Prepare to enter a world of both shadow and substance

Take a journey of body, mind and spirit where you'll encounter things you won't find anywhere else.

Saturday, February 16, 2008

Road Trip To Utah - Day 6

Day 6 - February 9th, 2008

Starting point: North Platte, Nebraska
Finishing point: Home (Fairfield and Norris City, Illinois)
Starting time: 8.30 a.m.
Finishing time: 11.30 p.m.
Miles travelled: 843

When we woke up on the morning of Day 6, the sun was shining brightly and it looked clear and warm. We found the dining area and had a leisurely breakfast before checking out and getting back on I-80.

The breakfast selection at the Ramada.

This sign could be seen all the way from the interstate.

The front of the Ramada as we were leaving.

Since the weather didn't appear that it was going to be a factor today, we took time to get more pictures of the sights to be seen along the way. Interstate 80, at one time, used to be part of the Pony Express route. We noted what the sign said, but didn't stop there.

The Pony Express station.

Now, there had been one thing we had passed on the way through that we couldn't explain. We had seen this structure that spanned the entire length of both sides of the freeway and on each end, what appeared to be gargoyles or something. We never did figure out what it was. But, we knew that on the way back, when we got to it, we would stop and see what it was all about. It turns out that it wasn't gargoyle statues that adorned it, but something else to commemorate a long-past event in the history of that particular area.

The Great Platte River Road Archway Monument.

It turned out to be a place to honor the pioneers that had passed through the area. That very spot was where several trails such as the Pony Express, the Overland Stage, the first transcontinental railroad and the first transcontinental telegraph had converged. To commemorate the event several statues and plaques had been erected, as well as the Archway building itself. Inside it, you could take a tour over the interstate.

A replica fort of the era.

There was a huge buffalo statue out front, and of course, I had to get Phillip to take my picture standing beside it!

The Buffalo and I.

Once inside the pavillion, the first thing we met was this grizzled prospector type. I asked if he got many requests for people to take his picture. He said yes and posed for yet another one.

The Grizzled Pioneer with 6-guns blazing.

They really honored the buffalo around these parts, I swear they must have practically worshipped it. We saw images of them just about everywhere - they even grew their shrubbery to resemble this majestic beast!

The mighty Buffalo - in shrubbery.

After seeing all we needed to see at the Great Archway Monument, we got back on the road and drove east some more.

One of the countless million I-80 markers we passed.


As promised, above you'll see some of the cows we saw while travelling through Nebraska. It seems like all they had there was wide, open spaces and cows. Not much else to see.

A Nebraska license plate.

Once we had reached Lincoln, Nebraska, we found out that they had dug out from underneath the snow they had gotten while we had passed through the first time. The streets were fine. I wish I could say the same about the drivers. The above license plate actually belongs to a guy that didn't even have the courtesy to let out-of-staters into another lane. And we saw a huge 3-car accident just after we met this driver. Fortunately, it was on street we weren't using, so traffic wasn't affected by it much.

The Missouri River, which separates Nebraska and Iowa.

This time, we were going to pass through Iowa during the daylight hours, so since Phillip was doing the driving for the first half of the day, I prepared to get plenty of pictures of this state. Once we crossed the Missouri River, we were then in Iowa. And would remain so for at least 4 and a half miles again!

The people of Iowa welcomed us. That was nice of them.

A huge polluting smokestack in the corner of Iowa.

There wasn't actually that much to see in what little of Iowa we passed through. I'm sure it's quite a lovely state, but all we saw was one big building with a huge smokestack sending up a cloud of pollution in the air. Nothing to really write home about.

The Kansas City skyline.

And then we were in Missouri. I have to point out that on the way up, we didn't see much due to the fact that it was night. But, we did notice a whole bunch of new and used car lots. We witnessed many more of the same during the daylight hours, too. We headed southward until we got on I-70 East and veered toward St. Louis and then home.

I-70 East.

Once we got past Kansas City, Missouri, we witnessed two car accidents. Both times, the ambulances passed us on their way, so they must have just happened in front of us. Before we came to the second one, I saw this bumper sticker on the back of a car in front of us:


Five minutes later, then we came upon the wreck itself:

Another accident, at least this one wasn't caused by snow.

I looked out the window and suddenly, there was the Kansas City Chief's stadium. I got a quick picture of it, but it wasn't a very good one because I wasn't prepared for it. You can't see it in this picture, but the Kansas City Royal's baseball stadium is directly behind.

The home of the Kansas City Chiefs NFL team.

We had calculated out our last mileage and it figured out that the halfway point would be somewhere past Kansas City. So, we looked for a good place to stop and eat and take a break, and pulled off the road. We had hoped to find a Long John Silvers because we were in the mood for fish, but there had only been one and it had been in the heart of Kansas City. Instead, we settled for a Hardees. It was right next to a family restaurant and we could have had a good sit-down meal there, but nobody but me seemed to be interested in fresh gizzards. Go figure.

Gizzards. Yum Yum!

When we got back on the road, I took over for the home stretch. We knew we were going to make it now. And aside from some road construction on I-70 in St. Louis, which didn't apply to the part we were going to be using, we had a straight shot from there to I-64 which led us all the way to our exit for Fairfield, Illinois. We reached there at about 11.30, unloaded a few things of Phillip's and then I put Sarah's things in my car, which I left parked there, got my camera and clothes, and then drove to Norris City, where I live. I was never so glad to see home in my life. But, we had made it all the way to Utah and back, in one of the worst blizzards of recent years, and were in one piece. Sarah and her hamster Nora made it safely, so we had achieved the goal we had set out to do. I can mark off 3 more states now that I've travelled through in this great country of ours, knowing that I'll never go to Utah again in the winter. And the people said 'Amen!'

Friday, February 15, 2008

Road Trip To Utah - Day 5

Day 5 - February 8th, 2008

Starting point: Evanston, Wyoming
Finishing point: North Platte, Nebraska
Starting time: 1.30 p.m.
Finishing time: 1.30 a.m.
Miles travelled: 719

Having known the road we were wanting to use had been closed the night before, we were anxious to hear if it had been reopened when we woke up. And of course, it wasn't. We ate breakfast and hoped there would be some word coming soon.

The breakfast buffet at the Holiday Inn Express.

We checked out of our motel and when I did, I met up with two other groups wanting to go in the same direction as us - due east on Interstate 80. We heard that in a storm such as this, I-80 could be opened just after noon or it could be closed for 2 or 3 days. One guy I met in the lobby said it was usually cleared by early afternoon. He was born and raised in a town along the closed stretch of interstate ahead. But, Phillip and Sarah both thought it could be closed for days and wanted to get home. Not that I didn't want to get home, because I did. Well, we waited in the motel parking lot until after 1 p.m. to see if the road would be cleared. The laptop that Phillip had brought was still able to connect to the hotel's wireless connection from the parking lot, so we used it to get continual weather updates from the Wyoming Department of Transportation. Every one we got was unchanged - the road was still closed. After a 2 to 1 voite, with me being in the minority, it was decided that if we were moving it would be better than sitting still, so we devised a plan that would take us around the closed part of the interstate and come out just at the point where it was passable the rest of the way. We used the hotel's bathrooms one final time and with directions for getting out of Evanston I got from the desk clerk, the minivan was pointed due north.

Phillip coming out of our hotel.

Our Holiday Inn Express.

A Wyoming police truck.

The first thing we encountered after we left Evanston, Wyoming, was another semi truck off the side of the road. That halted our forward progress for about 10 minutes. We also learned that Wyoming uses pickup trucks for police cars. Very strange.

Mountains on the Wyoming/Utah border.

Part of our journey north to get around the blocked section of interstate actually took us back into Utah for a few miles - go figure. But, the road curved back to the east and eventually, we were going through small towns on the path we most wanted to be on: Woodruff, Kemmerer, Fontenelle, Farson, and finally Lander. Don't let those sedate town names fool you. This was some of the worst driving conditions on our trip. Between seeing the very first store that J. C. Penney built, back on April 14th, 1902 in Kemmerer, and getting lost on an oil lease road in the middle of nowhere, it was quite some journey!

The very first J. C. Penney store.

Our view for half of Wyoming. That's a snow plow in front of us.

From an oil lease road, this is what the middle of Wyoming really looks like.

Another snow-related accident.

There were still vehicles stuck off the side of the road, we were almost one of them once. There were plenty of natural wonders to see, in between periods of total white out.

Far off bluffs in the heart of Wyoming.

This cloud sat above a high mountain peak all afternoon.

Some of the rock formations of central Wyoming.

We had several deer encounters.

Phillip was driving through this part of the trip and he managed to get us safely and in one piece to Rawlins, Wyoming - the town located on I-80, which was where it was opened and passable again. We arrived there about 8 p.m. and stopped to check on conditions. We hoped they hadn't gotten worse and actually closed the road by the time we had gotten there, because we had taken over 7 hours to get around to where, if we had been able to use the interstate, it was only a 3 hour journey. There was a Kentucky Fried Chicken that looked good, so we stopped to get some food and it was there we learned that Interstate 80 had been opened about a half-hour after we left Evanston, and that a huge pile-up on the same road had caused a four-hour delay. So, either way you figured it, we would have either been at Rawlins at 8 p.m. like we found ourselves by going around all that extra way or could have saved us all those extra miles by waiting that extra 30 minutes in the motel parking lot before we left and arrived at the same place, at approximately the same time. If we had encountered the wreck that halted traffic, we could have possibly been delayed and not reached Rawlins until 8 p.m., but if we had somehow gotten through before the wreck, we could have saved about 4 hours. Well, it just goes to show that the majority isn't always right. They both had said that their reasoning for taking the long way around was that they thought they would be right and at least we were moving. The reason I wanted to wait and see if the interstate would be opened was because I thought I was right. Neither faction thought the other was right, but as it turned out, somebody had to be right. From Rawlins on east, it turned out that all we had to deal with weatherwise that night was gusts of wind up to 70 miles per hour. I took over the driving chores there and since there wasn't any blowing snow in the equation, I felt good about travelling onward. Let the four winds blow!

Another night, another hotel - a Ramada this time.

With the threat of the storm following us, I felt that the more space between it and ourselves we could put that night, the better it would be for the next day. I ended up driving till after 1 a.m. and we had reached a town along the interstate that was past the panhandle of Nebraska. In North Platte, there were plenty of hotels to choose from, so we pulled off the interstate and chose a Ramada. I think the main reason we did choose it was because it had a Chinese restaurant adjacent to it. We booked two rooms and settled down for the night. Nora the Hamster was easy to smuggle in at this place because where our rooms were located, there was an entrance all to itself - and it was a long way from the front desk. Through all of it, we hoped we had gotten far enough ahead of the storm so as not to have to worry about it the next day. If we had, we were certain that we could make it all the way home on Day 6 of our journey. As it turned out, it was the best weather of the whole trip and we made it safely. But, stay tuned for the final chapter of our road trip.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Road Trip To Utah - Day 4

Day 4 - February 7th, 2008

Starting point: Layton, Utah
Finishing point: Evanston, Wyoming
Starting time: 10 p.m.
Finishing time: 1 a.m.
Miles travelled: 76

The first thing on our schedule for Day 4 was to get my brother to the Salt Lake City International Airport, as he had a flight that left at 8.30 a.m. Everyone knows you have to get to an airport early these days so you can take care of all the preliminaries with enough time left to actually catch your plane before it leaves. We did take one wrong exit on the way, but still managed to get him there with almost an hour and a half before his flight time. Personally, I didn't think that this airport was as busy or hectic as some I've seen, so he breezed right on through.

The Salt Lake City International Airport.

By the time I had parked the minivan and Phillip and I had found our way into the airport, my brother had already finished going through check-in. Fortunately, we got to say goodbye as we dropped him and his wife off in front of his gate. At least Sarah got to see him off, so that's what really mattered. Phillip and I had arrived in Layton early enough so we were able to spend some time with him before he left. I got a few quick pictures in and around the airport and got some souvenirs for back home, so we headed back out to the parking lot. Every few minutes, another airplane would ascend into the early morning skies - it was still just after 7 a.m.

Another jet departs for parts unknown.

I had hoped to get some shots of the mountains all around their area, but the only real time I had to do this was on the trip back from the airport to Layton, which was about 20 minutes. I grew up in Southern Arizona, so I've had a chance to see some really big mountains, but having lived in Illinois for so long now, it's easy to forget how big they can really get.

The Wasatch Mountains surrounding Salt Lake City.

After the trip to the airport, it was back to tying up loose ends. While waiting for Sarah to get some more packing tape, I got this picture of the colorful license plates in Utah:

The colorful Utah license plates.

Things like returning their cable box, calling to have the power turned off and boxing the last few items took most of the rest of the day. But, Sarah managed to get everything she needed to take with her separated from what needed to go to storage.

One last look at their old couch.

While she was giving her apartment one last final polish before we left, I got these shots of the city lights at night. From all the troubles Phillip and I had had up to this point, we were ready to leave Utah. So, I came up with the plan that as soon as everything was finished, we would try to get at least an hour or two down the road and find a motel room to stay at. There was no furniture left in their apartment, so I didn't relish the idea of sleeping on a cold, hard floor. Especially since I hadn't had much sleep in the last few days anyway.

The skyline of Layton, Utah. Salt Lake City is just beyond.

The far-off lights of Salt Lake City

Our spacious Holiday Inn Express accommodations.

We finally got on the road around 10 p.m. and all I wanted to do was put Utah behind us. With that in mind, we chose for a destination Evanston, Wyoming. It was located only 3 miles past the border of Utah and since we had passed through it on our way in, we knew there was hotel accommodations to be had. It had been snowing, on and off, all day long, and after we had been on the road for 45 minutes or so, it began snowing in earnest again. We kept winding our way up and into the mountain overpass that seemed to divide Utah from Wyoming, and as we did, the roads got harder and harder to see. There wasn't quite as much traffic to deal with this time, so it was easier going. I was doing the driving on this shift mainly because I wanted to get out of there. Eventually, it got hard to see anything, much less the road, so we had slowed down to a crawl. Evanston seemed to be a million miles away! But, we finally got over the mountain pass and began to see the lights of the city ahead. That's when we began to run into some heavier traffic. Although our own goal was simply to just get to Evanston, the weather had become so bad, it had forced the road department of Wyoming to shut down Interstate 80 East from Evanston to about the mid-point of the state. With many more people suddenly finding themselves stranded in Evanston, the hotels had almost filled up before we got there around 1 a.m. A Holiday Inn Express, though, had a couple rooms left and we took them. We even got a slight discount because they weren't exactly the kind of rooms we were looking for. They were comfortable and we were stuck, so they were good enough. One of the concerns we had was getting Nora the Hamster into the motel without being seen. The sign said no pets, but she couldn't sleep out in the cold minivan all night long. So, Sarah disguised her under a blanket or something and snuck her in. The night manager didn't even suspect! We made it to our rooms and microwaved the remnants of our Chinese dinner leftover from the night before. You can see the cartons in the above picture.

Looking out the window of our hotel.

You can see from the above picture that all the other travellers had settled into their hotel rooms long before we arrived, so we were lucky to find anything. I remember eating quickly and then going to bed. That's all I remember until hearing the wake-up call I had left for the next morning. It came much too soon!

If any day of our trip could be classified as having been abnormal, it would have to have been Day 5. The interstate was still closed the next morning, but we wanted to get home. A clever scheme was devised to get us there, but you'll have to wait to hear what it was. All will be revealed in my next blog, the one detailing our adventures on Day 5.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Road Trip To Utah - Day 3

Day 3 - February 6th, 2008

Starting point: Layton, Utah
Finishing point: Layton, Utah
Starting time: N/A
Finishing time: N/A
Miles travelled: N/A

Day 3 of our trip found us right where we wanted to be. Phillip went and got a lot of empty boxes and tape to seal them up once they were filled, and then a U-Haul truck was appropriated. After that, it was just start filling boxes and loading furniture. Layton, Utah had gotten a lot of snow before we arrived and they were still digging out from under it, but the roads were clear. The only trouble is, it started snowing again almost immediately, and snowed on and off the whole two days we were there. The goal was to get the furniture and the last few odds and ends tied up early enough so the four of us could go somewhere and enjoy a nice, slow sit-down dinner. Leftover pizza was what we had for lunch, but a Chinese restaurant was chosen for our relaxed meal and it was quite good. The portions were so big that the leftovers lasted for lunch on Day 4 and a late dinner after we arrived at our hotel later that night. Oddly enough, both Phillip and I chose the Sesame Chicken.
Because we were so busy moving on this day, there wasn't much time to take many photographs. Looking back, it was a tiring day, but not necessarily as hectic as it had been on the road. The captions below the pictures can speak for themselves. Stay tuned for Day 4.

My brother Matthew and his wife Sarah's Apartment.

Inside their apartment. (Notice the Samurai swords.)

Nora the Hamster.

Sarah's hamster Nora was another passenger we had gone to pick up. That was one of the chief reasons - for some unknown reason, they don't sell bus tickets to hamsters. And there wasn't really any other good way to get her half way across the country safely. Nora would have another part in this adventure when we got back on the road, so keep the hamster in mind.

My brother Matthew in uniform.

Matthew about to take a Samurai sword to the head.

The view I had while riding in the U-Haul.