From Whales to Totem Poles

Our stay in Las Vegas, NM was very special.   The hotel was wonderful, but once again – time to move on to the next adventure. A very sweet lady who works at the front desk of the Plaza, offered us a ride back to the airport.  So on Thursday, July 21, we fueled up and departed toward Clinton, Oklahoma (CLK), our first stop of the day.

Clinton has a very nice Route 66 museum.  The  exhibits are very interesting, with detailed information about Route 66, from the construction of the Mother road, to the hay-day as well as the demise that came with the introduction of the interstate freeway system.  We saw much evidence of that during our travels.  However, we also took note of the great effort that has gone into restoring and preserving many of the iconic attractions along the route.  For those individuals and groups involved in the restoration efforts of various landmarks, it is a life passion.

After a couple of chili dogs at the “Coney Island” across the street from the museum, we headed back to the airport and took off for the next leg, Claremore, OK.

The flight took us directly over the city of Tulsa and Tulsa’s airport as well, where I snapped some photos.  Before we departed earlier, we were informed that the runway at the Claremore  Regional Airport (CLM) was under construction and closed, however traffic was being permitted to land on the taxiway.  So, as unusual as that was – we did.

We were offered the use of a courtesy car at the Claremore airport.  Many airports offer this service, but most don’t let you take them overnight.  The folks at the Claremore Airport were very accommodating and hospitable.  They told us to take the car overnight for as long as we needed it.  The air didn’t work and one thing we noticed about most all of the courtesy cars we used – the “check engine” lights are more often then not, illuminated.  It sort of became a standing joke for us.  However, it was transportation and that’s all that matters!

I chose Claremore as a destination, as it is smack dab in the middle of two of Route 66’s most iconic landmarks.  The big blue whale, about 15 miles southwest, in the town of Catoosa,  and the world’s largest concrete totem pole, roughly 15 miles to the northeast in the town of Foyil.

We visited the blue whale first and yes, it is big and it is blue.  According to Wikipedia, the whale was built by a gentleman named Huge Davis, in the early 1970s for his wife, Zelta, who collected whales.  The whale and the pond in which it resides became a favorite swimming hole for locals and route 66 travelers.  It was fun to capture some photos from an era now past.

Next, on to Foyil to see the world’s largest concrete totem pole.  The totem park was literally out in the middle of nowhere.  Folk artist, Ed Galloway constructed the art in the park, which was originally his residence, beginning in 1937, until his death in 1961.  The property and art was in disrepair until the Rogers County historical society acquired the property in 1989 and restored it to it’s present condition.  The largest totem, standing 90 feet tall, is considered the largest of it’s kind in the world.

After a very nice dinner back in Claremore, we retired to our room at the Will Roger’s Inn.  A nice painting of Will in the lobby is about the only redeeming quality of this particular motel.  It did not have the historical charm as the other Route 66 places we stayed, it was simply an old, “less then pristine” motor inn.  The couple fighting out in the parking lot in the middle of the night topped things off nicely!

We contemplated our destination for Friday, and both of us agreed…  It was time to go home. It has been a magical couple of weeks, but we were tired and looking forward to seeing our family, friends and fur-kids!    We departed Claremore yesterday morning, with a lunch/fuel stop in Peoria,  IL (and another courtesy car with a lit up “check engine” light!)  Just two hours later, we touched down at the Hastings, MI Airport (9D9)

Home sweet home!

I’ll recap later, but just wanted to let everyone know that after a most  incredible journey,  we are now home safe and sound.  What a ride it’s been!



Heading East to Las Vegas

Las Vegas from Sedona – East?  I know what you are thinking – Sue must have failed geography . Nope, today, Wednesday, July 20,  I am writing from Las Vegas, New Mexico.

We felt a tug at our heartstrings when we departed Sedona .  Everything was so magical during our stay and especially our wedding.  We didn’t want it to end.  But the journey must continue, so we departed Tuesday morning with Las Vegas, NM as our destination.  We made it as far as Albuquerque, where pop-up thunderstorms caused us to land at Double Eagle Airport, just outside of town.  We figured we would grab some lunch and wait for the storms to pass, and then be on our way.  Wrong.  We soon learned that the western mountain monsoon weather patterns are very different then what we are used to in Michigan.  Storms don’t simply pass through, they stay.  Only the cooler evening temperatures cause them to finally dissipate.  So after sitting and waiting at the airport for over 5 hours, we finally resigned to the fact that we would spend an unscheduled night in Albuquerque.  We ended up getting an overpriced room at an Econolodge and settled in for the night.  We did have an excellent dinner at a local restaurant serving New Mexico cuisine, which was somewhat of a redeeming quality.

We rose with the sun this morning in order to beat today’s weather patterns and took off in to a clear blue sky.  The flight was uneventful, but beautiful.  Our departure from Albuquerque took us through a Sandia Mountains pass.  The scenery was majestic.

We arrived at the Las Vegas municipal airport and it was all but deserted.  The high desert meadows east of the mountains, stretched out as far as you can see.  We had reservations at the historical Plaza Hotel, circa 1882.  The manager was nice enough to let us switch our reservation from last night to tonight – and even upgraded our room.  It was absolutely wonderful!  This hotel has a colorful history and has been the destination of many celebrities through the years.  Many of the rooms are named for people who have stayed here.  We are staying in  the John Carpenter room.  The John Lithgow room is right next door and the Michelle Obama room just down the hall.  We even visited room 310 where the ghost of the original proprietor is said to reside.  No sightings tonight though.  (Yet).

Las Vegas is steeped in history and has over 900 buildings, commercial and residential that are listed on the national register, many from the 1800’s.  We enjoyed just walking through town and taking it all in.   it was most certainly a good stop!

Introducing Sue and Randy Van Liere!

Yesterday was perfect.  Just perfect!  Everything came together wonderfully.  The people here who worked with us were instrumental in making it all happen seamlessly.  Thank you Reverend Carla, Pamela and Amanda S. (and Sedona airport staff) who all did so much to make our day wonderful.

And thanks to all of our friends and family who have added your very nice comments on this blog and have sent your well wishes.  Now the journey continues!      –   Sue and Randy



A Grand Canyon Bucket List Experience

Well the day has arrived – our wedding day!  We have a busy planned at the hotel,  coordinating everything for the ceremony at 6:30PM this evening.

I want to take a few minutes before things get hectic to tell you about our incredible experience yesterday.

We rose early and fortunately, I felt much better, almost back to normal.  That was a good thing, as we had something spectacular planned – a flight over the Grand Canyon.

Airspace is very limited over the canyon, especially now with the fire and air tankers in the vicinity.  We did some careful planning, especially Randy.  He researched the corridor we planned to fly through and checked with flight service to assure that the restricted air space around the fire area would not impact our flight path.

We launched around 7:30AM into a sunny, calm sky.  It was only about 1/2 hour to the rim of the canyon.  As we approached the rim, we watched the bottom drop out from under us. All was quiet in the cockpit as we both took it all in.  It took a little while for the scope of what we were experiencing to sink in.  Words cannot describe, and photos cannot describe the experience of being above the canyon – just the two of us in Miss America.  I still have goosebumps.

Even from our position, the smoke from the fire kept us from flying all the way to the north rim.  A short distance before we would have flown into the smoke, we made a wide turn back toward toward the south rim.   I am posting photos, but as I said, they don’t do any of it justice.  We were truly blessed to be able to do this.  Neither of us will ever forget it.

After our return, we explored old town Sedona and took in a beautiful sunset.  We were supposed to take a “star tour” for some very cool planetary and deep space telescope views.  We met with our guide and he spent over an hour with us, before we had to scrub our tour due to cloud cover.  We still had a great time with our guide, Dennis Young.  If we ever come back to Sedona, we will definitely reschedule.

Just a note – I’ve also included some photos I took Saturday evening of the sunset and also some night photos of Sedona.  These were all taken from our balcony.  What an incredible view!

We are very excited for our big evening.  We are having dinner immediately following our ceremony with our officiant, Reverend Carla Riedel, our photographer, Pamela Duffy, Airport Manager, Amanda Shankland, and their husbands.  They have all been so nice and have treated us like family.  We are so fortunate to have found such nice people to assist us in making our day a special one.   Details to follow!


View from our room!


View from our balcony


View from our balcony!
Departing Sedona for the G.C.
Approaching the rim!
Bird’s Eye view of the Grand Canyon.


Smoke from the North Rim.


North Rim fire up close.


National Park rim road below.
Randy’s new Buddy.


Silly kids!
Lunch with a view.


End of a perfect day.



Catching up!

I realize I’m a couple of days behind on the blog.  We’ve been in some pretty remote areas, including the Grand Canyon and wifi has been very sparse.

I have lots of photos to share, so I’ll just give a quick recap of the past couple of days.

Thursday, we said goodbye to our friends in Tucumcari and pushed on towards Arizona.  We had a long, but very pretty flight that took us over a mountain pass that opened up to the city of Albuquerque.  It was beautiful coming up over the mountains and seeing the city spread out before us.  Shortly before reaching our destination of Winslow, we flew over the painted desert and petrified forest.  It was surreal.  Not the kind of landscape we are used to in Michigan.  It reminded me of what it must be to fly over Mars.  We landed in Winslow and rented a car.  After spending a few hours exploring Winslow, and having a delicious lunch at the Turquoise Room at the famed La Posada hotel,  we “stood on a corner”, long enough to get the photo and then we drove to the town of Holbrook.  Now there is not a lot in Holbrook, Arizona.  It is a small town on old Route 66 and although, there are still some quirky 66 attractions in town, much of it has died along with the bygone era.  However, we had two very important reasons for visiting Holbrook.  This is where the county courthouse is located, so this is where we needed to obtain our marriage license.  Also, no trip to Route 66 is complete without a stay at the Wigwam village.  It was very hokey and fun.  It consists of a row of concrete teepees, each with an old classic car parked outside the door.  We were in #3.  The rooms were clean and roomy enough.  The owner was wonderful.  She comped us our room when she found out we were getting married!  Who does that? We were blown away by her gesture.

On Friday morning, we drove back to Winslow, returned our car and departed for our ultimate destination, Sedona.  Soon after our departure, we flew over the famous meteor crater.  That was a pretty interesting experience.  The best was yet to come though –  the approach in to Sedona was breathtaking.  We were awestruck.  It is by far, the most beautiful place we have flown.  Randy was able to check this off from his bucket list.  He is now a part of the “aircraft carrier club”.  Certificates are given to pilots who make a landing at Sedona, as it is similar to landing on a carrier.  The runway is high up on a mesa with cliffs dropping off on each end.   You don’t want to come up short and you don’t want to land long!

Upon landing, we met the airport manager, Amanda Shankland, who has been instrumental in making our airport wedding plans a reality.  After a brief chat, we rented a car and drove up the beautiful Oak Creek Canyon on our way to the Grand Canyon for the night.  We made a side trip to the Planes of Fame museum in Valle, AZ, before finally reaching the park.  Words and photos cannot even begin to describe the Grand Canyon.  You have to see it in order to really know how majestic and awe inspiring it is.  The large forest fire on the north rim was visible from miles away.  We couldn’t believe the scope and the size of the fire.  It is devastating.  High winds have made it impossible to contain.  Last we heard, it had burned over 4,000 acres.  We were on the South rim, and the fire and smoke was very apparent.  We went back to a overlook after dark and I took some photos of the fire at night.

After a great day yesterday, this morning I woke up with some kind of stomach ailment.  Last night I ate food from a questionable buffet at the lodge restaurant.  I’m not sure if that was it or not, but I felt so ill, I was barely able to function this morning.  I tried to power through, but when we drove to overlooks on the canyon this morning to continue our sight seeing, for the most part, I had to stay in the car and try to doze, while Randy went on to take photos.  We cut our visit short and also had to cancel dinner plans with our wedding officiant this evening.  What a disappointment.  I just hope this goes away before our wedding day – and that Randy doesn’t catch anything.  I feel a little better now, however still kind of queasy and funky.  Ugh!

We checked in to our hotel in Sedona this afternoon and OH MY!  It is fabulous.  You should see our view!   I’ll be posting photos of our digs on my next blog.  However, I wanted to get you all caught up on our adventure to date.



Cadillacs and Bluebirds

We had a wonderful Wednesday.  It started with a flight to Tradewinds airport (TDW) in Amarillo, TX.  This was a lunch/sightseeing stopover on our way to our next overnight destination in Tucumcari, NM.  Amarillo was a fun stop.  We of course had to visit the infamous Cadillac Ranch, where a row of Cadillacs are buried in the middle of a corn field. It has turned into a graffiti fest, where people come, spray cans in hand and leave behind their mark.  We of course joined in the ranks, as you can see by the photo.  It was quirky and fun to see for about 15 minutes, but the 100+ temps were too extreme for us and we quickly returned to our air conditioned courtesy car.  (An old model Ford Taurus Station Wagon with a bad transmission).  After the thrill of the Cadillacs, we headed to a historical section of town, on old Route 66.  We had a great lunch at a  wonderful hole-in-the-wall restaurant (they usually have the best food), called Smokey Joes.  Randy had one of the best Cuban Sandwiches of his life.  I had some brisket tacos that were to die for!

After lunch we returned our courtesy car and fueled up to head to Tucumcari.
We learned a sobering lesson in mountain flying.  It is not a good idea to launch for a flight in higher altitudes at 107 degrees fahrenheit.  It was a rough ride and we were both very glad to be on the ground in Tucumcari.  From now on, we will be doing our flying in the early mornings when it is still cool.  Airplanes like cool.

Tucumcari was one of our favorite spots so far.  We LOVED our motel, the Blue Swallow.  The owners, Kevin and Nancy were wonderful.  They made us feel like part of the family.  They were from Michigan, so we chatted quite a bit.  The way they have maintained this motel shows the pride they have in their part of the historical preservation of Route 66 landmarks.  The Blue Swallow exudes the old Route 66 charm.  It was clean, tastefully decorated and Kevin and Nancy bend over backwards for their guests.  Kevin even picked us up at the airport and drove us back for our EARLY morning flight on Thursday.  We would return there in a heartbeat.  What a great place.

Oklahoma City and Miss America

I just realized that I haven’t been putting the dates on my updates.  I’ve basically been writing my blogs a day after the fact, so I can include everything from our adventures. However in some spots, the internet has been kind of sketchy, so a day may lag here and there between updates.  We arrived in Oklahoma City on July 11.  On July 12 Randy fulfilled a long time bucket list item.

Randy purchased his Navion in 2004 as a “project airplane”.  It was literally in pieces and boxes sitting in a hanger when he purchased it.   Over 4 years, he had it professionally restored to it’s current condition.  One of the last things he did was to have it painted in it’s current red, white and blue, Miss America motif.   He copied the Miss America design verbatim from the famed Reno Racer P-51, Miss America, owned by Dr. Brent Hisey of Oklahoma City.  He contacted Dr. Hisey in order to obtain permission to copy the paint scheme.  Dr. Hisey was not only accommodating, but also excited that Randy chose to copy Miss America’s design.

Randy has always dreamed of meeting Brent Hisey and getting the two airplanes together for a photo shoot.  When we learned that our trip would take us right through Oklahoma City, Randy contacted the Doctor to see if he could arrange such a meeting.  Dr. Hisey was very on board for the meeting.  Tuesday, Brent Hisey picked us up from our hotel and took us to the facility on the airport where he keeps Miss America.  We not only got our photos of the pretty girls side by side on the ground, but we went for a formation flight and got some  aerial photos of the P-51 flying right next to us.  What a thrill this was!   And what a great guy Brent Hisey was to do this for us.  It was so interesting hanging around Brent’s hanger and seeing all of his treasures.  Aside from Miss America, Brent also owns an L-39 Albatross, an L-19, a Beech Bonanza and a B-25 Bomber.   He is also restoring a P-51C!

And if that wasn’t enough excitement for one day, we also paid a visit to the National Cowboy and Western Heritage museum.  (Oh boy)   Actually… it was very interesting with many great art pieces and a treasure trove of old movie memorabilia, so even I enjoyed it.

Tuesday was a day that neither of us will ever forget.