Friday, August 24, 2012

Summer Trip to Eastern US

As home faded in the  rear-view mirror, the blazing sun rose on June 23. We were on our way east: husband, dog Keesha, and me. I drove non-stop that “day” for 36 hours, 1750 miles (2816 km) to Knoxville Tennessee.
    Driving I-10 east through southern Arizona and into New Mexico is familiar to me. One passes multiple cattle feed lots and dairies - which you can smell if you don’t happen to see them - before you reach El Paso. There one can easily see the International border and old Mexico.
    After 186 miles (300 km) I was able to speed up to 80 miles per hour (128 Km/h) on the Interstate in west Texas. (At home our max speed is 75 MPH, 120 km/h, on the Interstate.) 80 is really flying.
    Just east of Pecos, Texas I saw the first Pump Jacks. Motors operate these scattered oil well pumps. An I-beam set on an A-frame dips up and down, often with the "horse head" on the end painted in fanciful ways.
    Stopped for dinner at a Texas rest stop that had real grass! The area (after mile 665, km 1070) they named "Stink Creek" also had enormous grasshoppers.
    Hit the road again after enjoying my crab salad. Drove through Dallas around 11 PM- midnight and there was a few crazy drunk drivers on the Interstate. It was a Saturday night after all.
    Crossed into Louisiana at 1 AM and stopped at the "Welcome Center" to rest about an hour. Couldn't really sleep as the humidity was oppressive and the trees were full of singing tree frogs or bugs or something very loud.  1046 miles, 1683 km, from home. Never saw any of Louisiana in daylight. Husband took Keesha for a long walk around the expansive rest area. She had been slightly anxious for the first couple hours of the trip but eventually settled down and slept. We’d borrowed a nice metal kennel/cage to be her home in the back of our Toyota RAV4 and it worked marvelously. Since husband did none of the driving he graciously did most of the dog walking.
    Pre-dawn at 5 AM we crossed the mighty Mississippi River at Vicksburg. Stopped at the Mississippi Welcome Center to enjoy the views of the river and watch the daylight grow. Took a few photos but due to the early hour nothing was open. Weather was clear but incredibly humid. Had reached 1230 miles, 1980 km.
    Found the Vicksburg National Military Park a few miles away but the scenic and historic drive through the park was not yet open for the day. We did check out several massive cannons that were used in the US Civil War. Vicksburg was the victim of a terrible siege in 1863. Confederate forces surrendered to Union General - and future President - Grant on July 4, 1863 and was a key to the defeat of the rebellion.
    We stopped for breakfast in Clinton, MS (just west of Jackson, the capital of MS) at a Waffle House and I ate grits since I was in the deep south. It tasted, eh, okay, but not terrific.
    The cheapest gasoline of our trip was purchased in Meridian, MS, Knoxville TN and Steele, Alabama at $2.99 a gallon. Wow. A full tank for less than $30, what a deal! (It is about $40 for same today.)
    The Alabama rest areas were stunningly beautiful. Stately trees, shady wooded picnic areas, spectacular red, pink, and white flowering crepe myrtle shrubs. Too bad it was so darn humid!
    I-59 cuts through extreme northwest Georgia so we enjoyed only 21 miles, 33 km, of the Peach State.
    Then I drove by the Chattanooga Choo Choo and onto I-75 through eastern Tennessee, in the shadow of the Appalachian Mountains and passing exits to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.
    With my co-pilot checking the "Discount Hotel Coupon" booklet, we managed to find a Super 8 in Knoxville that was pet friendly and had a free continental breakfast. Motels all seem to charge an extra $10 for a dog. My dog is clean and neat but we are penalized for less tidy pooches. What can you do? Arrived at 6 PM. Rather tired but went for dinner to Cracker Barrel where I had a disappointing dinner. But it was food.
    After a great breakfast, we left at 7 AM. We soon advanced onto I-81 which took us into Virginia, where we stayed for 325 miles, 523 km. Stopped for lunch in Lexington which is the home of Washington & Lee University, the Virginia Military Institute and the Virginia Horse Center. The last is a foundation dedicated to horse recreation, education, and preservation programs. They have dozens of riding arenas, barns with permanent stalls for 750 horses and camping facilities. Oh boy, I want to go back! We had a Thick Burger at the Lexington Hardee's  for only $4 and it was delicious. The Appalachian Ridge and Valley region of Virginia was beautiful. "Oh Shenandoah, I long to see you!" Great horse country.
    As the day was moving on, we crossed into West Virginia and enjoyed a jam-packed but beautifully landscaped Welcome Center. Took flower pictures, especially of nice Black-Eyed Susan's.
    After only 25 miles, 40 km, we left WV, crossed the mighty Potomac River, and passed by Hagerstown, Maryland. Suddenly, in 12 miles, 19 km,  we slipped into the Keystone State of Pennsylvania. This was the eleventh state since leaving home.
    About 20 miles, 32 km, onward, we stopped in Scotland, PA to explore the tranquil Scotland School for Veterans Children. This residential school was established in 1895 and husband's mother spent a few years there in the late nineteen-teens or early 1920‘s, but he had never seen it. No longer a school, it currently is owned by the state of PA but is being sold to a private religious organization of some type according to the security guard we met. He also blocked our ability to get closer to the solid brick cottages where the students lived but we did look through a few windows of classroom and original old administration buildings. Took many photos for him and his family.
    We were still over 150 miles, 240 km, from husband's brother's home and since we didn't want to arrive really late we hurried north again.
    A traffic choking accident ahead in Harrisburg caused me to divert my route up the west side of the Susquehanna River. Paused at McKees Half Falls on Rt 15 and 11, a small flower-strewn riverside rest area. The wide river rolling by. But most pleasant of all - the temperature was cool, the humidity much lower. So, so nice.
    Arrived at his brother's home in Litchfield PA at 9:30, Monday night June 25. It was nearly dark outside! Husband was shocked at how tall the spruce trees were in front of the house. I warned him that it would look different. Trees don't stop growing because we don't see them for years.
    Well, we were all 3 glad to arrive safe and sound. Total 2450 miles, 3942 km. The fun continued...

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