american road trip
Four harsh Pennsylvania winters have come and gone. My truck tires started to feel like I would after buried in ice and snow several months a year. Stiff & brittle. OEM tires on American trucks are not performance tires, they’re work tires. And work they did, perfectly, for four years and 50,000 miles.
I’d been researching tires for the past 18 months. With 5/16″ remaining tread and even wear, my rubber is fine on dry pavement. But the desert deluge and spring snowstorm? Anything can be encountered within our duties maintaining this American products online resource.
Narrowing the field is easier than expected. Noise and traction ratings were studied. Forums consulted. Experts queried. My truck’s OEM tire, General Tire’s Grabber HTS, is better than ever. General manufactures worldwide but my Grabbers are domestic production, Mount Vernon, Illinois. There’s even a new Grabber HTS60 manufactured in Sumter, South Carolina.
We went with OEM. Our local Continental dealer gave us great pricing on a new set, mounted and balanced. Immediately thereafter we embarked on a 6,000 mile adventure. Two-lane highways preferred. Through New Mexico deserts, a Wyoming snow and ice storm, and wind-swept plains of Montana and South Dakota. Perfect traction and quiet. Six Thumbs Up experience!
Labor day brings burgers and corn on the grill. Kids straining for school’s resumption. Perhaps commencement of well-laid vacation plans. A favorable time of year. Crowds are subdued, winter beckons, leaves begin to change.
If piloting a 30′ box mounted on Ford’s E-450 chassis along narrow State highways does not sound vacationary, careful what you promise. Years after your words are spoken you’ll be parking in spaces meant for vehicles a third shorter, braving hand-dug tunnels driving a vehicle twice your height, squeezing past oncoming traffic through scenic rocky gorges. Expecting the RV to peel open upon an outcropping at any moment.
It was not that bad. A flat $1,000 deductible on full-coverage insurance, included with every rental, eases my mind. Fuel economy was predictably in high single digits. The toilet worked. Our RV experience was a success.
7am, the perfect start time for our trek towards the Colorado Plateau. Driving from Phoenix allows one to detour through Sedona, famous for its red rocks – the Schnebly Hill Formation – valleys, and shopping. Continuing north along US-89 to Flagstaff, a super-hip college and observatory town close to the Grand Canyon. Through pine, Douglas fir, and spruce. We rejuvenate souls and lungs.
From Williams AZ the North Rim is visible twenty miles away. A couple of days in Grand Canyon, famous for exceptional dining at El Tovar, more shopping, unparalleled views. Back on the road to desert, rock, and scenery. The mellow peace of driving your home ensues. Kanab, then Zion. Zion National Park, of the narrow tunnels and inspirational rock formations. RV parking and an excellent shuttle system.
We visit Cedar Breaks National Monument. “Great choice”, a Zion ranger insists. More beautiful driving, Duck Lake surrounded by aspen, more canyons. It was in the 50˚s at this elevation near sundown. Windburned, sunburned, layered in nearly all the clothes I brought, our road trip approaches conclusion. From the furthest point we turn and head for home.
Through Iron County along SR-14 we come upon dense aspen with bright yellow leaves, autumn reaching this forest a little early. Onward to an excellent Comfort Suites in Cedar City UT. Tap water cleaner than the bottled water stowed on the RV. South to my favorite spot, Kolob Canyons, Zion’s western edge. Back through Zion, and a day of pleasant driving along US-89 Alternate. The San Francisco Peaks appear closer for over an hour as we approach Flagstaff.
A few miles west, along Rt-66, the second highlight of my trip (after the aspens). The Arboretum At Flagstaff. Parked beneath towering ponderosa pine, my cousins take to their trails. I put on the kettle, set up a camp chair, and relax under the morning silence and majesty of this forest. After 1,200 miles in six days, everything stops. I could live here forever, with trips into town for books, beans, and beer.
In the end, it is all about people. Vacationing with friends. Sammy, an Allentown transplant keeping a B&B running in Williams AZ. That colorful beef jerky guy beside the highway miles from any town. Professional waitstaff within a dozen restaurants and cafes. Fellow tourists. Artists selling their wares, sharing their dreams. We all wanted the same thing. Everyone got it.
Although I packed my lucky tee shirt and grass-stained mitt, looking for the perfect small town diamond, this trip did not see any baseball. Jerry and Fred must have been grabbing one last game in the next town over. Before the dinner bell rings.
An hour later, the sky is nearly as black as when we start. Directly overhead, dominating the heavens is one huge bright planet. Later I learn it was probably Jupiter. Thus protected by the God of Travel, we set our destination to Amarillo, with a pit stop in Socorro NM.
US 60 is the right road to see the Southwest. Through multiple National Forest – Tonto, Apache, Sitgreaves, Gila, Cibola, through Reservations, we travel some of the last undeveloped land in America.
Resting in a cavernous, bare coffee and sandwich shop, I notice no radio, CDs, or TV. The exhaust fan hummed along with muted voices. Excellent coffee. A piano and guitar in the corner. Balancing my mug on a couch arm, I retrieve the guitar and tried a few chords. Wow, these folks are easy to please! A few start dancing to the New Orleans funky butt strut I strum. Hey, this is nice!
After a bit Foxcatcher is rescued from the truck, allowed to thaw, then given a try. And who’d a thunk it! A fiddle, penny whistle, and accordion join my mandolin within the hour. I was in the thick of it, all right! This is living in Socorro. The road, however, beckons. Celtic music follows me out the door, back to a 25˚ New Mexico winter.
East of Socorro, enormous views continue. Near zero traffic. A great place to reflect while enjoying beautiful country. On one pull-over along a 15 mile straight-away, its absolute silence was profound. Be sure to carry whatever you may need for 24 hours in case of break-down!
We fold our map and succumb to I-40E as the sun nestles her head among pillows of distant hill. We didn’t make it quite to Amarillo, despite an early start. Slowed by slush in Arizona, music in New Mexico. Next time we’ll do the trip in two days, and overnight in Socorro. Right on the Old Town Square!
OUR WORK DONE, THE 6′ X 12′ U-Haul trailer safely delivered, unloaded, and returned, the American Road Trip continues northward, a streak of joyous abandon. No timetable, almost. Pick a road, any road. The plan? End up in Montana to visit a dying friend. A thousand miles of choices. I decided on less traveled US-89 for scenic beauty and history. Sometimes called the National Park Highway, U.S. 89 links seven national parks across the Mountain West.
I roll into Gardiner MT in a few days to Pete’s small ’30s bungalow tucked against Yellowstone. Found my friend almost blind and eating discount TV dinners but still defiant. No radio or TV, house not cleaned since his stroke 4 years ago. Naturally, I stayed in the extra room. What’s a little dirt among bachelors?
We consume mass quantities, like old times. A ’40s Victrola and a stack of wax from the ’20s thru ’50s made our reunion a party. No wimmin, and he was couch-bound, so I danced with the dog between cranking the Victrola or strumming the guitar. The 1930’s home was rocking to 1930’s music from a period Victrola. The memory will forever bring a tear to my eye.
Leave two days later over the Bear Tooth Highway at 7am; snow and clouds encountered but the view was tremendous. Tremendous! Bear Tooth Highway closes for the year on October 15th at the latest. Bet they close early this year.
AMERICA IS NOT LACKING highway to drive. Anyone want to throw a bag of clothes and the dog in a car? You can motor any direction for a few days. One of my favorite trips takes one through Missouri along I-44, to O.K.C., and west as far as you want to go.
Recently I helped a friend relocate, and made the trip twice in one week. The second trip, pulling 4200 pounds, was at 55 mph. Truly the speed of exploration. Empty highway, rain clouds on the horizon, windows down, what could be better for relaxation and reflection?
Along my leisurely way, following the sage advice of billboards, I sampled some of the local fare. And managed to gather information for a new blog, AmericanLunchbox, soon to go online. Barbecue from two states on two consecutive meals! Yummmmm!!!! Ain’t America great?