Layover time
What do you do when a layover in your schedule forces your wheels to stop rolling? Whether it's a few hours or a few days, get away from the truck and have some fun. Mini-vacation? Grab it while you can. You can find some exciting activities and see some pretty unusual sights along the nation's truck routes.

by Rene Tankersley, feature editor

Sailin’ in Maine
During an otherwise boring layover on the East Coast with your significant other, you suddenly realize it’s your anniversary. Why not spend a few hours sailing on one of Maine’s tall ships? The Schooner Ellida, a 1922 John Alden-designed wooden boat, offers daily dinner cruises along the coast of Maine. The sunset lobster dinner cruise is a four-hour trip with a four-course meal.

Located in Penobscot Bay, the marina is in a working part of the waterfront, so there’s plenty of parking for big trucks. 

Take I-95 to Brunswick, Exit 22, and take Coastal Route 1 north to the Rockland. For reservations and specific directions, call 1-888-807-6921, or visit www.maineclassicschooners.com. Expect to pay about $75 per person, and you need a reservation.

Sittin’ in South Carolina
If you’re heading down I-95 to South Carolina, you can’t miss the 200 miles of 120 wacky billboards with messages like “Camp weeth Pedro,” “You never SAUSAGE a place,” and “You’re always a WEINER at Pedro’s.” The final billboard right before Exit 1-A says, “Keep yelling, kids! They’ll stop!” Even if you’re not a kid, you’ll want to stop at this hokey roadside attraction.

“South of the Border” sits on the South Carolina-North Carolina border halfway between New York and South Florida. A neon green sombrero perched upon a 200-foot tower tells travelers they have found the purpose of the crazy billboards. A 100-foot tall Pedro hovers over the entrance as visitors drive their four-wheelers through the neon-orange arch formed by his legs.

Although 18-wheelers can’t fit under the neon-orange arch, truckers aren’t left out. There’s plenty of truck parking and shower facilities at Porky’s Truckers’ Store. With your truck parked at Porky’s, you’re free to roam the complex – eat at one of six restaurants, browse at a dozen or so specialty shops, ride the Wild Sombrero and other rides at Pedroland Park, and play indoor golf at The Golf of Mexico.

If you’re in town for the night, check into Pedro’s Motor Inn; they offer discounted rates for truckers. For a relaxing sauna, check out Pedro’s Pleasure Dome and visit Club Cancun.

If you’re on the Internet, check out www.pedroland.com for more information. You also can find articles about South of the Border on www.roadsideamerica.com and www.roadtripamerica.com. For more information, call (843) 774-2411, 1-800-845-6011 (outside South Carolina), or 1-800-922-6064 (in South Carolina).

Loungin’ in Lava Hot Springs
If you’re looking for a place to get away from the traffic and craziness of the highway, there’s a little town southeast of Pocatello, ID, where a road-weary body can soak in the healing waters for a few hours.

With a population of 500 people living on the Portneuf River, Lava Hot Springs is the perfect place to relax in hot spring pools and enjoy the quiet, calm atmosphere. The two largest pools stay between 104 and 108 degrees. A couple of hot tub size pools are the coolest at 104 degrees, and the hottest pool is at 110 degrees.

Lava Hot Springs is halfway between Salt Lake City and Yellowstone or Grand Teton national parks via I-15. To get there, go east on I-84/86 Pocatello, then head south on I-15. Take the McCammon exit and follow Highway 30 to Lava Hot Springs.

From April 1 to Sept. 30, hot pools are open 9 a.m. to 11 p.m., but the pools are open year ’round except Thanksgiving and Christmas. Cost is $4.50 adults. No pets allowed.

For information, contact the Lava Hot Springs State Foundation at 1-800-423-8597, or visit www.lavahotsprings.com/foundation.html. There are motels for those who want to stay overnight and truck parking is available.

Hangin’ in Huntsville, AL
Imagine actually becoming weightless, flying to Mars, and then landing a shuttle ... all in the same day. It can happen in only one place, the U.S. Space & Rocket Center, where the past, present and future of space exploration come to life.

You can experience dozens of hands-on exhibits and examine hundreds of artifacts from the early stages of rocketry, the manned space program and beyond.

The “Space Shot” allows you to experience more G-force than the astronauts during a shuttle launch, while traveling up a 180-foot tower in only three seconds. Two seconds of weightlessness await you at the top.

Join 14 passengers on a “Mars Mission,” a motion-based experience to the red planet to “test drive” new rovers over rocky Martian terrain.

“Land the Shuttle” tests your aviation skills, as you pilot the orbiter to a runway landing. The computerized Shuttle Adventure takes you on a tour of the orbiter. Then it’s time to test your eye-hand coordination by blasting space debris out of the path of an orbiting satellite.

In the Spacedome Theater, you’ll feel the thunder of a shuttle launch, hover over Earth or fly with the Blue Angels while watching one of the 70-millimeter IMAX Dome movies. 

Walk alongside a 363-foot-long Saturn V rocket, the real thing, or gaze toward the heavens at the new Saturn V replica that stands 363-feet tall. Peer inside the Apollo 16 command capsule that took Americans to the moon and learn about all the moon missions in the Apollo exhibit. 

You can take a guided bus tour of NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center, which developed rockets that put Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin and other Apollo astronauts on the moon. Watch its technicians working to improve the shuttle propulsion systems. The Hubble Space Telescope is managed from Marshall and modules of the International Space Station are assembled there.

For $14.95, you get a combination admission for the museum, Rocket Park, Marshall Space Flight Center bus tour and one IMAX movie. For admission to the museum only, it costs $10, and for a movie only just $6.50. 

The Space Center is open, except on selected holidays, from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., with summer hours from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. and there’s plenty of truck parking. It’s located at Exit 15 on I-565, 15 miles east of I-65. For more information, contact the U.S. Space & Rocket Center at (256) 837-3400, or visit www.spacecamp.com.

Chillin’ on the Colorado River
If you’re rolling along I-40 below Nevada’s southernmost tip, a short trip north to Laughlin is a worthy layover, especially if your spouse is along for the ride. Don Laughlin’s Riverside Resort is more than a hotel and casino, it’s a lazy morning by the pool and a cool evening stroll along the Colorado River Walk. In fact, this place, with 1,400 rooms and numerous restaurants, provides 24-hour entertainment.

The Riverside Resort folks have a reputation for being trucker friendly. There’s designated free parking for 18-wheelers across the river and a boat stands by to float you over to the action. The Riverside also offers a western dance hall, bowling, live entertainment and a classic car museum. For more info, call 1-800-227-3849.

Markin’ time in Mobile
A few hours twiddling your thumbs in Mobile can be turned into a memorable afternoon touring the USS Alabama Battleship Memorial Park off I-10, at the Battleship Parkway exit just east of the tunnel. Decommissioned in 1947, the ship, known as the USS Alabama (BB60), was mothballed in Bremerton, WA, and then towed 5,600 miles to this memorial park in Mobile, still the longest non-military ton/mile tow in history. She opened to the public in 1965. One of the nation’s greatest (and most decorated) battleships, she has a history that is guaranteed to put a lump in your throat.

Ever toured a submarine? There’s also other military hardware and memorabilia at the park, including the USS Drum and an aircraft collection representative of WWII, Korean War, Vietnam War era, the “Cold War” era and more.

The park is open year ’round. Summer hours are 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. Admission is $10 for adults and $5 for children (6-11). Parking is two bucks. If you plan to stay over, the Knights Inn in Mobile has truck parking and is only two miles from the battleship. The phone number for the inn is 1-800-418-8977.

Kickin’ back in Kansas City
If you have ever watched a NASCAR event, following the high-powered stock cars as they zip by, imagining what it would be like to climb behind the wheel, now is your chance. The Kansas Speedway in Kansas City, KS, lets racing fans live out their fantasies behind the wheel of a Winston Cup-style stock car. 

The newest speedway on the NASCAR circuit offers two high-octane opportunities from two different groups that makes the fan the racer. The Richard Petty Driving Experience and The Racing Experience promise aspiring racers the adventure of a lifetime. Drivers experience firsthand the sight and sound of traveling at speeds in excess of 155 mph and the roar of the 600-hp stock car engine. You’ll put your foot to the floor and race around the track for eight to 10 heart-pounding laps, depending on the driving “experience” you choose.

Upon arrival at the track, you will be issued a regulation helmet, neck guard and a drivers suit. Once you’re suited up to look like a racer, you’ll learn the ins and outs of track protocol from a professional driving instructor. After receiving detailed instructions, you’ll climb into the seat, strap on your safety harness, start your engine and blast off on the drive of a lifetime. No previous experience behind the wheel of a stockcar is required. All you need is your driver’s license, the ability to drive a standard transmission and the need for speed.

This hands-on, heart-pounding, high-speed, real life adventure isn’t cheap, however. The Richard Petty Driving Experience costs about $350; The Racing Experience is about $425. Reservations are required. Sessions are available throughout the summer. Depending on how much thrill for the buck you are willing to fork over, additional programs also are available through both driving experiences. 

For more information on sessions dates and times call the Richard Petty Driving Experience at 1-800-BE PETTY (237-3889) or log on at www.1800bepetty.com. For more information on The Racing Experience call 1-877-CUP-CARS (287-2277) or log on at www.cupcars.com.

The Kansas Speedway is located off I-70 at Exit 417. Truck parking is available at the speedway. When calling for reservations be sure and mention you will be driving a rig and will need a place to park.

Idlin’ in Idaho
You promised your family a vacation but you just can’t turn down that good load to Twin Falls. Take ’em along! The great northwest has some retreats that may save the day. The Idaho Rocky Mountain Ranch near Stanley, ID, is open mid-June to mid-September and December through March. The ranch sits at about 7,000 feet in the Sawtooth mountain range. Highway 75 runs right through that range.

Management says though late July and all of August are usually booked up, give them a call anyway, “because we certainly will have room for a trucker on a day-to-day basis.” Parking is available for your rig on the lower ranch and a member of the staff will come and take you to the main lodge.

Lay back and do nothing, or take advantage of special events and programs offered by Rocky Mountain staff. Fishing is good at four nearby lakes and flyfishing clinics are offered two or three times a month.

If fishing isn’t your game, hit the hiking trails, climb on a wagon, trail horse or mountain bike. For the really adventurous-minded trucker, rock climbing and river rafting are nearby. Then, to ease those aching muscles when you limp back to the lodge, jump in the on-site hot springs pool.

Accommodations at Rocky Mountain include a continental or full breakfast, lunch (eat in or buy a sack lunch to take out) and five-course meals – Idaho feasts, barbecues and cookouts – in the evening. The ranch also features musical entertainment three or four nights a week.

The main lodge is on the National Register of Historic Places, and rooms in the lodge rent for $74 to $96. For more information about the ranch, call (208) 774-3544, or e-mail idrocky@ruralnetwork.net.

Noddin’ off in New Orleans
Alligators, moss draped cypress trees, fascinating plant life and mystic legends fill the bayous and swamps of Louisiana. Experience this real-life adventure back into the meandering bayous and into the past, filled with daring exploits of pirates and Indians.

New Orleans Swamp Tours offers tours from two locations – Jean Lafitte Swamp Tours and Bayo Sauvage Swamp Tours, but only one has truck parking. Bayo Sauvage Swamp Tours has more parking with enough room for your rig. You might want to let them know you need truck parking when you order your tickets. 

Tours begin at 10 a.m., noon and 2 p.m. and cost $20 for adults. To get there, take I-10 east from New Orleans to Exit 251 at Bayou Sauvage Refuge (5 miles past the Michoud exit) and look for the signs. Local guides take visitors on the swamp boat through the bayous and share legendary stories of mysterious voodoo witches and folks disappearing into the alligator-laden bayous.

For tickets, call (504) 592-0560, or visit www.bigeasy.com/tours/noswamp.htm.