Yes. Yes they did. I saw it with my own eyes.

Today we topped off the trip with a much-anticipated architecture tour down the Chicago River. Ever since reading The Devil in the White City, I’ve been eager to learn more about this city’s architectural history. The Chicago Architecture Foundation’s river cruise did not disappoint. Our delightfully snarky docent exuded true Chicagoanness, and his passion for the city provided an engaging and entertaining history lesson aboard Chicago’s Leading Lady. I do wish we had time to take a walking tour of the Loop’s architecture. It is the birthplace of the skyscraper, the area in which many of Burnham and Root’s buildings, including the Rookery, are located. Next time I’m making it a priority.

Tonight’s our last night in Chicago. For the tail end of our trip we’re staying downtown at the Allerton Hotel. It’s a lovely place right on the Magnificent Mile. Last night we walked up to Tim’s parents’ old neighborhood, the Gold Coast, and had ourselves the ultimate deep dish pizza at Lou Malnati’s Pizzeria. I’d had deep dish in Chicago before, and it was nothing to write home about. In fact, the stuff they served up at Uno’s was pretty terrible. But if you’re looking for that perfect pie – thick buttery crust that  holds up honorably to layers of fresh mozzarella, peppery homemade sausage and tangy-not-sweet sauce thick with tomato chunks – Lou Malnati’s is your place.

Tonight we realized that our destination for tomorrow still had a question mark next to it. We’d entered the unplanned chapter of the Walkabout. It felt kind of odd, but liberating. This is the freedom of the Great American Roadtrip! The plan now is to drive back up north through Wisconsin (apparently we can’t get enough of America’s Dairyland) and explore Kettle Moraine State Forest. Totally new and mysterious territory for both of us. Glacier land here we come!


Days 13-19: Seven States in Seven Days

Wigwam Village on Route 66 in Holbrook, AZ

When Tim mentioned this morning that we’d been to seven states in the past seven days I was sure his calculation was off.

Petrified Forest in Arizona

It wasn’t. In fact, today makes eight for me.

Day 13: Grand Canyon, AZ – Gallup, NM
Day 14: Gallup, NM – Pueblo, CO
Day 15: Pueblo, CO – Salina, KS
Day 16: Salina, KS – Kansas City, MO
Day 17: Kansas City, MO – THE ENTIRE STATE OF IOWA –  Minneapolis, MN
Day 18: Minneapolis, MN – Edgar, WI
Day 19: Edgar, WI – Minneapolis, MN – New Orleans, LA (flight)

I’m saving our Grand Canyon tale for a singular post, but here are some highlights from the past week.

Day 13: Grand Canyon, AZ – Gallup, NM
Read post.

Day 14: Gallup, NM – Pueblo, CO
Read post.

Day 15: Pueblo, CO – Salina, KS

Steadily becoming a better hand at Parking Lot Lunches. I can slap together turkey and cheese on wheat while squatting over a cooler like nobody’s business. Also, I have no shame. Kansas is a flat land that threatens to blow you away in a tornado. NOT COOL, KANSAS. Not cool. The Smoky Hills Wind Farm is a freaky thing to suddenly see at night – miles and miles of red lights surrounding you and all flashing eerily in unison.

Day 16: Salina, KS – Kansas City, MO

BARBEQUE. Go to Oklahoma Joe’s in Kansas City for their “Burnt Tips Platter.” It will make you cry and wonder why you’d ever leave Kansas City. Yes, it’s in a gas station. No, it doesn’t taste like gas station food. The line is long at dinner time (probably more so at lunch), but they’ve got that Disneyland magic that speeds you through, and somehow there is always a table available in their crowded seating area. Stay at the Hotel Phillips near the convention center for charming art deco surroundings and proximity to the hip new Power & Light District. We enjoyed an overpriced drink and bowling at Z-Strike Bowling.

Day 17: Kansas City, MO – THE ENTIRE STATE OF IOWA –  Minneapolis, MN

Clouds, clouds everywhere. Pizza Lucé  in Minneapolis has yummy food and exceptionally friendly bartenders.

Iowa. Much like Kansas.

Day 18: Minneapolis, MN – Edgar, WI
Crossed the Mississippi River. Minnesota and Wisconsin are so green! Suburban homeowners in California spend a fortune on futile efforts to keep their lawns green, but here it comes naturally and with such vibrance. Farms with their red barns and shiny silos in the middle of green fields are postcard images of pastoral America. Homes are made of brick and wood, not stucco. Edgar is a lovely small town in which you won’t find fences demarcating property lines. The openness that exists between houses is comforting. Here I had the great pleasure of meeting Tim’s Uncle Mike, Aunt Vicki and his cousins. I’ve never met anyone in Tim’s family I haven’t liked, and this was no exception. They are some of the kindest people I’ve ever met, and I appreciated the warmth with which they welcomed us into their home.

We had to be in Edgar by yesterday for Tim to meet up with his dad for their fishing trip, hence the speediness. For the next week they’ll be doing fishermanly things while I am down in New Orleans playing hooky with a dear friend of mine. WOOHOO!

Day 4: This Boot Was Made for Walkin’ (Retro Post)

Any good visit to Los Angeles starts with a meal at Porto’s Bakery in Burbank. I’d been to Porto’s on a few prior occasions, enthusiastically returning each time for their famous potato balls. These things are pure magic – seasoned ground beef encompassed by mashed potatoes, breaded and fried to perfection. Breakfast of champions!
Porto’s promotes a calm, healthy and happy disposition
After breakfast our hosts Pat and Laura took us up the hills to Griffith Park and the Griffith Observatory.  The park is a very popular filming location; you’ve probably seen it in multiple movies without even knowing it. Griffith Observatory is at its peak and well worth the trip up. Endure its parking fiasco, and you’ll be rewarded with a number of interactive exhibits and panoramic vistas of Los Angeles. Star Trek fans will appreciate the fact that the auditorium is named after Leonard Nimoy. On the way back down we drove through the tunnel from Back to the Future II, and I could have died a happy woman at that point. 

We zoomed up, down and all around the Hollywood Hills, narrowly escaping death at every hairpin turn. Mailboxes, garbage cans and oncoming vehicles threatened to send us careening down the cliffs, but Laura and her trusty steed became one with the road, leading us safely to the top. The road ended at a spot that provided a fantastically intimate view of the Hollywood Sign. 
Being in a residential neighborhood, this unsanctioned viewpoint was cluttered with ominous warning signs for trespassers. This one was my personal favorite:
Well that escalated quickly
Now I don’t know about you, but every time I escape persecution, I like to celebrate will a 24-ounce boot full of fun.  So we made brief stop at the house to whip up a batch of walking potion and strolled through Thai Town to catch the metro. Alighting at Union Station, I experienced the same déjà vu I’d had at the park. Blade Runner and The Dark Knight Rises are just two of the many movies that were filmed here.

That night our worthy fellowship dined in the great hall of Palms Thai Restaurant in Hollywood. Palms is home to the best yellow curry I’ve ever tasted and a popular Thai Elvis impersonator. Unfortunately we did not  have an audience with the (Thai) King that night. Our consolation prize: two entertainers I had initially mistaken for karaoke participants. An entire set list of late 90s pop music poured forth from the stage with much enthusiasm. 

From there the evening progressed (or devolved, depending how you look at it) into hours of silliness.  We met up with more friends at a dive that was so dive-y its sign wasn’t even lit, averted a parking lot confrontation with a curiously-aggravated bro, and fell asleep chuckling to Bob’s Burgers. All in all a successful day.

Day 14: There’s a Las Vegas in New Mexico?

Scene: Las Vegas, Nevada. It’s 9:00pm. Tim and Drea have just returned from dinner at the Rio Hotel & Casino. The outdoor temperature has cooled to a “comfortable” 90 degrees. Camera zooms in on Drea toying with her iPhone.
Drea: Whoa! It’s going to be in the seventies tomorrow.
Tim: Uh…are you sure about that?
Drea: Yeah, it’s what my weather app says.
Scene: Las Vegas, Nevada. It’s 8:00am the following morning. Drea has just completed her morning run, as evidenced by the fantastic amount of sweat beading on her forehead. She is convinced that the  outdoor temperature was most definitely NOT in the seventies. Tim observes Drea as she jabs a finger at her iPhone in protest.
Drea: What the hell?!
Tim: Drea, did you set your weather app to Las Vegas, New Mexico?
Drea: There’s a Las Vegas in New Mexico?
Fade out.
Yesterday we left Gallup behind to the thumping beats of daytime playa music (read: energizing electronic music well-suited to daytime Burning Man dance parties). It’s worth mentioning that Gallup lies on historic Route 66 and is the commercial center of the Navajo Nation, the largest Indian reservation in the continental U.S. Many a Western film was shot in this area, with famous stars of the silver screen staying in Gallup’s El Rancho Hotel. 
We crossed the continental divide in the morning, continuing northeast through the rugged land of flat-topped mesas and desert shrubs.  Albuquerque came and went, as did Santa Fe. Curious about this other Las Vegas, we saved our appetites for a late lunch there at Hillcrest Restaurant.
It was everything I ever wanted from a road trip diner. The place is a long-standing bastion of Americana culture. Jukeboxes leftover from its time as a teen-infested soda fountain in the 1950’s sit at every table. The walls are lined with a mishmash of southwestern decor and dusty books. Greeting cards, souvenirs and candy bars cluttered around the cash register greet you upon entry. Even the restrooms – labeled “Cowgirls Only” and “Cowboys Only” – are a hoot. Swinging saloon doors provide “privacy” for each stall, and the soap is a big friendly bottle of Dawn.
Tim and I both ordered off of the Mexican food menu from our charming waitress. Always too curious for my own good, I tried their supposedly-famous Burnt Chez (pronounced “cheese”) Tacos. Unremarkable and tough to boot. Tim made the right choice with a combination plate, which proved to be enough food for three people. If you ever find yourself at Hillcrest Restaurant, order the chile relleno. Hell, order five! They’re that delicious.

Now, no Great American Road Trip Diner Experience is complete without a slice of pie to top off the meal. The lemon meringue was perfect – a heavenly cloud of meringue atop smooth, bright, zesty filling. The coconut “cream” pie was also tasty but curiously topped with meringue in place of whipped cream.

A quick trip to the post office took us through downtown Las Vegas. Like most former frontier towns, it is characterized by of mix of charming old buildings and somewhat dilapidated property. You wouldn’t know by looking at it, but Las Vegas was one of the most lawless cities of the old west. Legends like Doc Holliday, Wyatt Earp, Billy the Kid and Jesse James all paid visit to its streets…or street. I have no idea how large the town was at that point.

What I do know is that yesterday’s average temperature in Las Vegas, New Mexico according to Wolfram Alpha was a balmy 71 degrees.