Arizona 2020:
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Arizona 2020: [Day 1 - Driving] [Day 2 - Mesa] [Day 3 - Mesa] [Day 4 - Mesa] [Day 5 - Mesa] [Day 6 - Driving] [Day 7 - Driving]

Wednesday, April 22, 2020: You can't really tell, but we swear that this is the Welcome to Oklahoma sign, snapped with a camera in one hand by Debbie as she drove.
Tom was driving when he encountered this coin-based toll machine. Fortunately, we had gotten a bunch of change from the Illinois rest area vending machines.
When Tom was done driving, we though we'd stop and both sleep for a bit outside a Love's Travel Station.
But two adults sharing a van floor isn't as comfortable as you might think and the sky was starting to get light, so Debbie decided to take the next shift of driving instead of napping.
A few minutes later, we passed Texola, Oklahoma, which is a tiny town on old Route 66. We had been here for dinner back in 2017. Texola is the last stop before ...
... the Texas state line.
Those dark skies overhead dumped rain for a couple of minutes before clearing up quickly.
Texas had its own state highway message for us.
Ranch entrance signs are one of the things we like to photograph. Living in an Indiana suburb, we can't imagine what it would be like to have so much land that you need a custom sign above the entrance.
We stopped at a fantastic rest area we had visited in 2017.
It had been completely dark on our last visit so it was nice to see it in the daytime.
It had a nice little playground sign for the extensive play area.
But stay away from those rocks and tall weeds, kids, because there are rattlesnakes around.
The bathroom contained a great tile depiction of the local scenery, ...
... and of course, a pandemic sign.
The rest area had a nice little windmill display and other historical information about the area.
The reason for the windmill display is because modern windmills were scattered all across the horizon. We had seen them at this spot in 2017 but only their blinking red lights in the dark.
Here's a better view.
Classic west Texas scenery.
A billboard reminded us about the gigantic cross coming up soon in Groom, Texas.
This leaning water tower is that way on purpose, having been specifically placed here decades ago as a tourist attraction.
This giant cross is nearly identical to the one in Effingham that we had passed the night before. The 198-foot-tall Effingham cross was inspired by and based on the plans for the 190-foot-tall Groom cross.
It's rare to catch a picture of a crossing sign along with the items being depicted in that very crossing sign. Trucks!
Roadside America calls this place "Stoner Patriot Peace Garden of All Faiths." Great name for a rainbow sculpture park. We visited it in 2021.
Looks like we were going to make it to Amarillo by morning. You're welcome, George Straight fans.
Another ranch sign.
Another Black Deer Transport truck.
Speaking of truckers, here's a homemade sign thanking truckers for helping to keep the country going during the pandemic.
This road trip was like being given a huge menu with many tempting things on it, none of which you can order. Billboards advertised restaurants and attractions that you couldn't visit. This Big Texan Steak Ranch offered a Free 72 oz. Steak (dinner, if eaten in one hour). Note that the word "dinner" is in a much smaller font, so it isn't immediately obvious that you'll also have to eat shrimp cocktail, salad, a roll, and a baked potato as well for your "free" 4.5 pound steak.
Why is the Amarillo sign in blue? Why isn't it yellow?
Here's the exit we took when we visited Palo Duro Canyon at dawn in 2017.
There's the Big Texan.
Oooh, we're in the land of Whataburger! A Dr. Pepper shake sounds like something worth trying, but we never passed one during lunch or dinner time, unfortunately.
Nice boots in the Amarillo logo.
Here's the American Quarter Horse Hall of Fame and Museum. This figures into a plot point in just a moment.
There's downtown Amarillo.
Debbie had been driving for a couple of hours so it was time to get some breakfast and switch drivers.
We decided to try out Wendy's brand-new breakfast menu. Debbie was expecting this Breakfast Baconator to have a beef patty but it had a sausage patty instead. It took a little getting used to for a non-breakfast-sausage eater, but was pretty tasty.
With Tom at the wheel once again, Debbie spotted a painted horse statue in front of a business on the frontage road. Where there is one painted statue, there is bound to be another.
Sure enough, we took the next exit and found lots of horse statues along the frontage road. But these aren't just any horses - they are quarter horses, for which Amarillo is known. Here's one in front of a boot store.
Here's the Longhorn Steakhouse statue.
Here's the Saltgrass Steakhouse statue.
Here's the Fuddrucker's statue. Hold on! Fuddrucker's?
There is still an open Fuddrucker's?? (Shaking fists at sky that it wasn't lunchtime.)
Yes, it's open and not only do they offer takeout, they also sell ground beef and bakery items during the pandemic. Genius.
We photographed one more horse statue before getting back on the highway.
This sign gave a hint that we were less than a minute away from ...
... the Cadillac Ranch.
We didn't have time to get out and visit it, but other visitors were standing among the Cadillacs buried halfway in the ground. It looks like there's even a convenient place to pull over on the other side of the freeway.
Note the artsy juxtaposition of the old windmill in the foreground and the new windmills in the back. Yeah, Debbie used to be an art major.
Whoa. Check out those pieces of windmills. These are huge.
This house helps to put the windmills' size into perspective.
Santa Rosa looks like a fun place to visit. But not now. We added it to the endless list of future travel destinations.
Oh, sweet picnic area. No restrooms here, but a place to take a short break and convert the van back to daytime driving.
Two more cool ranch signs, ...
... and another.
By 10:30 AM, we had reached the New Mexico border and it was suddenly 9:30 AM.
We stopped at the New Mexico Welcome Center ...
... which was closed, but the exterior doors to the rest rooms were still open. Most rest areas we visited showed signs of having been recently and thoroughly cleaned, which was nice, in addition to having few or no other visitors.
We couldn't visit Mesalands Community College's Dinosaur Museum so it was nice to see a little sample exhibit at the rest area.
Back on the road again, we passed several of these things. Tom says it is an "omnidirectional navigational aid for air travel." Whatever.
Hey! There's another Black Deer Transport truck. Wait, no, that's the same one we passed over two hours ago.
There's another closed rest area.
Oh, yes, Little Debbie Swiss Rolls - the finest product in the Little Debbie snack line. We sent this photo to Doug ...
... in response to this photo he took somewhere in Nevada two hours later.
More scenery.
The other theme to this travelog is trains. We passed quite a few.
Here's an Ocean Network Express container on the train. The bright pink color is so very eye-catching.
Nice art on the overpass.
Another closed rest area.
This stretch of road was dominated by billboards for Flying C Ranch. It may be hard to tell but there are well close to twenty yellow billboards on both sides of the road in this picture.
Fifteen minutes later, Clines Corners was doing the same with their blue billboards. Obviously, we didn't stop at either place.
There were many opportunities to get off the freeway and follow the historical Route 66. Maybe someday, we'll devote a road trip to this, but we've certainly visited quite a few sections over the past few years.
We encountered this cool sculpture as we neared Albuquerque.
Sandia Peak Tramway? Yeah, we were there back in 2003.
Sandia Peak is back there somewhere. Probably.
We got off the freeway to visit the state fairgrounds and passed this Muffler Man as we drove around it looking for the entrance to the fairgrounds.
We found the entrance and the gate guard told us that we couldn't come in because the fairgrounds were closed to the public. We told him that we were here to see New Mexico's Merci Train boxcar and asked him to point to its location so we could visit it the next time we were in town. Then we did a U-turn around the guard station as requested. As we passed the station on our way out, he stopped us and told us that his boss was in the car behind us in line and would escort us to the site.
We couldn't believe our good fortune. We put on our masks, parked next to the nice man, and he told us to take our time visiting the site. He said that most fair visitors do not know the history or significance of the site.
Here's a wide-angle shot. What's this? Two boxcars?
Well, it turns out that New Mexico is the only state to have two boxcars instead of one. Boxcar Number 1 is the original boxcar given by the people of France to the people of New Mexico.
It had fallen into a state of disrepair, so New Mexico searched for another one that could be used for parts to repair it. Here's the front ...
... and the back.
In 1986, Boxcar Number 2 was purchased. Instead of using it for spare parts, it was renovated and decorated to look like the original boxcar would have looked back in 1949.
Here's the front ...
... and the back.
This display stands just behind the two boxcars.
The first window display tells the story of the Gratitude Train AKA the Merci Train.
The second window display has an adorable model of the boxcar.
The third window display tells the story of how New Mexico came to have two boxcars.
The search started in 1982 and ended in 1985 when Boxcar #2 was located in France and purchased, making New Mexico the only state in the union to have two French 40 & 8 boxcars.
What a wonderful experience.
We thanked the gate guard and his boss, and told them how much they had made our day. It was nice that they each had Indiana connections themselves. They both wished us safe travels.
Here's some nice overpass art.
Albuqueque was filled with virus-specific billboards. We'll share a couple of them from this day and many more on our return trip.
The bright turquoise color was a nice touch on the overpasses.
Cool roadside art.
Cool railings for the bike path on this bridge portion of the freeway.
More cool freeway art.
Even more cool freeway art.

New Mexico's highway message to drivers:

Stay Home
Shop Alone
Save Lives

Thank you, truckers.
Buh-bye, Albuquerque! See you in five days!
Pretty scenery.
Is there a giant rock ridge in the way of your highway-building plans? No problem! Just plow right through it! Be sure to put up a little warning sign about falling rocks, though. Safety first.
We flew past San José de la Laguna Mission Church and Convento Historic Site. It looked pretty from a distance.
We spotted our first Maersk container (and second and third...) of the trip on this train in the distance.
When we got off of the freeway to get a closer look at it, we turned back at this sign that noted the village was closed. Smart move, village! Respect!
Instead, we found a better vantage point by the side of the freeway just before an overpass that the train would be using. This picture was definitely worth the effort.
Sky City Casino Hotel has a message for truckers: Stay Safe!
What's this? It sure looks like an old lava field, but here in Grants, New Mexico? Yes, this area is part of El Malpais National Monument.
Maersk again!
Meanwhile, Doug and Susan had made it to Las Vegas, so we were each just one state away from Arizona.
We missed getting the sign of the continental divide, so instead, ...
... Tom acted it out in the van for Debbie's amusement and this photo. This is the "divide" portion of his personal game of charades, obviously.
Elk crossing!
Pretty scenery.
Is this a new COVID-19 sign? Or has it always been here? It doesn't matter - we're including it anyway.
Fire Rock Navajo Casino's electronic billboard noted that they were temporarily closed until May 1, 2020, ...
... and alternated with a sign urging all residents of the Navajo Nation to stay home.
The City of Gallup bills itself as the Most Patriotic Small Town in America.
Nice highway art.
More highway art.
Oversized pottery pieces adorned the exit ramps into Gallup. Two weeks later, the town of Gallup was closed to outsiders, but for now, it was business as usual.
Imagine Tom's sadness when he saw this. Normally, a billboard like this would be a reminder of something we were already planning to visit (or would be willing to quickly change plans to visit), ...
... but not when we're in the middle of a pandemic.
These huge caverns indicate that you're crossing into Arizona.
Speaking of Arizona, here it is. Note to state officials: posting a sign that the Welcome Center is closed might lead travelers to believe that the rest rooms are too. We realized that they probably weren't as we went flying by and saw cars in the parking lot.
Those 2012 Centennial signs are still up.

Can't get much more COVID-19-specific than this billboard:

Help Us Beat COVID-19

  • Wash Hands and Hard Surfaces Regularly
  • Cover Mouth when Coughing or Sneezing
  • Protect Us All - Keep 6ft Between People
Debbie had a happy hour Zoom date with her friends, scheduled before learning about her unexpected travel plans, so she attended on the road for an hour or so.
We passed Petrified Forest National Park, which was closed, and found ourselves in the land of petrified wood stores, including the heavily advertised Stewart's Petrified Wood.

Arizona's highway message was:

Stop COVID-19
Stay Home
Stay Healthy

Dinosaur sculptures - perfect for catching the attention of the passing tourist.
Holbrook Welcomes You. Thanks, Holbrook! We had the option of either continuing west to Flagstaff or heading south here and saving 20-30 minutes of driving. We'll tell you right now that we opted for the long way on our drive home.
It was interesting to go this way because we got to see some small towns up close, like Holbrook.
Holbrook has a lot more dinosaur statues ...
... and petrified wood shops.
We passed through Sitgreaves National Forest, which is when Debbie's Zoom connection started to fail.
We added a few more crossing signs to our collection.
We already had this sign, but here's another one.
Next, we travelled through Tonto National Forest.
The vistas here are gorgeous.
We stopped in Payson for some gas and dinner at Del Taco. We were stunned by the prices of gas in Arizona - easily at least a dollar higher per gallon than every other state we had driven through.
Oh, my, that surf and turf burrito was so delicious. We vowed to eat at Del Taco for as many meals as possible while we could. We were kidding ... or weren't we?
The drive was lovely but after 27 hours, Tom wasn't thrilled about driving on curvy moutain roads.
We had descended enough in altitude that we were now in the land of the saguaros.
Obligatory artsy cactus shot.
Another horse crossing sign, but this time, there's a person on it.
We were driving through the Superstition Mountains, one of Debbie's dad's favorite hiking destinations. It's easy to see why.
Even though most of the park areas were closed, cars lined the roads and people were just walking past the locked gates to get in.
We rolled into Gilbert, Arizona, at 6:37 PM. It had been nine months since Debbie's last visit in July and an entire shopping center had popped up on this corner where there had only been dirt.
After 1704 miles of driving, we arrived at Staybridge Suites, which is adjacent to the Holiday Inn Express where Debbie had stayed last June.
We opted for the Staybridge over the Holiday Inn Express because it had a full-sized refrigerator. We brought a lot of food with us so could minimize our exposure to the public, so that refrigerator really came in handy. But even better was having a suite so we had extra space when we got together with Doug and Susan in the evening.
Here's the separate bedroom ...
... and bathroom.
Here's the view from our room of the pool, which was closed due to the pandemic. That's the Holiday Inn Express across the way.
There was a sheet of paper that described the changes the hotel was making to address COVID-19. One of the lines had been crossed out because it was no longer valid, and the sheet was warped from being in the room for previous guests' visits, which was very creepy. Seriously, how much would it cost to print a fresh copy for each guest? A couple of pennies? We wiped down all handles and surfaces with bleach spray we brought with us and left the "No Housekeeping Needed" sign out for all four nights of our stay.
Just twenty minutes after our arrival, Doug and Susan were pulling into town. We each had drives of more than 24 hours so it was amazing that we arrived at nearly the same time.
Debbie and Doug got on the phone once they were checked in and spotted each other across the pool courtyard. It was Doug's genius idea to get our traditional photo of each other taking photos of each other. Normally, we're in the same room when we do this, but it seemed appropriate to do this while socially distanced.

Doug and Susan came by shortly afterward to discuss our game plan for the next day. We all agreed that since we had to work together over the next three days, there was no way that we could avoid being in close proximity and we just had to trust that none of us were sick. Fortunately, we all stayed healthy.

Day 3 >

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