And the road goes on forever...

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Entering the Netherland

I think my cat is a connoisseur of finer hotel rooms. It seems it never fails that when I check into a cramped, smelly, poorly kept Motel 6 or similar he yowlers most of the night and is very uncomfortable. However I’ve noticed, that the more expensive and expansive the room, the more settled in he behaves and hardly announces nary a quiet meow now and then. Tonight, after close to 500 miles I think, we have made it across the Oregon border, just barely, into the small town of Ontario which sports an older but nice Holiday Inn where we obtained the last pet room. He hasn’t said a word to me all evening—he just is content to gaze out the expansive sliding glass floor to ceiling door overlooking a grass courtyard and the babes at the pool. Let’s hope this keeps up so he lets me (& the neighbors) get some sleep tonight.

After having my tire pulled and inspected by the only tire shop in small town Salina last evening, nothing was found. However, I was paranoid all day it would go flat again so I pulled over about every 100 miles to put the gauge on it and inspected them all. At least now I am back in Les Schwab country, where I can have service for free if something happens. But I figure if it holds air until morning it likely will be OK to reach Bend, a jaunt of approximately 300 miles from here.

I feel bone weary tonight after doing what we refer to as the Mormon 500 today—that stretch of I-15 that runs from south of Provo to north of Salt Lake City; filled with fast moving and abusive traffic. It runs about 100 miles of “on your toes, total concentrated driving else you wreck” and leaves a country bumpkin like myself drained. Glad that’s over and the best is tomorrow—that wonderful back road Hwy. 20 traversing the hill and dale of sagebrush emptiness that is eastern Oregon. No one breathing up my tail and I’ll actually be able to see the 100 mile vista in front of me instead of the mess of smog and tail lights that is now Salt Lake City and environs.

Monday, August 25, 2008

The Freeway from 75 MPH

I got off from Texas about 6:30 a.m. Sunday and had a boring, uneventful drive to Alamosa, CO, a nondescript town in a southern valley of Colorado. I remember I crossed the Texas state line into New Mexico at 12:40 and spent about ten hours driving that day. My accommodation was the worst Super 8 I have ever stayed in.

Leaving early this morning, on a route suggested by cyber RV friends Mark & Bobbie Johnson (Artful Adventures) who do a wonderful photographic RV website and are originally from Colorado, I took the back roads headed towards Gunnison. It was quiet and without traffic and the highway traversed the farming San Luis Valley and then climbed into the broad reaches of the Colorado Rockies. Later on it descended into a very curvy slow canyon of ten miles which afforded little opportunity to pull over and take any pictures but was very dramatic. After exiting the canyon and hitting the main highway 50 headed west it was a short hop to Gunnison. Colorado reminds me greatly of Montana in this section.

Although I only quickly drove through Gunnison I enjoyed it. It seemed vibrant as only tourist or industry towns are with wide streets and neat shops. As I exited Gunnison, shortly thereafter a river started forming into a lake, which appeared to run for many miles as I wove along its curvy shore. There were a ton of RV parks, campgrounds, and resorts. Soon thereafter, the highway climbed and the RV parks were replaced with huge log homes on acreages. Dropping to the western slope and the downhill slide, there were wide open expanses of wonderfully scenic country and signs denoting the Black Canyon of the Gunnison before arriving in Montrose; a very artsy neat town which I blew through quickly. Dropping more elevation quickly I arrived to drive likewise through the really cute town of Delta on my way to Grand Junction. My impression is that the western part of Colorado is far superior to the eastern portion--more visual signs of wealth, more pride of ownership.

Grand Junction was difficult to navigate and seemed to take forever. But once you leave it, it is done and over with in a hurry and you have the wide open vistas typical of Utah on the horizon. I had about 50 miles of travel to gaze southward to the picturesque Lasal Mountains and red canyons north of Moab as I whizzed by on the 75 mph freeway before exiting at Green River to stock up on fuel. Once I left there after the turnoff for Hanksville, I have never traversed this section of I-70 and it was a spectacular treat. Although much of it has a 75 mph speed limit, it is a challenging highway full of curves, severe grades and such stupendous scenery it is hard to keep your eyes on the road. As is typical of afternoons in these states, I hit severe lightening and rain for a short downpour. But worse yet was arriving in Salina, UT for the evening with a nearly flat front tire. Who knows what will be up with that tomorrow? Still 1000 miles to go.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Miscellaneous From Wichita Falls

Large trees drape the lovely old campus of Midwestern State University not far from Marc’s job site. What a far cry the sprawling campus is today with its shady courtyards from when it was first started in the early 1900’s by the city fathers Kell and Kemp.

Who would think to find the water department or the building department in a wonderful old 1927 building such as this? In addition to housing City Hall, this edifice also has a large civic auditorium which has played host to many entertainers.

No one need wonder why they call the south the “bible belt”; Wichita Falls has more than its fair share of old and stately churches but I must admit I have never quite seen one that smacks more of a federal courthouse than this example. What were they thinking? Rather than going to pray it seems one would feel like they were instead going on trial. Of course, come to think of it, maybe that’s the point.

I have one thing I have come up with that I will miss about Texas. They have the sweetest, juiciest watermelons here, grown right across the border in Oklahoma! Now it’s time to leave!

The Kell House Museum

A person would never be able to sneak up or down these stairs unnoticed I noted at the squeaking and creaking, as Hannah and I ascended to the second story of the 5833 square foot mansion of one of Wichita Fall’s greatest personages—Frank Kell. Noted native son, he and his brother in law Joseph Kemp built and started practically everything of note here in Wichita Falls in the early 1900’s: the grain industry, the development of Lake Wichita Pavilions (the entertainment extravaganza of the day), the utility companies, the newspaper, the streetcar system, the railroad, and the college. They've even both got boulevards named after them; can you say fabulously rich?

Hannah is a recent transplant from South Carolina and for $5 per person she will be happy to take you on a very thorough tour of how the other half lived here on the dusty plains of north Texas. I have her all to myself this morning as I learn about Frank Kell and his wife, their six daughters and one son. The four bedroom home is furnished with their actual memorabilia and furniture augmented by others typical of the period. The woods are rich, the furniture dark and ornate, and the chandeliers sumptuous crystal.

Persian rugs adorn the hardwood floors, and the home was the first in Wichita Falls to offer both electricity and air conditioning. The Kell’s employed a chauffeur and housemaids and these employees lived in back in the carriage house. It looks from the photos that over the years the exterior of the structure changed somewhat and at the time they built the home in 1909 they were out in the country. Now surrounded by big trees, downtown city streets and whizzing traffic, one is left to wonder about the ghostly whispers from children trying to sneak down a squeaky stairway on a still Christmas morning.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

A Change in the Plans

Today Marc & I drove our car once more to the Dallas airport to pick up another rental vehicle for Marc to use. Due to some family issues, it is important that I return to Bend much quicker than we had planned. That also means of course, that Marc won’t get to travel back with me, so he will be faced with flying back to Oregon on September 8th.

I will load up and be out of here very early this Sunday, varying my return route slightly to avoid the eastern part of Colorado and especially Denver. Instead, I will cut through the mountainous southern portion of Colorado to connect with I-15 south of Salt Lake City. It only adds about another 55 miles so should still put me back in Bend in four days of travel. I will plan to update the blog as time and internet connection will allow, although we have no connection in Bend.

Wichita Falls has gotten lots of rain lately! We awoke yesterday morning to news of closed and flooded streets and highways after it dumped about 12 inches of rain overnight with a stalled-out storm. Rain has continued off and on today but is due to clear. All too soon, the high heat and humidity will return with a vengeance!

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Weird Trees

Spotted in the Wal-Mart parking lot, I had no idea what this desert like tree with almost orchid like flowers was. Any ideas? And while you are at it, this big tree appeared to have scaly bark very similar to a cedar but the finger leaves were all wrong for Western Cedar and it had these strange pod like seeds hanging all over it.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Like A Ghostly Burned Forest

The oil derricks of the Burk-Waggoner Pool appear to rise from the land like some ruined sentential forest. Imagine the dust, the stink, the unending noise and work, the monotony of the horizon in 1920’s Wichita Falls, TX. These photos present a haunting view into the start of big oil in our country; an industry which made those engaging in it amazingly and quickly rich.

We are in the North Texas History Museum, a rather small affair in downtown with a dearth of actual items, but telling a poignant history nonetheless with many photographs of the period. Most of the museum is occupied by several rooms of a permanent military collection, a small cowboy room, a larger oil room. An old WWII vet by the name of Otis, who commanded a Higgins boat (delivery of troops to shore) in the winning of Guam takes Marc aside and starts a long litany of tales. We are used to this; my father is a WWII Navy vet who underwent a sinking of his ship, the USS Halligan, off the coast of Okinawa. He was one of the few to survive and we have memorized his stories he has told them so often. I note the ending of WWII with a quick kiss from a fly boy above the proclamation "No more war for him" and a copy of the Japanese surrender. Otis continues to occupy Marc’s time as I slink past looking at exhibits and taking photographs. Finally, making an excuse for lunch, we make our escape.

One thing that tied things together was seeing this photo of the old hotel we noted in downtown a week ago. (Note the oil derrick right downtown!) We see it was originally named the Holt Hotel and that the Defoors building now pawning guns and gold was at one time the National Bank of Commerce. No wonder the beautiful etching on the building. It is plain to see that Wichita Falls is a mere shadow of its one time stature; reduced to a struggling relic on the hot north Texas plains. I bet if you asked, folks would like to go back to those glory days. I know Otis lives there in his mind.

Friday, August 15, 2008

After the Summer

Marc’s recuperation from his first knee replacement has gone very well and he has been pain free in that leg for the first time since he was in his twenties. The surgeon did such a good job, that Marc figures he had better get the other one done so he can stop limping so badly. Consequently, he scheduled surgery for his left knee replacement for September 16th in Bend, OR where he will recuperate for the first week or two in our RV. Our RV has been in its parking spot on my parent's acreage since May 06 but is now put back together from its major remodel with a new roof, carpet, and new kitchen countertop, stainless sink (to match the appliances) and faucet.

Even though the surgeon gives Marc three months off on disability for recuperation from the rigors of his construction job, there are things he can do shortly after returning to our home place in Coos Bay. Of course, those primarily revolve around the boat and water.
Open ocean crabbing closes at that time of year in Oregon, but the bays remain open so we are already imagining how nice those first Dungeness crab are going to taste. Fall on the Oregon coast; it just doesn’t get any better! We don’t know what will come after, but we shouldn’t have to even think about it until next January and maybe by then the company will have funding for a new project.

So, knowing what is to come makes the current situation a little more palatable, as Marc sits inside his cave of a sea container "office" waiting for the insurance company and city of Wichita Falls to stop fighting over the agenda so he can get on with the job.

The Ordinariness of Wichita Falls

Lest people have the wrong impression from my mansion post I figured it would only be fair to show the ordinary side to Wichita Falls; the way that 80% of the housing stock looks; the way actually, that nearly the entire town looks to a visitor. Streets are broken; homes are old, some in fair repair, some not so. Most vegetation seems pretty withered or at the least heat stressed.

The city strikes one as having seen its better days long past and when Marc was talking to a local it seems that is the case. Businesses have been deserting the town; I have witnessed several store closings, including the major chain Linen & Things during my short time here. Many restaurants are also closed and boarded up, leaving the streets lined with fast food joints as the primarily dinner place of choice. CertainTeed Asphalt Shingle Company is closing its plant here—a huge blow and layoff of approximately 500 employees. If not for the 4500 civilian employees Sheppard Air Force base provides for, you wonder what would become of this town?