Westward Ho to the Grand Canyon

This month’s Road Trip is a bit longer than most we have written about over the past 27 years. Even though this trip will cover over 3,000 miles, they are miles we have all traveled before either in car or by watching TV shows. These were shows from my generation…Route 66 is one. Grab a cup of coffee and come along with us as we travel across country.

Our first stop was Lexington Kentucky – a little under 600 miles away. We had the good fortune to stay with our friends Clayton and Ashley Embly and their 8 year old daughter Savannah. These folks are important because they live and work in the heart of the thoroughbred community in Lexington. Blue grass country, bourbon and the home of the greatest thoroughbreds in the world.

On our first day there Clayton and Savannah treated us to breakfast at the Track Kitchen at Keeneland.   Eating breakfast with jockeys, trainers and owners of race horses was a special treat. After breakfast we went to check out the morning workouts.

In 2009, the Horseplayers Association of North America introduced a rating system for 65 Thoroughbred racetracks in North America. Keeneland was ranked #1 of the top ten tracks. It is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and designated a National Historic Landmark in 1986. He spring meet contains several preps for the Kentucky Derby, the most notable of which is the Blue Grass Stakes. The fall meet features several Breeder’s Cup preps. Most of the racing scenes of the 2003 movie Seabiscuit were shot at Keeneland, because its appearance has changed relatively little in the last several decades.

Folks in Virginia can get a taste of the thrill of Thoroughbreds by attending one of the many hunts, steeple chase races or point to point races. These are held every spring and fall and feature some of the best throughbreds in the country.

Our next stop took us to the world renowned Claibourne Farm, a thoroughbred horse breeding operation in Paris, Kentucky. The farm was established in 1910by Arthur B. Hancock, owner of Ellerslie Farm in Albemarle County, Virginia, and has been operated by his family ever since. The most celebrated horse to reside at Claibourne farm was Secretariat who won the Triple Crown in 1973. Still working that Virginia connection, Secretariat was foaled at The Meadows in Caroline County, Virginia

Today there are eleven stallions standing stud at Claibourne farm. Stud fees range from $2,500 to $150,000 earned by War Front. These horses were true champions and are still beautiful athletes today. The final resting place for these champions is also located at Claibourne Farm. The cemetery contains the remains of 20 stallions, including Secretariat, who was embalmed and buried intact. This is an exception to the usual practice of burying a horse’s head (intelligence), heart (courage), and hooves (speed).

Claibourne Farm is 3,000 acres of beautiful Kentucky pastures and old buildings. The breeding shed is said to be over 100 years old. Claibourne is also one of the only farms that offers public tours including a chance to get up close and personal with the stallions. War Front, the highest paid stud, has an estimated value of 80 million dollars. For a mere 2 million you can buy a share of his stud fees. Life is good in Kentucky.

After a wonderful dinner (and some great Lexington bourbon), we departed for the Grand Canyon the following morning. With the interstates allowing speeds at 65 and 75 mph, we made it to Amarillo, Texas by 11pm. Getting this far in one day made our drive across New Mexico and into Arizona the next day a reasonable drive. After leaving Kentucky we drove through Indiana, Illinois, Missouri and into Oklahoma, where Interstate 44 joined historic Route 66 outside of Tulsa. Also known as the Will Rogers Highway and colloquially known as the Main Street of America, or the Mother Road, was one of the original highways within the U.S. Highway System. Route 66 was established on November 11, 1926.

For those of you who are old enough, from 1960 to 1964 the TV series, Route 66, was a popular show. The story was about two young adventurers in a Corvette who explore early 60’s social problems and changing mores, looking for the right place to settle down while seeking themselves. Traveling along this road brought back many memories of my youth.

Leaving Amarillo we headed for the New Mexico border. Shortly after crossing the border we came to the town of Tucumcari where we left the interstate and drove through the throwback town of another era. We stopped for breakfast at Kix on 66, a direct reference to the ad campaign of “Get Your Kicks on Route 66.” The instrumental theme song, which became one of the most recognized tunes, was written by Nelson Riddle. Tucumcari was truly a huge slice of Americana…and yes, I got a t-shirt.

Jumping back on the interstate we sped along under hazy blue skies for our reservation at Grand Canyon. There isn’t much that I can say about the Grand Canyon that you probably don’t already know…unless, of course, like me, you have never seen it. This place is awe inspiring. To try and comprehend the making of the Grand Canyon is beyond my comprehension. Over a mile below the South Rim we could see the Colorado River which, over millions of years, has carved out the canyon. It is not the deepest canyon in the world, however, the Grand Canyon is known for its visually overwhelming size and its intricate and colorful landscape.

The great depth of the Grand Canyon and especially the height of its strata (most of which formed below sea level) can be attributed to 5-10 thousand feet of uplift of the Colorado Plateau, starting about 65 million years ago. The uplift has steepened the stream gradient of the Colorado River and its tributaries, which in turn has increased their speed and thus their ability to cut through rock.

Unfortunately while we were there, wild fires were raging in California about 480 miles away, and the smoke created a haze over the entire canyon. Some of my pictures shown here are clear because they are close up, but the distant shots reveal the haze.

Leaving the Grand Canyon we headed north east to visit our friends Dave and Linda Allin in Grand Junction, Colorado. The drive took us into the state of Utah and through Monument Valley, Navajo Indian Reservation on the Utah Arizona border. The valley is not a valley in the conventional sense, but rather a wide flat, sometimes desolate landscape, interrupted by the crumbling formations rising hundreds of feet into the air, the last remnants of the sandstone layers that once covered the entire region. Whereas the Grand Canyon was eroded by wind and running water, the sandstone has been eroded by wind and rain. A canyon goes deep while the monuments reach for the heavens.

Monument Valley has been featured in many forms of media since the 1930’s. Director John Ford used the location for a number of his best-known films, and thus, in the words of critic Keith Phipps, “its five square miles have defined what decades of moviegoers think of when they imagine the American West.”

When we arrived in Grand Junction the temperature was 102 degrees, but like Arizona, the air was very dry, yet hot. Dave recommended a drive to Grand Mesa to beat the heat. It is the largest flat-topped mountain in the entire world. It has an area of about 500square miles and stretches for about 40 miles east of Grand Junction between the Colorado River and the Gunnison River. The forty mile drive took us about an hour and the temperature at the lake on top had dropped to 72 degrees. Due to a cold May, the snow had only melted enough the previous week to allow the park to open. Large patches of snow were still visible and the lake water was very cold. Drifting in the lake on kayaks was the perfect way to beat the heat.

In Grand Junction you will find the Colorado National Monument as well as the Colorado River as it works its way to the Grand Canyon. The Colorado National Monument is the view from the back porch of Dave and Linda. An impressive sight, the Monument preserves one of the grand landscapes of the American West. This treasure is more than a monument. Towering monoliths exist within a vast plateau and canyon panorama. You can experience sheer-walled, red rock canyons along the twists and turns of Rim Rock Drive, where you can observe big horn sheep and soaring eagles. Locally referred to as The Monument, this is an area of desert land high on the Colorado Plateau, with pinion and juniper forests on the plateau. Every July 4th, the sheer walls of Independence Monument is climbed and a US flag is placed on top. This is an amazing feat.

As we were driving through Grand Junction I saw a U.S. Route 50 marker. Like Route 66, Route 50 has a great story as well. Route 50 begins in Ocean City, Maryland and stretches over 3,000 miles to Sacramento, California. There is a road sign on the Route 50 Bridge out of OC that says-Sacramento 3,072 miles. Unlike Route 66, however, Route 50 does not weave in and out of interstates, but rather charts its own course across the country, which has given it the nickname…”The Loneliest Road in America.” Route 50 also passes through Washington, D.C. as well as Virginia’s beautiful horse and wine country and straight through Grand Junction.

Monument Valley

Monument Valley

After leaving Grand Junction we crossed the Rocky Mountains via Rocky Mountain National Park heading to Lingle, WY to visit Dave and Aimee Unverzagt. That is where I am right now putting the finishing touches on this column. The drive through the Rockies was spectacular…it dropped to 57 degrees and at 12,000 feet above sea level; it was a long way down! This truly was a drive of a lifetime.

If you read my publishers notes last month about the fact that the internet and computers has not killed print media, but rather married it…this article is a good example. My pictures are digital, this article is typed on a laptop, and the internet is taking this for me to our designer in Leesburg where it will be added to the rest of the July issue, and then sent by internet to our printer in Fredericksburg. I will be back July 2nd to deliver the July issue of the Old Town Crier to you.

This was a long road trip, but one well worth the time. Having friends and family along the way certainly help to offset costs and makes the journey much more enjoyable. Take the time and plan your own road trip. The wild blue yonder beckons.

Written by: Bob Tagert

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