All about an extraordinary road trip from New Jersey to San Antonio, and back again.

The Mission

January 15, 2008 – 4:48 pm | by Dave

the-alamo-1.jpg

In March 2008, Dave and Ollie will depart for a cross-country extravaganza; a road trip of mind-boggling proportion that will take them from the dark heart of Newark, New Jersey, across the American Heartland to beautiful downtown San Antonio, Texas, where they will appreciate first hand the historic and revered Alamo Mission.

With great anticipation of this bold excursion, this travel blog has been created to keep a diary of their life on the road, and to track their progress toward this lofty and inspiring goal.

The Plan

January 17, 2008 – 6:00 pm | by Dave

route.jpgAlthough there will be a lot of fine-tuning, I think there’s a route finally taking shape. Armed with Microsoft’s Streets & Trips and with the aid of such sites as byways.org, roadsideamerica.com and roadtripamerica.com, our great “there and back again” is turning into a thing of great promise…

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The Tickets

January 20, 2008 – 12:47 pm | by Dave

747.jpgGot ‘em! Now I’m committed ;)

The Map

January 28, 2008 – 4:35 pm | by Dave

themap.jpgWhen I came across a geo-mashup plugin for WordPress, I knew it was just the thing for our travel blog. The plugin interfaces with Google Maps and lets us specify a location for each post.

If you take a look at our map page, you can see it in action.

If you switch to the satellite view and zoom in really close, you *may* be able to see our car. If not, we might have already moved on… look down the road a piece.

Route Tweaking

March 4, 2008 – 3:44 pm | by Dave

compass.jpgRather than run the risk of spreading our time too thinly, we’ve decided to focus more on visiting places further from home, and less on those places that are within easy reach most of the time. As such, we’ll be traveling farther and faster the first couple of days in order to enjoy a longer stay when we finally reach San Antonio.

We’ve been advised to allow a good four days to take in the Alamo and other sights, so that’s what we’re intending, and probably sacrificing the visit to Washington, D.C., or at least postponing it until we’re on the way back.

Our first bona-fide vacationy spot will probably be Hot Springs National Park in Arkansas.

On the return trip, other revisions have us skimming along the Gulf Coast’s Creole Nature Trail, where Ollie and I look forward to wrestling alligators in the Sabine National Wildlife Refuge. After a festive St. Patrick’s day in New Orleans, we’ll head up through Mississippi and catch the Natchez Trace Parkway, taking in the scenery and cultural experience until we re-emerge upon civilization* near Nashville.

*Any area within a 3 mile radius of a Starbucks.

The Road Less Traveled

March 8, 2008 – 9:02 pm | by Dave

2008-03-08-027.jpgWe set out on the road straight from Newark Airport, hoping to put as much road behind us as we could today. Some of the mountain views in Maryland and West Virginia were breathtaking. Today, though, they were breathtaking and snow-covered, too. From Maryland westward, we journeyed (kinda white-knuckled) in a persistent snowfall until we decided the wiser course would be to stop for the day.

We couldn’t find the Holiday Inn that the highway sign promised, so we turned back, retreating from the slippery mountain roads, and we settled into a cozy hotel further up the highway. After checking in (Woohoo! Free WiFi!) and grabbing a tasty burger in the diner across the way, we came back to watch a little Jeopardy and type up this blog post.

Ah, but the fun was just getting started…

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Kentucky Castle Farm

March 9, 2008 – 7:30 pm | by Dave

2008-03-09-030-a.jpgAny day that starts with a waffle is bound to be a good one. Although we got off to a later-than-planned start because of the time change [alright, it wasn't just the time change. The hotel had a good breakfast spread and I went back for seconds...] The weather was fair and friendly, and the roads, like the sky, were clear. We made good time through the West Virginia mountains into Kentucky.

Picking up the beautiful Blue Grass Parkway at Lexington, we were startled and impressed by the Castle Farm of Thomas R. Post. Cheddar wasn’t scared of the lions on the gate, and wanted me to take this photograph to prove it:

2008-03-09-043.jpg

Throughout most of the afternoon we coasted through Kentucky’s great rolling hills which appeared more and more green as we moved southward. We missed the wide country views when we traveled 65 south toward Nashville, so the day ended on a citified note but we made good time and put a lot of road behind us.

Tomorrow: Hot Springs, Arkansas!

Valley of the Vapors

March 10, 2008 – 8:55 pm | by Dave

buckstaff.jpgLeaving Nashville and all that snow behind us, we continued southwest along route 40 through Memphis, Tennessee into Arkansas. In the zig-zag mountains*, about 55 miles southwest of Little Rock, we arrived in Hot Springs National Park, our destination for the day, and a place unlike any either of us have ever seen before.

Hot Springs grew up more than a century ago around 47 geothermal springs that flow from the western slope of Hot Springs Mountain. Rainfall seeps down through layers and layers of rock, heating 4 degrees (F) for every 300 feet of descent into the Earth’s crust. Scientists have determined that the waters of the hot springs fell as rain more than 4000 years ago, but the waters take only a few minutes to reemerge on the surface with an average temperature of 143 degrees F (62 degrees C). Throughout this process, the waters dissolve minerals out of the rock, and are renown for their therapeutic qualities.

During the “Golden Age of Bathing” in the early 1920′s, Hot Springs and its world-famous Bathhouse Row were a popular destination. Today, many of the historic buildings still stand but are undergoing renovation. Our first stop in Hot Springs after we checked into our hotel was The Buckstaff, an operational bathhouse where we each received “The Treatment”: a 100-degree-plus 20 minute whirlpool bath, steam cabinet, hot towel wraps and needle-shower. Ladies upstairs, Gents to the left. The staff were friendly and knowledgeable, and guided us through the process gracefully (and modestly). Ollie says, “I had a great bath at Hot Springs. I loved it!”

Afterward, when we left refreshed and rejuvenated, we went up the street to The Fordyce, a historic bathhouse that reopened in 1989 as the park visitor center. Fountains outside smoked and steamed with the spring water. Inside, there were exhibits that showed all of the elaborate customs and practices of the bathhouses in their hey-day. Fascinating stuff. We were just in time to catch an informational movie in the bookstore, which rounded out the visit nicely.

We popped across the street and went through Madame Toussade’s Wax Museum. Creepy, but fun. To round out the day we picked up some self-sealing jugs and filled them up with spring water at the public faucets provided for that purpose. Hey, water’s free here! We also discovered that it’s very hot, and made a somewhat formidable and in retrospect, comical, challenge to carry it back to the car. We both tried to be kind of stoic, but I wound up threading three on my belt and slinging it over my shoulder. Ollie carried the fourth while I held my britches up with my free hand.

*really :)

Welcome to Texas!

March 11, 2008 – 10:28 pm | by Dave

2008-03-11-115.jpgWe hit the road early today, hoping to catch a scenic sunrise over southwest Arkansas, but the morning was foggy and remained so until almost 10:00. We had hoped the sun would burn it off early, but the fog proved as stubborn as it was thick. Visibility was reduced to about 100 yards or so. Oncoming cars were shimmering spheres of light, and all along the highway there were gnarled and twisted tree-silhouettes back-lit in the fog. It was all very eerie and kind of surreal.

By mid-morning, the fog burned off and revealed an expansive and scenic view. We opted for a Texas farm-route in favor of the (faster) highway, and enjoyed what is probably the biggest sky I ever remember seeing. It was vibrant and blue, and was dotted with hundreds of white fluffy clouds. I couldn’t get over the trees, either. I have to check the Audobon book when I get back home, but they looked to me like very twisty oak trees. I found them to be very impressive.

About lunch time, we stopped at Little Mexico for cheese enchiladas. Taking to the road again afterward, the beautiful sights kept us company all the way to Austin and the end of our day…

Texas Hill Country

March 12, 2008 – 6:50 pm | by Dave

2008-03-12-080.jpgWe drove through Texas Hill Country today, coming into San Antonio by a round-about route instead of driving straight in via 35 from Austin.

We traveled a variety of Texas “Ranch Roads”, passing through a series of small towns: Dripping Springs (gateway to Hill Country), Henly, Fredericksburg, Comfort, Medina, Vanderpoole, Utopia, Sabinal, Hondo. Each had its own character and charms. The roads that connected them offered spectacular views of rolling Texas hills and scrub, and dozens of active ranches.

We had lunch in Medina, in a little patio cafe, famous for its apple pie. The people were friendly and the food was great.

It was a beautiful ride, but a long one, stretching the 90 miles between Austin and San Antonio into almost 300 by circuitous route. We arrived in San Antonio about 3:00, and settled into our hotel. Within minutes we were in the hotel’s indoor pool and hot tub. I suspect we may have gotten spoiled in Hot Springs :)