Monday, January 23, 2017

The Great Winter Road Trip

By Carolyn Rose and Mike Nettleton

Carolyn: Although we both have fond memories of the days when we could toss a few things in the car and take off, one of us is realistic enough to know those days are gone.

Mike:   Boy, I miss those days when you could find yourself in Reno, Nevada, with 74 cents, no gas in the VW, and no clue how you’d get home.

Carolyn: So, with that in mind, I devoted significant time to researching a new car for the trip, then more time to making lists and gathering an assortment of warm- and cold-weather clothing, towels, plastic bags, paper plates, dog toys, dog tranquilizers, dog bed, books, maps, spare pillows, flashlights, and food. As it turns out, we never needed the kitty litter (for tire traction) or the gallon of water. But everything else came in handy.

Mike: Cue the banjo music. She’s right, of course. Still, I could have sworn I could hear Homer and Jethro singing “Come listen to my story 'bout a man named Jed. Poor mountaineer barely kept his family fed,” as we rolled down the road.

Carolyn: And pre-planning paid off. When I noticed I-84 was closed yet again and the temperature in Ontario, Oregon, was -7 two days before we set out, we changed our plans and headed south and west instead of east and then south. That put us in Redding, CA, the first day, and just outside of Bakersfield on the second.

Mike: Bakersfield. I won't say it's ugly but-

Carolyn: Careful, bucko, we might have to go back there some day. On day 3 we left freeway driving behind and, more by accident than design, took old Route 66 through rugged country to Oatman, AZ.


Mike: Oatman is an old mining town up in the mountains. When we passed through, the streets were packed with tourists and wild burros wandered around trying to cadge something to eat.

After an hour and a half of 20 mph switchbacks, we finally made it to Laughlin, Nevada. Despite being dominated by casinos,


the town does have some charm, with a river walk that meanders along its length. Across the water is Bullhead City, Arizona, a haven for the AARP set who ford the stream periodically to blow their Social Security checks. I’m somewhat chagrined (but mostly proud) to admit I relieved them of $265 by co-winning a morning poker tourney at the Colorado Belle, a casino disguised as a riverboat.

Carolyn: I bid a fond farewell to my new favorite slot-machine game, Cops and Doughnuts, and we headed east, stopping briefly at Walnut Canyon (no dogs allowed on the descending trail) and then the Painted Desert. 

The day was overcast, but occasional sunbeams lit up the hills and we enjoyed the show.

Then it was on to Albuquerque where we stayed with a friend from my VISTA days and turned her on to the benefits of CBD, the non-psychoactive ingredient in medical marijuana for her arthritis pain. So far, it seems to be helping.

Mike:  I snuck in a game of golf with an old friend before a snowstorm hit, ate red chile enchiladas with my ex-partner, and shared an hour or two of telling lies about the good old days with another old pal. We also broke bread with several of Carolyn’s former co-workers and a couple from our old neighborhood.

Carolyn: Timing our departure between storms, we headed for Phoenix to visit my aunt, then scooted for Prescott, a wonderful city with the best of the old and new. 

 We’re thinking this might be a place to spend part of next winter, so Mike checked out the golf courses, theaters and the library and I made note of grocery stores and 
walking trails. Max made note of a dead javelina by the side of the road. He thinks it might be fun to own a wild pig of his own.

The next day I navigated us on back roads through the desert toward Lake Havasu. At a crossroads with three houses and a single store, we met a man walking a dog named Whiskey. I think he was named after his owner’s breath. The little mutt was about Max’s size and wearing a torn green dog sweater. Max isn’t much for dog clothing, so I offered Whiskey an orange sweater our Malty dog wore exactly once. Whiskey and his owner were delighted.

 Mike:  I liked Lake Havasu more than I thought I would. 

It had some charm, mixed with kitsch and classic American tackiness. London Bridge crosses a canal they dug for it, and despite being a bit underwhelming was kinda cool. 

We passed through the spectacular country around Boulder Dam on our way to Las Vegas. 

Since they wouldn’t let us up to the viewpoint with Max (security concerns) this shot from the car window was about the best we could do. I guess they’re afraid our little dog might have been carrying a shoulder launched missile. 

 We did pull into a viewpoint with a spectacular vista overlooking Lake Mead 

Image result for desert wildlife refuge las vegas
Winding down the mountain, we scurried into Las Vegas and a visit with our goddaughter and her kids.

Carolyn: Rain cut short our visit to Spencer Lodge, which is not a charming vacation inn, but the name of the son of a friend and an archaeologist at the Desert Wildlife Refuge 

 That afternoon, we headed for Tujunga, scooting in before LA traffic reached gridlock. Max enjoyed being out of the car for 8 days and roaming the terraced garden in the back yard of Michael and Mia’s home. 

One of the highlights of our stay was a visit to Descanso Gardens. We enjoyed the less manicured and more natural arrangement of shrubs and plants, and I especially enjoyed the huge spreading oaks. 

You oughta see the other guy.
 While in the Los Angeles area, I took up a new hobby. Senior citizen cage fighting. Great fun; they escorted us into the cage with our walkers, positioned us about a foot apart, blew a whistle and cheered and whistled while we whaled the crap out of each other. 
  Carolyn: Actually, he fell down and went boom while walking Max.
Mike: Damned sprinkler head.

Carolyn: With a forecast for 4-7 inches of rain, we decided to leave a day earlier than planned and head north. Along the way we saw fields filled with standing water and rivers reaching the tops of their banks. After a stormy night in Redding when the motel staff piled sandbags around one door, we canceled plans to take twisting and mountainous roads to the coast and stayed with I-5.

 Watching a mile-long row of big trucks chaining up, we feared we’d have to turn back, but research paid off and our AWD Toyota was waved on when other vehicles headed for the off ramp.


Mike: The stretch around Lake Shasta was kinda white knuckle, but really, not bad, all things considered.  The rest of the drive was fast and uneventful. Even with delays through the mountains it only took us 7 1/2 hours to get home.

Luckily it didn’t look like this when we pulled in. We timed our vacation perfectly to miss the ice and snow storm of the decade in Vancouver and everything had melted off by the time we arrived.

It was a memorable trip, gave us a chance to catch up with old friends and family, but as Max, the quivering doggy hulk will tell you. 


  1. Hi Carolyn and Mike,

    What a great trip and even if some of the female planning wasn't necessary and schedules needed to be switched occasionally, I'm sure that the organisation did pay dividends (go on Mike, you can admit it, I won't tell anyone - MUCH!)

    I'm not sure which shots I liked the most. The Painted Desert is obviously the most spectacular and Lake Havasu the most tranquil, but I'm not sure that I liked the sound of the comments you made about London Bridge being underwhelming!!

    Working for American companies for so many years, Dave is the well travelled one of us and has visited many of the areas you mention. I have only made it to east coast USA, although I do have family in California who I would love to see again, but I guess that will probably never happen now.

    We have only seen a smattering of the white stuff in Somerset this winter, but then down here in the south things are always much more temperate. We leave the northerners to tough out any real signs of winter.

    It sounds as though you had fun catching up with family and friends and thanks for sharing the journey with us :)