The Big and the Old

September, 2017
By Jack Welsch

Summer in Pennsylvania this year was pretty lousy. While we did have some nice days, for the most part it was cold and wet with occasional periods of hot and sticky. Now, I freely admit that, having moved to Arizona, our tolerance for cold and wet has waned but by any standards, it was far from a nice summer. I was ready to head back west by the end of July but Linda convinced me to stay until early September. To be fair, I readily admit that, by all reports, the weather back there improved immeasurably at about the time we reached Arizona! Just our luck!

As trips go, this one was mostly a slog across country with but three remarkable sojourns, Casey, Illinois, Laguna Pueblo in New Mexico and the conjoined Painted Desert and Petrified Forest National Park in Arizona. "Why Casey, IL?", you ask. You'll have to read on to find out.

Friday, September 9, 2017 – Wrighter Lake to Wilkes-Barre, PA

Interesting that this was exactly 3 months since we'd arrived.

The main reason we delayed our departure was to attend the September dinner-dance of the Big Band Society of Northeastern Pennsylvania. Our departure this year was made simpler by the fact that we had sold the house during the summer and therefore had only our small cottage to close up for the winter. We had the car pretty well packed before going to bed and were able to have the cottage closed up and be on the road by 10.

After checking in at Genetti's, we had a Jamaican lunch with son, Don, and grandkids, Julian and Althea at the nearby Hartman Jerk Center.

The dance was fun as always.

Saturday, September 10, 2017 - Wilkes-Barre, PA to Indianapolis, IN

We were up, had eaten and were on the road by 8:20. The route to Indianapolis was Interstates 81.80, 76, 71, and 70. This being a fall Saturday we got to deal with Penn State traffic as we passed University Park and Ohio State traffic as we passed Columbus; great timing!

Arrived at a Springhill Suites near Indy around 7 and had a nice dinner at Wolfie's Grill across the street.

Sunday, September 11, 2017 - Indianapolis, IN to Springfield, MO

We slept until 8 and had breakfast at the hotel.

Today's stop was a kick! When I was looking for points of interest for our eastbound trip in June, I came across "Big Things in a Small Town" in Casey, IL. It seemed pretty hokey and we joked about it. I was tempted to stop as we passed on our way east but it was Late in the day. We were tired and passed it by. This day, however, since we were again passing Casey on I-70, we decided to stop, chuckling to ourselves as we did so. I must admit, we were glad we did. Casey is "famous" for "Big Things in a Small Town."

Thanks to a guy named James Bolin, Casey is the home to bunch of very large things including the world's largest crochet hook, golf tee, knitting needles, mailbox, pitch fork, rocking chair, wind chime, and wooden shoes. We're not talking big; we're talking REALLY BIG!! The rocking chair, for instance, is over 50 feet high and weighs over 13 TONS. (And no, except for color adjustments and cropping, there's no Photoshop trickery here!)

These things, plus others that may not be world records but still bloody big are scattered around town. What impressed us is that the whole think is not at all tacky. The items are very well made and tastefully displayed. Some of the stuff is tastefully located in small, beautifully landscaped parks. Others are placed near establishments that I suppose contributed financially; a big coin in front of the bank, a golf tee at the country club. Next to the pitchfork we found Richards Farm Restaurant. It being about noon, we enjoyed Sunday dinner before getting back on the road.

Would I drive a hundred miles to see it? probably not, but it was certainly a nice break when slugging across the interstate!

We arrived at a Drury Inn in Springfield at about 5:00 and opted to just have dinner at the hotel.

Monday, September 12, 2017 - Springfield, MO to Amarillo, TX

We were up at 6:00, had breakfast in the hotel and were on the road at 8:00, taking I-70, I-44 and I-40. With a stop for lunch at Charly's in Oklahoma City (not highly recommended), and braving serious construction in Amarillo, we arrived at the Drury in Amarillo at 4:30. After enjoying the free nachos and wine at the hotel, we walked to nearby Saltgrass for a nice (though pretty loud) dinner.

Tuesday, September 13, 2017 - Amarillo, TX to Gallup, NM

We were on the road at 8:30 after breakfast at the hotel. Again, there was a bit of a construction mess getting out of Amarillo.

We stopped at Laguna Pueblo in New Mexico for a look around and visited the "Indian Arts Center" near the highway exit. The shop was wonderful. While there, we had an interesting visit with Armondo and bought two nice pots, a low Navajo seed pot for the coffee table and a magnificent Laguna pot.

Lunch was at the Sky City Casino along I-40 in Acoma Pueblo. My Navajo taco was pretty good.

We took a little detour to Zuni Pueblo and looked into a few shops, searching for a pot to give as a housewarming gift to our son, Eric, who had moved to Arizona while we were back East. By far the best shop was All Tribes Jewelry (they had two locations; the better one was the one farther east). We enjoyed a rather long conversation with JR and bought from him a small handmade Zuni pot as a pefect gift.

Made it to the Best Western in Gallup at about 4:30, hung in the room for a bit and walked across the street to El Rancho for a so-so dinner.

Wednesday, September 14, 2017 - Gallup, NM to Sun City, AZ

We were on the road by about 7:30 and, with the time change, got to the north entrance station of Petrified Forest NP shortly after their 8:00 opening. The park is in part of the Painted Desert and it is quite remarkable. There is at least one turnoff where many petroglyphs are visible. As you get farther along, you start seeing countless pieces of petrified wood, some huge trunks of trees and some small fragments. It was really amazing to consider how long ago there were growing trees!. With my many stops for photos, it took us quite a while to get through to the south entrance but it was worth the visit.

We had a "gourmet" lunch at a Wendy's in Flagstaff

We skirted a truly horrible-looking storm as we came down I-17 past Sedona and Cottonwood. I was afraid we'd get caught in it but, fortunately, only caught a few drops.
Contrary to our normal back roads route from New River, we took I17 all the way to 101 so we could stop at Total Wines for some Champagne and got home at about 3:15. The dinner was at our friends', at Hank & Sue's, and the Champagne was to celebrate the fact that we and they had sold our respective homes in Pennsylvania over the summer!

After this summer's horrible weather in PA, we were tickled to be back in the land of sun and fun. It's nice to be home... and WARM!