The Way West

Posted: Saturday, January 1, 2011 at 11:31 am
By: Doug Lund
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Well, I’ve been doing some math and even though I was terrible at arithmetic in school, my simple calculations have concluded that if Linda and I are to continue making these treks out West in January, it would make more economic sense to fly Allegiant and then rent a car for the month we’re here.  It would be a lot less stressful too, especially after the three days we’ve just been through.

The object of these sojourns to the desert has been to escape, if only for a short time, the kind of bitter winters South Dakota is experiencing right now. But, in the past 72 hours, we’ve endured some of the roughest weather I’ve seen anywhere. 

It began rather uneventfully as we pointed Big Red towards Omaha into a stiff South wind that made the gas gauge needle drop like the Times Square ball on New Year’s eve. The wind velocity continued to increase as we headed into Kansas and so did the price of fuel; over three dollars a gallon for the cheap stuff…but Big Red has a more sensitive palate and prefers octane levels at 89 or more. It was getting dark on day one when we pulled into Greensburg, Kansas to spend the night. The brand new Best Western motel along the highway was full so we found a place on the other end of town. It was operated by a family for whom English is a second language..a distant second. After finally getting checked in, we found the rooms to be okay except there were no coffee packets for the brewer and the only roll of toilet paper was down to a dangerously low level. I had to make a decision; should we go without coffee (which is usually undrinkable anyway) and try to make our meager supply of bathroom tissue stretch through the night (using Monday’s Argus as a backup) or should I call the office knowing full well the desk clerk won’t have a clue what I’m requesting without visual aids. The problem took care of itself, though, when we bumped into one of the motel employees just outside our door who brought us a back-up roll and some coffee that turned out to be as bad as I feared. When we left in the morning it was bright, sunny and windy again. That’s when we noticed that every building in this little town appeared to be brand new with freshly planted trees everywhere. Linda and I looked at each other and said at the same time, “It looks like a tornado went through here.” As we pulled out of town, our suspicions proved correct when we spotted the skeletons of a few remaining big trees that had been stripped clean. It turns out that not only had Greensburg been hit by a was an F-5 twister nearly two miles wide that descended on the community in May of 2007 completely obliterating  it. When the dust settled, 11 people were dead and dozens more injured.

Greensville, Kansas a few days after the F-5 tornado in May 2007

Greensville, Kansas a few days after the F-5 tornado in May 2007

Greensburg has been on a rebuilding binge ever since; capitalizing on its name by becoming a model community for being  “green.”  Everything is designed with environmental efficiency in mind. Odd since it was the environment that ripped the city to pieces in the first place..but I think residents were given some financial incentives to go green in their reconstruction.

Greensburg's new business district. Prairie grasses instead of manicured lawns.

Greensburg's new business district. Prairie grasses instead of manicured lawns.

Day two had us crossing Kansas, and the Oklahoma and Texas panhandles on Highway 54 toward New Mexico. The skies were mostly clear and the temperature climbed to the mid fifties but we were driving directly into a 50 mile an hour wind, with stronger gusts, that sent huge tumbleweeds cascading across the road. Both driver and passenger instinctively ducked as one by one they slammed into Big Red’s grill with a frightening crunch.  Then, as we reached Interstate 40, one hundred miles east of Albuquerque, the temperature dropped thirty degrees in five minutes and it began to snow.

Phoenix 2011 005

 They don’t do snow well in this part of the world and an hour out of Albuquerque, we came over a rise and had to hit the brakes. Traffic had stopped dead in its tracks and I slid to a stop behind a truck on right shoulder fearing a chain reaction accident that would rival the one in North Dakota. Fortunately, everyone halted safely but there we sat.

Nothing moving for miles I-40 westbound

Nothing moving for miles I-40 westbound

 After an hour without moving, people were taking their dogs for walks in the ditches. Others with backed up bladders said, to hell with modesty, and relieved themselves right there next to their vehicles. I only saw men doing this but everybody knows that women can hold it for days if they have to.

Linda in Big Red uses her down time reprogramming TomTom our GPS

Linda in Big Red uses her down time reprogramming TomTom our GPS

After nearly two hours, our new neighborhood of strandees slowly started rolling again and those folks we’d gotten to know through our shared dilemma were gone forever. Or so we thought. When we finally limped into Albuquerque we met several other “survivors” checking in to the same motel and swapped stories of the hell we’d been through together.  It turns out that a semi had rolled ahead of us blocking both lanes.

Day three..more bad news; near record snowfall in the Tonto National Forest and the mountains around Flagstaff had cut off our traditional route to Phoenix so we headed South to Las Cruses then West to Tucson and up to Maricopa county adding at least three hours to reaching our destination. The wind had switched direction strong into our face from the other way. But the roads were dry and, aside from drivers whose goal in life is to pull out in front of me or never move over, it was a much less stressful trip.

Finally, the mountains around Phoenix. We made it!

Finally, the mountains around Phoenix. We made it!

Normal high in Phoenix on New Year’s day: 66. Last night’s low was 28 degrees. Highs for the next several days will remain in the mid forties low fifties with “gusty winds!”  But, what the heck..we’re here safe and sound and even though we might be shivering,  we have new experiences to share.

To once again quote my pal Dave Dedrick, whom we all miss terribly a year after his death, “Life is Good..My Cup Runneth Over.”

Blessings to you all in the New Year!


P.S. Speaking of Dave Dedrick, a Captain 11 uniform found in a closet by his family, recently sold on e-bay for over 36 hundred dollars! The money will go to charity.


  1. Glad you got to your destination ok. What a trip you guys had. Hope your stay will be just perfect. It’s cold here but we missed the big snow they got north, Had some gals in for drinks to celebrate New Years Eve, then we all went down to eat, not very exiciting I guess ,but for us old folks it’s just fine. Hope the New Year will be better then 2010. Happy New Year!!!!

  2. Dave says:

    Doug, if your ever forced south on I-25 again, cut across to Deming at Hatch NM. Nobody goes through Los Cruses anymore.

  3. Taxpayer says:


    Anytime the weather is iffy around Albuquerque, or Flagstaff, I go to Tucumcari, NM and get on I 40 to Santa Rosa, and cut south west to Las Cruces, and jump on I 10. Then desert floor to wherever,west. Flat running too. Little farther, but nice drive.

    Glad you made it OK. Hope to follow you in a few days. Happy New Year. Have fun.

  4. AG says:

    Sounds like you were one day behind us. Interesting day 3 for us.

  5. LeAnn says:

    Didn’t you say last year that you should have flown allegiant and rent a car? You can be there in 2 1/2 hours, it don’t get much easier than that!! Yesterday my brother went to Parker Az. to golf [beautiful course by the way] it wasn’t even 40 there and when they got done I think he said it was 50. I sure hope it warms up for you. If not put on a sweatshirt, coat, stocking cap and go to happy hour early!!

  6. Joanie says:

    Loved the blog about getting to Pheonix–you realize the only thing that would have made the story more
    appreciable would be if we had been with you!! Did big red ever get to the “marshmallow” stage!!!!????

  7. Suzan says:

    Glad you made it despite the difficult journey! We had an easy trip to Orlando and looking forward to enjoying Disney World and Universal Studios…after my meeting, of course. Have a wonderful time with all the Trudeaus!

  8. Tim Swartos says:

    Doug, the prarie grass picture…take a look at the window writings. I thought that was quite funny…(insert Beavis and Butthead laughter)

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