Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Travel Log: Four Corners

Happy Birthday to me, and what a spectacular birthday it was... Well... sort of.

Don't get me wrong, it wasn't really a bad day by any means, but it wasn't very exciting as far as birthdays go. I DID get to fulfill a life long dream though! We visited the Four Corners today! (Yes, that is your "geek!" alarm going off in the back of your head).

Me and my wife in four states at once.
(Photo by YB, hence the fingers.)
See! I'm working on asking people to take my picture! :-)

I've mentioned before that my grandparents used to live in Grand Junction, Colorado. I spent many summers out there, and I explored all over Colorado with my Grandpa. I always wanted to go to Four Corners though, and the response I always got was that it was too far out of the way and in the middle of nowhere. Well today, I was the one drivin' the bus, and I chose to go to Four Corners gosh darnit. (LW says she only let me stop there because it was my birthday).

Much to our surprise, we got there and discovered the Navajo people who run the place charge admission to the Four Corners tourist attraction. They didn't take credit cards or checks, and neither my wife nor I had any cash on us. Mark this down as a first time in history: we had to borrow money from ES (he keeps his allowance money in a red wallet). Thank goodness we give him an allowance, eh? That would've really sucked to have driven all that way and been like, "oh, sorry, can't come in."

Normally I review the route for the next day and evaluate the best places to stop for lunch and dinner and any cool places to visit along the way. I'll look up restaurant reviews on TripAdvisor and Google and have someplace in mind before we head out for the day.

Well, since I didn't have internet access last night, I couldn't do my usual trip planning. I figured we'd just wing-it.

Have you ever driven through the northeast corner of Arizona?

Driving across Arizona

It reminded me a lot of driving across western Texas. There just ain't NUTHIN' for miles and miles and miles.

As much as I hate eating at McD's and Burger King and try to avoid it if there is any other choice (especially a local non-chain restaurant nearby), I was glad we stopped at the Burger King we found in Keyenta, AZ today.

They had a very nice sort of mini-museum about the Navajo Windtalkers of WWII in the Burger King, plus a playground for the kids to blow some steam.

Introduction to the Display in Burger King

Next door to the Burger King was a small but very interesting museum about Navajo life, along with three samples of traditional Navajo structures. It's a worthwhile stop if you happen to be passing through this area.

YB Climbing out of the Navajo Hoogan

The picture above was the smallest of the three hoogans in the display. This one was a "sweat house." In areas with little water, in order to essentially take a "bath", they would heat rocks in a fire, put the hot rocks in this hoogan, cover up the openings with blankets and drop a cup of water on the hot rocks. The water would flash to steam and give the person in the hoogan sort of a steam bath like a sauna.

Crossing from Arizona into Colorado, it was as if God flipped a switch and changed the mood-lighting of the Earth on us. Driving across Arizona was all very red - red sand, red rocks, red, red, red. Then, as we cross the state line into Colorado, it was as if everything suddenly changed to hues of green and yellow.

Welcome to Colorado Sign

We made good time into Durango, Colorado tonight. We checked into the hotel and I powered up my computer to check for restaurants for dinner. There are a ton of restaurants with really high reviews in Durango, and the first Mexican restaurant on the list was like #18 on the Trip Advisor list. So we decided to try the Steamworks Brewery, since breweries usually have awesome food.

Steamworks Brewing Co.

We were disappointed with the slow and inattentive service and the stench of cigarette smoke out on the patio. However (comma) I did manage to have Mexican food for my birthday dinner, and since it was my birthday, I felt entitled to embarass my family by taking a picture of the food...

Carnitas Tacos

Quick Tangent / Background: (Corrected) My wife picked up an awesome travel book for the drive across country. ES was reading it in the back of the car today, learning about the four states around the four corners and about the other states we've either been to or are going to. End of Tangent.

While we waited for our food tonight, ES decided to draw a map of the United States. Freehand. Totally from memory.

ES hard at work

ES's Map of the USA

Granted, his map is heavily biased toward the states we've already driven through so far, but I'll be interested to see if he does another one after we finish our journey and fills in the rest of those question marks.

Statistics for Today:

Okay, I need your help understanding this one. Today's gas mileage data doesn't fit my theory-to-practice model.

25 Number of miles per gallon I got in California drafting behind trucks at 55 mph

23 Number of miles per gallon I got in Nevada through Utah drafting behind trucks at 75 mph

21 Number of miles per gallon I got at ~70 mph with no trucks around to draft

So far, this all makes sense, right?

We spent most of the day today with no trucks to draft and a 65 mph speed limit. I expected to get about 21 mpg when we filled up the gas tank late this afternoon. The tank only took 14.5 gallons and we had driven 380 miles. That's 26.2 mpg!!! That just doesn't make sense to me.

Theory: The only one that makes the slightest bit of sense to me is that we filled up the tank at a different time of day. Normally I fill up the tank in the morning before we embark for the day, but today I had to fill up near the end of the day in the heat of the afternoon, but I still had about a quarter tank of gas. Do you suppose the heat caused the gas in the tank to expand and thus require less gas to fill up the tank?

The only other uncontrolled variable I can think of for in my theory-to-practice is altitude. Would the higher altitude have an effect? Even if it did, I wouldn't think it would be THAT much.

I'm interested to see what our next fill-up brings and if it's abnormally low to compensate for the previously high result.

Statistics Tangent:

18 Number of bite marks in my wife's tongue from when I drove 55 mph in California to draft off the trucks (the speed limit there is 65 for cars and 55 for trucks).

120 Number of decibels I expect my wife to scream when I attempt my next theory-to-practice data run and drive 55 mph drafting off a truck AAAAND turn the air conditioning off.


Sagey said...

You are very welcome for the very awesome book that I picked up at Barnes and Noble in St. George!

-Your LW, not your Mom. :-)

BTW, I think I might kill you if you turn the a/c off, not scream!

C said...

Happy birthday!

Jud said...

Happy Birthday Cuz!

My guess on the mileage is that you hit the optimum cruising speed at 65 as opposed to 55 or 75 mph. Too bad you don't have one of those instant mileage gauges. That would answer all your questions. I was searching for one to install in my truck, they're a couple hundred bucks but you can find them. I wasn't curious enough to spend that kind of dough.

John said...

I can come up with a few possibilities for the measured ~20% mileage bump:

1. you started the trip with fuel from stations with a high percentage of ethanol (which has less energy per volume), and then found a station with "pure" gasoline.

2. the fillup just before the 26mpg measurement filled/overfilled the tank (fuel up to the gas nozzle hole, or close)

3. the fillup used to calculate the 26mpg measurement wasn't complete, due to a twitchy fuel tank full sensor on the gas pump.

4. lots of downhill or downwind cruising just prior to 26mpg measurement.

... or some combination of the above

Loping Squid said...

Happy Birthday!!

For ES: Great map! I'm very impressed.

I'm thinking for that big a change in mpg the most likely cause is changes in elevation.

JoLee said...

According to "Mythbusters" it makes NO difference in using AC with windows up vs. NO AC and windows down. So please keep LW, ES,& YS happy and use the AC!

blunoz said...

Thanks to all for the birthday wishes and the thoughts on the gas mileage.

For John in particular - I had already considered and ruled out option 3, but I don't know why I didn't think of option 2. Option 1 may also have some merit - I'll have to look into the ethanol requirements in each state we've been in.

Nereus said...

Happy belated B-day, I see you spent it on my childhood stomping grounds. (Native New Mexican)
Too bad that they charge to enjoy the 4 corner's. That is just the way everything is going now, gotta make a buck on everything.

You have to stop by a ridiculous roadside attraction and add the photos ( IE. Largest Ball of twine, Pine cone museum, you know real kitschy stuff) This will keep the wife biting her tongue, the kids entertained for a few minutes and of course the ahh.. the memories.

Additional theory on MPG puzzle,
Your car's sensors and computer that run the fire/fuel cycle have gained the statistical averaging and crud burn off needed after a long period of stop and go driving in HI. That coupled with the variations in ethanol Might have given you the indications you are getting.

A good measure will be when you get out of the Rocky Mountains and cruise the flat plains of the mid west.