Our 2011 Vacation
Monday, June 6, 2011
Michelle and I flew out of Los Angeles to Houston on June 6. Despite the historical significance of the date, we were not planning on any beach storming operations during the trip. Arriving in Houston after midnight, we were picked up by our friend Deb Levin and ferried to our accommodations for the night, some of Deb's in-laws. On the 7th we began assisting Deb with the project that required our presence in Houston, helping her pack up the contents of her apartment for shipment to Los Angeles.
This part of the trip was not all work and no play. On the 8th Deb's in-laws Amy and John threw an early birthday party for her, which was a lot of fun. The next day, the 9th, we met Michelle's first cousin once removed Deborah Handler for dinner and were introduced not just to her but also her two lovely daughters.
Saturday, June 11, 2011
The packing project was not finished until June 11. Once the packing was complete and Deb had turned in her apartment keys, we took off in her car with herself, her 12 year old son Benjamin, their small mutt dog Ghost, and an assortment of stuff crammed into the car (rather too much as it turned out). Before leaving Houston we stopped off and visited her parents-in-law Sam and Shirley, then went to the Beth Jacob Cemetery to pay our final respects to Deb's husband Rob, who passed away several years ago.
We managed to get on the freeway early enough to have dinner in Baytown on the east side of the Houston metropolitan area. For those readers with a grasp of geography, there may be a "WTF?" moment here as I had mentioned earlier Deb was moving to Los Angeles. Los Angeles is in fact west of Houston so it is counterintuitive that we headed east out of Houston. Deb had decided she wanted to see New Orleans again (not knowing when she would be in that neck of the woods again) so we were headed east instead of west. We kept going after Baytown and managed to make it to Beaumont, Texas, that night. We were only planning to stay there overnight but in the wee hours I came down with what turned out to be a 24 hour stomach flu. Rather than trying to continue under those conditions, we stayed in the motel another day. All I was interested in doing that day was consuming as much of the gallon of lemonade that was brought back for me as I could, which I did.
Sunday, June 12, 2011
While I was confined to the hotel room the rest of the party (excluding the dog) went to the Texas Energy Museum and saw the world's third largest fire hydrant (article here, next to the Fire Museum of Texas), and also saw the Art Museum of Southeast Texas. They also saw Temple Emanuel and the Saint Anthony Cathedral.
Monday, June 13, 2011
My health having improved, we left Beaumont on the morning of the 13th and headed into Louisiana, with a stop at a local post office to take one more box of things out of the car and to ship to Los Angeles to relieve the congested condition of the interior of the car. I believe we had lunch and fueled the car in Lafayette, Louisiana, then made it to Baton Rouge in time to get to an AAA office and pick up some maps and tour books. We actually used one of the tour books after we got to New Orleans to find a hotel in the French Quarter, the Maison Dupuy. The hotel was quite nice and we stayed there for two days.
New Orleans is an interesting place. It would be an oversimplification to describe it as "Vegas with a coastline and history" but that was my first reaction. Post-Katrina, I was expecting more damage but since we didn't venture far out of the French Quarter we didn't really see it (apparently the French Quarter, being above sea level, was only moderately affected by Katrina -- not to mention that, being a top tourist attraction, all of that damage was probably fixed up very quickly).
The dining was, although expensive, also quite nice. The night life is interesting although, much as I enjoy music, I could not have ventured into many of the bars that had live music as my ears would not tolerate the volume the music was being played at.
Under the almost completely irrelevant department Michelle and I were talking to a Swedish couple in the courtyard of the Maison Dupuy and I asked the wife how to pronounce the name of the Swedish city Gothenberg. Don't ask me why I was so fascinated by this but I was. Oddly enough, that was where the couple was from, so I heard it pronounced by a local. The way she said it is very close to the OGG file linked to the Wikipedia article on the city, it came out sounding like JU TA BEE OR. Anyway, that gives you an idea that people are still coming from all over the world to go to New Orleans.
Wednesday, June 15, 2011
We left New Orleans on the 15th and headed west. We made it back to Texas some time that afternoon and stopped at a visitor information center that is in the Blue Elbow swamp (part of which is in the Tony Houseman State Park and Wildlife Management Area). There is an elevated boardwalk that runs outside of the visitor center so you can walk around and peer down into the swamp, it was pretty interesting.
We stopped once more in Beaumont on the way back, Michelle remembered there was an airplane sitting on a pylon just off the highway in the Babe Didrikson Zaharias park there. We stopped and took some pictures of the plane and the park, the plane is an old McDonnell F-101 Voodoo interceptor from the 1950s or 1960s. It is an F-101B, serial number 59-0430. Since we were off the freeway we got some dinner, ending up at a Pizza Hut in the interests of expediency. Continuing west towards Houston after that, we got to the outskirts of town while there was still enough light for Deb to point out the San Jacinto Monument south of the interstate, which is tall enough to easily be seen from the freeway (it is the world's tallest monumental column, at 567 feet it is almost 12 feet higher than the Washington Monument).
We didn't stop at Houston, we knew we wouldn't be able to make it to San Antonio that night, but we did get as far as Columbus, Texas. The only particularly noteworthy thing I remember about Columbus was that we ate at a Whataburger hamburger restaurant that night, which I had heard of before but I don't believe Michelle or I had ever eaten at one before.
Thursday, June 16, 2011
The next morning we made it to Luling, Texas, where Deb insisted we stop at the Buc-ees store there. The logo for Buc-ees is a giant beaver, I don't know what that's all about, but it was a mildly amusing store. We spent some time there and then hit the road again headed towards San Antonio.
I don't know if Deb had been to San Antonio before, I know I hadn't. Once we got into town we drove around on the freeways for a bit and then exited onto surface streets and just drove around in circles trying to get a feel for the place. That was how we stumbled onto one of the famous missions of San Antonio, the Mission Concepcion. That turned out to be a real gem, the admission was free, you could take pictures (which we did) and there were only a few people around so the place was not terribly crowded. The only negative association was that Michelle had just found out earlier that day that her father's cousin, Paul Lichtman, who had been in ill health, died the night before.
After we left the Mission Concepcion we headed towards the Alamo, which we ended up parking near. We then walked around the area looking for a place to eat. Michelle and I split up with Deb and Ben and Ghost and the two of us found a Rainforest Cafe on the San Antonio River Walk and ate there. After that we walked over to the Alamo and got in just a bit before closing time. I was underwhelmed by the Alamo. It was crowded and there were all kinds of restrictions on what you could do there (including no photography inside). So it didn't bother me that much when we were forced to leave when the museum closed a few minutes later.
We reconnected with the Levins in front of the Alamo and went back to the car, then figured out how to get to my nephew Clayton's place and headed that way. We were able to visit with Clayton for a few hours and got to meet my grand nephew Tristan for the first time.
Friday, June 17, 2011
The next day we left San Antonio and headed towards Kerrville, Texas, where we stopped and met Deb's friend Bill Detty, who treated us all to lunch. I had met Bill at Rob and Deb's wedding 20 years ago but had not seen him since. We had a good conversation over lunch talking about genealogy.
After lunch we headed out again. We continued on the interstate but then exited east of Fort Stockton, Texas, and headed more or less north on state highways until we got to Odessa, Texas, where we found a motel and checked in. We had dinner that night at a nice Japanese steakhouse called Osaka.
Saturday, June 18, 2011
The next day we decided to stay in the motel another night just to make things simpler. The logistics of figuring out what to do with the dog while we were trying to go sight-seeing was starting to become a drain and it was easier just to stay in town another day so we could leave the dog in the motel room while we were doing our thing. We had breakfast and then drove to nearby Midland, where Ben and I were dropped off at the Commemorative Air Force American Airpower Heritage Museum. Deb and Michelle drove back to Odessa and went to the White-Pool House.
The Airpower Heritage Museum was nice but I was a little disappointed in the number of planes on display, I expected more airplanes given that this is the headquarters of the Commemorative Air Force. After I did a bit more research I realized that the thing to do to really see the CAF airplane collection would be to go to their annual airshow, which this year will be held at the Midland International Airport in early October. (Here is a link to the CAF Airsho website).
In any event, the museum was very nice and they have some extremely rare planes on display, so I was not disappointed by that. Given that we were already driving through West Texas and only went about an hour out of our way to get to Odessa-Midland it was still worthwhile.
The girls came back and picked us up after Ben and I were done with the museum. After that we all had lunch and then went back to the motel. We should have gone out and done more sight-seeing, but by then the Texas heat was starting to get to us, so we collapsed in the motel room and didn't do too much else that day.
Sunday, June 19, 2011
The next day we headed west out of Odessa on I-20 and followed the interstate all the way to Pecos, Texas, where we exited the highway and headed north on US-285 towards New Mexico. Less than an hour after that we were actually in New Mexico and passed from the Central Time Zone into the Mountain Time Zone.
We stopped in Carlsbad, New Mexico, for lunch (yes, this is the same Carlsbad the famous Caverns are named after). We had given up on actually going to the Caverns this time because we had decided there was too much walking involved. We did, however, find the Carlsbad City Cemetery while we were in town and did some graving there. I found some Downen headstones and took pictures of them (distant relatives by marriage from southern Illinois) and we got pictures of some other headstones which we later uploaded to the Find A Grave website. Someone has done a real good job of putting names into the Carlsbad Cemetery, but not many photos have been put online for the cemetery.
We left Carlsbad after that and continued north on US-285 again. I was tempted to stop in Artesia, New Mexico where we saw an old Republic F-84F Thunderstreak on a pylon in a park there. Normally that would be enough to get me to stop and take pictures but the heat really was getting to all of us after several days of it so we didn't stop. I looked the plane up later and found out what model it was (I knew it was an F-84 but didn't know it was an F-84F) and the serial number, which is 51-09486.
We made it to Roswell, New Mexico, soon after that and found a motel there. We planned from the beginning on this one to stay there for two days because it looked like there was a lot of interesting stuff to see in town.
Since it was Deb's birthday we found what looked like a decent restaurant to eat at, the Pasta Cafe on North Main Street. It wasn't bad, so we must have chosen well.
Monday, June 20, 2011
After breakfast the next day we started out with the Roswell UFO Museum. It was OK but I guess I'm not completely into the premise. The museum claims they are not biased, just presenting the facts and letting people "make up their own minds" but I am a bit skeptical.
After that we went to the Roswell Museum and Art Center. The main reason I was interested in this museum was their extensive collection of items that were used in rocket pioneer Robert Goddard's work when he lived in the Roswell area in the 1930s. The museum also contains a lot of artwork (duh!) and a lot of cultural artifacts from the region's history. An exhibit had just opened a few days before we visited the museum profiling the work of Anglo-American artist Peter W. Rogers (1933-) who has been living and working in New Mexico for several decades (here is a link to the Wyeth Hurd Gallery with a bio of Peter Rogers and examples of his work). I think we all enjoyed the museum and, unlike the UFO museum, the admission was free.
The town of Roswell has definitely played up the whole UFO theme, as places all over the town have incorporated UFOs and space aliens into their architecture.
Tuesday, June 21, 2011
The next day we left Roswell heading west. We drove through Ruidoso Downs, New Mexico, on our way to Alamogordo. The elevation of Ruidoso Downs is over 6,000 feet, I remember my ears popping a couple of times as we came into the area and then descended headed southwest. There are some very striking views looking toward White Sands from the highway as you proceed from the Sierra Blanca Mountains towards Alamogordo.
While we were in Roswell we had seen references to the New Mexico Museum of Space History in Alamogordo so we decided to stop there once we made it to the latter town. The museum was well worth the small side trip involved and I think we all had a good time there. In addition to all the rocket, missile and spacecraft paraphernalia displayed there the museum is also the final resting place of Ham the Space Chimp, the first American (if not human) to make it into space.
After the Space History Museum we had lunch at an A&W in Alamogordo and refueled the car, then headed off towards Las Cruces, New Mexico. After a brief pit stop there we got back onto I-10 and headed west towards Deming, New Mexico. We got to Deming rather late in the day but early enough to get off the interstate and drive up to the City of Rocks State Park, which is about 25 miles out of town. We all walked around for a bit, though Ben got more exercise than the rest of us. After about an hour and a half there the adults decided to leave and we took Ben with us, kicking and screaming (well, almost). We had decided to try and make it to Lordsburg, New Mexico, as our stop for the night, and managed to make it there while it was still daylight and find a motel.
Wednesday, June 22, 2011
There is a ghost town near Lordsburg; Shakespeare, New Mexico, but it is only open to tourists once a month, and we had already missed the date for June. So the next morning, with nothing else particularly in mind, we left Lordsburg and headed for the Arizona border, less than 20 miles away. After we were in Arizona we stopped at The Thing museum (?) and gift shop near Texas Canyon, Arizona. We didn't go into the "museum" but we did waste some time in the gift shop and bought a few things.
Not far west of there we exited the interstate in Benson, Arizona. I had driven through Benson on the interstate before but never stopped there. The only thing I could remember Benson being noteworthy of was as the subject of the theme song of the science fiction comedy movie Dark Star (the theme song is titled, appropriately enough, "Benson, Arizona").
From Benson we headed south towards Tombstone, Arizona. From the highway we could see a large fire off in the distance to the southwest, we were worried that we might end up going that way but the route continued to the southeast, so we never got any closer to the fire. We spent several hours in Tombstone. It is an interesting place but definitely a tourist trap. You can walk the streets of the town for free, but everything else is paid attractions (even the OK Corral is on private property and is completely enclosed, so you have to pay to even see it). After a while we finally left, the oppressive heat caused us to forego stopping at the famous Boot Hill Cemetery. I wouldn't mind going back to Tombstone, but I don't think I will go back in June.
Our next stop was in Tucson, Arizona, to visit Deb's in-laws Lee and Judy. On the way there as we passed the exit on the east side of town for the Pima Air & Space Museum I had to fight an almost uncontrollable urge to pull off the highway and stop there, but I was able to overcome the impulse by a superhuman exercise of willpower. When we got to Lee and Judy's place the thermometer in their carport (in the shade) registered 112 degrees Fahrenheit. Lee and Judy treated us to dinner and we visited for a bit, then hit the road again.
As we were coming into Phoenix, Arizona, we got directions from my nephew Jason to get to his place. After a lot of driving around through the middle of nowhere, we made it there and stopped for the night. It was pretty late by then so we didn't spend too much time talking that night, but we spent some time the next morning having a nice visit. Ben was fascinated by the screens of the online computer game that Jason had going and had some questions for him about that.
Thursday, June 23, 2011
We left around 10:00 am and drove through more of the middle of nowhere, but eventually ended up at a freeway onramp and got back onto the interstate again. By this time we were less than 350 miles from Los Angeles so we didn't mess around, we had breakfast at a truck stop just off the interstate and then just kept going west. There were a couple of pit stops at rest stops, then our next stop was in the San Gorgonio Pass west of Palm Springs, where we saw the Cabazon Dinosaurs and then had lunch. I am not sure I have ever stopped to see the dinosaurs before, although I have seen them many times from the interstate going through the pass.
Following lunch we went down the street to the Hadley Fruit Orchards store. After that we fueled the car and headed west again. The trip was concluded within a few hours as Michelle and I were deposited back at home and Deb, Ben and the dog drove to her parents' house.
On a slightly relevant note, this trip allowed me to drive on most of the stretches of I-10 that I have never driven before. I believe I am now missing only three sections: the 60 miles from Jacksonville to Lake City, Florida; the 200 miles from Pensacola, Florida to New Orleans, Louisiana, and the 300 miles from just east of Fort Stockton, Texas to Las Cruces, New Mexico.
We would also like to thank the following people for making our trip more enjoyable and/or less stressful:
Steve Brenner, Bill Detty, Clayton Heimann, Amy Levin, John Levin, Judy Levin, Lee Levin, Jason Mills
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