls:-
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I was going to say "Spanish not spoken here" but, here in Dodge, there are certainly plenty of Hispanics. And Bob has just found out that Dodge is also the home to 2 huge meat processing plants, one, the biggest in the world. Hence all the empty cattle wagons going the other way. Oh dear. Maybe not steak tonight.

Anyway, another day of just driving etc. And wonderful too! Lovin' it.

Posted by Johnash 19:02 Archived in USA Comments (10)

US50 - The Highway That Never Ends?

then, from Prison to Railroad

semi-overcast 24 °C

Room 317, Hampton Inn Cañon City, Colorado
6.41pm, Thursday, 31 May 2012

Well, Cañon City is the only city in the USA with a ~ in its name! Quiz question?

It's also one of perhaps many towns that make its living from keeping people incarcerated with around 15 prisons roundabouts here.

But first, we had to get here. The night before leaving the City of Dodge City (really), we'd been to see Wyatt himself:-

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then we had to get the heck out of there.

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Think they got it right the first time!

And we set out early on Wednesday and kept to US50 the whole way. With one diversion to have breakfast in tiny Syracuse (some shacks and a grain elevator and a water tower, as per most other towns on this part of the highway) where we found a scrappy-looking mexican-looking restaurant where the only customers were two retired wheat farmers with whom we had a fascinating chat. "You guys from Australia or some'at?". Nope. "Well you sure look as if you are!".

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One lost most of his land, sold by the bank, after 3 of his wheat crops failed due to lack of rain. One was of German descent (as are many round there) the other of Finnish/Irish lineage. Wonderful guys, even if they do vote Republican!

More US50:-

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On entering Bent County, our TomTom navigator told us to "go straight". Hmmmm. Which way to turn?

Yes, our second diversion was to view Fort Bent. A really interesting stop. The fort was destroyed by fire in 1849 and rebuilt exactly as it was from an army engineer's contemporary diagrams, during the 1960s. This is no fake - a genuine replica and an extremely good insight into life on the frontier during the early 19thC. Never owned by the army, it was a fortified trading post. though the army used it extensively to launch a war on Mexican possessions (which almost instantly became New Mexico) and then to protect travellers on the Santa Fe Trail from attacks, mainly by Pawnee and Comanche indians.

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Back to US50. I think some spend their lives on US 50. But then we began to see them as a haze on the horizon. The Rockies!

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and closer...

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Cañon City has certainly grown since we were last here 20 years ago. New State and Federal prisons have been built including ADX, the highest maximum security prison there is. The fortress is home to many of the most notorious bombers and terrorists. Richard Reid, the shoe bomber is held in the 'Alcatraz of the Rockies', as well as Zacarias Mohammed, who helped plan the 9/11 attacks. The Oklahoma bobmer was here before he was sentenced to death and his co-conspirator is still there. No one has ever escaped.

To set the scene for us, we visited the extremely good Prison Museum, set right in the grounds of the Colorado high security correctional facility.

The assistant curator, seen below, was most helpful.

Perhaps a bit morbid, but a fascinating look into the prisons systems. Starting with the Colorado state gas chamber, last used in 1974..

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For some light relief, we took the 1950s train up Royal Gorge. This we had pre-booked with a table in the observation car. We took our lunch onboard, served at our table by smart waitresses. A smashing trip.

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Finally, if you wondered, here is how you clean the windshield of your truck:-

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Oh, for those missing food pictures, our two salads last night at the "Village Inn"

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John's Turkey n' Shaved Ham salad 'n stuff like black olives

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Bob's SouthWest Chicken salad with chipottle

They were both delicious. BUT, we wondered why the place was absolutely packed. Every Wednesday they give away a free slice of pie with every meal. We did not know this, honest. But the pumpkin and the strawberry n' rhubarb pies were not refused.

Tomorrow, an easy journey through the Rockies to Glenwood Springs.

Posted by Johnash 18:57 Archived in USA Comments (14)

Lost and Mislead in Leadville

"What the Rockies are all about"

sunny 20 °C

Room 321, Hampton Inn, Glenwood Springs, Colorado
4.15pm Friday 1st June 2012

Almost a straightforward drive through stunning Rockies scenery, getting more and more dramatic as we climbed towards the Continental Divide at Independence Pass.

The first stretch, to Salida was on yet more of US Highway 50. But this time, it was a little more interesting. Still following the Arkansas River, all the way up to Leadville. (For group discussion: how to pronounce Arkansas. The state is Arkansaw. But the river, in Kansas - not pronounced Kansaw - perhaps not unsurprisingly, is pronounced Arkansas. Yet in Colorado, pronounced Colorado, it's pronounced Arkansaw.)

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Back on the road, in Buena Vista, at Jan's Cafe, we grabbed a quick breakfast. The young waitress managed to drop iced water and coffee all over the table and Bob. Unfortunately John was in the "rest room" while this was happening and just came back to see a team of people conducting mopping up operations. Think it was her first day and Bob said she did not know what to do. Just stood there looking at the dripping mess. Not a good start for her.

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Talking of euphemisms (eg rest room) we had a discussion with our Kansas farmers about that subject. When you ask for the bathroom you ain't going for a bath and when you ask for the restroom you ain't going for a rest either. Well, most people ain't. I'll try asking for the whizz room next time!

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"Where you fraa'aam" continues to be a theme this year. "Australia is the usual guess". "Spain" as an answer, usually creates stunned silence. Asking a couple of female staff in the hotel in Cañon City to guess where we were from, their best shot was "Sweden?". When told we were originally from England the response was "Was that where Princess Di was from?". A line from Mitt Romney, perhaps?

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We continued up the highway to Leadville. Bob did a good deal of driving (and even overtook another car at 65mph without prompting); meanwhile John spotted a possible short cut to Basalt, a town, on the way to our destination, where we stayed in 1987. It, along with a lot of towns, had changed a lot. Then there were not thousands and thousands of people who could afford $0.5-20m houses in this overspill from very, very wealthy Aspen. (Bob just spotted that a Mr R Murdoch is trying to sell his house there. (Maybe no one would speak to him there?). Anyway, he's had to reduce the price from $18.75m to $9.5m. Any takers out there?

I digress, back at the unchanged and unspoiled Leadville:-
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Anyway, our TomTom lady, Lorri refused to take us on this road, which a waitress at Jan's Cafe had assured us was a paved and very good road. But the inbuilt Hertz "Never Lost" (we call here Never Found) was quite happy to take us down that road and over McMullen Pass and on to Basalt. But, we somehow got a bit tangled up in the back streets of WONDERFUL Leadville (great looking Rockies town) so we stopped and asked a couple of road workmen. First old guy (about 75) said "Nevurr hurrd av id". His younger companion said, looking at our car in disdain: "Well AYE wuldn traa to duu it in thayis veeihikl." The waitress got it wrong. Good job we got it wrong and did not listen to the Hertz system which could have resulted in a severely damaged Hertz car.

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Back on a hardtop highway, the climb to Independence Pass was stunning - no barriers so a bit hairy in places. And the road down was limited to a car's width in places. Luckily we did not meet another car at the critical places.

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Now ensconced in a nice, comfy Hampton Inn with view of the gentle, be-pined hills on this side of the Rockies as well at I-50 which tomorrow will take us to Denver.

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We managed to get into the pool and hot tub before the inevitable kids invaded them and now Bob has the laundry drying. Time for Wheel of Fortune and Jeopardy soon. There is nothing, repeat nothing else to watch on American TV. CNN news? News of the celebs and sordid murders.

And I can't buy just two AA batteries. The minimum pack size seem to be 32. And can we buy a spectacle cleaning cloth? To quote the old lady working in the spectacles department in Walmart in Dodge City, "Nope".

And a couple of pictures left over from yesterday:-

This is all we could see of the two new prison complexes, the State Centre containing around 3 or 4 State prisons and then the Federal centre where ADX is mostly underground.

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And finally, some warders going home from work, or are they real warders......??

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Posted by Johnash 17:23 Archived in USA Comments (7)

It's wet in Denver

and raining in Golden!

storm 18 °C

Room 1521, Curtis Doubletree, Denver, CO
4.15pm Saturday, 2nd June 2012

If you never ask, you never get. As demonstrated by gold cards, upgrades etc.

Tonight's stay, in the funky and wonderful Curtis Hotel in Denver is a freebee (with breakfast, adds Arthur). Didn't ask for that but moaned to Hilton when they had not replied to an Email enquiry. Next thing we knew, an Email from the under-manager offering a room for free to make up for their leaving our Email until his over manager got back. Not only that, they gave us a corner mini-suite on 15th floor. We'll just have to pay the fee for parking the car.

I'd moaned to Hertz about the problems we had at Kansas City airport (dirty cars). And I'd spotted a slight crease in the driver's door which we did not want to get charged for at Denver. After a bit of further moaning, we, just this minute, received an Email from Hertz at Kansas City giving $150 off the rental. If you don't ask....

Back to last night, we had an unusual meal in this place, on the edge of town in Glenwood Springs:-

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We think the owner may have been Hungarian, given the menu. Goulash was a bit of a giveaway. John had a schnitzel (bless me) and Bob a buffalo meatloaf.

A nice gentle day today. Not that any of them have been in the "it's all too much" bracket.

Breakfast in the motel (free). We've seen this change in the time we've been coming here. There was not even coffee in the rooms when we started coming in 1981; now every chain (mid-range) offers breakfast included. This has done away with those restaurants specialising in breakfasts in hotel areas (gasoline alleys).

Incidentally there are still plenty of cheapo motels around and we have seen rooms in big cities for $29!

Then straight on to I-50 which has to be one of the most spectacular stretches of motorway anywhere. Twice climbing over passes and a third burrowing through a long tunnel. Quite a few cars don't make it, judging by the breakdowns on the way to the top. Lots of wheezing old Chevvies, Lincolns and Buicks steaming by the roadside. A combination of altitude and overheating.

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Our Chevvy Traverse performed just fine. We've grown to quite like this car and, maybe because we're used to diesels, when it's idling, you can't hear it. But when you put your foot down to get away from the lights, you get that familiar roar from its 3.6 litre engine, which you only get with American cars these days. Designed to drink as much fuel as possible! And of course, although it roars a lot, it still takes a while before it actually takes off!

As planned, we turned off at the city of Golden, almost a suburb of Denver and home to giant Coors giant brewery (largest in the world). A well-heeled and prosperous town with a bustling downtown (oh, so rare these days).

Our aim here was to drive up Look Out Mountain to visit the grave of William Cody (Buffalo Bill) and the associated museum, which was excellent. John wore his "Cody Wyoming" T Shirt in honour of the great man.

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We noted that his show visited Trowbridge, as above, and wondered if Brenda remembered it? It was a bit before John's time. Indeed I think the Ashplants were still in North Devon!

By the way, Bill C tried to divorce his formidable-looking wife, Louisa, but failed. She managed to hang on to him. To be honest, they did have a reconciliation and "lived happily ever after", given that he spent most of his time touring!

When we went into the museum, it was clear blue skies. We came out to watch a thunderstorm doing its stuff over the mountains, which was moving in our direction.

We then moved on to the Colorado Railroad Museum, full of scores of full-size rescued locos and cars. But we missed a huge model rail layout in the basement. Curses.

John was always a Hornby boy and sneered at Triang's plastic models. BUT Triangle used to do a range of marvellous American railroad models which he always hankered after. Just like the one we travelled on the other day. Here they are playing with the real thing. To think there used to be fights at school between Hornby-ites and Triang-ites!

After leaving there, it started raining in Golden. Arthur made some unprintable reference to this fact and was suitably slapped down by Stan. Naughty boy!

Great views from Look Out Mountain towards Coors and the unusual table mountains either side and towards Downtown Denver, a city we like very much indeed.

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After a slight detour with Lorri due to some streets being closed for some sort of street show, we got to the Curtis Hotel. But room not quite ready. The storms were threatening but we took a chance to walk a couple of blocks to the vibrant 16th Street Mall (where free buses scoot up and down all the time). Arthur suggested a coffee and somehow we found ourselves sitting outside the Cheese Cake Factory located outside the Tabor Centre (Ian T). Nothing to do with us!

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We rushed back to the hotel and almost beat the storm. We got a little damp and windswept but our room was ready.

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We have now watched the storms clear away from the Rockies towards the East and clearer weather coming in now. Can see fresh snow on the high peaks. Bob has just completed a complete re-pack trying to balance the weight of our suitcases.

We have never known anything other than sun and blue skies in Denver. I should never have bragged about how lucky we had been with the weather this morning.

A late flight to El Paso tomorrow afternoon in a regional jet, so plenty of time to potter around Downtown here in the morning.

Posted by Johnash 16:31 Archived in USA Comments (13)

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