We love to travel and especially enjoy roadtrips across America. Since we’ve been married in 2019, the two of us–along with Mr. Beefy, our “King of the Hill Country” canine–have been to Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Louisiana, and Maryland.
We also enjoyed Mississippi, Missouri, Nevada, New Mexico, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Texas, Virginia, Washington DC, West Virginia…and we’ve just started.
Both of us have peculiar little quirks of interests, individually and those we share: museums, historical sites, camping, amusement parks, birdwatching, theater, concerts and roadside attractions.
One in particular is viewing restored pieces of history, especially trains, planes and automobiles. When it comes to restoring things from the past, such as an antique or junk someone left behind, there’s plenty of room to let the imagination run wild.
Being Baby Boomers, it’s not so hard to enjoy seeing what others have done by restoring vintage travel trailers. We hope these make you smile.
Dodie and I have spent the past two weeks traveling the American Southwest with stops in Arizona and Colorado.
Thursday and Friday (May 27-28, 2021) we visited southeastern New Mexico to learn what we could about the famous Roswell UFO Incident of July 8, 1947.
If any UFO related event has garnered the highest number of headlines and people’s attention in history, it was here.
Driving in Roswell reveals much evidence around town that the community embraces their UFO history.
From storefronts with cartoonish aliens to alien street light lamps to a variety of alien-inspired attractions and museums, this definitely is a Mecca for UFO enthusiasts.
Allegedly, an alien spacecraft crashed in a ranch northwest of Roswell and was actually covered by both the local newspaper and Air Force news.
The news was blasted across the globe but was rapidly covered up by the US military and federal government. Over the years official statements alleged the crash was a weather balloon. In the 1990s it was identified as “radar targets”.
However, there are many secrets of the Roswell alien and UFO story that point toward the fact that what had crashed was nothing but an alien spacecraft.
(1) The Roswell Army Air Field or the RAAF had initially released a press release based on the Roswell Daily Record newspaper with the headlines ‘RAAF captures flying saucer on ranch in Roswell region’. The news however got changed to the crashed object being a weather balloon by the next morning.
(2) On July 2. 1947, a UFO was seen flying northwest in the skies above Roswell, New Mexico, but what happened to that UFO was not known to anyone. It is believed that it is the same UFO that had crashed a few days later.
(3) Rancher Mac Brazel, whose ranch was the crashing ground for the unidentified flying object had reported that the crash had happened in the first week of July, however the cover-up story said that the weather balloon had crashed on 14 June 1947. Such a timing gap certainly reveals a lot about the probable cover-up attempts by the officials.
(4) In 1989, a young local mortician, Glenn Dennis, claimed that his friend, who worked as a nurse at the Roswell Army Air Field, entered one of the examination rooms to discover that the doctors were bent over and examining the bodies of three creatures. As per the description of the nurse, the creatures had big bald heads, small bodies and long arms.
Dennis was working at Ballard Funeral Home when he received some curious calls one afternoon from the Roswell Air Force morgue. The base’s mortuary officer was needing small, hermetically sealed coffins and also wanted to know how to preserve bodies that had been exposed to the elements for a few days and avoid contaminating the tissue.
Dennis later said that evening he drove to the base hospital, where he saw large pieces of wreckage with strange engravings on one of the pieces sticking out of the back of a military ambulance. He entered the hospital and was visiting with the nurse he knew when suddenly he was threatened by military police and forced to leave.
The next day, Dennis met with the nurse, who told him about bodies discovered with the wreckage and drew pictures of them on a prescription pad. Within a few days she was transferred to England; her whereabouts remain unknown.
(5) Many witnesses reported seeing a blazing aircraft high up in the sky moments before it crashed onto the ground. As per the witnesses, what crashed down certainly did not look like a weather balloon of any type.
(6) As per witness rancher Mac Brazel and Major Jesse Marcel, the debris of the crash site contained small beams that were about ¾ or ½ inch square with some sort of hieroglyphics on them that was completely undecipherable, rubber strips, tin foils and a type of tough paper with sticks and many more unidentifiable objects. The debris that was shown to the press later on did not have any of these things.
(7) If a weather balloon would have crashed in reality, there should have been long strings that would have connected the 700 feet long Project Mogul weather balloon, but in reality there was nothing like that observed in the wreck that was shown to the press, leaving the question burning that was it actually a weather balloon that had crashed in the fields of Roswell.
(8) The RAAF officials had given testimonials that the spread of the debris was nothing beyond 200 yards, whereas the reality is that the debris of the crash had a spread of ¾ mile long and around 500 feet wide.
(9) The wreckage of the object that had crashed in Roswell was loaded on a B-29 fighter plane and flown to Wright Field, which later was renamed Wright Patterson Air force base and served as a storage ground for all UFO related contents.
(10) Apart from the crash at Roswell, there was another crash site in an area known as Plains of San Agustin that lay west of Socorro in New Mexico. A damaged metallic craft was recovered, and allegedly dead alien bodies were discovered. This news was completely suppressed by the Air Force according to locals.
Sedona, Arizona, was extremely busy and has grown since my last visit in 2016. Always beautiful, we stopped briefly to live in the moment of this enchanting destination, but elected to move on. That took a while as we endured the traffic jams.
I will seriously think twice about going through again and thought it sad that one of my favorite places ever has become far too popular.
It was melancholic realizing future generations will never experience the magic many of us did.
Commercialized and extensively developed, Sedona is well on her way to a busy future.
We drove on north to the mountain town of Flagstaff, a truly charming place to stop for a while. We spent the night on May 20th. Dodie’s favorite hotel there is Little America, but we didn’t make reservations this time.
We will be back, perhaps this fall, in our camping van to explore the historic downtown area, where various art galleries, enticing boutiques, Native American shops, outdoor outfitters, eateries, and microbreweries dwell amid the 19th-century streets.
Dodie’s son, Jackson, graduated from Northern Arizona University there, so she is familar with university’s museum, the intriguing Lowell Observatory, and the turn-of-the-20th-century Riordan Mansion State Historic Park.
There are three national monuments located within 7.5 to 33 miles of Flagstaff: Walnut Canyon National Monument, Sunset Crater Volcano National Monument, and Wupatki National Monument. We’ll be back.
Almost 50,000 years ago a giant fireball streaked across the North American sky from east to west before it struck the Earth with a force 150 times bigger than the atomic bomb.
The last time I visited Meteor Crater was in June 1979. My, it is a far better experience seeing and learning from it as a man in my 60s (vs 20s).
We discovered, through their museum, two quick movies and visitor center, that the impact “generated immensely powerful shock waves in the meteorite, the rock and the surrounding atmosphere. In the air, shock waves swept across the level plain devastating all in their path for a radius of several miles. In the ground, as the meteorite penetrated the rocky plain, pressures rose to over 20 million pounds per square inch, and both iron and rock experienced limited vaporization and extensive melting. Beyond the melted region, an enormous volume of rock underwent complete fragmentation and ejection.”
“The result of these violent conditions was the excavation of a giant bowl-shaped cavity. In seconds, a crater 700 feet deep, over 4,000 feet across, and 2.4 miles in circumference was carved into this once-flat rocky plain. During its formation, over 175 million tons of limestone and sandstone were abruptly thrown out to form a continuous blanket of debris surrounding the crater for a distance of over a mile.”
Before we drove east on IH-40 (old Route 66) to visit the Crater, we ate breakfast at IHOP. As I walked out the front door, I heard a loud crack-pop burst. I thought it was lightning.
The winds were so hard it popped the top third of a 40 foot Juniper tree in two. We were parked less than 30 feet from it.
Highway warning signs advised of hard winds and dark dust storms ahead. The five mile drive from the highway to the Crater Visitor Center was surreal as if we were on Mars. I could barely stay on the two lane road with red dirt and heavy gusts fighting me all the way.
When Dodie took Mr. Beefy to the visitor center’s dog kennel, I went to purchase tickets. Again, I heard a loud crash and whirling noise as I was about to enter. I held the door open for a man who was exiting and he yelled, “Oh my God!”
He saw the front windshield blow out of his truck and watched it fly over 400 feet away–luckily, away from the parking area into an empty pasture.
Roland, an employee, told us the reported winds were 45-55 mph with gusts into the 90s. Before we proceeded into the museum, a young couple drove up and the front grill and bumper blew off their car. Roland remained busy filling out incident reports that afternoon.
American workers, happy to be returning to the travel, food and hospitality fields, are welcoming us back with open arms–only six feet away.
We had wonderful feedback after posting several articles about our recent 32-day, 4500 mile roadtrip from the Texas Hill Country through much of the South, Washington D.C. (for July 4th), to part of the Midwest and back.
Like so many travelers, we learned that our preconceived ideas manifested from mainstream news (and the continually changing regulations around COVID-19) were blown away with the reality we experienced.
Reader feedback confirms what we are seeing: routes and destinations are open to travelers, including campers with self-contained RVs, virtually everywhere.
Except in the most restricted areas–as determined by local politicians–most restaurants and stores are open with COVID-19 restrictions varying by state, city and location.
We often have trip themes to help make planning and experiences fun. For example, our “Elvis Presley Roadtrip” took us chronologically to the King of Rock n’ Roll’s rented house while in boot camp at Ft. Hood, Texas. In Shreveport, we stopped at his statue in front of the venue he played on weekends for the Louisiana Hayride radio broadcasts.
We journeyed up the Delta Blues Highway 61 in Mississippi to Memphis. Graceland, Sun Studio, his first house on Audubon Street and other sites chronicled his life at home. Tupelo, his birthplace, revealed much about his childhood and roots.
Per your requests and shared information, here are updates on more great RV, camper and biker road trips around the country.
East Coast Lighthouses
The Atlantic coast provides picturesque lighthouse themed road trip opportunities. With beautiful beaches and lighthouses dotting the coast, there are comfortably accommodating routes. Some of the best East Coast lighthouses locations include:
Cape Cod, MA
Assateague State Park, MD
North Carolina’s Outer Banks (Cape Hatteras Lighthouse and Bodie Island)
For the remainder of summer, lighthouses located in the Mid-Atlantic and South will likely be the most accessible.
In our previous post, we offered information on Historic Route 66 in the Midwest, specifically Missouri through Oklahoma. We’ve since learned the Texas Panhandle through Arizona is fairly wide open.
Going West from Oklahoma, check out the Leaning Britten Water Tower on I-40 at exit 114 in Groom, Texas. The water tower, signage, and geography was the inspiration for the Pixar animated “Cars” movie series. The tower was deliberately constructed to lean to one side to catch our eye and get us to stop in Groom.
Also in Groom, a giant Cross with statues depicting Biblical scenes is garnering much attention.
The Big Texan Restaurant in Amarillo is open. (7701 E. Interstate 40 Amarillo, TX 806-372-6000). With souvenirs galore, this famous steakhouse has been a Route 66 icon since 1960. It is home to the “Free 72 oz. Steak.” If you can eat their 72 oz. steak dinner in one hour, you’ll get it free.
After leaving The Lone Star State on the New Mexico border at Glenrio, Texas, Route 66 continued west in its original 1926 alignment, through Tucumcari, Cuervo, and Santa Rosa before turning north for Santa Fe.
From the capital city, it ran southwest thru Albuquerque and Grants to Gallup near the Arizona border.
In later years, it would continue west from the Santa Rosa area through Clines Corner on a more direct route to Albuquerque.
Arizona, always a favorite Route 66 destination, has many miles of original roadbeds still open–and minimal congestion on most segments.
The largest city on this route is Flagstaff, with only about 74,000 residents. Other stops along the way are smaller towns where excellent traffic conditions offer a great Route 66 theme drive in Arizona: Holbrook, Winslow, Flagstaff, Williams, Ash Fork, Seligman, Kingman and Oatman.
Some of today’s journey is on I-40, which parallels the old Route 66 in many places. Some RVers drive the segments of the original road where it still remains. Exits from I-40 onto Route 66 are marked in many locales.
Driving time non-stop from Lupton (near Gallup) at the New Mexico border to Oatman is about six hours. We usually split the trip up into at least two or three days, or more if we elect to camp for longer periods of time along the way.
At this point we usually try to carve out time to visit Grand Canyon National Park. It’s possible to visit South Rim with day passes at the southern entrances near Tusayan. Limited overnight accommodations are available, so book your campground reservations early.
I don’t have much personal experience with Route 66 in California, although about six years ago I did see an “End of the Trail” sign on the Santa Monica Pier.
American Mountains West
The motherlode of RV road trips for many, a usual America Mountains West tour begins in Colorado. There are good campgrounds all around Colorado Springs. Journeying outside Denver lets you visit Estes National Park and Rocky Mountain National Park. The national parks may have timed entries, so advanced planning is important.
We’re hearing Yellowstone National Park in Wyoming is controlling the amount of visitors they are allowing and are busy. Good luck.
U.S. Grand Teton National Park, also in Wyoming, is following a phased reopening too, but one reader said it was fairly wide open in mid-July. She also mentioned Montana’s Glacier National Park is real good since they started increasing recreational access in early June 2020.
Due to the temporary closure of the United States and Canada border, visiting the Canadian or Alaskan portions of the Rockies may not be possible.
South Dakota’s Black Hills
Since President Trump visited Mount Rushmore on July 3rd, the area has welcomed more visitors.
The Black Hills in western South Dakota are good for experiencing a different set of mountains. It’s about a 6-hour drive (390 miles) from Denver to Rapid City. You’re also 7 hours (426 miles) from Yellowstone National Park to Rapid City.
Key Black Hills landmarks include:
Custer State Park
Crazy Horse Memorial
The Black Hills Wine Trail can be a relaxing way to see the Black Hills region. Many South Dakota wineries began reopening in late May. I’m told most are now open.
California is hit and miss and is gradually reopening for tourism. Others are telling us to stay away from San Francisco and Los Angeles for various reasons.
My personal experience has been driving from Napa Valley south along California Highway 1 (CA-1). It allowed us to drive on the lanes closest to the Pacific coastline. It actually is one of most scenic in the state, but I have to admit we drove it in a car, not an RV.
California’s Yosemite National Park is a must-see, but note that you currently need reservations. During the initial reopening phase, the park was issuing up to 1,700 day passes with limited operating hours. As of June 25, 2020, you can visit most of the key landmarks, including:
Other inland California landmarks include the Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks. These parks can be a great option if you want to see more Giant Sequoias than what Yosemite’s Mariposa Grove offers.
Although most states are RV-friendly this summer despite the coronavirus travel restrictions, there are a few cautions. We’ve heard Seattle, Portland, San Francisco, St. Louis, Milwaukee and New York City areas are not recommended.
Some states, including Maine, Vermont, and New Hampshire, are currently only open to regional residents.
Many state and private campgrounds began reopening in May or June. We highly recommend you make reservations to secure your spots. Unlike previous camping seasons, some campground shower and bathroom facilities may not be open, but since June 19th (in the South, Mid-Atlantic and Midwest regions) they were all available.
However some rest stops had restrooms closed and water fountains off. But they tended to be more open as we moved through July. As RVs are self-contained, you should be okay in most places.
We have just returned from a 32-day, 4500 mile roadtrip (June 19-July 21) from the Texas Hill Country through much of the South, Washington D.C. for July 4th, to part of the Midwest and back.
Our preconceived ideas from news and the continually changing regulations around COVID-19 were blown away with the reality we experienced. It actually restored our faith in the goodness of America.
People of all ages, creeds, races and sexes were friendly, polite and eager to be traveling. By far, they agreed that what news outlets portray and what is actually happening are not in sync. We met scores of campers and travelers who indicated they had no problems with getting reservations and lodging.
We found our routes and destinations were open to travelers, including campers with self-contained RVs.
Most restaurants and stores were open with COVID-19 restrictions varying by state, city and location.
Our plans were modified only twice because of not feeling welcomed due to tourist closures.
1. We bypassed Nashville because the Grand Old Opry, Country Music Hall of Fame and Johnny Cash Museum were closed. Nearby Murfreesboro was welcoming for an overnight stay.
2. We left St. Louis immediately after driving to the Gateway Arch and seeing seedy characters in garbage, urine and feces infested tent encampments throughout the area. Wildwood, about 20 miles southwest on Historic Route 66, was awesome.
Here are some of the most notable routes we enjoyed and recommend.
Blue Ridge Parkway
A road trip gem, left Pigeon Forge and Gatlinburg areas towards the Blue Ridge Parkway. This scenic byway traverses the Great Smoky Mountains and Blue Ridge Mountains across Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley. We especially enjoyed Appalachian towns like North Carolina’s Asheville and Mt. Airy (Andy Griffith Museum).
RVers should be aware some roads have tunnel height restrictions. Check the tunnel restrictions for your planned route. The most restricting tunnels have a maximum height of 18 feet. Cell phone reception could be an issue depending on your carrier (we had no problems with Cricket). There were very few gas stations and other amenities limited. We remained anticipatory and planned ahead just in case.
Highway 61, known as the “blues highway,” is rich with the history of musicians in the Mississippi Delta area. It’s the birthplace of the blues and the roots of much of American music.
The original route went from New Orleans to Minnesota, but most of the history of the blues is embedded in Mississippi.
We started in Vicksburg, Mississippi, a great spot to understand some of the roots of the blues. In 1863 Vicksburg was under siege from the Union Army. General John Pemberton (Confederate) surrendered Vicksburg to General Grant (Union) after sustaining huge losses and facing a catastrophic defeat by an army that greatly outnumbered his abled soldiers.
The Blues developed from slaves toiling on the cotton plantations in Mississippi. The war was over and slavery was officially abolished. Opportunities slowly merged forward toward Memphis, St. Louis and Chicago. The music permeated across the Mississippi Delta.
Some say Clarksdale, Mississippi is the birthplace of the blues. While most of the old Juke Joints have perished, we stopped by Ground Zero Blues Club (co-owned by Morgan Freeman). It’s a great place to see talented musicians perform and enjoy local food favorites including fried green tomatoes, Mississippi tamales and catfish.
At the Highway 61/49 intersection is a famous location known as The Crossroads. It’s where Robert Johnson was fabled to have sold his soul to the Devil to be the King of Delta Blues. Robert Johnson was born in 1911 and died just 27 years later.
Highway 61 leads to Memphis, the land of Elvis Presley, SUN Studio, Beale Street and Graceland. The Graceland RV Park is conveniently located next to the Elvis Memphis complex and museums.
Natchez Trace Parkway
The Natchez Trace Parkway is an excellent route to see the southern United States by RV. We loved it because no commercial trucking or 18-wheelers are allowed.
Although it’s over 440 miles from Natchez, Mississippi to Nashville, we started in Tupelo, Mississippi after visiting Elvis Presley’s Birthplace. We stopped often to see waterfalls, prehistoric mounds, and other historical landmarks.
Like the scenic Blue Ridge Parkway, there are maximum RV restrictions. The maximum length is 55 feet (including a tow vehicle) and a 14 feet height restriction.
Long before our current national interstate highway system, federal highways, like U.S. Route 66, were main thoroughfares. On historic Route 66, you can explore America’s Heartland and other enchanting pockets of the United States from Chicago to Los Angeles.
We did join Route 66 again later in Oklahoma City. Continuing West, we could have carved out time to visit Grand Canyon National Park, but elected to return back to Texas after four weeks on the road.
New Travel Resources
U.S. State Department’s Traveler Checklist. Read more
The TripIt app has a relative new feature that shows safety scores from 1 to 100 for neighborhoods around the world, representing low to high risk. These scores cover a variety of categories, such as women’s safety, access to health and medical services, and political freedoms. Travelers will find safety scores for their lodging, restaurant and activity locations there.
When I asked the legendary comedian Jerry Lewis, who was 83, what the key to happiness is for him, he immediately had an answer.
“Do you remember when you were nine years old?” he smiled. “Always be the person you were when you were nine.”
I definitely was nine years old Saturday, July 11th. Dodie thinks she was about twelve.
“It was the first time I laughed so much in one place in such a long time,” she said later.
St. Louis was depressing and felt unsafe. Tent compounds downtown and on the lawns of government buildings told me all I needed to know about their lack of government leadership. Spray painted statues and walls sent a message of anarchy as if it was welcomed. Tourists certainly aren’t.
We learned that the Jefferson Memorial National Monument which the Gateway Arch is part, is not “Jefferson” anymore. A couple of years ago is became Gateway Arch National Park.
Built in 1965 to commemorate westward expansion, the Arch stands 630 feet high and is also 630 feet wide at the base. Underneath it is a museum about the exploration of the Louisiana Purchase. The other part of the memorial is the old courthouse, where the Dred Scott Decision ruled that a slave did not become a free man because he was taken into a free state.
We drove out via the old and historical Route 66. Originally, about 2,400 miles of highway snaked through eight states — Illinois, Missouri, Kansas, Oklahoma, Texas, New Mexico, Arizona and finally California.
Since the highway was decommissioned, Route 66 no longer exists on modern maps. In some places the physical road is actually unpaved and virtually impassable.
But when possible, and I have the time, it’s fun to follow some of the original road and enjoy the nostalgia. Because it wound through so many small towns, hundreds of odd little trading posts, motels and attractions popped up along the way. Although Route 66 faded into obsolescence, many of these pit stops remain.
Route 66 holds a special place in American history. It illustrated the evolution of the American road from unpaved dirt to superhighway. It provided an economic and social link between the West and the Midwest, offering an artery for millions of people to relocate and change their lives. Route 66 assisted in transforming the West from wild frontier to modern community.
Route 66 also showcases some of the most beautiful scenery in America. The longest drive I’ve ever experienced of the Route was in Arizona around Flagstaff, Sedona and the Grand Canyon regions.
In some states, Route 66 parallels the interstate highway and known as “Historic Route 66.” When leaving Wildwood, Missouri Saturday morning, we elected to travel on Highway 100 because of the Route 66 designation. The winding road and scenery forced a more slow, but relaxing pace southward.
We eventually caught up with IH-44 (with on and off Route 66 designations along the way) heading towards Branson.
That’s where the “Kicks” began. Even the roadside rest areas have the Route 66 theme. It was at one that I read about Andy Payne.
Back in 1928, a year before the Great Depression, Payne ran — and won — an event called the “Transcontinental Footrace.” It started in Los Angeles and ended in New York City. It covered 3,400 miles and the entirety of Route 66. Payne, a Cherokee from Oklahoma, won $25,000 for his 573-hour run. Today a statue in his honor stands in Foyil, Okla., along historic road.
Popping up like old Burma Shave or The Thing signs in Arizona, Mermac Caverns advertising is painted on barns and scattered on billboards along IH-44. Located near Stanton, Missouri, they bill it as “The Jesse James Hideout,” a disputed claim. There’s even a Jesse James Museum across the highway claiming he lived until 1951.
Although not as many signs as the Mermac Caverns, it was the Uranus Fudge Factory billboards that drew us to our 9 and 12 year old selves. Immature and hilarious, we laughed so hard it was impossible not to want to go in.
Uranus Missouri is definitely my favorite pit stop of all time. When pulling into the parking lot, we were greeted by dinosaurs, the “World’s Largest Best Buckle” (certified by Ripley’s), a space rocket, a sideshow museum, the Uranus Axehole, Mooncorn Creamery, Uranus Fudge Factory and more.
As soon as we walked into the General Store friendly staff greeted us with a rootin-tootin, “Welcome to Uranus! The best fudge in the world is right here in Uranus!”
Everything is just wacky. I’m sure the borderline humor would trouble some folks. We just went into pre-teen mode, got past the innuendo and just rolled with the humor.
Sure, it’s tacky and touristy, but we grinned, smiled and laughed the whole 40 minutes we were there.