Day 11: The Grandest of Canyons

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Today we had a day off from travelling and had planned to take a trip to the Grand Canyon which was a couple of hundred miles north, which doesnt seem much to us now. We had a relaxing morning, after breakfast I sat on the terrace and read for a bit and CJ went for a trek in the woods. It was a lovely sunny morning with a slight breeze, the first day we have experienced that hasnt been intense heat all day. We needed to do some laundry today and were given a tip from the owner of the lodge that there was a laundry place in town where we could leave our stuff and pick it up later.

Almost as soon as we left, the skies opened up and we drove through a downpour which meant we were slowed from 65mph which is the speed limit to around 45mph because of poor visibility and standing water on the road. About half way into the journey the rain stopped and the skies cleared and by the time we arrived at the canyon it was hot and sunny again.

The Grand Canyon itself was pretty amazing because of the scale but theres not a lot to write about, I am sure you have all seen photos of it before, if you haven’t, think of Bishopstone Glen but much bigger.

As we walked back to the car, the rain started again and there was thunder and lightning. The rain was really heavy and we were hungry so we stopped at a Wendy’s for lunch. CJ ordered something and was asked if he wanted the salad with it, he replied in the affirmative but was then told it didnt come with salad. We were both slightly confused and he ended up ordering something. I kept it simple and ordered a burger. CJ ended up getting just a salad and fries, he seemed pretty pissed but he loves a salad so I dont think he was really. The burger was alright, it tasted like a whopper. While we were in there CJ got chatting to a guy about politics, he seemed like a bit of a nutjob and had some unusual opinions regarding EMPs and Soviet aggression, he was also a Trump supporter.

We went back to to the laundry place and invented a new game we could play with the car. When you lock a car with a remote out here it does a quick sharp blast on the horn. If you repeatedly press the lock button on the remote, it does repeated blasts of the horn. We were standing away from the car and when ever someone walked near it we would keep pressing the button and make the horn blast. Nobody seemed to notice but we thought it was hilarious.

Viva Las Vegas tomorrow.


Total Mileage: 2204 miles

Day 10: Oh Deer!

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*Sorry about the delayed post. The internet connection is a bit sketchy here.

Today was our longest stretch of driving that is planned and we went from Albuquerque, New Mexico across another state line and a time zone to Flagstaff, Arizona. We set off early after a pleasant stay in Albuquerque, anywhere would be pleasant after Amarillo, and after getting gas we joined the interstate. We knew we would have to stop again at least once more today for gas and planned a  stop in Gallup for this purpose. The scenery again today was breathtaking with a mix of rocky hills and vast dessert and for a long stretch a single lane railroad ran alongside the highway. We hopped on and off of the interstate driving parts of route 66 and actually we ended up driving a lot of it. We were clearly in native american country with lots of the stops along the way being themed as such.

We stopped for lunch at Denny’s again in a town called Holbrook and refueled. It was pretty hot and after lunch we discovered that we had fried the GoPro and it wouldn’t switch on any more. I held it over the air con vent and luckily it came back to life. We drove on through the towns of Gallup and Winslow which are both known from the ‘Get your kicks on route 66’ song but they were both small towns with strip malls and fast food eateries so were mildly disappointing. The weather was fairly overcast today and as we approached Flagstaff we could see rain clouds on  horizon and gradually as we go closer we noticed a mountain appearing from behind the rain clouds and the dessert turned to forest land. We stopped at a supermarket to get some supplies and the first thing we noticed was the smell of air freshener but soon realised it was the smell of the real pine trees that surround the area.

We had decided a few days ago that as we were spending two nights in Flagstaff that we would try and find somewhere decent and spend a little more money but when I looked on in Albuquerque all I could find were the same sort of motels that we had been used to up until now but they were a little more money. I loaded up an app called Airbnb which allows people to offer up for rent, rooms in their property or sometimes entire places. I had not used the app before but I managed to find a place called Abineue Lodge located a few miles south of Flagstaff. You have to request a reservation from the owner who can accept or deny your request so I sent a request along with a message to the owner, Wendy. I didnt hear back from Wendy for a long time so I was a little bit worried during the day that we didnt have anywhere booked for tonight. Eventually Wendy did get back to me and said that the server had been down and our reservation request was accepted and was actually very reasonably priced at £130 for 2 nights.

This place is stunning! The lodge is set in a large clearing in the middle of the Cochnino National Forest and shares the clearing with a handful of other properties. We entered the B&B and were met by Wendy who was really nice and showed us our room and the rest of the building and outside areas. We dumped our gear and decided to go for a trek along a trail through the woods. We went in a large loop and just as we were starting to come back towards the lodge we spotted four Elk on the hill just off the path! We stopped and watched them for a while and they watched us. They were amazing to see in the wild and the pictures that I took do not do them justice as they were much closer than they look in the pictures. We followed the trail round until it ended at a road so we turned and hiked over a hill and back to the lodge. We sat out in a patio type area and had our dinner surrounded by pine trees. We are visiting the Grand Canyon tomorrow which is about a 3hr round trip (thats nothing to us now) but I could happily spend the day here.

Total Mileage: 1930 miles

Day 9: Midpoint

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We left the hotel in Amarillo pretty early as both of us felt the area was a bit grim but we needed to get gas and ended up driving around for about an hour looking for a place to buy rolling tobacco. We visited some questionable neighbour hoods looking for somewhere open on a Sunday.  We completed our mission and got out of dodge.

We decided that as Texas was pretty flat and boring and also because Route 66 seemed to run alongside the interstate, that we would just ride the interstate and get to Albuquerque as fast as possible. We set a good pace cruising the highway until CJ had a good idea to take some pictures at the Texas / New Mexico state border. As we pulled off the interstate I suggested that we looked up the location of the midpoint of the route. As we did this I could see a building up ahead that turned out to be the Midpoint Cafe, how lucky is that that we picked the exact exit. There was a small gift shop and behind the till was a lovely lady (I cannot remember her name) with her dog Brodey. As soon as I entered, she directed me to the back room for a slice of Orange Brandy Cake which was delicious. I chatted to her about our journey and signed her guestbook and bought a couple of postcards then went next door for a cup of coffee.

A few miles up the road was the state line and as we pulled over we saw and old abandoned gas station, we stopped to take some photos and saw a roadrunner which promptly ran off, meep meep! We couldnt really get to the the sign so we continued up the road and we were met with a gravel road, we were in a 4×4 so we carried on. There were a few cattle grids to get over which were a bit smaller than ones found in the UK but one of them had a large dip before it. I slowed down, but not enough and the car bounced over the dip and afterwards there was no response from the throttle. The car slowed down and stopped. I shut everything down put it in park and restarted it (doing what I know ;)) . It was a scary moment considering we were hundreds of miles from any where, on a gravel road. So two lucky escapes today, one getting out of the ghetto of Amarillo and two almost killing the car. We got back onto the Interstate as soon as we could.

We were now in New Mexico and we drove on for a time before we began to get hungry so we pulled off into a town called Santa Fe. We stopped at Santa Fe Bar and Grill but fortunately, it turned out, it was closed so we went up the road and found a place called Joseph’s Route 66 which is a family owned restaurant and shop and we both had great meals.

After leaving Texas the scenery had changed again from flat desolate nothingness as far as the eye could see to rolling hills and rocky outcroppings with large mountains on the horizon. We pulled off the highway again for the final stretch before Albuquerque which ended up being some amazing curvy roads through the mountains. We had no cell coverage so the Sat Nav couldn’t recalculate and we realised we were heading in the wrong direction. We turned round and drove the road back through the mountains and rejoined the interstate.

We have a really long drive tomorrow to Flagstaff, Arizona, approximately 330 miles and we will probably continue with our hop on, hop off the interstate technique so we can cover more miles quickly.

Total Mileage: 1581 miles


Day 8: Show me the way to…..

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Today it was my turn to do some faffing. Despite getting up early and leaving CJ sleeping I decided I wanted to go for a swim and eventually CJ was left waiting for me. We still got going at a good time and after filling up with gas ($25 = £19) we set off. The roads were fairly boring and pretty bad for most of the driving today.I drove until about 2pm when we stopped for lunch at a Taco Bell. A bit further up the street was the route 66 museum so we pulled in for a visit. The museum was a collection of old buildings set up as the would have been when they were in use. It was alright but we didn’t stay long and soon we were back on the road.

CJ took over again and eventually we crossed the state border and into our fifth state, Texas. Not long after the scenery changed again and became very flat and you could see for miles in all directions. Its pretty crazy to look out and know that there is nothing for hundreds of miles, especially knowing that this is the farthest away from the coast that I have ever been. We passed through some almost deserted towns.

I took over the driving again and the route eventually disappeared and became I-40 so I could put my foot and we arrived in Amarillo. We went to a Mall which was a bit like Bluewater but all one floor, I hate Bluewater so I was glad to leave so we grabbed some take out from the food court and brought it back to the motel. I am not keen on Amarillo, it seems pretty busy as the town seems to be built around the the Interstate, it might be just the area we are in but I will be glad to see the way out of Amarillo.

I am pretty knackered today and I can fell myself getting ratty so I might turn in early. I am looking forward to a day off from driving, but that doesnt come until day 13 so we were considering leaving the route for a day and beeline for the next hotel just so was can relax and chillout for a bit.

Total Mileage: 1249 miles

Day 7: We are not in Kansas anymore

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These blog posts are getting hard to write, I guess it is because of so many miles on the road. We didnt have anything planned today so after breakfast we left Springfield, Missouri, with Oklahoma City as our destination. The roads today were fantastic and seemed to change around every turn from long straight ‘see for miles’ to up and down windy with lots of rusty old truss bridges.

After a couple of hours driving we crossed into Kansas and drove through some interesting towns such as one called Galena. We stopped at a bridge that crossed the Spring River took some photographs and met a young guy called Bill from Philiadelphia, who was also driving the route, he gave us some tips on what to expect the further west we go.

We were not in Kansas for long before we crossed another state line and into Oklahoma. The roads continued to be amazing, the scenery and terrain changing all the time. We stopped for lunch at an Arby’s and after which, as is the norm now, CJ took over the driving although today there was no thunderstorm. I started reading a guide book I had bought previously and found that the worlds tallest totem pole was a mere 4miles away so we turned away for the route and went to check it out. It was a 90ft totem pole. We took some snaps and visited the gift shop. We took off again and our next stop was Tulsa and was about two thirds of todays trip and just before we arrived I took over the driving.

We drove on but it started getting late and we still had 100 miles to go but I had already booked our hotel for the night so as Route 66 was mostly highway we decided to switch to Google Maps and go direct to the hotel via the faster Interstate.

Not too much interesting to write about today but the pictures should be good. We drove approximately 320 miles which is the second longest drive we have to do.

Total Mileage: 959 miles

Day 6: Release The Hounds

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Today we had some miles to cover so we decided that the morning would be a ‘no faffing’ affair and we would get up early, eat the complimentary continental breakfast and hit the road. We got up and CJ went to the gym then Facetimed his folks.

Eventually we set off heading to St Louis which is situated on the banks of the Mississippi which also denotes the state line between Illinois and Missouri. This was our first state crossing and there was no fanfare to say we had crossed but the bridges were cool old looking bridges so the drive into St Louis was enjoyable. We parked up near the river and walked for a short time to visit the St Louis Gateway Arch which is a free standing arch 630feet high. It was built to celebrate the expansion of the city which was once the final stop for supplies for river travelers heading west. There are tours where you depart from 50feet underground in a tram inside the arch which is designed like ferris wheel to take you to the top. After a short ride we arrived at the top where there are several observation windows giving amazing views of the city from one side and and the river and Illinois from the other.

I began the drive from St Louis through some beautiful scenic green country side roads. The roads were sweeping curves and fairly hilly which was a change from the previous days driving.

We began to get hungry at early afternoon so we stopped at Denny’s for some food, we both had tasty meals which included some items known as vegetables. We left fairly stuffed and CJ took over the driving. As is the norm now when CJ drives, we drove into a thunderstorm again. It seems like here, when it rains, it really rains. The rain lasted for quite a long time and we were glad to be on empty backroads rather than the freeway as visibility was low  and road markings almost impossible to see. Eventually we drove out of the storm and steam began to rise from the roads. As it was getting late in the day we jumped on the highway for a stretch to catch up. We stopped for gas in a place called Lebanon and swapped over again.

We got back on the old route and came along a long stretch of road with lots of hills which you could see in the distance. We decided it was a good photo op so we pulled over at the side of the road and CJ got out with his SLR to take some pictures. To our left was a farm type home which is common for this area and I noticed a man, that we have named ‘Cletus’, come out of the house and stood watching us. CJ got back in the car and we set off, soon after CJ shouted and I looked to the left of the car and saw two dogs chasing us and according to CJ, Cletus was shooing us away. He had set his dogs on us! OK so not everyone is so friendly.

We drove some more lovely scenic roads and searched for some cell signal so we could find a hotel. We got some coverage eventually and booked our room for the night. We took the highways again to get to the hotel which was called Arbor Suites on the medical mile and is located in Springfield, Missouri. Its a bit of a weird place, situated in a cluster of medical buildings such as dentists and the like, the room seems decent enough.

Tomorrow we head across Missouri, through Tulsa to Oklahoma City.

Mileage Total: 616 miles

Day 5: Shoe Carnival

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After a poor nights sleep, I am starting to wonder if I will ever sleep well on this trip, I got up and went to the lobby to try and get yesterdays blog post to publish. The hotels WIFI was pretty poor where our room was and last night I was was having trouble uploading the photos. This morning I couldnt access the site on the WIFI at all, the site was up but I couldnt reach it for some reason so in the end I published the post on my phone which broke the picture gallery. While I was doing this CJ headed out to visit a gym that was free for hotel guests and soon met me in the hall for some breakfast which today consisted of a bowl of Cheerios and Fruit Loops (vile). Due to the intense heat of the previous few days we had been changing clothes more regularly than usual so we took advantage of the laundry facilities and did some washing which I had been advised takes about 30mins. While we waited I went for a refreshing swim in the outdoor pool. The laundry took at least 1hr30 which meant we were late checking out and seemed to annoy the cleaning staff who were waiting to get into our room.

As we drove into Springfield the previous day we had spotted a large domed Whitehouse looking building and I learnt that Spingfield is actually the Illinois state capital and the building was the state capital building. We stopped for some photos before we headed to get gas (thats what they call petrol out here). We filled up with about half a tank of gas which cost $17 which is about £12, luckily it was an easy process and just involved a card swipe at the pump.

We set off for today’s drive with CJ at the wheel and soon ran into another thunderstorm and at times the rain was very heavy, CJ coped well and redeemed himself after nearly killing us yesterday. We drove for a time and CJ started to get tired so we swapped over, until he got super excited because he spotted a store name ‘Shoe Carnival’ and made me pull in to check it out, I wasn’t sure why he was so excited but thats CJ. It turned out to be a decent shoe store and I actually wanted to buy two different pairs of sneakers (trainers 😉  ) but it seemed that for some reason they didn’t stock a single pair of shoes in my size so no carnival for me. We popped into a Walmart and got some lunch and snacks and CJ finally found a hat he liked.

Did you know bamboo grows 4 feet a day? We downloaded a quiz app to keep us occupied during the drive.

Today was a low mileage day which was lucky because of our late departure so soon we approached St Louis and pulled over to find a hotel for the night. Due to St Louis being a big city the prices were higher so we settled for a hotel called Sleep Inn at a place called O’Fallon on the outskirts of St Louis. It is a Travelodge type place, quite basic, but the room is decent with good WIFI, a small pool and gym and free breakfast but no aussie girls.

CJ has gone for a walk so he can listen to some thrash music and probably get away from me for a bit which seems to be a good idea because yesterday we had a couple of tense moments after 4days in each other company. No arguments but neither of us normally spends this much time another person and this morning we did our own thing and the rest of the day was better. I think I will go for a swim and do a few thousand lengths in the tiny pool.

Speaking of music, we have just been listening to the radio so far, either ‘Oldies’ or ‘Rock’ which have had a good selection of mostly 80s which suits us both, except when CJ sneaks it onto the Religious station until I notice.

Tomorrow we leave Illinois and travel across our first state line into Missouri and head almost the entire way across to the second Springfield of our journey, this one Springfield, Missouri.

Update: CJ messaged me while on his walk to say he had discovered Fireflies. I went out and met him and after crossing a railway we were in and open field which had loads of Fireflies everywhere. It was pretty cool to see them but unfortunately difficult to photograph.

Total Mileage: 364 miles


Day 4: Go West

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*EDIT: Fixed Gallery

Today we traded the sky scrapers of Chicago for the corn fields, farms and the open road as we headed for Springfield, Illinois.

We started the day at a diner called Lou Mitchell’s which is a Route 66 themed restaurant that pride themselves as being a place that provides hearty meals for weary travelers who have done the route west to east. The meals we had (eggs and sausage) were definitely hearty and pretty tasty. We returned to the hotel, packed our bags and checked out.

The traffic in Chicago was really heavy at this time so we carefully picked our way through as it thinned out until we were virtually alone as far as you could see.

CJ took his turn at the wheel today and was doing well for the first 10 minutes then he decided to pull out in front of an 18 wheeler and unused to an automatic, didnt have the acceleration that he expected causing the truck to blast us with its horn. He claims it wasnt as close as I thought it was and that he needed to get used to the car. I just would rather he didnt do it in front of a huge juggernaut. I took over again after a while and did most of the driving today, which suits me as I prefer driving to being a passenger.

As the day drew on we stopped at a gas station to use the restroom and I looked on my phone for a hotel for the night. I found one called Route 66 Hotel and Conference which as the name would suggest, is Route 66 themed hotel. There are old cars and bikes and various americana dotted around the place with two long corridors with loads of really kitchy stuff in cabinets and on the walls.

While we searched for our room we met two australian ladies who were also driving the route, also looking for their rooms. They explained to us that they had been in an accident and also had a speeding ticket for 75mph in a 40mph zone and that they were heading to the bar. We dumped out bags and also headed to the bar to get some food. The aussie girls were already there along with some locals and the bartender who was named Tom. We had a drink, chatted to everyone then returned to an outside area near our room to eat, fried chicken and fries.

Total Mileage: 248 miles

Day 3: Just popping out for breakfast….

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Last full day in Chicago today and again it begun with an early wake up at around 7.30am. We headed out to get some breakfast at a place a few blocks away called Meli Cafe where we both had eggs, bacon and toast. The cafe had some table and chairs out on the sidewalk so requested a table outside so we could watch the Monday morning city hustle and bustle while it was still cool out.

After breakfast we decided to go for a walk and we ended up walking all the way up to Lincoln Park where we chatted to a guy who said he lived in the park and had previously been in a coma for the last 90days.  He seemed like a nice guy but we didnt hang around for too long.

We walked back in the direction of the hotel, trying as best we could to walk in the shade. Every now and again we would use our trick of going to shops to cool down.  We tried to head back to Millennium Park again as we were starting to get hungry again but ended up in and adjacent park called Maggie Daley Park which is a small park with sculpted walkways, climbing walls and mini golf. We found a row of benches in the shade and rested for a bit when a couple approached the bench next to us.  The guy looked over and commented to CJ that he hadn’t seen anyone wear an Anthrax T-Shirt for  long time. Although CJ professes to not be good at small talker, this proceeded into a about a half hour conversation with the couple, who we learned were named Sam and Diane, about music, travel, sports, their children and politics. We took the opportunity  to inquire about proper ‘bill paying’ techniques and how to fill up with gas at the gas stations which were some topics we have been struggling with for the couple of days we have been here so far. They were a lovely couple and this brings me on to one of the most surprising aspects of Chicago, everyone is so friendly. Walking around  in the morning we get plenty of ‘Good Mornings’, smiles or ‘Hellos’.

We stopped in near the Buckingham fountain and got some pizza which we sat and ate in a shaded picnic area.

Back at the hotel now for a rest after walking approximately 10miles. Will probably have an early night tonight so we are ready to check out of the hotel and leave Chicago as we begin the first day of the driving phase of this vacation where we head to Springfield, IL.

Day 2: Another Hot Day in the Windy City

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Woke up early this morning, still jet lagged I think, at around 4am. Stayed in bed until about 6.00am when I grabbed my phone and did some browsing, we have really good internet in the hotel, 140mb down which pleases CJ  who woke up soon after. We decided to go down to smoke and as it was pretty cool at this time in the morning  we took a stroll along Michigan Avenue. We stopped at a breakfast place called the Yolk and had a really good but fairly expensive breakfast.  By the time we had finished, it had begun to get hot even though it was still only around 8am, so we walked back to the hotel to take advantage of the air conditioning and to work out what to do.

Eventually we decided to go for a drive round the city, this would give me some more driving experience and allow us to get out of the hotel but the air con in the car would mean we were out of the heat. Again, I drove, I find it OK actually, everyone drives so slowly here you have plenty of time to work out whats going on although I still feel weird turning right when a red light is showing. We drove through Chinatown and eventually found a large park called Douglas Park. There were a couple of Soccer matches going on so we watched for a while and  Yes! I called it Soccer! We walked round the park which, it turned out had a pretty big pond although the signs had directed us to a ‘Lagoon’.

Once we returned to the car, we headed off to another USA must visit location, a WallMart Supercenter for some supplies including lots of bottled water. It wasn’t as large as I expected, probably about as big as Sturry Asda but we managed to get everything we needed.

We returned to the hotel and chilled out for a bit and I watched the end of a Oregon State vs Arizona State game which was actually a really good game.

I didn’t expect Chicago to be so hot! We walked the other direction up Michigan Ave towards a retail district and pretty soon I was dripping with sweat. Although there was a nice bit of wind today, the heat is so intense its more like a hot wind but it wasn’t as hot as yesterday and at least we had water with us and we soon realised that it was a good idea to pop into shops to cool down. Things are quite expensive in Chicago so I didnt buy anything and also being a 49ers fan I couldn’t exactly buy any Bears merch. We got caught in another sudden rain downpour but managed to take shelter under the awning of a building and it was actually quite refreshing it didn’t last long and we looped back around to Millennium Park where we saw the giant bean.

Back at the hotel again and I can hear thunder so another storm is approaching.

Update: Holy shit that was one hell of a thunderstorm!

Mileage Total: 38 miles