The Day That The Truck Did Not Survive

19104955_10155294374068548_646543615_o.jpg
Mountains!

April 13th we headed down the road, high on all that sweet, sweet National Parks fun. We were finally going to experience something that we’d been talking about for an entire year: The Musical Highway!

“…the New Mexico Department of Transportation (NMDOT), along with the National Geographic Channel, had the idea to make a roadway that sings—literally. Enlisting the help of San Bar Construction Corp., a New Mexico-based company that designs and constructs traffic control devices and signs, NMDOT created a length of roadway between mile markers four and five that plays music whenever a vehicle drives over it.

But there’s a catch—the tune, in this case “America the Beautiful,” only works when cars are traveling at exactly 45 mph. The road’s purpose is twofold: to encourage drivers to stay the speed limit and to bring a little excitement to an otherwise monotonous highway.” – Source

You can hear our truck singing here. Pretty darn spiffy if you ask me!

That night we decided to boondock at another truck stop, this time it was a place called Russell’s. The building looked pretty ordinary from the outside. Once inside, though, you could tell someone had sunk their life into the place. There was a full 1950’s diner, complete with Coke memorabilia, black and white tile, and those awesome red and white seats. There were shelves all around the ceiling with model cars and trucks, and nestled in the back of the store was door to this:

 

A car museum half the size of the whole building! It had about twenty classic cars, a few motorcycles, TONS of memorabilia from lots and lots of different areas. NASCAR, I Love Lucy, cartoons, brands, cash registers… There were even a few collections that were donated by people who liked the place. It was a really neat find! The open road seems to always hold surprises.

The next day started like any other. Wake up, pack up, hit the road. We woke up in New Mexico, we’d be driving through Texas, and we’d be in Oklahoma by dinner. Three states and two time zones in one day! It was mostly uneventful and peaceful save a few tiffs from the back seat.

When we got into Oklahoma and stopped for fuel Justin noticed that the wheels were streaked with some kind of fluid. Thinking that we’d busted a hub seal again we headed for a Ford dealership because the previous repairs are warrantied for two years. When we got into the dealership though, they had a much, much worse diagnosis for us. The trucks emissions system (EGR) dumped all of the coolant, and the head gasket had blown. If there was ever a time where you’d use the phrase ‘catastrophic failure’ this would be it. The truck was basically dead. To have Ford work on the truck would cost about $13,000 and that would be replacing the horrid EGR system with exactly the same parts, a recipe for future disaster. Luckily one of the shop guys also owned his own shop. He came out to talk to Justin and after a lengthy discussion it was decided that we’d limp to a campground and he’d come pick up the truck that night on a trailer.

19105208_10155294425178548_1876892574_o.jpg

We found a ridiculously affordable campground with a full hook-up in Elk City, Oklahoma called Elk Creek RV Park. You’ve heard of it, right? No? Neither had I until we were unceremoniously trapped there for a week. Their rate sheet was kind of comical. It was $35/night or $100 for the entire week. They cashed in on everybody who was just passing through, and that place was about full every night. Almost nothing exists in Elk City, there’s a Wal-Mart and a Bar-S hot dog factory. No problem, we surmised out loud to each other, we’ll just rent a car. This is how my conversation went with the townsfolk: “Well, Patty used to rent cars but she stopped doin’ it.” I called about four places who rented U-Haul trucks and no one had anything smaller than a 25 foot box truck. The nearest rental car place was 80 miles away and contrary to their well publicized slogan they will not “pick you up” when you are in the middle of nowhere. At least we still had our bicycles.

The second day in paradise I decided to go grocery shopping at Wal-Mart. For some reason I had it in my head that I was going to get everything we needed all in one trip. I set off on my new bike to save us all from starvation and had immediate regrets. 1) It was really windy, 2) There were hills, 3) The crank assembly on my bike started to come apart almost immediately. Any sane person would have turned around right here. NOT ME, THOUGH. 4) I had to ride in the road with the cars

And on the way back, I had all of these regrets PLUS: A) Looming threats of rain, B) A new bike basket that I had to hold up because it rubbed on my front tire, C) 80 pounds of groceries strapped to my back like I was a human pack mule

I walked some of this leg of the trip. I had bruises in my armpits from the backpack when I got back to the camper. I soothed my misery with the ice cream I had fat-assed all the way home. Justin was quick to point out that I had purchased expired bread. *SIGH*

Justin made several more bicycle trips to Wally World before the week was over – several more REASONABLY WEIGHTED trips.

Thankfully the Easter Bunny was able to find us while we were pretending to be Okies.

These bubble guns that the Easter Bunny left us were the BEST THING EVER. We’re still playing with them on a regular basis two months later.

The rest of the week was uneventful. The mechanic sent us naked chassis photos at one point.

So dirty! It took a whole week to get our chariot back in operational order but we had an incredible mechanic on the case. He was committed to the cause and did some things other mechanics wouldn’t have even attempted. We owe him our love and affection until the end of time.

17917466_10155126986268548_1650118700342517574_o

It LIVES!

We bid adieu to Elk City the next morning in what turned out to be tornado weather. We enjoyed quarter sized hail and no visibility, rivers up to the tree tops, and an interstate that looked more like a parking lot – and that was just through Oklahoma City! By day’s end we were nestled in at an Army Corps of Engineers site to the north on a pretty little watering hole called Copan Lake.

I know that every sunset is technically the same sunset that the Earth has seen for billions of years. It still makes me happy to witness the process. Being able to watch the horizon meet the fire in the sky is a gift, it means that we’ve survived another day. After the week we’d had this sunset was well deserved.

17917917_10155134395608548_6389186655172660458_oWhat a prize.

Take it Easy

As we were looking at the map on the way out of Grand Canyon country we discovered that we could totally do an entire week of Junior Ranger programs without any deviation from our route! I hear you chanting “ROAD-SCHOOL! ROAD-SCHOOL!” *crowd goes mild* I know, I was totally excited too! The girl child managed to snake a sweet, pink Junior Ranger vest from us at Grand Canyon. They didn’t have a green one in Wesson’s size but we found them at our next stop: Walnut Canyon National Monument.

17799141_10155087561263548_8546544192115601449_n

17861686_10155087561323548_7983592046630103122_n

This woman was from a remote pueblo in New Mexico

This was a neat place that I’d never heard of, and the Rangers were so excited about the canyon that it was hard not to be excited with them. The Ranger pictured above talked about a rock slide they’d had like it was Christmas morning. They had a great facility that talked about the natives and showed their way of life in what visually looked like a really rough place to live. They also had a fourth grade program with the local schools in which the students wrote and illustrated books about the people and area. It was a really neat idea, something that I’m making a mental note of for later.

This was a pretty busy day as far as travel days go. We had one more stop to make before we made it to our campground. To the children’s horror we sang Eagles songs most of the way there.

17636761_10155088031948548_3226944988992651692_o

♫ Standin’ on a corner in Winslow, Arizona ♫

Aww yes! We stood on a corner in Winslow, Arizona! Some nice people took our photo, and in turn we took one for someone else, and so on, and so on. It’s was like a steady stream of tourists who needed another body.

17854966_10155088036728548_4916781804820973577_o

Not to spoil the illusion but this was literally just a wall made to look like a building. To their credit it’s a darn good looking wall. They even have a girl, my lord, in a flat bed Ford painted in the window like a reflection. The town is pretty desolate beyond this corner. Yet another victim of the freeway bypassing the state route.

Our chosen campground was supposed to be called Sun Valley RV Resort. Sounds fancy, right? The correct analogy for this situation would be a McDonalds salad. “Oh, hey, I’ll just have a salad, those are good for you.” Except it’s a McDonalds salad with brown lettuce and old tomatoes, part of a glove, ranch dressing from last year, and chicken nuggets made from pink slime. When we arrived it was ten feet from the freeway, absolutely no cell service, and the actual name was ROOT 66. Just like that, spelled wrong, with it’s sensory assaulting capital letters and all. It was also situated around an abandoned-looking hourly motel. We ended up back-tracking a few miles to sleep in the parking lot of a Hopi Indian truck stop. It was the correct choice.

Side note: Not having cell service is an automatic deal breaker for us. We don’t ever put ourselves in a situation where we can’t dial 911. We’ve turned around at better campgrounds in the name of safety. It could have been gorgeous there, we still would not have stayed.

Well rested and thankful for the ability to boondock, we set out the next morning to visit Petrified Forest and Painted Desert.

17862465_10155090491778548_9064473575708838342_n

This was another one of those places that photographs could never fully represent. The petrified wood sparkled and the desert had so many different colors. The layers were so defined yet blended together; painted indeed. Just looking at the landscape you could tell where there had been water and what had stuck up beyond the ocean.

17861638_10155090492393548_8756934895699556469_n

 

17800077_10155090491328548_3331933846287376002_n

There were multiple visitor centers within the parks. The first one we visited had an awesome museum full of fossils and full skeletons, giant logs of sparkly petrified wood (polished and natural). They had a great Junior Ranger workbook. It was a real challenge for the kids and they definitely earned their badges that day.

17799946_10155090492273548_6128372763970433932_n

Right.. Left.. Oh well.

This is the part in the story where we look back and have many regrets. Just before we got to New Mexico – and I mean JUST before, we could see the welcome sign – the truck overheated. Overheated is not a strong enough word to describe what had happened, and we’d discover that much later. We barely made it off the freeway to a truck stop. Justin discovered that most of the coolant was missing from the truck, along with the cap from the reservoir. We thought that maybe he’d forgotten to put it back on and the antifreeze had evaporated. We sat for about 45 minutes letting everything cool then forced our way the 20 miles to Wal-Mart to get some distilled water to mix with the half gallon of antifreeze we had with us. We puttered along at 45mph on the freeway, stopping every few miles to let the engine cool. We ate dinner at Wal-Mart, and we still don’t have a table.

17761139_10155091134233548_5739208732037511950_o

Mmmm, cart burgers

Then, when the engine was cool enough, Justin added coolant and distilled water. It seemed as if our truck troubles were over and we went on ahead to our next campground: Dancing Eagle Casino. This was not just a parking lot at a casino, this was a parking lot at a casino with a FULL HOOK UP for $10/night! And a grocery store within walking distance! And a gas station across the street! And a Post Office! It was basically a town within a parking lot. We ended up being here for four days while we explored the area. Justin went exploring on his bicycle one evening, got trapped by vicious dogs along Route 66, and we had to go rescue him. He was not happy about getting his kicks that day.

I wish that I could tell you that the truck story was over and done with. Unfortunately it was going to get much, much worse. Another tale for another day, though.