Friday, May 27, 2016

Travel Tales: A New Option

English: Aerial view of Barstow, California, USA.
English: Aerial view of Barstow, California, USA. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
After I left the Grand Canyon, I was traveling west on Interstate 40 on my way to Los Angeles. As always the trip through the Mojave Desert was beautiful and thankfully uneventful. This part of my trip is the calm before the storm. Once I reach Interstate 15, I am involved in the hectic and intense Los Angeles area traffic. This year I decided to do something different. I reached Barstow and Interstate 15 and went south on the 15 for a couple exits. Then I turned west on California State Route 58.

I had researched SR58 and thought I would never really know how good the road was until I tried it. Some sections of the road were two-lane, but the traffic was going the speed limit. I noticed a lot of trucks and RVs were traveling on this road. By going this way they would avoid the Cajon Pass, so that made sense. I continued west and drove past Edwards Air Force Base. Here I found the map confusing since SR58 curved to the north, but another 58 went straight ahead. I went straight keeping the airstrip to my left. The road joined 14 at Mojave and I continued south through Lancaster and Palmdale. I had no traffic problems.

When I reached the Golden Valley exit, I took the opportunity to stop at Sam's Club and get supplies. I got back on 14 and four miles later it merged with Interstate 5. I found it difficult to determine if I saved time by taking this route. The traffic was so much better and I did not have to deal with the Cajon Pass. When I reached the 5, I was driving reverse to rush hour traffic.

California State Route 58
California State Route 58 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
I decided I will return that way if I can travel the road in the daylight. I would be concerned about having a problem in that isolated area in the dark. I have to get up so early when I drive east just so I can miss the traffic backup for the 5 on the 134. However, if am traveling at night, I would feel safer on the 134/210 in case I needed help. I have included a map which shows SR58 in red. On the right end of the red line are the blue lines for I-15 and I-40. They meet at Barstow. Following the line to the west, one sees the next blue line runs to the south only. That is 14 which curves to the west to meet I-5. The jumble of blue lines at the bottom are the highways of the Los Angeles area.

Friday, May 20, 2016

Travel Tales: Grand Canyon National Park

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I had a beautiful set of days for my trip to California in November. Only one day would present a problem and that was the day I wanted to see the Grand Canyon National Park. The weather forecast for that day was snow and high winds. I have a National Park Pass so I decided I would visit that day and then come back on the next day which was forecast to be sunny. I had seen the North Rim many years ago and had no desire to see the South Rim because I heard the area was always so crowded. I had some free time, so I decided this would be the year to visit. I was lucky to get a great hotel room in Tusayan which was seven miles from the rim. A storm was coming in that night and I arrived just as the snow was starting. The forecast for the next day was a high of 29 degrees with snow and high winds. It was perfect!!

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The next morning I arrived early and went to the rim. What canyon? The area was completely covered by fog. I went to the visitors center to talk to a ranger. She informed me that the snow would clear out of the canyon by 3:00. I told her I would visit the exhibits and shops and come back the next day to take photos. She said if I did that, my pictures would look like millions of other photos, but if I took as many photos as I could in the bad weather and then waited until later that afternoon for more opportunities, I would have pictures that were unique.

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I decided to walk around and every once in a while the wind would blow and a gust would clear all the clouds out of the canyon. Swirling clouds and rainbows added to the amazing scenery. The ranger was correct. No one would ever have the same exact photos. Not many visitors were at the park that day, but a group of us bonded together and had a great time in the adverse conditions. Only a few dozen of us were hardy enough to stay for sunset. The rangers had warned us that clouds might obscure the view, but we were willing to chance it. The gusts of wind at that time were so intense that we would scream in pain because we were so cold. I used my Big Canon camera for most of the photos because I was afraid my iPhone would be blown right out of my hands. I got beside a tree which protected me from the wind to take some photos with the phone. Later I could not tell which pictures had been taken with the camera and which had been taken with the phone.

As soon as the sun set all of us ran for the shuttle bus. I was happy to get a seat on the first one so I could finally get warm. Even though the weather was challenging that day, I will always remember it as one of the best days I have ever spent in a National Park. I learned a lesson that a park visit does not need perfect conditions. Each type of weather presents unique opportunities to showcase the amazing aspects of the park.

Friday, May 13, 2016

Travel Tales: It's Always Fancy Gap

English: West Virginia official Welcome Center...
English: West Virginia official Welcome Center (pyramid-shaped buildings) located east of exit 9 on Interstate highway I-77 and US-360 near Princeton, West Virginia. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
I could not give an accurate number of the times I have driven back and forth to Florida. While many travelers spend time preparing for such a trip and getting their hotel reservations ready, I consider the trip to be one that is easy to accomplish in a day. I already know where I will stop for gas, so my preplanning in minimal. Last summer when I embarked on my return leg of the trip, I thought I would have rain the entire way home. I was lucky that it held off as long as it did. I could see the clouds off to the west the entire trip; however, they caught up with me at Fancy Gap in Virginia. Of course, that is where it would be.

If anything will cause stress on the Florida trip, the incident will occur on the mountain at Fancy Gap. I have gone through dense fog, blinding snow and freezing rain in this section. My friends have had problems with vehicles in this spot. The ascent of the mountain takes every ounce of concentration on a good day. This time the trip was like driving with fire hoses aimed at the car. I could barely see and I kept to the interior lane as a river of water rushed down the surface of the road. I inched my way along the road trying to see the yellow line. I was worried about my own journey, but also was concerned about the other drivers who were having as difficult a time as I was. After I successfully made it to the top of the mountain, I continued to Wytheville. Since I did not know what the weather would be like on the West Virginia Turnpike, I decided to stop and stay there. Everyone else had the same idea. I could not find a room. Fortunately for me, a friend had mentioned that morning how her family had once stayed in Princeton. I carefully drove there.

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I was sopping wet when I stopped at a hotel and said to the clerk to please tell me he had a room for me. He said he did not, but then laughed and said he was kidding. He told me if I went on the other side of the interstate to the West Virginia Welcome Center, I could get a coupon book. I am glad I did because I saved a lot of money on the room. When I came back, I got my room and found I had made a wise decision. A criminal had been fleeing from the law and had been shot dead further north on the interstate. The Turnpike was closed. I settled in and watched the weather report. The weatherman warned that things would get worse later the next day and advised anyone traveling through the area to get out. I was surprised to hear that warning, but followed instructions. The next day the storm brought severe flooding to the area and to the East Coast.

Friday, May 6, 2016

Travel Tales: Florida Sunpass

SunPass logo
SunPass logo (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Last summer I had the opportunity to vacation in Florida. I usually avoid the Florida Turnpike when I travel, but I decided to use it this time because it provided the most efficient way to reach one of my destinations. When I looked at the toll card, I noticed some of the exits were missing. I called a friend for an explanation and found out about the Florida SunPass.

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Passes that are used at toll booths are not anything new. Those drivers who frequently travel toll roads use the passes and save money by doing so. I have never been in that situation. Without the SunPass I was limited as to what exits I could use. Only a few had personnel attending them and in the future no one will be working at the booths. I stopped at a travel plaza and purchased the mini sticker transponder for $4.99 plus tax. The sticker is placed on the inside on the windshield just below the rearview mirror. Another transponder was available for $19.99, but I did not want to spend that much. After I purchased it, I found drivers must set up an account online. This account needs a minimum balance of $10. I had no way to set up the account while I was on the turnpike, so I looked for the next manned toll booth and then took the back roads to my destination.

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I later found out that many of the Florida toll roads use this system and more will be added soon. Travelers to the Orlando area will need the pass for the myriad of toll roads. Other agencies that use the SunPass are: Miami-Dade Expressway Authority, Bay Harbor Islands, Venetian Causeway, Santa Rosa Bay Bridge Authority, Mid-Bay Bridge Authority, LeeWay Service Center, Tampa-Hillsborough Expressway Authority, Central Florida Expressway Authority, Osceola Parkway, NC QuickPass, and Peach Pass.

Travelers should check any area where they will be visiting to find whether a toll pass would be beneficial. For those who visit an area frequently, having the pass would be better than scrambling for exact change at the booth. That is always a pain.