Posts Tagged With: travel across USA

One For The Road

Our last night in Arizona was spent at Desert Diamond Distillery, a member of the popular Harvest Host program. We pulled in their parking lot near the Kingman airport, just off Historical Route 66, where we had a reservation for a free spot to park for the night. In return, our Harvest Host hoped (expected) us to get in the spirit of things with a visit to the tasting room.

Desert Diamond Distillery offers tastings of their award-winning spirits, along with mixed drinks and more.

Our “campsite” was nothing fancy, but we had a level spot and the tasting room looked pretty comfy. Reg and I are, for the most part, wine drinkers, (although lately I have been known to occasionally sip a Manhattan) so neither of us claim any knowledge of the craft distillery business. Little did we know, we were about to get a detailed lesson.

We wandered through the train yard, peeking in all the windows we could reach. It all made for a fun display and a nice little garden area for warmer days. Our next stop…the tasting room.

While the experience didn’t make a rum or vodka sipper out of me it was fun to try the 5-taste flight, just a quarter of an ounce each. Reg chose the 2-taste flight of the highest quality rums offered. He also helped me sip mine. I’m a lightweight.
This is a business that is run from the heart. The owner is obviously proud of her products (and rightly so) and enjoys sharing them with her guests. A lovely way to spend an afternoon.

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Lunch With The Gunslingers

A rich history of gold and silver mining during the mid to late 19th century brought the Wild West to Prescott, Arizona. Memories of those rowdy times remain strong in the historical downtown district and nowhere are they more apparent than at The Palace Restaurant and Saloon.

The Palace is the oldest business and the oldest bar operating in Arizona.

Reg had worked up an appetite, having been dragged through every antique store that caught my eye. It was finally his turn to choose which door to step through and we quickly found ourselves in oldest business and bar in the state of Arizona.

The Palace Saloon was built in 1877. At the time, it was one of more than forty bars standing along what was, and is still known as Whiskey Row. We were led to our table through the bar, following in the footsteps of Wyatt Earp, Doc Holliday and some poor woman known as Big Nose Kate.

The corn chowder was delicious and warmed us up on what was a surprisingly cold day. Reg’s Reuben sandwich and my salad rounded out our lunches…perfect!

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One of the biggest negatives of pulling a trailer is the inability to stop quickly or turn around easily. As we drove west from Big Bend National Park along two-lane Highway 90, we stopped to do some grocery shopping in the tiny Texas town of Marfa, population 1,750 plus or minus. If you’re ever in the area, Porter’s grocery store has an excellent selection of whatever you might need.
But the real surprises came as we left town.

As we sped along the highway we passed this giant mural. (Photo credit HGTV)

There was no place large enough for Reg to pull over, and no time to do so anyway. As we sped past I questioned the display. “Doesn’t that represent a movie…Giant, maybe? Wasn’t that supposed to be James Dean and Elizabeth Taylor?”
A big part of my job as passenger on these trips is to find interesting things to share with Reg while he’s stuck behind the wheel. Fortunately, my phone signal was strong enough to provide answers.

I found that Marfa was indeed the area where the 1956 movie Giant was filmed and is now memorialized by the eye-catching roadside mural. At the time, the all-star cast, including James Dean, Elizabeth Taylor and Rock Hudson, must have caused quite a stir in the small town.

But this was not the only movie filmed in Marfa. I found a long list of films associated with the Texas town. You can check this link to see if you recognize any others.

A little farther along the highway we had another surprise. (Photo credit: Vogue)

Again, there was no time to stop and investigate why the Italian luxury brand Prada had a store plopped alongside this lonely stretch of highway. A little more research uncovered the story behind Prada Marfa. This vision of artists Elmgreen & Dragset is a piece of sculptural art. The freestanding 15’ x 25’ building was inaugurated in 2005. It’s quite the attention grabber.

According to NPR, Marfa has evolved into a “mecca for art tourism.” Vogue magazine has dubbed it “America’s coolest art town.” Here’s a link if you’d like to learn more.

Tethered Aerostat Radar System

With all the recent sightings and talk of foreign air balloons floating across our skies, we couldn’t believe what we saw next. “What in the heck is that?” I turned Reg’s attention (just for a moment…he was driving) to the blimp-like object hovering above the empty landscape.
The Tethered Aerostat Radar System (TARS), used by U.S. Customs and Border Protection’s Air and Marine Operations, provides long-range detection of low-flying suspicious aircraft used for illicit smuggling of narcotics and people. Here’s a link to a fact sheet with more info.

So, it was a day of surprises. A day when we learned that even the most out-of-the-way spots all have stories to tell. We’re on our way to a small New Mexico State Park for a couple days. To tell you the truth, at $14.00 per night, we aren’t expecting much, but then again, we might just get another surprise.

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We’re Thrown A Curve Before Big Bend

We had just one day to explore Big Bend National Park. Our original plan of a 2-day stay was foiled by leaking water lines and not one, but two visits from a mobile RV repairman. Them’s the breaks…but we arrived to our rescheduled campsite just outside the park and pulled in between a couple whose father/father-in-law lives just down the road from our old Mariposa, California home, and a young couple who are living and traveling (since 2020) in their giant 5th wheel…along with their 5 children.

With just one day, we were advised to walk the Lost Mine Trail for a taste of what the park had to offer.
This was how early we had to get up to start our day, and to be assured of getting a parking space.

This has been our favorite hike of the trip…so far. Just under 5 miles with enough elevation gain to test us. Watching the massive rock formations catch the morning sun as it rose was spectacular. I’m afraid the photos don’t do it justice.

With the afternoon ahead of us, we drove the Ross Maxwell Scenic Drive stopping along the way at points of interest. Our goal was to reach the Rio Grande River, signaling the end of the road and the border between the United States and Mexico.

And now it’s time to leave Texas behind. We’ll be hitching up Minnie and heading west tomorrow. See you in a few days.

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Civilian Conservation Corps Does It Again – Bastrop State Park

One of the benefits of traveling this time of year has been the ability to reserve and enjoy a variety of state parks in multiple states…without the crowds of high season.
We pulled into Bastrop State Park, southeast of Austin, Texas for a three-night stay, and were pleased to see that the forest was making a recovery after a devastating fire in 2011.

As with so many state parks, the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) provided the manpower in the 1930s, constructing much of what remains today. Because of their craftsmanship and landscape work, the park was awarded National Historical Landmark status in 1997.

The park pool wasn’t yet open for the season. Just for a moment we considered hopping the fence
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Buc-ee’s Gets Our Bucks

I don’t remember how or when we heard about the super-sized Buc-ee’s Travel Centers, but we were definitely curious and eager to make a roadside stop and check one out.

All we wanted was a cup of coffee to sip on the remainder of our drive.

Buc-ee’s is a Texas icon, a larger-that-life, one-stop center offering travelers everything they could possibly want or need…and more. I wouldn’t be surprised if some devotees go to wrap up their Christmas shopping every year.
We wandered through a mouth-watering food court, a really nice kitchenware and gift department. There was a good-size grocery department, a camping area and a large clothing section. In addition, Buc-ee’s has a reputation for extremely clean bathrooms…always appreciated when on the road.

How could anyone resist this warm welcome from Buc-ee’s lovable beaver mascot?

The Buc-ee’s chain was founded in 1982 in Clute, Texas. Expansion in the state began in 2001with the first travel center opening in Luling, Texas. In 2018, Buc-ee’s began to pop up in neighboring southern states and there are now 43 locations inviting weary travelers a chance to take a break and get some steps in while wandering through the department-like store.

We stopped at the Baytown center just off Interstate 10 east of Houston. According to Chris O’Connell, who visited, rated and wrote about every Buc-ee’s in Texas, listing them from worst to best, the Baytown center “felt gargantuan…just magnificent.” He ranked it 5th from the top. We obviously experienced some of best of what the chain has to offer.
So, besides coffee, what did we put in that cart that Reg was pushing? In addition to a few bottles of sale-priced California wine, I insisted on souvenir cups. Aren’t they perfect?

Reg opted for the white cup because he thought it looked classy. I went all-in on the splashy red one. I have no class.
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Yes, We Were Party Poopers

By the time we packed up to head west, the Florida rain was coming down.

The Gulf Coast of Florida offered us much more than we expected. Interesting trails, mostly perfect weather and a great beachside seafood restaurant right across the street from our campsite. As the morning rain began, Reg hitched up the trailer while I battened down the inside…it was time to move on.

Our reservation at Fountainbleu State Park on the banks of Lake Ponchartrain in Louisiana was made without thought to the season. Mardi Gras and the events of the Carnival were in full swing just across the lake in New Orleans. “What fun,” I said. “What crowds,” Reg replied.

In the end we decided to forgo all the hoopla across the lake and simple enjoy the evening festivities Mother Nature offered. Yes, we were party poopers.

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Sculpted From History

Once home to a rambling rice plantation, 2500+ acre Huntington Beach State Park transformed into a beautiful seaside getaway when the when the state of South Carolina took over in 1960. Our week here was filled with exploration; walking the sandy beach, hiking through the woodlands and searching the marshes for a glimpse of the dreaded alligator.

The park is also home to Atalaya Castle, built as an escape from the cold winter months by successful businessman Archer Huntington and his renowned, sculptor wife Anna Hyatt Huntington. Soon after the couple purchased the land in 1930, work began on the castle and the adjacent Brookgreen Gardens. The 30-room home was built around two courtyards, separated by a central corridor. For a small fee, curious folks, like us, can tour the interior, a few outbuildings and a small historical display.

Brookgreen Gardens is part botanical gardens and part indoor/outdoor sculpture garden. We were lucky to catch the Rodin exhibit featuring many of his bronze works.

Fortunately for you all, my camera battery died, otherwise I’d probably have even more photos to share. Here are just a few of the 2700 sculptures, by 425 artists, displayed among the grounds.

This may be the most beautiful state park we’ve ever stayed in…certainly one of the top five. However, we have miles to go and many more places to see before we’re home. Where to next?

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Miles and Miles of Sandy Beach

Not quite barefoot weather, but with the Atlantic Ocean in our backyard, we couldn’t resist beginning our week’s stay at Huntington Beach State Park with a nice long walk. We gawked at all the waterfront “cottages” just out of reach (usually) of the high tide line, although there must have been a recent storm with rough seas. Many of the private deck stairs had been, or were in the process of being rebuilt.

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The Gateway to the West

The day was gloomy, but we set our sites on exploring the National Historic Landmark known as the Gateway to the West. The Gateway Arch stands on the banks of the Mississippi River and towers 630 feet over the city of St. Louis, Missouri. It’s the world’s tallest arch and Missouri’s tallest accessible building.

The arch stands as a monument to the United States’ 19th century westward expansion. The Missouri-based routes, the Oregon, Mormon and California trails together are known as the Emigrant Trails. It’s estimated that between 350,000 and 500,000 men, women and children traveled west between 1843 and 1869 on these three trails.

The museum at the arch covers over 200 years of westward expansion history and is free for all visitors. We had purchased tram tickets, so we saved the museum for after our ride to the top.

Arch construction began in 1963 and was completed in 1965. As a nod to the times, we were asked to stand on this spot of far-out looking Love Bug daisies while we watched a short video. Neither Reg nor I had any idea what to expect as we waited for the tram. Heeding the warning not to bump our heads climbing through the four-foot steel-framed door, we were off on our rickety ride.

We had our five-seater tram pod all to ourselves. Looking through the door window, it appeared that there was just enough room to squeeze between the walls. The four-minute ascent was over right about the time I began to worry about the “what ifs.” What if we get stuck…how will we ever get out of here? What if the cable snaps? When was the last safety inspection?

Ducking out of our tram pod, we climbed a few steps to the top of the arch. Looking out to the west the view took in the city of St. Louis. The green dome you see in the first slide show photo (above) is the Old Courthouse, the site of the Dred Scott case, first brought to trial in 1847. To the east, in the third photo, the Mississippi River creates the border between Missouri and Illinois.

Soon our time was up and we headed back down the stairs to catch our ride to the bottom. Shouts from above directed us to stand on the yellow bars, allowing incoming passengers to disembark. A speedy three-minute ride down returned us to where we began. After a look through the museum, it was time for coffee and a snack.

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