Thursday, May 7, 2020

In My Footsteps: 2001 Cross Country Road Trip

     In November 2019 I went on an amazing 6-day road trip that began on Cape Cod and encompassed a total of 2,100 miles. It was not however the longest road trip I had ever been on. The 2019 trip was the bookend to another trip that took place in 2001. The main difference was the 2019 trip was for fun, the 2001 trip was more by necessity. That trip came about due to having to move back to Cape Cod from Las Vegas, Nevada. It was also aboard a Greyhound bus, and began in the dead of night. This is the story of that 2,700 mile, 3-day journey that began my love of travel and my desire to do a proper road trip on my own.

     After spending time going to college and working in Las Vegas things were not working out as I’d hoped. It became time to unfortunately call it a day and head back to Cape Cod to start a new chapter. It also didn’t help that I had discovered how much I loved to gamble. By gambling I mean blowing my paycheck at slot machines in Albertson’s and 7-Eleven. The trip across the country began in the Greyhound depot of Las Vegas located about 10 minutes north of the famed Strip. It was winter and the dead of night as the bus began its journey. Though nearly 20 years ago now so many of the memories of this trip are still vivid in my mind.

The El Bambi Cafe and Sinclair signs from 2011
(ArbyReed on Flickr)

Beaver, Utah

The first several hundred miles of the journey was along I-15, then to I-70. I-70 begins near Cove Fort, Utah and travels more than 2,100 miles east ending at Baltimore, Maryland. In between short bouts of sleep the first place I remember stopping was Beaver, Utah as the skies began to see their first glimmers of morning. It was a truck stop complete with a Sinclair gas station which fascinated me with its brontosaurus logo because I’d never seen one before. There wasn’t much time to look around however the bus allowed us to stretch our legs and I walked across the parking lot to a small diner called the El Bambi Truck Stop Cafe. It was every bit the classic road side diner complete with the swirling desert case and a counter of truckers having breakfast and coffee before being on their ways.

Grand Junction, Colorado

About 300 miles east of Beaver is Grand Junction, Colorado. This is an up and coming art city but also known for its mountain biking, wineries, and overall scenery. It is where the Colorado and Gunnison Rivers meet, thus the ‘junction’ name. While there I was able to take a walk and see some of the famed Art On The Corner sculptures. The outdoor-exhibit started in 1984 by Dave Davis includes some permanent pieces and some that are actually for sale. In recent years its Downtown has become a Certified Creative District and is an up and coming place for younger people to live.

Art on the Corner in Grand Junction, CO 2001
Somewhere along the way at a convenience store at a bus stop I decided to buy some cheap sleeping pills to help make the long stretches on the bus go by faster. These came in to play at the next stop 120 miles east in Eagle, Colorado.

Eagle, Colorado

This small town lies close to the Vail and Beaver Creek ski resorts. It is popular for its hiking and definitely scenic views. While waiting for the bus to leave Las Vegas I had struck up a conversation with a guy about my age who was also heading across the country. At the stop in Eagle the guy got off to go into the store but was late coming back out. As the bus began to drive away he came running out and although I did see him the sleeping pills had me in such a haze that all I could do was watch him fade away. He did catch up with us a few stops later just in case anyone wondered what happened to him.

Denver, Colorado

The most nerve racking part of the 125-mile trip east to Denver was a winding drive through the Rocky Mountains as the snow fell. There is nothing like feeling a bus skid while being thousands of feet up separated from the cliffs by a single metal guardrail. After arriving in the city we were allowed a little under an hour to ‘enjoy’ Denver. This meant taking a walk outside in the light snow for a few blocks. Besides a convenience store and the Ritz-Carlton hotel I did not see much of Denver. Not truly sightseeing but more than most stops.

Ogallala, Nebraska

After leaving Denver we headed northeast on I-76 to perhaps the most unique spot I saw on this trip. This small town was once a stop on the Pony Express. It sits close to the border of the Central and Mountain Time Zones, leading to some late sunrises. This was the case when I arrived. It was a perfect combination of a late sunrise, powerful sleeping pills, and a bus station with red and white vinyl checkered cafe tables looking like it was straight out of the 1950’s. I started wondering if I was either still asleep or in an episode of The Twilight Zone. It was an interesting and unique time I spent in this bus station, plus my Nana loved the town’s name so every time I think of stopping here it reminds me of her.
My postcard from Ogallala 2001

Nebraska is smack in the middle of the Great Plains. Riding by bus through it showed just how flat and sprawling the land is. Not to say that the area isn’t worth visiting, I just know that the views surrounding I-80 through Nebraska and Iowa doesn’t lend itself to many picture postcard images.

Walcott, Iowa

The World’s Largest Truck Stop is located here. On the eastern edge of Iowa it opened in 1964 and is open 24/7/365. It is 30,000 square feet and serves on average more than 5,000 people daily. It has a barber shop, chiropractor, dentist office, laundrymat, private showers, and even dog groomers. I only got a small taste of this attraction, as was the case with most places on this list. It looked and felt like a huge shopping mall, except for when the loud speaker would call out random truckers names saying their showers were ready.

The entrance to the World's Largest Truck Stop in 2001

Davenport, Iowa

Located on the Mississippi River less than 15 miles from Walcott. It is widely considered one of the best small cities in America. Upon arriving at the bus terminal I spotted the incredible 3,800-foot Centennial Bridge which connects Davenport to Rock Island. I took off running nearly a half-mile to snap a couple of photos of the bridge in the short amount of time that we were stopped in Davenport.

Chicago, Illinois

My first experience in the legendary Chicago I am sure is not indicative of the greatness of that city. However this is how I spent my time in Chicago. The bus rolled into the station around 5am. The bus needed to refuel and get cleaned up so everyone was told they needed to get off and spend some time in the bus terminal. That was no big deal until the driver made it a point to warn us about pickpockets and strongly suggested that none of us venture off into any dark corners of the bus terminal. Needless to say I stuck close to where we all disembarked and simply waited for the all clear to return to the bus. To be fair though I did not see anything close to the ominous warning the bus driver gave us.

Leaving Chicago led us through the rest of Illinois and through Indiana with the main stop off being the city of Elkhart.

Elkhart, Indiana

Located 110 miles east of Chicago this city is famous for two contributions to the world. One is being the RV Capital of the World, the other is once being considered the Band Instrument Capital of the World. At one point Elkhart was home to 60 instrument manufacturers.
It was here that we disembarked at a gas station with several passengers walking next door to the McDonald’s. The line was a bit long and some of us began to worry that the bus might leave without us. Luckily the woman at the end of the line chimed in and said the driver wouldn’t dare leave without her, she was his wife!

There was a brief stop, more of a slow down, in Cleveland, Ohio. This was after midnight and the city looked impressive despite only stopping long enough to do a quick pickup/drop off. I was in and out as we passed through Ohio into Pennsylvania.

State College, Pennsylvania

It was here that I again realized how strong the sleeping pills were that I had been taking to help with the trip. This stop was early in the morning and somehow in a haze I wandered into a convenience store and made a few purchases and got back on the bus. Only a few hours later did I see the random purchases I made with almost no recollection.

From there it was roughly 500 miles back to Cape Cod and more specifically Hyannis. It ended more than 3 days of seeing many sites, though not as much as I wish I had at the time. Thankfully during my most recent road trip I was able to stop and see many things on my itinerary and document them with photos and videos. Maybe someday I will recreate this route and be able to enjoy it more, until then it made for an interesting few days in 2001.

My 5th book, Cape Cod Nights, is on sale at and through Arcadia Publishing

View my previous blog posts: In Their Footsteps: Cape Cod History - Deacon John Doane

Photo Prints available here: Smug

Be sure to check out my website: Christopher

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