by Ruth Jones, senior editor
Multiple drops on a Friday can mean time runs out for reloading. That happened to my husband and me some years ago on a run into the Los Angeles area. We had one of those wonderful lunchmeat loads that had us hitting three major grocery warehouses on the same day. You reefer drivers know what I'm talking about– the rest of you don't want to know.
When we were finally empty, dispatch told us to head for Salinas, and they'd try to get us loaded Saturday morning. Of course, we were in Salinas first thing Saturday morning, and of course, there was no load. Knowing my husband's mood was not going to get any better sitting around our motel room stewing about not having a load, I headed for the brochure rack in the lobby. After browsing through the choices, I selected Fisherman's Wharf in nearby Monterey for the day's excursion. The desk clerk told me there was plenty of bus and RV parking at Fisherman's Wharf, and gave me permission to drop our trailer on the motel lot. My husband's mood had deteriorated and he was reluctant to consider the possibility of having fun, but I was determined.
Once in Monterey, the aromas coming from the restaurants on the wharf were mouth-watering. It was lunchtime, and we were starving. After a meal of incredible seafood (including sand dabs and calamari), we began our exploration. We decided to take the harbor cruise, giving us a close-up look at the seals basking in the sun on a stone jetty, and taking us past the old sardine canneries that provided the background for the John Steinbeck novel Cannery Row. After the cruise we visited all the little shops and art galleries on the wharf, picking up a souvenir or two. We fed the gulls and the seals and enjoyed the ocean breezes. The next day, barbecuing with other drivers back at the motel, my husband couldn't say enough about what a wonderful day we'd had in Monterey.
PLACES TO GO
Some of the best known among the many attractions in the state include the Black Hills National Forest, Mount Rushmore, The Crazy Horse Memorial, and Custer State Park. Unfortunately, you're not likely to get your truck very close to any of them, but that doesn't mean you can't have a memorable layover anyway. Check out the Ramkota Hotel in Rapid City (I-90, exit 59). They have truck parking, restaurant, indoor pool, hot tub, and other amenities. Gray Line Tours offers a wide variety of sightseeing choices and will pick you up at the hotel. For more information, visit their website at www.grayline.com.
If you've trucked across I-90, you've seen the signs. Mitchell, SD, is the home of the Corn Palace, a monument to agriculture that's been around for more than 100 years. The exterior murals and those throughout the interior are made of native grasses, corn, and grain, and show the history and attractions of South Dakota. There is no admission charge, and the Corn Palace is open throughout the year, and has truck parking. There is a gift shop and food concession on the premises.
Wall Drug in Wall, SD, has been offering free ice water to travelers for generations, but it's more that just a drug store and a place to wet your whistle. Attractions include western shops, museums, a cowboy orchestra, and buffalo burgers. Wall Drug is open year-round, and has truck parking. There is no admission fee.
Founded in 1852, The King Ranch is an historic little landmark about the size of Rhode Island. Covering more than 825,000 acres, it is still a modern working ranch. If you're laying over in South Texas, the ranch staff invites you to stop by for a visit. Guided bus tours operate every day except major holidays and are sold on a first-come basis for seven bucks each. The visitor's center is right there on the ranch and has a parking lot as big as a football field, so truck parking is no problem. If you want more than just the 90-minute tour, there's more. You can have an individually guided tour to see the wildlife (there's plenty on this 1,300 sq. mile plot) or a guided tour to their famous saddle shop. Each of these takes about a half-day. To reach The King Ranch, go south on US 77 out of Corpus Christi to Kingsville, and head west on Highway 141. Visit their website at www.king-ranch.com, or call 361-592-8055 for more information.
The Everglades National Park covers 1,506,539 acres and consists of extensive fresh and saltwater areas, as well as sawgrass prairies and mangrove forests. It is home to countless wildlife species including manatees, dolphins, crocodiles, alligators, herons and ospreys. It is the only place in the world where crocodiles and alligators co-exist. The park is open all year. Unlike most tourist spots, November to April are the busiest months.
Truckers may bobtail to the Gulf Coast Visitors Center located one-half mile south of Everglades City on the northwest border of the park. Here visitors can take a one hour and 45-minute narrated boat trip exploring the "10,000 Islands," a maze of mangroves and saltwater waterways. Cost of the boat trip is $13 per person. Canoe rentals are also available on a first-come, first-served basis for self-guided tours. For more information, call 941-695-2591.
The Shark Valley Visitors Center, located on US 41 (Tamiami Trail), can also accommodate bobtails. From this center, visitors can take a two-hour tram ride to experience the freshwater Everglades. Cost of the tram ride is $9.30 per person. Bicycles are also available to rent for self-guided tours. (Private motor vehicles are not permitted on the tram road.) Visitors can also hike on short trails and portions of the tram road. For more information call 305-221-8455.
Cheyenne Frontier DaysTM, billed as the world's largest outdoor rodeo, will be held July 23 - Aug. 1, 1999. The first Frontier Days was held in 1897, with saddle bronc riding (called bucking and pitching back then) as the main event. This year, daily PRCA (Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association) rodeos will feature more than 1,200 contestants in cowboy events. Parades, carnival rides, free pancake breakfasts, an air show featuring the U.S. Air Force Thunderbirds, Native American art and culture exhibitions, western art show and sale, museum, and concerts round out the attractions. Concerts in 1999 will feature Brooks and Dunn, Jo Dee Messina and BlackHawk, Lorrie Morgan and the Bellamy Brothers, Chris LeDoux, the Beach Boys and Creedence Clearwater Revival Revisited, and Reba McEntire.
A note about state and national parks
The National Park Service website at www.nps.gov features extensive information about all of the national parks and historic sites in the U.S. Individual state visitor centers (usually located in interstate rest areas near the state line) are good sources of information about state parks (and other attractions). If visiting a particular park is high on your priority list, and time and finances permit, check out the possibility of a rental car, as few parks allow CMVs. Many agencies offer special deals for weekends, and some will even pick you up at your hotel or motel.
If you run the Northwest, consider taking a break in the rest area (located in the median) between Bonneville and Troutdale, OR, on I-84, identified as Multnomah Falls on the highway signs. A tunnel runs under the eastbound lanes giving you access to the falls area. There is no admission charge. You can simply walk the short distance to the foot of an incredible double waterfall, or hike up to the top. At the lodge, there is a restaurant open all year round: The food is very good, but a little pricey. If you're not watching your weight, try the gooseberry tart. There is also a gift shop. Signs identify the varieties of salmon and other fish living in pools along the walkways. There is not a lot of parking here, and in the summer months the lot is usually jammed. If you don't make it in the first time you try, come back again. The falls are beautiful, no matter what the season.
Have you ever been to a truck show? There are more shows each year and there is a lot to see and do, as well as lots of freebies for truckers. Coming up on June 9, 10, and 11 is the International Trucking Show in Las Vegas, NV. This year, the show has moved across town to the Las Vegas Convention Center, where there is on-site parking for big rigs. (You can still catch a shuttle from area truckstops.) The Pride and Polish competition will also be on-site, so you won't have to take a shuttle away from the main show to ogle the glamorous show trucks.
Choose a collapsible or break-apart rod and store it in a crush- proof case (available in sporting goods and discount stores). Secure the case with cords or a bracket to the bottom of the upper bunk or stand it in the back of the closet in your cab. Stash a small tackle box with just the basics wherever it's not in the way. As you drive across country, watch for good places to wet a line where you can safely park. For example, on Alligator Alley (I-75) between Ft. Meyers and Miami, FL, there are a number of paved parking areas where you can fish.
Keep in mind, wherever you are, you will likely need a license. Most states offer single day fishing licenses. If you have Internet access, go to www.thefishernet.com for a database containing fishing license and contact information for the U.S. and Canada. Otherwise, call the appropriate state or province agency for more information.
Okay, so maybe shopping is not a pastime for some people, but it is sometimes necessary, and it can be fun. As all truckers know, shopping for new shirts, jeans and boots in a truckstop can be an expensive proposition, and the selection is usually very limited for men and non-existent for the ladies. Finding a place where you can park a big rig and get some necessary shopping done is not always easy.
Kleinschmidt's Western Store on I-70, exit 49, Higginsville, MO, has lots of truck parking. Truckers can choose from hundreds of pairs of boots, from the most exotic skins to hiking and hunting boots. Both men and women will find a massive selection of jeans, shirts, slacks, suits, coats, belts, hats, and other clothing items. If there is a western-style wedding in your future, Kleinschmidt's can even outfit the bride and groom. There are also children's clothing, gift items, and leather goods.
And, there is a lot to see at Kleinschmidt's aside from the merchandise. As you shop, enjoy the display of more than 200 mounted examples of wildlife from all over the world, including a bear, buffalo, deer, moose, giraffe, ostrich, and some big cats.
If you've always pictured yourself as a top-gun fighter pilot, Texas Air Aces© offers you the chance to live your dream. Located at the Hooks Airport in Spring, TX (just outside Houston), the Air Aces experience takes four and one-half to five hours. Once you've completed ground school, you'll climb into your flight suit and helmet and head out to your T-34 fighter (you will be flying– this is not a simulator) to begin your mission that will test your reflexes and skill in air-to-air combat. An on-board video system records every minute of your flight. Back on the ground, you'll attend a de-briefing where you'll review your mission on side-by-side synchronized monitors while your air combat instructor narrates and critiques your performance (don't worry, everybody wins). This experience of a lifetime requires advance reservations (800-544-2237) and costs $695 per person. Tractor-trailer parking is available.
With the change in a number of states' gaming laws, casinos are cropping up all over the country. Of course, most people go to casinos for the excitement and dream of winning a big jackpot. Even if you're not into slots or poker, a casino can be a good place to have a relaxing meal, watch the action, and enjoy a wide variety of live entertainment. Many casinos have large parking areas that accommodate tractor-trailers. For example, both Station Casinos in Missouri (Kansas City and St. Charles) welcome truckers and offer a variety of restaurants for all tastes and budgets. (Did you get your coupon for a free breakfast or lunch "feast" from their ad in our March/April issue?) At the Kansas City Station, you can also check out what's playing at the 12-screen movie theater right on the premises.
If you truck through Nevada, you know that most truckstops have small casinos (heck, even the grocery stores in Nevada have slot machines). However, Boomtown, just west of Reno on I-80, is now almost a city in itself. It started out as a truckstop and still has a complete trucker's complex featuring full-service diesel islands, showers, TV lounge, laundry facilities, mini-mart, slots and video poker, prize drawings, and the notable Drover's Inn restaurant with both buffets and menu service. Of course, truckers can stroll on over to the 43,000 sq. ft. main casino or check out the live entertainment. For more information, Boomtown is on the internet atwww.boomtowncasinos.com.
If you've got more than just a few hours, check out the luxurious hotels attached to most casinos. Many offer reduced rates on weeknights (Sunday through Thursday).
When time allows, do you like to play golf? Most cities have one or more municipal golf courses, and during the week, tee times are often available. You'll increase your chances for a tee time if (circumstances permitting) you call the day before. Be sure to ask about bringing your tractor (trailers are very likely out of the question). You may have to take a cab, as many courses are in residential or other "no trucks" areas.
Finding a course isn't difficult. If you have internet access, www.mygolf.com/courses offers a searchable database (by state) of public and private courses in the U.S. Available information includes a description of the course, hours of operation, fees, and phone numbers. If you're not on the 'net, check the yellow pages under golf courses. Always be sure to call ahead to check on truck parking, fees, and tee times. If you're in South Carolina, check out the Knight's Inn in Summerton/Santee. They offer golf (and fishing) packages to their guests. The Knight's Inn in North Charleston, SC, also offers golf packages.
Due to space limitations, creativity may be needed to carry your clubs on the truck with you. Under the bunk is one option (this is noticeably easier with a liftable bunk). One trucker we talked to constructed a locking rack under the airfoil on his tractor; another had a special locker similar to a toolbox for a pickup truck bolted to his deck plate to hold his and his wife's clubs. An enterprising flatbedder has a specially designed headache rack that includes a cabinet for his golf bag.
A few observations. . .
There are two ways to look at a layover, whether it's an entire weekend or just an afternoon. One, of course, is giving in to the frustration of not having a load (or not being able to unload), not turning any wheels, and therefore not making any money. Or, you can look at it as an opportunity. Taking advantage of a layover to see something you've never seen before, or just relaxing and doing something that doesn't involve a truck can recharge both your emotional and physical batteries. You don't have to spend any money, or you can splurge– just have some fun.
Through the years, we found in most places, parking a bobtail was no problem. When necessary, we left our trailer at receivers where we've unloaded, and at motels where we've stayed– always with permission, always with wood blocks under the landing gear, and always with a pin lock. We didn't ever want anyone (including us) to be sorry that we had dropped the trailer. However, in a surprising number of places, such as most theme parks, you can park a tractor-trailer. If in doubt, always call ahead.
When you think of places you might like to visit, either for a few hours or a weekend, consider the time of year. If it is a weekend (especially if the weather is nice) try to get there very early in the day and position your truck for the easiest possible exit. If it is the height of the tourist season where the attraction is located, call and ask about crowds and parking. If they're jammed, consider stopping by again in the "off" season. One thing you can usually count on in trucking is that, sooner or later, you'll be back.
Take the train
Okay, so trains don't generally bring happy thoughts to a trucker's mind. But look at it this way: your tax dollars have been subsidizing Amtrak for a while now; why not see how your money is being used? If you layover along the I-95 corridor between Massachusetts and Virginia, consider taking a cab to the nearest Amtrak station and spend the day checking out the historic sights, museums, shopping, restaurants, or entertainment in Washington, Philadelphia, Boston, or other cities along the route. For more information, visit their website atwww.amtrak.com or call 1-800-USA-RAIL.
If you're going to be in a major metropolitan area for a day, check out commuter rail services. These can transport you to the heart of the city where many attractions are located. For instance, if you happen to be in St. Louis, you could catch the light rail downtown and take in a Cardinals game. (Call ahead to check on the team schedule and ticket availability.) You just might see Mark McGwire add to his home run total.
Bicycling is good for your health and can be a real stress reliever. Truckers who enjoy this past time lock their bicycles behind their cabs, and when time allows, take advantage of biking trails, parks, or just explore surrounding areas. For information about all facets of bicycling, check out the biking link on the Adventure Sports website at www.adventuresports.com.