More Travels With Betty and Sally, Part 8
June 18 – July 6, 2002
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We were up early and pulled out of Tubac, Arizona, before 8 a.m., something of a record for us. We could have stayed over for another day to watch an Independence Day fireworks display. But home and hearth was beckoning. In the interest of making time, breakfast was a to-go Egg McMuffin at Green Valley a few miles up I-19. Once at Tucson, we turned right on I-10 and pushed across east across Arizona at 80 mph. The interstate speed limit in the Grand Canyon State is 75 mph in most non-urban areas. It’s pretty much the same in New Mexico and Texas.
We stopped to take some pictures of Sedona-like red rock formations at the Texas Canyon Rest Area in southwest Arizona. Interestingly in these politically correct days, this part of I-10 is known as the Jefferson Davis Highway. The highway signage does not pay homage to the Mississippian and former president of the Confederacy. But modest monuments paid for by the United Daughters of the Confederacy some years ago keep his memory alive at rest areas.
Ironically, there are occasional debates back home in Memphis about the wisdom of keeping Jefferson Davis’ name on a city park that overlooks the Mississippi River. Annual commemorative gatherings of the local chapter of the Sons of Confederate Veterans at Forrest Park – where the great Confederate Cavalry General Nathan Bedford Forrest is buried – regularly draw small but vocal protests.
|Betty at New Mexico rest area|
|Click Colored Type to Enlarge Photo
* Arkansas – Not bad although some of the structures are in need of updating.
* Arizona – The best of the bunch. The state’s interstate rest stops are numerous, clean and in some cases staffed.
* California – We only saw 3 rest areas during our 10 days of driving around Southern California. One of the 3 was closed. The cash-strapped state has obviously pushed the responsibility of greeting visitors onto the private sector. It doesn’t seem right that a rich state like California can’t provide motorists with facilities to stretch their legs, walk their dogs and tend to nature’s call.
* New Mexico – Absolutely the worst we have ever encountered in the Southwest or anywhere else. The rest areas we visited were filthy, smelly and an awful way for the state to welcome visitors. Even the official welcome center on I-40 near the Arizona border – which should be a showcase like those in other states – is offensive.
* Texas – OK, reasonably clean but open aired. The signage is sun bleached and hard to read. The Texas Welcome Center near El Paso is first rate, in a new building and efficiently staffed. The Jefferson Davis monument is in a prominent place. A nice, young Hispanic travel counselor was quite helpful when we inquired about the terrible rain and flooding around San Antonio.
She checked her computer and showed us a map of flood-closed roads that were on our route east, including a section of I-10 near San Antonio. It was 2 p.m. and we decided to push on and spend the night somewhere in West Texas. Our plan was to call a toll-free, telephone number given us to check on road conditions the next morning.
After 9 ½ hours of fast driving, we made it to Fort Stockton (pop. 8,000), an undistinguished, small town in southwest Texas. It is a sprawling settlement in the wind-blown, parched cattle and oil country. It is a long ways from any city. To the east 320 miles is our next planned stop at San Antonio, where we wanted to spend a day or two re-visiting the Alamo and Riverwalk. From there, our desire was to spend a night in Lafayette, Louisiana, and eat well in Cajun country before hooking a left on I-55 for the dash home through Mississippi.
Most of the Fort Stockton’s restaurants were surprisingly closed for the Fourth of July, including K-Bobs, said to be the leading steakhouse. We ended up dining on KFC takeout in our motel room at the Holiday Inn Express. We struck up a conversation with two cheerful, freshly minted college grads in the motel lobby, one from Duke and one from Cal-Berkeley. They were driving across the country to see the sights and had stopped for directions. Their intelligence and self-confident enthusiasm reminded us of our son, Casey. We encouraged them to visit Big Bend National Park to the South, believing they would find the desolate beauty as entrancing as we had two decades earlier.
The motel’s complimentary breakfast offered a generous selection of foods. But I can’t imagine ever staying there or anywhere in Fort Stockton again. After learning from the Texas Highway Department that flooding was still a problem, we scrapped our plans for San Antonio and Lafayette. Instead of taking the Southern route on I-10, we drove north from Fort Stockton on Texas 18, an excellent, two-lane road with broad shoulders that connects with I-20. The scrubland is dotted with desert bushes, oil wells and gas pipelines and doesn’t offer much of scenic variety. But recent rainfall had turned the desert flatlands green. Wildflowers were blooming and the mesquite, Palo Verde and grasses were reaching for the skies.
Once on I-20 east, we headed through the “Oil Patch” toward Odessa-Midland at 80 mph. With the recent escalation of oil prices to about $1.50 a gallon for retail gasoline, many of the nearly depleted oil fields are pumping again. Gas was about $1.10 a gallon when we passed through here three years ago and everywhere we looked then we saw fields of rusting pumping equipment. But now, most of the Texas junkyard had been removed or replaced by modern pumpers.
Texas humor thrives in the town of Stanton, where billboards proclaim it “Home of 3,000 friendly people and a few old soreheads,” and also in Abilene, where signage claims it offers “Great Steaks and Handshakes.” We again drove through Sweetwater, seat of Nolan County (no relation to my family), and the interminable Southern Bypass around Dallas to I-30. We passed a particularly ugly import driven by a bearded young man whose car didn’t seem long for Texas. A bumper sticker proclaimed, “9-11-religion takes more lives – proud American atheist.” Not only was the driver a fool and a horse’s ass, he wanted the world to know it.
After another 9 ½ hour day, we finally arrived in Texarkana (pop. 35,000), where we checked into a Comfort Inn on the Arkansas side. We had a good meal at a Cracker Barrel restaurant (vegetables for me and country ham for Betty). The town is only four hours from Memphis and is home to the Audie Murphy Cotton Museum. Our minds were on home so we didn’t make the time to visit the museum. I’d like to see it some day if for no other reason that I’m curious if many people remember that Murphy was the most decorated American serviceman of World War II. He was quite a hero but is probably known more for his short acting career after the war.
I would also like to visit the George Patton Museum near Needles, Calif. Unfortunately, we’ve blown by it twice now on our drives between L.A. and Tucson. How quickly so many of us forget.
We again got an early start after a quick, free breakfast (fruit, cereal, toast and bagels) at the Comfort Inn. We had wanted to get home soon enough to change cars and pick up Dickens before the kennel’s 3 p.m. closing. I figured it might take five hours to drive to Memphis plus another hour to unload Sally and drive my Millennium Taurus station wagon to Southland Greyhound Park in West Memphis. We were glad to load up the car with ice, water and soft drinks for the last time this trip.
Outside, we were struck by an awful smell in the air. Motel management told us that this part of Texarkana is surrounded by four paper mills. At least we could roll up the windows. Not so fortunate was a traveling group of Harley Davidson riders who also stayed at the Comfort. We briefly chatted with them in the motel parking lot before they roared off. The prosperous looking, middle-aged bikers were followed by their wives, girlfriends and kids in a chase van bearing Texas tags.
It was a hot drive through Arkansas on I-30 to Little Rock then on I-40 to the Mississippi River. The roadside vegetation was green because of the recent rains, which had also soaked Texas and Arizona. Traffic was light and we made it home in four hours. There was plenty of daylight time to collect Dickens, water the plants, clean the pool, make a few telephone calls and still cook a great meal of country ham and omelets. This driving trip was another great one. I look forward to doing it again if Casey should end up on the West Coast.
- Lewis Nolan, Dec. 31, 2002