Hoping for some time to ride our bicycle this winter, we packed up our van “White Knight” for our annual circuit through the Southwest to visit relatives. As usual, our schedule was full to the max: we left immediately after the Olympia Weavers Guild February meeting, arriving in Pendleton, Oregon well after dark.
Our rather unrealistic plan for this trip was to camp in parking lots and truck stops along the way to save a few dollars to offset the cost of gasoline for the truck. However, we were somewhat disillusioned on arrival at the travel center outside Pendleton: it was cold and windy; the parking lot sloped a bit more than we would have liked, and the only seating area in the center was in the McDonalds restaurant. Feeling a bit out of touch with the reality of 21st century truck stops and nostalgic for the 20th century when such places had full-service restaurants, we drove back into town and checked in at a renovated 60’s motel. The building winter storm across the West changed our plans quickly to include nightly stops in a bit more comfort. Fortunately, winter lodging prices promised to be less of a burden on our travel budget.
In the morning, we returned to the truck stop to refuel. Oregon is one of two states (the other is New Jersey) which outlaws self-service fueling. But, this year, the legislature exempted certain rural areas, which Pendleton is not, but the truck stop is on and operated by the Umatilla Nation, which has its own rules, so we finally got to pump fuel legally in Oregon. A small satisfaction.
The climb over the Wallawa mountain range brought snow, lots of it, over Emigrant and Deadman passes, with occasional rain through the valley. After lunch in Ontario and picking up a few groceries, we headed across Idaho. The speed limit on I-84 is 130 km/hr, but we usually keep our speed under 105, to save wear and tear on the 22-year-old truck and get better fuel efficiency as well. The trip settled into stopping every 600 km and taking on 90 liters of fuel.
Fortunately, fuel cost in the American West is kept reasonably low, averaging between $0.60US and $0.70US/liter in the Rocky Mountain region, varying between $0.55/liter (west Texas) and $0.88/liter (southern California). Staying at older motels, and foraging in groceries keeps our out-of-pocket travel expenses under $125/day, despite the higher fuel consumption. The only way to reduce this would be free camping in parking lots, which isn’t going to happen with the return of winter weather. Using motel chain loyalty cards and making on-line reservations keeps our motel costs to sometimes less than camping in commercial RV parks, when you consider motels usually provide some sort of coffee-and-doughnut (or waffle) breakfast.
With the storm licking at our heels, we pressed on, crossing into Utah at sunset. We had estimated we might reach Ogden this day, but the slow progress in snow and the prospect of driving late and tired in heavy traffic revised our estimate a bit. Weary, we pulled off I-15 at Brigham City to Cheap Motel #2. This one bore the name of a once-prestigious chain of motels and family restaurants that spread across America with the construction of the Interstate Highway system in the late 1950s and 1960s, along with many other lesser-known chains that also still exist. Most of these are on near the center of cities, on the old highways that now serve as main streets of decaying cities.
Our room was small, with the usual sticky doors warped with age and abuse. The standard motel air-conditioning system was defunct, so there was a small space heater supplied. Like many of these refugees from the age of family car trips, the sheets were thin, the towels threadbare, but there were no funky odors or loud neighbors (the motel was nearly deserted, making one wonder what state the other rooms were in if ours had make-shift heating). Breakfast was adequate–we ate alone in the tiny lobby: no pretense of a breakfast room here, and no TV blaring out CNN or the morning talk shows we only know of because we travel and they are on in hotel breakfast rooms.
After our usual stop at Starbucks for coffee (espresso is kinder to our constitutions than brewed coffee, so we almost never use the motel coffee service), we are on the road again. Not so long ago, it was difficult to find a decent coffee shop between the Cascade Crest and the Mississippi River, or at all in the Beehive State, but Starbucks has rolled into Utah on the wave of all the other food chains and big-box outlets. The most common place to find them is in supermarkets, and this was no exception. But, we were surprised to find one in one of the largest purveyors of milk and honey in the heart of the Mormon empire, indeed within the shadow of the local Temple.
We got an early start to run ahead of the snowstorm forecast for later in the day. We turned off I-15 at Spanish Fork, headed up the canyon on Highway 6 toward a blue hole that promised better weather. We stopped for lunch at Moab, where the skies were clear, but the wind blowing stiffly. We ended the day at Cortez, Colorado, which we had bypassed before but not stopped.
The morning dawned cold and still windy, with snow forecast there, too. We stopped for fuel at the Ute Nation casino just north of the New Mexico border, turning east at Shiprock and southwest at Farmington, headed once again on a four-lane highway toward Albuquerque. The wind continued, pushing the morning’s rain squalls ahead of us. We caught up with the rain at Cuba, despite pulling off the road briefly for lunch from our on-board larder.
In Albuquerque, we bypassed the city on the Tramway loop, checking out the bike path that skirts the east side of the city, realizing that the path climbed more than 100 meters above where we would be staying. Our meeting with our granddaughter wasn’t for a couple of days, so we settled in to plan our stay. The next morning, there was a dusting of snow in the parking lot, so we explored Old Town, checked out the riverfront bike trail, had lunch back on the east side, visited a Nob Hill yarn shop.
The next morning, the weather looked a bit more promising, so we bicycled the north half of the Paseo del Bosque trail, meeting our granddaughter and her new daughter-in-law for lunch in nearby Old Town after, and visited the Aquarium and Biological Park next to the trail with our youngest great-grandson and his somewhat older new nephew. On the way back to our hotel, we had the oil changed in the truck, as it was due, and picked up some supplies for the continuation of our Southwest adventure.