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Well, I made it.
Left Mojave before 10:00 AM and headed north on CA-99 until I hit US 101-N. Once I left Mojave, the landscape changed. I left the desert behind. I drove through gentle hills covered in golden winter grass, then hit Bakersfield. Bakersfield was a blur, but I think any city that touts itself as ‘The Ninth Largest in California’ is just trying too hard. Once past Bakersfield, I entered wine country, passing fallow fields lined with row upon row of grape trellis’s waiting for next years crop. The hills became a little rougher the further north and west I went, but when I hit US-101 N, the mountains had vanished. So too, had the sun. The horizon was white cloud as far as the eye could see. I overshot my exit and had to turn back, just as it started to rain. Recovering my route, I left the highway and took a number of side roads until I arrived in the little town of Carmel.
Carmel was a jewel box of a town. Draped in lush greenery, its streets were hillocks lined with specialty stores, boutiques and art galleries. Unfortunately, after making various inquiries around town, I discovered that there was no room at the inn. Any of the inns. Or the hotels. The place was packed tighter than a fat girl at an all you can eat buffet. So, with a shrug, I turned south and rolled along California Highway 1.
Here, at last, California delivered. The drive down through Big Sur was breathtaking. The mountains descend into the oceans, so you have earth on your left and sea to your right. Everything was shrouded in late afternoon fog, which thickened as the sun set into white clouds. It began to rain, and the wind began to blow. The breeze smelt wonderfully of rain, sage and heather. I proceeded down the highway, until it was dark as the inside of a cat, and the rain was falling in vertical slashes. Rocks tumbled off the mountains. The sun vanished. Cars flashed past me at breakneck speeds and all I could think of was that they must be driven by suicidal jerks. At last, I came to a little lodge in the community of Lucia. I took a room for the night with an ocean view, (irrelevant as everything was black). Once settled in the room, I returned to the lodge for a wonderful dinner: a glass of Madera, a small house salad, chicken cordon bleu with rice pilaf and steamed vegetables seasoned to perfection. There was a couple from Montreal taking a road trip of their own, celebrating their fortieth anniversary. We toasted each other and our hostess, who laughed with us and produced a glass of her own. Then, after supper, I returned to my little room, where I passed some time with a good book, before settling in for the night, lulled to sleep by wind and rain.
I woke this morning and spent a few moments enjoying the ocean view from the porch of the lodge. The night’s rain had passed, and although the sky remained somewhat cloudy, the sun was visible in the distance. It shone down through gaps in the gray heaven, turning the churning Pacific Ocean to silver.
I left Lucia Lodge (which I highly recommend to anyone passing through the area), and proceeded south along California Highway 1. The scenery was lovely. Green, lush, with brilliant flowers blooming here and there on the mountainside. As the morning progressed, the clouds parted and the day became quite sunny. By the time I left the mountains behind me the day was golden and lovely.
Beyond the mountains, I paused at a sea lion rookery. There, on the beach, cantankerous and fat, were at least a hundred sea lions: cows, alpha males, pups. All of them sprawled on the wet sand, honking and roaring at each other. If they noticed us humans standing at the view point, they didn’t deign to react. I watched there for a while, amused by the cows behavior, biting each other on the rump when one cow got too close to another’s pup. Along the water’s edge an enormous alpha male lunged at one female after another, in a futile effort to mate. They wiggled away from him, leaving him frustrated and howling at the heavens. It was all very Shakespearean.
I continued along the highway and came to Hearst Castle. I’d done Biltmore House on the East Coast, so thought Hearst Castle might make a nice counterpoint. I paid for a tour ticket and rode a bus with a dozen other visitors up the winding road to the Castle. The vistas were remarkable. Gentle green hills to the east, the Pacific Ocean to the west. I tried, futilely, to take a picture of the scene, but it didn’t work out.
Comparing Biltmore House to Hearst Castle would be like comparing apples and oranges. Although Biltmore House has more presence, in my opinion, Hearst Castle was simply prettier. Our guide , an 85-year-old gentleman bundled up against the blustery winds outside, led us through the castle. He regaled us with bad jokes as well as the background of the house, pointing out the 13th century ceilings in the midst of being restored, informing us of the centuries old statuary outside the house, the unique art pieces inside it. When the tour was over we were free to wander the grounds, to admire the statues and the views. In summer, it would be an idyllic experience, but on this January afternoon with the wind roaring off the ocean, it was simply too cold to linger. I toured the grounds in a rush, then made my way to the Neptune Pool where a dozen other visitors were waiting for the bus to take us down the winding hillside, back to the visitor center.
There, I climbed into my car and headed south again, coming after a little while to the lovely beachfront community of San Simeon. I’ve checked into a hotel here for the next two nights, possibly longer.
And here, on the gusty beach beneath the hotel, I finally did what I came to California to do. Descending a rocky path to the beach, I kicked off my shoes, rolled up the cuffs of my jeans, and walked into the Pacific Ocean.
Mission accomplished.

Mojave, CA

Jan. 19th, 2012 11:06 pm
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This day of travel started off a bit rough.
At eight in the morning, I was roused from a sound sleep by the sound of someone hammering on the hotel room wall right behind my head. Needless to say, I was not happy.
Unable to sleep, I got up, took a shower, dressed and packed. Outside, I was amused to see a fine layer of frost on my car windows. I pulled out my ice-scraper, which I kept after leaving Alaska last year, and cleaned off my windshield. Other hotel patrons stood around, gawking at me as if they had never seen anyone do anything like that before.
I proceeded to the Grand Canyon. Now, as you all know because I've repeated it often enough, I am not a 'nature tourist.' Seen one tree, seen 'em all. More or less. That said, when I reached the Southern Edge of the Grand Canyon I was impressed. The view was, indeed, quite lovely. But after about fifteen minutes of it, I'd had enough. I went to the Visitors Center, which was a big disappointment, and took one of the scenic drives through the park. Eventually, I left and got on I-40 again, continuing westward to the Promised Land. :P
Western Arizona was a desolate wasteland, like driving across some terraformed version of Mars. At one point, it was just me and the road. No vehicles around me, no buildings or telephone polls or wind turbines. It was actually a little unnerving.
Eventually, I reached the California state line. Did you know they stop everyone entering the state to check for fruits and veggies? I didn't. I felt like I was entering another country.
Eastern California did not impress me. The roads were shoddy, pitted and potholed, and the countryside was trashy. I passed garbage bags on the side of the road, just tossed there at random, saw swathes of shattered glass gleaming among the desert scrub. Also, I passes several milk jugs that looked to be filled with either very weak tea or urine. Given human nature, I'm thinking it was most likely urine.
After a while, I passed through small towns. Needles. Ludlow. Barstow. They had all the charm of Wal-Mart parking lots.
At Barstow, I left I-40 and headed west on CA-58. Here, the landscape changed. It was cleaner, the plantlife lusher. The sun was hazed, the temperature in the high 60s. I made random stops. This place for gas, another place for a bag of chips. At one place, I rummaged through two square acres of antiques.
As the sun set, transforming the western sky into a collage of purples and oranges, I pulled off CA-58 into Mojave. Only 287 miles to go!
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I left Winslow this morning and stopped at Meteor Crater Park. I spent about two hours wandering around the museum, before continuing on I-40. I shot through Flagstaff and, on the other side, decided to visit the Grand Canyon after all. So, that's where I am this evening, about two miles from the South Edge. I'll check it out tomorrow and then head west again. Hopefully, I'll reach California tomorrow.
Hopefully.
Only 700 something miles to go. :P
More later! - MEL
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Today, I made $500.
And before the jokes start, no it did not involve any sex acts. :P
I left the Route 66 Casino Hotel this morning, and got about ten or twenty miles down the road when I had to use the toilet. And there, rising from the hilly landscape like a sign from above, was the Dancing Eagle Casino.
After a quick stop at the men's room, I decided to play Diamond Vault. I got the diamond bonus almost right away and, boom! Managed to get all the way to the top! Hello, big jackpot!
So, I managed to recoup my financial losses from the other casino and make a little profit as well. :)
After the Dancing Eagle, I zipped west on I-40 until I hit the Petrified Forest National Park. I drove through the park, which was pretty cool. The Painted Desert was lovely, but I don't get the appeal of petrified wood. Big whoo. What next? I'm supposed to enthuse about petrified dinosaur poo?
Anywho, I finished my trip through the park and have stopped in Winslow for the evening. I'd hoped to reach Flagstaff this evening, but that didn't happen.
Still, I've only got about 760 miles to go! Woohoo!
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I've spent the last day and a half at the Route 66 Casino Hotel which is west of Albaquerque, NM. On the pro side of things, the room I've got is great. Spacious. Comfortable. Tastefully decorated. The staff I've met have all been extremely pleasant people.
My one complaint is with the casino. The slot machines here are fucking tight. Seriously! They don't pay out for shit. So I'd highly recommend the hotel, but not the casino.
Haven't tried the buffet as it's got a ton of shellfish: lobster, shrimp, clams, etc. Yeah, I'm not big on the shellfish. Hell, I'm not big on fish in general.
The dining choices here are a bit limited. There's a steakhouse that's open from 4:00 to 10:00, a Johnny Rocket's with similar hours and a snack bar that stays open 'til 11:00. There are complimentary drinks in the casino, but if you want to nibble on something late at night, you better hit the vending machines or drive over to the travel center and buy a bag of chips.
The wi-fi, though, is excellent. Super-speedy. I just finished watching episode two of Dawnton Abbey off the PBS website with no lag until the last fifteen minutes. That's good wi-fi.
Off now, to hit the sheets. Tomorrow, I'm on the road again, heading into the mountains and, possibly, some snow.
More later! - MEL
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I'm writing this at the fabulous Route 66 Casino Hotel west of the city of Albaquerque. I got a late start this morning as I was just feeling rundown and kind of sick.
Yesterday, I went to the Mesaland Dinosaur Museum, which I thought was just swell. The exhibit only takes about an hour to go through and it's very interactive. Most of the actual exhibits are comprised of bronze castings of actual dinosaur bones, so you can touch them if you'd like. How many people can say that they've felt a velacoraptor's teeth? Well, outside the Jurassic Park movie franchise, that is. I thought it was an excellent museum and if you're passing through the area, give it a look. Admission is only $7, but the museum is closed on Sundays and Mondays. That's why I went and did it yesterday afternoon.
This morning, I took the Mural Driving Tour of Tucumcari. I hate to be a downer, but I wasn't really impressed by it.
Headed west on I-40, and stopped off in Santa Rosa to visit the Blue Hole. No, it is not a gay bar, despite the name. It's a natural pool, about 80 feet deep and 60 feet wide, where people go scuba diving all year round. It was kind of cool, although they really need better signage so people can bloody well find it.
Stopped off at Clinton's Corner for lunch. Considered a sidetrip to Roswell, but decided against it. The little green men will just have to wait for some other time. Played some pinball, looked at some post cards, and continued on my way.
Hit Albaquerque in the afternoon. The city was depressing. Everying was dun colored. I drove through Oldtown, but nothing I saw rang my bell. Originally, I thought I might stay in Oldtown, but after driving through it, I decided against it. It was just depressing as hell.
Went west, planning on finding another hotel or something, but wound up going to the National Petroglyph Monument. Got a couple of interesting pics and had a nice conversation with the lady in the visitor center. So far, everybody in New Mexico has been super-nice, so I feel bad complaining about stuff here.
But really, would more prominant signs to local attractions really detract from the flat, brown landscape? Seriously?
Left the petroglyphs and kept on heading west. Eventually, came to the Route 66 Casino Hotel. Since I don't think I'm going to make it to Vegas, and because I'm just worn down from all the driving, I'm taking tomorrow off. Booked a room for tonight and Monday, and plan on spending a lot of time in bed or the shower.
Already hit the casino tonight and, well, the machines here are freakin' cold. Tomorrow, I may try my luck at blackjack. Maybe. Definitely looking forward to hitting the buffet.
I've got a little over 1000 miles to go before I reach my destination, at which point I think I'm going to sit on my ass for about a week and NOT move. :P
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Tucumcari sounds like an exotic kind of fish to me, but what do I know?
First off, a big shout to the fabulous 'rith! Welcome back to the Internets, sweetie! As you can see, it has yet to collapse!
Also, travel moment of note here people! Today, I officially crossed the halfway point of my transcontinental road trip! Woohoo! Only about 1200 miles to go!
Today, however, I only did about 200 miles, but that got me across Texas and into the fabulous state of New Mexico. I've only been in New Mexico a little while and I already really like it. Everyone I've met has been super-friendly.
There was nothing to see in Texas. I detoured to check out the Devil's Rope Museum (which is devoted to barbwire), but it was closed. Bummer. Ah well.
Passed through Amarillo and was vaguely disappointed. Not sure why, but I expected more from a Texas city than just another stripmall city along the Interstate. Eh.
Twenty miles from the TX/NM border, I passed a stranded RV. The owners were standing by the road holding little handmade signs that read, "Out of gas. Need help." I would have stopped to help but there was an 18-wheeler on my ass and I didn't want to get turned into roadkill.
But when I reached the NM Welcome Center, I called the state troopers and let them know what was going on. They said they'd let their TX counterparts know what was going on. So, hopefully, those stranded folks have been rescued by now and won't have to spend the night along an isolated TX highway, fending off mutants and were-coyotes. They have those in TX, right?
The folks at the NM Welcome Center were very welcoming. They loaded me up with all sorts of info on stuff to see along I-40/Route 66. A few miles down the road, I checked out one of their recommendations: a travel center with a museum of classic cars. My favorite was a 1960's pink cadillac convertible. Whoo! They don't build 'em like that anymore.
Had lunch at their diner, then hit the road again. Tonight, I'm stopped in Tucumcari where I plan to eat an honest-to-God ceasar salad. Tomorrow, there will be murals! And dinosaurs!
Only 1200 miles to go! Woohoo! - MEL

Erick, OK

Jan. 13th, 2012 07:10 pm
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I'm still in Oklahoma, but only because I got sidetracked by a couple of things today.
The first was the Cherokee Trading Post west of OK City. They had a lot of nice stuff, but I'd be damned if I'd transport pottery 4000 miles. So, I got a Route 66 souvenire T-shirt instead.
After I left the trading post, I stopped off at a casino down the road. I figured that I might as well try my luck before I left the state. Right? Right! And, ladies and gentlemen, I was on a roll! At one point, I was up almost $200 bucks. I should have stopped there, but I didn't. I think you can figure out the rest. Ah well. Que sera, sera.
Stopped off in Elk City as well, to visit the Route 66 Museum, but it was closed. So, that was a waste of time. Also, I have determined that if a community is advertising 'unique downtown' or 'Route 66 artefacts' and you can't see them from the highway, it's pretty much a scam.
So, I'm almost at the halfway point for this leg of the trip. I think I'll hit it somewhere in Texas.
Interesting side note: the hotel I'm in not only has a Gideon Bible in the nightstand, but a copy of the Bhagavad Gita, as well. I'm wondering how many people they've managed to convert? :)
Woohoo! Only 1428 miles to go!

Okemah, OK

Jan. 12th, 2012 07:41 pm
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Drove 400-something miles today, sort of by accident.
See, I got up this morning and, after blowing off Graceland, boogied across the mighty Mississippi River into Arkansas. I didn't expect to get across Arkansas in a single day, so I stopped and had a leisurely lunch at McDonald's. Then, after observing some local street theater (a hillbilly hippie couple panhandling for dollars by the McDonald's playground), climbed back into my car and continued on my merry way.
And crossed the border into Oklahoma.
Huh?
How'd that happen?
I guess Arkansas isn't as big as I thought it was. There's a sex joke in there somewhere from my youth, but I'm too refined to make it now.
So, here I sit, in a hotel in Okemah, Oklahoma, typing this and thinking that Okemah, Oklahoma sounds like the title of a song from an off-Broadway musical. Something with cowboys and lady gunslingers and a big, brassy musical number involving twirling lariats and jingling spurs.
Yeah. I think I've been driving too long too.
Look! I've only got 1643 miles to go!
Woohoo! - MEL
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Drove 300 miles today, through gray rain, and have stopped in Lakeland, TN about 25 miles east of Memphis. I'm debating if I want to go to Graceland tomorrow. On the one hand, I like Elvis. But on the other hand, I'm not a fan or anything. I don't own a single Elvis album. So, do I really want to spend cash on a ticket to see the chair where Elvis shot his TV? I don't think so.
Only 2060 miles to go!
More later. - MEL
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Spent most of today at the Biltmore Estate, wandering the mansion and the grounds. It was very impressive, but now my feet are killing me. Since they don't allow photography inside the house, I only got a single picture of the exterior. The lions flanking the front entrance were very impressive, and the gargoyles kept making me think of the place as stately Wayne Manor. Hah! Also, the Vanderbilts had one of the first indoor pools in America, complete with underwater electric lights. I did not know that.
While I was there, I also had the opportunity to take in an exhibit of Tiffany lamps. They were very pretty, but, personally, Tiffany lamps don't do much for me. Their glass is so dark, what would be the use of having one on your desk? You'd do better with an ordinary lamp. The paintings that Mr. Tiffany did, however, were very impressive.
Left Biltmore and boogied westward on I-40, crossing into Tennessee. Zipped through Knoxville and have stopped for the night in Harriman, TN. Had supper at a local Cracker Barrel and almost instantly regretted it. Didn't get sick, exactly, but came darn close. So now I have retired to my hotel room, where I am nursing a Coke and rereading Armistad Maupin's Tales of the City.
More later! - MEL
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Left late yesterday afternoon and arrived in Hendersonville, NC last night around 8:00. So, that's about 186 miles down and 2454 to go! Woohoo!
The trip up was interesting. It was a cloudy night, with no moon or stars. Once I hit the upper part of South Carolina, I encountered thick fog. The road was black as the inside of a cat, and the only lights came from the vehicles that shot past me at, to my mind, insane speeds. Driving those mountain roads in the dark and the fog was not exactly fun. I was going to stop in Tryon, but after leaving the highway and doodling along this curvy, black road for fifteen minutes with no sign of the advertised hotel, I said fuck it and turned around. Continued on my merry way to Hendersonville, where I got a room at the Best Western. Had a nice dinner in a Mexican restaurant called El Paso. My waiter was a dishy young guy named Raul, which sort of sparked memories of another guy named Raul from my youth. It made me weirdly nostalgic for a while, but then I got over it.
This morning, I am off to the Biltmore House.
Just as soon as I slap some clothes on my fat ass and figure out the digital camera my mom loaned me for the trip. I'm supposed to take her some pictures.
She could have done it herself if she had come along. I invited her, but she did the old lady routine, saying, "Oh, lawks! I can't be gone that long."
Eh. It's her choice.
And now, I'm off to get dressed, stuff some teeth in my head and hit the road.
More later! - MEL

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