The Great Odyssey-Part One

Meteor Crater, Arizona

Meteor Crater, Arizona

As the seconds ticked off a surprising upset win by the Philadelphia Eagles in the Meadowlands against the defending Super Bowl champion New York Giants, I was thinking how great it would be for the Eagles to make it their second Big Game in 4 years. 

My brother Jack (far left in picture above), has been a die-hard Eagles fan since Santa Claus left a #12 Randall Cunningham Hutch jersey and helmet for him, way back on Christmas of 1991.  Thanks to Tecmo Super Bowl and Sunday Ticket, his love for the boys in green has rivaled anybody’s for their favorite team.  While the rest of us are Chiefs fans, we are all Eagles fans too.

So when the opportunity arose from our generous and awesome parents to attend, in person, the NFC Championship Game in Phoenix the following week, we all jumped on it.  Just the four brothers, embarking on what would be an incredible adventure and despite the loss of sleep in the 3,000 miles incurred on my Yukon, it now proves as a highlight in each of our lives.

Friday morning 11:15.  -4 below in Ankeny.  Up an astounding 23 degrees from the night before, as we all had attended an AC/DC concert in Omaha and got home around 2:30 am.  Jack arrived with a bag of necessities (his laptop, which as Tecmo on it) and a bag of clothes.  We get the freshly-lubed Yukon packed and moving towards Jeff’s.

Friday noon.  We are packed at Jeff’s and head to Dan’s apartment.  At 12:15, Jeff is driving and points our chariot south.  The promise of mid-70 degree temperatures is enticing, as is the chance to play a couple seasons of Tecmo.  Luckily, Jeff brings his portable DVD player and we have a healthy collection of Family Guy/South Park/Simpsons seasons to get is down and back.  The snow is still falling on I-35, but the temperature has risen all the way up to 12 above.

Jack takes the Browns, Dan takes the Packers, and I take the Jets.  The Jets and Browns do well, while Don Majekowski proves why Brett Favre took over for him.  Before you know it, we are in and through Kansas City.

4:00 Friday afternoon, Ottawa, KS.  We stop to fuel up at a BP and fuel ourselves up on the deplorable Wendy’s value menu.  I had a couple of crappy bacon cheeseburgers that would prove to be my last meal before breakfast the next morning.  I take over the drive and the first foray into Family Guy takes over the DVD player.  An above-freezing 33 degrees sneaks its way onto my thermometer, a most welcomed sight.

For those who have never traveled in Kansas, it is amazing to hit the landscape between KC and Wichita.  It is the Great Plains, not the rolling hills and prairies that we are all so used to in Iowa.  There’s not much there, but it is still beautiful to me…this is basically what the pioneers saw as they pushed west across what was then called the Great American Desert.

Wichita was regrettably the last we would see the friendly four-lanes for several hours, as Dad had charted a course across the desolate Kansas plains on Highway 54, a conduit from Kansas into New Mexico.  Whatever boredom we could stand, this two-lane terror was prepared to dole it out.  Not much more than 20 miles west of the Kansas Turnpike’s exit, the road turns two-lane and 65 mph speed limits set in.  By this time (6:00) it is dark already.

The worst part about traveling by two-lane road is definitely the little towns you must pass through, and all of the local traffic who utilize their roads, obvlivious to out-of-state drivers who want nothing more than to pass by quickly and without delay.  Towns like Pratt, Greensburg (complete ghost town, eerily quiet and still after the F5 tornado that devastated it), and Meade roll by, without much to distinguish one from another.

10:00 Friday night, Liberal, KS.  I have been driving for over 350 miles and Jack and Dan were a little antsy to contribute to the trip.  We fueled at a Conoco and Jack took over, prepared to put rubber in 4 states in one 3 hour drive.  Highway 54 immediately exits Kansas and cuts diagonally across both the Oklahoma and Texas panhandles, before hitting New Mexico and intersecting I-40 at Tucumcari.  That was his goal.

Dan went to sleep and Jeff rode up front with Jack as South Park was rocking it on the DVD player.  I struggle to sleep in a vehicle (always have) and staying awake was tough despite this.  There is NOTHING in Texas and New Mexico, as lone trees and road ditches were our only companions as Friday passed into Saturday. 

1:30 Saturday morning, Tucumcari, NM.  Being in a trucking family, one appreciates good truck stops and also when to take advantage of fueling chances, particularly when in the middle of nowhere.  A Flying J is usually a good bet, and we had one here at Tucumcari, our gateway to I-40 and the Southwest.  Jeff takes over after we realize that we’ve been running on one headlight.  I have expected Jakob Dylan to stumble out of the convenience store and start wailing away, Wallflowers style.  Alas, I had nothing but South Park to offer him had he done that.

Immediately upon joining the four-lane party again, the State of New Mexico thought it would be a good idea to have 12 miles of construction and 55 mph.  Soon, 75 is the speed limit, and the cold, hard wind of the High Plains kicks in, dropping the air down to a chilling 24 degrees.

4:00 Saturday morning, Albuquerque, NM.  Jeff had found a Radisson just off the interstate for $55 a night on-line, as Albuquerque was the designated “crash site” for the trip down.  And crash we did.  Jeff and I shared one room and literally within minutes of entering the room, we were both out.  Apparently, I was talking in my sleep, like I usually do when under stress.  Poor Jeff, he must think that’s all I ever do.

Waking in the morning at 9:30 our time, Jeff sauntered off to the indoor pool, but it was closed until 10, plus it was chilly.  Wal-Mart was my destination, a headlight my quest, and luckily, there was one located just a half mile north.  You’re never far from low, low prices.

Jeff and I went to seek out my headlight and we found it plus some cheap tools to pull of the change.  We hit a McDonald’s for breakfast, and $26 later, we were back to the hotel, trying to round Jack and Dan up.  By this time, it was pushing noon our time.

12:20 Saturday afternoon, Albuquerque.  We fueled at a Phillips 66 and Dan was the pilot, prepared to take his first miles behind the wheel.  Little did any of us know, but he would get the plum of the whole trip:  New Mexico and Arizona by daylight.

As I-40 snakes its way towards Arizona, there are plenty of despicable Indian towns, which would no doubt draw a “Go back to your shanties!” comment from Shooter McGavin.  We were all apalled at the lifestyle lived by Native Americans like the Navajo and what passed as a home.  I guess we really have it good.  We hit the low 50s almost immediately upon leaving Albuquerque.

We passed through some of the loneliest, most beautiful country I’ve ever been through, with nothing but desert stretching as far as the eye can see.  The Navajo Nation and Petrified Forest National Park passed by, as we had our sights set on hitting what any space geek would have to see if the opportunity arose:  Meteor Crater.

4:30 Saturday afternoon, Meteor Crater, AZ.  Just a scant 6 miles south of the interstate, we followed what looked like an old cowpath to the most well preserved impact crater on planet Earth.  50,000 years ago, an iron meteorite dug out a 4000 foot wide, 600 foot deep hole in the desert floor and from the outside, it looks like any one of the many mesas we had passed already.  But it is quite different looking into it, as your sense of perspective is challenged due to the scale of the whole thing.  It was 55 degrees here, and while normally this should be on the chilly side, it was the most pleasant 55 degrees I can ever remember.  No need for a jacket or even sleeves.  You do need $15 a pop to look into the crater, however, which we handed over.

6:20 Saturday afternoon, Mund’s Park, AZ.  I took over for Dan at a little mountain town south of Flagstaff on I-17 for fuel at a Shell.  He had been at the helm for over 350 miles and I was going to take us into the city.

Now, Dad had mentioned that there are mountains around Flagstaff, and while I had driven in mountains before, I had never driven ones like these.  Flagstaff sits at 7000 feet above sea level and Phoenix at roughly 1100 feet.  Within 2 hours, you have to drop that much elevation.

I rounded a bend in the road and was greeted with a view that I’ll never forget.  It is just the beginning of the big drop (6% grade signs start popping up), and drivers are presented with a stunning scene of canyons, mountains, and valleys.  The Yukon didn’t like some of the climbs it had to make, as you pass to 3000 feet and then climb BACK up to 4000, then drop again. 

8:30 Saturday evening, Phoenix, AZ.  We finally arrived in the Valley of the Sun, taking right around 1450 miles to get there.  The temp:  71 degrees.  Our room was at the Embassy Suites and we were not disappointed, particularly with the huge outdoor pool, that was easily 100 feet in diameter.

Since we had not eaten anything since scarfing down McDonald’s breakfast way back in New Mexico and subsisting on nothing else but primo root beer and chocolate chip cookies, Outback was in order.  We found one about 3 miles south of the hotel.

Jack had a coupon for a free Bloomin’ Onion, and literally within seconds, it was devoured by 4 starving buffaloes.  Our waitress said as much too:  “Wow, you guys just inhaled that!”  So we had to explain why we had eaten 2 loaves of bread and a whole onion so fast;  I think she thought we were Cardinals fans if we drove all the way from Des Moines to watch the football game.

Once back at the hotel, we took a swim in the pool and the hot tub, being the last ones to leave, at around 1:00 that morning.  I slept fairly well that night, even if I had to share a double bed with Jack.

More in Part Two, as we actually attend the game and then immediately start the 24 hour non-stop trek back to Iowa in a bitter mood.

~ by goetgre on January 27, 2009.

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