Monday, December 19, 2011

Trip Report: Return to Laughlin, Day #7

We awoke early on Saturday, December 3, and had our baggage loaded in the car shortly before 6:00 AM. We went back inside the Aquarius and used the last of our comps at the Starbucks for coffee and morning pastries for the road. Shortly after 6, we were back in the truck and ready to head out. It was just getting light in Laughlin. We wanted to make as much use of the light as possible for neither of us enjoy driving in the dark, especially on unfamiliar roads.

This time, we took what is known locally as the Needles Highway due south out of Laughlin along the western bank of the Colorado River. The first 15  or so miles was a smooth roadway with 4 lanes -- and then we entered California. Immediately our good highway turned into a 2 lane bumpy road. The strip of pavement resembling a shoulder quickly dissolved into sand on both sides. But it was only a short distance to Needles, California, and we were sure the road would improve there.

It didn't.

Needles is the entry point into California for Route 66, that old highway traveled by Okies and others escaping the dust bowl decades ago. How many of you remember the old Route 66  TV series of the early 1960s starring Martin Milner and George Maharis?

At Needles, we picked up US Highway 95 south for almost 60 miles to Vidal Junction. This was a 2 lane highway as before with only the barest of shoulders. Immediately out of Needles, we got behind a motorhome, and with no safe place to pass, 60 miles later we were still behind looking at the rear of that motorhome when we came to Vidal Junction, where we picked up Highway 62 and headed east into Arizona.

After a 15 or so mile drive, we crossed the Colorado River for the last time and entered Parker, Arizona. Immediately, the road improved. Although it was not a 4-lane highway, it did have good shoulders and had a smooth surface. We worked our way south and west along highways 95 and 72 until we picked up Interstate 10 south of a small community called Vicksburg. Now we had a good highway, with a speed limit of 75. Although I normally prefer to drive between 60 and 65 for safety and improved gas mileage, I drove the speed limit on this day because we had so far to go.

West of Phoenix, I took Highway 85 due south and intersected with Interstate 8 at Gila Bend. This allowed us to bypass the greater Phoenix metropolitan area and heavy traffic. At Gila Bend, we stopped for gas ($3.49 gallon) and Donna began driving. Up until this time, we had enjoyed sunny skies, but once we turned onto Highway 85, we began approaching overcast areas where the current storm was still moving south. Once Donna began driving, she encountered patches of rain, some heavy. South of Phoenix, we intersected with Interstate 10 and began heading south again.

It was about this time that we began seeing mountains around us with snow covered peaks. It wasn't a heavy and deep snow cover, just a good dusting, but more bad weather was on the way. By taking the route we were on, we had avoided some bad weather north of us. Had we returned the same we had gone to Laughlin, we probably would have picked up some winter weather. Interstate 40 around Albuquerque had snow on the roadway, so we are certainly thankful we had not gone that way.

From this point on, we were seeing territory we had seen only days before. We quickly passed through Tucson and the cloud cover continued to move south. The mountains along I-10 as we passed through Benson and Wilcox heading to New Mexico had snow on their peaks.

Donna continued driving into New Mexico and stopped at Lordsburg for gas ($2.99 gallon). We were running out of daylight, so I bought a cup of coffee and hopped into the driver's seat. Just east of Demming, darkness began to fall. By the time we reached the Las Cruces/Mesilla area, it was completely dark. We continued on to El Paso and stopped at another Hyatt Place for the night.

We ventured next door to an IHOP and had a light supper, then returned to the hotel to shower and crawl in bed. We had come two-thirds of the way and we were spending the night in Texas. We felt pretty good. We were ahead of the storm.

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