Road Trip to the Land of Ice and Snow

I’ve never needed much of an excuse for a Road Trip. Some years ago, when my niece decided to get married in Minneapolis, my family was making plane reservations while I was planning a road trip.

My late mother, who was never reticent in expressing her opinion, told me on more than one occasion, “Bill! I’m not going say anything more, but I think you are a damned fool for taking that old car to Minnesota! “

Stubbornness has always run in my family, for better or worse.

That old car, a (then) 20 year old Mercedes-Benz 300E, turned 300,000 miles on I-80 near Rawlins WY and later ferried my plane-bound family all over Minneapolis to various functions.   Not that I would take any 20 year old car with 300,000 miles across the country. But for the (then) 10 years of my ownership, I knew what was replaced and knew the status of all critical systems, and in the vernacular of 60s NASA astronauts, it was “A-OK”.

And it went to Minneapolis without drama.

So a couple of months ago, when my sister, a 40 year Minnesota resident, suggested that I join the family for Thanksgiving, she really wasn’t surprised when I said that I would drive. Didn’t even try to talk me out of it. Although I had a rather blasé attitude towards offering an ETA, knowing how the weather could change along the way. The weather could really affect the ETA.

Meaning that I may or may not get there on time.

But I had a powerful ally, one that I did not have in 2006. With my iPhone weather app, I could search any city along the way and get a weather forecast for over a week in advance. Which served me well throughout the trip, until the end.

But that will come later.

So I set off with simple directions. Take I-80 from my home on the West Coast and turn left at Des Moines, IA,  on I-35 towards the Twin Cities.

By the way, do you know how they number the Interstates? Even numbers are east and west, odd is north and south.

According to Google, that route is 1,967 miles each way.

When I got back to my driveway about 3 weeks later, I had accrued 5,634 miles.

I like to take detours.

And with a number of these detours, I received suggestions from family and friends on the fly.

With that being said, I got in the car and took off.

The first stop was an historic airfield that I had known about – had driven through on previous visits, but never really stopped. Today they use the area for many movies, such as Conair and Independence Day.

The Wendover Airfield

Today, it looks like a sleepy general aviation airport on the Nevada-Utah border but its past gives hints to its importance.

Today, It is just a small General Aviation Airport with some large runways. But they still show its sign at the Ops Building giving a glimpse to her importance

You drive about a half mile east and see a large, solitary hanger. And at first glance, it looks like any other old hanger. Until the difference was pointed out to me, I wouldn’t have noticed any difference.

But along the side are a lot of offices.

This was a special hanger, under top secret clearance, to reengineer and modify the Enola Gay, and presumably Bockscar , the B-29s that dropped the nuclear weapons on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, respectively. Presumably the other 13 “Silverplate” B-29s, designed to carry nuclear weapons, were modified here, also.

In doing a little research on these variants, I’m not sure if the single 30’ bomb bay was changed from the 4 bomb bays here or at Everett at the Boeing factory, but regardless, engineering changes were done here.

I was told that the bombs were assembled here, too.

Where the Enola Gay was modified

Many decades ago, I saw a film made in the early 50s, Above and Beyond, starring Robert Taylor. While it wasn’t filmed at Wendover, it nevertheless depicted this history fairly accurately from the recruitment of Col Tibbits in Europe from the 8th AAF to the development and crew selection of the Enola Gay.

For some reason after a 30 or 40 year hiatus, I still remember a scene in the movie where a crewmember was caught talking about the project at either the NCO or officer’s club. This project was so secret that there were security people scattered all over the base to ensure the secret stayed a secret. He was gone the next day.

A sign Col. Tibbits put up at the O-Club in 1944 (Reproduced)

Every B-29 crewmember and every B-17 crew member went through Wendover, learning bombing accuracy or gunnery.

Many B-24 crews went through Wendover, too.

At its height, there were 700 buildings comprising the Wendover Army Airfield. Today, most are either gone or old wooden skeletons.

I have a friend who loves to go antelope hunting in Wyoming every fall, and during a stop at Wendover some years ago explored the hills north of the base. He discovered the remnants of a range where they trained tail gunners and ball turret gunners, with an old wooden track where (I believe) a jeep would pull targets. Because it was a canyon, there was no danger of the 50 caliber rounds hitting people miles away. Bill told me that you can still pick up slugs there.

There is a museum which is the restored officer’s club, along with the restored control tower. At its height there were at least 100 bombers in the air at any given time.

I recently finished a wonderful book Hogday recommended, with recollections of both British civilians and American veterans of the time during the 8th AAF in Britain.

For me, death everywhere was the overall theme. Whether it came from a crippled returning bomber crashing onto a school house, a V1 hitting a restaurant, or the ever-present flak over Nazi Occupied Europe, it was everywhere.

I’ve remembered many parts of that book, but one in particular stayed with me. It was of a newly-arrived B-17 crew assigned to a Quonset Hut that had many empty bunks belonging to those killed on previous missions. And they had to borrow a wheel barrow to remove all of their uniforms and personal effects to make room for themselves.

It took them 2 or 3 days.

I wonder how many of these young men at Wendover were aware of the horrors they would face?

God bless them all.

They give walking tours of the base 4 times a year and I think it is worth the 800-mile round trip.

I’ll be back.

Strategic Air Command and Aerospace Museum

Somewhere in Nebraska as I was tooling along I-80, Parrothead Jeff suggested that I stop at this museum, located between Lincoln and Omaha. And it is fairly well hidden, the only clue along the side of the highway was a fighter “on a stick” with an exit sign noting an “aerospace museum”.

Perhaps that would have been enough for most, but I blew right past these clues.

I backtracked, took the exit and went down a secondary road until I saw the museum.

I knew that it was something special when I saw – on the outside – a B1-A bomber and numerous missiles including the mighty Atlas.

Even that didn’t prepare me for the inside.

I’ve never been to the Air Force’s own museum at Wright-Patterson in Ohio, but I would think that if this doesn’t surpass it, certainly comes close.

Imagine seeing such legendary planes as the B-36, B-47, B-52, B-58, B-17…on and on, all inside. As I was walking through, I thought that all that was missing was a B-29.

Not to worry, the B-29, among others, was in the 2nd hanger.

Prior to this visit, the only B-36 I had ever seen was outside, there for many years, at the former Castle AFB in Atwater.

I have read that of all the B-36 “Peacemakers” ever made, there are only 4 on display and remaining. They were retired in 1959 after 11 short years of service, but the size still is impressive.

Only four of these enormous aircraft survive intact, and all are in museums you can visit. The last B-36 built, the City of Fort Worth, is at Arizona’s incredible Pima Air and Space Museum. Another is at the Castle Air Museum in Atwater, California. Not surprisingly, the last two are at the Strategic Air Command and Aerospace Museum in Nebraska and the National Museum of the United States Air Force in Ohio.

And this one has an extremely rare complement – an example of the XF-85 “Goblin fighter. I read Bud Anderson’s wonderful book a few years ago, and post war, he was an Air Force test pilot evaluating this plane and docking procedure to the bomber. Ultimately the idea was abandoned because among the reasons, the docking procedure was a bit dangerous.

I left this museum in the middle of nowhere in awe, so glad that I stopped. Thanks for the heads-up, Jeff.

Shortly after I “turned left” onto I-35 at Des Moines, my sister suggested that I stop at Clear Lake, Iowa.  

A B-58 proudly displayed

The Surf Ballroom

I was looking for the Surf Ballroom, where 3 young men who would become 50s rock legends all met their ends on a snowy Iowa cornfield early morning on February 3, 1959.

I found it quickly and it is maybe a couple hundred yards from Clear Lake, which is a beautiful large blue lake. Don’t know who much surf it has.

When these musicians pulled up to the ballroom, they were cold, miserable and exhausted. The heater in the old bus barely worked in the sub-freezing temperatures, and whoever planned their route didn’t map it for comfort, but had in many cases 100s of miles between gigs, back and forth. One of the members had the flu.

The Surf Ballroom, virtually unchanged from that evening 63 years ago “When The Music Died”

Nevertheless, by the accounts of those who were there, it was a magical evening, being entertained live by bands and singers who were all on the radio in the top 40.

Because of their prominence, the Surf had to raise their admission price from the normal .75 cents to $1.25.

Over 1,100 young Iowans were there on that cold February evening.

Towards the end of the evening, Buddy Holly decided to charter a Beechcraft Bonanza flown by a young pilot, Roger Peterson. One of his band members, Waylon Jennings, gave up his seat to a sick J.P. Richardson. This would haunt him the rest of his life. Jennings would go on to become a country-western superstar.

The plane left the Mason City airport, just a couple of miles from Clear Lake, and flew 5.2 miles before crashing minutes later into that cornfield. They would not begin the search until the next day, when it failed to arrive at its destination of Fargo, ND. Peterson did not file a flight plan.

While there, I had to visit the crash site and was given GPS directions via the Internet. The country road was right, but the site was about a half mile short of the Internet location.

How did I know this?

I passed a pole by the side of the road with his signature horned rimmed glasses. By the way, did you know that the glasses weren’t found until the 1980s? They were initially found in the spring at the site, when the snow had melted and then placed – and misplaced – as evidence.

So how did the famous glasses re-emerge?

In the violence of the crash back in February 1959, they were thrown clear of the other wreckage and buried in snow. They were found, along with the Big Bopper’s watch, that same spring, when the melting snow made them visible again. Though they were handed in immediately to the Cerro Gordo County Sheriff’s office, they sat filed away for the next 21 years in a sealed manila envelope marked “rec’d April 7, 1959.” That envelope was opened by Sheriff Jerry Allen on this day in 1980. The glasses were eventually returned to Holly’s widow.

It’s funny that Buddy didn’t even want the glasses, feeling that they detracted from his rocker image. His optometrist picked them out after a long search, and of course today that is his signature trademark. As the article stated, he pioneered “geek chic”!

While out in the Iowa cornfields at the accident site, I met a young couple, Josh and Nikki. Nikki is such a Buddy Holly fan she showed me her tattooed ankle with his signature glasses! They were less than half my age and for them, it was just history. Apparently he influenced many. As always I offered to take their picture together, which in my travels, is almost always appreciated.

Josh and Nikki, a new generation who appreciates Buddy Holly. They plan on being married at the Surf! The memorial is about 1/4 mile up the path, and unchanged since 1959.

While I was out there on a Tuesday, November 22 (another date made infamous for those of us of a certain age), the cars kept coming in, 63 years later. The landowner must be a kind soul, as he cleared a bit of his field for parking (with a small handmade sign stating “Free Parking”, and from the path entrance (with the glasses) you walk about a quarter of a mile to the makeshift memorial.

So what made Holly such an iconic figure? Who could have 100s of well-known musicians stop by the Surf over the years and leave mementos?

A couple of UK bands that later achieved world-wide fame named their bands after Holly. Of course there was the Hollies, and another band, who liked his band name of the Crickets, decided to rename their band The Beatles.

Buddy and his band The Crickets toured the UK just a year earlier, and apparently made quite an impression.

Why is he so revered?

Buddy Holly is one of the most influential figures in rock and roll history. His unique style of music and songwriting influenced a generation of musicians and helped to shape the sound of rock and roll. Holly’s impact on the music world is still felt today, and his influence can be heard in the work of many modern musicians.

When I walked into the Surf, I could hear the faint echoes of Peggy Sue and That’ll Be The Day. It looked as though one could step back 63 years and see no changes. But it is still busy today with new headliners, including this February 2, another Winter Dance Party!

That’s cool.

It was time to head up to Minneapolis.

But wait! There was one more stop, based on the advice of my sister trip advisor.

I was told to make a stop at the spam museum!

The Spam Museum

Yes, in Austin, MN there is a modern museum dedicated to the history – and variety – of spam! I suppose of all the stops I have made (and more yet to be revealed) this was the least interesting but even here I learned a few things. Such as the regions of the world – like the Philippines and Hawaii, where Spam is most popular.

And a British citizen who loved spam so much he petitioned Queen Elizabeth to allow him to change his name to “I Love Spam”!.

Of course there were a lot of WW2 exhibits on the influence of Spam and a letter from General Dwight Eisenhower:


Gettysburg, Pennsylvania

June 29, 1966

My dear Tim:

I have just learned from our mutual friend, Jack Cornelius, that your company is celebrating its seventy-fifth anniversary in business.

May I offer you my heartiest congratulations.

You might be surprised to learn that I have long felt a certain kinship with your company.

During World War II, of course, I ate my share of SPAM along with millions of other soldiers. I’ll even confess to a few unkind remarks about it — uttered during the strain of battle, you under-stand. But as former Commander in Chief, I believe I can still officially forgive you your only sin: sending us so much of it.

Later, as a somewhat inexperienced political candidate, I shared with you the friendship and wise counsel of your advertising agency, BBDO. I must say, I believe they had a tougher job with me than selling SPAM to ex-servicemen.

Happily, we all succeeded together.

One more thing we have in common – – our enthusiasm for golf.

Were it possible, I would enjoy a round with you very much. But, Tim, I’m afraid you’d have to slow down your whirlwind pace a bit. I have this old “football knee” that nags me, but as a player yourself, I know you understand.

My very best wishes to you and to your company for its continuing success.

Sincerely yours,

Dwight Eisenhower

Mr. H. H. “Tim” Corey

Hormel Company

Austin, Minnesota

I was surprised at the world-wide appetite for SPAM – and how popular it is! Even learned why they make the can in that unique shape, but have forgotten.

Now it was time to finish I-35 to my sister’s house.

On Thanksgiving, I entered a home as a stranger to many and left as friends.

I noticed in my iPhone app that a snow storm was coming in a few days but before it came, wanted to see the Charles Lindbergh home and Museum. I also wanted to see Stillwater which, aside from the state prison, is supposed to be very picturesque along the Mississippi but then felt that perhaps that should wait for spring or summer.

But before I left for Little Falls 100 miles away to the Lindbergh museum, there was one more Minneapolis stop.

Mill City, Minneapolis

My sister had worked for General Mills in their test kitchen for at least 20 years. Here, they experimented with new foods before and determined if they would be marketed to the public. Their security was tighter than the Manhattan Project – no friends or family members were allowed. I could see it, but then they’d have to….well, you know. And Hell hath no fury like an enraged Betty Crocker!

At the Mill City Museum

One thing that had my curiosity about Minneapolis for many years – why was it the center of flour production even though Minnesota is not known for wheat fields?

This is where Pillsbury and what became General Mills started. They processed wheat brought in from other regions.

Well, at the Mill City Museum that question was finally answered. Mill City is an area of Minneapolis where all the old flour mills resided. My sister recommended that I spend a few hours there, which was fashioned from an old burned-out mill.

And the short answer to my long held question? A number of mills were situated by some rapids on the Mississippi River, which drove the turbines that processed the wheat brought in from places like Montana and North Dakota. There were at least 20 mills in this area.

Lindbergh Home and Museum

Ever since I read the voluminous biography of Charles Lindbergh, I’ve had a curiosity about him. And since his home and nearby museum was just 100 miles away, I decided to drive up there. Although I was surprised that to get there it was mainly secondary roads.

Lindbergh’s early home in Little Falls, MN. It is on the banks of the Mississippi and was instrumental in shaping his character.

As I wrote in that review some years ago, I felt that the book was the definitive biography on Lindbergh. It seemed obvious that the author had access to 1000s of pages of his personal papers.

Two things that profoundly affected his character and life – was his growing up right on the banks of the Mississippi in Little Falls and the kidnapping and murder of his baby once he became a public figure.

I believe after the kidnapping he became a semi-recluse.

The museum has a wonderful collection of things he had as a child, and memorabilia from his famous Atlantic flight. It even has his Volkswagen Beetle he had in the 50s and early 60s!

It has a mock up of his Ryan aircraft, The Spirit of St Louis. They invite visitors to climb into the cockpit.

I realized soon that one had to be a contortionist to get into that thing, and once in, had to twist and squirm to get out.

So I eschewed that opportunity.

I can’t imagine sitting in that thing for 33 hours, without even a front windshield – an auxiliary fuel tank was in its place.  With not much more than a compass to navigate, and not knowing things like the winds aloft.

I asked one of the museum docents if the term “quirky” would be an appropriate description of Lindbergh and she agreed. Particularly when news after his death that he had another family in Germany and two mistresses came to the surface.

I think his nickname of “Lucky Lindy” was well-named.

After I returned to Minneapolis, I thought I’d better think of heading south, as the iPhone weather app predicted snow the next day. And my car had summer tires!

And I wanted to see something that was closed during my last drive, dubbed Coronavirus II. The Truman library and museum was then closed due to COVID-19.

In the back of my mind, after 2 tries, was to also see The Arches National Park in Utah. That meant returning on I-70, and the first stop was Independence, MO, just 10 miles or so east of Kansas City.

The Truman Library and Museum

But first, a little family story. A family friend told us years ago that he stopped there and had a rather pleasant 30 minute conversation with an older gentleman, only to realize at the end of the conversation it was President Truman.

I have long believed that Harry Truman has been one of our most underrated Presidents. And he had a political and personal ethos that has been sadly lacking for so long.

I believe that he had a humble demeaner, and “The Buck stopped there”. Contrast that with so many Presidents who want to say that it was anybody’s fault but theirs these days.

And a little background on Harry.

Politically speaking, prior to his national offices, he had a rather undistinguished career. I think the most successful thing he did was being a Captain in an Army Field Artillery unit during WW1.

By most accounts his men respected him and he mentioned that he wanted to bring them all back.

Fast forward to his DC career, and he is a US Senator from Missouri, and happy in his position.

But Franklin Roosevelt is running for an unprecedented 4th term, and they need the demographic that Truman represented.

He really didn’t want the job of Vice President, but Democratic Party officials and Franklin Roosevelt talked him into running.

Once the Roosevelt-Truman ticket won, Roosevelt pretty much ignored him. According to the museum, he had exactly 2 private meetings with Roosevelt. And then, 85 days after the election, Roosevelt dies in Warm Springs, GA and Truman suddenly found himself President in charge of leading us in WW2. He knew nothing of the foreign leaders Churchill and Stalin.

Roosevelt never briefed him.

I have always wondered was Roosevelt such an egotist that even despite very failing health by 1944, felt that he was immortal? Or indispensable? I cannot deny him the historical achievement of guiding America to what he knew was a necessary war when half the country wanted isolation, or helping to keep Britain afloat with Lend-Lease during her darkest days.

But I cannot understand his behavior towards Truman during the 85 days he was Vice President.

On the afternoon of April 12, 1945, Vice President Harry S. Truman was just starting to relax after a day of presiding over the Senate when he was urgently summoned to the White House. There he received the unwelcome news that President Franklin Roosevelt had died and that he, Truman, was now president.

Truman said he “felt like the moon, the stars, and all the planets had fallen on me.” He was replacing a beloved and dynamic Chief Executive who had led America through depression and war, and was now faced with the task of leading America to victory in World War II. Worse still, Roosevelt had left Truman largely out of the loop during the latter’s vice presidency—Truman was not even aware of the Manhattan Project and other crucial matters. In assuming the presidency, Harry Truman also assumed a daunting burden. Whether he would measure up to the task of leading the free world remained to be seen.

He told reporters, “Boys, if you ever pray, pray for me now.

I don’t know if you fellows had a load of hay fall on you, but when they told me yesterday what had happened, I felt like the moon, the stars, and all the planets had fallen on me”.

And a week or so after becoming president, he received this bombshell (no pun intended) of a letter that would (after his meeting with Stimson), inform him of the Manhattan Project and the Atomic Bomb .

My apologies if you cannot read the text, as I haven’t uploaded this in full resolution, but this website is running short of available space.

The letter that ended WW2 much sooner

If you cannot read it, here is the content from the Secretary of War, Henry Stimson:




April 24, 1945

Dear Mr. President:

I think it is very Important that I should have a talk with you as soon as possible on a highly secret matter.

I mentioned it to you shortly after you took office but have not urged it since on account of the pressure you have been under.

It, however, has such a bearing on our present foreign relations and has such an important effect upon all my thinking in this field that I think you ought to know about it without much further delay.

Faithfully yours,

Henry Stimson

Secretary of War

I have written before on my opinion of the necessity of using nuclear weapons on Japan. To recap a bit, the reason for the invasion of Okinawa was to secure the Kadena airfield for the upcoming Operation Downfall (and Olympic as the initial phase), with the initial invasion of the islands of Kyushu and Shikoku .

The Pentagon, in anticipation of the casualties, after learning about Okinawa and Iwo Jima, ordered an initial run of 500,000 Purple Heart medals.

Because of the atomic bomb the medals thankfully did not have to be awarded. Depending on the source these medals have been finally used up recently or will be used up shortly.

Because the Japanese had intended using all of the resources of the civilian population and military in their operation called Ketsu-Go, most likely despite the terrible loses of Hiroshima and Nagasaki many Japanese lives were saved also. By this time they knew that victory was impossible but through bloody attrition, they counted on more favorable peace terms with the Americans who by 1945 and the defeat of Germany just wanted it to end.

Finally, Hiroshima and Nagasaki kept the Soviets out of Japan, avoiding a partitioning like Germany.

After WW2, Truman had to decide how to confront the Soviet Union, who had reneged on their promises at Yalta.

Between the Marshall Plan and the Truman Doctrine, he probably preserved many Western European countries from Communism.

On my previous drive though here I spent a couple of hours at the WW1 Museum in Kansas City, and considered going back there. It is probably the best museum in the world that is dedicated to WW1 with so many displays. But I realized that while I didn’t have a “return by” date, perhaps see more things that I hadn’t yet seen.

Steamboat Arabia Museum

My sister tour guide suggested that I might be interested in a stop at Kansas City’s (MO) Steamboat Arabia Museum, and it was enlightening. It was just 10-15 miles west from the Truman Library, in Kansas City MO.

In 1856, a 171 foot long steamboat hit an underwater fallen tree and sank in the Missouri River near  Kansas City. And it remained lost for 130 years, until it was excavated under 43 feet on dry land – the River had shifted. 

“…The four-and-a-half-month excavation resulted in the discovery of the largest collection of pre-Civil War artifacts in the world. Beautiful glass bottles illustrate the care taken in producing containers for ordinary contents such as liquor or ketchup. Small-mouthed bottles contain preserved fruits for pies, as well as bright green sweet pickles. (They were still edible!)

These, along with buttons, beads, clothing, tools, weaponry … all this and more was found aboard the sunken ship.”

Just some of the artifacts excavated from the Steamship Arabia

To see this exhibit was to witness what life was like both in the pre-Civil War and along the frontier. I learned 2 things while touring this exhibit: That life aboard a Riverboat on the Mississippi or Missouri could be just as opulent – or rough – as a trans-Atlantic steamer. And to see all of these exhibits of fine china, firearms, and clothing that was used to sell to general stores along the river was an eye-opener. It was almost as if one had a time-portal to travel through back to 1856.

Well, I learned a third thing: the biggest hazard to riverboat traffic was submerged fallen trees. Hit one of those and it would tear most hulls apart.

And if you are wondering, all 150 of the crew and passengers got off. The only casualty was a mule and he is on display, too!

My iPhone app was telling me that a storm was coming in, and the Sierras were likely to get some snow in a few days. It was supposed to come in the next Sunday but that still gave me time to see the last thing on my checklist.

Ever since I had that wonderful drive though Utah that ColoComment recommended, I wanted to see the Arches National Park. As far as geology is concerned, Utah, through the eastern and southern areas, has to have some of the Nation’s most beautiful scenery.

The first try on that trip, I ran out of time. The second try was on my self-named Coronovirus Challenge II drive, and I got a surprise.

They allowed people through the gate until noon, and then shut the gates.

It was the same as seeing the Gateway Arch at St Louis, when they had only one elevator on one side open.

Third times a charm, they say, and I gained entrance. Of course it was spectacular, but had I seen this after ColoComment’s drive and already seeing so much spectacular scenery, I probably would have been a bit blasé about The Arches.  

To gain entrance to the Arches is driving a loop, and stopping at various scenic points. I am sure there are some hiking trails, but at freezing temperatures and me carrying what I believe is a cold from Minnesota  (still have a lingering cough), I was in no mood to get out of the car.

But I am certainly glad that I finally, after 3 attempts, saw it.

Now it was a race to the Sierra Summit. The goal was to get there Saturday before the expected Storm came on Sunday.

A Word About Pacific Storms.

When I left on my trip, I was not going to take snow chains. I used to do that fairly regularly when I would ski. When the storms hit the Sierras from the West, they cover the mountains with sometimes huge amounts of snow – 2-3’ a day. By springtime, in normal years it is not uncommon to see snow banks 10’-20’ high by the side of the highway.

If you are driving on to Reno (I-80) or Carson City (Hwy 50)  (maybe 40-50 miles from the Summit? I’m guesstimating) – you will notice something interesting as you are transitioning to the high desert. There are far fewer trees.

It’s not that Nevada doesn’t get snow – but usually far less that at the top of the Sierras.

There was one time in a May I was at Carson City ready to go home, and a freak snow storm came in. It is unusual for late spring, but not unknown.

I am driving up the Spooner Summit – a 20-30 mile stretch “up the hill” that gains 2-3,000 feet to Lake Tahoe and the snow was so bad I just decided to turn around and spend the night in Carson City.  

There was one time my family was going up to North Lake Tahoe for New Year’s Eve and one of these storms blew in.

On go the tire chains, and what would have been a 2 hour trip became over 14 hours.

And that’s if they don’t close the highway. Get stuck up there in the snow drifts and you are in for an unpleasant time.

So, I don’t do chains. A friend of mine ruined a fender when his chains got loose and started beating on the fender. 

Anyway I got to Western Nevada on a Saturday but the iPhone app was off by a day. Mother Nature had a surprise. The Storm hit the summit a day early.

What to do?

Most of the time, if there is a chain requirement by the next day or 2 the storm is gone,  the highway is cleared and you are good to go.

I decided to stay at a fallback position.


Here, I would either continue west (exiting at that metropolis made famous by Lex, West Fernley!) – back to I-80 or I could go south towards Las Vegas on US 95.

I waited a day and things were no better – this was a big storm. Even an alternative route, 25 miles up US-395 from Reno and west on CA-70 –  with the pass 2,000’ shorter, still had chain requirements and if that didn’t deter you, a landslide.

The 850 mile detour

I did mention at the beginning that I like to wander.

And wander I did, down Nevada and through Tonopah (and Area 51!). I went through Hawthorne, the site of the world’s largest ammunition storage facility. Of course you can’t actually drive through it, but you see its massive area and bunkers off just a bit to the east.

IIRC the last time I was here it was run by the Navy, but now apparently the Army is in charge.  Munitions for all of the services are stored here. There was an interesting museum showing everything from 16” Navy shells to old cruise missiles, but it was closed that day.

I expected to have to go to Las Vegas, hit I-15 which would have taken me to CA-58 (and by Orpo’s back yard!) but then I remembered at the town of Beatty Nevada was right on eastern side of Death Valley National Park.

I thought, why not? And, since I had been posting travel pictures on my Facebook page, show them Scotty’s Castle?

In 2015, there were some heavy rains in Death Valley and apparently, they were of Biblical proportions. Because Scotty’s Castle is still closed due to flood damage after 7 years  and some of the roads are still closed.

I traversed across Death Valley as the sun was setting.

I suppose the rest of the story is a bit uneventful except for one mildly humorous part.

As I was climbing the Panamint mountains out of the valley at night – with switchbacks – I started hearing this noise from my car. I have told people for years to listen to your car – they are talking to you and many times you can avoid a big problem down the road by listening to them earlier. Months before, I caught the faint sound of an idler pully bearing going out that if unattended, would have grounded the car later. It’s a simple bearing that holds the serpentine belt that powers the coolant pump and alternator. A simple bearing that if ignored, will ground you by the side of the road.

Anyway, this was a “fap-fap-fap” sound – like a tire going flat!

Only on that twisty road, there were no turnoffs.

So I did the next best thing.

I closed the window, so I wouldn’t hear it.

Turns out it was only the tar strips road crews use to repair cracks.

The rest of the drive was pretty uneventful, with me staying in Bakersfield for the night, simply because I didn’t feel like driving the last 200 miles home at night.

I have come to the realization that as we get older there’s things we know we can still do but don’t feel like doing.

Just because you can doesn’t mean that you have to do it.

All that is left now is waiting for the VISA statement!

 12-27-22 I got a few comments on Facebook about my decision to take the “850 mile detour”. A couple thought I was a bit crazy (still a valid assumption), but most understood, particularly the professional truckers. Most trucking companies prohibit using chains, and tell their drivers to wait it out.

This driver said it best: “I’ll sit it out thank you very much, and with company support. My chains are there to help get me out of trouble, not help me get in it.”

12/31/22 22:55 The Tour From Hell – a good write up on the conditions and circumstances that led Buddy Holly to seek a charter plane.

1-29-23 I came across a post on my Facebook Feed that to me exemplified why Buddy Holly was so influential in Rock and Roll. The writer is unknown, but it wouldn’t surprise me if he were a musician. His Facebook group is devoted to the Beach Boys and the Beatles, but as he says he will always have a post about Buddy Holly.


On this page you will always see multiple posts about Buddy Holly . Not only out of respect for his immense talent, but also because we feel he is the most important influence on both The Beatles and The Beach Boys.

It was Buddy’s influence that showed John Lennon that a kid that wore glasses could be a rock star. That coupled with the fact that he showed John Lennon, Paul McCartney, and George Harrison that an average teenager from a place like Lubbock, Texas could write, perform and play rock and roll music.

As far as The Beach Boys go all you have to do is look at Brian Wilson. One of the main reasons that the executives at Capitol Records allowed him to produce The Beach Boys’ records at such a young age is because Buddy Holly proved it could be done years earlier.

In many ways it’s a shame that Buddy spent most of his short career fighting for the things that would help rock and roll music to thrive in the decades to come.

They told him only producers can produce music, not musicians.

He proved them wrong.

They told him that a four piece band consisting of two guitars (rhythm and lead), a stand up bass, and drums wasn’t enough instrumentation to create a hit record.

He proved them wrong

They told him that songwriters only wrote songs, and musicians only played music. You can’t do both.

He proved them wrong.

They told him he would never become a rock and roll star because you had to be good looking like Elvis Presley. Plus he could never make it by wearing glasses.

He proved them wrong.

They told him orchestral arrangements and double tracking vocals in rock music could never work.

He proved them wrong.

They told him that no one from a one horse town by the name of Lubbock, Texas could ever become famous. You had to be from a big city like Los Angeles or New York.

He proved them wrong.

They told him that no musician had the right to question a record label about copyrights, promotion, or ownership of one’s music.

He proved them wrong.

It took only 22 years on this earth for a young man from the town of Lubbock, Texas by the name of Charles Hardin Holley, who would become known as the now legendary Buddy Holly to become the most important creative force in early Rock And Roll music.

Hard to believe that we are coming up on the tragic 64th (yes it’s almost been 64 years) anniversary of his death in a plane crash, which would become known as Rock And Roll music’s first tragedy.

The blueprint that Buddy (the first rock and roll musician to write, arrange, produce, and perform his own music) left behind is probably the most important reason that rock music has survived as long as it has. As Buddy proved the genre needed innovation, and artists willing to take creative risks.

On behalf of every fan of Rock And Roll music we thank you for everything Buddy.




Filed under Travel, Uncategorized

5 responses to “Road Trip to the Land of Ice and Snow

  1. ohengineer

    Merry Christmas!

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  4. Al Anthony Fiori

    I was in the movie, Above and Beyond about Enola Gay. I was assigned to the USAF, Davis-Monthan, and flight engineer on B-29 #0019. It played the ‘Enola Gay’ in the movie, which was all filmed in Tucson, AZ, and released by MGM in 1952.

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