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Funfest or Bust, Part Two

Heading Home and Some Time to Be Tourists

Bob Wallace Mar 9, 2004

There's an old adage that says, in effect, "Getting there is half the fun." In this instance, getting there (to the 10th Annual Mid America Funfest) was nowhere near as much fun as being at a huge Corvette event and representing VETTE Magazine in our own Corvette. While getting there was fun, we had just three days to traverse the 2,000-plus miles from our home in Southern California to Effingham (about halfway between St. Louis and Indianapolis in south-central Illinois), and the requirement that we average close to 700 miles per day, which limited our eastbound sightseeing to what we could see along the interstates through the windshield and side windows at moderately extra-legal speeds.

We didn't have quite the same time restraints for our return trip. After spending three days and four nights in Effingham (we stayed over an extra day to photograph several cars in the MY Garage collection), we still had at least five full days available for traveling and touring as we headed toward the West Coast.

The trip home would be mostly spontaneous, with only two "mandatories." The first was that we stop over in the Missouri side of Kansas City; the second was that we had to go through Albuquerque so Rob and Elisa could have another evening together. Otherwise, well, whatever looked or sounded interesting was where we'd go.

After a final round of farewells to our friends at Mid America, we began our homeward trek on Tuesday morning. For most of the 100-or-so-mile run to St. Louis, we retraced the last leg of our eastern drive four days earlier, but in the opposite direction on Interstate 70, through the verdant countryside of southern Illinois. About 15 miles east of the Mississippi River, we exited the 70 and headed southwest on I-55/70, toward the heart of St. Louis. Bob had seen the rightfully famous Gateway Arch several times, from afar and up close. It is a stunning and singular monument, and both identifies and is identified with St. Louis in the same manner as the Statue of Liberty and New York City or the Golden Gate Bridge and San Francisco. Rob had never seen it prior to this trip, and his only glimpse of The Arch was four days earlier, from several miles north as we crossed the Mississippi heading east on I-270. By taking I-55/70, we'd see The Arch on and off for several miles as we neared St. Louis, and we would cross the Mississippi less than a mile south of where The Arch perches on the western bank of the river.

Once we got off the interstate, it took us a few minutes to work our way through the downtown area and back to the Jefferson National Expansion Memorial National Historical Site (the grandiose name for the park that's home to both the Gateway Arch and the Old Cathedral). The last time Bob had taken the time to go near The Arch was pre-September 11, when you could park along Leonor K. Sullivan Boulvard--the road between the National Historical Site and the river--and walk up to The Arch. Now there are concrete barricades surrounding the site, semi-remote parking garages, armed military personnel, and security checkpoints to pass through to enter the park. Rob wasn't interested enough in getting up close and personal to want to brave the "security" gauntlet, so we drove a couple slow laps around The Arch and snapped a few photos. Then it was time to head onward and westward.

Our target destination for the day was the Missouri side of Kansas City. It was midday and downtown traffic was light so we headed west, straight through central St. Louis, on I-64. To the north side of the freeway as we passed through the Gateway City was Anheuser-Busch's corporate headquarters and main brewery. The maker of Budweiser offers comprehensive two-hour tours of the facility, including the brewhouse and the stables where their trademark massive Clydesdale horses are kept. If we'd had more time, the brewery would've been an interesting stop, but this was strictly a "get to K.C. day," so we stuck with the interstates to make the most of our time.

When we hit the western fringes of St. Louis, where the I-64 and I-270 merge, we turned north for a short (8 or so miles) jaunt up to I-70, aimed toward the left coast, and promptly got into a traffic jam that would do justice to some of the gridlock we experience in the Los Angeles metro mess. Seems that about 3 miles ahead, at the bridge crossing over the Missouri River, there was supposed to be some road construction--in the middle lanes. There must have been at least a mile of incredibly mixed-up, coned-off lanes. That 3-mile run took at least 20 minutes, and we almost got the right side and front of the C5 removed by one of the rudest and most indifferent truckers we've ever come across. This putz decided to move over a lane without any apparent concern about vehicles alongside (hey Bubba, them mirrors aren't hanging on the doors for decoration!), and without any warning. The moron didn't even use his turn signals; he just started slipping into the adjoining lane and other traffic be damned (and there's no arguing with a brain-dead driver in a rig that outweighs you by 75,000 pounds). The crowning glory to that episode was that when we finally got to the construction zone, there were a couple workers with a couple pickups, standing around leaning on their shovels and blocking three lanes of traffic. Geez, we thought Caltrans workers were the only ones to be that productive.

Once we got through that mess, the rest of the day's run was clear sailing. Right after crossing the Missouri River, we passed through historic St. Charles, the first capital of the state of Missouri (1821) and, a few years before, the starting point of the Lewis and Clark expedition. About 25 miles later, we made a mad scramble for the camera and snapped a couple shots of signs for Wentzville, figuring that our editorial group intern, Dakota "Cody" Wentz would get a kick out of them (he did!).

The rest of our drive west across the Show Me state to Kansas City was unremarkable. Small communities clustered along the interstate every few miles, with farms and gently rolling countryside filling the voids between the towns. We re-crossed the meandering Missouri River west of Columbia, as well as several of its tributaries. The most memorable of those was the Blackwater River, which, at least when we crossed it, was more like the Dirty-Brown/Muddy-Water Trickle. The drive was amongst the most laid back of the trip--until we arrived in K.C. and its maze of interchanges that rival Los Angeles or portions of the turnpikes in east New Jersey for being confusing.

After spending the night at a rundown and overpriced high-rise that had once been a classy hotel near Kansas City International Airport (the AAA Tour Book gave this dump a much better evaluation than it deserved), we began our day by touring the Harley-Davidson's Kansas City assembly plant. As we both have a great fascination for all things mechanical, it seemed a natural necessity to stop in and see how some of America's premier motorcycles are built (H-D also has plants in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, and York, Pennsylvania). The plant tour was especially meaningful for Rob, whose V-Rod was born at the Kansas City factory.

We'd made reservations a day ahead to guarantee our chances of a walk through. In most respects, the Harley-Davidson factory is much like the Corvette Assembly Plant in Bowling Green. We were treated to an extensive and very personable tour (in our case, it was also very personal, as we were the only visitors in that session and had our guide's undivided attention.), saw most aspects of the assembly process, met a few members of the crew, and finally watched a video on the 100-year history of the motorcycle manufacturer.

With the tour and souvenir buying complete, we topped off the tank before continuing west. With a good chance of rain during this day's journey, we were finally forced to replace the worn-out windshield wipers before continuing. The wiper blades were probably original and had fallen apart on the way to Effingham. It was a bit of regular maintenance we should've taken care of before we left but didn't.

We had decided to make our way next towards the most famous town of Old-West lore, Dodge City, in the southwestern part of Kansas. With so many historical sites from the days of cowboys and Indians, we could have easily spent a couple weeks visiting each of them in turn, but we had to suffice with only a day or so to sightsee. There's lots of history throughout Kansas, and we ended up following several of the paths that led many hopeful pioneers to new lives. We slipped out of Kansas City, which was once the trailhead for the Oregon and Santa Fe Trails, on a local highway that ran southward along part of the Louis and Clark expedition's path, until we connected again with I-70 west. As we drove through a grazing region known as the Flint Hills, which fattens a million cattle annually, we passed the Kansas' first territorial capitol at Manhattan, Fort Riley, famous for such cavalrymen as J.E.B. Stuart, George A. Custer, and George Patton, Jr., as well as President Eisenhower's library, museum, and home in Abilene.

Just west of Salina, we ditched the interstate and took SR 156/56 southwestward along the former Santa Fe Trail, through Great Bend, and toward the infamous Dodge City. Shortly after we passed through Great Bend (so named for being situated at the apex of the Arkansas River's sweeping arc through central Kansas), our final fuel stop for the day, we saw signs for Fort Larned ahead, indicating it was only a few miles off the highway. The fort was an important post on the frontier, protecting mail coaches and wagon trains traveling the Santa Fe Trail from 1859 until it was deactivated in 1878. The Fort Larned Historic Site includes nine original sandstone buildings and one that's been reconstructed, as well as a section of wagon-wheel rutted prairie. That sounded fascinating, and we took the short detour westward to find the fort, but as it was already long into the day; the shortened "off-season" visiting hours had ended and Fort Larned was closed. Bummer! The Santa Fe Trail Center Museum and Library was closed, too. We walked the picnic area there and looked around for a bit, but we couldn't dwell for long, as evening was approaching and there were still 50-plus miles between us and Dodge.

We made great time, traveling at extremely extra-legal speeds along the quiet backloads, until the combination of impending dusk, loose gravel, and millions of kamikaze insects slowed us to a more reasonable pace. Then yet more road construction slowed us to a crawl. We rolled into Dodge well after dark, found ourselves comfortable lodging for the night, and got food in our bellies. Our first choice for a room was sold out, and the enticing little steakhouse we'd seen on our way into town was closed before we got there. Well, tomorrow would be another day.

Dodge City, the one-time "Wickedest Little City in America," turned out to be somewhat of a disappointment. Dodge City was once the epitome of the Wild West, famous for lawlessness and gunslinging, saloons, and "soiled doves," and it was where buffalo hunters, cowpokes, railroad workers, drifters, and soldiers scrapped and fought. This lead to the shootings where men died with their boots on and created the hasty need for a local burial place--Boot Hill Cemetery. Dodge is also known for tough men like Bat Masterson, Wyatt Earp, and Charlie Bassett who brought order to the frontier town, and it was the home of fictional lawman Marshal Matt Dillon in the Gunsmoke radio and TV series. But it has become almost completely anonymous as just another modest-size (slightly over 26,000 residents per the 2000 census) town in the middle of nowhere. Nothing of the original town still exists, though there is a reconstructed Front Street facade in front of what's left of Boot Hill (the top of which was leveled long ago, and a school now rests on the flattened summit) in downtown Dodge. The Boot Hill Museum occupies this Front Street fascia, and, while filled with some very cool relics, it was dusty and felt quite lifeless. Perhaps it would have been better to visit during the tourist season. We did, however, see (and buy) a souvenir that has to be the most hilarious and questionably tasteless item we saw during the entire trip--a silkscreened T-shirt celebrating Dodge City's annual Bull Fry. Let's just say they ain't barbequing ribs; the parts that get fried are what separate bulls from steers. Maybe a wee bit of the spirit of the old Dodge City does still exist.

Looking for more historical satisfaction, we headed to nearby Fort Dodge, which preceded the town and, like Fort Larned, was entrusted with guarding the Santa Fe Trail. But we found that it had far less going for it nowadays than the Fort Larned Historical Site seemed to; so we decided to get the hell outta Dodge (sorry, just had to say it!), taking SR 50 west-northwest towards Pueblo, Colorado. Since we had been unable so far to indulge in too much cowboy history, perhaps we'd have better luck with the Indians, and thought to visit some of the Anasazi ruins and cliff dwellings around southwestern Colorado. We somewhat arbitrarily decided to head to Pueblo, Colorado, and determine the rest of the trip from there.

The southwestern part of Kansas, for the most part, is wide-open, mostly flat grasslands, making for pleasant, if not exciting, scenery. The downside, however, were the cattle-feed lots and rendering plants scattered throughout the area. Now, Southern and Central California has its share of dairy farms and the like, but familiarity with the pungent aromas wafting around from a giant pile of fertilizer in no way prepares one for the foul stench that a rendering plant creates. The rank smell hung in the air over much of the next couple hundred miles, following us into eastern Colorado. Grain elevators also dotted the Kansas landscape, and, while we made pretty good time overall, we'd have to slow from our somewhat extra-legal cruising speeds down to 25 mph as we crept past a massive elevator and the two blocks of "town" surrounding it, then resume cruising for another few miles before the next one. Some of the larger small towns we passed through looked like nostalgic time capsules from a simpler time. One point of interest, just south of Garden City (which with a population of over 28,000 is the largest community in southwest Kansas), is the 4,000-acre Finney Game Preserve, home to a large herd of bison. Tours are by reservation only, so we skipped seeing that particular remnant of the Old West.

Southeast Colorado is wholly indistinguishable from southwest Kansas. Highway 50 roughly parallels the Arkansas River, the old border demarking Mexico and U.S. territory nearly two centuries ago, as well as the mountain route of the old Santa Fe Trail. This region, along the Arkansas River and the Santa Fe Trail, is steeped in history. There's Lamar and the "Big Timbers" (a dense cottonwood grove on the banks of the Arkansas that provided all-seasons shelter to both the native tribes and later immigrants traveling the Santa Fe Trail. Farther along is the Fort Lyon National Cemetery, where the Old West fort once was. And about 8 miles east of La Junta is the Bent's Old Fort National Historical Site. We nearly drove by the turnoff for the site, which is on SR 194, just west of where the Purgatoire (French for purgatory) River feeds into the Arkansas.

Bent's Old Fort was built around 1833 on the north bank of the Arkansas River by fur-trading brothers Charles and William Bent and their partner Ceran St.Vrain. The location was on the American side of the river, near where it was forded by the Santa Fe Trail. For nearly two decades, the Old Fort (there was later a Bent's New Fort, 40 or so miles east of the Old Fort's site, which never achieved the importance of the original) was THE center of trade for the entire region and was an oasis for traders and travelers on the Santa Fe Trail. Charles went on to become the first provisional governor of New Mexico before being killed in Santa Fe during an uprising in 1846. St.Vrain ran the Bent, St.Vrain & Co. operations in Taos and Santa Fe, New Mexico, and William Bent directed trade with the Indian tribes and fur-trappers trade out of the Fort on the Arkansas River. William married a Cheyenne woman. One of their sons, George, is renowned as a premier historian of the Cheyenne and other plains tribes during the 19th century, and William remained one off the more influential men in the territory up to his death in 1869. This was a must-see for us history buffs!

SR 194 is more of a narrow and winding country lane than a highway, at least by urban Southern California standards, and a lot more fun to drive! But, when we got to the Bent's Old Fort site, we began thinking that there was some sort of curse on the Wallaces, at least when it came to seeing historical forts. Unlike Fort Larned, we could see Bent's Old Fort, an imposing adobe fortress maybe 3/8ths of a mile off the highway, beyond a locked gate. Damn "winter" hours; it closed at 4:00 p.m. We looked at one another and almost in unison said something to the effect of, "Let's stay in La Junta tonight instead of going on to Pueblo and come back to see this place tomorrow morning."

After finding clean and comfortable lodging for the night, we retraced our steps to the Hog's Breath Saloon, a funky steakhouse/roadhouse bar that we'd passed coming into La Junta, for dinner.

Bent's Old Fort more than made up for the disappointments of arriving too late to tour Fort Larned and Dodge City in general. The Fort is a highly authentic reconstruction, built of original-type materials in the original manner, on the exact site of the excavated footings of the first Old Fort. The land where the Fort was situated was never farmed or otherwise developed; the small graveyard is undisturbed with at least one original marker still in place. No photographs exist of the original, which burned to the ground in 1849 (legend has it that William Bent blew up the fort in the midst of a cholera outbreak that swept the region and devastated the local Indian tribes). Fortunately, a young U.S. army topographical engineer, Lt. James Abert, spent extended periods at the Fort in both 1845 and again in 1846. And, during those stays, he made numerous drawings, maps and layouts, and paintings of the structure and surrounding area. Plus, many of the original business journals of Bent, St.Vrain & Company still exist, which aided in recreating the day-to-day ambience and the atmosphere of Bent's Old Fort.

The National Historic Site was established by Congress in 1960. The reconstructed fort was built of 18x9x4-inch adobe bricks and plastered with adobe--as was the original--and was completed in 1976. All furnishings and exhibits are period-correct and authentic, and the few concessions to the late-20th/early-21st centuries (modern restrooms, electricity, etc.) have been remarkably well camouflaged. Even the parking area and ticket office are located in a slight ravine about a quarter-mile from the fort--which is accessed by a paved trail--and are out of sight from the fort.

Yes, we really enjoyed our visit, and, instead of a brief walk through, ended up spending at least three hours just prowling the place. We expected a facade, a Disneyland-Main-Street or Universal-Studios-type experience, but found something more akin to a time capsule, a place where we were seemingly transported back 160 or so years. For anyone who is a history buff and happens to be passing through southeastern Colorado, we heartily recommend stopping in at Bent's Old Fort.

After our extended tour of the fort, we were again somewhat behind schedule, so it was time to return to reality. As we wandered back to the parking area where we left the Vette, we were met by one more sight that fit the yesteryear ambiance perfectly. We encountered a local rancher chatting with one of the Park Service caretakers when a pair of his oxen lazily wandered around the parked cars. We really had stepped into an entirely different world!

We'd selected Pueblo for the previous-day's final destination for no better reason than that it seemed like a comfortable day's drive from Dodge City along the route we were taking. As we headed back towards La Junta, we discussed our timetable and places we still wanted to see versus the absolute necessity of being back in Southern California by Sunday the 28th, and decided we'd be better off heading south towards Albuquerque rather than west towards Pueblo, Durango, and other old mining towns, as well as the Anasazi ruins in Mesa Verde National Monument--just a little north of the Colorado-New Mexico border. We gassed up at the Wallace Oil Company's Phillips 66 station (how could we resist a name like that?) and, on the west side of town, merged onto Highway 350, which would take us on an 80-mile southwest shortcut--once again paralleling the Santa Fe Trail's mountain route--to Trinidad.

Trinidad was originally a Mexican supply center on the Santa Fe Trail. Today it's a beautifully preserved mountain community with a historic Victorian downtown and many vestiges of its Hispanic heritage. Highway 350 traverses one of the most desolate regions we've ever seen, with four or five clusters of rundown homes that constitute towns, several large ranches, and one monument marking the Santa Fe Trail and another intact stretch of wagon ruts. On the other hand, we saw no more than a dozen driven vehicles on that entire 80 miles (there were plenty of abandoned ones sitting around some of the ramshackle houses and trailers we passed), and that same openness and lack of populace, meant we could run large portions of the road at triple-digit speeds! Early on we drove through the Comanche National Grassland, and as we neared Trinidad, we were treated to glimpses of the Rockies and possibly the Sangre de Cristo Mountains far to the west.

We jumped onto southbound Interstate 25 where it runs through the southwest outskirts of Trinidad and headed for the 7,834-foot elevation Raton Pass, which straddles the Colorado-New Mexico boundary. And right after cresting Raton Pass, we got both our daily dose of road construction--with the interstate constricting from three lanes to one--and some serious weirdness from a New Mexico state trooper. We were in a long line of traffic edging along at a maximum of 15 mph and this self-righteous and sanctimonious bozo, standing by his patrol car in the center divider, gave us the evil eye and a wagging finger (index) as though we'd been violating every traffic law in the state right in front of him. Hell, we hadn't gotten far enough across the border to even break a single speed limit, although we would do that soon enough.

After crossing over Raton Pass, I-25 passes through about 100 miles of high-elevation grasslands before meeting up with the Sangre de Cristo Range around Las Vegas. About 30 miles north of Las Vegas and a handful of miles off I-25 is the Fort Union National Monument. Fort Union was situated at the junction of the Mountain and Cimarron branches of the Santa Fe Trail, and was, from 1851 until its abandonment in 1891, one of the largest military outposts in the entire Southwest. The National Monument encompasses over 100 acres of adobe ruins and rows of chimneys that were once the arsenal and quartermaster depot for all posts in the region plus the rest of the garrison. According to our AAA Tour Book, the monument closed up at 4:00 p.m., so we didn't bother heading off the highway to view another locked gate. Maybe another time...

A few miles south of Las Vegas, I-25 swings west and then northwest as it zigs through the southern reaches of the Sangre de Cristos toward the capital of New Mexico, Santa Fe. Spanish colonists built their first adobe structures here in 1607, on the site of a long-abandoned Pueblo Indian village. While never a large city--the 2000 census counted 62,203 residents--Santa Fe has been a commercial, cultural, and political hub since 1610, when Governor Don Pedro de Peralta selected it to be the capital of the Spanish Kingdom of New Mexico, the seat of power for all Spanish holdings north of the Rio Grande. At least two buildings dating back to 1610 still remain, the Palace of the Governors and the San Miguel Mission Church. Santa Fe is that rarest of cities--one that has retained its grace, elegance, and traditions while remaining a vibrant and vital community.

The final 55 -60 miles from Santa Fe to New Mexico's largest city, Albuquerque, were all downhill, from 7,000-5,000 feet above sea level. It was also a drastic change in scenery, from mountains to high desert. We polished off a very enjoyable day with an excellent dinner at the Blue Corn Cafe and Brewery, where we (Bob, Rob, and Elisa) stuffed ourselves on New Mexico and Southwestern cuisine and a selection of superb beers that were brewed on-site.

We faced the morning with both anticipation and a hint of regret. It's always is good to get home after a long trip, yet we felt a bit of let down that this adventure was coming to an end. No matter what route(s) we'd follow, we were looking at covering at least 800 or so miles in one final sprint. We were using our last changes of clean clothes, so tarrying for one more day would mean either re-using the least used of the dirty clothes, a laundry stop, or buying an additional change of clothing. Plus that would mean getting home late on Sunday and having to be back in the office on Monday. Yuck!

If we'd had the blessings of one additional day, we'd have headed south from Albuquerque on I-25 to either Socorro (about 80 miles) or Las Cruces (225 miles, and only about 35 miles from both El Paso and the Mexican border). The Las Cruces route would put us on Interstate 10 west to Tucson, north to Phoenix, and west again into Los Angeles. Ho hum. The Socorro route, at least on the maps, looks very promising. U.S. Highway 60 west is designated as a principal, but not multi-lane highway. And just in the New Mexico part, weaves through the Magdalena, Gallinas, and Datil Mountain Ranges and portions of the Plains of San Augustin, and then it skirts the northern fringe of the Gallo Mountains. Once in Arizona, the possibilities are almost endless, with several roads going through the Sierra Ancha and Mazatzal Ranges, the Apache Sitgreaves, Coconino, Kaibab, and Prescott National Forests, plus the Fort Apache Indian Reservation, Camp Verde, Prescott, and Sedona (just to name a few) before heading north to Flagstaff and I-40 or south to Phoenix and I-10.

Yah know what? Sounds to us like a good week's worth of prowling in a Corvette on some highly entertaining and scenic roads. Time to start planning another road trip!

So, it was I-40 west out of Albuquerque, retracing our eastward route from 11 days and what seemed in some respects a lifetime before. Actually, the run across western New Mexico and the Painted Cliffs region of eastern Arizona was interesting as it allowed us to see the often-colorful mesas and other geological formations in the morning light and an entirely opposite perspective from our prior passage.

By the time we'd passed through the Petrified Forest National Park and neared Holbrook, we'd decided to check out the sights on I-40 through the rest of Arizona and well into the Golden State. We passed through Winslow, but didn't have time to check out either the Homolovi Ruins State Park (just a few miles east and to the north of Winslow) and a huge array of small to large Anasazi pueblo ruins or Meteor Crater (20-some miles west and slightly south of Winslow), the mile-wide/500-foot deep crater left by a meteorite impact an estimated 50,000 years ago.

After running another 60 miles and an elevation gain of over 2,100 feet, we pulled into Flagstaff, a beautiful small city that's surrounded by the ponderosa pine forests of the Coconino National Forest. Flagstaff is bisected by both I-40 and an intact, 15-plus mile stretch of Route 66. We gassed the C5 on the east side of town then followed old Route 66 through central Flagstaff and past the 1926 Tudor Revival-style railroad depot, which now houses the Flagstaff Visitors Center. Old downtown, which radiates out for several blocks in all directions, is filled with historic buildings that date back to the late 1800s and early 1900s. Flagstaff would make an excellent central point for a series of day trips that would offer both exciting driving and matchless scenery such as the Grand Canyon.

We followed Route 66 out of town until it merged with I-40, continued west for a few miles to the Bellemont Exit, and lunched at the Route 66 Roadhouse Bar & Grill. The name of the place was enough to intrigue us, and it proved to be well worth the stop. At least of third of the interior was taken up with a display of special interest and collectible cars, including a chopped '50 Merc, a mid-'60s Impala, plus a few motorcycles. A bar with more different beers than we've ever seen in one place lines most of one wall. In the opposite corner was a pair of huge gas grills and a condiment bar that's larger than some restaurants' salad bars, and in the center of the hall was a dozen and half round tables with bar stools for seating. There's also patio seating. If you opt for the outdoor dining experience, the views to the north and west are of the San Francisco Mountains. The atmosphere was extremely casual, and the menu was pretty much limited to items that can be grilled. If, for instance, you order a steak sandwich, the server brings you a plate with the bread or a roll, some chips, and a slab of raw steak--for you to cook however you want it. And naturally, you garnish it to suit your own tastes. It really was cool!

We goofed off for a couple hours before continuing our westward trek. About 30 miles west of Bellemont is Williams, which is THE major gateway to the south rim of the Grand Canyon, some 60 miles to the north. There is daily train service from Williams to the National Park. The rail cars are all "historic," including a few old-fashioned observation cars with elevated roofs. From Memorial Day weekend through September, the train is pulled by a turn-of-the-century steam locomotive while vintage diesels are used the rest of the year. For a quick day trip or a non-camping weekend, the Grand Canyon Railway would be a fascinating and unique way to travel to this natural wonder.

Just a few miles farther west, at Exit 139, is the eastern terminus for the longest remaining intact stretch of the original Route 66. This 140-mile segment parallels I-40 for 15-20 miles before swinging in a northward arc to Peach Springs (in the Hualapai Indian Reservation), then southwest where it crosses I-40 in Kingman and continues west to Topock on the eastern banks of the Colorado River. This would make a great one-day roundtrip, particularly if you used Williams or Flagstaff as a base.

Considering our time constraints, we stuck to the interstate, but made mental notes that this section of old Route 66 is another "gotta-do" road trip.

About 85 miles west of the Route 66 turnoff is Kingman, where we experienced our final doses of road construction. We also got to see one of the most blatant radar speed traps ever, as well as what certainly appeared to be a massive waste of police personnel--unless Kingman has zero crime and gang problems. There were two different sections of I-40 where road work was ostensibly being done, one each at the east and west ends of town. And, in each instance, the road was restricted to one lane each way. At each of the two work areas there were multiple Kingman P.D. cars, some with radar and some with officers just waiting to go out and add to the city government's coffers. The reduced speed for the eastern work area was semi-realistic, but the zone on the west side of town was ludicrous to an extreme--with progressively lower limits down to a final and exceedingly absurd 15 mph! What a scam! Watch your wallet and your speed (and equip your Vette with a good radar detector) if you're ever in Kingman--this place looks like a cinch for a top ten rating in the judicial theft category.

We made our final stop in Needles, on the California side of the Colorado River. Welcome back to the Golden State--the premium (at least by California standards) gas at the one open Chevron station was $2.449 per gallon. The station was shabby and ill-kept, and the restrooms were so bad that we'd be embarrassed if our dogs had to "go" in that kind of conditions. With that disgusting experience (the first time we've ever felt Californicated) out of the way, we headed home--a 132-mile run across I-40 to Barstow where we merged onto southbound I-15, over Cajon Pass, then west on the Pomona Freeway (State Highway 60) to Whittier. It was good to get home.

Getting there--Funfest--and back in a Corvette was a tremendous experience. If getting to and from Effingham in the most expeditious manner had been our primary concern, driving would've made no sense whatsoever. Fortunately, we didn't have to be ruled by how to make the trip by the quickest means possible. The fun way to go won out over the fast way, and we got to be a part of one of the biggest Corvette events in the country.

Over the course of our 11-day trip, we drove 4,243.2 miles through nine different states. We traversed deserts, high-mountain passes, and broad swathes of plains and grasslands that passed through major cities and small towns which barely qualified as wide spots in the road. The roads we traveled ranged from smooth four- and five-lane interstates to rough and narrow country lanes. Along the way we saw everything from the magnificent Gateway Arch to humble ruts still visible in the western grasslands, where freight-laden wagons pulled by teams of oxen slowly passed 160 years ago. We didn't go looking for America, but we were fortunate enough to experience a sizable portion of it.

The C5 consumed 175.3 gallons of 91 and higher-octane gas at a total fuel cost of $315.07. Our best fuel economy occurred heading east between Springfield and St. Louis, when the automatic coupe averaged 28.45 miles per gallon, and our worst was the leg between Great Bend and Dodge City, in Kansas, when the car got 19.92 mpg. Of course, a combination a multiple decelerations and accelerations for the numerous villages along the route, and sustained triple-digit speeds in between ain't gonna win you any fuel economy awards. So what, it was fun! Our overall measured gas mileage worked out to a quite respectable 24.21 mpg. Gasoline prices ranged from $1.549 per gallon (for 93 octane in St. Louis) to the outrageous $2.449 per gallon for the oxygenated crap forced upon us in California by the smog gestapo. The only times we paid over two bucks a gallon were in California and Phoenix, for the crappiest-quality fuel of the trip. On the eastern leg of our journey, our average speed (per the Driver Information Center) was well over 70 mph. Thanks to a lot of sightseeing on the return trip, our overall average speed dropped to just a hair over 66.

Outside of needing to replace the wiper blades and the batteries for both keyless remotes, the coupe required nothing else over the trip except for a refill of the windshield-washer fluid reservoir. We saw no discernable oil consumption during the trip. It behaved flawlessly, performed superbly, and did everything we asked of it.

A great car and a great trip, what more could you ask for?


The Gateway Arch, seen from the I-64 bridge crossing the Mississippi River.

Off I-70 near Columbia, MO.

Harley-Davidson's Kansas City, MO, Vehicle and Powertrain Operations plant. Three model lineups of H-D motorcycles--Dynas, Sportsters, and V-Rods--are built at this plant. Very comprehensive guided tours are available to the public.

Kansas City. With light rain in the day's forecast, we finally got around to replacing the C5's trashed original wiper blades.

Near Kansas City, KS.

Abilene, Kansas.

We arrived at the Fort Larned, KS, National Historical Site just minutes after it closed for the day. A large portion of the original fort exists in a very good state of preservation. For a 20-year period from the late 1850 through the late 1870s, Larned was a vital military post along the Santa Fe Trail.

Dodge City, KS.

Grain elevators like this one along Highway 50 in Garden City are common sites in many rural communities in southwest Kansas.

"I don't think we're in Kansas any longer, Toto."

Bent's Old Fort National Historical Site, east of La Junta, CO. Twice in 2 days we reached sites that we really wanted to see, after closing time. We'll be back (tomorrow).

La Junta, CO. With a name like that, we had to try it. The steaks and beers were pretty good.

Bent's Old Fort from about 1/4-mile away.

Driving southwest on Highway 350 in southeastern CO, somewhere in the Comanche National Grassland.

Highway 350, between La Junta and Trinidad, CO.

Highway 350, about two-thirds of the way from La Junta to Trinidad. These historical markers are just a few feet from a section of plains that is still deeply scarred by the ruts of thousands of oxen-drawn wagons that passed this spot from the 1830s into the 1870s.

Looking west from Highway 350 near Trinidad.

Looking south from the crest of Raton Pass, elevation 7,834 feet, on the Colorado/New Mexico border.

Western New Mexico. This contemporary church could pass for a well-preserved prehistoric pueblo structure.

Western New Mexico.

A little off the beaten track near Winslow, AZ.

Interstate 40, between Winslow and Flagstaff, AZ.

Flagstaff, AZ.

Bellemont, AZ.

Dead trains east of Williams, AZ.

Interstate 40 west of Williams, leaving the San Francisco Mountains.

Off Interstate 40. Bring along some Maalox if you order the special of the day at the Roadkill 66 Cafe. (Just kidding!)

Radar speed traps don't get much more blatant than this one on the western outskirts of Kingman, AZ. What a scam!

Near Topock, AZ, and the Colorado River, looking to the west.


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