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Cross Country Adventures by Bus 2022 – Eastbound

Presenting the second half of our 2022 Cross Country Adventure recap by Starr Tour Director Gene Gray! (Click here to read about their Westbound journey.)

Day 15: Sunday, September 18, 2022

Loud groans reverberated from our guests when I announced we were beginning our journey Eastward. I played “Viva Las Vegas” by Elvis which instantly improved the mood. I provided many interesting facts about Las Vegas and how it got its start. Then I showed a 50 minute documentary from The History Channel on Las Vegas. Most people watched with interest. We soon arrived at our rest stop, Walmart in Barstow, California. I mentioned that since meals are expensive in Las Vegas, including breakfasts, they might want to stock up on a few items.  

Once back on the bus, I reviewed my ten page Las Vegas packet in detail providing ways to get around the three mile Las Vegas Strip, unique opportunities to experience in each hotel, and much more. I answered a few questions as everyone formulated their plans for the next day and a half. We arrived at the Baker Travel Plaza in Baker, California for lunch. We had a choice of five restaurants and 45 minutes later, boarded the bus for our final approach into Las Vegas.

The Las Vegas Raiders were in the 4th quarter of their football game at Allegient Stadium across I-15 from our hotel. I asked the tour guests to remain on the bus while I got the keys. The line for Hotel Registration stretched around the corner and could have taken up to an hour. I took a deep breath, walked up to the desk, and asked (begged) for our keys. The keys were all ready and rubber banded together. Within two minutes, I was walking out to the bus and handed each guest their key! Lucky us!! 

Everyone was now on their own and accordingly, this will be my last journal entry until Tuesday morning because what happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas! 

Day 17: Tuesday, September 20, 2022

We left Las Vegas exactly at 8:30 AM. The tour guests were abuzz about the shows they had seen, the fine restaurants they had eaten in, the tours they had taken, and the miles and miles of walking they had done. Many had visited Fremont Street and were sharing stories about its “different” atmosphere. Everyone had an exciting time in Las Vegas.  

We were all tired as we traveled through the beautiful Sierra Nevada Mountain Chain and began climbing in elevation. I showed the documentary video titled “The Harvey Girls.” Fred Harvey, beginning in the late 1800’s, hired single women between 18 and 30 years old to serve food to travelers in the restaurants he built adjacent to the Santa Fe Railroad train stops in Western United States. Most of the guests enjoyed this film that told the story through interviews with real Harvey Girls as well as actual film footage from the early to mid 1900’s.

We arrived at the Roadkill Cafe on Route 66 in Seligman, Arizona just past noon. Aaron was holding open the door, greeted us, and instructed us to take a seat at any table that had water. Within a very short time, we were delivered the food we had preordered. After eating some very strange dishes, we had time to shop at the General Store next door and play in the old western town facsimilea adjacent to the restaurant. Everyone enjoyed this lunch stop along Historic Route 66. 

Roadkill Cafe

Shortly after lunch, we arrived at the Drury Inn in Flagstaff. The remainder of the day and night was on our own. Almost everyone chose to stay in, relax, and enjoy the Kickback for dinner. We were all looking forward to visiting our second National Park tomorrow, the Grand Canyon. 

Day 18: Wednesday, September 21, 2022

A light rain was falling in Flagstaff as we departed the Drury Inn for the Grand Canyon. Low lying clouds covered the mountain peaks. The weather forecast showed a 30 to 60 percent chance of rain at the Grand Canyon. I played the Grand Canyon National Parks video to introduce the Grand Canyon to our guests. I also shared many interesting facts about the Canyon’s geology such as the youngest layer, the Kaibab Limestone, is 250 million years old while the Vishnu Schist at the bottom is over two billion years old. I also identified the Grand Canyon as one of the seven natural wonders of the world and as the number two most visited National Park (next to The Great Smoky Mountains) in 2019.  

As we approached the National Park, the fog became so thick, Fernando needed to slow the bus down to a crawl to navigate us through. We were always hopeful that the weather would eventually cooperate, however, I emphasized that we were going to view a totally different and wild side of the Grand Canyon and the colors and shadows would be constantly changing. We arrived at the entrance and received maps and brochures for all of us. We stopped at the Desert View Overlook for our first glimpse of the Grand Canyon.

The clouds were low over the Canyon making it initially difficult to see the entire view. But we did have a fabulous view of the Colorado River meandering a mile below. The clouds were constantly moving thus revealing different colorful scenic views with every look. Despite the light drizzle and limited visibility, we were able to experience the massiveness of the Canyon.

We began our 25 mile tour towards the Grand Canyon Village by stopping next at Lippan Point. The low clouds did little to lessen our enthusiasm towards this view that displays the colorful layers of the Canyon’s geology. We then stopped at Moran Point where one can see the Canyon’s magnificence in all directions. The clouds were rising which allowed us to experience the brilliance of color. We continued onto the Grand Canyon Village and lunch at the Bright Angel Lodge.  

We had two hours to eat and enjoy the beautiful views of the Canyon Rim. The low clouds had lifted completely, and the sun began shining through, creating beautiful ever-changing views. We continued our Grand Canyon Tour at Yavapai Point where you could now see for miles in all directions. One can see the Suspension Bridge that was built for hikers crossing the Colorado River and Phantom Ranch where hikers can register (15 months in advance) to camp for the night a mile below. The views were magnificent. Our final stop was Mather Point and the Visitors Center Complex. The sun was shining brightly now highlighting these breathtaking views of the Grand Canyon.  

Village Walk, Grand Canyon Village

We departed the Grand Canyon having experienced its magnificence with a variety of weather conditions. We were all tired and extremely satisfied with this fabulous day. It was now time to relax with the Drury Inn Kickback and get a good night’s sleep.  

Day 19: Thursday, September 22, 2022

After a very good breakfast, the owner of the Aspen Deli delivered our bag lunches. I handed out a bag to each guest and we departed Flagstaff to travel north on Arizona Highway 160 through Navajo land. Weather-beaten houses and older pickup trucks dotted the dry, desert land. We soon turned onto Arizona Highway 191 and began traveling northeast towards the eastern corner of Utah. Beautiful canyons along with open desert land as far as the eye could see alternated dominance of the landscape. We continued to pass Navajo homes in disrepair that dotted the scenery. We stopped for a short rest stop at the Navajo owned Shonti Marketplace in Arizona. Masks were required per Navajo mandate. Most made a small purchase and returned to the bus.  

I played many songs by request from many tour guests. An hour later, we arrived at our lunch spot along the San Juan River at the Sand Recreation Area near Bluff, Utah. We ate at picnic tables along the river surrounded by red cliffs made of sandstone. Beautiful sunshine and dark blue skies added to the magic of this area. Everyone enjoyed their bagged lunch and took many pictures of their beautiful surroundings. 

Sand Recreation Area along the San Juan River

Following lunch, we completed our travels to Moab, Utah. While on the bus, I played the Arches National Park DVD that is shown every half hour at the Arches Visitors Center. The guests gained a wonderful insight into the many wonders and scenic beauty Arches has to offer.

We arrived at our hotel, the Aarchway Inn, after a brief scenic rest stop surrounded by high cliffs that provided beautiful photo ops. After check in, we had time to relax and refresh before traveling a short distance to the Canyonlands By Night Dinner and Cruise.  

We arrived at the Canyonlands By Night Dinner and Cruise early enough to visit the Gift Shop. Dinner was a delicious buffet with a salad bar, barbecued chicken and pork, pulled roast beef, potatoes, vegetables, dessert, and soft drinks. The serving staff then took off their aprons and transformed into the cruising crew. We were led down a few steps to the open-air boat equipped with 144 chairs neatly arranged in 18 rows of 8 chairs per row separated by an aisle down the center.  

The sun had just set but the skies were light enough to appreciate the beauty of this region. We motored upstream in the Colorado River surrounded by the cliffs of Arches National Park on the left and Canyonlands on the right. A fantastic narrator provided interesting facts about Moab, the Colorado River, and encouraged us to use our imaginations as he used his powerful laser to point out rock formations that might resemble a dog, a witch, and even ET! Soon, it was dark enough and we had reached the area of the river where they began the light show on the rock formations coinciding with a prerecorded narration. It was magnificent to watch as the narrator told us about the history of this region of Utah along with spine-tingling patriotic music of today. By this time, the stars in the sky were putting on their own brilliant show making this an emotional and personal experience for each of us. Everyone thoroughly enjoyed this entire evening.

Canyonlands by Night Cruise

We returned to our hotel to get a short night sleep in order to experience sunrise at beautiful Arches National Park. 

Day 20: Friday, September 23, 2022

The Aarchway Inn served a very good hot EARLY breakfast buffet allowing us to depart in the dark for a short ride to the Arches National Park entrance. At the entrance, we received maps and continued on to the Courthouse Viewpoint to witness the magnificent sunrise at Arches National Park. It was an absolutely incredible experience and worth getting up early! 

Windows Section of Arches National Park

The sky was a dark blue and the sun was shining brightly on the rock formations causing their brilliant colors to sparkle. We stopped at Balanced Rock and took many pictures including a group photo. We continued onto the Windows Section and spent an hour hiking trails to infamous Double Arch, North Window, and South Window. We also took pictures of the Parade of Elephants rock formations. Our next stop was to the Delicate Arch Viewpoint. Here, you can see the iconic Delicate Arch from a far distance. To see it up close, one must hike over two miles uphill which needs over three hours to complete a round trip. Our final stop was the Visitors Center. We had time to shop and enjoy the museum. It was a perfect day to explore Arches National Park in its infinite beauty. Everyone thoroughly enjoyed the experience.

Balanced Rock at Arches National Park

We departed Arches and traveled into Colorado continuing on towards Denver through one of the most scenic stretches of highway in the world, the Rocky Mountains.  

“Rocky Mountain High” by John Denver was echoing throughout the bus as we admired the colorful rocks, the high mountain peaks, and majestic Ponderosa Pines. We climbed to an elevation of 11,100 feet as we crossed the Continental Divide sixty miles from Denver. We passed the well-known ski resorts of Aspen and Vail. Sheer beauty dominated every curve in the road. Our entertainment today was looking out the bus windows and listening to the music that reinforced the scenery.  

Tonight we slept at another Drury Inn – in Denver. Today, we overdosed on the magnificence of America. From Arches to the Rockies, it doesn’t get any better – unless you’re heading to Mount Rushmore as we are – tomorrow! 

Day 21: Saturday, September 24, 2022

After a fine Drury Inn breakfast, we departed Denver and headed North toward Wyoming. The weather was beautiful, and the sky was a deep blue for as far as the eye could see. We crossed the Colorado border into Wyoming and stopped at “Little America” in Cheyenne, the Sinclair Gas Station that includes a store with clean bathrooms. Outside was a green dinosaur with a saddle that many tour guests enjoyed getting on and posing for pictures. Everyone enjoyed this rest stop. 

Starr Driver Fernando Berrios having Fun with Dino the Dinosaur

Continuing on to our lunch spot at the Fort Laramie American Grill, I showed the History Channel’s documentary “Mount Rushmore.” It tells how Gustav Borglum was chosen to create this marvelous sculpture and his obsession with its completion. It was an excellent introduction to Mount Rushmore.  

We arrived at the Fort Laramie American Grill and the owner waved us into his dirt parking lot and welcomed us. He had closed his restaurant to locals so we had it all to ourselves! We walked in and everyone took a seat at four long tables with eight chairs at each table. The maximum capacity in this small establishment is forty, so we basically filled the place. 

Today’s lunch took much too long. The poor service and extremely slow cooking overshadowed the hot, fresh food that was finally served.  

After lunch, we continued our travels north into South Dakota’s magnificent Mount Rushmore National Monument. Since we’re traveling towards Iowa, I played the movie, “La Bamba,” the story of Ritchie Valens who died in a plane crash in Iowa on February 2, 1959. He was only 17 years old. Don McLean dubbed this “The Day the Music Died.” The movie was entertaining and heart wrenching. Most everyone watched intently.  

Mount Rushmore is always a highlight of every Cross Country trip. The weather was perfect for viewing today and the pictures were spectacular. Carvers is a huge restaurant just to the right of the entrance. The equally large Gift Shop is to the left. Walking straight ahead takes you over a bridge with flags and plaques identifying each state and territory of the United States. You are now standing on the large overlook facing this majestic work of art. The four Presidents; Washington, Jefferson, Theodore Roosevelt, and Lincoln, stare heroically with great confidence. Many guests walked the Presidential Trail, a challenging walk that circles underneath the Monument where the greatest views of each President can be seen. The many steps involved make the trail challenging. Everyone thoroughly enjoyed their time at Mount Rushmore National Monument.  

We then traveled to the Fairfield Inn in Rapid City, South Dakota. We arrived after dark, but the entire area was well lit. This Hotel is beautiful! Two fine restaurants are within steps of the Fairfield Inn; Perkins and Sliders.  

Today was another wonderful day. Seeing Mount Rushmore completed a huge bucket list item for our guests. Tomorrow, we tour our fifth and final National Park of this Cross Country trip, the Badlands of South Dakota.  

Day 22: Sunday, September 25, 2022

We departed for Badlands National Park under sunny blue skies. Upon arrival, we received maps for each of us. We stopped at four distinctly beautiful viewpoints and the Visitors Center. Pinnacles Viewport displayed multicolored sandstone mounds all eroded at different rates. The Basin Viewpoint featured Prairie Dog Town. Prairie Dogs could be seen guarding their tunnels from intruders and predators and squeaking to each other in communication. They were cute but could get viscous if confronted. Many deer were spotted eating grass along the sides of the road. The Homestead Viewpoint featured colorful mounds of sandstone along with prairie land with high green grasses. Settlers once lived in this section of the park. The Badlands is beautiful, diverse, and wide-open. The air is clean and crisp as every breath is a feeling of freedom. The Badlands, as with all National Parks, has to be experienced to be appreciated. Everyone loved their tour of Badlands National Park and most bought mementos at the Visitors’ Center. 

Badlands National Park

Next, we traveled to Wall Drug, the amazing all-encompassing tourist trap in the country! Ted and Dorothy Hustead opened a pharmacy in 1931. It began attracting travelers to Mount Rushmore only after Dorothy’s idea of advertising free ice water on billboards. Today, 23 shops under one roof including a restaurant that seats over 500 patrons, attracts travelers from all over the world. Everyone enjoyed their lunch and shopping as they returned to the bus carrying another package.  

We traveled for three hours, stopping once at a Phillips 66 Travel Plaza, before arriving at the Comfort Inn in Mitchell, South Dakota. I planned to show a movie during this ride, but since many were sleeping, we continued in silence until our rest stop. We all needed this down time after experiencing so many once-in-a-lifetime attractions during the past few days. 

The Comfort Inn in Mitchell welcomed us and we had four restaurants to choose from by simply walking across the parking lot in different directions. Some of us even did our laundry.

We experienced our fifth National Park today on this magnificent trip. Tomorrow is one of our four longer days of travel landing us just four hours from fabulous Chicago.

Day 23: Monday, September 26, 2022

We boarded the bus and traveled just two miles to the Corn Palace in Mitchell, South Dakota. Our guide was Troy, a 31 year trustee of the Corn Palace. He spoke with so much enthusiasm and pride about his beloved Corn Palace, explaining its history, the many performers who had played here, and the many events that occur here. “Just this past Saturday,” he explains, “we had a tractor pull event for kids up to twelve years of age. Kids and families attended from ten states, and it was a great event!” The Mitchell High School basketball team also plays here. Troy explained to us about the fabulous murals made of corn and rye that hang in the Corn Palace. We learned that each has an important historical significance related to South Dakota. It was an excellent tour lasting about 20 minutes and ending, of course, at the gift shop.

Corn Palace

We began our longer day of travel towards Dubuque, Iowa. Fall is in the air with morning temperatures in the 40’s. I introduced “The Buddy Holly Story” by playing a few of Buddy Holly’s hits. Then I showed the movie. Many watched, some slept, and others kept themselves occupied with games and puzzles. Portrayed by actor Gary Busey, Buddy Holly rose to fame quickly. Two of his most famous works were “That’ll be the Day” and “Peggy Sue.”Buddy Holly was one of the initial inductees into the Rock N’ Roll Hall of Fame in 1986. His death, along with that of Ritchie Valens and J.P. Richardson, occurred on that fateful day, February 2, 1959, and defined as “The Day the Music Died” by Don McLean in his hit song.

We stopped briefly at a Love’s Travel Plaza and continued on to Fairmont, Minnesota for our lunch stop at the Ranch Restaurant. Its owner, Sally, prepares an entire room in the restaurant just for us!

We continued traveling into Iowa. Dyersville is where the movie “Field of Dreams” was made, and we pass Dyersville en route to Dubuque. I showed “Field of Dreams” starring Kevin Costner and James Earl Jones. Most guests watched this classic movie intently. After, we arrived at the Holiday Inn in Dubuque. Some tour guests chose to explore Dubuque which sits on the banks of the Mississippi River. Others went to dinner. Dubuque is a small town with much charm.

After a longer day of travel, we look forward to two nights in America’s third largest city.

Day 24: Tuesday, September 27, 2022

The Holiday Inn provided a wonderful, private breakfast buffet in their Clarion Room. We departed Dubuque and immediately crossed the mighty Mississippi River into the state of Illinois. Chicago was a few hours away. Frank Sinatra serenaded us with “Chicago, Chicago, That Toddlin’ Town.” I showed the History Channel’s documentary on “The Sears Tower.” It depicts the building of Chicago’s tallest building which will be our 3:00 PM destination known today as the Willis Tower. Many enjoyed this video. After a brief rest stop, I played a few more Chicago songs as the beautiful Chicago skyline began looming in the distance.  

Fernando dropped us off at the Chicago Navy Pier. The skies were sunny with puffy cumulus clouds over Lake Michigan. The temperatures were in the upper 50’s. Some guests walked the pier both inside and out. Some rode the Centennial Ferris Wheel for magnificent views of Chicago and Lake Michigan. Everyone ate lunch. I saw many trying the Chicago Hot Dog with The Garden or the Italian Beef. Some bought a small bag of Garrett’s Popcorn featuring the Chicago Mix. To enjoy Chicago completely, many realized the sense of taste is as important as sight and sound. Everyone enjoyed their time at the Navy Pier.

Fernando had dropped off our luggage at the Fairfield Inn and then drove us across town to the Willis Tower. We all stayed together until we reached the lower level, and I passed out the tickets. The Museum that leads to the elevator that takes us up to the 103rd floor continues to undergo improvements and new construction. Everyone had a fun time taking pictures in front of the Chicago skyline, Wrigley Field, with Oprah and the Obamas. We walked right onto the elevator and took marvelous pictures from up to fifty miles in each direction from the top of this skyscraper. Next, many walked out onto The Ledge. It’s an inch and a half thick glass that juts out over the streets of Chicago, 103 stories below. Many pictures were taken and those that dared to experience The Ledge had a great time.  

After checking into our hotel, everyone was now on their own to follow my many restaurant suggestions and map directions to walk successfully around downtown Chicago. We look forward to sleeping in due to a later start to our day and enjoying a full day in Chicago tomorrow. 

Chicago Museum in the Willis Tower

Day 25: Wednesday, September 28, 2022

Breakfast was a wonderful hot and cold buffet. The Aires Trolley pulled up to our hotel and we boarded to begin our tour of this fabulous city.  

Jun-te was our driver, the same entertaining man who had driven former Starr trips. His driving skills were excellent, and his narration was interesting and kept us entertained. We drove past the hotel in which Oprah lived on three floors. We passed a church on the Magnificent Mile that had a five year waiting list for weddings along with a mandatory $5,000 deposit that you’d lose if you changed your plans. On the North side, we disembarked briefly at Wrigley Field to take pictures in front of this iconic stadium, and we stopped briefly at the Lincoln Park Conservatory. Jun-te was constantly sharing facts about his beloved Chicago causing everyone to enjoy this tour.

We were dropped off at the Shops at North Bridge for lunch. Guests could eat in the food court on the fourth level or walk to many other fine restaurants along Michigan Avenue. Many just chose to explore the Magnificent Mile and some of its fine stores. The Magnificent Mile in Chicago can be compared with Rodeo Drive in Los Angeles and 5th Avenue in New York for great shopping.  

Everyone met on time at the Wendella Tours and Cruises in front of the Wrigley Building on Michigan Avenue. I handed each person a ticket for a cruise on the Chicago River and into Lake Michigan. We walked down the 62 steps to the dock and boarded the boat. We mostly took seats on the upper level to maximize our views despite the cold but sunny weather conditions.  

Cruise on the Chicago River

John was our Guide and he was terrific. He told details about every building along the Chicago River such as their height, their owners, and costs involved. We rode through the lock into Lake Michigan which lies three feet above the Chicago River. People were comparing this to the trip through the Panama Canal. Once on Lake Michigan, John talked about the Skyscrapers in view such as the Hancock Building and the Willis Tower. He pointed out that Chicago gets its water from Lake Michigan and one filtration plant is built twenty stories below the ground. Everyone loved the Wendella Tours and Cruises Architectural Tour and came away with an even greater fondness of this wonderful city.

We all easily walked back to the Fairfield Inn on Michigan Avenue to Ontario Street. After a short rest, we met again in the lobby and walked to Gino’s East for dinner. We were given the entire upstairs room and spread out at many tables. The food began being served. Vegetable sticks, hot wings, salad, pasta, Chicago deep dish pizza, and thin crust pizza were delivered to each table until no one could eat anymore. Cookies and brownies rounded out dessert. It was an Italian feast Chicago-style, and everyone enjoyed their food. Many tried the deep dish pizza and liked it. Following dinner, we all rolled three blocks back to our hotel for the evening.

Tomorrow is an early departure so we can maximize our time at the Rock N’ Roll Hall of Fame.  

Day 26: Thursday, September 29, 2022

We departed Chicago a little after 7:00 AM to maximize our time at the Rock N’ Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland. On the bus, I talked about the history of the Rock N’ Roll Hall of Fame, why Cleveland was chosen for its site, and who were the initial 1986 Inductees as well as the current 2022 Inductees. I then played a song by each of the 2022 Inductees; Carly Simon, the Eurythmics, Lionel Ritchie, Dolly Parton, and Pat Benatar. Our devices and time pieces soon changed one hour ahead into Eastern Time. We had not been on Eastern Time since Day 3! 

Rock & Roll Hall of Fame

On the bus, I showed the award-winning movie about the rock group that was inducted into the Rock N’ Roll Hall of Fame in 2001 titled Bohemian Rhapsody. It’s a powerful movie starring Rami Malik as Freddie Mercury and chronicles the story of Queen through the Live Aid Concert in 1985. After, I played songs from each of the 2022 Rock N’ Roll Inductees as well as songs from the original Inductees in 1986. We soon arrived in Cleveland.  

I secured the Rock N’ Roll Hall of Fame wrist bands and handed them out. We entered and took the escalator down to the lower level to begin our tour in the Ertigan Memorial Hall. Showcase after showcase of outfits worn during concerts, musical instruments used, and original handwritten songs (among other items) could be seen for each of the Rock N’ Roll Inductees. Films and videos accompanied many of the exhibits as well. The Beatles “Get Back” Rooftop Concert was still being featured until October so I plopped myself down in front of the big screens and enjoyed the music. We all had a very special and unexpected surprise – Rock N’ Roll Hall of Famer, John Mellencamp, was performing live and in concert on the stage inside the Hall of Fame lobby! A huge crowd had gathered to listen to him. Many of us saw the concert and heard him sing his big hit song, “Jack and Diane.” It was clear that everyone had a great time at the Rock N’ Roll Hall of Fame. 

Getting ready for Rock N’ Roll Hall of Famer, John Mellencamp, to perform in the Hall of Fall lobby at Cleveland’s Rock & Roll Hall of Fame.

From the Rock N’ Roll Hall of Fame, we rode around the corner to the Hofbrauhaus for our Farewell Dinner. We were warmly greeted and led to our reserved section of the restaurant where we sat in groups of seven or eight. When our drinks arrived, we all had a toast to continued good health and a fabulous “Trip of a Lifetime.” We were served a Bavarian Pretzel and our pre-chosen main course. Our Farewell Dinner concluded with a delicious piece of delicious German (of course!) Chocolate Cake. We enjoyed both the food and the warm camaraderie among new lifelong friends.  

Tonight’s Drury Inn in Cleveland is unique. It is a converted school with 20 foot high ceilings. Everyone said their good night wishes for the last time on our 2022 Cross Country Trip. 

Day 27: Friday, September 30, 2022

We all enjoyed our final Drury Inn breakfast and we ate it in the Teacher’s Lounge! A good thing was that no one had to be sent to the Principal’s Office! We were on our way home. Simon and Garfunkel serenaded us with “Homeward Bound – I wish I was Homeward Bound.” 

I summarized our 27 days, played a few songs that coincided with specific days, and then to a break to let everyone rest. Before arriving at our first rest stop, I handed each guest my 8 page Cross Country Statistics packet. Everyone was surprised and delighted at this gift. At the Oakmont Rest Area on the Pennsylvania Turnpike, I led our annual farewell ceremony and gave a speech thanking everyone for their excellent participation and enthusiasm each day of the trip. I concluded by handing out special Cross Country Awards to each guest. Again, everyone greatly appreciated this added surprise.  

Back on the bus, I passed around Starr’s Cross Country Survey QR Code and explained the procedure. We soon arrived at the Sideling Hill Rest Stop on the Pennsylvania Turnpike for lunch and after, we were on the road again. I played a few patriotic songs and a few favorites that sparked memories of our trip. After a short rest stop at the Valley Forge Rest Area, we arrived in Bensalem after traveling exactly 7,021 miles in 27 magnificent days. We were now saying our sad goodbyes. Parting was such sweet sorrow! 

Sandy Borowsky, Starr’s VP of Tours and Alan’s daughter, greeted us on the bus with a warm welcome home. Since everyone disembarking needed multiple trips onto the bus to remove all their belongings and to say their goodbyes, it took some time for all guests to disembark. When all guests had boarded their shuttle or got back in their seats to continue to their drop off location, we continued on to Cherry Hill and then Hamilton. 

The trip in its entirety was magnificent. Everyone grew to respect each other and look out for one another. We all agreed this Cross Country Trip was definitely a “Trip of a Lifetime.”  Gene Gray, Starr Tour Director

Gene Gray, Starr Tour Director

Cross Country Adventure by Bus 2022 – Westbound

Our September 2022 Cross Country trip just returned with Gene Gray at the front and Fernando Berrios at the wheel! Our Starr Driver and Tour Director (Fernando and Gene, respectively) led 31 travelers across our great country over the course of 27 days. This was Gene’s 5th trip and the 1st for Fernando! Seeing their smiling faces when the trip returned was proof enough that it was a success!

On each of our trips, the Starr Tour Director is responsible for providing a day-by-day recap of every aspect of the trip. Gene’s reports always offer a thorough and real retelling of their adventures. It’s clear that Gene goes above and beyond to make sure his tour guests are well informed and entertained but you can see for yourself.

For your reading pleasure, here are Days 1-14.

Stay tuned for the second half of their amazing “Journey of a Lifetime”!

Overnight Tour Summary Report – Cross Country 2022

Date: September 4-30, 2022
Tour Director: Gene Gray
Driver: Fernando Berrios
Starr Bus #: 206

WESTBOUND

Day 1: Sunday, September 4, 2022

All shuttles arrived on time and all tour guests boarded the bus without incident. Alan Glickman, Starr’s owner, was waiting for us in Bensalem and gave an inspiring speech to send us on our way. This will be my 5th Cross Country and I am just as excited as my 1st time! I played our first song of the trip: The National Anthem performed by Whitney Houston. Everyone stood and waved their flags – it was a special moment! Alan wished us a safe and wonderful trip and we drove out of Bensalem at 8:40 AM to begin our “Trip of a Lifetime.” 

After reviewing the Starr Welcome Letter and showing the Starr Safety Video, I honored our Military Veterans on board. 

We stopped at the Lawn Service Plaza on the Pennsylvania Turnpike for a short rest stop. Afterwards, I briefly reviewed our 27 day journey using the Cross Country Booklet I made for our travelers. I answered their questions and gave them time to digest all the information.  

We soon arrived at Hoss’s Steakhouse, our lunch stop. Hoss’s is always wonderful as they seated everyone within minutes and served us just as quickly. And the food is delicious. We were back on the road in an hour.  

We soon arrived at Hoss’s Steakhouse, our lunch stop. Hoss’s is always wonderful as they seated everyone within minutes and served us just as quickly. And the food is delicious. We were back on the road in an hour.  

Following lunch, I showed the movie “Elvis” to get us into the Elvis and Graceland spirit. Most watched with keen interest. The video is the 1979 movie created for ABC Television two years after Elvis’s death. The movie, starring Kirt Russell as Elvis, is extremely well done. This took us into our final Rest Stop of the day in Belmont, Ohio and finally to our Drury Inn in Grove City, Ohio at exactly 6:00 PM.  

I handed out the room keys inside the lobby of the Drury Inn and the tour guests were on their own to enjoy Drury’s Inn’s Kickback (free dinner & drinks) which everyone took advantage of. All our travelers (including Fernando and me), had great anticipation of what lies ahead. It was a perfect first day and orientation to this Cross Country adventure.  

Day 2: Monday, September 5, 2022

We all enjoyed a wonderful Drury Inn Buffet Breakfast and boarded the bus one person at a time due to a torrential driving rainstorm. Once safely onboard, Fernando carefully began driving south towards Cincinnati and eventually our first attraction, the Louisville Slugger Bat Museum in Louisville, Kentucky.  

I began the ride by playing “Raindrops Keep Falling On My Head” by BJ Thomas. Many guests were singing along. Since today was about baseball, I played “Take Me Out to the Ballgame” and Abbot and Costello’s epic skit, “Who’s On First”. As we continued south, the rain came to an end and bits of sunshine began peeking through the clouds. I played the movie “The Babe” starring John Goodman as Babe Ruth. It was a powerful movie about this larger-than-life baseball hero both on and off the field. Most of the tour guests watched intently and thoroughly enjoyed the movie. Following the movie, which ended with some applause, I gave everyone an assignment for the Louisville Slugger Bat Museum; to find Babe Ruth’s actual baseball bat and pick it up. Many groaned about my teacher-side coming through (wink wink). 

Louisville Slugger Factory & Museum

After a brief rest stop, we arrived at the Louisville Slugger Bat Museum. We first took the obligatory group photo under the giant baseball bat that adorns the entrance to the Museum. We were directed to the second floor where boxed lunches awaited our arrival. Our guided tour of the Louisville Slugger Bat Museum was fabulous. It delved into the entire baseball bat making process from finding the perfect trees in Pennsylvania to signing contracts with professional ball players for personalized bats with their unique preferences. The tour also taught the history of the Hillerich family and the fascinating occurrences that lead them to making baseball bats as early as the 1870’s. Everyone enjoyed the tour very much and each person received a miniature Louisville Slugger Bat as a parting gift for taking the tour.  

After enjoying the museum and taking pictures holding Babe Ruth’s bat, we rode to the Evan Williams Bourbon Experience, just three blocks away. We divided ourselves into two groups of 16 and enjoyed a fabulous guided tour of the Bourbon making process along with the history of Evan Williams who began making Bourbon in the 1740’s. The tour was extremely creative combining short movies, brilliant information from our tour guide, and wonderful peeks into the machinery needed to make the Bourbon. It concluded with a taste testing experience of four Bourbons aged from one year to 14 years. Of course, the longer a Bourbon is aged, the better it tastes, and the more expensive it sells for in the gift shop! And the Gift Shop is our last stop of the Tour. All tour guests enjoyed the entire Evan Williams Bourbon Experience and many left with a bottle or two as “souvenirs.” 

Tonight’s hotel, the Drury Inn in Louisville, was only fifteen minutes away. We arrived by the Kickback which everyone enjoyed. We were able to relax after a wonderful day filled with Bourbon and Bats. Tomorrow, we will visit the horses.

Day 3: Tuesday, September 6, 2022

This morning everyone was able to choose where they would eat their main breakfast; here at the Drury Inn or at Churchill Downs during our Backstretch Tour. Most chose the Backstretch Tour and only ate something light at the Drury.

We arrived at the Backstretch Gate following Murray’s perfect directions he provided me over the phone. Murray is the most knowledgeable local Churchill Downs Tour Guide. He greeted us and began sharing magnificent information about what happens with the horses and personnel on this side, the backstretch side, of Churchill Downs. One would only need to look ahead in order to see horses being shod (a ferrier, or blacksmith, puts a new set of shoes on each horse every 30 days on average). Horses were also being totally bathed with soap and water following their workout for the day. Many were being trained to run on the Churchill Downs Racetrack. These horses were mostly two-year-olds being trained to run in the 2023 Kentucky Derby as a three-year-old. It was magnificent to watch the hustle and bustle of this mini village filled with action and marvelous animals.  

Churchill Downs provided us a breakfast that consisted of eggs, bacon, sausage, and choice of beverage which everyone enjoyed.  After, we completed our Backstretch Tour by watching the horses run on the iconic track and taking a group photo in the starting gate of the Kentucky Derby. Murray was absolutely fantastic, and everyone learned a great deal.  

The Barbaro Memorial Statue in front of the Kentucky Derby Museum

Next, we drove around the block to the entrance to Churchill Downs and took a group photo at the famed statue and gravesite of Barbaro, the Kentucky Derby Winner buried beneath the statue because his owner wanted him to always be available to the public. We had a wonderful 30 minute tour of Churchill Downs by an extremely knowledgeable guide including a walk out to the racetrack and to the grandstands. On Kentucky Derby day, there could be as many as 120,000 people in attendance enjoying mint juleps, betting, and cheering their horse to victory. There was lots of construction here that is expected to be completed in two years. Primarily, they are rebuilding the horses’ entrance leading to the Racetrack.

We departed Churchill Downs and began our travels into Central Time, which took place 50 miles west of Louisville. We stopped for lunch at an exit in Smiths Grove, Kentucky and most chose Schlotskys, a fast-food sandwich, burger, and pizza restaurant for lunch. The service was fast, the people were friendly, and the food was delicious. We were all done eating within 45 minutes and continued our travels into Nashville only an hour away.

Our Nashville Hotel is the Hyatt Place Opryland. It is located five minutes from the Gaylord Opryland Hotel and the Grand Ole Opry. Our keys and rooms were all ready upon our arrival and all luggage was immediately delivered to our rooms. The hotel staff was extremely friendly and welcoming. Many tour guests commented on their beautiful rooms.

Our next visit stop was the Gaylord Opryland Hotel where we were able to stroll around, enjoy the magnificent decor, do some shopping, and grab a small bite to eat. At 6:00 PM, Fernando drove us to the Grand Ole Opry for our show. There was plenty of time for tour guests to shop in the Gift Shop prior to curtain. The Grand Ole Opry presented another lively show with eight acts; opening with the old country & western band, “Riders in the Sky” and closing with Pam Tillis, the talented daughter of Mel Tillis. It was great seeing a live show! 

It was a magnificent day. Tomorrow is another early day as we travel to Memphis to spend the day in Elvis’s world. 

Day 4: Wednesday, September 7, 2022

We were scheduled to depart at 7:30 AM so we started breakfast at 6:30 AM. The Hyatt presented a delicious buffet breakfast with eggs, ham, sausage, potatoes, cereals, and waffles. Everyone enjoyed their breakfast followed by our departure for Memphis.

Elvis was the music of the day. Tour guests requested Elvis songs for the first 30 minutes of our journey. Since Johnny Cash also got his start in Memphis, I showed the movie, “Walk the Line” starring Joaquin Phoenix as Johnny Cash and Reese Witherspoon as June Carter. Most of the tour guests watched intently.

Starr Tour Director Gene Gray (left) and Driver Fernando Berrios (right) enjoying the Elvis Experience Tour of Graceland

We pulled into Graceland as the clouds disappeared and the sun shined brightly. I picked up the tickets and $15 food vouchers and handed them out to the tour guests waiting by the bus. Everyone was now on their own to enjoy Graceland and Elvis to the fullest.

Most of the tour guests first chose to use their food voucher and eat lunch at Vernon’s Smokehouse. Many shared that the food was delicious and substantial. Some immediately took the shuttle across the street to the Graceland Mansion for their tour. Before entering the shuttle, we were provided with a headset and tablet that is programmed with room-by-room narration of Graceland. Upon entering Elvis’s home, an elegant living room with a full-length sofa, baby grand piano, and a large 1950’s RCA television set sits on your right. The grand staircase leading upstairs to Elvis’s bedroom (totally off limits to everyone except the curator, Priscilla, and Lisa Marie) is straight ahead. The magnificent dining room with a table set for 10 and a beautiful chandelier above is to your left. The narration continues to provide details of the kitchen, downstairs to his television and billiards rooms, and finally the famed Jungle Room from which Elvis actually recorded an album titled “Songs from the Jungle Room”. Elvis had sixteen television sets throughout Graceland. The tour continued to other buildings outside including his racquetball court and concluded in the Meditation Garden where the gravesites of Elvis and his family are tranquilly displayed. An eternal flame sits behind Elvis’s grave. 

Back across Elvis Presley Boulevard, six magnificent museums and six gift shops await the visitor. Included in the many museums are Elvis’s iconic cars, the many glitzy outfits he wore on stage, and plaques representing his hit records and movies. Everyone thoroughly enjoyed their time at Graceland whether they were Elvis fans or not.

Elvis’ pink Cadillac

We arrived at the Doubletree Hotel in Memphis at 4:30 PM. The keys were ready, and I handed them out to the tour guests who were now on their own to enjoy Beale Street, blues music, and a fine restaurant. Most rested awhile before taking the three-block walk to Beale Street. Some stayed close to the hotel to enjoy a restaurant nearby. Beale Street, closed to vehicular traffic, was bustling with many locals and visitors accentuated by many bikers on motorcycles. Perhaps a hundred cycles were permitted to park inside the pedestrian Beale Street. Our tour guests enjoyed their evening and returned to the Doubletree very enthusiastic.

Today was another wonderful day filled with fabulous attractions, history, and new experiences.

Day 5: Thursday, September 8, 2022

The Doubletree Hotel by Hilton served us our own private buffet breakfast consisting of eggs, bacon, sausage, fresh fruit, and biscuits with gravy. It was plentiful and delicious.

The Lorraine Motel and Martin Luther King, Jr.’s two Cadillacs

Before departing Memphis, we stopped to pay our respects to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. at the Lorraine Motel. It’s a sacred memorial that highlights the balcony adorned with a beautiful wreath from which he was assassinated. King’s two Cadillacs are resting beneath his balcony. There’s also a solid line on the ground that leads to the window from which the assassin shot the rifle. It’s a fitting Memorial to a great American leader. Everyone thoroughly appreciated this stop.

We departed Memphis and immediately crossed the Mighty Mississippi putting us officially in the western half of the United States. We were now in the state of Arkansas. I played a few songs by Dolly Parton (by request) and Ray Charles. I followed the music by showing the movie “Ray” starring Jamie Foxx as Ray Charles Robinson. Foxx won the 2004 Best Actor Oscar for his role as Ray Charles. Tour guests intently watched this dynamic portrayal of a musical genius battle with heroine that almost cost him his career and marriage. Midway through the movie, we stopped at a Loves Service Plaza for a short break. We drove for another 180 miles, completed the movie, and pulled off of I-40 at Exit 13 in Alma, Arkansas for our lunch stop.

The tour guests had many choices for lunch. Clumped together were Burger King, KFC, Subway, and two more across the street. We were back on the bus and ready to complete our journey into Oklahoma City within 50 minutes.

During this stretch of the trip, the bus was silent and many people slept. We stopped at another Love’s Service Plaza for another break. These stores are equipped with the traveler in mind and are excellent for bathrooms, food, snacks, electronics, and many other items.

We arrived in Oklahoma City at the Hampton Inn in good time. Twenty of us chose to go out for dinner at the nearby Penn Square Mall and Fernando graciously agreed to drive us the short distance. We had an hour and forty-five minutes to shop and eat. The Penn Square Mall has an excellent food court as well as many larger restaurants such as the Cheesecake Factory. Today was another wonderful day as evidenced by the enthusiastic tour guests who are quickly getting to know and respect each other. 

Day 6: Friday, September 9, 2022

After a very good breakfast at the Hampton Inn, we stopped at the Oklahoma City Memorial. It is a solemn dedication to the 168 children, women, and men who lost their lives on April 19, 1995. It’s composed of two parts. First, two large stone monoliths sit on either end of a reflecting pool. One monolith has the time of 9:01 and the other has 9:03 carved in large letters. The actual bombing took place at 9:02 AM so the monoliths symbolize peace before the bomb and calling for emergency assistance after it blew. The second piece consists of 168 chairs of different sizes, placed on the hallowed ground where the original Federal Building once stood. It is a very moving and respectful Memorial honoring all who perished on that fateful day.

Oklahoma City Memorial

The National Western Museum is massive and magnificent. We were taken on a tour of art galleries with paintings that reflect the way of life in the real West. Our guide continuously compared Hollywood’s fake portrayal of the West to the way people lived in reality. We learned the West wasn’t really “wild” and very few people were killed in gunfire. Another gallery honored the singing Cowboys who performed on TV and movies. Showcases with pictures and artifacts from John Wayne, Roy Rogers, and Gene Autry took us all back. Creative and colorful life-sized dioramas adorned other rooms and depicted life on the prairie. The Rodeo was highlighted in another section with life sized bucking broncos. Showcases told about women riders who did tricks on horseback like standing on a horse and riding. Everyone enjoyed their time and learned new perspectives on the history of the American Cowboy.

A very good lunch was set up for us in a private room of the museum. We chose from a variety of sandwiches. Pickles, chips, a chocolate chip cookie, and a bottle of water were also available for our taking. The food was plentiful and many took leftovers for the road. 

We departed the National Western Museum and traveled to Amarillo, Texas. Our tour guests relaxed, and many slept during the first part of our 240 mile journey. As we approached the Texas border, I played “Deep in the Heart of Texas” and put on the movie, “Hidden Figures.” This movie features the gifted Catherine Johnson as a NASA employee who is responsible, but not given the credit, for launching John Glenn into space in February 1962. It highlights the Jim Crow segregation laws that separated people by race. Most of the guests watched intently and enjoyed the movie. We did make one rest stop at a TA Travel Plaza before arriving at the Country Inn and Suites in Amarillo. 

This Hotel was warm & welcoming. As we pulled up, three young people were waiting to bring the luggage to our rooms. With luggage delivery fast and efficient, we were easily able to leave for dinner at the Great Texan Steak Ranch on time. 

The Big Texan Steak Ranch

Our short wait was worth it! The 18 ounce steaks or chicken breasts were juicy and tender, grilled to perfection. There was one young man on stage doing the contest by eating the 72 ounce steak and all the fixings. However, he gave up and had to pay the $72 for the meal. If he had completed all his food within 60 minutes, he would have won the contest and gotten his meal for free. We were all totally full and satisfied with our meal at the Great Texan Steak Ranch. 

Following dinner, we had time to play and shop. Some took shots in the shooting gallery. Many took pictures while behind bars. And we had a lot of fun getting into and out of the giant chair. Tonight was another exciting and memorable evening.

Day 7: Saturday, September 10, 2022

After a delicious breakfast, the hotel staff efficiently loaded our luggage and we boarded the bus for our first stop, a very strange artistic creation. 

Cadillac Ranch is three miles west of Amarillo in a large field. In 1975, three hippies had the idea to stick 10 Cadillacs into the ground heads buried with their tails sticking high into the air. Since then, the vehicles have been completely stripped and are now only frames. Spray paint is always available for visitors to put their artistic touch onto the cars. To my eyes (after 5 visits), it seems like the cars are slowly sinking into the ground. Nevertheless, everyone took pictures, and many had a good time spray painting the Cadillacs.  

Cadillac Ranch

Today was all about Route 66. Of course, Nat King Cole started us off. We traveled parallel to Route 66 and saw many abandoned hotels, gas stations, and stores. I told everyone that Route 66 was officially opened in 1926 and decertified on June 27, 1985 when I-40 was completed. We stopped at the Glenrio, New Mexico, Welcome Center immediately upon entering New Mexico for our rest stop. They were well equipped with information about New Mexico, and I received some great advice from a very knowledgeable person. She handed me their last Route 66 magazine and photocopied a page summarizing all Route 66 Points of Interest in New Mexico.

Once back on the bus, I played the History Channel’s Documentary “Route 66.” It depicts the purpose and creation of this iconic Route and has actual footage from the time. Most watched and found it fascinating.  

I studied the information I received at the Glenrio Rest Stop and found a famous Route 66 sign that was five minutes off an upcoming exit. With Fernando’s agreement, we left I-40 at Exit 131 and found that unique and famous Route 66 sign. Everyone was thrilled and disembarked to take pictures. Afterwards, we rode on Route 66 for two miles, passing so many abandoned structures, until it merged with I-40 once again. I am glad we discovered this trip detour! 

We continued onto Albuquerque. We were now in Mountain Time as our devices went back an hour. We were traveling through the desert for the first time. After a short rest stop, we arrived in Albuquerque at our lunch stop, the Sawmill Market. The Sawmill Market contains many unique fast-food restaurants, bars, and dessert kiosks. We chose from pizza, burgers, Asian food, and dishes with a southwestern flair for lunch. Some bought the delicious Vietnamese Noodle Bowl and stuffed spring rolls. The prices were very reasonable. Everyone thoroughly enjoyed this unique southwestern lunch stop.

Tram ride to the top of Sandia Peak

The sun was shining, and the clouds were scattered, a perfect time to traverse the Sandia Mountains on The Sandia Peak Tramway. After purchasing the tickets, we all walked into a large tramcar that holds 50 people. We ascended for 15 minutes to a height of 10,300 feet and disembarked at the top. We were at the peak of the Sandia Mountains with breathtaking views of Albuquerque below. Usually, it’s much colder at this height, but it was 72° and very comfortable. We all took many magnificent pictures, and everyone thoroughly enjoyed this attraction.

We arrived at tonight’s Drury Inn and the keys and luggage handlers were waiting for us. After distributing the room keys, we were on our own to enjoy the kickback or go out to a nearby restaurant. We were all looking forward to our first two-night stay at a hotel. Today was another wonderful and unique day of travel and attractions. Tomorrow, Fernando has a day off and we will be driven around Albuquerque by Herrera Tours.

Day 8: Sunday, September 11, 2022

Everyone was grateful this morning for that extra hour of sleep, and we did not need to leave until 8:45 AM! Breakfast was excellent, typical of the Drury Inn. David, our Herrera Coach driver, arrived early and did a wonderful job for us all day. Our first stop was the Balloon Museum. Albuquerque is famous for its magnificent Balloon Festival every October. The Balloon Museum teaches the history of ballooning, which began on September 19, 1783, in Versailles, France. It depicts the many successes and failures as ballooning pioneers struggled to perfect multi day/week balloon trips. The Museum also provides information on weather conditions and other factors that affect the success of a hot air balloon trip. Short videos, life size dioramas, and short anecdotes are used to teach the history of ballooning. We enjoyed our time at the Balloon Museum.

Albuquerque International Balloon Museum

Our next stop was in Old Town Albuquerque for shopping and lunch. It was delightful just walking around with temperatures in the upper 70’s. Old Town takes us back hundreds of years with its Spanish architecture and narrow alleys. Red peppers are hung at many doorways to “Welcome” all visitors. Men and women sell jewelry and other related trinkets from blankets spread over the ground. Many shops were open selling colorful clothing, mini hot air balloon replicas, and New Mexico souvenirs. The tour guests had made fine choices for lunch and most returned to the bus with purchases. Everyone enjoyed their time in Old Town.

Our final stop of the day was the Indian Pueblo Cultural Center. We witnessed a wonderful traditional Native American Dance with others chanting and banging drums. The dancers were extremely talented, and their costumes were dynamic. Audience members were invited to dance with them in the giant circle and many in our group got up to dance. It was fun and entertaining to watch. 

Native Dancers at the Pueblo Cultural Center

Following the dance performance, we had an hour guided tour throughout the Museum given by John, the curator and leader of the Cultural Center. He’s a native New Mexico American Indian whose purpose is to teach Pueblo (village) life of his ancestors in this region. He is a brilliant and passionate historian and provided us with great insights into Pueblo life from the 1500’s to present. This is an important stop to experience a culture that is generally not prevalent at home.

Today was an important day to provide perspective into the lives of the great Native Americans who reside in the great Southwest.  

Day 9: Monday, September 12, 2022

Breakfast was perfect, as usual, for Drury Inns. Panera Bread delivered our lunches at 7:15 AM and I handed them out to each passenger in the hotel lobby. Everyone received a boxed lunch consisting of a sandwich, bag of chips, a pickle, a chocolate chip cookie, and a bottle of water. It was to be eaten at the Painted Desert later in the day.

We departed Albuquerque and continued west through New Mexico. The terrain is now all desert with high, colorful, flat cliffs called mesas dotting the background. One could see for miles in all directions. Many long freight trains were chugging along on tracks to our right. Our group stayed focused on the scenery while I played a few songs, mostly by request, to honor those of us celebrating an event. 

We soon arrived at our first rest stop, the rest stop that we were anticipating since Day 1, the Navajo Welcome Center at Exit 16 off of I-40 in Gallup, New Mexico. You can purchase a large Mexican Blanket for only $4.99 along with the opportunity to buy many unique Navajo and Route 66 gifts. Many walked out with at least one blanket but not more than two since they limited purchases to two blankets per person at that low price.

Painted Desert

We resumed travel and soon crossed the border into The Grand Canyon State, Arizona. I played the 18 minute National Park Service movie on the Painted Desert and Petrified Forest that is shown in the Visitors Center. It was an excellent introduction to what we will be experiencing. We soon pulled into our first National Park, the Painted Desert. After paying the entrance fee, we stopped at the Kochina Overlook and took our first glimpse into “Canyon Country,” nature’s artistic and colorful work. Guests commented that this view was worth the price of our magnificent trip.  

We continued onto Chinde Point where we all disembarked and ate our boxed lunch from Panera. Chinde Point has 16 covered picnic tables that seat up to eight people each. Everyone enjoyed their Panera lunch and many saved half for dinner tonight.

Continuing on, we stopped at several magnificent overlooks, each as distinctive as the other. There was a Route 66 stop where we took pictures of a 1930’s automobile (stripped to its frame). Agate Bridge is a long log of petrified wood that spans a small canyon below. The National Park Service needed to fortify the petrified wood with cement to preserve it for future generations. And our final stop was the Crystal Forest. Here, thousands of pieces of petrified wood of all sizes sit on the ground. The large majority of our tour guests chose to take the .75 mile circular hike into the badlands of the Petrified Forest to experience many more colorful pieces of petrified wood. The hike was pleasing to the eyes and invigorating to our bodies. Everyone thoroughly enjoyed the Painted Desert and Petrified Forest National Park.

After a stop at the Visitors Center complex where many purchased their National Parks stamp book and souvenirs, we continued our travels into beautiful Sedona. We ran into many sporadic heavy rainstorms that Fernando did a magnificent job driving through. We arrived at the Holiday Inn Express in Sedona only 30 minutes behind schedule. This is a beautiful hotel and very comfortable with a friendly staff. There are many restaurants adjacent to the Holiday Inn Express for tour guests to choose from for dinner.

Today was another special day and enjoyed by everyone. Tomorrow, we look forward to exploring beautiful Sedona and our Pink Jeep Tour.

Day 10: Tuesday, September 13, 2022

After a filling breakfast, we departed the hotel and traveled a short distance to the Pink Jeep Tour. Upon arrival, we divided into three groups of 6 people and two groups of 7.  The Pink Jeeps are windowless vehicles with a full roof and plenty of handles and padded poles for tour guests to hold on to when the going gets rough. Our extremely talented Jeep drivers provided wonderful commentary about Sedona while traveling the route. The road had its bumps and small rocks causing us to hold on and experience the thrill of off-road riding. We all disembarked and were led to a beautiful pond surrounded by magnificent views of the amazing red cliffs, an oasis in the desert. The blue skies with puffy cumulus clouds added to the beauty of the moment. Many pictures were taken including some group photos. We then drove to a second viewpoint with breathtaking 360° views of the red cliffs and vistas. Everyone thoroughly enjoyed this experience through the badlands of Sedona.

Rumbling over the rugged terrain of Sedona

Next on the itinerary was some free time to explore Sedona, a quaint town with many unique shops and wonderful restaurants all within two short blocks. Most chose to eat in the Cowboy Club, famous for its rattlesnake sausage, cactus fries, and prickly pear sauce. Yes, many tried rattlesnake for the first time and the consensus was positive!  

The Cowboy Club

After, we traveled southwest towards Scottsdale, a suburb of Phoenix, the capital city of Arizona.  We descended in elevation to less than one thousand feet above sea level. We were driving through the Sonoran Desert that is famous for Saguaros. Saguaros only grow in elevations under 3000 feet and only in the Sonoran Desert. The desert extends south into Tucson where Saguaro National Park is located. The tour guests marveled at the numerous Saguaros that seemed to be waving to us as we passed by. Many worked hard to capture photos of this Arizona State Cactus while on the moving bus. Saguaros, 30-45 feet tall with extended arms, can be between 150 and 200 years old! 

We arrived at the Western Spirit Museum in Scottsdale and to the delight of our guests, saguaros were lining its landscape. Of course, we took many pictures. The Western Spirit Museum, a subsidiary of the Smithsonian Institute, opened in 2016. Two extremely knowledgeable guides took groups of sixteen around the Museum. We were shown artifacts from the Lewis and Clark expedition, Native American clothing from the 19th century, and brilliant works of art along with bronze statues depicting life in the West from the past 200 years. Everyone loved their tour and gained a further appreciation of the “Wild West.” 

The Drury Inn in Chandler, a suburb nearer to Phoenix, was our home for the night. Many ate dinner at the Kickback while eleven rode to the Fashion Center Mall, one mile away, for dinner and shopping. Today was another exciting day of attractions as we traverse deeper into the western section of the United States. Tomorrow, “California Here We Come!” 

Day 11: Wednesday, September 14, 2022

Breakfast was once again delicious. We left Phoenix and within minutes were traveling through the desert. The Sonoran Desert extends well into California. Dry, desert land and blue sunny skies could be seen for miles in each direction. I played the movie, “The Founder” starring Michael Keaton as Ray Kroc since the original McDonalds was located in San Bernardino near Los Angeles. Most watched intently. After a short rest stop, we continued the final 60 miles to the California Border. We had made it across our country! The Beach Boys serenaded us in song as we crossed the California border and entered the Golden State. 

We stopped for lunch in El Centro, California. Most of the tour guests ate at Farmer Boys, a fast-food restaurant specializing in sandwiches, burgers, salads, and pizza. You order your food at the register, take a number, and your food is delivered to your seat. Everyone enjoyed this lunch stop that also included a supermarket. 

We continued traveling through the desert towards San Diego at elevations of 90 feet below sea level. The Sierra Nevada Mountain Range began looming up ahead and we began slowly climbing in elevation until we reached the peak at 4000 feet. Large boulders monopolized the scenery. Our decent brought us into the San Diego County limits and civilization. We soon arrived at our hotel, The Best Western Plus Bayside Inn, in downtown San Diego. 

The staff was extremely friendly and eager to please us. After checking in and a quick rest, Fernando drove us to Old Town San Diego for dinner and shopping.

Old Town San Diego

Old Town is a quaint part of town with complete Mexican flair; the architecture of the buildings, food choices, and colorful shops. Everyone enjoyed their time strolling around, shopping, listening to music, and eating dinner. It was a very pleasant evening.  

Tomorrow, we look forward to playing with the animals at the iconic San Diego Zoo. 

Day  12: Thursday, September 15, 2022

We boarded the bus and quickly arrived at the San Diego Zoo. After I picked up the tickets, we took a group photo under the giant lion at the entrance. Upon entering, we all boarded the double-decker bus for our introductory tour around the Zoo. Following the ride, everyone was on their own to walk around the Zoo, eat lunch, ride the Skyride, and enjoy the next four hours. One unique highlight of the San Diego Zoo is the Koala exhibit, and everyone was eager to see them perched in their trees. Everyone had a wonderful morning and enjoyed the zoo tremendously.  

San Diego Zoo

We returned to tour hotel to refresh before going out again for our two hour boat cruise on San Diego Harbor. Our hotel is located just three blocks from the wharf as some tour guests chose to take a short walk and enjoy The Port of San Diego on this beautiful day.

Upon arrival to the Flagship Pier, we lined up at Gate 1 and made our way down the gangway to board the Spirit of San Diego. The cruise was narrated by a knowledgeable young man as we cruised by the United States Naval Fleet, the island of Coronado, the two mile Coronado Bridge, and the beautiful skyline of San Diego. After one hour, we returned to the pier to drop off and pick up other passengers. The second hour of the cruise took us near the Pacific Ocean, a sea lion rookery, and training centers for our Navy Shipmen and Seals. The magnificent San Diego sunset over the bay was an additional highlight. Everyone enjoyed the cruise.

Boat cruise on San Diego Harbor

We returned to the hotel, and everyone was on their own for dinner to explore Little Italy and other magnificent restaurants within four short blocks of our hotel. The location of the hotel is perfect for our itinerary and the staff is friendly, efficient, and welcoming. Today was another fun-filled day completing our first full day on the West Coast. 

Day 13: Friday, September 16, 2022

This morning we departed San Diego and began our travels north, toward Los Angeles.  

The Richard Nixon Library & Museum

Our first stop today was in Yorba Linda, home to the Nixon Presidential Library. Upon arrival, we divided into two groups and began our tour. Our guides led us through rooms showing Nixon’s domestic accomplishments, his foreign policy including his opening of China, and the tumultuous Vietnam War protests. The fascinating guide told stories of how Elvis showed up at the White House one day and presented Nixon with a gun to the fright of the Secret Service. We learned that Nixon was a huge proponent of cleaning the environment and started the Environment Protection Agency. He fought for equal rights for women and people of color. The museum concludes with his resignation due to Watergate and does a great job explaining the entire Watergate scandal.

Additionally, we were shown the gravesites of Pat and Richard and were allowed to see, up close, the Presidential Helicopter, the same helicopter that took Nixon away from the White House following his resignation. We entered his childhood home and our guide told us about his family and boyhood life. A short film summarizes our entire tour ending this magnificent experience. For a few hours, we were taken back to our twenties and thirties, a time when we were so involved with work and family that we were unable to gain a full perspective on this time period. Everyone loved this historic attraction.

Lunch was in the Yorba Linda Town Center just a half mile away. New restaurants continue to open, and we had a great choice of healthy and unique places to eat. An hour later, we all boarded the bus and traveled to Los Angeles. Despite pockets of traffic on I-5, we arrived at the Hilton Garden Inn Burbank on schedule.

This is a perfectly situated hotel surrounded by numerous restaurants along San Fernando Boulevard. Our fabulous bus driver FERNANDO was especially proud that this hotel was sitting on his namesake boulevard! 

Shortly after arrival, most of us chose to experience Universal Studios Citywalk. This particular Friday night happened to be the first night of fright night at Universal Studios in celebration of Halloween. Our guests enjoyed the excitement, the unique stores for shopping, and the many fine restaurants and other food establishments selling ice cream, popcorn, and donuts. Everyone enjoyed reliving youthful moments and had a wonderful time.

Day 14: Saturday, September 17, 2022

Hollywood Bowl

Judy, our extremely knowledgeable and personable local Los Angeles Tour Guide for two of the past three years, met us at the hotel after breakfast. We were so fortunate to have her with us. Our first stop was the Hollywood Bowl, the iconic concert hall that seats 17,000 plus. Frank Sinatra, Barbra Streisand, and the Beatles have all performed here. For the first time on any of our Los Angeles Tours, the Hollywood Bowl was open for us to walk inside. We were all very excited as Judy provided great narration. What struck me the most was the seats seemed very uncomfortable. The box seats located in the lower quarter of the arena were simply two green beach chairs partially enclosed by two foot wooden walls. Wooden bleachers composed the remainder of the seating. The show tonight was “The Sound of Music” with live music accompanying the movie. Workers were making preparations. Everyone was thrilled with this stop 

We continued on to the TCL Theater (formerly the Graumans Chinese Theater) and the Hollywood Walk of Fame. Judy lead us up the famous staircase that becomes the Red Carpet during the Academy Awards and towards the Dolby Theater. She shared great information about the Oscars and how they transform this complex to look like a first class theater instead of a shopping mall. Judy then leads us to an overlook where the HOLLYWOOD Sign is in view. We then had 45 minutes on our own to shop in the many souvenir stores and take pictures of the stars on ground.

We continued our tour by traveling near Beverly Hills (it is illegal to drive down many of these streets to maintain the privacy of its residents). We stopped and took pictures of the famous Beverly Hills Sign and the Ringo Starr Peace and Love Statue. We passed Rodeo Drive and saw the shop that Julia Robert’s was thrown out of in the movie, “Pretty Woman.” Our next stop was the original Farmers Market where we were given time on our own for lunch and shopping. The Grove is an outdoor shopping center adjacent to the Farmers Market where many tour guests also walked. Everyone enjoyed their lunch in this very famous section of Los Angeles.

La Brea Tar Pits

Our final stop was the LaBrea Tar Pits. Prehistoric animal parts from woolly mammoths, giant sloths, and saber tooth tigers were excavated and continue to be from these tar pits. Judy provided a great narration as we took many interesting pictures. We completed our tour by riding past the Robert Kennedy School Complex (formerly the Ambassador Hotel) in downtown Los Angeles where Robert Kennedy was assassinated in June of 1968. Judy did a fabulous job and gave everyone an amazing perspective of Los Angeles. Kudos to Fernando who was equally as amazing negotiating the streets, many under construction, in Hollywood and Los Angeles. Everyone thoroughly enjoyed this in-depth tour.

Everyone was now on their own in beautiful downtown Burbank for dinner and shopping. We leave California tomorrow and start our journey eastward.  

Cross Country Adventures by Bus 2021 – Eastbound

Presenting the second half of our 2021 Cross Country Adventure recap by Starr Tour Director Gene Gray! (Click here to read about their Westbound journey.)

Day 15: Sunday, September 19, 2021

Once we departed LA, I began by telling about the history of Las Vegas including some Las Vegas trivia. Did you know there are 62,000+ hotel rooms in Las Vegas? I then showed a 50-minute History Channel documentary titled “Las Vegas”.

We stopped at a Walmart in Barstow, California for a bathroom and shopping break. Everyone stocked up on breakfast foods and snacks for Las Vegas. Walmart continues to be an important stop on our Cross Country trips!

An hour later, we pulled into the Baker, CA Travel Plaza. The Travel Plaza is all indoors, fully air-conditioned, with plenty of seating. This is an excellent lunch stop in the middle of the California desert with outside temperatures hovering at 91°.

Once back on the road, I played the movie, “Viva Las Vegas” starring Elvis Presley and Ann Margaret. It’s a “B” or “C” movie at best, but the music is great, and it takes place in Las Vegas.

Upon arrival in Las Vegas, Walt took us on a little riding tour by driving to the northern end of Las Vegas Boulevard (The Strip) and turned south so we’d be passing all the major Las Vegas Hotels. The mini tour culminated at the Las Vegas Sign on the southern end of The Strip. Many took photos of this iconic sign. After checking in to the New York New York hotel, I hosted a walking orientation for our guests to learn their way around the hotel

No report for tomorrow. Everyone has different plans and Walt has some time off. “What happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas!”

Day 17: Tuesday, September 21, 2021

It was good seeing everyone after nearly two days apart as we departed Las Vegas. Everyone had a wonderful time – many took the Hoover Dam sightseeing tour, others saw a show, most enjoyed sleeping in, and quite a few walked from hotel to hotel to see all the unique attractions in each. On one hand, it was sad leaving Las Vegas. On the other, we were all looking forward to leaving city life and getting back to nature.

On the bus, I celebrated our reunion by playing songs that were requested on Day 1. I also played the DVD “The Harvey Girls” that explained the influential role of women waitresses in the Fred Harvey restaurant business between 1880 and 1960. Fred Harvey revolutionized the food business out west which included the Grand Canyon. He set up very strict and respectable rules for all women he hired and paid them a very high salary in a time when women were not considered part of the work force. Everyone enjoyed this documentary.

We arrived at our lunch stop, The Roadkill Cafe, on Historic Route 66 in Seligman, Arizona. Their slogan is “You kill it, We grill it”. The Cafe is a marvelous piece of Americana. The food was delicious, and I thanked the staff many times for all their efforts on our behalf. Many went shopping in the Roadkill Cafe’s unique gift shop and then walked next door to the General Store which sold Route 66 gifts and all sorts of items. Everyone really enjoyed this oasis in the desert.

We were an hour out of Flagstaff and our Drury Inn. Once on the bus, I played the IMAX video titled “The Grand Canyon,” a wonderful film providing an overview through the past 4,000 years of how man existed in this rugged environment. The movie concluded as we entered the city limits of Flagstaff, the gateway to the Grand Canyon.

The Drury Inn was very excited to welcome us. Our early arrival gave us some quiet down time. After all, we had been burning the midnight oil the past few days. We were all excited to leave first thing tomorrow morning for the one and only Grand Canyon.

Day 18: Wednesday, September 22, 2021

Today was a spectacularly GRAND day. After a wonderful buffet breakfast at the Drury Inn, we boarded the bus for our 90-minute ride to Grand Canyon National Park. Grand Canyon National Park is the second most visited National Park in the United States (Great Smoky Mountains National Park is first) and one of the seven Natural Wonders of the World (along with the Northern Lights and Mount Everest to name three). During our ride, I showed the Grand Canyon National Park’s Official Visitors’ Center movie titled “Grand Canyon: A Journey of Wonder.” It’s a great introduction to everything the Grand Canyon has to offer.

We entered Grand Canyon National Park at the Eastern Entrance. Our first stop was Desert View and the famous Watchtower. It was designed by Architect Mary Colter in 1907 and constructed by the Santa Fe Railroad. It was completed in 1932. Desert View is the perfect introduction to the Grand Canyon. The bright sun from the east and dark blue sky from above accentuated the brilliant display of colors that make the Grand Canyon so surreal. Pictures never can do the Grand Canyon justice. One has to be here and experience this natural masterpiece for themselves. Quotes from tour guests from the Desert View overlook include “Awesome,” “It doesn’t look real,” “I can’t believe what I’m looking at,” “It’s unbelievable!”, and many more thoughts of astonishment. I say, “You have to see it to believe it.”

We continued West to other unique and powerful overlooks. Moran Point is a geologist’s paradise. All the layers of rock from 270 million years ago at the top (the Coconino Sandstone) to 1.5 billion years ago at the bottom (the Vishnu Schist) are exposed and can be identified. Yavapai Point has great views of the two main hiking trails within the Grand Canyon; the South Kaibab Trail to the east and the Bright Angel Trail to the west. From Yavapai Point, you can also see the Kaibab Suspension Bridge that was built in 1928 for hikers to cross over the Colorado River to reach Phantom Ranch, where they can spend the night. You can also see the green trees of Indian Garden, the only place on the Bright Angel Trail with access to water – so vital for survival while hiking in the Canyon.

Village Walk, Grand Canyon Village

Our morning tour concluded at the Grand Canyon Village that houses the two great Grand Canyon Hotels; the Bright Angel Lodge and the El Tovar Hotel. More marvelous views of the Canyon can be seen from the .3 mile Canyon Rim walk that connects both hotels. And the Village hosts the best restaurants in the Grand Canyon; the El Tovar Restaurant, the Bright Angel Lodge Restaurant (that seats nearly 200 guests), and the quaint Arizona Room Steakhouse at the Bright Angel Lodge.

After lunch, Walt, who continues to do a fabulous job, drove us to the General Store for final Grand Canyon souvenir and gift purchasing. Our final stop was the Visitor’s Center Complex and Mather Point, another breathtaking view of the grandeur of the Grand Canyon. At Mather Point, one can see for miles in all directions. Mather was the first Director of the National Parks Service and fought tirelessly for years to get the Grand Canyon protected and under government control. Despite some inconveniences due to COVID, we all knew that the purpose of today was to experience the Grand Canyon as completely as possible – and this was exactly what we did. We all experienced sensory overload and were overwhelmed with the awe-inspiring beauty of the Grand Canyon.

Mather Point Overlook

We flopped into our seats on the bus and traveled back to Flagstaff in reflective silence.

Day 19: Thursday, September 23, 2021

We left Flagstaff and continued our journey on Arizona Highway 163 North toward Moab, Utah. Being in Navajo Territory, our clocks turned one hour ahead. Despite residing in Arizona, the Navajo always change their clocks and stay on Mountain Time. We are consistently surrounded by beautiful rock formations of brilliant colors. The scenery extends as far as the eyes can see. Most of the area we’re driving through is Navaho Territory and at times, you can see homes in need of repair. Their vehicles appear old and rusty. The land is hard and dry – desert conditions. There are no shops for miles. This looks to be a very sad and difficult way to exist.

I showed the DVD, “Arches National Park,” from the Official Visitors’ Center. It provided an excellent introduction to Arches and what we have in store for tomorrow. I further discussed that Delicate Arch, the park’s signature piece of sculpture, is not accessible by vehicle and visitors must hike four miles mostly uphill, to see it up close. We will not be taking the time to do this, but we will stop at a place where one can spot Delicate Arch from a mile away.

We arrived at Sand Island Recreation Area to eat lunch. Everyone disembarked and ate their lunch at one of four covered picnic tables or found a comfortable rock to sit on. The scenery was beautiful. We were surrounded by magnificent rock formations and the cool flowing San Juan River. Everyone thoroughly enjoyed their boxed lunch from the Aspen Deli. We each had a sandwich, chips, a cookie, and a bottle of water. After lunch, some of us dipped our feet in the San Juan River. Most took pictures. Everyone agreed this was a wonderful place to eat our lunch.

Continuing our travels to Moab, I played quiet Native American tunes on the bus as some people slept and others relaxed. We completed our journey to Moab and the Aarchway Inn. After an hour to refresh, we boarded the bus for a five-minute ride to our Canyonlands By Night Dinner and Cruise.

Dinner was buffet style and included corn, beans, potatoes, mixed vegetables, BBQ chicken, BBQ beef, and BBQ pork. The food was tender, moist, and delicious.

The Canyonlands by Night Cruise was magnificent. It is hard to explain in writing. Everyone must experience this in person. At first, a guide trains you to use your imagination by looking at the colorful sandstone rock formations. Emboldened on the rocks, one could imagine ET, the Wicked Witch, Frankenstein, and a Dachshund, to name a few. As the light of day faded into total darkness of night, one could look up and see millions of stars shining down brilliantly, a sight we rarely get to see living on the east coast. Then the light show began. Spotlights lit up sections of the Canyon walls. Music played as the narrator told stories of Moab and the Colorado River. It was a complete multi-sensory experience that put you in a state of total relaxation. Following the narration, we floated down the Colorado River in silence with only the sounds of music until we arrived back at the dock. All of us came off the boat raving about this magnificent show.

Setting off on the Canyonlands by Night Cruise

Another fabulous day with many different experiences! This seems to be the theme of this Cross Country Vacation.

Day 20: Friday, September 24, 2021

It was still dark outside when we departed the hotel for our five-minute ride to Arches National Park. Our first stop was the La Sal Mountain Viewpoint, the perfect place to see the sunrise – and it was magnificent!!!

Arches is so beautiful. Huge rock formations surround you at every turn. We stopped at 7 stops and spent over four hours enjoying this unique National Park. Balanced Rock now stands alone after its adjacent balanced rock eroded away and fell in 1976. Arches is constantly evolving and one day, perhaps in a mere thousand years, the arches we see today will be gone, replaced by new formations. Balanced Rock is 128 feet in height and weighs 3,600 tons. We all took many photographs.

Our longest time at Arches National Park was spent walking/hiking within the Windows Section. The pathways are unpaved and consist of uneven steps, petrified sandstone, and rocks mixed with dirt. That did not prevent many of us from climbing the paths to Double Arch and North and South Window to stand beneath these unique formations. The hikes provided us with wonderful exercise. It’s the only way to experience Arches, by getting up close and personal. Everyone enjoyed the 45 minutes we had to experience the Windows Section of Arches National Park.

Windows Section of Arches National Park

Our final stop was the Lower Delicate Arch Viewpoint from which we were able to photograph the Park’s most prominent feature, Delicate Arch. Delicate Arch is the face of Arches National Park. It is seen on the cover of all publications and Arches National Park souvenirs. Although Delicate Arch stands a mile away from this viewpoint, we were all able to take many fine pictures. We then rode back to the Visitors Center for souvenirs and to get our Arches National Park Stamp for our National Parks Passport Book. We were soon on our way, saying goodbye to Arches National Park, and hello to Colorado.

Being near Iowa, the place where Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens, and J.P. “The Big Bopper” Richardson were killed in a plane crash in February 1959, I played Don McLean’s “American Pie” followed by two Buddy Holly songs. I then played the first hour of “The Buddy Holly Story” starring Gary Busey, who won Best Actor in 1978 for this role.

Our lunch stop was at the Mesa Mall in Grand Junction, Colorado. We easily found the food court which offered many different choices. It was another perfect lunch stop.

Once back on the bus, I showed the second half of “The Buddy Holly Story.” The ending emphasized Holly’s love for his wife, his music career, and for life. He was only 21 years old when his life and career were tragically cut short.  We were now approaching the most scenic part of our ride through the Rocky Mountains. The green of the tall Ponderosa Pine Trees against the gray and red colors of the rock was a brilliant visual. The mountains rose to different heights as we climbed to over 11,000 feet in elevation. A swiftly running stream accompanied I-70 on our right for close to 100 miles. People were seen rafting in the rapids. John Denver music serenaded throughout the bus; “Rocky Mountain High,” “Poems, Prayers, and Promises,” “The Mountain Song,” and many others. Between the sheer beauty of the Rockies and the calming effects of the music, we all were able to experience this magnificent section of highway to the fullest.

We arrived at the Drury Inn Denver and everyone was happy and tired. We had gotten up early to be at Arches National Park by 7:00 AM. We saw the magnificent sunrise, climbed rock, dirt, and sandstone paths leading up to the different formations, had a good lunch at the Mesa Mall, overloaded our visual and auditory senses riding through the Rocky Mountains, and we made it to the Drury Kickback. Today was another rewarding and successful day.

Day 21: Saturday, September 25, 2021

Everyone commented they had a wonderful rest last night after our active day yesterday. We boarded our bus for a ride into unknown territory culminating in a lunch stop in Fort Laramie and our visit to Mount Rushmore.

After a few morning songs, I showed the video, “Mount Rushmore” created by the History Channel. It provided all information about Mount Rushmore from conception to completion including authentic footage of the 1920’s and 1930’s. Gutzon Borglum created the initial scale models of his vision while his son, Lincoln, supervised the sculpturing and saw the project to completion. Mount Rushmore opened to the public in 1941.

We found a really fun rest stop with a convenience store that sold all things Wyoming gifts and souvenirs. It’s actually a combined Sinclair Gas Station, convenience store, hotel and resort named “Little America.” Outside sits Dino the dinosaur with a saddle on its back encouraging patrons to climb aboard, which many did!

Fun with Dino the Dinosaur

We were riding through open prairie as far as the eye could see. After a quiet session on the bus, I played some western music. We could almost imagine the sheriff and his posse riding on this rugged terrain to find the outlaws. At noon, we arrived in Fort Laramie, Wyoming for our lunch stop at Vickie’s Saloon.

Vickie’s Saloon is directly out of those Western Movies. As you enter, the bar is on your right and runs the length of the saloon. The pool table is in an adjacent section on your left and the jukebox and piano sit on a wall towards the rear. Vickie put up signs to the public saying the Saloon was closed on Saturday from 11:30-1:30 PM. We knew we had the place all to ourselves. Vickie’s Saloon is relatively small, with a legal capacity of 78 patrons at one time. Signs on the wall also indicated the Saloon was up for sale. Vickie shared she’s owned it for ten years and wants to retire and travel.

Vickie of Vickie’s Saloon and Gene

Vickie greeted us with open arms as we entered. Two guests selected songs in the jukebox and some began line dancing on the dance floor. A festive atmosphere ensued. Although lunch took a bit longer than anticipated, mostly everyone had a magnificent time. We departed Vickie’s after taking group pictures with Vickie, outside her Saloon, and wished her luck in her impending retirement.

Final group photo with Vickie in front of her Saloon

We were on the road to Mount Rushmore, one of the most anticipated attractions of this Cross Country Vacation.

Dry arid land soon gave way to the Black Hills as we crossed into South Dakota. Being off the interstate, we found the smaller state highways to be just as fast with speed limits averaging 70 mph.

After paying our entrance fee, we parked our bus next to the entrance. We were the only bus and we were able to maximize our time at Mount Rushmore. After entering, we walked through the pathway of flags (flags from each state and each U.S. territory) and looked up. The skies were a clear blue, the sun off to the western sky. We were able to take many fabulous photographs of the Gutzon Borglum’s Fab Four; George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Theodore Roosevelt, and Abraham Lincoln. Many chose to take the Presidential Walk. The National Park Service constructed a magnificent walkway so visitors could get up close to the Monument. The circular walkway has many steps and is about a half mile in length, and the close-up views are spectacular. We were able to shop in the Mount Rushmore Gift Shop and we departed Mount Rushmore for our half hour ride to the Best Western Hotel in Rapid City.

Day 22: Sunday, September 26, 2021

Today we set off for Badlands National Park, our final National Park for this trip.

Our first overlook stop was The Pinnacles. This awe-inspiring view depicted pointed spires lined up in rows stretching as far as the eye can see.  At the next overlook, a bighorn sheep feeding 50 feet from our vantage point stole the show. The third stop was Prairie Dog Town. Prairie Dogs can be seen guarding their maze of tunnels against all possible invaders and heard making sounds to warn other Prairie Dogs when they feel threatened. The fourth stop was beautiful Panorama Point, a magnificent 180° view of the rugged terrain of the Badlands and a perfect place to conclude our tour. We stopped at the Visitors Center to purchase souvenirs and get our National Parks Passport Books stamped. Blue skies, temperatures in the low 80’s, and prairie winds blowing at moderate speed added to our complete enjoyment of our visit to the Badlands.

Badlands National Park

Wall Drugstore was a short ride from the Badlands and our lunch stop. Wall Drug sells everything from Cowboy Boots to health aids, souvenirs, and jewelry. Twenty-three average-sized themed shops are connected by a series of doorways and hallways. It’s a shopper’s dream for gift purchases, unique items, and necessities. In addition, Wall Drug has a cafeteria that seats 590 people. After a short wait on a line, you give the cashier your order, pay for it, and within five minutes, your order is ready. The cafeteria is fast and efficient, and the food is delicious. Everyone appreciated the two hours they had to eat and shop in this must-see establishment.

After lunch, we traveled 230 miles to the Comfort Inn in Mitchell, South Dakota. I played the movie, “La Bamba,” the story of Rock N’ Roll Hall of Fame inductee Ritchie Valens who, at 17 years of age, was killed in a plane crash with Buddy Holly. Valens had a short, powerful, and very influential music career. His plane crashed in Iowa, the state we will arrive in tomorrow. Everyone enjoyed the movie very much.

After a rest stop, we traveled the final hour to the Comfort Inn. Four restaurants surrounded the parking lot of the Comfort Inn so many made plans with each other to have dinner together. Tomorrow is a day of travel. Tonight is a night of celebration and a comfortable night’s sleep.

Day 23: Monday, September 27, 2021

A five-minute ride landed us at the iconic Mitchell Corn Palace. It’s a large arena with a seating capacity of over 6,000. It’s the center of activity in a small South Dakota town with a population of just over 11,000. Its uniqueness comes from its giant wall murals made solely out of corn of many colors. As we entered, two people were tearing down the outside corn mural from this past year and will be replacing it with a brand-new mural for next year. The beautiful murals inside the arena remain the same.

Corn Palace

Everyone enjoyed their time at the Corn Palace and bought gifts in the Gift Shop. We departed Mitchell before 9:00 AM for a day of travel through three states, South Dakota, Minnesota, and Iowa. I played a few morning songs and we had some quiet time. Since our destination was Iowa, I showed the movie “Field of Dreams” starring Kevin Costner and James Earl Jones.

The movie set and field for “Field of Dreams” are now a major tourist attraction, located in Dyersville, Iowa, just 25 miles west of Dubuque, Iowa, where we will be spending the night. In fact, we pass the Exit for Dyersville on our travels. Major League Baseball held its first regular season game on a new field adjacent to the movie set with major league dimensions on August 12, 2021. The game featured the New York Yankees and the Chicago White Sox and was a home game for the White Sox. Many home runs were hit in the game and the White Sox won it 9-8. The players were introduced by walking through the corn field (similar to the movie) and wore uniforms resembling the 1919 baseball teams. The new field in Dyersville has a seating capacity of just over 8,000 and tickets cost upwards of $1,400 each. MLB has already scheduled the Cincinnati Reds and Chicago Cubs to play in Dyersville in August 2022. All enjoyed the movie and applauded its conclusion.

We had a fabulous lunch at the Ranch Restaurant in Fairmont, Minnesota. Sally, the owner, set up a private room for us and had three servers taking our orders upon being seated. Everyone raved about their delicious lunch and the efficiency of the staff. I was told many times that this restaurant is definitely a “keeper” for future Cross Country Trips. We were back on the road again in just over one hour.

We arrived at the Holiday Inn Dubuque and look forward to a good rest followed by two days in “The Windy City.”

Day 24: Tuesday, September 28, 2021

The town of Dubuque borders the mighty Mississippi River so almost immediately following our departure, we crossed the bridge that spanned the Mississippi. We were now in the state of Illinois. I played “Proud Mary” by both Creedence Clearwater Revival and Tina Turner. Everyone was awake now!

After a brief rest stop, we were closing in on Chicago. It was time for Frank Sinatra to serenade our arrival with “My Kind of Town” and “Chicago, That Toddlin’ Town.” Walt dropped us off at the Chicago Navy Pier located on sparkling Lake Michigan and consisting of many restaurants, shops, and attractions. We had another beautiful sunny day with temperatures in the 70s. It was a perfect combination for everyone to enjoy their time at the Navy Pier, both inside and out, with plenty of time to eat lunch and stroll around the shops that feature everything Chicago. Many rode the Centennial Ferris Wheel for magnificent views of Chicago and Lake Michigan. Most enjoyed strolling on the Pier enjoying this beautiful September weather in the Windy City.

Our next attraction was The Ledge, the magnificent Skydeck Chicago at the Willis Tower. Stepping out onto The Ledge feels like being suspended in air. One can look down and see the streets of Chicago 103 stories below. The wonderful people in charge of crowd control gives everyone two minutes to enjoy (or fear) this fascinating experience. They will even take pictures of you on The Ledge. Those that did “Step Out” really enjoyed it. But it’s not for everyone!

In leading our tour guests to the Skydeck Elevators, we pass through a wonderful interactive museum of everything Chicago. Many had fun taking pictures at Wrigley Field, with Oprah, the Obamas, and on the Chicago EL. The elevator ride to the 103rd floor of the Willis Tower takes one minute. Once on the Skydeck, the views were stunning. We could see for 50 miles in all directions on this beautiful clear day. The elevator down lets you off at the Willis Tower Gift Shop. Across the street from the Willis Tower is a Route 66 sign since Chicago is the beginning of Route 66. Many enjoyed taking pictures of that as well.

Chicago Museum in the Willis Tower

We checked into the Fairfield Inn, our hotel for the next two nights. Everyone enjoyed walking around Chicago and dinner as well as the energy this wonderful city provides. We look forward to a wonderful day touring this third largest city in the United States tomorrow.

Day 25: Wednesday, September 29, 2021

We had the unusual opportunity to “sleep in” this morning. Breakfast hours in the Fairfield Inn ranged from 6:00 to 10:00 AM and our tour of Chicago wasn’t beginning until 10:00 AM. Walt is enjoying a day off today.

The two Trolleys arrived a little before 10:00 AM and we all hopped aboard. We began by heading South on Michigan Avenue, past the Wrigley Building, across the Chicago River and past Millennium Park. Our guide told us about the Bean, located at Millennium Park – it’s a huge bean shaped shiny structure the size of a bus and hollow on the inside. It’s great to take kaleidoscopic pictures from underneath. We continued past Soldier Field, home of the Chicago Bears (for now), past the Field Museum and the Chicago Aquarium. We stopped for photos overlooking the great Chicago Skyline. The tour continued on the North Side of Chicago with stops at iconic Wrigley Field where we got out to take pictures and beautiful Lincoln Park where we entered the Lincoln Park Conservatory for a brief picture and use of their facilities. The Trolley Tour is a great way to introduce this fabulous city from land. The two and a quarter hour tour was enjoyed by everyone.

Group photo in front of the Chicago skyline

We were dropped off from the Trolley Tour at The Shops at North Bridge, a mall with a diverse food court and nearby the Wendella Boats where we would meet for a 2:30 PM boat cruise.

The Chicago River Architectural Cruise was truly the highlight of the day. Blue skies, little wind, and temperatures in the upper 70s made this a most comfortable and enjoyable cruise. We all sat on the top open desk while Zach, a brilliant 23-year-old guide, enthusiastically described and shared stories about every building we passed. He also provided many fun facts and proudly recited historical information about his city. People have said the best way to see Chicago is by the river, and today proved this correct.

The highlight of the Chicago River Cruise was going through a lock into Lake Michigan. Lake Michigan is five feet above the Chicago River so in order to pass from the river into the lake, one lock closes while the other lock leading to Lake Michigan opens slightly. At this moment, 80,000 gallons of water begin to flow into the river lock bringing our boat up five feet to smoothly sail into Lake Michigan. This was so cool to watch and experience from the boat. We toured Lake Michigan and the magnificent Chicago Skyline while Zach described each of Chicago’s more prominent buildings. He highlighted the Willis Tower as the grandest in architectural design. Everyone found the Boat Cruise informational, entertaining, and fascinating.

We took a slow walk back to our hotel. Many stopped at Garrett’s Popcorn to purchase a special treat to take home with them. We now had over an hour to relax before we needed to meet once again to take a short walk to dinner at Gino’s East.

Chicago is a very impressive city. One guest who didn’t particularly care for large cities, shared how amazed he was with the cleanliness of Chicago. The streets and sidewalks were free of debris. Flowers and different plants sat in large cement pots added beauty to the sides of the roads. The people here are friendly and very proud of their city.

Walt joined us on his day off for dinner. Dressed in shorts and a regular shirt, no one recognized him! Walt shared how he spent his day. After cleaning the bus, he walked to the Chicago Navy Pier, rode the Centennial Ferris Wheel, rented a bicycle, and rode back to the Willis Tower where he had his picture taken on the Ledge. We were all thrilled he was able to join us for dinner. Walt is an amazing bus driver and always gives 100% to caring for each and every traveler – and their luggage!

Our tables at Gino’s East were all set up for us as we took our seats. Before everyone was seated, a large bowl of salad was placed on each table. The salad was followed by a plate of hot wings that we passed around the table for each to enjoy. Our next appetizer was Gino’s famous hand-rolled spinach and mozzarella sticks with marinara sauce. Mmmmmm!!! By this time, everyone was beginning to slow down and feel full.  A few minutes later, the Chicago Deep Dish Pizza made its entrance. We were offered a slice of plain, mushroom, or pepperoni. The Deep Dish Pizza was thick, moist, and tasty. The mozzarella cheese stretched with every bite. Many used a knife and fork while some broke pieces of the pizza off with their fingers. It’s difficult to pick up and eat. The crust was crunchy and tasty. One slice was all most people could handle at this time. However, soon a few thin crust pizzas appeared on our tables.

After a dessert of homemade brownies and chocolate chip cookies, we all made our best efforts to roll out of our chairs! Prior to getting up, everyone showed their approval with dinner by resounding applause. I made a short announcement thanking our servers and providing details for tomorrow morning. We all took a leisurely walk back to the Fairfield Inn.

Today we enjoyed getting to know Chicago in a more intimate way. Tomorrow we’re up early to travel to Cleveland and maximize our time at the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame before our “Farewell Dinner” (hard to believe our Cross Country Trip is coming to a close) at the Hofbrauhaus.

Day 26: Thursday, September 30, 2021

We departed Chicago at 7:00 AM in order to arrive in Cleveland as early as possible and maximize our time at the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame.

It’s hard to believe today is our final day of attractions with 38 marvelous travelers who are now good friends. As in any trip, we’ve overcome a few bumps in the road, but we all stuck together and cared for each other. Masks were always worn, and nobody got sick, not even a cold!

I played “My Kind of Town” as we departed Chicago. I then refocused by playing songs performed by Rock & Roll Hall of Fame Inductees. After a rest stop, I played the movie, “Bohemian Rhapsody,” the sad story of Freddie Mercury, lead singer of Queen, who died of HIV at age 46 in the height of his career. The movie was interrupted with our lunch stop and was completed after we were back on the road.

We arrived in time to offer over two and a half hours to enjoy the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. The brilliant, mostly glass, architectural masterpiece was designed by I.M Pei and opened on June 7, 1993. We disembarked the bus and were provided wrist bands upon entering. We spent the majority of time watching films, reading showcases, and listening to music. Featured exhibits honor the Influencers of Music in the early 20th century, provide history and photographs from Rolling Stone Magazine, and showcase instruments, clothing, and fascinating information on hundreds of Rock & Roll performers. Monitors are in place at every turn featuring musical performances of the singers wearing the clothing or playing the instrument on display. One guest described their experience at the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame “as spending a few hours reliving my childhood.” Many were able to see the Hall of Fame Inductee Plaques and shop in the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame Gift Shop. Everyone enjoyed their time at this magnificent museum.

Walt had taken our luggage to the Drury Plaza Hotel while we were at the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. He returned before 5:45 PM to pick us up and drive us one mile to the Hofbrauhaus, our venue for our Farewell Dinner. The Hofbrauhaus is the most organized and efficient restaurant one could ever experience. Upon entering, we found our name and dinner choice printed on a card that we brought to our table. We all sat in tables of eight and had plenty of room. Drink orders were immediately taken. Salad with a Bavarian Pretzel was served next. Our main dinner choice soon followed. The servers catered to our every need. A generous piece of Apple Strudel was placed in front of us for dessert. Everyone was extremely satisfied. We were able to talk, laugh, and enjoy each other’s company in a relaxed atmosphere with good food and drink for one final night together as the 2021 Cross Country Travelers.

It’s always bittersweet to end a fabulous trip and go home. This is what we’re up against tomorrow.

Day 27: Friday, October 1, 2021

After Walt and I meticulously placed all luggage in the luggage compartments according to drop-off points, we were on our way home and preparing to say goodbye after 27 days of friendship. I began the journey home by playing “Homeward Bound” by Simon and Garfunkel.

I then led a summary of all 27 days of this magnificent trip. Highlights included memories of the Canyonlands by Night Boat Cruise and Light Show that most agreed to be this year’s #1 attraction. Our lunches each day were completely different; from all of us enjoying one restaurant like The Ranch Restaurant in Fairmont, Minnesota to purposely stopping at an exit off the interstate where four different restaurants were positioned side by side. We ate lunch outdoors at the Painted Desert National Park in Arizona as well as along the banks of the San Juan River in Utah. Unless part of an attraction, our goal for lunch was to be served, eat, and back on the bus within an hour and we were able to achieve this goal every time except once.

We arrived at the Oakmont Plum Rest Area off of the Pennsylvania Turnpike for our first stop. Walt and I organized a little ceremony to honor all of our fabulous guests in completing this 27 Day Cross Country Trip. Following the ceremony, we boarded the bus and continued east.

I handed out the Starr survey asking guests to evaluate many facets of our Cross Country trip including all hotels. Everyone worked diligently on this and handed me their completed surveys sealed in an envelope. Since we all were completing a bucket list of sorts on this Cross Country trip today, I played the movie “The Bucket List” starring Morgan Freeman and Jack Nicholson.

After, I began a musical review of our trip. I purposely played specific songs throughout the trip depending on our location at the time. Guests made many requests for songs that I played or downloaded from iTunes. Our most energetic song for the 2021 Cross Country trip was undoubtedly “Uptown Funk” by Mark Ronson and Bruno Mars. I thank Cheryl and Hattie for this request. And once again, Lee Greenwood’s “God Bless the U.S.A.” received the most applause as the patriotic song of the trip. The music helped make this trip as special as it was.

After our final rest stop, we arrived in Bensalem, thus officially completing our journey across this beautiful country. Sandy was waiting with a “Welcome Home” sign and enthusiastically greeted us. She also boarded the bus and offered words of praise. To quote a famous writer in the late 16th century, “Parting is such sweet sorrow.” Everyone was hugging each other and saying their goodbyes for now. We had made it, despite the constant cloud of Covid in the back of our minds.

Our experiences were vast. Our 27 days were all sunny and warm with clear blue skies. Who would ever have expected perfect weather! We had magnificent tour guests who cared about the welfare of each other. We stayed healthy. We wore our masks to keep us and each other safe. We completed our entire itinerary and more. The 2021 Cross Country Trip was a complete success!  A big shout out goes to the hardworking Starr Staff, Nancy, Dawn, and Audrey for a magnificent itinerary and great support and organization.

Our outstanding driver, Walt Deminski, was the most important person and key ingredient to the overall success of the Cross Country Trip. Not only did he accomplish all the driving, he expertly handled every piece of luggage – checking off each piece daily before putting them into the luggage compartments beneath the bus. After a long day of driving, Walt spent the hours before going to his hotel room washing the outside of the bus, sterilizing the inside of the bus, and washing the floors and removing garbage. Walt’s efforts were instrumental in all of us maintaining our good health and safety throughout the 27 days. In addition, he is an extremely caring and generous person who proudly presented hotel baggage handlers each day with state lottery tickets to show his appreciation for their work. Walt is a professional in every sense of the word and the 2021 Cross Country Travelers were truly blessed to have him for our Cross Country Driver. Thank you, Walt, for making this trip so successful.

Starr Driver Walt and Tour Director Gene in Badlands National Park

Gene Gray, Starr Tour Director

****ADDENDUM***

This part was added by Starr’s Sandy Borowsky:

How could we finish a report like this without paying tribute to its author, Tour Director Extraordinaire, Gene Gray. Gene has been planning this trip since the day his last Cross Country trip returned in July 2019. He spent countless hours making sure every detail was prepared – every t crossed and every i dotted. In my 23-year tenure at Starr, I have never met a more devoted, loving and special Tour Director. Gene treats every tour guest (and every driver) like family. This creates the most wonderful experience for everyone onboard. When you travel with Gene, you don’t just experience the destination – you have a wholistic experience that includes sensory (music, movies), friendship, stories and history, and so much more. All of this combines to make the most special memories that will truly last a lifetime. We thank you Gene for your dedication to Starr and this Cross Country tour and we look forward to your 5th journey across our great nation in 2022!

Cross Country Adventure by Bus 2021 – Westbound

Our 2021 Cross Country trip (during a global pandemic!) went out in September! It was a huge success, and everyone remained healthy throughout the trip – not even a common cold! Starr Driver Walt Deminski and Tour Director Gene Gray led 38 travelers across our great country over the course of 27 days. On each of our trips, the Starr Tour Director is responsible for providing a day-by-day summary of every aspect of the trip. Gene’s reports always offer a fun and vivid retelling of their adventures. It’s clear that Gene goes above and beyond to make sure his tour guests are well informed and entertained. For your reading pleasure, here are Days 1-14.

Stay tuned for the second half of their amazing “Journey of a Lifetime”!

Overnight Tour Summary Report – Cross Country 2021

Date:  September 5 – October 1, 2021
Tour Director:  Gene Gray
Driver:  Walt Deminski
Coach #: 205

WESTBOUND

Day 1: Sunday, September 5, 2021

All tour guests arrived early and without incident. In Bensalem, once everyone was onboard and seated, Starr’s owners, Alan and Renee Glickman came aboard and Alan delivered an inspiring sendoff message telling our guests that they were in good hands and sharing how tremendous this trip would be, and that one day they’d love to do it! With Alan and Renee still on board, I asked everyone to stand up, wave their flags, and partake in Whitney Houston’s version of the Star-Spangled Banner. All stood and most sang along with Whitney. We were now officially ON OUR WAY!

Starr co-owner Alan Glickman

I played “America the Beautiful” by Alicia Keys and Ray Charles. I reviewed the Starr Welcome Letter and showed the Starr Safety DVD. I spoke adamantly about the importance of wearing masks, not only for our individual safety, but the safety of everyone in our group. Safety is, without a doubt, our #1 priority with “fun” way down the list at #2. We must all stay healthy together.

We arrived at the Peter Camille Rest Stop on I-76 for a twenty-minute break. I emphasized that “being prompt” was the key to success for this trip (actually any trip). Everyone was back on the bus on time. I can already see we have a wonderful group.

I proceeded to review the individual papers I included in the packet of information I created for each tour guest. This packet includes the itinerary for each day and a list of restaurants for meals on own. Maps of the area were also included. A six page “Things To Do in Las Vegas” was also part of the packet. To my delight, many guests heeded my second pre-trip letter and already booked a show in Las Vegas for at least one night. We were now ninety minutes from our lunch stop and I kept quiet until after lunch, giving everyone the space to do their own thing.

Lunch at Hoss’s Steakhouse in Bedford, PA is a perfect stop. They seated us immediately, served us immediately, and we were all finished within an hour. The food was delicious and guests could order the extensive soup, salad, and dessert bar, a menu choice, or a combo of both.

I began showing the 1979 movie produced for ABC Television titled “Elvis” which told the history of his life. It was created two years after his death. This was to prepare us for Wednesday, the day we visit Graceland. We rode quietly for the final 2.5 hours after our rest stop to the Drury Inn and Suites in Grove City, Ohio. We arrived in plenty of time to enjoy the Drury Kickback which included three free beverages. Everyone seemed to perk up in a hurry! It was a very successful first day and we look forward to our day in Louisville, Kentucky tomorrow.

Day 2: Monday, September 6, 2021

The hot breakfast buffet at the Drury Inn was a great way to start the day. We departed Grove City and drove south to beautiful Louisville, Kentucky. I honored our many Veterans on board by thanking them and playing the Armed Forces Medley. I played songs related to Kentucky (“Kentucky Woman” by Neil Diamond and “Kentucky Rain” by Elvis to name two). I played a few baseball-related songs (including Abbott and Costello’s “Who’s On First” skit) in preparation for our on time arrival at the Louisville Slugger Bat Museum.

After we took group photos in front of “The World’s Largest Louisville Slugger Baseball Bat” which adorns the entryway to the Museum, we were led to our lunchroom where boxed lunches from Subway were sitting on the table and waiting for us to take.

Louisville Slugger Factory & Museum

The Guided Tour of the bat factory was terrific. Multiple monitors in strategic locations displayed closed captioned videos to explain the bat-making process. Our Tour Guide filled in additional information. Did you know that the wood used in bat-making comes directly from the forests of Pennsylvania? Or that each ball player uses upwards of 100 wooden bats per season? Upon conclusion of the Tour, we each received a miniature Louisville Slugger Bat. Everyone really enjoyed this tour.

Our next stop was the Evan Williams Bourbon Tour. Eighty percent of the world’s Bourbon is made in Kentucky and Evan Williams claims to be the world’s best. The Guided Tour was fascinating. The Tour focused on four parts; the life of Evan Williams and the process of making Bourbon in his distilleries, which began in 1935, were the first two topics. The third section of the Tour was taste tasting four of their most famous Bourbons. We entered a mini bar and sat at a small table adorned with four small sipping glasses generously filled with Evan Williams Bourbons. Our Tour Guide explained the importance of sniffing Bourbon twice prior to tasting; first with your mouth closed and then with your mouth opened. He described the differences among the four types of Bourbon as we tasted each one at a time. Following the tasting, we were ushered into the Bourbon Store (the fourth component) where many purchased souvenirs along with bottles of Evan Williams Bourbon. We concluded the Tour by stumbling, err, walking to the bus for our fifteen-minute ride to the Drury Inn Louisville East, our home for the night.

The Drury Inn was prepared for us and everyone enjoyed dinner at the ever popular (free) Kickback that featured pasta in Alfredo Sauce, strips of tender chicken, baked potatoes, and salad items. Everyone was totally satisfied. I walked to my room leaving many tour guests talking and laughing together. Today was an absolutely wonderful day.

Day 3: Tuesday, September 7, 2021

What a great day from start to finish! Since we were eating breakfast at Churchill Downs, I encouraged everyone to eat lightly at the Drury Inn. We arrived at the Churchill Downs Backstretch Tour a little early, but Murray, our tour guide, was waiting for us. We were all disappointed to learn that there were no horses on the property due to vast construction on the track. Murray said this had never happened before and horses were always here training from February through November. The horses will be returning Thursday. Instead, Murray told us we’d be meeting a retired jockey named Charlie Woods Jr. whose career spanned from 1974-2009. Charlie was magnificent. He began speaking during our breakfast and stayed with us throughout the conclusion of the Backstretch Tour. Charlie’s career peaked with many victories during the 1980’s. He now has an artificial hip and told us jockeys suffer many injuries. Charlie complained he was gaining weight, but he was a small man of 5’4” tall and weighed 120 pounds. Everyone was endeared to him, many received his autograph, and everyone took a picture with him. Murray was also terrific, and we ended our Backstretch Tour by taking a group photo (with Charlie) in front of the starting gate that is only used for the Kentucky Derby.

Our Cross Country Group – Starr Driver Walt Deminski far left, Tour Director Gene Gray far right, and retired jockey Charlie Woods, Jr. center with black jacket and red shirt.

We rode around the block to the entrance to Churchill Downs Racetrack. We all took pictures of the iconic entrance that has a statue of 2006 Kentucky Derby winner Barbaro who is actually buried under the statue. Our tour consisted of the history of the Kentucky Derby and a walk into the lower grandstand of the racetrack, the same walk the horses take as they enter for the races. Our guide showed us the famous spires that are now protected by the Federal Government as a U.S. Landmark. He pointed out the winners’ circle for the Kentucky Derby and explained that each winning horse receives three things; a gold medallion, a blanket of roses, and a check for $1.5 million. Following the tour, we were ushered into the 10:30 AM showing of “Churchill Downs” a powerful 360° movie about the history of the racetrack through the years. We sat on swirling stools in the center of this gigantic theater. Our final 45 minutes was spent in the gift shop and playing in the magnificent museum that honors the greatest horses that have ever raced!

Fun fact: Secretariat, the greatest horse of all time, won the Triple Crown in 1973 by breaking records in all three races. After Secretariat’s death, they did an autopsy that showed his heart weighed 22 pounds when a normal racehorse’s heart weighs only 8 pounds. Secretariat’s greatness came from his ability to take in more air during a race and pump his blood faster throughout his body.

We departed Churchill Downs and headed West towards Nashville. At the 65-mile marker along I-65, the clock on our electronic devices suddenly jumped back an hour. We were officially in Central Time and will not return to Eastern Time until Day 26.

We arrived in Smith’s Grove, Kentucky for an easy lunch stop. I played a set of Country Music tunes as we drove the final hour into Nashville, the Country Capital of the world. We arrived at the Wingate Nashville Airport Hotel and checked into our comfortable rooms.

Our tour guests had two wonderful hours to stroll around the beautiful Gaylord Hotel. We walked in as a group in order to secure maps while I oriented them to where we were on the map so they’d be able to easily find their way out. Everyone thoroughly enjoyed strolling the magnificent indoor forests, waterfalls, and shops. They each found a nice place to eat dinner.

Next on our schedule was a show at the Grand Ole Opry. This was a lively and wonderful show featuring six talented acts including one funny comedian. The music was terrific, and everyone had a wonderful experience, whether they were fans of country music or not.

Everyone had a wonderful day as we returned to the hotel to sleep. We needed to be up early tomorrow for Elvis.

Day 4: Wednesday, September 8, 2021

We departed and headed West on I-40 to Memphis. I played a plethora of Elvis tunes and took requests from our guests.

Graceland is the second most visited house in the United States, bested only by that large, white home in Washington DC. Upon arriving, I secured our tickets from the Visitors Center and walked back to the bus to hand out Graceland tickets, $15 lunch coupons, and maps to each tour guest. We had 4.5 hours to enjoy the complex of museums and home.

Most tour guests ate lunch immediately upon arrival. Some chose to view the Pre-Show film about Elvis and shuttle across the street to tour the Mansion first. The Pre-Show is a short film intended to teach about Elvis’ major life moments. Then, you walk out a different door and walk towards the shuttle that takes you across the street to Graceland. Very friendly employees equip you with an iPad and headphones that will provide narration for each section of the 23 room mansion and outside grounds that are open to the public. Since Elvis was always very private in nature, the upstairs bedrooms will always be closed to public viewing out of respect.

Upon entering Graceland, one immediately can see the huge living room featuring a ten-foot sofa surrounded by elegant furnishings, a large television set, and a picture of Elvis. On the left is the dining room featuring Elvis’s and Priscilla’s wedding china. The narration continues to direct you downstairs to the billiards room and 3-TV room where he would watch three programs at a time on his luxurious furnishings. Each room is beautifully decorated in a different theme at no regard for expense. The entire tour is fascinating and breathtaking and is a must see. The approximately 75-minute tour concludes at Elvis’s gravesite surrounded by the gravesites of his departed family members who he always showed loving devotion. Elvis died at 42 years of age in 1977. If still alive, he would be 86 years old.

Once shuttled across the street, we were able to stroll through the many museums that now permanently hold Elvis’ cars including the iconic Pink Cadillac he presented to his mother (who actually couldn’t drive), his many unique outfits he wore while performing, and one museum devoted to his hit records and many movies. Videos of Elvis looped at almost every turn, and it can take multiple visits to see each one. The trustees of Graceland have created a magnificent tribute to Elvis, a tribute truly fit for a KING!

Elvis’ pink Cadillac

All tour guests walked the half block to famous Beale Street for dinner, drinks, and entertainment. Many formed new friendships and dined together. Beale Street was alive with loud voices and music flowing in every direction. Today was another perfect day.

Day 5: Thursday, September 9, 2021

Our Hotel was fabulous. It is a block from Beale Street and very convenient. In fact, they put ear plugs in each of our rooms so we’d sleep well. However, we never needed them and many saved the ear plugs as souvenirs.

It was 6:05 PM on Thursday, April 4, 1968 when Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated at the Lorraine Motel in Memphis. Since the Lorraine Motel was just a short drive from our hotel, Walt and I arranged for a photo stop before leaving Memphis. This was a pleasant surprise for our travelers!

The Lorraine Motel has been converted into The National Civil Rights Museum. Two Cadillacs used by King in 1968 sit in the parking spots below the balcony from which he was assassinated. A circular marker adorns the balcony railing at Room 306 where King last stood. It’s an extremely solemn and surreal experience that I can only compare to standing on Dealy Square in Dallas.

The Lorraine Motel and Martin Luther King, Jr.’s two Cadillacs

We left Memphis and began our day’s ride to Oklahoma City on I-40. I played “Abraham, Martin, & John” by Dion, a sixties song honoring Lincoln, King, and both John and Bobby Kennedy. I concluded the set by playing “We Shall Overcome,” performed by Peter Yarrow of Peter, Paul, and Mary. After a quick rest stop, we continued onto Alma, Arkansas near Fort Smith to our lunch stop. I showed the movie, “Ray,” starring Jamie Foxx, on our big screens. “Ray” depicts the life of Ray Charles. This is the perfect movie for where we are in our trip. His music fit in perfectly with the R&B bands we listened to in Memphis last night. Ray was a first-year inductee into the Rock N’ Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland which we visit on Day 26, and Ray Charles is being inducted this year into the Country Music Hall of Fame in Nashville, the city we departed from two days ago. All tour guests watched intently and enjoyed the movie.

We arrived in Alma, Arkansas for lunch. Back on the bus in under an hour, we continued our travels.

We crossed into Oklahoma. The song began. The tour guests sang. By the end of the song, we were all spelling the name of the state!

Next, we stopped in Okemah, Oklahoma for a break. Okemah is the childhood home of folk singer Woody Guthrie. So, I spent the final hour of our journey today playing folk music beginning with “This Land is Your Land” by Woody Guthrie. The tour guests sang along with the many songs that have been engraved in our lives since childhood.

We arrived at the Hampton Inn OKC Northwest in very good time which allowed Walt to drive about half of us to the nearby Penn Square Mall for dinner and shopping. Today was a relaxing day of riding with a movie and music that was enjoyed by everyone.

Walt is doing an absolutely amazing job. He’s extremely thoughtful, always thinking ahead, and takes care of the bus like no other. He keeps the bus spotlessly clean and handles all technical needs like a pro. Walt treats all travelers with great respect. It is a pleasure traveling with Walt at the helm. He is the definition of a professional driver!

Day 6: Friday, September 10, 2021

Breakfast was delicious and the hotel was very comfortable. Walt made the suggestion to stop at the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building, site of the Oklahoma City Bombing on April 19, 1995, for a brief stop. Everyone was delighted. I told the story of that fateful day on the ride over. We disembarked and a National Park Ranger was available to give us a short briefing about the symbolism of this Memorial. There are 168 chairs, representing the 168 people killed, arranged in unique order and size to represent each life lost. It was a very somber moment of our trip.

Our guides were waiting for us as we all entered the National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum. This is such a brilliant museum with paintings and bronze sculptures created by Western artists such as Frederic Remington, Charles Russell, and former New Jersey resident Charles Schreyvogel. Our guide pointed out details in artwork that were unique to each artist. We also experienced clothing made from all beads and one particular jacket made from porcupine quills. All guests loved this museum! Lunch was delicious and included a beautiful display of sandwiches, chips, pickles, cookies, and drinks.

As we departed the museum, we saw our first “Historic Route 66” sign. Nat King Cole sang for us for the next three minutes. Traffic was light and moving as we made good time towards our rest stop, 26 miles from the Texas border.

I began showing the movie that takes place in Texas, “Hidden Figures.” It is the true story of Katherine Johnson, the black mathematician who saved the NASA program’s liftoff of John Glenn in February 1962. I paused the movie when we crossed the Texas Border to play “Deep in the Heart of Texas”. Everyone clapped and sang along and then we finished the movie.

We arrived in Amarillo and, after checking into our hotel, we boarded the bus to travel to dinner at the Big Texan Steak Ranch. Upon disembarking, we lined up in front of the Ranch for a group photo. Once inside, we were seated to the right of the Contest Table, prime seating! Unfortunately, no one dared to eat the 72-ounce steak with all the fixings tonight. Most of us couldn’t even finish our delicious 16-ounce steak or chicken with a salad, beans, baked potato, dinner roll, and piece of cheesecake for dessert.

The atmosphere at the Big Texan Steak Ranch is ultra-casual. We sit on chairs at long tables seating 16 people. Looking around, many moose heads hang from the rafters. Guitarists come around and play and sing for you. It is extremely festive with a hard-working staff that takes pride in handling all your needs. Following dinner, you can wander into the Gift Shop and take a look at the live rattlesnake in an aquarium. You can shop for Texas and Route 66 souvenirs. You can take a photo sitting in a gigantic chair or holding onto the bars in a jail. We had an hour to play and all had a wonderful time.

Today was a full and exciting day filled with great experiences. We look forward to tomorrow.

Day 7: Saturday, September 11, 2021

As today is the 20th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, it was important to pay tribute to those who lost their lives and to thank those who saved lives. I played “America the Beautiful” by Barbra Streisand and the song “Let’s Roll” by Neil Young depicting Todd Beamer’s heroics on Flight 93. I concluded the memorial tribute with a moment of silence.

Our first stop was Cadillac Ranch, an artistic sculpture consisting of old Cadillacs dated from 1948 to 1961. Each vehicle is inserted halfway into the ground with the tail fins sticking high into the air. Created in 1975 by three hippies from San Francisco, this is truly a different form of art. The Cadillacs have been stripped completely over the 45 years since this was created. Spray paint sits on the ground encouragingly all visitors to add to the already thick layers of paint. Our guests enjoyed this roadside attraction very much. It’s a must see!

Cadillac Ranch

I played the conclusion of “Hidden Figures” as we crossed into New Mexico. After a rest stop, I played the 50-minute documentary entitled “Route 66.” It depicted great footage of the 1920’s through the 1950’s, the heyday of the Mother Road. We are driving through a stretch of flat lands where you can see for miles in all directions. The land is dotted with green/yellow grasses and small green bushes at an elevation of 5,800 feet. There is not a trace of civilization around this barren land.

After a second brief rest stop, we meandered through beautiful mountainous terrain, the foothills of the Rocky Mountains, that led into Albuquerque. We soon arrived at the Sawmill Market in Albuquerque for lunch. This was a magnificent food emporium with dozens of small food kiosks. Food from a dozen countries was represented here along with specialty burgers and pizza. The dessert kiosks put pounds on you by just looking at them. Plenty of seating was available both inside and outside. There also was a very good band playing outside as well. This was, without a doubt, the best lunch stop on the trip and everyone raved about the large variety of different foods to choose from.

The Sandia Peak Tramway was our next stop. The skies were a clear blue offering visibility for miles and miles. The views were breathtaking. We all crowded into the tramcar (50 person maximum) and climbed 15 minutes at 12 miles per hour until we reached the Sandia Peak at 10,378 feet. We walked around the boardwalk paths to many different viewpoint and it was impossible to take a photo that wasn’t beautiful.

The view from Sandia Peak

Once down to a mere 5,000 feet above sea level, we drove to the Drury Inn. Walt had already dropped off our luggage so I just handed out the room keys and everyone was on their own. The “Kickback” was beginning shortly. Another wonderful day with many different experiences!

Day 8: Sunday, September 12, 2021

Today Walt has a day off so we were picked up by a friendly driver named Thomas from Herrera Coaches. He safely drove us to the Balloon Museum for us to learn about the history of ballooning. The first balloon launch was in Versailles when the King of France questioned its safety and sent up animals. The sheep and birds landed safely thus encouraging man to launch next. The museum is very interesting and was enjoyed by all.

Next, we visited Old Town Albuquerque with its many unique shops and restaurants as well as many places to purchase souvenirs of Albuquerque and Route 66.

The Pueblo Cultural Center was another different and very interesting experience and we were lucky to be there for a performance! The Dancers performed to the beat of the drums and the chanting of four singers and represented gratitude to the Earth for all it provides. It was interesting to watch! Following the performance, our Tour Guide led us around the fascinating museum explaining the history, culture, and traditions of the Pueblo Indians in New Mexico. He covered 800 years of history in one hour like a college professor. We all enjoyed the Pueblo Cultural Center thus completing another day of wonderful experiences.

Native Dancers at the Pueblo Cultural Center

Day 9: Monday, September 13, 2021

We continued west and stopped at the Navajo Travel Plaza for a rest stop. This is the best rest stop since it has all kinds of jewelry, blankets, and souvenirs at very reasonable prices. Soon after departing, we crossed into Arizona and our clocks went back one hour. I played the video that is shown at the Petrified Forest National Park auditorium on the bus. I explained about purchasing the National Park Passport Book and stamping their book at each National Park we visit. Of course, I played Western songs since we continued riding through the desert.

We soon arrived at The Painted Desert and Petrified Forest National Park. We stopped at the Visitors Center and many of us bought the National Park Passport Book and self-stamped their book. We stopped at the first overlook upon entering the park as an introduction to its magnificence and everyone had difficulty believing the beauty of the land, with vibrant colors in all directions. Our second stop was for lunch at the renovated picnic area. Everyone really enjoyed their boxed lunch from Panera that included a sandwich, a pickle, a chocolate chip cookie, a bag of chips, and a bottle of water.

Some of the colors of Painted Desert

We stopped at two more overlooks in the Painted Desert before crossing into the Petrified Forest. One stop in the Petrified Forest featured petroglyphs (writings) created by Pueblo Natives 2,000 years ago. Our second stop featured a long-petrified log bridge that once spanned a river. Today, the National Park Service has reinforced the bridge with concrete so it won’t collapse. Our next stop was the Crystal Forest where many chose to take the ¾ mile circular hike into the backcountry to experience Petrified Wood at its grandeur. You see large pieces of petrified wood with brilliant colors sitting on the ground. Some are large enough for a group to sit on which is where we took a group photo of our hikers. The hike was scenic and invigorating.

Our final stop in Petrified Forest National Park was the gift shop and Visitors Center at the south end of the park. We then boarded the bus for our drive to beautiful Sedona, Arizona, the town of the breathtaking red and orange cliffs.

Our host for the evening, Holiday Inn Express in Oak Creek Canyon, is a wonderful hotel situated among many restaurants within easy walking distance. Everyone marveled at the massive cliffs and colors that surrounded us. Tomorrow, we are looking forward to our Pink Jeep Tour into the badlands (rugged terrain) of Sedona.

Day 10: Tuesday, September 14, 2021

The morning sun on the massive orange and red sandstone rock formations was inspiring. We divided into groups of six or seven for our Pink Jeep Tour and boarded our pink jeeps for our backcountry ride in Sedona.

The Pink Jeep Tour was absolutely invigorating. We each sat holding on as the Jeep rolled over large rocks that felt like mini boulders. A few times we were moved out of our seats. Our drivers told stories about Sedona and explained the plant life and beautiful scenery. All six jeeps rendezvoused at a particular spot. This is where we all got out of the jeeps to stroll around. It was here we took gorgeous pictures including a group photo with the red rocks in the background. We then bounced, rocked, and rolled back to Sedona, thus completing our tour. It was really exciting, and everyone loved this experience.

Rumbling over the rugged terrain of Sedona

We left beautiful Sedona and traveled from an elevation of 4,500 feet to 2,000 feet towards Scottsdale. We began to see Saguaro Cacti along the road as we descended lower than 3,000 feet. We were in the Sonoran Desert, the greatest desert environment in the United States to see these massive 40-foot Saguaros. By the time we got to Scottsdale, the temperature outside hit triple digits and was going up to 107° during our stay.

Old Town Scottsdale is three city blocks long with a few stores and restaurants on either side of a four-lane major thoroughfare. We exited the bus to 106° temperatures and ate lunch.

We returned to the bus and traveled two blocks to the Western Spirit Museum. We were greeted by four knowledgeable and enthusiastic docents who gave us magnificent tours of the many western figures, sculptures, paintings, and artists on display. My favorite was a combination tomahawk at one end and peace pipe on the other used by Meriwether Lewis on the Lewis and Clark expedition. Whenever Meriwether met new groups of Native Americans, he would show the tomahawk but play the peace pipe and hope they’d cooperate. And it worked. The 90-minute tour seemed to fly by and was greatly enjoyed.

The Drury Inn in Chandler is our hotel for the night. Today was another successful day filled many with different experiences. Tomorrow, California Here We Come!

Day 11: Wednesday, September 15, 2021

We departed Chandler and proceeded west to San Diego. After playing the theme from Rocky to get us going, I put on the DVD “The Founder,” starring Michael Keaton. The very first McDonalds, before Ray Kroc took ownership, was located in Pasadena, California and run by the McDonald Brothers. This is the story of how Ray Kroc, played by Michael Keaton, built his McDonalds Empire. Our tour guests seemed to enjoy this movie very much.

After a brief rest stop, we continued our 85-mile ride through the Sonoran Desert to the California State Line. The Beach Boys welcomed us across the California border with “California Girls” and “I Get Around.” Al Jolson added “California, Here I Come.” We continued riding through the Mohave Desert. For many miles, we passed mounds of sand as far as the eye can see like in Lawrence of Arabia. The outside temperatures kept rising. Soon we reached El Centro, California, for our lunch stop. 

The temperature was a balmy 106° here in the Mohave Desert but all establishments were really close to where Walt was able to park the bus. Everyone enjoyed their lunch and in less than an hour we were back on the bus to complete the final 70 miles into San Diego.

The Hilton Gaslamp Hotel is in the heart of the Gaslamp District of San Diego. It is a beautiful hotel! The staff at the hotel were extremely friendly and eager to please us. Bellman Ray got our luggage labeled and delivered to our rooms while concierge Mark gave me restaurant maps of the area for everyone. These maps outlined over 50 eating establishments on 5th Avenue, one short block away. Everyone went up to their room to refresh before our night out on the “Old” town.

An hour after our arrival, we departed for Old Town San Diego. The temperatures were a chilly 72° but felt so delightful! San Diego has the most consistent climate in the United States with average yearly temperatures of 77° with less than 8 inches of rain. Old Town is quaint with many restaurants and shops with Mexican flair. Live music can be heard and viewed from many places and restaurants. It is a festive atmosphere filled with color, wonderful restaurants, and unique shops. We all thoroughly enjoyed Old Town San Diego.

Another wonderful day was enjoyed by all. We look forward to the famous San Diego Zoo tomorrow.

Day  12: Thursday, September 16, 2021

There are many opportunities for breakfast including the wonderful Cine Deli across the street. Many called their breakfast order in to the Cine Deli at 6:00 AM and walked over to pick it up. Others bought fruit and muffins in Old Town San Diego. All were on the bus on time for our short ride to the San Diego Zoo.

Before entering the San Diego Zoo, we took a group photo in front of the giant statue of the first lion cared for by officials back in the 1930’s which gave rise to the zoo concept. We then went through the turnstiles and hopped on the Bus Tour, a 35-minute guided tour around the park. Following the Bus Tour, everyone was on their own to explore this magnificent zoo.

The koalas were on everyone’s priority list. Despite sleeping for 20 hours a day, they looked so adorable perched in their tree without a care in the world. We all took wonderful pictures of animals eating. It must have been feeding time at the zoo. The time seemed to fly by and before we knew it, our 4 1/2 hours vanished. We headed back to the hotel to relax and refresh before heading out to our San Diego Harbor Cruise.

The two-hour San Diego Harbor Cruise aboard the Spirit of San Diego was relaxing, informative, and displayed unique landscapes like no other. We cruised past the United States Naval Base complete with battleships, aircraft carriers, cruisers, and a hospital ship. We passed a seal experimental feeding ground and saw dozens of seals lying out on a wooden walkway. We cruised by Navy helicopters and fighter jets sitting on the ground awaiting their next mission. The setting sun was putting on a spectacular show over the Pacific Ocean. One thing is for certain; the United States is the most powerful nation in the world, and this cruise proves part of this statement.

We returned to the hotel and many went out to a nice restaurant within two blocks of the Hilton Gaslamp Hotel for dinner. This hotel is in a perfect location for our needs with many different amenities within a short walk.

Today was another wonderful day filled with new and different experiences. Tomorrow we look forward to heading into the City of Angels, Los Angeles.

Day 13: Friday, September 17, 2021

Breakfast was on our own again this morning. Again, the Cine Deli across the street from the Hilton Gaslamp proved to be a welcoming spot for most. The food was delicious, the prices were reasonable, and the takeout service was quick.

We began our drive north towards Los Angeles. After playing “Hotel California” by the Eagles and “Surfin’ USA” by The Beach Boys, I played three television episodes of “The Beverly Hillbillies.” Everyone enjoyed the comedy relief and the show brought back memories. Tomorrow, we expect to see the street in Hollywood the Clampetts drove down during the opening credits of the show.

We arrived in Yorba Linda, the birthplace and Presidential Library of Richard Millhouse Nixon where we were met by three extremely knowledgeable and passionate guides who were prepared for our tour.

We began the Nixon Tour by going outside the museum to the 2,000 square foot home that stands alone where Richard Nixon was born. The home was built at this location in the early 1900’s and the Presidential Library was constructed around it. We toured the inside of his home where pictures of the Nixon family adorned the walls and the home’s original furnishings filled the space. Once outside, we passed by the gravesites of both Richard and Pat Nixon which are marked by black granite foot stones before re-entering the Presidential Library and Museum.

The museum is brilliantly done, and the tour was magnificent. Nixon’s major accomplishments as President are highlighted. His work for women’s equality, the environment, world peace (his China tour), and ending the Vietnam War are creatively detailed in large separate rooms. Towards the end of the tour is a large room dedicated solely to Watergate and his resignation as President. The museum honestly portrayed all aspects of the Nixon years, including a room dedicated to the major protests of the Vietnam War and social issues that plagued the United States. This is a fabulous attraction that brought back vivid memories of our lives some 50 years ago. Our tour guests confessed they were not looking forward to this attraction but upon departing, wished they had more time to thoroughly explore the Nixon Museum!

Walt drove us a mile to a new shopping and restaurant center named the Yorba Linda Main Street. Many different restaurants in close proximity were available to us. There was a burger restaurant, a cafe, a healthy smoothie shop, and many more. Comfortable outside seating provided us a great place to eat. This was another perfect lunch stop.

Once lunch was finished, we drove an hour and checked into the Hilton Garden Inn in Burbank, California. We were warmly welcomed by four Hilton staff members as being their first tour bus since prior to the pandemic.

Tonight, Walt graciously drove 22 of us to the Universal CityWalk, a festive restaurant row with many unique Los Angeles retail stores that surrounds Universal Studios. Many enjoyed a relaxing dinner at Bubba Gumps or Margaritaville while others ate at a faster-food establishment. Everyone enjoyed strolling into the shops such as Universal Studios Gift Shop, the Los Angeles Dodgers Team Store, and many clothing stores. People watching was also fascinating.

Today was another different and fabulous day. We look forward to our Guided Tour of Los Angeles tomorrow.

Day 14: Saturday, September 18, 2021

Judy Parisi, our Los Angeles Tour Guide in 2018 and our guide for today arrived and we happily welcomed each other with elbow bumps! Judy brought fellow tour guide, Jane, with her so we got two experts for the price of one! We represented their first tour since February 2020 and both were so eager to get back to work.

It was time to enjoy this beautiful day in L.A. and learn all about this marvelous city. Our first stop was the Hollywood Bowl – even though we were not allowed to enter the arena, Judy and Jane shared their experiences of seeing many fabulous events here. Judy then took us into Hollywood and the TCL Theater (formally the Grauman Theater) and the Hollywood Walk of Fame. We all disembarked from the bus as Judy and Jane led us up the stairs that the stars use that lead to the Dolby Theater, home to the Academy Awards (but no red carpet for us, although I thought we deserved one). We then walked to the spot where the HOLLYWOOD sign was visible and took numerous pictures. Judy explained that each letter of the Hollywood sign was 45 feet in height and donors paid over $25,000 to restore each letter. Alice Cooper of Kiss, for example, bought the first “O” in memory of his friend Groucho.

Everyone was given time to walk around on their own to see the Walk of Fame and shop for souvenirs. Some were able to get their name spelled out on a star and have their picture taken with it. Following the Walk of Fame, Judy took us in to Beverly Hills. We were able to disembark and take pictures of the infamous Beverly Hills Sign. To our surprise, Ringo Starr of the Beatles, in 2019, donated to Beverly Hills a silver statue of two fingers in the shape of a peace sign with the words “Peace and Love” etched below it. Many of us enjoyed Ringo’s statue over the Beverly Hills Sign. Continuing our tour, Judy and Jane shared iconic stories about the stars. We passed Rodeo Drive to to the iconic Farmers Market. We had 90 minutes for lunch and shopping. Many bought their lunch from McGees, the original food stand that began the Farmers Market back in 1932. McGees makes a wicked corned beef and pastrami sandwich.

Gene Gray, first Starr Tour Director to get his own star on the Walk of Fame!

Following lunch, Judy took us past the remnants of the Ambassador Hotel, in which Robert Kennedy was shot on June 6, 1968. It is now a unified school system for grades K-12. We drove past MacArther’s Park as Donna Summer began singing the song with the same name. We passed the Los Angeles City Hall which was the backdrop to the beginning of the early Superman episodes (“It’s a bird, it’s a plane,……”). It was a magnificent tour enjoyed thoroughly by everyone!

Once we returned to the Hilton Garden Inn, everyone was on their own to enjoy the remainder of the day and evening. Today was another in a string of magnificent and unique experiences. We look forward to Las Vegas tomorrow.

The Hamilton Effect at Starr

The Hamilton Effect at Starr

The other night I experienced the smash-hit Broadway musical, Hamilton (for the third time). The 2016 Tony Award winner who took home a massive 11 trophies is still going strong with sold out theaters eight times a week and now in five cities, including Philadelphia where I was lucky to see the show last night. I know many of you are thinking that I am lucky or even spoiled to have seen this show even once! Each time has been its own experience and every time left me yearning for more. How many musicals have you seen where you can say you would want to see it over and over and over again? 

Much has been said about why the show has become a phenomenon that draws these kinds of crowds. It’s certainly a scene! There’s a crowd outside the theater when you arrive, there are long lines for merchandise and the bar and the bathroom. And after the show ends, don’t expect to be out the door in less than 15 minutes – which is fine as you need that time to let the show sink in once the company has taken their final bows. And since I walked out the door and drove the 45 minutes home, I thought about how the broad effect this show has had on so many people. And then I started thinking about the effect this show has had on my bus tour company. 

 

550 PEOPLE were lucky enough to see this show through the efforts of Starr. We first ordered our tickets in March! When the first buses sold out, we ordered more in July and another batch in September. All in all, we sent seven busloads full of people of all ages from Central Jersey, Bucks County, and Philadelphia. So many tour guests have sent us their thanks and praised us to be able to offer this tour package and we are thankful to have made so many people happy! We also sent three busloads of 10th graders from a local high school studying a civics curriculum to Hamilton with stops at Philadelphia’s new Museum of the American Revolution as well as the National Constitution Center prior to seeing the show. Talk about experiential learning! WOW! Those were some lucky 15 and 16 year olds – of which my son was one of them. Lucky kid! Every Starr guest was dropped off and picked up right in front of the Forrest Theatre! VIP Service for sure!

 

Positano Coast by Aldo Lamberti is the restaurant we brought our tour guests to for a wonderful dinner before the show. Thanks to the show coming to Philadelphia, Positano Coast fed 400 additional hungry theatre-goers who had a choice of Salmon Scampi, Chicken Marsala, and Penne Primavera all served with Ciabatta Bread, Mixed Green Salad, Dessert and Beverage Service. Yum! And the restaurant was founded and started by immigrants – just like Alexander Hamilton. 

 

22 ELATED STARR STAFF were able to see the show in Philly. 7 Tour Directors got to see it for free since they escorted each of the 7 buses. And 15 additional staffers used our generous employee discount to see the show! Many brought friends and family! One of the many great perks of working for Starr!

 

A NEW TOUR DEVELOPED AROUND HAMILTON: In 2017, our Tour Development team developed a tour program called Alexander Hamilton’s Footsteps.  Three busloads of tour guests were lucky enough to experience the following destinations in Elizabeth, NJ and learned about their relationships to Hamilton:

Liberty Hall, a mansion that welcomed many distinguished guests, such as Alexander Hamilton, George and Martha Washington, Presidents Ulysses S. Grant, William Howard Taft, Herbert Hoover, Gerald Ford, and George Herbert Walker Bush.

Snyder Academy of Elizabethtown, one of the oldest and most historic sites in New Jersey. The Old Academy School was attended by Alexander Hamilton and Aaron Burr. Burr attended the school several years before Hamilton. However, Burr spent time in Elizabethtown during 1773 while Hamilton was a student here, so it is possible, but uncertain, that they may have met at that time. 

Boxwood Hall where Hamilton was a frequent visitor and developed a friendship with the Boudinots that would last his lifetime.

 

 

 

 

NO CONNECTION HERE: Starr’s Headquarters is located in Hamilton, NJ – but alas, this relates to John Hamilton, who served as acting governor of the Province of New Jersey from 1736–1738 and from 1746–1747. No connection to Alexander here! 

 

There is no doubt that this musically told story of an impoverished immigrant who went on to shape the very nature of this country will win your heart and mind like it did mine! So how do you relate to Hamilton? Do you have a rapper grandfather? What stories do you know that blend music and history?