Coping: With the Long Drive Home

(Payson, AZ)  Still at least two more days of driving to go…but first…

It’s not often I begin a Monday column with apologies, but sadly, we don’t have time on our return trip from the PNW to schedule a stop in Prescott, AZ to visit with my commodity broker, JB Slear of  Nor, as it turns out, will  we have time to visit “The Castle” of Mike and Shirley up in the mountains of southern Colorado.

Our route home has been nothing short of a whirlwind of driving-gambling-and sleeping since last Thursday morning. 

To bring you up to speed:

Thursday night we made it to the Seven Feathers Casino in Canyonville, OR.  Great place, so-so statistical tests.  (gambling)

Friday night we opted for the Peppermill in Reno, NV where the gambling outcome improved a bit more.

Saturday night we stayed at the Tuscany Suites and Casino in Las Vegas.

Sunday night, we pulled into what’s something of a gambling hangout for us…the Mazatzal Casino in Payson, AZ. 

The reason I like casinos (regardless of who owns them) is that they provide far more choices in terms of food than a “conventional” hotel.

For example, the Peppermill’s Chi restaurant does Asia very nicely.  So for dinner Saturday night, I had a large bowl of their Wor Won Ton soup.  Great!   Just like the soup I remember from the old days in China Town up in Seattle growing up.  Yessir, fine vittles.  Elaine had the shrimp fried rice and there was enough for her, a couple of bites by me, and had nibbles at about 3 AM….

The Tuscany was also very good on the chow line:  so we were again, hitting the “sweet spot” for our travels.

Following Ure’s Casino Highway isn’t terribly expensive:  The weekend rates run in the $150 class, but during the week (when demand is lower) you can snipe mid $70’s rates at most places. 

To be sure, when we get to Amarillo, the price will be lower (if we snag a good rate at our “usual” up there, which is expected).  The difference in food and entertainment, though, is huge.  While the Amarillo stop has a typical mixed hotel café, it’s nothing like the casinos where there are usually a much wider choice of eating options.

There is a small chance we will crap out (so to speak) outside Amarillo and stay at the Route 66 Casino…and then hit one of the joints in Oklahoma, but that adds another day to the trip and a deeper hole in savings.  After almost 6-weeks out, we’re ready for home.

A few highlights:

  • In Oregon, they still have real humans pumping gas and washing your windshield for you as a way to cut the unemployment rate.  This days from the spotted owl days and the general death of the lumbering industry.  All states ought to have this.  Nice, friendly people, too…current road information and local knowledge about speed traps, shift change times and other high-speed driving information of use to us “defensive drivers.”.
  • That said, there are some very good prices on nursing homes in southern Oregon, and the reader who told us to stop in Reedsport, OR seems to have been right on.  I talked to a retired funeral home director (and ham radio op) who had retired to the coast some years back.  They were on the road to Stockton to visit one of their kids, but he tells me the ideal place on the Oregon coast is not right out on the beach, but about 10-15 miles inland, over the rise of the coastal hills.  “Otherwise, you see, there’s too damn much fog and you can’t really grow very much.  But you get inland about 20-miles from Coos Bay and the land is still reasonable and you can really turn out some crops…”  Sound thinking.
  • There were so many eating choices on the trip, few stand out.  But the One Pound Bone-In Ham Steak at the Peppermill was absolutely wonderful. Enough for two.
  • Not so good?  Our GPS system in the old Lexus sent us on a 20-minute wild goose chase with bad turn information.  The BEST route guidance out there is Google Maps.  Not only are the routes spot-on, but the time estimates are great, too.  As an example, Google estimated 5:25 enroute from Las Vegas to Payson, AZ.  Exactly what we got.
  • Terrorism Wrecks Tourism:  We drove over Hoover Dam on that leg and the whole view-thing is now mostly of 8-foot high concrete barriers,
  • The CB Radio has been mostly dead even on I-40.  Occasionally there will be something, but in terms of usefulness?  If I had to do it over again, I’d leave the money in my pocket and save it for prepping supplies for the Ebola lockdown to [possibly].
  • imageThe recent rains up in the Mogollon Rim area of Arizona have greened up  this area looking like something from Arizona Highways magazine.  Picture right (click for large view)  — not near the quality of the mag.  Still, at this time of the year the normal condition of this land is a kind of parched yellow and throughout the route once we got past Flagstaff the green was quite unexpected and beautiful.
  • If you ever want the ultimate skateboard or bike experience, the long down hill from Flagstaff to Camp Verde, AZ runs almost 18-miles.  From all of our travels where are only two other hills that even come close.  One of them is the (I-90) hill from east of Ellensburg, WA down to Vantage at the bottom of the Columbia River Gorge, and going past the Ginko Petrified Wood part.  I think that one is on the order of 8 miles, or so.  The elevation loss from Flagstaff is on the order of 4,000 feet.  The Vantage hill is steeper, as I recall, and there’s one we took in Utah that was good and long, also.

We’ve spent a lot of time talking to Arizonans about the border issues.  Most tend to play it down, but we did hear about a few folks who are pulling up stakes and leaving, already.

As soon as I push the “go” button on the news section of this morning’s column, we’re off to Amarillo…  Google puts that right about 9-hours.  That’s a whole lot of butt time, punctuated by a Loves truck stop and maybe a Subway.

It’s still great to live in Texas, but it would sure be more interesting if the place was sliced up into five smaller states.  It’s a 11.5-hour drive, or better, from El Paso over to Shreveport, LA.

Driving is still cheaper than flying commercial, though, when you crank in the cost of a long-term rental car if you’re going to get a feel for a place and plan to be there a month.  Except our backsides are just about fed up with “feel” right now.

We decided to kick back, hang onto our home in the Outback and see how the future looks come next spring.  If Ebola is licked, and if the economy is doing something besides hiring more government workers, then maybe we’ll put the ranch on the market.  But, if not, it would cost 25-35% more to replicate what we have in Texas up north.

It’s a hard thing to realize – but short of living in a condo/coup  – there’s just too much regulation, HOAs and a ton of other reasons to stay right where we are (or will be, shortly).

More notes tomorrow from the roadies… write when you break-even