Monday, February 25, 2013

On the Road: Texas Travel Information Center

One of my favorite places to stop when I am traveling west on Interstate 40 is the Texas Travel Information Center which is located east of Amarillo. Texas provides twelve of these centers across the state. The I-40 location is the only one I have visited and it is amazing! This center has clean restrooms that are open 24 hours a day. Wi-Fi is also available. The displays in the lobby provide information about the area and about wind technology. They have a lot of wind in that area. I have never been there when it has not been REALLY windy.

The first time we stopped here was during a storm. We saw that the center had a tornado shelter and decided to stop because conditions were deteriorating.


Interstate 40 has long stretches of highway that do not have hotels. This is one of those stretches that is in the middle of nowhere. When I feel tired, I know I can stop at the Travel Information Center for a while until I feel okay to drive again. I always feel safe there.

(Photo taken in 2012)
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Friday, February 22, 2013

Your Favorite Interstate Exits: I-64 in Virginia

English: Sunset in Shenandoah National Park, V...
English: Sunset in Shenandoah National Park, Virginia. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Interstate 64 begins its journey west from Chesapeake, Virginia. I-64 joins this city with Hampton, Richmond, Charlottesville and Covington. This beautiful highway merges for a brief time with I-81. In addition, Interstate 64 is part of the 3.5 mile Hampton Roads Bridge Tunnel. Many attractions are near I-64 including the Shenandoah National Park, Blue Ridge Parkway, Natural Chimneys and Goshan Pass. The historical sites of Jamestown Settlement and Colonial Williamsburg are also near this interstate.

Please share with other drivers your experiences as to which exits are best for single travelers or anyone for that matter. Reasons for the choice may include the safety of the surrounding area, the availability of good hotels and restaurants or proximity to the interstate. Please make sure to give the exit number or a description of the location. For example, when I discuss I-40, I would recommend Exit 145 in Oklahoma City. Many hotels and restaurants were located at this exit and I felt safe in the area. This exit was very convenient for easily continuing west without the hassle of dealing with early morning rush hour traffic.

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Tuesday, February 19, 2013

On the Road: Walmart Camping

English: Exterior of a Wal-Mart Supercenter in...
English: Exterior of a Wal-Mart Supercenter in Madison Heights, Virginia. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Although I have never camped outside a Walmart, I know some who have participated in this activity. What is Walmart camping? When they drive a substantial distance or just need a place to stay, some people seek to save money on lodging by sleeping in their cars or campers in a Walmart parking lot. These travelers use the restrooms at the 24-hour Walmart SuperCenter and repay the store for the opportunity to use the parking lot by buying food and supplies at the store. Now that I know about this practice, I have noticed the trucks and campers in the parking lots all the time.

I have to admit that I thought the store would not be happy about this situation, but it turns out Walmart camping has been going on for decades with Walmart's blessing.  When I looked at the message boards for this topic, I found that travelers checked with the store manager to see if the particular store was cool with having overnight guests. Some were not onboard, but those stores who did permit this activity saw the advantage of it. Having travelers camp in the parking lot discouraged various types of illegal activity. In addition, the campers gave the store their patronage.

The campers who frequent the Walmart stores want this opportunity to continue and they use message boards and blogs to inform newbies of guidelines and also to give advice to potential campers to make sure their experience is a success. For example, travelers should check out the surrounding neighborhood of the Walmart to make sure it is safe and should park away from the doors of the building. For those who want to consider Walmart camping as an option, researching this topic on the web will provide a wealth of information.
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Friday, February 15, 2013

Your Favorite Interstate Exits: I-59 in Mississippi & Louisiana

A cloud of hot steam boils out of the flame de...
A cloud of hot steam boils out of the flame deflector at the A-1 test stand during a test firing of a Space Shuttle Main Engine in 1988 during the NASA Return to Flight program. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Interstate 59 merges with I-20 in Mississippi until it reaches Meridian. At that point this highway travels south joining Meridian with the Mississippi cities of Laurel and Hattiesburg and with the Louisiana city of Slidell. I-59 joins I-10 near Lake Ponchartrain and the Gulf of Mexico. The evacuation for Hurricane Katrina utilized the southbound lanes of this interstate in a contraflow lane reversal to provide a way for more residents to leave the area. Attractions near I-59 include the Stennis Space Center, which is the largest rocket testing facility for NASA. The INFINITY Science Center, which replaces the StenniSphere center, features an International Space Station module. The area is also rich with historical places of interest to the Civil Rights movement.

Please share with other drivers your experiences as to which exits are best for single travelers or anyone for that matter. Reasons for the choice may include the safety of the surrounding area, the availability of good hotels and restaurants or proximity to the interstate. Please make sure to give the exit number or a description of the location. For example, when I discuss I-40 in Oklahoma, I would recommend Exit 145 in Oklahoma City. Many hotels and restaurants were located at this exit and I felt safe in the area. This exit was very convenient for easily continuing west without the hassle of dealing with early morning rush hour traffic.
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Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Travel Tales: Akron to LA 2012

Since it is February, I started to think about when I would leave to go back to Ohio and I realized I had not discussed my trip to California. I have to be honest and admit I was having such a great time at home in Ohio and was seriously considering taking a pass on this year's trip. However, my daughter was going to be in LA for the holidays and I wanted to spend that time with her.

This year's trip to Los Angeles was a wonderful one. I was delayed in leaving since my daughter came to Akron for Thanksgiving. I cooked my first Thanksgiving dinner at home in eight years and it could not have been better. Two days after Thanksgiving my daughter went back to work and two days later I left to drive here after making sure everything was in order for the house sitter.

As always my departure date was affected by the weather, so I watched the Weather Channel everyday. When I saw I had three completely clear days in a row, I decided to leave. I was prepared to get on the road at any time since the car was already packed. I knew that I had only those three days before the weather worsened again.

My first day was great. I woke up at 5:30 and got on the road. I drove through Ohio, Indiana, Illinois and Missouri. (Sounds impressive, doesn't it?) The interstates I used on this day were I-76, I-71, I-70 and I-44. I always use the bypass for Columbus and for St. Louis, but I like to use 70 through Indianapolis. The audio book for this day was The Other Boleyn Girl, which was easy to follow since I had read the book twice. Since I left later than usual, I stopped in Joplin instead of Oklahoma City. I was lucky to get a room because the construction workers who are building the new hospital in Joplin were staying at hotels at Exit 8 on I-44. This new hospital replaces St. John's Regional Medical Center which was destroyed by the Joplin tornado.


Day two had clear weather and I drove through Oklahoma, Texas and New Mexico. I took I-44 to I-40 and used that interstate for the rest of the day. The Boleyn Inheritance was my audio book for this section, but by the evening I found myself tired of listening to descriptions of beheadings and executions. Much of my journey on this day was over flat terrain as can be seen in the above photo from Texas. As is always my luck, I went through Albuquerque at rush hour. Since it was dark and the city was unfamiliar to me, I decided to continue on to Gallup and stay there for the night. Another reason to drive an extra hour and half is that leaving from Gallup in the morning puts my arrival time in Los Angeles before its dreaded rush hour.

The last day is always the best day for me. Since I had listened to two days' worth of Henry VIII and his wives, I decided on the audio book Good in Bed. The lighter subject matter was good for some laughs. Arizona and California are always so beautiful and it is a pleasure to drive through them on I-40. For some reason I always think these states are more attractive when I drive east to west! The change in scenery from Flagstaff to the Mojave Desert is always so amazing and interesting. Travelers drive into a mountainous area around Flagstaff and then descend into the desert area of western Arizona and California. When I leave I-40 for I-15 near Barstow,  the terrain changes again and the high desert turns into a mountainous area before 15 goes into the valley. For me this section goes by very quickly.

In the foreground a burned section of the San ...
The LA basin is to the left, with the Inland Empire (San Bernardino itself) in the foreground. The San Gabriel mountains are under those few clouds. The Foothill Expressway (I-210) runs toward the horizon, the I-15 runs through the pass to the right (north) and the I-215 connects with the I-15 right below the pass and comes east before turning south. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
The weather was crystal clear for the whole trip until I got to the Cajon Pass after driving out of the desert. This pass is challenging on a clear day, but as I approached it, I could see what looked like a witch's cauldron of dark clouds swirling at the edge of the San Gabriel Mountains. Sometimes a weather system will move along until it reaches the mountains and then seems to get held in place by them. For the twelve mile descent on the mountain I could hardly see and it was raining hard. This was very stressful and I was glad that this was not the first time I had ever driven down the pass. (My worst experience with this pass was going up it in the middle of the night during a snow storm.) At the bottom of the mountain I drove out of the rain and the last hour of my trip was free of rain.

The traffic was great on the 210 and the 134 until I crossed Interstate 5 and drove by the studios. Then the traffic backup began. Fortunately, I know the surface streets, so I was able to take them and arrived at my daughter's apartment.  Completing the drive safely is so exciting. All that stress is gone....until the return trip.

(Photo of Texas taken in 2012)
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Friday, February 8, 2013

Your Favorite Interstate Exits: I-59 in Alabama & Georgia

English: Cathedral Caverns in Grant, Alabama
English: Cathedral Caverns in Grant, Alabama (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Interstate 59 begins its journey south from its juncture with I-24 in the northwest corner of Georgia. After three exits in Georgia, I-59 joins the cities of Fort Payne, Gadsden, Birmingham and Tuscaloosa in Alabama.  Interstate 59 merges with I-20 from Birmingham to Meridian, Mississippi. The interchange of these two merged interstates with I-65 is the site of many accidents, so use caution. Attractions near this highway include DeSoto State Park, the Cathedral Caverns, the Sequoyah Caverns and the Appalachian Mountains.

Please share with other drivers your experiences as to which exits are best for single travelers or anyone for that matter. Reasons for the choice may include the safety of the surrounding area, the availability of good hotels and restaurants or proximity to the interstate. Please make sure to give the exit number or a description of the location. For example, when I discuss I-40 in Oklahoma, I would recommend Exit 145 in Oklahoma City. Many hotels and restaurants were located at this exit and I felt safe in the area. This exit was very convenient for easily continuing west without the hassle of dealing with early morning rush hour traffic.
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Tuesday, February 5, 2013

On the Road: Forget Something?

Ohio state welcome sign, along US Route 30, en...
Ohio state welcome sign, along US Route 30, entering from Indiana. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
When I go on a long trip, I am fortunate to have someone who is able to house sit for me. If I need something from my home, that person can easily send it to me. Usually I do not forget anything and I have never had to have anything other than mail sent to me. I always say that all I need is my credit card, my prescriptions and some clothes and the rest I can purchase at my destination if need be.

This year I thought I did not have to complete an errand. On my list of "Things to Do" I reminded myself to get my car e-checked before I left the state. When I looked at the list, I thought that since 2012 was an even year I would handle that task in 2013 when the cars like mine that were manufactured in odd years are checked. I forgot I needed to get the e-check early so I could get my license plates while I was out of state.

I contacted the state of Ohio license bureau who gave me the phone number for the Ohio EPA. Since I was going to be in California, I was told I could get a smog check and send the results to Ohio. Smog checks can cost as much as $50 in California and I did not want to get ripped off since I was from out of state. I checked on Yelp and found a place where I could get the smog check for $30. The car passed and I sent the results back to the Ohio EPA via certified letter. (I always send important mail by certified mail.) Now my license plate stickers are being sent to me here, so I will have no problem when I am driving back.

Originally, I thought I would have to return to Ohio earlier than I had planned so I could handle this situation. I believed I had no other option.  However, contacting the state agencies helped me to solve the problem in a way that I did not know existed. My advice to other travelers is to seek assistance when unusual circumstances are encountered on a trip. Although they have rules, states are willing to help find solutions when special problems arise. Thanks, Ohio EPA!!!
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Friday, February 1, 2013

Your Favorite Interstate Exits: I-57 in Illinois & Missouri

Cross on Interstate 57 an 70 in Effingham, Ill...
Cross on Interstate 57 and 70 in Effingham, Illinois (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Interstate 57 begins its journey south from Chicago on the shore of Lake Michigan. I-57, which is the longest interstate in Illinois,  links Chicago with Urbana, Champaign, Effingham and Mt. Vernon before it joins with Interstate 55 in Missouri. This highway briefly merges with I-70 in Effingham and it is here at Exit 162 that I like to get gas. The 198 ft. steel cross in the photo is located at this merge and is an impressive sight which can be seen for miles. In addition to the many attractions of the Chicago area, the Lincoln Log Cabin State Historical Site is located near this interstate.

Please share with other drivers your experiences as to which exits are best for single drivers or anyone for that matter. Reasons for the choice may include the safety of the surrounding area, the availability of good hotels and restaurants or proximity to the interstate. Please make sure to give the exit number or a description of the location. For example, when I discuss I-40, I would recommend Exit 145 in Oklahoma City. Many hotels and restaurants were located at this exit and I felt safe in the area. This exit was very convenient for easily continuing west without the hassle of dealing with early morning rush hour traffic.
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