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Elk in Estes, CO
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Bison near the Grand Canyon
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An Interesting Sign at Four Corners
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Subtle humor: “Merry Wives Café” just up the road from a fundamentalist Mormon town
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BEFORE Black Jack’s decapitation
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On their way to see Keith Urban
Leaving Taos, NM, and knowing we needed to be back on SSI in a few days, we knew the best “adventures” of our trip may be behind us. Happily, a few highlights remained!
What we expected to be a rather ho-hum lunch in Clayton, NM, turned into a “you can’t make this stuff up” experience. We walked into the Hotel Eklund, through the lobby, passed an incredibly huge wooden bar in the saloon and back toward the restaurant. Picture a turn-of-the-century, old western hotel with the grand staircase, oak paneling and hand rails, stained glass inserts above the door transoms.
The building was purchased in 1894 by CE Eklund, a Swedish immigrant who was lucky at gambling. His saloon had two bars, pool tables, game tables, craps tables and a poker table. The bar we were looking at was won by CE in a poker game in a nearby town!
Our waiter, a young man from Turkey working the summer in the U.S. to improve his English, took us on a tour. First: two bullet holes in the saloon ceiling shot by an enthusiastic customer in 1920 upon hearing of the election of President Harding.
Then we were shown the old black & white framed photos of a real bad guy from the Old West: Black Jack Ketchum. Seems Black Jack, after several years on a killing and train robbery spree, was finally captured, tried, convicted and sentenced to death by hanging in Clayton. People came from miles around for the big event; tickets were sold.
Unfortunately, something went amiss. Somehow, the rope broke. When Black Jack fell to the ground, he had not been hanged, he’d been beheaded!! And there was the photo on the wall to prove it: gallows, body and head.
Lunch? We don’t remember it much. Just the bizarre history of the Eklund Hotel and Clayton, NM!
We crossed the Texas panhandle (HUGE feedlots) into Oklahoma (the only state I’d never stepped foot in!), traversing portions of old Route 66. On into Arkansas, with a stop in Little Rock at the Clinton Library/Museum. Not terribly fascinating and no, there was no blue dress. There were, however, binders filled with all his daily schedules while in the Oval Office. Meetings and appointments were blocked off in 15 or 30 minute segments…except jogging, which was always noted with TBD.
During these last few days we couldn’t help reminiscing about the many places we’d been, the wild life we’d seen (see photos), the funny and peculiar signs along the road (see photos), people we’d met, and the history we’d learned.
There were the ghost towns of Bay Horse, ID and Benton, WY, and the appropriately named towns of Sinclair, WY (so named when Sinclair Oil purchased the local refinery), White Settlement, TX (to distinguish it from a Native American settlement in the 1800s. A 2005 town vote on a possible name change was overwhelmingly rejected, 2388 to 219.), and Tie Siding, WY, an old railroad town.
We laughed at the funny name of Mobeetie, TX. Originally called Sweetwater, when the town went to apply for its post office, the name Sweetwater was already taken. So they chose Mobeetie which, supposedly, meant “Sweetwater” in the local Native American language. As it turns out, the actual translation of Mobeetie is buffalo feces. Seems that was one battle the Native Americans won!!!
We had seen several stops on the Oregon Trail. Virginia Dale, CO, a stage stop established in 1862 by Jack Slade. Slade had been in a dispute with a fellow named Beni. Beni had previously shot Slade five times but Slade survived and took revenge by ambushing Beni, tying him to a fencepost and shooting off his fingers before a final shot to the head. Local history says Slade kept Benis' ears as trophies. They also say he was an excellent stage manager, when sober.
Vale, OR greeted us with a huge sign outside of town: “Vale or Bust!” Vale was the first stop in Oregon on the Oregon Trail. Today, the sides of Vale’s old buildings are covered with huge murals depicting scenes from life on the Oregon Trail.
During our journey we’d picked up a couple new phrases. “Green broke,” meaning a horse that has only recently learned to accept a saddle and rider. “Defensible strip,” meaning creating an area around your home that would protect it from encroaching forest fires, basically by removing all vegetation.
We had seen zillions of hay bales of every shape and hue: rolled, round, square, rectangular, wrapped, green and dry.
We had chatted with interesting people, both locals and travelers: the Australian lady who shared her email and told us to come stay with her, a man who was responsible for first selling Prozac to doctors, a citrus grower in CA who wanted to convince us that “organic” was hog wash, a young man on the Pacific Crest Trail. But our favorite was Mrs. Jean Brown.
We met Mrs. Brown in Buchanan, OR, a town that has one business: a gas station, a tractor repair shop, and a gallery/museum…all in one building, the only building in the community. We desperately needed gas, so we stopped. Out came this very elderly little lady who couldn’t have weighed 90 pounds. She insisted she must pump our gas. As I was in the “museum” inspecting the display of barbed wire through the decades (you’d be amazed!), Larry called me back outside. Mrs. Brown, after noticing our GA license plate, had inquired “where” in GA. When we told her SSI, she wondered if it was near Brunswick and then proceeded to tell us how she and her husband used to drive an 18-wheeler (“A Peterbilt. We owned it!”) and their FAVORITE place to stop coming north from Florida was THE GEORGIA PIG. Totally totally improbable to meet someone in nowhere Buchanan who had ever been to The Georgia Pig.
Our final night on the road was Birmingham, AL where we decided to try a Little Big Town/Keith Urban outdoor concert. Not bad and it sure was a hoot watching all the girls in lacy, flippy dresses, bare-legged with cowboy boots!
And then it was home…to St. Simons, the marsh, the wonderful humidity (we’d missed it; at least our skin had!), our own pillow, and friends. Of course, there were things we had NOT missed: mail, all the Harris Teeter runs, dealing with “things” like burnt out light bulbs, beds to make, laundry to do, dishwasher to unload. But we would not miss small beds, “car butt,” expensive breakfasts, or slow drivers who hang out in the left lane.
One ticket at 8, 085 miles (ouch).
Car moving 182 hours
Averaged 24 mpg.
Averaged 48 mph.
So, here is the end of the journey and of my blog. I hope you have all enjoyed the miles as much as we did. For the many who’ve asked: Larry and I loved our time together; we didn’t “kill each other.” Yes, we’d do it again tomorrow. And our favorite place? America.
Many many thanks to David Butler and Elegant Island Living for offering me this fun opportunity to record our adventures and to Kathi Williams who served as editor extraordinaire and did the techy work involved with posting all the words and pictures.