Ohhhh, I disagree with that! I've seen many interesting and beautiful
things from freeways; it depends on what freeways you select and
when you travel them.
For example, this time of year is great for traveling on I-64 through
Virginia, West Virginia, and Kentucky. The road passes by many
beautiful farms and woodlands, rivers and rural towns, winding up and
down scenic mountain terrain:
I-64 in Kentucky; at this lower
elevation, it looks like summer already. (5-8-11)
As mentioned in the last entry, I-64 was not the original route we
intended to take to Los Alamos, NM for Jim's first race of the season.
The shortest route from our house near Roanoke, VA is I-81 to I-40
through Tennessee, Arkansas, Oklahoma, and Texas. Unfortunately, part of I-40 in
Arkansas was under water last week and we didn't know if it would be
open when we wanted to come through this week. In addition, the day we'd
be passing through Memphis (yesterday) was the day the Mississippi River
was predicted to break a 60-year flood record.
We didn't know if we could get through either area and we didn't want
a last-minute detour that would be difficult while hauling a 36-foot
We researched various routes and checked for road closures on them.
The route that looked like our next best option was a little farther
north -- I-64 and I-44 to I-40 in Oklahoma far enough west of the
Mississippi River that flooding wouldn't be an issue.
Or would it?
The Ohio River was also flooded, and we'd have to cross it in
Louisville, KY. We read that part of I-64 was closed in that area three
days before we'd reach the city. Fortunately, it was receding by the
time we got there but we could still see places along the Wabash and
Little Wabash Rivers farther west in Illinois where the water was still
almost up to the freeway.
This is not a lake; this is flood
water covering thousands of acres of fertile farmland in Illinois!
Except for two turnpikes
requiring tolls, and about 80 extra miles, we liked this route as much
as or more than I-40. It completely avoid the extremely heavy truck
traffic on I-81. Like I-40 through Tennessee, I-64 is hilly and passes
through some very scenic territory in Virginia, West Virginia, and Kentucky. However,
commercial trucks are more likely to use I-40.
That makes I-64 all the more appealing for a road trip for RVers and
Come along as we travel from Virginia to Texas in this journal entry. If you
aren't interested in the travel information, just scroll down through
the photos. Most of them are "windshield" shots I took while Jim
or I were driving so they include some bug spots, windshield wipers,
vent shadows, and blurriness -- but they'll give you an idea of
some of the scenery we
saw along the way.
SUNDAY, MAY 8: ROANOKE, VA TO CORYDON, IN
Route: US 220 west to I-64 west through VA, WV, and KY to exit 105 in
Traffic and road conditions:
Weekend traffic was relatively light, even in the cities through
which we passed (Roanoke, VA; Beckley, Charleston, and
Huntington, WV; Lexington and Louisville, KY). One reason is
because this isn't a popular truck route. Even on weekends, freeways
like I-81 and I-40 have lots of truck traffic.
This is a hilly route that isn't so difficult for RVers but there are
several reasons for truckers to avoid it unless they have to deliver
goods to towns along the way.
For example, where I-64 runs contiguously
with I-77 from Beckley to Charleston, WV, the road winds around so much
that the speed limit is mostly 55-60 MPH. In addition, I-77 is a toll road in West Virginia. You have to pay to use it even if
you're traveling through on I-64.
I-64 in southeastern WV before
reaching I-77 (5-8-11)
The mountain scenery is beautiful through here. If you're driving, don't look around too much,
though; I-77 demands 95% of your mental focus. It's easier to
play tourist in the driver's seat in Virginia and Kentucky where the curves aren't as
We saw few campers on Sunday, probably because most snowbirds are
farther south where it's warmer and it's too early for summer
vacationers with school-age kids to be on the road.
Although there was some construction near Clifton Forge, VA, and
Charleston and Huntington, WV, traffic moved well and there were no real
slow-downs this day.
The first rest area/welcome center on the eastern side of West Virginia was
closed (about MM 180),
as was the rest area at about MM 108 in Kentucky. All the others were
open in the westbound direction when we passed through.
Unfortunately, diesel prices were generally higher going out to Texas than they
were when we left Roanoke. Part of the reason was still-increasing
On Saturday Jim paid $3.87/gallon for diesel in Roanoke. On Sunday we
refilled the tank at the Flying J in Catlettsburg, KY (I-64 exit 185) at
$4.03/gallon. Prices we saw were about $4.03-$4.09 in Kentucky and Indiana and
higher than that in West Virginia.
I-64 in KY (5-8-11)
Despite the mountainous terrain we averaged about 12 MPG for the day
(less in the mountains, more in western Kentucky where it's less hilly). We
think that's pretty good going westbound in a a truck hauling a 15,000
pound camper with its fresh water tank about 2/3 full! What helped was
two new truck tires, new air and crank case filters, a front-end
alignment, minimal wind, moderate temperatures, and (mostly) driving a steady 60-62 MPH even when the speed
limit was 70-75 MPH.
Weather and scenery: couldn't have been much
better for driving!
We started off with low 60 F. temps in Virginia in the morning
and lots of low clouds. By late morning it was mostly sunny. Temperatures reached
comfortable mid-70s in the afternoon.
Low clouds hang over the mountains along US
220 in VA. (5-8-11)
The scenery is great along I-64 -- not just what we drove
on this trip, but also the part in Virginia that we weren't on. It's
just a very pretty, mostly rural route through the mountains of
Virginia and West Virginia, then through hilly farms in Kentucky
We passed through a couple seasonal zones as we went from lower
to higher elevations and back to lower elevations again on
Sunday. The vegetation was summery at the lower altitudes (under
2,000 feet); as we climbed higher in West Virginia we saw
different kinds of flowering plants and fewer and
This is a nice time of year to drive this route. Although the
dogwoods were long gone at the lower elevations, they were still
blooming at 2,600 feet in West Virginia.
Nice surprises of the day:
We were most happy to have no problems crossing the Ohio River
in Louisville, KY. The freeway follows the river for several miles
and we saw no evidence of where the road was closed a few days
before. This is the bridge where we crossed the river:
Unfortunately for the people living (and traveling) downstream
where the Ohio meets the Mississippi River, however, there were
big problems ahead.
2) We saw a sign on the freeway for a new Sam's Club at exit 16
east of Louisville (Forest Hills?). It's not in our 2012 Walmart
atlas. What surprised us was seeing a sign on the freeway --
that's the first time we've ever seen a Sam's or Walmart
sign on the freeway.
We wish they'd do that more often.
Walmart at exit 105 near
Corydon, IN. The store is located about half a mile south of the
freeway on the right. Several semis were also parked out from
the garden end of the store but we didn't see any other RVs
overnight. We shopped inside the store before supper and were
quickly given permission to spend the night. We
♥ Walmart for that.
We had good phone, internet, and TV signals at this location.
MONDAY, MAY 9: CORYDON, KY TO JOPLIN, MO
Route: I-64 through IN and IL to I-255 around St.
Louis, MO to 1-44 south to exit 8B in Joplin
Traffic and road conditions:
Traffic was relatively light in the morning through the southern
Indiana and southeastern Illinois farmland. There aren't any cities along I-64 between
Louisville, KY and St. Louis, MO
-- that's a bonus for RVers who don't like city
Most of the road surfaces were good this day and there was
minimal construction except on I-255 around the southern St.
Louis metro area and farther south on I-44. Traffic flowed well
even where it was heavy.
Field full of mustard? goldenrod? in
The speed limit on I-64 in Illinois is 65 MPH for all vehicles.
Even though we wanted to go only 60 MPH, that made us happy.
When we've been on some of the other freeways in Illinois (e.g. I-74), trucks and
RVs were limited to 55 MPH. Maybe that's through more populated
areas. Interstate 64 is very rural through most of Indiana and Illinois.
In fact, I-64 is pretty rural everywhere it goes from Virginia
to Oklahoma. I think that's why I like it so much.
Traffic became noticeably heavier and included many more
semis after the juncture with I-57 at MM 78. Some of the
westbound traffic went north to Chicago but so many trucks and
other vehicles merged westbound with us from I-57 that it was
obvious that a bunch of traffic from I-40 westbound was diverted up I-24
and I-57 to I-64 to avoid the flooded Mississippi River in
Traffic remained moderately heavy on I-44 through Missouri. Other people
were doing the same thing we were -- avoiding I-40 where
it was flooded in Tennessee and Arkansas:
NBC map of the flooding (I took this
picture during the evening news on TV 5-9-11)
The river was predicted to crest, possibly at a new record high
of 48+ feet, on this day or the next. It ended up cresting just
a few inches under the previous record. Nevertheless, in places
where this gigantic river is normally half a mile wide, it is
miles wide! Water in the river is so high it is flowing
backwards in its tributaries.
It's not just the Mississippi that's flooded; most of its
feeder rivers and creeks are flooded, too, spreading the misery
over many states through the center of the country.
Flooding along I-64:
The terrain becomes much flatter along I-64 in western Indiana near
the border with Illinois. This is where we started seeing flooded
Oh, my, were we in for a visual surprise!
The flooding became dramatic as we approached the Wabash and
Little Wabash Rivers in IL. The rivers became lakes, covering
thousands of acres of farmland.
I was driving through this area and had great difficulty keeping
my eyes on the road. Most of the flood photos in this entry are
ones I took while driving. I don't recommend that, but Jim was
sleeping through part of this and I wanted to record it --
because I hope I never see anything like it again.
Irony: sprinklers in the middle of a
flooded field in IL (5-9-11)
Neither of us has seen anything like this in our lifetimes (at
62, that's a lot of years!). I just kept saying, "Oh, my gosh!"
over and over.
OK, I also used some stronger language than that!
What was particularly impressive as we rolled down the freeway
was how close the flood debris was to the road -- only a
foot or two away from the pavement. I don't mean a foot or two
lower; I mean a foot or two away. Vertically, I'm
talking about only a few inches below the surface of the road.
You can see that in a couple of the photos.
We don't know if any of I-64 was closed in this area. The
roadbed is not that much higher than the inundated fields. The
water has receded a little bit but it is only a few inches lower
now than it was when it crested here (see next photo for
an example of this).
It was just plain eerie driving so close to the "lakes"
in this area. Part of my brain knew this was supposed to be
fields of wheat and soy beans and corn, not water. The other
part felt like I was driving through the Florida Keys or
something -- water, water everywhere.
Very, very odd.
Too close for comfort: see where the
water level was just a day or two ago?
This freeway isn't much higher than the
fields around it.
I feel so sorry for the people who live here -- and
everywhere else that's flooded or will be within a few days.
And we'll all be paying for it eventually in higher costs for goods
What bothers me even more are the Corps of Engineer plans to
open gates to deliberately flood some areas west of the
Mississippi in order to save cities that are built right along
the river in Tennessee, Mississippi, and Louisiana. That just doesn't seem fair to me.
When people are short-sighted enough to build a town or city on
a river, I think they should be the ones to suffer during a
flood, not towns and farm miles inland.
Ditto for any city
built below sea level . . .
OK, off my soapbox.
We didn't see much flooding after about MM 100 in Illinois, although the
terrain was still pretty flat. Fields looked like fields are
supposed to look in the spring.
It was obvious that the Mississippi itself was still
high in St. Louis, although it has receded some:
Above and below: crossing the
Even-Mightier-than-Usual Mississippi in St. Louis (5-9-11)
The river is even bigger downstream where the Ohio River flows
into it at Cairo, IL.
We took I-255 around
the south side of the St. Louis metro area and avoided a lot of the
traffic on I-64, I-55, and I-70 closer to downtown. Once in Missouri
on I-44, we didn't see any more flooding.
What we did see in Missouri was a lot more RVs, as many as we
saw both days we'd been traveling to reach the state. That's most likely because of
the Ozarks and Branson, popular vacation destinations.
Rest areas and other places to stop:
All westbound rest areas were open from Corydon, IN to Joplin,
MO on Monday. We stopped at a rest area at MM 25 on I-64 in
Illinois for lunch and took another break in the afternoon at a
rest area near MM 113 on I-44 in Missouri.
There is a small Camping World store at MM 88 on I-44 in Missouri. We
We got diesel twice on Monday. The average price was about
Our fueling experience in the morning near Evansville, IN was
about as unpleasant as it gets (well, except for the first time
we smacked the back post of the truck cab with the front end of
the camper trying to make a sharp turn to get out of a gas
station several months ago).
Flying J advertised its price as
$3.99 but the RV and car pumps were $4.35. We went across the
street to BP but the car lanes were too tight, there were no RV
lanes, and Jim decided not to go through the truck lanes. Then
we went across the four-lane road to Pilot and went through the
truck lanes because the car lanes were too tight (+ no RV lanes).
We paid $4.05/gallon with a credit card (big sign said $3.99 but
the fine print said that was the cash price). Jim had to pre-pay
inside with his credit card. He guessed $100 would fill the tank
but it didn't. He had to go back inside for his receipt and he
did NOT fill the tank beyond $100. That would have required a
third trip inside.
Bridges across the Mississippi River on
I-255 in southern St. Louis metro area (5-9-11)
Fuel stations are too often a major hassle when you're hauling a
camper. Inadequate maneuvering room at too many places is just
one of our problems. Having to go inside to pre-pay or get a
receipt is just downright annoying. Why is it so hard to pay
with a credit card at the pump and get a receipt there??
Our second fueling experience was better at a BP station at exit
208 on I-44 near Cuba, MO. The price was "only" $3.85 there and
we got in and out pretty fast.
Our fuel mileage ranged from 10.5 to 11.7 MPG on Monday even
though the terrain wasn't as hilly as on Sunday. We had more of
a headwind and we were using the AC most of the day because it
was so hot and humid. We still
drove 60-62 MPH.
Weather and scenery:
The temperature was 64 F. when we left Corydon, IN at 9 AM. The
Midwest and Plains states are experiencing an unseasonable heat
wave, with temperatures in the 90s F. It was in the
upper 80s and low 90s as we drove through Indiana, Illinois, and
hot and muggy. Winds from the west helped keep folks cooler but
hurt our gas mileage.
The sky was overcast most of the morning through Indiana and
mostly sunny in the afternoon through Missouri.
More flooded fields in IL
Interstate 64 is very pleasant through southern Indiana, where the terrain is
still somewhat hilly and there are lots of pretty green trees
The road was noticeably flatter and less interesting through
southern Illinois, then became hilly again on I-44 in
I really enjoyed the scenic, lush green countryside
through Missouri. Interstate 44 runs diagonally through the southern
half of the state, close to or contiguously with Historic Route
66. The most scenic part is marked on AAA maps as between MM 253
and 130; some of that is through the Mark Twain National
Sam's Club at exit 8B on I-44 in Joplin, MO. The store is in the
NW quadrant of the freeway off S. Range Line Road. We parked near a
grassy area in the far corner of the large parking lot on the
tire shop side of the store; we were as far away from the store
as we could get, out near a Mexican restaurant. We arrived at 6:15
PM and had time to shop before the store closed at 8:30.
While inside I asked a young woman in customer service for
permission to park overnight. She wasn't used to such requests
(most Sam's Clubs aren't) but I convinced her that we'd behave
ourselves. It may have helped that
I mentioned we were looking for new camper tires . . .
We really are! We're just waiting
for another Sam's Club deal with $70 off a set of four Michelins
and no interest for 6-18 months. They have that offer
It was so hot during the day (90s F.) that it was hard to get the camper
cooled off during the evening. Without electricity we can't run
the AC. To cool the camper without AC we have a couple of
choices: 1) turn on the Fantastic Fan in the
kitchen ceiling and open just one window to pull air through the
interior, or 2) open the door, two roof vents, all the windows,
and turn on the ceiling fan. Both fans require power from the
solar panels or generator.
It was much nicer outside in the breeze so that's where
we mostly stayed until bedtime. We were still pretty warm
Addendum: We were totally shocked to hear less than two weeks
later (May 22) that about 2,000 houses and businesses were flattened
(and another 6,000 damaged)
in Joplin by EF4 and EF5 tornadoes in a six-mile long path that
was from one half to one mile wide. It wiped out about a quarter
of the city and will affect the community for many years.
A/O June 2, the official death count was 138 people. It is
one of the country's most deadly and costly tornadoes ever. It
was heart-wrenching to watch the evening news broadcasts on TV from
the devastated areas during the next week:
AP photo from Joplin on 5-22-11; I don't
know who took it.
Home Depot and
the Walmart on S. Range Line Road were destroyed. Seven or eight
people died in Home Depot.
I know that the
Sam's Club where we parked was OK, or at least not flattened;
out of curiosity I called the store a couple days after the
tornadoes hit to see if anyone would answer the phone, and yes,
the store was open. It is located on Hammonds Drive, just off S.
Range Line Road. It must have been very close to the edge of the
destruction. The tornado crossed I-44 near exit 11; I
know we were there.
Wikipedia isn't the most reliable news source but this
page has some interesting and
very detailed information about the damage in Joplin. There are
quite a few news links at the bottom of the page. That's
where I got this photo of part of the path of destruction
through the city (no photo credits were given):
It is so strange to be somewhere and soon after, a disaster
occurs there. Just in the last couple of years that's happened
to us at Fort Hood, TX, Tucson, AZ, Tuscaloosa, AL, and now
Joplin, MO. Of course, with all the traveling we do around the
country, this could happen numerous times.
We could have been in any of those places at the time of the
shootings or tornadoes. It really makes me think about the
fragility of life. The older I get, the more I think about that
kind of thing anyway.
I've said it before in these journal pages: live each day
like it may be your last one.
TUESDAY, MAY 10: JOPLIN, MO TO CAPROCK
CANYONS SP, TX
I-44 through Missouri and Oklahoma to I-40 west in Oklahoma City (with an
inconvenient detour for fuel); I-40 through western Oklahoma to the Texas
Panhandle; south on TX 70, west on TX 86, and north on FM 1065
to Caprock Canyons SP.
Traffic and road conditions:
Compared to normal weekday traffic through Arkansas and eastern Oklahoma on
I-40, traffic on I-44 was fairly light between Joplin, MO and
Oklahoma City (OKC).
Interstate 44 becomes a toll road in Oklahoma. I was surprised by the
number of trucks on the turnpike, considering the high cost of
I assume some of the trucks were still ones that detoured
westbound from I-40 in Tennessee and Arkansas due to flooding of the
Toll fees are much higher here than on I-77 in West Virginia.
They are determined by the number of axles, ranging from $4 to $20 per
segment; with the truck and 5th-wheel, we paid $9.75 on
the section from the MO/OK state line to Tulsa, then another $9.75 from Tulsa to OKC.
If you exit earlier, you get a partial refund. We got $1.25 back when we
exited at MM 158 (Route 66) to get fuel.
We remained on Route 66 hunting for fuel for several miles (long
story), then took a non-toll section of I-44 through Tulsa. That
was a mistake. With or without an RV, it's better to stay on the
turnpike. There was considerable construction through the
city on non-toll I-44; the road was bumpy and traffic was
I-40 west of OKC; I don't have any
photos from I-44 in OK. (5-10-11)
We got back on the turnpike again on the southwest side of Tulsa
and had to pay another $9.75 fee to OKC.
The I-44 turnpike surface was very good except through some construction zones. It's a fast
road despite the rolling terrain -- the speed limit is 75
MPH and there are fewer exits than on most non-toll freeways.
When the turnpike ended in northern OKC we followed non-toll
I-44 through the city to I-40 west. The freeway was much
smoother through OKC than through Tulsa and traffic moved well.
We followed I-40 to exit 124 in the Texas Panhandle. Except for
some construction the freeway was smooth and fast. The farther we got from OKC, the lighter the traffic became. The two-lane roads to
Caprock Canyons were also fine for RV travel (next photo).
Rest areas: all were open in this 527-mile segment.
It would have been nice to be able to get fuel near the Sam's
Club in Joplin for $3.87/gallon but we couldn't maneuver the
camper there and Jim didn't want to unhook the truck to go get
it. We figured we'd find
fuel OK in the morning.
We stopped at a Love's station two miles west at exit 6 while we
were still in Missouri on the non-toll part of I-44. There were too
many people in line so we continued on. We probably should have
waited and filled up there at $3.94/gallon.
Two-lane TX 70 to Caprock Canyons SP
Finding fuel on a turnpike is different than finding fuel on
your ordinary freeway. The exits on I-44 in Oklahoma are farther apart
and you've got the hassle of paying tolls and getting refunds
when you get on and off.
We missed our next best opportunity, $3.87/gallon at a Walmart/Murphy
station off the turnpike at Vinita, OK. Then we didn't have
enough advance warning for the first turnpike travel center
(diesel at $3.89, which isn't bad for a captive audience).
We did get off the turnpike when we saw another sign for a
Walmart/Murphy station at MM 158 (Route 66). To our surprise,
the station was a good two miles off the freeway and then turned
out to be too tight to get into/out of with the Cameo. Instead
of retracing our route backwards to the turnpike, we continued
southwest on Route 66 as we hunted for a larger gas station. We
finally found fuel for $3.84/gallon at Lil' Reasor's in Catoosa,
OK before leaving Route 66 and returning to another non-toll
section of I-44 near Tulsa.
The next time we fueled up was in western Oklahoma at the Flying J at
exit 20 on I-40 (Sayre). We knew it'd be harder to find
reasonably-priced diesel in the isolated stretch of I-40 in the
Texas Panhandle since we would be getting off the freeway before
It was a good decision to stop there, even though Jim isn't
fond of FJ. The pickings were slim from there to Caprock
Canyons. We paid $3.99/gallon at FJ but it was cheaper than
anything else until several days later when we got to Amarillo
on the final leg of our journey to Los Alamos, NM.
Our fuel mileage averaged only about 10 MPG today despite the
fact that we are carrying much less fresh water now than two
days ago. The terrain was hilly, we had rather strong
headwinds through Oklahoma and Texas, and we used the air
conditioner all day. We still maintained a steady 60-62
MPH most of the time (slower through cities, construction zones,
and two-lane roads).
Weather and scenery:
It was in the low 70s, very humid, overcast, and windy in the
morning when we left Joplin, MO for Oklahoma. It was still humid and
windy in the afternoon through western Oklahoma and the Texas
Panhandle, with more blue sky and temps in the low 90s.
The scenery was nice from the Missouri line to Tulsa, OK, with rolling
hills and lots of trees -- similar terrain to Missouri and Indiana.
There were lots of very verdant fields and numerous cattle.
Although all the green surrounding us made it look like this
area had recently received a lot of rain, we saw no more
Ironically, the Arkansas River was very low through Tulsa:
From floods to drought:
the Arkansas River in Tulsa (5-10-11)
After Tulsa the terrain became more hilly, with fewer green
pastures and more range land. The wind also
picked up. We had entered a more drought-stricken area of the Plains
where wildfires are a threat, not flooding. We saw periodic signs that advised, "Do Not
Drive Into Smoke."
The terrain became even more prairie-like and less farm-like
west of Oklahoma City. There were more pines than deciduous
trees, more brown grass than green. There were still plenty of
Skies were overcast in western OKC. The air was hot, dry, and
very windy. The weather forecast for the next day in Tulsa and
eastern Oklahoma was "possible severe thunderstorms." We sure were
glad we were farther west!
The sky cleared up later in the afternoon in far western Oklahoma and
the Texas Panhandle. It was still hot and windy.
Visitor Center at Caprock Canyons SP
We took exit 124 off I-40 in Texas, then drove south on TX 70 to
Turkey, west on TX 86 to Quitaque (pronounced Kitty-K), and
north on FM 1065 to Caprock Canyons SP.
This is a scenic drive through hilly range land that morphed into
rocky canyons. We saw some handsome ranches and good-looking crops
(wheat, cotton, etc.) before reaching the canyons, thanks to extensive
irrigation systems. Much of Texas has suffered from severe
drought for several months. Fortunately, there haven't been any
significant wildfires in this area.
We arrived at Caprock Canyons SP about five minutes before the
park office closed. Staff had already shut down the computer
system so we were directed to find an unoccupied campsite in the
Honey Flat CG and pay in the morning. We had a reservation and
had already paid for the first night.
The campground was about half full.
We chose the same site we occupied two years ago (this is a
current picture, though):
One of about 30 spacious RV sites at
Caprock Canyons SP (5-10-11)
We will be here for the next five days and nights, then continue
our journey to Los Alamos, NM for Jim's first race of the
Now do you see why I don't agree with Charles Kuralt's quote at
the top of this entry, the one about not seeing anything when
you travel via freeways? I think we had a pretty interesting
freeway drive from Virginia to Texas.
For travelers who prefer more "blue highways" and interaction
with the locals, it's easy to hop off I-44 and I-40 to drive as
many miles as you'd like on Historic Route 66 through Missouri
and Oklahoma, then return to the freeway if you want.
You can have it both ways.
Next entry: exploring the beautiful Caprock Canyons
"Runtrails & Company" - Sue Norwood, Jim O'Neil,
and Cody the Ultra Lab
© 2011 Sue Norwood and Jim O'Neil