Alan on November 6th, 2011

Planning a vacation takes lots of time and energy, but when you want to travel the country for a whole month you have to think about where you want to go for 31 days or so and that does take a bit of work. Alan put hours into this 6,000 mile driving vacation that took us in 31 days from Palm Bay, Florida to Colorado Springs, Colorado to Northern Arizona, back to the Beaches of South Walton in the Florida Panhandle and finally back home to Brevard County.

In getting organized for the trip we had a number of supplies to purchase, but he biggest purchase for the cross country excursion was the Garmin Nuvi 1450 GPS and a Nikon D3100 digital camera.  Next, we developed a vacation packing list and began thinking and planning our trip around the idea of “what kind of traveler are you?” Food on a 30 day trip is a big issue for us because we want to avoid fast food and maintain our regimen of healthy eating so we planned lots of raw food snacks for a long road trip. We also found Google docs and maps indispensable in our vacation planning for the long trip out west.

Additional trip considerations included safety issues. We did discuss safety before we started the trip, but it was not until we got on the road that we became cognizant of several more important and simple safety travel tips. Since we were traveling in the cooler months of Autumn where the temperatures would vary significantly along the way, proper head warmers travel gear was another priority.

Because there are so many details to planning a long trip, to help out our visitors we are posting our personal Southwest vacation itinerary. This trip itinerary which starts in Florida with a destination of Colorado Springs then on to  Northern Arizona and back to Florida is listed from start to finish below. Feel free to use it, change it and make it your own. Also, here’s a travel tip – you may want to brush up on some geological terms before you head out West.

Day 1
Drive from Palm Bay, Florida drive to Chattanooga, TN
Stay: Super 8
Eat: Cracker Barrel Macon, GA; N’awlins S. Broad Street, Chattanooga
Travel Tip: Look for Cracker Barrels they have consistently good food and service were ever you go. Here’s a special shout out to  the Macon Georgia Cracker Barrel for their exceptional customer service.

Day 2
Drive from Chattanooga, TN to Columbia, MO
Stay: Howard Johnson’s I-70 and Hwy 63
Eat: The Main Squeeze downtown
Travel tip: the morning traffic between Chattanooga and Nashville is very congested – start out early.

Day 3
Drive from Columbia, Missouri to Hays, Kansas.
Stay: Super 8 3730 Vine Street
Eat: The Golden Corral Buffet & Grill Hays, KS
Visit: Ellis County Historical Society Museum, Prairie Museum of Art and History
Travel tip: Don’t be in such a hurry to get to your next destination that you miss some great points of interest along the way – be flexible that’s how we got to enjoy the Prairie Museum in Colbert, KS. The travel through Kansas was more impressive than we expected.

Days 4-7
Drive from Hays, Kansas to Colorado Springs, CO (arrive early afternoon on Day 4)
Stay: We stayed with friends
Visit: Garden of the Gods, Drive up to Cripple Creek to view Aspens, Glen Erie Conference Center to view big horn sheep, Garden of the Gods is worth seeing twice – at least early morning and  at sunset.
Travel tip: Take preventative measures as you move into high elevations and avoid elevation sickness.

Day 8
Drive from Colorado Springs to Durango, CO
Stay: Knights Inn 3515 Main Ave.
Eat: Linda’s Local Food cafe
Visit: Mesa Verde National Park, Hot Springs in Pagosa, CO

Days 9-12
Drive from Durango, CO to Marble Canyon, AZ (travel the scenic Wolf Creek Pass at 10, 857 ft elevation)
Stay: Cliff Dwellers Lodge
Eat: Cliff Dwellers Lodge
Visit:  Grand Canyon North Rim, Colorado River Rafting in Glen Canyon, Lee’s Ferry, The Navajo Bridge, Kaibab Plateau

Days 13-18
Drive from Marble Canyon, AZ to Flagstaff, AZ
Stay: Howard Johnson’s 198 E. Lucky Lane
Eat: Wildflower Bread Company, Morning Glory Cafe, Taco Locos, Sizzler, Diablo Burger
Visit: Museum of Northern Arizona, Grand Canyon South Rim, Sunset Crater, Oak Creek Canyon, Sedona, Cathedral Rock, Chapel of the Holy Cross, Slide Rock  State Park

Days 19-23
Drive from Flagstaff, AZ to Winslow, AZ
Stay: La Posada 303 E. 2nd Street Route 66, Winslow
Eat: The Turqoiuse Room (Excellent and lunch is very reasonable), The Falcon (mediocre)
Visit: Grand Canyon Railway, Petrified Forest National Park and the Painted Desert, star gazing at Clear Creek, Meteor Crater,  historic downtown Winslow

Day 24
Drive from Winslow, Arizona to Clinton, Oklahoma
Stay: Super 8 at exit 65A off I-40.
Travel tip
: This hotel was a little pricey without a coupon. Make sure you get to the tourist info center before 5:00 PM. If you want a non-smoking room, ask for a non-smoking room that does not have any smoking rooms adjacent to it.

Day 25
Drive from Clinton, OK to Jackson, Mississippi
Stay:  We had a coupon, but our experience at the Executive Inn and Suites on Highway 49 South in Richland was not that great but the staff was kind and did their best to make things right.
Travel tip: Get the hotel coupon booklet at a tourist information center.stay in hotels that have other hotels close-by, that way you at least know they have competition to keep up appearances.

Days 26-31
Drive from Jackson, Mississippi to Santa Rosa Beach, FL
Stay: Contact Beach Properties of Florida and ask for a walk-in special.
Eat: The Taco Bar in Seaside and from our own kitchen.
Visit: The beach, Hike or bike ride in Topsail State Park, canoe at Grayton Beach State Park, stroll the shops in Seaside, Rosemary and other small venues on 30A east and west.
Travel tip: Unless you have limitless vacation funds plan to eat in a lot, that’s why you have a kitchen where you’re staying. Plan some simple meals and go to Publix before you check into to your house or condo. South Walton beach has no fast food restaurants.

Day 31
Drive from Santa Rosa Beach, FL to Palm Bay, FL
Stay: In our own bed

Total distance traveled in 31 days – 6,126 miles.


Alan on November 4th, 2011

When traveling long distances, there are times when you don’t want to plan every step of the way. It adds to the adventure to take chances. And a chance we took when we rode into Durango, Colorado without a hotel reservation on a Tuesday afternoon in cold, rainy weather. We didn’t even have a hotel discount coupon booklet with us to help locate a cheap, clean hotel in Durango. We did however pick up some booklets at the Tourist Information Center in Pagosa Springs (If you are passing through Pagosa Springs you may want to set aside a few hours to enjoy one of their many famous mineral water hot springs . It will cost you in the range of $10 to $20 per person for a few hours swim.)

As we began cruising down Main Avenue in Durango we eyeballed several motels that were in the tourist information booklet and stopped at one to check out a room. For $70 per night + tax and a view of the parking lot on our first stop we decided to drive out Main Ave a little further to see what we might find. It worked well to call a few of the hotels that were marked with the $ sign in the tourist information booklet. We decided to drive to the Knights Inn on N. Main Avenue formerly called the Alpine Inn.

As we drove into the parking lot we were impressed – it did not look like a Knights Inn, if you know what I mean. It was quaint, had some curb appeal, and at least the rooms on the second floor were facing the mountains. For 2 queen size beds facing the mountain she quoted us $67. After she quoted us the price I inquired about the AAA rate and she dropped it another $7 making the room $60 plus about $5 tax.

As is our routine, especially when staying in $ hotels, we asked to see a room. It definitely met our expectations: It was large, neat and clean, and offered the amenities of a mini frig, microwave and wi-fi (a must for travel blogging). They also offered a small continental style breakfast of packaged sweet rolls, donuts, bananas, coffee and tea.

Just so you know there is another Knights Inn in midtown, also located on Main Ave and positioned a bit closer to the historic downtown area. The Alpine Inn which was recently bought out by Knights Inn is a little further out, but just a few minutes drive from the Durango historic downtown area. If you are in need of a cheap, clean hotel in Durango, Colorado the Knights Inn on Main Ave fit the bill for us. It may also fit the bill for you too.


Alan on November 3rd, 2011

At the end of our month long vacation out to Colorado and Arizona we decided to spend a week in the Santa Rosa Beach, Dune Allen Beach area that is just about 30 minutes east of Destin Florida. The beaches up here in the panhandle of Florida are about as pristine as you can get with sugar white sand and the emerald green colored waters of the Gulf of Mexico. We choose to end our vacation this way (at the beach in a familiar area) because we needed some time to relax after spending more than 3 weeks of taking long drives every day to see some of the incredible geological treasures of the American Southwest.

While we normally like to spend lots of leisure time on vacation, we kind of broke our traditional mold as the relaxed traveler because there was just so much to see. Even though we spent 22 days in the Southwest it was really only long enough to make plans as to what we would do on our next vacation. There were many days that we wanted to do or see several things (like 5 or 6 things), but only had time to do a few. Even when you spend a month on the road, you still have to be somewhat choosy as to what you visit because you simply can’t do everything. That being the case, we really did need to relax a little and the beaches of South Walton County fits the bill like no other place in our home state.

After rolling into Rosemary Beach late in the afternoon of October 21, we thought it would be easy to quickly find a place to stay just by talking to a few vacation rental companies or calling around to the condos or vacation rental homes that had signs out in front of them and obviously weren’t occupied. By the end of October, the 30A strip along the Gulf of Mexico in South Walton County starts to slow down quite a bit and we thought we could get a super bargain being that we were willing renters with cash in hand. However, after a few phone calls and talks with rental agents we figured out that we underestimated our budget for 6 nights by quite a bit and we either had to decide to spend more money or decide to spend our last 6 nights in a hotel.

When you come to this area to vacation and you are this close to the beach, spending your nights in a hotel isn’t really an option. There really aren’t any hotels on the beach except up in Panama City Beach or near Interstate 10 which is 25 mile away. So, if you want to enjoy all that the beaches along 30A such as Seaside, Watercolor, Alys Beach, Seacrest Beach, Grayton Beach and more have to offer, you simply pay the price. The price we ended up paying was about 30% more than we budgeted, but it turned out that we had a beautiful 4 bedroom townhouse for 6 nights that was within about 150 yards from the beach, and it was actually the least amount we have paid to stay here in the 3 times we have been to the area.

The View From our Dune Allen Beach Townhouse Rental

While here in Dune Allen Beach we spent a lot of time catching up on finishing blog posts that had piled up because we were always out doing something while out west, and the rest of the time we relaxed on the beach or in our townhouse, or went to our favorite taco bar, or went to the boardwalk at Deer Lake State Park. While we did spend some time away from our vacation rental, we didn’t plan any excursions or drive any further than about 6 or 8 miles to get to where we wanted to go for the day.

Bud and Alley’s Taco Bar in Seaside

Whether you want to end your vacation in a relaxed manner or take your whole vacation and lounge on the beach and under the Florida sun, there is no better place to relax than the beaches along the famous 30A in South Walton County. You will probably fall in love with 30A just as we have.


Every traveler knows the drill. You’ve been on the road for several hours and it’s time for the proverbial potty break. Finding a decent bathroom is always a challenge but if you are traveling through Kentucky on I-24 we think we have found the nicest, cleanest, public bathrooms available in the state. In fact you’ll feel so at home, or rather you’ll feel like you’re at grandma’s house, you might decide to extend your bathroom break and just hang out for a while. That’s what we did.

The bathroom we rate as number 1 in all of our travels is in kind of an unexpected place, Paducah, Kentucky. Once the hunting grounds of the Chickasaw Indians, according to the White Haven Welcome Center on I-24 is the only historic house in America that has been restored as an interstate tourist rest stop. It should also be noted for having the prettiest and cleanest bathrooms in all of Kentucky – at least of all the one’s we stopped at.

What really impressed me were the 3 vases of fresh cut flowers in the ladies room – mixed bouquets of zinnia, azalea, cockscomb and fragrant roses blessed the counter tops. The workman cleaning the bathrooms told me the ladies who tend the flower gardens on the property are the same ones who adorn the bathrooms with fresh cut flowers from same gardens. Flowers are always a beautiful touch, but so unexpected at an interstate rest area. According to Alan even the men’s facilities were privy to several whiskey bottles filled with water and a single stem.

After you use the facilities, you may want to take a breather on the cast iron bench in the flower garden, enjoy the birds, the blooms and the shade trees before heading out again. You will feel refreshed and ready to continue your journey after visiting the clean restrooms and visitors center in Paducah Kentucky.


Alan on November 1st, 2011

The Museum of Northern Arizona is a must see if you are in Flagstaff or the surrounding areas. Museums are not typically at the top of our list when we travel, unless  they are art museums. Typically we gravitate towards outdoors activities that include hiking, botanical gardens, national parks and the like. But the Museum of Northern Arizona changed all that. In appearance, it is quite small from the outside, but looks can be deceiving. Inside, MNA exhibits a marvelous history of the land, the people, and the different native American cultures of the Colorado Plateau.

According to their website “The  mission of The Museum of Northern Arizona is to inspire a sense of love and responsibility for the beauty and diversity of the Colorado Plateau through collecting, studying, interpreting, and preserving the region’s natural and cultural heritage.”  If you want a quick primer on understanding the geological, anthropological and ethnological aspects of the area, take a few hours or even a half day out of your trip and educate yourself and your family on the different attributes of Northern part of this beautiful state. This way when your kids begin asking you all kinds of curiosity questions about the wonderful Northern Arizona characteristics they will be seeing and experiencing, you and they will already have the answers.

The museum is extremely well organized and what makes it great is you can find out a lot or a little about North Arizona depending on how much time you have. We spent about 2 hours there and were able to make it through the entire museum. If we lived in Flagstaff we both agreed we would become members and visit frequently so we could take in more of the information that the museum offers about the area.

The museum has exhibits related to 4 main areas of interest: geology, biology, anthropology and art. MNA has exceptional exhibits of the various Indian people and cultures of the Colorado Plateau. These displays document 12,000 years of occupation by the native people in this region including the Anasazi, Hopi, Zuni and Navajo Indians: from their daily lifestyles to their spiritual beliefs and practices to their art. A highlight of this exhibit is the life size depiction of a Hopi Kiva room used for spiritual rituals and a central focus of these Indian cultures.

The geology exhibit features a large graphic of all the geological periods from the beginning of Earth’s history up to the present. Both kids and adults will enjoy the hands on exhibits of various rocks, fossils and even a meteorite. A highlight of this exhibit is a life size model of a dinosaur skeleton – the Dilophosaurus, a carnivorous dinosaur whose fossils were found in northern Arizona.

There is much more to see and experience at the Museum of Northern Arizona. Don’t miss the exceptional native American art, rugs, and jewelry on display and the museum store where you can begin your Southwestern souvenir collection. MNA is located at 3101 N. Ft. Valley Rd. Flagstaff, AZ 86001 and is open 9 am – 5 pm daily. The cost for adults is $7 and for children 6 and under get in for free. Check out the Museum of Northern Arizona website for more details about exhibits, hours, costs etc. Before you tour the canyons, rivers, reservations, and deserts begin your tour of the Southwest at MNA.