Travels with Tucker

Travels with Tucker

Friday, November 29, 2013

29 States!

We have a map on the side of our trailer with stick-on vinyl states, and we add a state once we have set foot in it with our RV. Here is the map as it stands today, reflecting our 2-1/2 years of RV travels.

I have to confess that we cheated with Michigan.  We were driving across I-80 and were so close to Michigan that we took a 10 minute detour and crossed the border.  But mostly we've been legitimate visitors to all these states and have camped overnight in 20 of them. #1 is Florida, with well over 200 nights and #2 is Tennesee, where we've spent about 60 nights. 


Silver City is the birthplace of Billy the Kid and Kit Carson. Now home to about 40 art galleries and lots of old hippies. We feel right at home. We saw this guy at the local coffee shop:


 Silver City is a great destination that no one's ever hear of.  After stopping by the visitor information center, we are a bit overwhelmed with what there is to do here right now.  Just this weekend we have to choose between about 8 live music events, a street fair, a lighted holiday parade, a sky party where amateur astronomers bring their telescopes for people to view the skies (and this area has some of the darkest skies of anywhere in the country), an art fair and the last open weekend for the Little Toad Creek Inn and Tavern up into the Gila national forest north of here.  And we also have to visit the Gila Pueblo ruins (which is the reason we came to Silver City in the first place) and that is an all-day affair.  We may want to stay longer than we planned.
Billy the Kid's birthplace
This horse-drawn trolley travels the main street all day and evening

Silver City, New Mexico

This us a very cool and historic town. We will be here a week, so more to follow...

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Guadalupe Mountauns

Back in Texas temporarily and driving past these beautiful mountains rising up out of the desert

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Carlsbad Caverns

We were delayed getting on the road yesterday morning when we found ice had built up on top of our trailer slide-outs and I had to get up on the roof and sweep/shovel all the ice and snow off.  This took about two hours, but I'm glad I had the opportunity to walk around on an icy roof 12 feet off the ground with a 30 MPH wind whipping around.  At least the views were nice!

After a three-hour drive from Texas into New Mexico where we saw more many more oil wells than we had in Oklahoma (but we also got our first glimpse of a real Western mountain range, the Guadalupe Mountains), we settled into our campground at the entrance to Carlsbad Caverns NP.  We got up early and ended up spending all day down in the cave.  We did the self-guided tour of the "big room" and ranger-led tours of the "Kings Palace" and the lower cave.  Having read a lot of peoples' comments about Carlsbad, I had high expectations--and they were exceeded.

This is a very spectacular natural wonder.  The beauty and variety of rock formations and the size of the big room (either 8 or 14 football fields, depending on which sign you read) affected me like very few places I've ever seen.  Being here on a relative off season, we wandered around the big room for 1-1/2 hours and felt like we owned it, other than a few rangers we never saw another person as we took in the features.  Pictures cannot come close to conveying what this place is like.

The ranger-guided tours were informative and fun, especially the tour of the "lower cave", which is not lit with electric lights so we had to wear hardhats with headlamps and special gloves so we could touch the rocks without damaging them (skin oils can eventually destroy the delicate crystal formations.  For three hours 12 of us descended knotted ropes, steel ladders
and slippery slopes; crawled through narrow openings, hit our heads on low-hanging rocks and even had to crawl on our hands and knees for about 15 feet through a tunnel with the only light being our headlamps.  Carlsbad doesn't get the "press" of the Grand Canyon or Yellowstone, but it is every bit as amazing and wonder-inducing.

Exploring the lower cave
New Mexico sunset

Monday, November 25, 2013

I guess we are in tornado country

This display of concrete storm shelters was next to the best tamale shack we found in Lubbock. The big one in fro.t was labeled "For no more than 32 people" !!

The roads are clearing and tomorrow we drive to Carlsbad Caverns in New Mexico. 

Saturday, November 23, 2013

What's there to do in Lubbock? Plenty!

The Buddy Holly museum, for one.
We also found a great jam session called Fisher Jam Hole, held in an auto upholstery shop in Lubbock.  At least a dozen musicians showed up to play and sing.  

"Stuck in (Lodi) Lubbock Again"

Well, we never planned to even visit Lubbock, Texas, but here we are for probably 4 nights. Everywhere for 500 miles is locked in a deep freeze with frozen rain and icy roads. We'll be here enjoying Tex Mex food and the local sights a bit.

Friday, November 22, 2013

The Grand Canyon of Texas


Travelling through the flat praries of western Oklahoma and the Texas panhandle around Amarillo, you would never guess that the second largest canyon in the US is so close that a distracted cowboy could literally fall into it.  Palo Duro canyon was the site of the last battle fought in Texas between the US Army and the dispirited remnants of the Comanche, Kiowa and Cheyenne tribes in 1874.

About 120 miles long and 600 to 800  feet deep, Palo Duro canyon is now a Texas state park and we camped here one night and did a short hike where we took these pictures.  We wanted to stay another night but a big storm was threatening and we didn't want to get stuck down in the canyon for days if they closed the steep road out, so we headed to Lubbock to hunker down and wait for better weather to continue on to Carlsbad Caverns in New Mexico, our next stop.

For best viewing of the panoramic picture below, click on it to download to your phone or PC and enlarge it to pan across a wide view of the canyon.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Route 66 Museum, Clinton, Oklahoma

Diner booth...all we need are milkshakes!
Very cool museum on Route 66.  There is a large room dedicated to each decade, from the 20's to the complete replacement of Route 66 by the interstate highways in the 70's.  Each decade room has antique cars of the era, lots of photographs from the time, music and radio recordings from each era and amazing artifacts like recreations of a diner, gas station, etc.  

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Oklahoma City National Memorial

Words cannot convey the sadness over this place. Very well done.
A piece of the original building

Okies from Muskogee

Any fans of The Voice may remember last season's banter between  Blake Shelton and the Swon Brothers about the Oklahoma Music Hall of Fame. Well, we had to see it, and after spending the night in the back lot of the Creek Nation Casino (free camping!) we made our way through Muskogee to the old freight warehouse, now a museum and labor of love for Ronald D., the curator.  He gave us a private tour of the tiny museum and obviously loved Oklahoma's contribution to American music. Guess what, he's right!  Woodie Guthrie, Merle Haggard, Patty Paige, Vince Gill (my favorite), Col. Tom Parker (Elvis' first manager), Bob Wills and the Texas Playboys, Roy Clark...the list goes on. Very fun place and worth spending the night in Muskogee, what has to be the most downtrodden and depressing place we have seen in our travels across America.
Some of the signed guitars in the HOF
The best thing about downtown Muscogee is the collection of artist-decorated guitars randomly distributed

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Lions and Tigers and Shows, Oh My!

We had planned to stay in Branson for just three days, but that stretched to six as we found some shows we liked and also took in a few other sights.  We visited a tiger sanctuary just north of town and that was very cool.  Seeing the beautiful cats from just a few feet away and watching them be fed was a good respite from the glitz and hustle of Branson.

Branson is kind of like Vegas without the gambling, or the bright lights or the theme-park hotels...basically everything except the Elvis impersonators, washed-up country acts and magicians.  The town itself is a vision of city planning gone bad--fast food, motels, theaters, mini golf, "museums" like the Titanic Museum and Ripley's Believe it or Not all jumbled up on a gridlocked "strip" about two miles long.  Discount ticket agencies are everywhere, most requiring a timeshare sales pitch to get the discounts.  We found a legit 2-for-1 ticket agency and bought most of our tickets there.  We saw seven shows that ran all gamuts from bad to great and from tiny, low-budget productions to huge staged estravaganzas.  Some of our favorites were the Haygoods, a family of five brothers and a sister who grew up poor in the Ozarks but had been performing literally since they were toddlers.  They played several insturments each, sang really well and had a production with lazer lights and video that was nonstop two hours of true entertainment. "Six" was similar in scale but was six very talented brothers who sing a capella for two hours.  They make all the instruments with their voices, including drums, bass, electric guitar and trumpet.  Their show was very fun and entertaining too.

We also took in a couple of tribute bands, one for the Eagles and one for Journey.  Both were very good bands and musicians, but the Journey band was amazing because of the lead vocalist, who sounded just like Steve Perry.  Jason Yeager was his name and he was a finalist on season 7 of American Idol.  His story is kind of sad because he got a raw deal on American Idol and was eliminated sooner than he probably should have been.  He and his band put on a great show and were the best act we saw all week in Branson.  The most entertaining tribute (in a funky sort of way) was Joseph Hall's Elvis show.  He is a mid-twenties kid who played Elvis from his start as a rockabilly artist up through his Vegas superstar-in-a-rhinestone-covered-white-stretch-suit act.  The audience of mostly elderly ladies went crazy over him and some nearly passed out when "Elvis" came out to the audience to give them a scarf and a kiss on the cheek.  (Lynnae was not one of the passed out ones, she insists I inform you.)

Journey Tribute

Elvis Tribute

One other interesting thing we did was to eat dinner at the College of the Ozarks.  This college, founded in 1906, is unique in that it is tuition-free for all students who earn their keep by working 15 hours per week.  So the restaurant on campus is staffed completely by students, who also grow the vegetables, raise the dairy cows and pigs and cook everything from scratch.  The food was fantastic, the kids were as Ozark-mountain polite as you could want and we thoroughly enjoyed the experience.

We actually enjoyed our whole time in Branson, but we were ready to leave and begin the drive across Arkansas, Oklahoma and Texas to cover some parts of the old Route 66 and catch such other wonders as we can find there.

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Branson! Live music capitol of the world

We didn't set out to come to Branson but it wasn't far off our way and we like live music so we decided to check it out for a few days. I will add to this post over the next few days, but as of now we have been here for four days, have seen four good shows and one poor one and will stay for two more days then head off to Oklahoma on Monday.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

World's biggest rocking chair, Cuba Missouri

Cuba is also home to many murals depicting the town's history.

Crossing the Mississippi at St. Louis.

How fitting that we cross over into "the West" at this iconic gateway city that was the launching point for the great western expansion of our country!  Also perfectly American that we whizzed right by it in our truck and moved on down the road. 

We get our kicks on Route 66

On Saturday we left Chicago after two great weeks visiting Lucas and exploring the city.  We really loved Chicago and look forward to returning, maybe several times if Lucas decides to settle there.  Next time I hope it is when the weather is warmer!

We drove to Peoria to spend two nights there.  Why Peoria, you ask?  Well, back in the summer we bought tickets to see Keith Urban in concert in, of all places, Peoria, and to some extent built the schedule of our travels around that.  We've seen Keith live about 8 times and this show was among the best.  He is an amazing guitar player and singer and performer and after two warm-up acts (Dustin Lynch and Little Big Town), Keith played for 2-1/4 hours and as usual brought down the house.  The only other experience I can compare a Keith Urban concert to (and I hope my Boston friends will forgive me this one) is seeing the Red Sox play the Yankees at Fenway in a close game where the Red Sox come from behind in the ninth to win.  The crowd was that fired up!  I was playing Keith songs all night in my head.

As we drove south from Peoria yesterday, we kept seeing signs about "Route 66 Historic Byway", so Lynnae read out loud the Wikipedia entry for Route 66 and we stopped at the Route 66 State Park visitor center in Missouri.  So it turned out to be fitting that the next leg of our trip, after visiting Canada and spending time with Lucas, when we turn westward toward California, that we are travelling along the route of the first Federal highway to be completely paved from the East, specifically Chicago, to California.  Started in 1926 and all segments finally paved in the 50's, Route 66 is the quintessential symbol for post-war America.  Newly-mobile, newly affluent, optimistic, obsessed with cars and rock 'n roll music, America hit the road and Route 66, sometimes called the "Mother Road" was the place to do it.  Much of Route 66 is gone completely and all of it has been bypassed by Interstates, often starving the towns that lived off the travelers on the old Route.  Some of the best preserved remnants of Route 66 are in Missouri and Oklahoma and we will report on what we see over the next week or so.  Stay tuned!

Saturday, November 9, 2013

Chicago from the 95th Floor!

Our last night in Chicago was a visit to the John Hancock tower building at sunset.  We had saved this visit for last based on the weather forecasts for a clear day, but it was really overcast and hazy when we arrived.  At the top, though, the sun was starting to peek under the cloud layer and it turned out to be a fabulous sunset.  Watching the lights go on in the buildings downtown was amazing.  The tower is a bit north of the river and the loop so it gives a great view of the bulk of the tall buildings downtown, as well as the out over the lake to the east and the suburbs stretching out forever to the west. 

Wrigley Field neighborhood

We spent our last day in Chicago wandering around the Wrigleyville area. Wrigley itself was closed.for tours for the season, but we spent some time in the Graceland Cemetery, which was awesome. Besides being a landscape architecture wonder and in full fall color, it had the most interesting architecture in its monuments--fitting for the city famous for architecture and for all the architects buried in this park. Some examples below.

We also visited Architectural Artifacts, an 80,000 square foot wonderland of weird stuff rescued from factories, buildings and homes. Want a silver-colored blast furnace suit? $14,000 takes it home. How about an 8 foot tall ceramic vat for mixing acid or a giant hamburger or an old printing press or a 12 foot table covered with crystal glass pieces from chandeliers at $1 - $5 apiece? This has to be the coolest store I have ever seen. We wrapped up our day with a trip up to the John Hancock Observatory 94 floors above Chicago, but more on that in the next post.