Over the Mountains

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Monday was the big day – starting the trek back east!  It started out with a shorter trek of my own – a three mile run near our hotel in Escondido, California.  It was super hot out by the time I ran around 10:15am, but I needed to squeeze in a run since I could not run Saturday or Sunday mornings, and I wouldn’t be able to go the morning of our Grand Canyon adventure or our long 12 hour day to San Antonio (which is today while I am writing this.)  I hate going longer than two days in between runs, but I also don’t particularly like going on a run from a hotel in a busy area, so I just chose one day in the middle for a quick few miles just to keep myself close to on track.  I didn’t need to use it, but I decided to try out my new Road Noise vest (I was on sidewalks the whole time) so I would know how well I liked it and any oddities about it before a day comes on which I really need to wear it.  It was a bit annoying compared to running without it, but I enjoyed not having to wear headphones, so I think the two balanced out.  As you can tell from the picture, I was HOT when I finished the run – not a speck of shade and over 90 degress by then, with plenty of humidity.

We met up with John’s Aunt and Uncle who had picked up his Grandparents from their respective assisted care homes and brought them over to a restaurant near our hotel.  Soup Plantation was a big hit with the children since they got to go up to the salad bar and soup bar (and ice cream bar) on their own.  We had not seen Grandma and Grandpa Cook since maybe 2007, so it was lovely to get to visit with them for a while.

Daniel meeting Great Grandma Cook

Gabriel with Great Grandpa Cook and John’s Aunt Cheri

John’s Uncle Pete

Aunt Cheri enjoying Daniel

John said the other day that he is living proof that you only need five outfits to travel cross country for a month.  Just make sure you have a dinner jacket included in that number.  Everyone who’s seen it has tried to get John’s Diamond Jubilee striped jacket off him, but it was finally Grandpa Cook who succeeded:

Grandpa Cook wearing John’s jacket because he was cold 🙂

After lunch we popped into a store in the same parking lot and picked up a Starbucks, and we were on our way.  The GPS sent us on the most “direct” route, but it is questionable as to whether or not it was the quickest.  The roads seemed a bit sketchy, but it made for a more eventful day 🙂  I started out the driving, and I saw a few interesting things along the way – like my first roadrunner!  It was going too fast for a picture, though (plus, my navigator was sleeping, and I couldn’t take a picture while driving :))  During the course of several hours we crossed over the San Jacinto Mountains, in the San Bernardino National Forest, via the Santa Rosa Summit.  It was on Route 74, and this portion is called the Palms to Pines Scenic Byway.  I think our highest elevation was over 4900 ft.  I had planned on driving for a few hours, but after only one hour, the van seemed to be making odd sounds and felt “off” to me, so I let John drive.  We think it was just straining a bit more due to the heat and climbing up and over a big mountain range.  You be the judge:
(Incidentally, it was 52 degrees when we arrived at the Grand Canyon!)  These roads finally illustrated to me the meaning of the term “hairpin turn.” Here’s an internet quote about the route: “Trucks with trailers over 30 feet in length are strongly discouraged from using Hwy 74, due to the sharp hairpin curves encountered while ascending the San Jacinto Mountains.”
And a picture I found online of a hairpin turn – look closely for the road – we drove this!!

For some reason I couldn’t get this focused any clearer — It’s Route 74 but says HWY 111 because that’s the next turn.

Once out of the mountains in Arizona we stopped at a McDonalds to cool off and for the kids to stretch their legs.  Speaking of that, right now we are in THE MIDDLE OF NOWHERE heading southeast from Albuquerque to San Antonio.  The closest Starbucks is in 119 miles.  We’re totally going to hit that place up.  I have a feeling the next one after that will be about another 200 miles.

playplace, Patience swinging up top



A NEW kind of playplace…

I was the driver leaving McDonalds, and it was quite the exciting drive for me.  As we got into the Mojave Desert and the sun set, strange things started to happen.  It was really windy, and the kids spent hours looking out the windows (and rebuckling in the seats with the best views) at the impressive light show.  People keep asking, “How are the kids are doing on the trip?” since we don’t have a DVD player or anything.  Really, they’re doing well and mostly just play with other or read or look out the window.  This night it was the 2-3 hour lightning show that kept them occupied.  You don’t see that every day!  The sheet lightning was amazing, and there were several huge strikes as well that traversed the night sky right out the front windshield where I could see the whole thing, taking up my entire field of view. The most incredible lightning I’ve ever seen. Part of it was due to a storm that seemed to be in our future – and we did pass through a bit of rain – but actually the storm had gone through a while before we arrived.  Evidence of the storm was everywhere, though, and it was what really affected us.  I started seeing huge puddles here and there thinking, “Why is there water way out here?” The land on either side of the road looked like a beach – the sandy parts left when the tide goes out. Odd. Then the puddles were larger – all on the side of the road with oncoming traffic – and I was able to occasionally see lots of spray when cars up ahead would splash through the puddles at 70 mph.  I saw a few coyotes hurry across the road in front of me.  Then the puddles turned to a steady stream of water along either side of the road, and the smell in the air warned me of the impending rain.  These things combined to cause me to slow down, even though water falling from the sky had yet to materialize.  By the time I hit the first section of washed out road, I was down to 50-55 mph, and boy was I glad!! I have never seen a washed out road in the middle of a desert before – or anywhere for that matter – and it really is dangerous and scary.  Huge amounts of sand and gravel and deep swaths of water crossed the road in places, making for something that can’t quite be called a puddle through which I had to drive.  I would call it more of a stream (not a stream as in a trickle of water, but more like a small river.)  I am probably exaggerating the amount of sand and water that were on the road (mud at this point, since sand+water=mud), but when it’s pitch black outside and you’re driving really fast through a desert where it’s not even raining, and you come across patches of road that are all water and mud, it’s hard to overestimate the amount of terror that I sort of felt.  Not gonna lie.  I slowed way down after this first patch of washed-out road, and I drove through maybe five more places that seemed really sketchy.  I was thrilled to have my turn at the wheel over a little while later (It’s not like we could have switched drivers either, since it was a two-lane road late at night with lots of traffic that we saw and no shoulder of note.)

Anyway, there was not much else to write home about occuring on that long drive to the Grand Canyon on Monday.  We made a last stop for fuel at the turn off for Lake Havasu, which also happens to be the final resting place for The London Bridge.  I don’t think a lot of people who have recently seen The Tower Bridge (one of the many bridges in London spanning the Thames River) in London get to see a road sign for The London Bridge in Arizona.  It was taken down in London by some guy and put back up over Lake Havasu.  Okay.  I copied a long, interesting write-up from the internet.
“The bridge’s storied past includes previous structures that spanned the same section of the Thames River before the current bridge was built. The old London Bridge of nursery-rhyme fame was built by Peter of Colechurch between 1176 and 1209, replacing an earlier timber bridge.  Due to uneven construction, the bridge required frequent repair. The bridge survived more than 600 years.

One of the more grisly periods of the bridge’s history was at the southern gateway between 1305 and 1660, when it was customary to display the severed heads of traitors, impaled on pikes and dipped in tar to preserve them against the elements.  The head of William Wallace was the first to appear on the gate. Other famous heads on pikes included those of Jack Cade in 1450, Sir Thomas More and Bishop John Fisher in 1535, and Thomas Cromwell in 1540.  A German visitor to London in 1598 counted over 30 heads on the bridge.  The practice was finally stopped in 1660, following the Restoration of King Charles II.

By the end of the 18th century, it was apparent that the old London Bridge needed to be replaced.  It was narrow and decrepit, and blocked river traffic. Designed in 1799 by Scottish engineer John Rennie, the new London Bridge was completed in 1831.  As time passed, the new bridge began sinking at the rate of an inch (3 cm) every eight years, however. By 1924, the east side of the bridge was some three to four inches (102 mm) lower than the west side.  The bridge had not been designed to withstand 20th century automotive traffic.
In 1967, the Common Council of the City of London began to look for potential buyers for the London Bridge. Lake Havasu City founder and entrepreneur Robert P. McCulloch placed the winning bid of $2,460,000 on April 18, 1968. McCulloch came by this figure by doubling the estimated cost of dismantling the structure, which was $1.2 million, bringing the price to $2.4 million.  He then added on $60,000 — a thousand dollars for each year of his age at the time he estimated the bridge would be reconstructed in Arizona.  Each block was meticulously numbered before the bridge was disassembled.  The blocks were then shipped overseas through the Panama Canal to California and trucked from Long Beach to Arizona. Following reconstruction of the London Bridge, Lake Havasu City rededicated it in a ceremony on October 10, 1971.”
Here’s a picture:
And here’s Horrible’s – oh wait, no, now that I look at the picture, it was called “Terrible’s” – the gas station where we stopped at the turn off for The London Bridge.

To show you how windy it was that night

We made it to the best room we’ve had in a while (since our Pirate Themed room at a hotel with a waterpark in England in April), just 1 1/2 miles outside the entrance to Grand Canyon National Park, around 12:30 in the morning.  The suite had a Kingsize bed for us, a sitting room, and a kids’ room with bunkbeds.  There were three tvs in all, plus a kitchenette.  Not too shabby!  Tales of the Canyon will have to wait for tomorrow’s post…

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