Great American Road Trip 2009: The fly and drive combo New Mexico to Montana and back

For the past seven summers, ever since we moved back from India, we’ve embarked on a Great American Road Trip. The first was the mega version that put 10,000 miles on a new Ford Taurus station wagon in three months. Mind you, this was in 2003 with a 10 year-old and a 1 ½ year old-and without video games, computers or a DVD player.

This year’s version is a fly drive combo. Three months for tootling around between the Atlantic and Pacific is harder to come by-three weeks, doable. Without a burning desire to drive through the Midwest to get to Montana from Ohio like last year when I waxed poetic about Wisconsin’s cheese curds, we flew on Northwest Airlines (aka Delta) over those endless corn and soybean fields to Albuquerque, New Mexico.

Sure Albuquerque is no where near Montana, our main destination, but there’s a reason for the detour.

I used to live in Albuquerque. So did my husband. Between us, we have loads of friends we haven’t seen since that first road trip. Besides, Albuquerque is a budget destination with cheap flights to get there and inexpensive car rentals for heading out on the open road IF you rent away from the airport (more on that later).

When planning a Great American Road Trip, I highly recommend the fly then drive option. One year we flew to Denver and drove to Montana. Another year we flew to Seattle. With a limited time frame, the flight cuts out the parts you don’t necessarily want to see and provides the time to see those places that you do. If you’re going to be renting a car when you reach your main destination, why not head a few states away for the opportunity to explore the bounties in between?

For us the bounties might be a national park, the largest metal sculptures in the world, a mom and pop restaurant with regional food, or a town that a highway bypassed. Sometimes we know where we’ll stop before we head out, or one of us notices a point on a map and says, “Let’s stop here.”

In the next few weeks, as we’re traveling in a Toyota Sienna van through New Mexico, Utah, Colorado and Montana, where the landscape and people have a flavor so unique I could return again and again, I’ll fill you in on the places we’ve stopped and give some Great American Road Trip how-to suggestions.

We passed by Arches National Park a week ago. It’s been a busy week. Stay tuned. Ghost towns, neon and great eats on the way.

[The first photo was taken two years ago at the parade at Flint Creek Valley Days in Philipsburg, Montana where I am now. The second photo was taken last year at the pheasant family sculpture, part of the Enchanted Highway, on the way to Regent, North Dakota.]

Boeing 737 makes duck soup with ducks and lands safely

Not all planes that hit flocks of birds end up making crash landings. When a Boeing 737 flew through a flock of ducks near Fairbanks, Alaska on Thursday, it did make an emergency landing to make sure that there wasn’t any major damage to the aircraft other than the crack in the outer windshield. The only other damage was a dent in the engine cowling.

The description of the ducks bouncing off the jet reminded me a bit of the pheasants (and the black bird , and the chipmunk AND raccoon) that bounced off our car last summer when we drove along the Enchanted Highway in North Dakota on our Great American Road trip. Quite alarming and unusual. We’ve been on this road before with never a problem.

It’s not that unusual for planes to hit birds in Alaska. According to the article in the Anchorage Daily News most of the time, the birds just bounce off the airplane and nothing happens. In our case, one of the pheasants was stuck in the grill of our car, something my husband discovered when we stopped to get gas.

In the case of a plane going through flocks of ducks, I wonder if anyone on board has ever yelled, “Duck!”

*Thanks to Gadling reader, Matt for the heads up on this story.

The Largest Metal Sculpture in the World

In my post on the The Benini Foundation Galleries and Sculpture Ranch, I mentioned its scuptures as something I thought worth the drive to see. I wasn’t kidding. Two years ago we drove to Regent, North Dakota specifically to see The Enchanted Highway. I heard about this place and Gary Greff, the guy who created it, on a NPR radio segment and thought, “I’ve got to go there.” Never mind that I live in Columbus, Ohio and, according to Map Quest, Regent is 1,312.05 miles away. So what if we were traveling with two kids, a 3 year-old and an 11 year-old, and were without a DVD player or any electronics except for our car cassette player.

Okay, it is true that we were driving to Montana anyway, but still, we weren’t driving past Regent. It took a substantial detour off the highway to get there which is exactly what Gary Greff counts on. A few years back he looked at the rapidly shrinking population of his hometown that used to have a thriving economy in ranching and wondered what he could do to keep it from dipping below 200 people. He decided that if he built fantasically large metal sculptures that lead into Regent people would head there and businesses would open. It worked with us. Plus, we ran into a whole bunch of bikers on some major bike tour at an ice-cream stand in town. Regent was their overnight stop.

The scuptures were more than I anticipated. They are magnificantly creative, interesting and quite different from each other. Instead of one gigantic pheasant, for example, there is an entire pheasant family. The pheasants are made in such a way that you can see through them to the others. The most whimisical of the seven sculptures is The Tin Family. It’s billed as being “The World’s Largest Tin Family.” I didn’t know there are other tin families. The scupture that has the distinction of being the World’s Largest Scrap Metal Sculpture is Geese in Flight. This one is at The Enchanted Highway exit off U.S. 94 to entice visitors to make the jaunt to Regent.

In order to entice travelers further along The Enchanted Highway, a 32 mile expanse of road into town, the scuptures are spaced far enough from the others so that you have to keep driving to see them all. When we were there, Gary just happened to be giving a talk at the town’s school. I had the chance to talk to him in person. He is quite the affable guy and totally into his mission. He also gives much kudos to folks who have helped him make his visions reality. Read each sculpture’s description on the Web site to find out who helped make it and its specifications.

On our way out of town, we ran into Gary at The Tin Family. He was collecting trash from the trash cans– just another hat he wears to keep the town ready for company and hopefully, more and more action.