Monday, March 2, 2015

Adventures in Taking the Blue Route (Back Roads)

This was our destination.  I did not take this picture.  I got it from friends who visited The Grand Tetons this summer.  Not sure, who took the picture...It was to celebrate their mother's 90th birthday.
There are times in life that taking the blue route leads to new adventures.  This is another Rae story.  Many years ago Rae and I took a cross country trip by car.  I was probably on my quest for finding a teaching job someplace in the mountains...and Rae, having never been west of the Mississippi, joined me.  She had a new Audi and I had camping equipment. 

The trip began uneventfully.  We stayed with my Aunt Dorothy and Uncle Frank in Denver for a few days.  From there we headed to Jackson Hole, Wyoming.  We planned to camp at the Grand Teton National Park and stay there while visiting Yellowstone National Park.  We left early, before rush hour.  We should make it to Jackson Hole by late afternoon.  There, we would get some groceries.   Aunt Dorothy packed a sack full of snacks and food for us, so we were set to go.

Rae was driving and I with trusty map on my lap, was the navigator.  GPS was an unknown. 

"How about taking some back roads?" I suggested.  "The atlas shows a blue road that goes west through the mountains and will take us to Route 191 at Rock Springs, and that will take us to Jackson.  We can get supplies at Rock Springs."

"Sounds good," said Rae....and we were on our way!

The scenery was stunning....snow capped mountains...the scent of pine trees...mountain streams flowing parallel to our country road.  John Denver's, "Rocky Mountain High" was playing and I was singing with pure joy at the beauty surrounding us.  We would get to Jackson later than planned...but it was worth it.  How wonderful that there were not many cars and we could travel leisurely, enjoying the scenery. 

I pride myself on being a good navigator...but did not realize that when driving with must never take her eyes from the road....not even to look at the map.  But, I will take full responsibility for this, as it was my idea to take the blue route.  We realized at some point that we had not seen another car for many miles.  When the paved road gradually became a gravel road was when we should have turned around...but oh how I hate to turn around!   This blue route was supposed to take us to Route 191...maybe part of it is gravel. 

"One of your Aunt Dorothy's yummy sandwiches sounds good," said Rae as she maneuvered the car along the narrow gravel road.  My mouth was watering for the taste of her homemade dill bread and chocolate chip oatmeal cookies. I opened the cooler and was greeted with a lone piece of bologna, one slice of bread, and one can of Coke.  In the rush to get an early start...we had forgotten Dorothy's bag of food.

Oh well,  keeping things positive...nothing could ruin this drive.  We were disappointed, but laughed about it.  We shared the half bologna sandwich and Coke....well almost.  Rae spilled the Coke when the Audi found a huge rut.  I think there were a few choice words spouted at this time.  "#*&#, Jackie, it's not funny.  The seat is going to be all sticky...We haven't seen another car for hours...since we saw those two ladies in that Cadillac driving the other way.  That was right when this (choice words) road became a (explicative) gravel road."
This is the trip to Alaska that we took with Rae and friends.

I could feel a bit of tension in Rae's voice.   What to do? " Let's go a little further...we were headed the right direction...Route 191 might be just beyond the next switch back.  If we turn back now, we won't make it to Jackson today."  That was my suggestion...and Rae, grumbling, agreed.

We would have made it to Jackson that day if it had not been for the thunder storm that greeted us beyond that switch back.  It came upon us so fast that we were soaked before we could close the sun roof and windows.  I wanted to say that at least the sticky Coke was probably washed away...but looking at Rae's face, dripping with water...I decided to keep quiet...struggling not to let out a giggle.  "It's not funny, Jackie.  The (choice words) windows are steaming!" 

Driving dirt roads (yes, the gravel had disappeared some time during the thunder storm) in the rain, in the mountains was not in our plans.  I admit that I am glad Rae was driving.  It became dangerous...then treacherous.  I felt like I was a character in an old Western movie as we rumbled along.  At times a big boulder would crash down the mountain in front of us...Rae expertly dodging them.  What seemed like hours later, the road became gravel...and then paved.  It was getting dark....what a long day.

Relief...we were back in civilization....but where?  Rawlins, Wyoming!  How did that happen?  It looked like a ghost a light on.  We needed to buy gas for the car and food for us, but everything looked closed.  Up ahead we saw some activity!  There was a parking lot full of cars shining their headlights toward what looked like a meeting. 

"Let's stop here." Rae said. "This must be where all the travelers who can't find a place to get food or gas are parked.  We have some let's get out the Coleman stove and pop some corn.  I am famished."   After we setting up the stove we took a closer look at the crowd.  "Good grief, Jackie, this is some sort of teeny bopper dance!"

Sheepishly, we stowed away the stove, crawled quietly into the car hoping no one had seen us...and drove back toward town, hoping to find a place to stay, get gas, and find some food.  Even though the place looked like a ghost was only because no businesses were open.  We found out that the storm had knocked out all of the electricity. 

And then there was light!  I saw a sign that said "Vacancy" and we sped to the motel hoping to get there before other stranded travelers.  This was one of those strip motels that used to be so popular. A lady (probably in her 70s..) greeted us.  "Welcome to the Cross Roads of America!"  The air reeked of stale and fresh cigarette smoke and beer.  Behind her was a trash can overflowing with Blatz Beer cans.  Some had tumbled onto the floor.  A man, about the same age as the woman shuffled next to her and informed us they did not have any rooms.  The electricity had gone out and the sign had not been changed to No Vacancy yet.

"Walt....we have to find them a room," the woman said as she was trying to put her cigarette out on a pile of postcards that motels had...with pictures of the motel on them.  The ashtray next to the postcards was full of cigarette butts and there were numerous burns and holes in the stack of postcards.

"Well, Erma.  I could call Cousin Will.  He usually has some overflow rooms."  Walt looked at us and continued.  "Young ladies....things are crazy here.  Every tourist from Denver to Yellowstone seems to be stranded here.  That storm put everything to a stop...and now that the electricity is back, everyone is hunting for a room.  Let me check with my cousin."

I figured half the beer had been consumed by him as he was weaving and having difficulty finding his "cousin's" name in the phone book.  It all felt a bit strange.  Erma staggered over and tried to help, cigarette hanging from her lips.  I felt like I was in some Twilight Zone experience and could tell Rae was ready to leave.  But somehow they found the number and gave Cousin Will a call.  They gave us directions to his place...and we were on our way. 

"As long as it has a  (explicative) bed and pillow I am staying there,"  Rae said.  But as we got closer to Cousin Will's place we thought that maybe the 'cold, cold ground and a saddle seat' might be safer.  We drove down a dark alley, passed a bar with a number of letters missing from its name and a number of shady looking characters hanging outside the door.  "That's the place.  I see that there are some 'rooms to let' on the sign." mumbled Rae. "But I sure don't trust it.  Maybe we will be stuck sleeping in the car tonight."

"We could go back to the parking lot hosting the dance."  I said.  "At least people there were sober."

We drove back to the main stretch of town...still searching for a motel and really in need of gasoline.  Right when I saw a gas station sign come one, Rae saw another motel.  She swerved in front of two cars, cutting them off as she gunned the car into the parking lot.  We jumped out, ran to the lobby and faced the kind smile of a woman.

"I am so sorry, but we don't have rooms.  We do have four rooms in the basement that we use in emergencies.  You would have to share a bathroom with the others."

"We'll take it!"  I think we both replied it together.  The woman was really nice and happy to find out that we were school teachers.  As she took us down the stairs to our room she began whispering so as not to awaken the other rooms.  As we passed on room she whispered, "This room has a nice couple from Utah, and that room has two nice professors from Iowa."

Our room was simple but clean with twin beds and a chair.  We just sat on the beds looking at each other...too tired to go find something to eat...just wanting some sleep.  It was then we heard her bringing another couple down to fill the last room.  "This room has two very nice school teachers, that room has two nice professors from Iowa and that room has a very nice couple from Utah."  I am not sure if she was trying to convince all of us staying there that we were all very nice...or convince herself.  Whatever...we were just glad to have a place to sleep and did not care about who was in the room next door.

After about half an hour we heard sounds coming from hall.  We peeked out and saw one of our nice neighbors opening the refrigerator that was in the room leading to the bathroom.  He pulled out some ice, and began making himself a rum and coke.  He looked up and saw us peeking out.

"Hey, if you have had as crazy of a day as we have...come join us," he said.  We walked down the hall to the open room and found the rest of our nice neighbors.  We had nothing to share, but everyone else invited us to their snacks and drinks.  I must say.  I did not like rum...but that night, it never tasted better.  We all became fast friends, laughing and telling our adventures of that day.  Later when fatigue set in, we stumbled to our own rooms.

All of our nice neighbors had left by the time Rae and I got moving.  We packed the Audi, found a local restaurant and had a big breakfast.  Taking a long sip of coffee...Rae looked at me and said, "No more blue roads, more back roads."  And this time...I agreed.

Sunset at Grand Tetons National Park...again, pictures taken by the Luppens family.


  1. What an adventure you share with us!!! Great look to your blog and photos that move your story along. Thanks!

  2. You always have the most bizarre things happen to you! I'm not sure if it's because of Rae or you, :-) Sometimes those road are a bit tricky on the map. What an adventure!

  3. What an experience you and Rae had. So glad you took the blue route and wrote about it. Magnificent pictures.

  4. Great story - you two always seem to have had the best adventures! I love your patience and her determination. Beautiful pictures!

  5. Yikes! Running out of fuel is problematic in and of itself, lack of service wthin the area more so. We should always keep a few contact numbers on the ready, in case you'll have to bring the oil service to the site. Have a great day!

    Abraham Yates @ Apache Oil Company