Monday, February 8, 2016

2016 - Snowshoeing Up North - Lake Superior and the Upper Peninsula

Its that time of year in the Midwest. Cold and dreary days, with snow everywhere. Most make plans to escape to warmer climates. Not me... time to head North, and find some awesome trails for snowshoeing. This year, my plans were to check out the Western shores of Lake Superior, and then back to the Upper Peninsula.

Day 1 - Despite a light snow falling, I headed North toward Duluth, with sights set on traveling Minnesota Hiway 61 along the western shoreline of Lake Superior. Of course, some back roads sightseeing was in order on the way. Entering the Duluth area, the best way to "see the city", is to exit I-35 and grab the Skyline Parkway Scenic Byway, which provides bird's-eye view of the city, harbor, and Lake Superior shoreline. Uncharacteristic for January, temperatures were in the upper 20's, with the sun peaking out occasionally. 

Next stop - Two Harbors, MN. Its always fun to wander thru the town, and check out the majestic ore docks in the city's harbor. Those things are amazing! Even though they were not in operation, loading Great Lakes ore ships, these huge engineering marvels are a definite "must-see". While in the harbor area, check out the Two Harbors lighthouse - the oldest operating lighthouse in Minnesota.

From Two Harbors, another 30 minutes North on Hiway 61 is the Split Rock Lighthouse State Park - my 1st snowshoeing stop. The lighthouse, perched on a rock cliff is another amazing sight, providing incredible views of Lake Superior, its rocky shoreline, and depending on the time, the sight of Superior shipping. 

After "dressing up" for my snowshoeing, I headed down the the trail to the Superior shoreline. The State Park has several miles of paved pathways, for biking, hiking, and in the Winter, snowshoeing cross country skiing and fat tire biking. The reward for this hike was the view of the lighthouse from the rocky shoreline. The view gives a great sense for the visibility this lighthouse provides to the ships on the Lake.

The snow in the park was only 4-6 inches deep, So, with the afternoon winding away, and plans to visit Gooseberry Falls State Park for some more hiking, I hiked back to the car, and load up for a short trip South. 

Gooseberry Falls State Park is only 8 miles South of Split Rock. The Park runs from the Lake Superior shoreline, across/under Hiway 61, and West along the Gooseberry River. The Park is set up with cross country ski trails, groomed regularly. In addition, there is a hiking/snowshoeing trail that follows the river on both sides, up to the Gooseberry Falls. Again the snow depth was marginal for snowshoeing, so I opted to really "hike" the hiking trail in my boots. The trail traversed the shoreline of the river, while still providing some challenging side-hill climbs, (and great views) of the river valley. At the Falls, a bridge provides a crossover to the other side of the river, and access to the trail down to "backwaters" and the Lake Superior shoreline. After ~ 3.5 miles, I opted to take the shortcut back to the Visitors Center, and skip the extra 3 mile round trip to the Superior shoreline. 

With the daylight starting to fade, it was time to pack up and take the 45 mile drive back to Superior, WI. via North Shore Drive (from just South of Two Harbors, to the Northern edge of Duluth), and over the I-535 Blatnik Bridge

Today's trip included ~450 miles of driving, and almost 5 miles of snowshoeing. A great start to my adventures up North!

Day 2 - On the road at daybreak, heading from Superior, WI across Northern WI to the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. Another unusually mild January morning - 18 degrees, and overcast... and NO WIND! The drive this morning would follow WI Hiway 13 along the southern shore of Lake Superior to Bayfield. Several great vantage points of Superior along the way, as well as visits to the communities of Bark Point, Cornucopia, and Red Cliff. This is also the area of the famous Apostle Islands Sea Caves. Access to the sea caves is via the ice that forms along the shoreline of Lake Superior from Meyers Beach, near Cornucopia. Unfortunately, due to the lack of extended cold periods this winter, its likely there will not be access this year.

The next stop was Bayfield, WI. This harbor town is a great place to check out in all seasons. Its harbor serves as a gateway to the Apostle Islands National Park, and offers ferry service to Madeline Island. If you are into hiking, biking, kayaking, boat tours or just some store wandering, put Bayfield on your "to do" list. Oh, and just up the road a few miles in Red Cliff is Legendary Waters Resort & Casino, which offers great accommodations.. and some gambling action!

On the road again to Ashland, WI, another great place to visit and experience the Lake Superior life. Once home to more of the Superior ore docks, Ashland is now a tourist destination for all seasons. On this trip there were just about as many snow machines moving around in town as there was cars and trucks! After a quick pit stop, it was on to Hiway 2, and the 60 mile journey across Northern Wisconsin to the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, and my next snowshoeing trail. Along the drive, I decided to check out some of the back roads attractions which included the Powderhorn Ski area and the Copper Peak Ski Jump. Unfortunately, the road to Copper Peak (closed) was unplowed, so I wasn't able to see the largest artificial ski jump in the world, rising 1782 feet above sea level and 1180 feet above Lake Superior. Closed for several years, Copper Peak is scheduled to reopen in 2017.

30 miles from Copper Peak was the location of my next snowshoeing hike - Yondota Falls, MI. The trail to the falls is only about 1 mile round trip. However, as is the case with many of the back roads in the UP during the winters, the road to the Falls was not plowed, adding an extra 2 mile hike to/from the falls. Adding to the fun, a "clipper" was moving thru the UP, resulting in snow and gusty winds. The good n ews was that the temps were still good, in the mid twenties.

The trail to the Falls was really cool. The snow here in the UP was considerably deeper (12-18 inches), making the hike more interesting. The path wandered thru some heavily wooded areas, and required some climbs and descents of rock outcroppings - perfect environment for snowshoeing. Although most of the falls was iced up and snow covered, the site from atop a rock cliff of the Falls was worth the hike.

As the snow continued to fall, and the winds picked up, it was time to begin the 2+ mile hike back to the car. The drive to my second overnite in Minoqua, WI was approximately an hour, navigating some more snow covered back roads thru Presque Isle, and Boulder Jct. WI.

Day Two's trip included ~250 miles of driving, stops at some great back road sites, and another 5 miles of snowshoeing. This is the best way to enjoy Winter in Midwest!

Day 3 - Thurday morning started out with snow flurries and temps in the teens. With coffee in hand, I opted to explore some of the back roads along Hiway 51 North, on the way to Manitowish Waters, Mercer, and Manitowish. The newly fallen snow made for picturesque scenes everywhere. Not many people out and about at 8am, but by the number of snow machine trailers and SUVs parked at the local motels along 51, the trails will be packed later in the day. 

My travels ended up passing thru Lac du Flambeau, home base of the Lac du Flambeau Band of Lake Superior Chippewa, and location of the Lake of the Torches Resort and Casino. Of course, I had to check out my luck... which turned out to be good!

With a light snow still falling, I decided to head back to one of my favorite Winter spots - Bond Falls. Located in the Upper Peninsula near Paulding, MI, this site has another one of those great UP water falls settings, nestled back in the woods of the UP. The drive was 65 miles, taking almost 90 minutes, due the falling snow and some winding gravel back roads.

When I arrived, it was clear I was the only visitor since their last major snow. And, as is normal in the UP, the snow was deep..... 16-24 inches throughout the Bond Falls State Park. The hiking trail is not a long one. The round trip distance was less than a mile. But with the deep snow, the trail winding up/down some steep rock paths, and several side trails to view the Ontonagon river leading to the Falls, the hike was a good one. Once at the base of the Falls, the Park has a boardwalk of sorts (providing handicapped accessibility) to get great views. Given that Winter in the UP has not experienced extended cold snaps, the Falls was in full flow. As with my first visit to Bond Falls a few years back, the sights and surroundings were amazing.

With the snow falling harder, it was time to head back to Minocqua. I opted for main hiways (as did all other traffic!). I pulled into the hotel at approximately 3:30pm, fittingly, in the midst of  heavy snow and wind. Day Three's trip included almost 200 miles of driving, 1 mile of snowshoeing, and a successful visit to a casino.

For those of us who enjoy the beauty and exhilaration of Winter, exploring the shoreline of Lake Superior, the Upper Peninsula of Michigan and the North Woods of Wisconsin is "must do". Whether its snowshoeing, cross country skiing, snowmobiling, or just wandering the snow filled woods via car, you will not leave disappointed!

I have several other photos taken during my trip. If interested, these photos can be viewed HERE.

Sunday, October 5, 2014

2014 - Biking and Hiking in Northern Wisconsin

My favorite time of the year - Fall in the Midwest. Nothing beats the amazing colors, and the fresh clear days. So it was time to once again make my journey to Northern Wisconsin and enjoy some biking and hiking in the forests of the Northwoods. This trip would encompass 4 days - 3 biking, and one hiking, around Rhinelander, Boulder Junction and Manitowish Waters. 

Day 1 - Biking near Rhinelander

This year's trip began a day earlier than normal. I decided to head North early on Saturday and squeeze in a bike ride in the afternoon. With Beef-O-Rama underway in Minocqua, I picked a hotel in Rhinelander for my overnight, and selected some forest roads in the Enterprise Hemlocks State Natural Area, southeast of Rhinelander (near Pine Lake). 

The area I selected had many ATV trails and forest roads to explore. Being the weekend, there were several others out on their ATVs enjoying the beautiful afternoon (clear, calm and 78 degrees) along with me. The path I chose was forest/county roads, which were generally level for most of the ride... until the end. To get back to my vehicle, I had to traverse a portion of Hiway 17 near Pine Lake. You know how while you are driving, you pass thru some rolling countryside and don't think a thing of it? Well, next time think of doing those hills on a bike, and add to it doing it on the gravel shoulders!  Suffice to say that my first ride of this Fall getaway "broke me in".... 29 miles and some good hill climbing!

Day 2-Biking Boulder Junction & Sayner

Link to Google Map
Sunday morning I packed up and headed North to Boulder Junction. My plans were to explore the bike trails and wooded areas East of Trout Lake. The Boulder Junction/Manitowish Waters/Sayner area have developed some outstanding paths for bikers and hikers of all ages. Their trails run from Manitowish Waters thru Boulder Junction and on to Sayner. Today's ride would start in downtown Boulder Junction, heading South on the bike trail (past Trout Lake), and then East to Sayner (passing Crystal Lake). The return trip would go off the bike path and traverse snowmobile trails and forest roads past Big Muskellunge Lake and Stevenson Creek, before heading back North to Boulder Jct.

The asphalt bike paths are wonderful! Generally easy rolling terrain, but a few good dips and hills to add some excitement. Riders and walkers of ALL ages will enjoy these. They wind thru the beautiful wooded areas along County Hiways M & N, and take you along the shoreline of Trout Lake, Crystal Lake, and Plum Lake. Rest Rooms are available along the route, and with the towns of Boulder Junction and Sayner on either end, you have the opportunity to stop and grab some refreshments in the local stores. 

Along the Trout Lake portion of the trail I came upon a man and woman, with the man carrying a camera. As background, I have always enjoyed photos of the Northwoods and its natural beauty. One of the premiere photographers of this area is Michael Crowley, who's web site "" and Facebook Page "LifeintheNorthwoods", have amazing photos of the wildlife and natural beauty. Well, this couple walking the trail looked awfully familiar. I stopped to say hello, and sure enough, it was Michael and his wife Marshia! Both had on their "Packers Green and Yellow", and were enjoying the beautiful Sunday morning before heading home to "watch the Packers game". So great to finally meet Michael. He has been a great resource to me for finding places to explore on my journeys to the Northwoods.

On the return ride, I jumped on to a snowmobile trail approximately a mile from the County Hiway M and N junction, taking shortcut up to Big Muskellunge Lake Road. Some breathtaking colors along this remote path!

The next portion of the ride followed the Big Muskellunge Lake Road and Nabish Lake forest roads before turning North again on a forest road leading to Stevenson Creek and surrounding marsh area. Although no deer or bears were spotted, the marsh area had its fill of water fowl enjoying the remoteness of this body of water.

Crossing over the land bridge, I started the final leg back to Boulder Jct. By now, my legs (and more importantly my rear end) had logged approximately 35 miles... Of course, at this point of the route, the hills began to get a bit longer and steeper. After a couple miles on a sandy forest road, I reconnected with the bike path back to Boulder Jct. Woo-Hoo... a nice smooth ride for the last few miles. 

Day two's ride was now complete... 40 miles in the books. My legs and my rear were "talking to me", encouraging me to take a day off from riding. So next on the agenda - Hiking around Mann Lake.

Day 3 - Hiking Mann Lake

Link to Google Map
Mann Lake is home to a family cabin, albeit now abandoned. I have made it an annual ritual to come visit the cabin, checking out its condition, and to enjoy the serenity and beauty of Mann Lake. With the lake primarily surrounded by state forest land, my hike would follow forest roads, snowmobile trails and a bit of pure forest trail blazing. 

Starting out from the North shore of the Lake, the path along the West side of the Lake to the cabin were primarily snowmobile and forest road trails. As you can see in the photo, the lake was shrouded with a light mist. 

After my cabin visit I located a rarely used forest trail which took me East, thru the woods on the South side of the lake. The only sign of any civilization along this route was a surveyor's marker. 

Soon the seldom used path began to disappear. At this point, I forged on, in what I believed was the direction that would lead me to intersecting a snowmobile trail that would lead me up the East side of Mann Lake. If you look at the map, and notice a loop around a small lake on the SE side of Mann Lake, its clear that my trail blazing skill in a dense forest leaves alot to be desired. It was at this point the use of my cell phone GPS and Google Map became a VERY valuable asset. I regained my bearings, and began the trek North.

Some recent logging had opened up a large area on the NE corner of the lake. Figuring I could use this open area as a shortcut, I began cutting across. The ground in the logged area was now covered with a "vine like" vegetation. Should be easy to walk thru... NOT! It was about 12-16 inches deep, making it tough to walk, and also hiding objects that were prime for tripping over (yes, I tripped more than once). Looking again at the map above, you'll see a 2nd loop in my hiking route. This is the result of me deciding this "shortcut" was NOT a shortcut. I headed back to the snowmobile trail.. and MUCH easier hiking. 

Approximately 9 miles into my hike, I was ready to take on the final leg. I decided to see if I could find a path thru the woods back to the North shore of Mann Lake, where the cabins and my vehicle were. The snowmobile path I would normally take runs close to the County Hiway N & M roads. I located a rarely used forest path that followed the North shoreline of the lake. Knowing my legs were getting tired, and this path could save me possibly an extra mile of hiking, it was time to explore the new path.  Sure enough, despite having to climb over some fallen trees and traverse thru some dense ground cover, the North shore homes appeared... and my vehicle. 

Despite some wet feet and soggy socks and boots, Day Three's 11.5 mile hike around Mann Lake was a great success! One day left in this Fall getaway - bike ride to Manitowish Waters from Boulder Junction and back. 

Day 4 - Biking Boulder Junction to Manitowish Waters

My final bike ride up North was to check out the new bike trail opened this Summer (July, 2014) between Boulder Junction and Manitowish Waters. This is a paved trail similar to the one I rode Sunday between Boulder Jct. and Sayner. This path winds thru the woods and marsh areas along County Hiway K. 

Of course, having had great Fall weather for most of this trip, Mother Nature decided to remind me that Winter is not far off. The temperature when I left Minocqua was 36 degrees. As I drove into Boulder Junction, the temperature had climbed to a "balmy" 40 degrees. No problem... I just added another layer, and some camo work gloves (picked up at Wal-Mart the day before in anticipation of the cold), and I was off!

Riding thru Boulder Junction, I came upon some visitors enjoying breakfast at one of the homes in town. It appears that not only do people put out bird feeders up here, but also deer feeders!

A short distance outside of town, I picked up the new trail. Boy, if you want to bike the North Woods, this is a great trail to do it on! The path winds thru the woods far enough away from the hiway so you hardly notice any traffic that might pass by. The path is generally flat, but occasional dips and hills will keep you working during the 17 mile journey. 

As you can see from the photos, there were some fabulous sights, despite the cold, overcast morning. The cold temperature kept me moving, other than to make a brief stop for a photo or to look at the maps posted along the trail. The ride to Manitowish Waters took approximately two hours. The local convenience store was a perfect place to grab some hot coffee, and to relax a bit before the return trip.  

With the temperature climbing, and a few peeks from the sun, I opted to explore back roads on my ride back to Boulder Jct. 

I left the the new bike trail just East of the Manitowish Waters Airport, and headed South around Little Star and Manitowish Lakes. Some REALLY NICE homes and cabins in this area. This area is also relatively flat, making the riding very relaxing. This flat land is also prime for cranberry fields. It appears that I was probably 1-2 weeks late for the cranberry harvest, but was able to check out the field close up, and even sample a few cranberries that were sitting at a roadside stand.

On the final leg of the ride back to town (North Creek Road), the flat road riding now became more like a roller coaster ride. With 30 miles behind me (and 3 previous days of riding and hiking), the remaining ride back to County Hiway M was ALOT OF WORK! Coming upon the bike trail running along side County Hiway M was a sight for sore eyes (or, in this case - sore legs)! The final 3 miles of my ride back into Boulder Jct. was in sight!

My 2014 Fall Wisconsin biking and hiking trip had come to an end with a great 38 mile ride. Hats off to the folks of the Rhinelander, Minocqua/Woodruff, Boulder Junction, Sayner and Manitowish Waters communities. They take pride in their towns, and welcome visitors with open arms. 

You can be sure that I will be back again!

If you would like to view other photos taken during this trip check out my Web Album

Monday, May 5, 2014

2014 - Our "Kicks on Route 66"

Well, it finally happened. That "bucket list" trip, our "retirement celebration trip", that trip we'd aways talked about taking. Yes, we got to "get our kicks on Route 66!"

We planned on doing this after my wife Sue retired in June, 2013. But it just wasn't until April, 2014 that we could finally hit the road (in between my wife's "other" retirement trips!).

This was the 1st time in over 30 years of marriage that we would be together on a vacation for 12 days, and just the two of us. It also meant that our partner in retirement, Chester (our dog), would have to "go it alone", in a kennel - something he has never had to face. But we were both ready to "Get our kicks on Route 66."

Preparing for the Trip

Even though I am a retired from engineering, planning for this 12 day trip took on similarities to project planning activities back during my days at John Deere. Detailed Google Maps of the exact Route 66 roadways, "must see sites" to check out, overnight accommodations researched and booked, photography equipment to pack, communication plans for both in the car and out, emergency items to pack in the car, and most of all, munchies to have available 24/7 are some of the planning activities completed. Probably the most challenging task was "clothes". Twelve days is a long time to pack for, let alone not knowing what the weather would be. Leaving Iowa with temperatures in the 40's and knowing we'd be passing thru desserts and mountains, visiting beaches, and possibly battling rain, and severe weather presented quite a challenge packing. Do we do laundry on a vacation??? Suffice to say we had two REALLY heavy suitcases packed in the back of the Santa Fe. 

Day 1 - Waterloo, IA to Rolla, MO

We opted to start our Route 66 trip in St. Louis. The start of Route 66 is on the Lakefront of Chicago, but decided we'd save the Illinois portion of Route 66 for another time. We were on the road by 6:00 am Tuesday, April 8th, and pulled in to Downtown St. Louis by 12:30 pm. It was time for my navigator Sue to pull out the Route 66 Guide book, and the Google Maps ion her iPad and begin our journey. TECHNICAL NOTE: One of the best planning activities was to activate "tethering" on my cell phone so that we could connect Sue's iPad via wi-fi to my phone. This gave us full internet access on the iPad, allowing us to explore the Google maps in detail, and to look up info on the go. (Surprisingly, there were only a few areas for the entire journey we couldn't pick up a signal.)

Our 1st day journey took us on the metro St. Louis route.... The Route 66 route actually had a couple different versions thru many areas on the trip, the "pre-1930's route", and the "post-1930's route". Most times, we opted for the "pre-1930's" route. Traffic was fairly hectic in the St. Louis area (I only ran one stop sign), and it wasn't until we reached the Route 66 State Park, near Eureka, MO that the traffic lightened up. We committed to trying to get in walks every day of our trip, and this park had a good 2 mile route for us to enjoy the Meramec River and stretch our legs. ABOUT THE ROAD: The routes we planned took us on the original road surface where it still existed. When it had been torn out, we followed service roads that passed as close to the original route as possible. Surprisingly, we probably only were on the Interstate Hiway for probably less than 150 miles of the complete route to Santa Monica.

The remaining section of our 1st day to Rolla, MO passed thru small Missouri towns, where remnants of old hotels, and many, many, original  houses from the 1930's still stand - all looking about the same. The State of Missouri has done an excellent job supporting the restoration of many sites along the route.

One last stop before arriving in Rolla was at the "World's Largest Rocking Chair" (I'm a sucker for what they refer to as GIANT ALERT - oversize statues and attractions). Of course I caught Sue trying to climb on to it!

We finally arrived at our hotel in Rolla, MO about 13 hours after pulling out of the driveway in Waterloo. Of course we had to unwind and look back on the day's journey with a couple "cold ones" and a pizza in Downtown Rolla (home of Missouri University of Science and Technology) at Alex's Pizza Palace. Day 1 was a great start on our journey!

Day 2 - Rolla, MO to Edmund, OK

Our drive on Day 2 would take us thru three states (Missouri, Kansas, and Oklahoma), and include the major cities of Springfield, Joplin, and Tulsa, before arriving in Edmund, OK. Of course we couldn't start the day out without a stop to the local Donut King for our morning coffee and "breakfast to go". 

Most of today's drive would include much of the original Route 66 road bed, and pass many of the still standing buildings and bridges. One of the 1st sights we came upon was the "Trail of Tears" Arch-Jerome, MO. The photo at the left looks considerably different than what the "Arch" looked like (see link). Its now on private property, and looks like its not being maintained much anymore (of course it is still early April, and the landscaping was just starting to show).  

On a side road (closed due to bridge work) we found the "Elbow Inn". This iconic roadside bar is named after the "Devil's Elbow", a portion of Route 66 that curves along the Big Piney River. There used to be a small town here, but all that remains are a few homes, and The Elbow Inn. INTERESTING FACT: The Elbow Inn is famous for all the bras hanging from the ceiling. Tradition has it that if a female visits the bar, she leaves her bra (No, Sue didn't leave her bra, it was too early in the day and the bar wasn't open).

Our next stop was Marshfield, MO - Home of the Hubble Telescope Namesake. This was another GIANT ALERT - a replica of the Hubble Telescope, located in the town Square of Marshfield. (I couldn't resist a photo.). 

Another historic icon we came upon while traveling thru Springfield, MO was an abandoned SOLO Cup factory. Seeing the giant cup as the main entrance to the factory, and thinking about the hundreds of SOLO Cups that I have used in my lifetime, prompted my second GIANT ALERT photo of the day. According to the sign, its still for sale, for anyone thinking about investing in the "Beer Pong" craze..... 

Back on to the road, we passed thru Spencer, MO,
The town is located on an old section of Route 66 (which is now a county road), and  originally included a post office and a store, but all that remains is a restored Phillips 66 Filling Station.

As we approached Joplin, MO and the Missouri/Kansas border, we came upon the Route 66 Drive-Inn. This drive-in theater is still in
operation and in great shape. The movie being shown was "Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit".

After Passing thru Joplin, we entered Kansas for a "brief" visit to the state. The 12 mile section included Galena and Baxter Springs.  Along the route, was the Rainbow Bridge, west of Riverton, KS. This single-span concrete Marsh arch bridge is the last of this style that exists on the entire Route. UPDATE: in late April, 2014, tornadoes passed thru the Baxter Springs, KS and Quapaw, OK area. No word on the damage.

Our next stop was in Commerce, OK, where Bonny and Clyde murdered the police chief (April, 1934), and is home to "Commerce Comet" - Mickey Mantle. Commerce also had a restored Conoco Station, conveniently located across from an old Route 66 ice cream stand.

Our final section of Route 66 for the day took us near another GIANT ALERT - Ed Galloway's Totem Pole Park. Throughout this small roadside attraction are several cement statues and artworks, including "The World's Largest Totem Pole", made from 134 tons of sand, rock, cement, and steel. Quite a retirement project by Mr. Galloway!

Day 2 came to an end in Edmund, OK. Almost 14 hours (~ 450 miles) driving and wandering. No time for a walk today, but couldn't pass up a couple beers and sandwich next to our hotel in Edmond, OK. We will sleep good!

Day 3 - Edmund, OK to Amarillo, TX

The third day of our Route 66 trip started off shakin' ... and I mean literally shaking! At approximately 2:15 am, a 4.1 magnitude earthquake centered approximately 12 miles north of Edmund rattled our hotel. Sue thought it was one of my "mid-sleep" leg jerks that happen occasionally... Of course, I slept thru it. But it started our Day 3 with some excitement!

Today's drive would start our transition to the open plains and long, straight road sections. The weather continued to be fabulous... clear, sunny skies and temperatures in the low 70's made the drive perfect. 

One of the 1st Route 66 sights of the day was a restored (2011) steel truss bridge on the North end of Lake Overholser in Oklahoma City. (You'll learn that old architecture and bridges are intriguing to me). 

From OKC we passed thru Yukon and El Reno, on our way to Clinton, OK, home of the Oklahoma Route 66 Museum. This was a GREAT stop!  The several old photos and information about "Life of Route 66" along with old autos that frequented the road years ago. One of my favorites was the back half of an old station wagon. Definitely remember riding "back there", with the window down, on family vacations.  

From Clinton, we continued on to Elk City, OK - Home of the National Route 66 and Trasportation Museum, which also includes an "Old Town Museum", the "Farm & Ranch Museum" and "Blacksmith Museum" (We only toured the Route 66 portion of the Museum Complex). Although interesting displays in this museum, it wasn't as enjoyable as the Oklahoma Route 66 Museum, but well worth the stop. 

From Elk City we continued on into the western
portion of Oklahoma and the panhandle section of Texas. Along this stretch was an abandoned section of Route 66, essentially overgrown with trees and weeds. This was a particularly interesting site for me... seeing the decaying concrete overgrown with trees and weeds, and imagining this section years ago.

Close to the Texas border is the town of Texola, OK. The town is now labeled as a "ghost town", although there are a few homes and businesses still inhabited. Not much there, but an old Territorial Jail still stands, in the middle of an open field. 

tower_stationPassing into the panhandle of Texas, we followed alot of Interstate service roads for Route 66. The landscape turned to expansive open spaces and few towns. Despite this, those towns along the Route still proudly display old, iconic buildings and sites. In particular, in Shamrock, TX proudly display the  Tower Station and U-Drop Inn CafĂ©. This old Conoco Station not only serves as a Route 66 attraction, but is utilized as visitor center, chamber of commerce office, and community center. 

A couple final sites on our journey to Amarillo included a GIANT ALERT - World's Largest Cross in the Western Hemisphere in Groom, TX, and The Slug Bug Ranch - in Conway, TX. NOTE: when we asked where specifically the Slug Bug Ranch was, the convenience store operator made sure we were aware of the "rattlesnakes in the grass around the car bodies". 

Our 3rd Day on Route 66 ended in Amarillo, TX. Not as much "on the road time" today - only about 8 hours. So we were able to find a local park with walking trails to help us stretch out and enjoy the beautiful Spring Texas weather, and then grabbing a relaxing dinner.

Day 4 - Amarillo, TX to Albuquerque, NM

Day 4 is a busy day, with lots of notable stops planned. The morning started out, like the previous mornings - Coffee and donuts to go, today from The Donut Stop. The weather forecast was perfect again - sunny with highs in the low 70's. We hit it early, catching the sun rise over West Texas. A large portion of the original road follows the path of I-40, so much of our road was along the service roads on either side of the Interstate. 

We came upon one of the iconic Route 66 signs painted on the asphalt. With literally NO TRAFFIC, it was a perfect time for pictures. This photo of Sue with the Route 66 logo is an instant classic!

This section of the road also included the ever popular Cadillac Ranch. It was on the other side of the Interstate, and with it in the middle of an empty field, we opted to view it as we drove by. 

Or first town of note was Vega (not many large towns in this portion of the Texas panhandle). Here we visited the Magnolia Station - a Route 66 Corridor Preservation Program. (Check out the link to see the before photos of this station as compared to the one shown here). 

The next stretch of road to the Texas/New Mexico border paralleled the old Route 66 road bed, which no longer exists. In the open pastures beside our service road, the only remnants of the original road are some box culverts ove low lying spots. 

Our next major trip milestone was the Halfway Point of Route 66, in Adrian, TX. Once a thriving stopping point, all that remains now is the Adrian Mid Point Cafe, the he Bent Door Trading Post, and an abandoned hotel. We were about 30 minute too early to grab a cup of coffee at the cafe, so this stop ended up as a photo op.

From Adrian, the New Mexico border was only 22 miles, our sixth state of the trip. Once in New Mexico, the next "must stop" was Tepee Curios in Tucumcari. The storefront, in the shape of a tepee is a major attraction for Route INTERESTING FACT: While inside, we noticed an Iowa Hawkeye scented lamp that was lit. When we asking the proprietor about, she said "I'm from Fort Dodge, Iowa"! She shared that she and her recently married husband purchased the store a little over a year ago (after marrying in Tucumcari) and were in the process of moving their home to Tucumcari to run Tepee Curios.

Tucumcari had several interesting buildings and sites of the old Route 66 era. One of my favorites was this old sign and abandoned truck located on the western edge of town.

Our next stop was to check out "The Blue Hole" in Santa Rosa, NM. This unique attraction, located in the midst of Santa Rosa, is an old artesian well which was once used as a fish hatchery.  The water hole, is 80 feet deep, and 80 feet in diameter (120 feet in diameter at the bottom). Many divers from throughout the United States visit.

The remainder of our day included taking an alternate Route 66 path up to near Las Vegas, NM, then over thru Santa Fe, before taking the "Turquoise Trail National Scenic Byway", near Sandia Crest. NOTE: We didn't stop in Santa Fe to explore, as "my Navigator" has plans to visit Santa Fe in June, 2014 "with the Girls". The 2 lane back road passed thru scenic hills, and a unique shopping/tourist area along Hiway 14 and the small town of Madrid, NM. Looks like a great place to spend the day "wandering" if you are ever in Albuquerque.

After our ride thru the "Turquoise Trail National Scenic Byway" we headed for the Sandia Peak Tram. Located about 12 miles north of Downtown Albuquerque, this scenic 2.7 mile aerial tram ride provides unbelievable views of 10,370ft Sandia Peak and the Albuquerque metropolitan area. Guess what.. it was  "Closed for annual maintenance".

Having driven to the tram anyway, we opted to hike some of the hillside trails on the side of Sandia Peak (Yes, for the adventurous, you can hike to the top). Definitely a site we will return to in the future.

Before heading to our hotel, a stop at the Sandia Resort and Casino was in order (afterall, it has been a few days since our last casino stop). A couple cold refreshing beers, and some slots seemed like a good way to wind down.

Our Day 4 adventures ended with dinner at the Route 66 Diner in Downtown Albuquerque. It was a perfect spot for hungry travelers. We even splurged and ordered their famous sundaes, in the kid size (they were kind enough to give is the "kids' size, saying "you look like kids at heart")! Another spot you must visit on a trip to Albuquerque.
Day 4 was a great day. Our trip took us ~ 400 miles in about 9 hours of driving and sight seeing. Time to recharge and get ready for Day 5 of Route 66.

Day 5 - Albuquerque, NM to Flagstaff, AZ

Day 5 started out by following the Route 66 option (pre-1937 alignment) which traveled South out of Albuquerque following the Rio Grande River, and then heading West along Hiway 6. After crossing back over I-40 we joined Route 66 for the portion which included "Dead Man's Curve", near Laguna Pueblo. Shortly around the curve was our 1st "photo op" of the day. Behind Sue is "Dead Man's Curve". 

From here we continued on to our major stop of the day - Sky City Cultural Center and Haak'u Museum. The drive to Sky City provided another amazing view of New Mexico. This is the gateway to Acoma “Sky City”, the oldest continuously inhabited settlement in North America. Acoma Pueblo is built atop a sheer-walled, 367-foot sandstone bluff in a valley studded with sacred, towering monoliths. Since 1150 A.D., Acoma Pueblo has earned the reputation as the oldest continuously inhabited community in North America.

 EDITORS NOTE: Although there is no power or plumbing running the top of the mesa, they are allowed to use gas generators. We could also see several "porta-potties' on the edges of the mesa.. with padlocks on each. Our guide shared that each family on the bluff shared access to the porta-potties, and thus the reason for the padlocks.

It was a really interesting tour. Check out the link to read more, and if you are ever passing thru this area of New Mexico, I encourage you to check it out.

The tour lasted over 2-1/2 hours, so it was time to push on to Arizona. Our next attraction was the Continental Divide. The Route 66 location is at Brannigan Park, between Bellemont and Parks, Arizona. The Continental Divide is a popular location and has been the site of numerous trading posts down through the years.

The route then led us thru Gallup, NM before putting us on I-40 for the drive into Arizona (the seventh state of our trip). Alot of interstate driving on this portion of the Route 66 journey. But the route did lead us into Holbrook, AZ, home of the "Wigwam Motel". In the web link you can read (and see) all about it. Today, it still looks like a site out of the 50's. Sitting on the bench outside a tepee was what looked like a mom, dad and son who appeared to be staying at the motel - mom reading a book, the dad looking at the old cars, and the son wandering around, looking bored to tears!

From Holbrook, we jumped back on I-40 for a short drive to the Winslow, AZ - famous for the popular Eagles song "Take it Easy". Of course we had to be "standing on the corner", and check out "a Girl, my Lord, in a flat bed ford, slowing down to take a look at me...".

We hopped back on I-40 for the last leg of our drive into Flagstaff, AZ. If you have not been to Flagstaff, its a gorgeous oasis in the middle of a dessert. The City is located at 7,000 ft so the temperatures are noticeably cooler. The landscape is filled with Ponderosa pines, which give it a Northern US type of feel. It is also a major rail point in Northern AZ so you will find plenty of railroad activity in town.

Our day came to an end with dinner and beers at the Flagstaff Brewing Company, in downtown Flagstaff (across from the Amtrak depot). Next to the pedestrian shopping mall, it looked like a great place for residents to relax and enjoy the sites and sounds of Downtown Flagstaff.

Another Day in the books. Day 5 took us approximately 380 miles and 8-1/2 hours of driving time. Tomorrow we will venture into the Golden State on our next to last day on Route 66.

Day 6 - Flagstaff, AZ to Barstow, CA

The 2nd to last day on our Route 66 Journey started off on another sunny morning, but with temperatures in the upper 30's. Most of the day's driving would be on original Route 66 roadway, and alot of desert scenery, but the 1st portion took us thru the town of Williams, AZ. This is the Southern terminus for the Grand Canyon Railway. The setting is similar to what you would see in the Rockies of Colorado. This town also embraces the historic Route 66, including Cruiser's Cafe 66, on W. Railroad Ave.

From Williams, we descended down into the flatlands, thru Ash Fork, Seligman, and into Kingman, AZ. All are railroad towns, as Route 66 follows the main East/West railroad tracks of the Southwest US.

Kingman, AZ is also home to another Route 66 museum, housed in an refurbished old Kingman Powerhouse, built in 1907. 

From Kingman, our journey led us on the old Oatman-Topock Hiway, through notorious Sitgreaves Pass of the Black Mountain Range. This is the most intimidating portion of Route 66, with its steep grades, narrow road, and sharp hairpin curves. Along this route up the hill, sits the Cool Springs Camp and Filling Station Museum.

After crossing the Sitgreave Pass, and while winding down the mountain is Oatman, AZ, an old mining town now converted into a tourist destination. Tourist stores abound and many tourists have pasted autographed one-dollar bills on the walls and ceiling of the Oatman Hotel's bar and restaurant. 

On the road leaving Oatman, we were stopped by a few "tourists" wandering the area. Of course, they had to take a look thru the window at my Navigator's equipment.

Once down from the mountain pass, we crossed the Colorado River near Topock, AZ and crossed into California, the eighth state of our trip. EDITORS NOTE: One thing we learned quickly on this portion of the Route, was to make sure you make gas and bathroom breaks whenever they appeared. In this portion of the country, towns (and filling stations) are few and far between.

Needles, CA was the last stop before heading across the Mohave desert. Again, much of  Route 66 in this area followed rail lines. I think we counted over 12 trains we followed/passed during the day. All appeared to be 1/2 to 1 mile long, and filled with double decked containers. Its amazing to think of all the freight that is transported every day along these tracks.

This section provided long (and desolate) stretches driving, but with amazingly beautiful scenery. We connected back up with I-40, for the remaining 50 miles to Barstow, CA, on the interstate.

Day six ended with our usual Sunday nite pizza at the Route 66 Pizza Palace... a good old family pizza joint. 

Total miles traveled from Flagstaff, AZ to Barstow, CA was approximately 440 miles and about 8-1/2 hours of drive time. 

Day 7 - Barstow, CA to Santa Monica Pier, CA

The seventh and final day of our Route 66 trip began with more desert driving. Another gorgeous "Southern California" day! Following once again the trains (and tracks), Route 66 passed thru Victorville, where we connected with I-15 toward Los Angeles. Before hopping on the interstate, our drive took us past the Iron Hog Restaurant and Saloon, in Oro Grande, CA. Built in 1931 as Case Farm Equipment dealer, the Iron Hog was a stage stop in the 1880's and a trading post. INTERESTING FACTS: The Iron Hog is a international tourist stop. Its been in featured in several movies, including Easy Rider and Erin Brockovitch, and is home to the county's oldest graveyard (with graves dating back to the mid-1800's). For all you Roy Rogers fans, Roy Roger's Ranch is located about 1 mile away.

Once on I-15 we crossed the San Gabriel mountain range, where we exited the interstate and hopped back on the original Route 66 road thru San Bernadino and West through the cities of Rancho Cucamonga, Arcadia, Pasadena, Hollywood, Beverly Hills, West Los Angeles, and finally Santa Monica. It was at this point "my Navigator" had her hands full, keeping me on the route, dodging road construction, and pointing out the Route 66 sights along the way. Suffice to say, at this point with the traffic building, sightseeing became considerably more difficult than previous 6 days, traveling the desolate back roads.

Our path led us on such notable streets as E. Colorado Blvd. home of the Rose Bowl Parade, Arroyo Seco Parkway (past Dodger Stadium), and Sunset Blvd, before hopping on "the 101". Our final turn was on to Santa Monica Blvd , in Hollywood, which took us the last 20 miles to the Santa Monica Pier. Sue was able to point out Dan Tana's Restaurant, a Hollywood favorite, Rodeo Dr. leading into Beverly Hills, and in the distance, the famous "Hollywood sign".

At approximately 11:30am, we pulled into the Santa Monica Pier parking area, and head up to the Pier, for our official photo at the end of Route 66. We celebrated with a Margarita and nachos at Marisol's on the Pier, while enjoying the sights and sounds on the Pier. As with the rest of the trip, the weather was perfect - clear blue skies and temperatures in the 60's. A great way to finish up!

Seven days, approximately 2,400 miles, and eight states on our memorable journey. It was all we had hoped it would be.

People ask, did we get to see everything? Was seven days enough time? Would we do anything different? Our answers are that the seven days allowed us to experience the real Route 66, and see the sights that it has to offer. Did we get to see everything, no, we didn't. The purists would have stopped at many more sights along the way. For us, the stops and the side trips we enjoyed were just right. Not sure we would do anything any different. However, it did open our eyes up to other spots we would love to check out that were nearby the Route. Places like visiting the cities of Albuquerque, Santa Fe and Flagstaff, touring the Grand Canyon, and getting out and hiking more of the natural sights along the the way.

Bottom line...the Route 66 Journey is a "must do" in my mind. If you can do it, DO IT!

I have shown a fraction of the photos taken on the trip (over 800 taken). This link will take you to a web album with what I thought were the most interesting of the trip (approximately 207). If oyu have time, check it out!
 2014 Route 66 Trip Photos

2014 Route 66 Trip Photos

Post Route 66 - The Return to Iowa

For those of you not interested in our adventures on the way back to Iowa, this is a good place to end. However, our twelve day vacation still had 5 more days (and another 2,300 miles to travel) before it came to an end. 

From the Santa Monica Pier, we traveled to our hotel in Thousand Oaks, Ca, but not before seeing a few Southern California sights. No. 1 on the list was the Hollywood sign. Boy, you'd think there'd be signs directing you to a nice observation area somewhere below it, for tourists like us to grab photos. Nope! We headed up into the residential hillside, looking for a park or hiking area where we could snap a quick photo. After 30 minutes of fighting narrow residential hillside roads (and a couple wrong turns) we were able to find a place - complete with a couple guys and their dog (one guy was relieving himself, and the other was trying to get his dog to "pose" on the trunk of his car for a sign photo). 

From here, it was time to go check out Malibu. Boy, that was a job! Took us at least 30 minutes to get back down to the Santa Monica Pier where we hopped on the Pacific Coast Hiway to Malibu. Not what I had envisioned. Beach access was very limited, and the residences were crammed together along the edge of the hiway. There were great views of the Pacific Ocean, but just way too crowded for my Midwestern tastes.

We decided that we had seen enough of the LA area, given it was 3:30 pm, and traffic was only going to get worse. Day Seven came to an end. Total miles traveled from Barstow to the Santa Monica Pier, and back to the hotel was approximately 220 miles and 7-1/2 hours of driving. 

Day 8 and 9 - Thousand Oaks, CA to Las Vegas, NV

Our trip back to Iowa included a day and a half stopover in Las Vegas. Our mission on Day 8 was to travel to Las Vegas, with a stop at the Hoover Dam for a tour. It seemed strange to get on the Freeway and just drive. "My Navigator" didn't have to look at a map more than one or two times (I think I actually caught her napping a bit along the way).

We headed for the Hoover Dam first. In all our trips to Vegas we never took the time to take the tour. It was an amazing sight, inside and out. The new bridge crossing the gorge added a whole new dimension to the dam and its surroundings.  Its amazing to imagine the construction of this marvel back when the construction technology was so basic. No lasers for determining locations, no huge bulldozers and earth-moving equipment, and living accommodations built in the middle of a desert. Amazing!

SIDENOTE: We learned that a couple hours after we had left the dam, a person took his/her life by jumping from the new bridge.

We made it to the New York, New York Resort and Casino in Las Vegas and checked in. This was our first time staying on this end of the Strip, so we had plenty of walking to do to catch up on all the latest changes, including a trip to Downtown Las Vegas to meet with a couple of great friends, and get caught up on the the "latest".

One of the new spots in Vegas we checked out was  "Container Park". This was a creative shopping district with stores made up entirely of shipping containers - food and drink shops, and a bunch of retails stores surrounding a playground area for kids. At night, music is playing as well. Definitely a unique idea!

The next day, we wandered down to check out the newest attraction on the Strip - the Linq. This is part of the renovation of the Imperial Palace and Flamingo Resorts, and includes the new High Roller - the world's largest observation wheel. For those of you who have been to the Imperial Palace, O'Sheas Casino, and the Flamingo, the areas has definitely changed... for the better!

For our last night in Vegas we  grabbed a Mexican dinner at a Village Street Eatery in New York New York, and finished off with some ice cream. A brief but great visit to Vegas!

Oh, and if anyone knows Spanish, and can tell us what Sue won on the slot machine pictured, let us know!

Days 10, 11 and 12 - Las Vegas, NV to Waterloo, IA (via Colorado)

By now, the reality of the trip coming to an end was sinking in, and the desire to "get home" was starting to build. Day 10's drive was a long one - almost 800 miles and 12 hours (and a loss of an hour due to time change). Our route followed I-15 out of Las Vegas into Utah, connecting with I-40 into Denver, CO. There is some incredibly amazing scenery along this route. We made a quick diversion to Brian Head, UT to check out some property owned by our friends in Las Vegas. Man, I can see why they bought the lot!! I'd definitely serve as their caretaker if they need one!

The interstate route from Brian Head to Aurora, CO was filled with scenes like these. Many, many places that would be great to explore... someday. 

We arrived in Aurora, CO about 7:30 pm and grabbed a quick dinner at Denny's (yes, Denny's. It was next to the hotel, and we were both too tired to look for anything else). 

For Day 11, we took a side trip south, traveling thru Pike National Forest to check out area where I used to do trial riding on our motorcycles years ago, and on Colorado Springs. We traveled thru areas destroyed by fires a few years back. Its amazing to see the destruction, yet, also see the new vegetation that has already grown back. 

We left Colorado Springs and cut cross country to Kearney NE for the night. By now, the camera had been put away, as the sights from our previous 10 days couldn't be matched ... and we were ready to get home.

Day 12 started at 6 am. We were anxious to get home, and pick up our dog Chester, who had been relegated to a kennel for 12 LONG days.... guilt had set in and we wanted to get him back home, with us. 

I'll end this journey with a photo of Chester. He's back home, enjoying the best life has to offer, as did we on this memorable trip. Great memories, great times, and reinforcement that a married couple of 30 plus years can have fun and co-exist in a car for over 4,700 miles and 12 days! I've found "my navigator" for life! 

So, where are we going next? Stay tuned!~


Resources for Route 66

The following are fabulous resources to use for planning and while traveling Route 66:
  • "EZ66 - Guide for Travelers - 3rd Edition" - by Jerry McClanahan
  • "The Route 66 Map Series" - Created by Jim Ross and Jerry McClanahan
  • "Route 66 Adventure Handbook - 4th Edition" - by Drew Knowles
(All can be purchased on