Friday, September 20, 2013

Break-down and out in Weirdsville, MO

No amount of careful planning can prevent unexpected troubles while on the road. Black Cloud and Worse Luck took their vehicle that was only about three years old (less than 50,000 miles on it) cross country for the second time. They had no problems on their first trip and the car had been reliable up to this point. Prior to leaving, they had a trip-check done by a trusted mechanic consisting of: an overall assessment, an oil-change, fuel filter change, new brakes, new tires, and some other minor repairs. They thought they had all their bases covered in the car maintenance department... WRONG!!

Not a great welcome to Missouri!
Shortly after stopping at the Welcome Center near the Missouri Border, on an unseasonably warm day, their car began to run hotter than normal. Unsure if it was the temperature outside or idling in traffic, the two decided to pull off at the next exit and check things out, but... within seconds in St. Louis, during rush hour, in bumper-to-bumper traffic, with no break-down lanes, the car decided it was done. Smoke billowed from the radiator and the engine shut off. The two were forced to pull off on the grass divider as tractor-trailers slammed by.
Gateway Arch in St. Louis, 630 feet of stainless steel, located at the Jefferson National Expansion Memorial.
Thank goodness for AAA Roadside Service and the kindness of tow truck drivers. If you are planning a cross country trip, AAA and a cell-phone are invaluable. While this situation sucked, it could have been a whole lot worse. Saint Louis is a major junction of several interstates and traffic is notoriously bad around 5PM. With the absence of break-down lanes, it would have been dangerous to stand on the side of the road and attempt any kind of repairs. Additionally this was the first time that Black Cloud was pulled over and nobody offered to help (including several police cars that sped by). Good thing help was already on the way... 90 minutes later...
Stuck in the Twilight Zone? I think so. Black Cloud and Worse Luck ended up in a small town outside of St. Louis that we will refer to as Weirdsville. The tow-truck driver assisted the dynamic duo to transfer all of their luggage from their SUV and bring the vehicle to a garage. He dropped them off at the local Super 8... ah, luxury. Home of the stale donut breakfast, complimetary burned coffee, not-so-clean rooms with decor circa 1975, and the aroma of smoke.

The location was a bizarre highway overpass next to an Enterprise Rent-a-car with no available cars, a greasy BBQ restaurant, and a Farm Supply Store. Nothing else was within walking distance... three days the couple impatiently waited, stranded and wasting their vacation in the middle of nowhere eating horrible food. Car repairs would take aproximately 8 days due to a cracked block. They telephoned every car rental place in the vicinity, there were no cars. Finally on Day 3 an Enterprise employee took pity on the two... he found a van that wasn't being used and worked out a price deal (they usually charge by the mile)... and miracle of all miracles they were able to get back on the road again. Goodbye Weirdsville! Hello $150.00 speeding ticket in Kansas... but it feels so good to get back on the open road.

Saturday, September 14, 2013

El Malpais & La Ventana Natural Arch

Leaving Grants, NM, Black Cloud and Worse Luck took a short-cut off I-40 and were pleasantly surprised by the beautiful, but desolate high desert landscape. They accidentally stumbled across La Ventana Natural Arch, in Chibola, New Mexico...

...and decided to explore the nearby National Monument, El Malpais.
El Malpais was formed by volcanic lava flows over a million years ago.  These flows hardened into many interesting basalt structures and caves.  Just driving this scenic route you can view miles of black lava tubes that really contrast with the straw colored desert vegetation.

Roadtripper Wisdom:  There are many activities available in this area, however even if you have just an extra hour you can see a lot.  The park encompasses a large area with hiking, caving, and other outdoor activities available.  The short trail at La Ventana seems easier while the Continental Divide trail seems longer and moderate paced.  It is warm and sunny so lots of water and sunscreen are advised, additionally there are many scenic dirt roads in the park which are better suited to 4-wheel drive. For more information call the Visitor's Center (505)-783-4774 or visit the park website.

Kick back and enjoy the ride, but be sure to watch for wildlife in the road.  Black Cloud and Worse Luck saw these small mule deer on their trip as well as some squirrels that looked like prairie dogs... they followed the car in a huge group, which was really cool!

Sunday, September 8, 2013

Arches National Park at Sunset

After a snowy May morning, spent crossing the Rocky Mountains in a rental car with bald tires, Black Cloud and Worse Luck hurried to cross the Colorado-Utah border. Their destination was soon to be the highlight of their cross country trip: The Arches National Park. The park is located 5 miles north of Moab, UT.
 As Black Cloud steered their vehicle closer to the park, it was almost like a sign. The rain stopped and an amazing rainbow could suddenly be seen over the desert. It was the encouragement that Black Cloud and Worse Luck needed after a stressful day of driving.

As you approach the information center the red hue of the landscape and the sandstone walls are striking. A few switchbacks will take you up into the park where there are several options to explore. Hiking here is a once in a lifetime experience, but be warned it is strenuous and hot. The auto touring roads are very scenic and if you are pressed for time they are your best chance to see everything.

Even though this national park is known for its naturally formed elegant sandstone arches, Black Cloud's favorite stop was Park Avenue. The pinnacles and other rock formations are breathtaking.
As the sun began to set, the couple hurried on. The mountains on the horizon, as you round the park road, are the beautiful La Sal Mountains with clouds lofting near their peaks.

For those that want to see the trademark, often photographed, Delicate Arch the road splits and you'll want to take a left after Balanced Rock... Black Cloud and Worse Luck always take the road less traveled and the one that is not filled with tour buses... so they turned right to the Window Arches.

Sunset is definitely the best time to see Arches National Park... which we discovered by accident. Photos don't even begin to convey the beautiful blues and pinks, and how they contrast with the sandstone.
Park Info: The Arches National Park is open from sunrise to sunset which varies depending on the season. The phonenumber for visitors is: (435)-719-2299. There is camping, ranger hikes, and many activities, so check the website!
You can even catch at look at some arches outside of the park. We saw this one, Wilson's Arch, on our trip to Durango the next day.

Roadtripper Wisdom: Don't rely on your cellphone or GPS in this area, they may function on the highway, but if you venture down side-roads you'll be out of luck. It is notoriously hot in this climate and that means that dehydration is a real threat. Carry lots of water. Wear your sunscreen and all that. The actual town of Moab is very touristy. It has some nice hotels and good food, but book in advance because it is always packed! The Canyonlands are nearby and this area has a lot to do, so you may want to spend more than a day if you can.  

Saturday, September 7, 2013

This Cave is Mammoth!

On the third day of their cross country trip Black Cloud and Worse Luck woke to another rainy day... they were bummed because they were pretty sure that the weather would ruin their plans for the day. But they headed into Kentucky and checked out Mammoth Cave National Park anyway. And it was amazing!!
The caves are full of interesting stalactites and other formations.

While the dynamic duo usually prefers self-guided tours, they signed up for the Frozen Niagara Tour. This involves a short bus ride to the cave, followed by an hour long, 1/4 mile, easy walk through the cave with a Park Ranger. **Spoiler Alert!** This is what the namesake, Frozen Niagara formation looks like. It is accessed by an optional flight of 90 or so steps. It is so worth it!!
Roadtripper Wisdom: When the Ranger says, "watch your head," or "mind the uneven floor," be sure to pay attention. Worse Luck is tall and he almost whacked his head several times. Plus, our guide told us some horror stories about people needing stitches because of serious injuries in the cave.
While the Frozen Niagara Tour is less claustrophobic than the other cave tours, it does have a few tight spots. The caves are kind of chilly so bring a jacket, wear good sneakers or hiking boots, and don't look up if you don't like the thought of Cave Crickets inches from your hair!

The cave is the main attraction, but there are also some things to see above ground. There is a nice gift shop, camp sites, hiking trails, and Ranger Tours of the grounds... don't miss the opportunity to see some beautiful wildlife. In the summer of 2011, there were turkeys everywhere.
Park information: Reservations are recommended for tours, call 877-444-6777. The park is located at: 1 Mammoth Cave Parkway, Mammoth Cave, KY 42259. Our GPS (for once) had no problem guiding us right there. For latest hours Click here. The Park is on Central Time (so if you show up on Eastern Time you'll have to wait around for a while). Of course, that's what Black Cloud and Worse Luck did, so they spent some quality time in the parking lot.


Friday, September 6, 2013

Awesome Architecture In PA: Fallingwater and Kentuck Knob

You don't have to be an architecture buff to enjoy the Fallingwater house in Pennsylvania's Laurel Highlands.  Black Cloud and Worse Luck had a great time despite some heavy rain (what else is new) while they toured the grounds.  Frank Lloyd Wright was a genius and this house, considered unique even by today's standards, sits on top of the most beautiful waterfall.  It is amazing how well it blends into the surrounding mountainside landscape.

Fallingwater, rounding the corner to the main entrance.
View of the Youghiogheny River from the walking trail.

Fallingwater details: The location is: 1491 Mill Run Road, Mill Run, PA 15464. The GPS can get a little wacky with the directions (true story), so be sure to consult the website for the best way to get there: Click for Fallingwater Directions Page. There is a little walking involved, so wear shoes with a good tread. Tours of the inside of the house are often full, so be sure to book in advance.  For more information on the latest fees or hours call: (724)-329-8501.

My favorite photos of the property:

Roadtripper wisdom: Black Cloud always tries to incorporate as many scenic attractions on her cross country trip as possible... if you are pressed for time, it is possible to see the grounds and outside of the house within an hour. And be sure to stop at the gift shop.  Our next stop was Kentuck Knob which is not as nice and takes a little longer to see... keep reading if you are wondering why...


Kentuck Knob is a less popular Frank Lloyd Wright house in the same area of PA (about 11 minutes apart).  Black Cloud loves architecture so it was a must see, however at the time of our trip in the summer of 2011, the property was found to have some major flaws.  Before I get to that it does have an interesting Sculpture Garden that Worse Luck enjoyed. 

Getting back to the negatives of Kentuck Knob: if it is raining the grounds are very wet and marshy.  Literally wear gum rubbers or your feet will be soaking wet.  The incline of the driveway and roads leading to the parking lot are extremely steep, so drive carefully.  The map they provide you with at the visitor center to complete a "self-guided tour" is useless and we wandered in the rain for quite some time before realizing where to turn to walk to the house.  Your best bet is to wait for the shuttle bus and pay for a guided tour.  

My favorite photo from the Sculpture Garden:
Of course everybody has better luck than Black Cloud and Worse Luck, so here is the info on Kentuck Knob if you still plan to visit. The property is located at: 723 Kentuck Road, Chalk Hill, PA 15421, and their phone number is: (724)-329-1901. Click here for website.  



Wednesday, September 4, 2013

The Back Story

Years ago in a small northern town not so far away... Black Cloud and Worse Luck joined forces to be two of the unluckiest individuals on this planet. Their bad luck is only out-shined by their strong desire to travel and of course their love for each other. Together Black Cloud and Worse Luck have added to their bucket list the adventure of seeing all 50 states in the beautiful US of A. Up to this point they have driven cross country 1.75 times (it is a long story) in addition to several other vacations and have experienced something unique in 32 states!



Travel, like anything else in life, has ups and downs. In the same day you can go from rainbows over the desert (beautiful Arches National Park in Moab, Utah) to snow in the mountains (the Rockies in a rental car with bald tires). Black Cloud and Worse Luck have seen their share of Roadside Americana, National Parks, Scenic Byways, authentic hometown restaurants, once in a lifetime scenic overlooks, and other generally cool stuff... and now this blog is a way to share it all with you.


Why follow the adventures of these two crazy kids you ask? Huh... read on and you'll be amazed how two people can be in the wrong place at the wrong time with such consistency. Their first trek across the US in 2009 was interesting. Despite sleep deprivation, dirty gas station bathrooms, altitude sickness, too much fast food, a malfunctioning GPS, and the other hum drum problems of life on the road... Black Cloud and Worse Luck managed to drive from the Northeastern Corner of the United States in Madawaska, Maine, to the Northwestern Corner of the country in Blaine, Washington, in a little over a week. From there they headed south to Oregon for a few days hoping to get a glimpse of California. However poor planning and heavy traffic during Memorial Day Weekend foiled their plans and the two turned around and traversed the country back to the East Coast.

In 2011, the dynamic duo decided to drive to California again. The trip was filled with many unlucky perils. Car trouble in Missouri stranded Black Cloud and Worse Luck for several days in a town out of the Twilight Zone where nothing was ever open (or within walking distance) and the rental car company never had any cars. When the couple finally procured a rental car they did not have enough time to reach Cali, but figured they would try to have "that positive attitude that people were always talking about," and venture on. They reached New Mexico and after salvaging the trip with some spectacular sightseeing headed back to pick up their SUV.

En route to Joplin, Missouri, is where it all went wrong. After a long day of driving and a phone call that repairs on their SUV's engine totalled well over 3 grand, the weather began to turn.  The skies grew dark and ominous, the wind picked up, and it began to rain. Minutes later a State Trooper flagged Black Cloud and Worse Luck off the highway onto an overpass. From their vantage point the couple watched in horror as a massive high precipitation tornado leveled the town and crossed the highway right before their eyes. For the duration of the trip severe thunderstorms, flooding, and more tornadoes followed the couple as they made their way back to New England.


Now why would anyone with any shred of sanity decide to travel cross country again? Well, the answer is that Black Cloud and Worse Luck can't stand to be told that they can't do something... So here we are in 2013, fixated on California again, and in the planning stages of CROSS COUNTRY 2013: CALIFORNIA OR BUST!!

There is so much more to come on this blog, so stay tuned for pictures, travel tips, updates from the road in October, and hopefully videos. Or just laugh at us as we get into ridiculous amounts of trouble and misfortune... or not... who knows what's going to happen to Black Cloud and Worse Luck?