From the Golden State to the Lone Star!

For a full photo album go to:  http://picasaweb.google.com/henderbalz/USRoadTrip1#

There we were, waving our goodbyes to Dawn and Randy, tears in our eyes not sure if we were ready for this adventure or not. The kids had already gone off to school and our hearts hurt. There was plenty of time that 10 hour drive day to think about everything, we were wavering back and forth between being so excited about what lays ahead of us to tearing up because we won’t see one of Carl’s many funny faces or hearing the girls calling out “Auntie Dawn, Auntie Jim” (Auntie Jim is not a typo, the girls call Uncles Auntie too) for a long time. Okay, we will miss everyone else too, but you know how little kids pull on your heart strings.

The drive went well as much as a 10 hour drive can go. We did see our first tumbleweed, way earlier than we expected outside Bakersfield in California. I must say it was not the full on Hollywood rolling across the highway all dramatic and willowy kind, but the sitting by the side of the road doing nothing looking pathetic kind. Jim called it the “Charlie Brown Christmas Tumbleweed.”

We got in Vegas around 6:30pm checked into our class A not so 5 star hotel, Hooters. Yes, Hooters has a hotel and casino! And yes all the girls wear those orange short shorts and tight tank top outfits, complete with thick shin high white socks and all white sneakers. Jim said they dress more modestly than the ladies at the other casinos. Okay, it was cheesy fun for me too.

We hit New York New York for dinner, pastrami sandwich and a beer at a Jewish Deli. Yes, Vegas does have everything. To walk off the dinner we headed over to the Bellagio to watch the amazing dancing fountain show. And afterwards we went in to check out the hotel casino and also enjoyed a cocktail. Very faaancy! Then we crossed the street to Paris. The lobby ceiling is adorned with some awesomely beautiful Chihuly art glass. We hit Trader Vics at Planet Hollywood after that. We sat directly over the side walk so we got to watch the crowds of people milling down the streets. I do believe women think it proper in Vegas to show as much skin as possible…loved the outfits, the sizes, shapes, color and most surprising of all…all the accents. We heard more foreign languages than English the whole time there.

Late start on our second day, come on we were in Vegas, we had to sleep in! Had brunch and then we were off to get acquainted with Liberace at his Museum. You have to love that man, what I would do just for his pinky rings! Now, he was the King of Bling! He even had a 500 kt rhinestone! Largest rhinestone in the world given to Liberace by Svarski Crystals. Top that 50 Cent!

Back at the hotel Jim sauntered up to the craps table for some afternoon game playing. Well, it really went down like this…Jim was playing and then after I blew my free 100.00 at the slots obnoxiously quick I joined him to make sure he was not gambling the house away, uh right no house to gamble away! We were going to go off and do something else, but it was my turn to roll and a biker looking guy in a kilt bribed me (literally, he put 10.00 down on the pass line and around 40.00 on the odds) to stay to bring some lady luck to the table. I through the dice and boy, did I bring on the lady luck! And he would not even take the winnings, so we kept on playing. Wining and high-fiving biker kilt guy and red pom-pommed tam kilt guy the whole time. Picture this, one of them in a red plaid bikers helmet do-rag hiding his bald head and sporting a handlebar mustache on his tanned face. He wore a white shirt, and a red plaid kilt. The other had a black tam with a red pom pom on top on his head, a white shirt and a red plaid kilt adorned with a waist Scottish – okay for men – purse thingy. They were loud, obnoxious, fun and before they rolled their dice, they would roll around something else hanging loose under their kilts. We were even mooned by the one in the tam. We played for around 3 hours and had a blast! And even better yet, both Jim and I walked away with some winnings.

After that exciting gambling roller coaster, we went for a ride on the monorail which was less than exciting, but we did get a glance at a lot of the hotel’s pool decks. Dinner with my sister and brother inlaw, Carlene and Jeff, for the earlier part of the evening. Yes, my family was in Vegas when we were there and it was not even planned. Carlene once again made a great dinner for us and the couple, Susan and Steve, they were visiting. We had a great time talking about funny family memories. It was a nice treat to see them once more before we head off across the country and to Honduras. With full bellies, we headed down to the Fremont Street / Old downtown area for a late night walk. We check out the new and old neon…there is a street museum of all the neon…and we waited for the big overhead light/music show. It was pretty darn cool, especially when the rocket ship took off from one end of the overhead 2 block long screen. Tired, we went back to the hotel needing a full night sleep for the next day drive. Well, I went off to sleep, but Jim had to take Hooters up on the 25 cents buffalo wings deal that started after midnight.

The next morning, we headed for Hoover Dam…yes it is big and impressive, but the new bridge they are building over it is almost more impressive. After a hot walk over the dam, we hit the road east to Kingman, NV so we could start our drive on Route 66, baby! Most of it was just lots of land and small country road, but the Hackberry General Store was a hoot. Yes, I said hoot. Imagine this old rickety wood building with not only tons of old metal advertisements and road signs, but with a variety of cows heads in the late stages of decomposition laying about and around rusted out old model T’s, 50’s Chevy’s and such. The centerpiece car was this 1956 red and white cherried out convertible corvette sitting under the awning smack dab in front. Okay, you got that, now add around 30 bikers. But not your average bikers, 30 Norwegian men decked out in biker gear ranging from shorts to full leathers standing about talking and drinking coca-cola from old style bottles in the hot Arizona sun. It was definitely quite the scene. After that, the Hualapai Nation Headquarters and restaurant was not quite the scene, but the fry bread was pretty damn good! And with desert honey, even better.

We did the trek to the Grand Canyon, and it was well worth it. It has not changed since we both saw it as kids. Big, amazing, wonderous, frigthening at times, and downright awe-inspiring. We were there right before sunset, so the shadows made for great photos. Like I mentioned it was a trek to the Canyon, worth it, but sadly enough we left too late to hit the roadside Indian markets. I so would have loved to hit each and every one of them! Without any new silver jewelry in hand, we got in late to our Wigwam Motel in Holbrook, AZ. Yep, teepees! Okay, buildings built to look like teepees, but how fun! And how so lovingly kitchy. The motel is now a historic landmark on route 66. The owner’s father built the hotel and left old cars from the 30’s-60’s parked in front of the wigwams.

Thursday, August 28th, the day of events. On that grand morning we made our way to the Painted Desert and Petrified Forest and those two were as cool as we remembered as kids too. Well, there seemed to be less petrified wood. It still amazes me that it is now rock and it still looks just like wood on the outside. And to beat all it is semi-precious stone on the inside.

After that our day of events continued, Jim as the driver and Dawn the navigator. We opted for a “scenic” road as opposed to a big interstate. And boy oh boy, was this road scenic…we drove through mountain towns (montain towns in AZ, who would of known) on what we now lovingly refer to as the Never Ending Mountain Road. We drove past log cabins, cute small towns, and then all of a sudden I looked out and we were way high up in the clouds, 8300 feet high! The 120 mile drive took 3.5 hours, and would’ve been a lot longer had we drove the speed limit that ranged from 15-30 mph. They were some of the most curvy, straight down along the side, stomach flipping mountain roads we had ever been on. Okay, what else do you do when you are in the never ending San Francisco Mountain range (yes, that is the name of the range)…you put Queen on the stereo and jam out to “We Will Rock You,” “We are the Champions” and “Bohemian Rhapsody!” And you dance. During Bohemian Rhapsody, we pulled over to pick some wild black-eyed susans and I ended up dancing in the road. Dangerous you might say, but the road was empty. And I mean empty, in the 3.5 hours we were on it, we saw only 5 other cars! When we were back in the car and done with Queen and Freddy Mercury, our friend James Brown brought us down the mountain safely. This ride was further proof that we should consider rally racing after our stint in Honduras. Closing in on the end of the gorgeous mountain range and the end of the very large Apache National Forest we came upon the mother of all copper/gold mines. It was 9 miles long, 3 miles wide and as Jim put it “damn deep.” Pennies for everyone!

After that hard drive for Jim we hit some flat lands for smoother driving. In New Mexico a beautiful and ominous storm stood off in the distance, pouring sheets of rain and floor to ceiling lighting bolts. It was fun to watch from far, but crazy to drive in. At one point the rain was literally pouring horizontal with huge hail balls to boot that forced all of the cars to stop for a few minutes due to lack of visibility. With all the events for the day, it made for another longer drive day than planned. Heading towards El Paso trailing the setting sun and rain, we saw lightening bolt after lighting bolt, hundreds of them. We were weary as we pulled into El Paso around 8pm.

After we secured a place to rest our weary heads, we headed over to a recommended place to eat, Casa Jurado, near the university. We got there too late, closed for the night. So we hit a hip restaurant/bar across the street, Geo Geske. We had a great meal, chili pepper chicken sandwich, citrus fries, grilled large shrimp and chili rice.

Friday, even though it was Labor Day weekend travel day, it seemed no one was going from El Paso to San Antonio with us, but maybe they were not leaving at 7am in the morning like we did. The best thing about the 550 mile trip is the 80 mile an hour speed limit! Which means you can push it to 85 (If you are Jim) or even 90 (If you are Dawn) (Jim says: “that’s what she said.”) Whooo Hooo!

We got into New Braunfels, TX and made it to the Mayer’s place by 5:05, missing Dawn’s E.T.A. By 5 minutes. We hung out catching up with Heather, Dusty and the most adorable almost 4 year old Sora! Then we went out for dinner in Gruene (pronounced Green)…great little historic town. Got home later and talked until midnight.

Saturday, August 30th we hit the Alamo. Very interesting and very crowded with holiday peeps. We had a late lunch at a Tex Mex place and then just ended up hanging out at home making some cocktails and nibbling on some delicious tapas prepared by Heather for the night. We talked until 1am. It seemed we did not have a loss for convo topics, whether it was catching up, hurricane talk, religion, and politics such as the VP running mates recently picked.

Sunday, August 31st we took our time at the house, ate breakfast and did some laundry. When Dusty got off shift from his fire department paramedic job (soon to be lieutenant?, great job Dusty!), we went to Austin for a late Texas BBQ lunch. We went to the Salt Lick way out in the country outside Austin and it was awesome. Ribs, Brisket and sausage! What is really interesting is that it is located in a dry county and everyone shows up with coolers full of beer to drink with their BBQ. Good stuff. Good times.

We headed into Austin and found ourselves drawn to the “Bat Fest.” It was held on a bridge in downtown Austin. It was just like a SF street fair with venders, bands…and beer. Bats fly out from under the bridge at sunset every night The fest was pretty cool, but unfortunately we did not see the bats flying about but we did see several batmen. When we left the fest and on a roam, we ran into a 10K race (The Human Race) which ended at the foot of the capitol building with a free Ben Harper concert. Amazingly so, Austin had more people in the race than NYC’s race or Chicago’s race. Lance Armstrong came in 7th place and he introduced the band. It was awesome to just “run” into these things. We then went to Stubbs for some of that famous Austin music scene. We saw Amy Cool and Patrick Omoreka. We then walked more and in this area (6th Street) of Austin there is bar, after bar, after bar. The “Chugging Monkey.” the “Dizzy Rooster,” the “Mean Eyed Cat,” the “Lazy Lizard” and the “Blind Pig.” Poor drunk beasts! We ended up having a bite to eat and our nightcap cocktail at Saba…good food. Really nice afternoon and night. Thanks grandma “Oma” Humer for babysitting little Sora while we were out galavanting!

Hurricane Gustav hit land early Labor Day Morning. We watched the news to see if either we needed to take cover or change our plans for New Orleans. But we still had a bigger fish to fry, a car in the shop. We decided to not let any of that bother us and shopped a bit with Heather. We picked up some needed items and had some local BBQ to go and more of that famous southern sweet tea. That evening we headed to Gruene again and went to The Gristmill’s back deck for some casual dining above the river. A bit later we were lucky enough to get into Gruene Hall, Texas’ oldest dance hall to hear a bit of country music and to just check out where famed people such as Willie Nelson, John Prine Lucinda Williams, Iris Dement and many others have played. Gruene’s town saying is “Gently resisting change since 1872.”

We ended our holiday weekend in New Braunfels, Austin and San Antonio in a high note, the car just needed a $50 differential seal fixin’. To go out with a bang we hit the Snake Farm on the way to pick up the car. For you Dirty Job lovers out there, it is the one Mike Rowe went to for his show. Who knew it was in New Braunfels, TX? With large snakes in our mind, we say good bye to the Mayers and thanks for the big time Texas hospitality. Off to Houston to see the Duffy Boys.

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~ by HenderBalz on September 6, 2008.

3 Responses to “From the Golden State to the Lone Star!”

  1. Hee!!! Like it would have changed in forty years…Jacob and I got a huge laugh out of this! Remember the Flintstones episode, where they go visit the Grand Canyon, and it’s like, this little stream and hill in the ground? And Fred goes “They say this’ll be a big thing one day!”

    lol – thanks for sharing…I just got home after a bear of a week at work, and the laughes were just what I needed!

    love you guys! Stay safe!

  2. I’m glad that you’re both taking in some great Americana on your way to Central America. That barbecue photo is magnificent.

  3. Glad to see the blog… I subscribed in my reader.
    Looking forward to check out the adventures of Henderbalz!

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