Richard and Suzanne's Big 2002 Road Trip
Stage 4: Linkin' the Lincoln
Trout Creek, MI to Phoenix, AZ

Day 20 - Sunday, June 30th, 2002
Trout Creek, MI to Wisconsin Dells, WI
324 miles

Now it's time to start heading home. After a long morning of packing, loading, reloading, eatin' the leftovers, and saying goodbye, we swung south on US 45 and out of Upper MIchigan. Down into Wisconsin thru Eagle River and Rhinelander, where we saw many flowery multicolored buses heading the other way, with a sheriff's deputy hot on their tail. In Athens, we saw one of the many M60 tanks guarding the city parks of Wisconsin, and stopped to sit under the trees, ride the swings, and pant in the 90+ degree heat. Just south of there, near Poniatowski, we made a point of stopping at a point - the exact center of the north half of the Western Hemisphere (or is it the exact center of the west half of the Northern Hemisphere?) Halfway between the equator and the pole, and 1/4 way round to Greenwich - more fun than Four Corners (but no jewelry sales, though). Either way, we stood at 45 N and 90 W and gazed out at the cornfields stretching across this particular part of the hemisphere, and then continued our journey away from the North Pole and down the belly of Wisconsin. Dinner was in a 70s-style cafe in Stevens Point, and then down to the excitement capital of the Midwest, the I-39/I-90/I-94 interchange? No, the Wisconsin Dells entertainment mecca. We threaded our way past the water parks, thrill shows, amusement centers (but no Tilt-A-Whirls!), and thousands of happy sweating folks, and found a nice place to stay at one of the smaller motels - the happy neon-covered Holiday Motel. The manager set us up in the "Jungle Suite", where we set up camp for the evening among the native carvings, the zebra-striped pillows, and the odd shower plumbing that required two hands and advanced training to figure out. Later in the slightly cooler evening hours, we ventured out into downtown Dells for a bit of sightseeing, window shopping, and Culver's frozen custard.

The amazing sights of central Wisconsin

Day 21 - Monday, July 1st, 2002
Wisconsin Dells, WI to Dubuque, IA
228 miles

We awakened in our jungle lair and listened to the happy kids in the Holiday Motel pool while watching old soaps on the TV. Packed up from our overnight safari, we ventured forth to again visit the cheese shops and souvenir stores as this place left its in-Dell-able impression upon us, and to fill up with Sinclair under the serene gaze of the absolute biggest gas station dinosaur we've seen... yet. Heading west, we rolled along the back roads and through the small towns of Wisconsin. One notable thing about Wisconsin small towns - nearly every one of 'em proclaims themselves to be the "(blank) capital of the country". After Norwalk, the "black squirrel capital of the nation", we eventually ended up in Sparta, the "bicycling capital of the US". Since the weather was warm and the time was short, we didn't unload the tandem and ride, but we did take in many the velorutionary sights of this bicycle-conscious burg. Sparta is home to another important destination as well - it's the birthplace of many of those wacky fiberglass marvels that we so eagerly pay homage to out on the open road. Just north of town, we stopped in at the Fiberglass Animals, Shapes, and Trademarks plant, where the friendly staff let us poke around, take way too many pictures, and encouraged us to purchase a few for home. Alas, our checkbook and our available space didn't permit, so we wandered south on US 61 thru Boscobel (the wild turkey hunting capital of the US) and down to Lancaster, where a great dinner awaited us at Happy Joe's Pizza and Ice Cream. Then a quick jog into East Dubuque, Illinois (bonus state!) and across the Mississippi into Iowa. We cruised past the bunnies and the other Dubuque critters and found a very nice, clean, and quiet place to pass the evening at the charming little Swiss Valley Motel along US 151 a few miles southwest of town.

Ever wonder where they all came from?

Day 22 - Tuesday, July 2nd, 2002
Dubuque, IA to Fremont, NE
354 miles

This morning began with a drive down the ever-changing US 151 - Iowa DOT is in the process of upgrading this road to a 4-lane divided, and while traffic moved reasonably well, there were lots of detours and crossovers to keep us interested. As we were entering Langworthy, large cement elephants and hippopotamuses beckoned us to enter a place named Zimmerman's Lawn Ornaments, and we did not escape without a few amusing items for the backyard. Slightly annoyed by the lack of signal progression as we traveled through Cedar Rapids on the business route, we finally ended up on US 30 - also known as the historic Lincoln Highway. We headed west on the Lincoln through the cornfields and small towns of Iowa, enjoying the scenery, greenery, and the occasional set of Burma Shave signs placed along this historic route. In Boone, we parked downtown under the large Lincoln Highway mural and dropped in on Van Hemerts bakery for some Dutch letter pastries, and then to the Fareway market across the street for pop, groceries, and small-town friendliness. Leaving Boone on Mamie Eisenhower Blvd (she was born there), we continued through the small towns linked by the Lincoln. We later stopped at a Cenex station in Westside to spoil Truckasaurus with a tankful of premium fuel, since through some oddity of ethanol price subsidies the high-test stuff is actually cheaper than regular fuel in Iowa and Nebraska. Then on into Logan, where we relaxed for a while at the carnival set up in the town park (but still no Tilt-A-Whirl sightings this trip!) As evening fell, we decided to stay on US 30 and skip the Lincoln Highway leg into Omaha, and watched the sunset as we crossed the Missouri River into Nebraska & passed the trains trundling over the old truss bridge. Evening found us in Fremont, where we put up our boots at the small but convenient Ranch Motel. Dinner this evening was big slabs of cow at the local Golden Corral, and other than a minor incident involving an inexperienced waitress, some rice, and some blue cheese dressing, we had a great meal.

Nostalgic rhyme by the roadside

Day 23 - Wednesday, July 3rd, 2002
Fremont, NE to Cheyenne, WY
490 miles

As we freed ourselves from Fremont out the Lincoln Highway, we quickly realized that despite its historic significance US 30 is still very much a working road as we made our way among the heavy truck traffic. As we passed through the numerous towns, we saw US flags lining the road such as in this photo from Grand Island. It's clear to see that this year will be a very special Independence Day holiday for many reasons, and not just because of all the fireworks stands. In Shelton we stopped at the Lincoln Highway Visitors Center, but were disappointed that it was closed at the time. We did find some groceries at the local market, and laid in supplies for our further journeys. In the afternoon we reached Kearney, and filled up the truck (with more cheap premium) at the southernmost Holiday station in the US, and filled up our bellies at Taco John's. Just south of Kearney is the Great Platte River Road Archway Monument, a large covered bridge built over Interstate 80 with an interactive extravaganza commemorating the pioneers of yesteryear within. Alas, we found that our supply of time and spare change were too short to take in the entire show, so we postponed it for another time. It was also here that we realized that while traveling the Lincoln Highway was fun, we really needed to put many more miles in this day or else we'd still be on the road long after we're expected back at work. So, we bade our fond farewells to US 30 and the Lincoln Highway and popped onto I-80 to start highballing for the open West. The green countryside began transitioning into the more familiar brown as we rolled westward, but we also saw that things here were dryer than they should be - the rivers of western Nebraska resemble the dry gulches of our Arizona home, and the local papers spoke of water rationing, reduced crop yields, and no limits on fishing before things really dry up. In Ogalalla, a brief stop at an Old West town yielded some funny stuff, including wacky tropical shirts and dinner plates that matched our trailer back home. West of Ogalalla, we took a short trip down I-76 to briefly enter Colorado (bonus state #2!) and send the obligatory postcard from Julesburg, and then looped back up into Nebraska and I-80 for more westward wandering. In Sidney, we overcame the urge to visit yet another Cabelas superstore, but did stop briefly at the local Runza restaurant for a light dinner. Also in Sidney the hot and humid weather we'd been experiencing nonstop since upper Michigan ended abruptly as we entered a wall of thunderstorms rolling across the plains. We were welcomed into Wyoming by a microburst that rocked our truck and had many of the larger trucks looking rather precariously close to going horizontal. Fortunately, the severe stuff subsided quickly, leaving light rain and refreshingly cool temperatures. We completed the day by keeping up our trend of staying in ranch-themed lodgings when we bedded down for the evening at the Guest Ranch Motel in Cheyenne.

The Lincoln Highway - the first transcontinental highway

Day 24 - Thursday, July 4th, 2002
Cheyenne, WY to Salt Lake City, UT
449 miles

We slept in late after yesterday's long day, and began our Independence Day travels with a picnic lunch under blue skies and wonderfully cool temperatures at Holliday Park in Cheyenne. Also found in this park is another wonder - one of the few remaining Union Pacific 4-8-8-4 Big Boy locomotives, the largest steam locomotive ever built. We took our time admiring this giant relic of America's railroading past, and Richard lamented the fact that when he was younger he always wanted one of these for his train layout but of course could never come close to affording it. Training our eyes again on the open road, we left Cheyenne and continued west over the high plains of Wyoming, watching the numerous antelope frolicking on the brown hills. As we reached our highest point of the trip at 8640 feet, we saw off by the side of the road a giant head of Abe Lincoln which serves as a monument to him, his legacy, and to the highway that bore his name (and that we've been following the past several days). We didn't see much of Laramie due to the wall of semi trucks that surrounded us on that piece of I-80, and just kept cruising westward as the miles and the prairie dogs rolled by. Stopped briefly in Rock Springs for a break, and admired the flags of many nations (and many not-so-nations) that lined the main streets of this town. We made it through the I-80 tunnels at Green River guided by our trusty dashboard mascots, and were happy to finally be back in the watershed of the Colorado River and therefore closer to home. A few miles later, we of course could not pass by the town of Little America without stopping, and so we sampled the fine cuisine and 35 cent soft serve cones, and said hi to yet another happy green Sinclair dino. We chose to hold off on buying fuel, though, and our patience was rewarded with $1.22 Sinclair in Evanston. Then into the mountains of Utah, and a very scenic plummet down I-80 past Park City and all the Olympic venues we'd seen on TV a few short months before (that ski jump looks awful high from here!) Then a short busy drive into Salt Lake City, and a cruise up and down US 89 in the twilight to find a place to stay under the impressive neon sign of the Capitol Motel. After unpacking and resting a bit as the skies grew dark, we were treated to not just one, nor two, but three 4th of July fireworks shows in various places around the city that were visible from our fortuitously selected lodging location. We went to bed as the final booms echoed across the valley, and prepared for the final stretch for home.

Doing the 'Locomotion' in Cheyenne

Day 25 - Friday, July 5th, 2002
Salt Lake City, UT to Mesquite, NV
364 miles

We began the day with a driving tour of Salt Lake City, noting the landmarks and the impressive headquarters of the Latter Day Saints folks. Then south along the newly reconstructed I-15 through the interminable urbanity of Draper, Orem and Provo, and then finally out on the open road between the high peaks lining our way. Lunch was at Larry's Drive-In in Fillmore (seat of Millard County!) where we mixed with the many moms & even more numerous kids also partaking of the establishment's treats. Then down past the end of I-70 (say hi to Baltimore for us!) and into the more familiar territory of Cedar City, and then to St George, where Richard put his hard hat back on and started working again - this time to determine sign locations for an optional bike route along the old US 91 corridor in this area. We drove the old highway this time through the tree and cow-lined streets of Santa Clara, and up and over Utah Hill as the old pavement guided us through the curves. Then down the grade and briefly back into Arizona as we bustled through Beaver Dam and rejoined I-15 for a quick dash into Mesquite for our evening's entertainment. We dined, gambled and frolicked at the Eureka, and Richard's good fortune and net winnings made up for at least the cost of dinner, if not other "gambling-related expenses". A room at the Virgin River offered us sound rest - and yet another amusingly oddly-plumbed bath & shower for this trip.

Everyone helps on the driving for this trip!

Day 26 - Saturday, July 6th, 2002
Mesquite, NV to Phoenix, AZ
445 miles

Time to go home. We slept in late, packed up for the final time, and headed across the Nevada deserts, enduring the searing heat but enjoying the absence of humidity. In Las Vegas, we stopped briefly at Arizona Charlie's for a quick break - which stretched a bit longer as Richard's winning streak reasserted itself. Cashing in and heading out, we bypassed the Hoover Dam congestion and joined the endless lines of trucks in both directions on US 95 as we made our way into California (final state!). In Needles, it was Thrifty ice cream at the local drug store (now a Rite-Aid, but with the ice cream counter intact), and then back into Arizona for more work cataloging potential sign locations at the Topock port of entry on I-40. Then south on SR 95 past the teeming throngs of boats and other watercraft on Lake Havasu, and on across Parker Dam and back briefly into California for a drive along the river and a few stops to wave hello to the local wild burro community. As the sun set in our rear view mirror, we turned eastward along SR 72 and made our way back to busy I-10 for the last leg of our journey. Unfortunately, these final few miles turned out to be far from peaceful, as we found ourselves first on scene at a rollover crash near milepost 55 where a pickup truck had been rear-ended by a semi and sent across a box culvert. We remained on scene until after DPS arrived, and stayed safe as we called in information to the ADOT Operations Center. After making sure everything and everyone was OK, we continued on into Tonopah for more snacks to calm our weary but busy bodies. Then the final leg into Phoenix as we reminisced about all the fun we'd had on our grand adventure, and began planning our next trip - to Savannah, Georgia in 2003!

Putting another great trip behind us

All done!

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