Monday, September 30, 2019

Happy: Rest Stop Skills

Hi, I'm Happy! One of the first things to learn if you're going to be a road dog, is how to make the most of your so-called "rest" stops. I really don't understand why Boss Macgellan calls them that, because I get plenty of rest while we're driving. When we stop, it's time to roll around in the grass!

All our stops are really fun, because besides rolling in the grass, I get to check up on everybody's p-mail and see who has been here leaving messages. It just occurred to me that if I'm going to be a modern dog, I should probably call it a p-instagram. Anyway, we're having another great road trip!

US60: Northern Oklahoma

Yesterday was a long but uneventful day on the road. An hour west of Springfield, MO, we crossed into northern Oklahoma and began a 200+ mile run on good, not great, roads to Enid, OK.

Unless you've driven across the US, it is hard to imagine the vast expanses you encounter along the way. I could offer you dozens of photos from yesterday, but they all look pretty much the same:

One thing that's noteworthy is the variety of small towns you pass through at fairly regular intervals. While almost all show signs of being depressed and depopulated, they do so to different degrees. Some show signs of persisting, while others seem like they've just about given up the fight.

After three straight days of driving, Happy and I were ready for our regular "day off' from the road. I was hopeful about spending it here in Enid, OK, because of several amusements on offer that seemed appealing. Sadly, they are all closed on Mondays, so I'm not sure we'll be able to enjoy much diversion.

Nevertheless, we will enjoy some relaxation, catching up with ourselves, resetting our gear and generally preparing for the next lengthy stints... Stay tuned!

Saturday, September 28, 2019

US60: Southern Missouri

Here's a trick I've learned about cross-country driving: Heading west, start early and stop early; heading east, start late and stop late. That strategy will minimize the amount of time you're driving into the sun, which is much more fatiguing than having the sun behind you or overhead.

Accordingly, Happy and I were out of Paducah, KY, early this morning on a good two-lane road heading west. Pretty soon, we crossed the Ohio River, spent a hot minute – only about a half mile – on the very southern tip of Illinois at Fort Defiance, then crossed the Mississippi River into Missouri.

US60 continues as a good two-lane rural road, among smaller agricultural fields and copses of trees.

Minutes later, US60 joins I-57 for a few miles, then continues as "Future I-57" for about 50 miles. After crossing I-55, US60 continues on its own as a major east/west corridor. For about 200 miles to Springfield, MO, it is a high-speed, divided four-lane thruway.

We have stopped for the night in Springfield and will continue west early in the morning.

US60 Extra: Diverging Diamond Interchange

Leaving Paducah, KY, this morning, drove through my first Diverging Diamond Interchange (DDI).

I had seen videos about them in the past and they looked quite innovative. After driving one this morning, I declare that they are genius! By shifting the arterial lanes, they vastly improve flow on and off the highway, greatly reduce backups on the ramps, and speed up traffic on the arterials.

If the US ever seriously undertakes nationwide infrastructure improvement, I hope as many interchanges are converted to DDIs as possible!

Friday, September 27, 2019

US60: Southwestern Kentucky

Our day-long drive across southwestern Kentucky completes our transit of what I would describe as the state's three distinct geographies: Mountains in the east, rolling hills in the middle and wide open flatlands in the southwest. It's hard to describe and even harder to photograph from a moving car.

As a result of the flatter terrain, farm fields out here tend to be much larger than in the rolling hills.

It's harvest season, so there were a few times when we got held up and had to pass some extremely large farm equipment. Besides that, it was a smooth, fast drive.

We are spending the night in Paducah, KY, just a few miles from the Missouri border. We plan to transit most of the Show-Me State tomorrow... Stay tuned!

US60 Detour: John James Audubon State Park

Happy and I were just looking for a quiet green space to take a walk, when we found a gem in Henderson, KY: John James Audubon State Park

During the Depression, local admirers of famous naturalist and bird illustrator John Audubon lobbied congress to create a park in his name.

From 1810-1819, Audubon had lived in the Henderson area, roaming the woods, finding and painting birds in their natural habitat.

As a result, a crew of some 150 young men from the Civilian Conservation Corps were dispatched to the area and worked for a number of years.

In 2005, this statue was erected in honor of their excellent and enduring work.

In the process, they built roads, campgrounds, picnic shelters, hiking trails, and cottages like the one shown below. They even hand dug the large lake in the background.

The twin jewels of the facility are the Norman style museum building, in honor of Audubon's French heritage, and the Tudor style park headquarters, in honor of his wife's English background.

Happy and I spent far more time there than we planned for a simple mid-day walk, but we could have easily stayed longer. The park is a lovely mixed-use facility that is well worth a visit for as long as you can spare, whether an hour, day, weekend or longer.

Wednesday, September 25, 2019

US60: Northern Kentucky

Almost all of US60 across northern Kentucky is an excellent, hi-speed, two-lane roadway. It is worth noting that most of the roads in Kentucky are very well maintained. Maybe because of that, drivers tend to exceed the posted limits and will ride your bumper until passing at the barest opportunity.

It's a pretty drive, but I didn't see anything especially noteworthy in the landscape. After a hard day of mountain driving, it was a pleasant cruise. Imagine periodic drive-throughs of various sized small towns (plus a couple of easily transited cities) and what you see is what you get.

We have stopped in Shelbyville, KY, where we will visit with friends tomorrow... Stay tuned!

Tuesday, September 24, 2019

US60: Midland Trail

West of Lexington, VA, there are some stretches of US60 where it is a rural or mountain two-lane road, but much of it is subsumed into and co-signed with I-64 as it crosses the mountains in earnest.

Soon after you cross into West Virginia, US60 splits off on its own and becomes a wild ride through the mountains. You're in for either a thrilling or exhausting drive, depending on your personal taste.

For a solid couple of hours, you'll face steep uphill twists followed immediately by steep downhill twists. It's a pretty road that could be fun in a nimble vehicle. I do not recommend it for trailers

Throughout West Virginia, US60 is co-signed as the Midland Trail which has a story that is worth reading all about in the link. Meanwhile, here's the gist:
"The Midland Trail follows the route of the historic James River and Kanawha Turnpike, an early road linking canals in the James River in Virginia with the navigable portion of the Kanawha River in West Virginia. It crosses some of the most rugged terrain of the Mountain State. The trail is believed to have been originally carved into the mountains by buffalo and native peoples. In 1790, George Washington ordered the trail cleared. The trail came to be traveled by stage coaches and soldiers in the Civil War."
Happy and I take many breaks on our road trips, especially when we spend a lot of time on a road like this.

Our favorite stop of the day included a pretty little walk in Hawk's Nest State Park to this overlook of the New River:

After that break, it was more of the same until we finally got down off the mountains to river level.

From there it was clear, smooth running down the river valley, through picturesque little towns nestled between the mountains and the river. By the time we reached Charleston, the river had become the Kanawha, and US60 became a four-lane urban service road. The road then becomes a high-speed two-lane rural road until it approaches Huntington and reverts to four-lane urban status.

We have stopped for the night just over the Kentucky border in Ashland... Stay tuned!

Monday, September 23, 2019

US60 Detour: Appomattox Court House

Barely 20 miles south of US60 lies Appomattox Court House National Historical Park, a detour opportunity too good to pass up on a road trip like this. There are plenty of places you can get historical information, so I will only offer you my impressions of the park as a worthy place to visit.

First and foremost, the facility – described as a "partial reconstruction" by the Park Service – is beautiful, exquisitely maintained, and thoroughly exudes the gravitas of its place in history. The area map shows the location of all the original buildings, with the existing structures in full color and the ones that are missing dimmed. By my estimation, about a third of the original buildings are present in fully restored form, more than enough to make it seem complete.

The term "Court House" is used in Virginia to denote a county seat. Thus, Appomattox Court House is the county seat of Appomattox County. There is an actual courthouse, of course, which serves as the visitor center and information area. The films and displays inside are very well presented.

Nearby, the Clover Hill Tavern and Tavern Guesthouse offer an excellent example of the look and feel of the property. If it wasn't for the occasional sound of traffic on the service road, you could easily believe you are there "back in the day." All of the buildings are open for investigation.

A very special treat is an informal presentation made by a historical figure – in this case the daughter of the tavern owner – describing the area, its people and experience as if "last April" was in the year 1865. I found her talk to be authentic, heartfelt and informative in every way.

The famous surrender did not actually take place in the courthouse, but in the thoroughly preserved and restored McLean House. Like all of the buildings, it is fully and authentically furnished.

The iconic room where Lee and Grant agreed to surrender terms is far smaller than the famous painting would lead you to believe, but as far as I can tell it is authentic in every detail.

Because of my fairly extensive previous knowledge of the history, events and significance of Appomattox, my two-hour visit was long enough to give me an ample sense of its physical reality. If you don't know much about it, you could easily and profitably spend the better part of a day there. Strongly recommend!

US60: Crossing Middle Virginia

Fair warning: Driving US60 west through Norfolk, Hampton and Newport News is a challenging exercise in road sign following. Even with all my experience, I still missed a couple of turns and had to backtrack.

I think the problem stems from all the waterways, naval facilities, railways, etc. in the area, each of which seems to require a set of quick, unexpected turns. Whatever the reason, be prepared for a challenge.

Thankfully, the road starts to open up when you hit Williamsburg, and becomes a decent little roadway.

I have been to Williamsburg before, so I wasn't highly motivated to stop there. I was thoroughly discouraged when I saw how built up the area is, and had no trouble continuing on to Richmond.

A relatively low-drama transit of the Virginia state capital is followed by a mind-numbing number of miles along a heavily stop-lighted suburban arterial. Just about the time you're ready to loose your mind, you cross the western beltway and are quickly on a thoroughly delightful country highway.

Continuing west, the road increasingly rolls over the gentle foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains ahead. An unexpected treat is a tidy little wayside honoring Robert E. Lee and a historic moment.

There isn't any additional information on offer, but it's a nice place to take a breath after the urban congestion you've been through.

A few miles down the road, there is a cut-off for nearby Appomattox Court House, which I will post about next.

Eventually, US60 climbs up the Blue Ridge Mountains, crosses under my old friend the Blue Ridge Parkway, and descends into Lexington, VA, where I have stopped for the night.

Sunday, September 22, 2019

US60: Another Unmarked Beginning

[Note: This post has been updated with new information below]

This is where US60 begins in Virginia Beach, VA, at the intersection of Pacific Avenue with 5th St.:

You wouldn't have any idea of that by looking at it, however, due to a complete lack of US60 signage at or anywhere near the intersection.

I walked for several blocks in both directions and couldn't find any indication that a major transcontinental highway started or ended here.

By now, you surely know this is a pet peeve of mine. I honestly don't understand why so few US Highways have Begin/End signage.

For our purposes, this photo and map will serve to confirm that my coast-to-end drive of US60 has officially begun.

The first US60 sign doesn't appear until several miles north.

You really have to be looking for it to see it, however, due to it being heavily overgrown by local flora.

I'm hopeful that signage will be substantially more apparent going forward, since following them is pretty much my only way of knowing that I'm on the right road.

US60 is just about the last of the transcontinental US Highways left for me to drive, and I'm looking forward to a tour through the heartland of America.

I don't have a plan for this road trip, with no real idea of what I'll see or where I'll stop.

Stay tuned!...


Apparently, there is at least a US60 "End" sign in Virginia Beach, across the bridge to the south from where the road supposedly starts. I could blame the internet, but I hold myself accountable instead. After all these years, you'd think that I would know: a) don't trust everything you read on the internet; b) look in both directions from where you think the road starts; c) do the homework before you rant!