This post is the first in a long series of articles about our several weeks excursion to the Southwest of the US. I’ll share our adventures and misadventures as make our way without a particular plan across Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, Nevada, California and back home again. Hope you enjoy the journey.
We left on a Monday morning the first full week of January from our home in Madison, Wisconsin. This was after a few days delay due to the frigid sub zero weather that gripped the upper half of the country for over a week. We didn’t want to get our trailer out of storage or load it during the cold weather so waited until we had a window of opportunity with milder temps to make our escape to the southern climes.
Our first day of travel took us through central Iowa to Des Moines and the southbound I-35 headed for Missouri. As we were driving along and thinking back on my background in agriculture, I remarked how in Iowa there were still a lot of small feedlots (50-100 calves) fattening beef for the supermarket shelves across the nation. At least that hasn’t changed much in the past 40 years or so. I also observed that the fields that had corn and bean stubble were holding the snow much better than the tilled fields, glad to see more of the former than of the latter, an improvement over the years. About that time, we listened to a story on NPR about how the malting barley growing area has moved from primarily grown in the Midwest to the more western areas of the US. But that may spell higher prices for us beer connoisseurs due to the drought in many of the malting barley growing areas such as Montana and Washington. Never fear, the experts suggest that breweries might have to start importing malting barley, likely at a higher cost than locally grown. A heresy I say, in my humble opinion, when we have surpluses of corn and wheat, why not turn some of those acres to malting barley and keep us American beer drinkers happy! Yes, I know that raising malting barley is a tricky business and usually under contract to breweries but hey at least consider it, at least for my sake!
We spent the night in a hotel (our trailer was still winterized and besides it was way too cold outside) in the small town of Bethany, Missouri.
The next morning brought us some sunshine and warmer temps but a strong, stiff wind out of the south-southeast, the general direction we were traveling. We traversed around Kansas City towards Topeka where we picked up the Kansas Turnpike that runs through east central Kansas to the Oklahoma border. As we turned south directly into the wind we noticed that we had about ¼ tank of fuel, alerting us that we should start looking for a gas station. On this stretch of road, there are very few exits and most exits had no services. There were convenience plazas placed along the road but they were few and far between. Yes, folks, first the low fuel alert sounded then a couple of miles down the road we ran out of fuel at mile marker 160 on the Turnpike in the middle of the Flint Hills* (see footnote) of Kansas!!
So a call to roadside assistance was in order, they quickly let us know that someone would bring us some gas from Topeka. After a pleasant wait (sarcasm intended!) of about an hour, giving us a lot of time to figure out our approximate gas mileage (about 6-7 mpg), the fella from roadside assistance brought us 4 gallons of precious fuel. The only concern was that the next fuel plaza was about between 28-30 miles down the road! Lets see 6 x 4 is 24 and 7 x 4 is 28, so we figured that there was a 50/50 chance of either barely making it or running out of gas twice on the same day and on the same highway! Well, we made it, the low fuel alarm sounded with about two miles to go so we must have made it into the station on the very last fumes! Lesson learned, now we start looking for a gas station when the fuel gauge reaches ½ especially when we are in remote areas!
After filling the truck with fuel and ourselves with food, we headed back onto the Kansas Turnpike through Oklahoma and just into Texas. Our little misadventure cost us almost two hours causing us to drive later in the evening than we like, arriving in Gainesville, TX at 9 PM. In the morning, after a good night sleep in a motel and a hardy breakfast, we had our trailer dewinterized and the salt and road grime washed off ready to spend the next several weeks cooking, sleeping, and relaxing in the trailer. The remainder of the day, we made a leisurely drive down I-35 past Dallas/Ft. Worth and Waco to Belton, TX where we set up camp and visited with some friends in the area. We also stocked our trailer with groceries as we were headed to a rather remote part of West Texas. Stop by next week to learn where we bound for and what we saw during our stay.
Take care and travel safe,
* The Flint Hills are a region in east central Kansas extending into northern Oklahoma and are the largest intact tall grass prairie in the US. They are distinguished by rolling hills of flinty limestone and rocky soil covered with nutritious grasses such as big bluestem, switch, and Indian grass. The America Bison once flourished in this area as did the Native Americans who depended on them for survival. When homesteaders started moving in, they soon found out that the rocky soil could not be tilled and farmed so they either started raising cattle or moved on to somewhere that suited them better. In addition to cattle ranches, there is an abundance of wildlife such as prairie chickens, deer and recently reintroduced bison. As a person educated in agriculture and animal science I find this area intriguing and added it to my bucket list for a longer visit but be sure I’ll make sure my vehicle is always full of fuel!