History Archives - Starr Tours & Charters

The Health Benefits of Traveling for Seniors: Exploring the World and Enhancing Well-Being

In the golden years of life, maintaining physical and mental well-being becomes increasingly important. What better way to achieve this than by embarking on enriching journeys with Starr? Discover how our carefully crafted travel experiences contribute to your health and vitality, ensuring every adventure is a step towards wellness. 

Active Exploration: One of the primary advantages of traveling for seniors is the opportunity for increased physical activity. Starr’s commitment shines through in our engaging itineraries that encourage an active lifestyle. Whether it’s strolling through historic streets, enjoying scenic walks in nature, or simply navigating new environments, traveling often involves more movement than the routine of daily life. This movement can improve mobility, strengthen muscles, and help maintain flexibility, contributing to a healthier body. 

Mental Stimulation: Traveling presents a constant stream of new experiences, encouraging cognitive flexibility, problem-solving skills, and adaptability. Our tours offer terrific educational opportunities – from expertly guided tours to captivating cultural events. This diverse range of experiences not only stimulates the mind but also promotes mental acuity. By engaging in lifelong learning, you keep your brain active and healthy but also foster a deeper understanding and appreciation of the world around you.  

Reduced Stress and Improved Mental Health: Breaking away from the monotony of daily routines and immersing oneself in a new environment can significantly reduce stress levels. Traveling allows seniors to unwind, relax, and take a break from worries, promoting better mental health. The excitement of exploration and the thrill of new experiences can also boost mood and overall happiness. When you travel with Starr, we handle all the logistics, allowing you to focus on relaxation and pure enjoyment.  

Social Connections and Emotional Well-Being: One of the key components of healthy aging is maintaining strong social connections. Traveling on a Starr tour offers seniors the opportunity to forge new friendships, share experiences, and create lasting memories with like-minded individuals. Our group tours foster a sense of community and belonging, combating feelings of isolation and contributing to emotional well-being.  

Exposure to Nature and Fresh Environments: Many of the destinations we visit offer the chance to immerse oneself in nature’s beauty, whether it’s relaxing on a beach, exploring national parks, or enjoying scenic landscapes. Exposure to nature has proven benefits for mental and physical health, such as reducing stress, lowering blood pressure, and improving mood. 

Enhanced Quality of Life: Overall, the combination of physical activity, mental stimulation, social engagement, and emotional fulfillment derived from traveling contributes to an improved quality of life for seniors. It adds excitement, variety, and a sense of purpose, leading to a more fulfilling and satisfying existence. 

Embarking on a journey with Starr Tours is more than just a vacation; it’s a holistic approach to promoting the health and well-being of seniors. From physical activity to social connection, stress reduction, cognitive stimulation, and culinary delights, our tours are crafted to cater to every aspect of a senior’s wellness. Join us on the road to a healthier, happier life, one adventure at a time! 

Cross Country Adventure by Bus 2023 – Eastbound

Presenting the second half of our 2023 Cross Country Adventure recap by Starr Tour Director Gene Gray! (Click here to read about their Westbound journey.)

Day 15: Sunday, September 17, 2023

We had no Los Angeles traffic this Sunday morning as we cruised towards Barstow, California. On the bus, I played the songs “Viva Las Vegas” by Elvis and “The Gambler” by Kenny Rogers. I then discussed my 10-page packet on everything Las Vegas and answered all questions. Aside from the packet, I gave advice on how to navigate the New York New York Hotel and find the overpasses to cross Las Vegas Boulevard. It is illegal to cross Las Vegas Boulevard by foot. Overpasses have been built to handle all street crossings. After everyone had exhausted their questions, we were ready to conquer Las Vegas.  

On our way, we stopped at Walmart for a 45-minute rest stop. I recommended that everyone purchase food for Las Vegas that needs no refrigeration since there are no refrigerators or microwaves in the rooms. Some bought an extra duffel bag to store more of their purchases. Everyone enjoyed this stop. 

I showed the 50-minute History Channel Documentary on Las Vegas. Even though the video was made in 1994, the film explained the history of Las Vegas from the first Spaniards in the 1500’s to the first hotel, The Flamingo, in 1946. It also recognized the building of the Boulder Dam (later changed to the Hoover Dam by President Truman) as a turning point in the growth of Las Vegas in the 1930’s and for powering Las Vegas with lights. Most watched with interest.  

We arrived at our lunch stop in the Mohave Desert in Baker, California. The indoor, air-conditioned food court had seven different restaurants for the tour guests to choose from including KFC, Subway, and Fatburger. Everyone enjoyed lunch and we were on our way again. 

We passed Seven Magic Mountains along I-15 ten miles out of Las Vegas. Seven pillars of stone were painted with bright iridescent paints that clash with the desert terrain. It’s art. Suddenly, the skyline of Las Vegas loomed in the distance, and we arrived at the New York New York Hotel & Casino, our home for the next 2 nights.  

I handed out the room keys, wished everyone luck, encouraged them to contact me anytime a need arose, and reminded them to place their luggage inside their door on Tuesday at 6:30 AM. Everyone disembarked with excitement and went their own way. 

Day 16: Monday, September 18, 2023

What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas!!! 

Day 17: Tuesday, September 19, 2023

As told to me, these were the most popular things the tour guests did in Las Vegas; toured the Hoover Dam, saw a show, took the Deuce to iconic Fremont Street, and walked through many Hotels on the Strip. Everyone enjoyed their visit to Vegas. 

As we traveled east, we drove past the Lake Meade Recreation Area where the Hoover Dam is located. In preparation for our day at Grand Canyon National Park tomorrow, I showed two short videos; “Grand Canyon: The Hidden Secrets” which is presented in IMAX in a theater outside of the Canyon and “Grand Canyon: A Journey of Wonder”, which is the official Grand Canyon National Park’s Visitors Center movie. The tour guests enjoyed both films which were good introductions to tomorrow’s tour.  

We stopped at the Kingman Service Center, a TA Travel stop on Route 66 in Kingman, AZ. The store sold many unique Route 66 items as well as snacks.  

We arrived at our lunch stop, the Roadkill Cafe and found our tables set with water, a napkin, and silverware. Since we had called in our preorders, before everyone had the chance to enter the building and find a seat, Roadkill’s fabulous staff was calling out numbers and serving lunch. Within eight minutes, all lunches had been served! The food was certainly unique. Many tried Elk Burgers and Bison Burgers for the first time. Managers Aaron and Janet along with their kitchen staff did an amazing job. Many shopped in the Route 66 store at the Roadkill Cafe before we drove a half mile East on Route 66 to Angel & Vilma’s Original Route 66 Gift Shop.  

Angel Delgadillo is credited for saving Route 66 in Seligman. He owns the Gift Shop and an ice cream store next door. The Gift Shop had a vast assortment of everything Route 66. Many bought gifts for family and friends as well as for themselves. Angel was also the town’s barber, and his barber shop remains inside the building as a photo op. Angel Delgadillo is currently 96 years old, is in good health, and will be honored with a Presidential Award in Washington DC in November for his work in preserving Route 66. 

We were only an hour away from Flagstaff, Arizona and our Drury Inn Hotel for the night. Flagstaff, as well as Williams, are considered the gateways to the Grand Canyon.  

It was midafternoon and everyone was now on their own and had plenty of time to walk, relax, and get ready for the Kickback. Many found Drury’s two washers and three dryers and did their laundry. Today was the perfect calming day after the hustle and bustle of Las Vegas. Tomorrow, we look forward to visiting one of the seven natural wonders of the world, the Grand Canyon. 

Day 18: Wednesday, September 20, 2023

We departed the Drury Inn after a fine breakfast and traveled to Grand Canyon National Park. The weather was cool and partially overcast. We traveled through Navajo Country which can be described as dry, barren land dotted with weathered prefabricated homes with a rusty pick-up truck to the side. The Navajo Nation stays on Mountain Time so our devices often jumped ahead one hour and then back again when we returned into Arizona Territory. We entered through the Eastern Entrance of the Southern Rim of the Grand Canyon and turned into the Desert View Overlook for our first views of the Canyon.  

The Desert View Overlook is an ideal introduction to the Grand Canyon. The initial view is breathtaking, almost like a sudden gut punch, a genuine WOW moment. One looks upon an endless expanse of ageless color for as far as the eye can see. A glimpse of the Colorado River meandering through the Lower Canyon a mile downward is visible to the naked eye. The man-made Watchtower, created by Mary Colter in 1904, adds additional mystique to the area and can be climbed up for more views. We were in awe at the beauty and vastness of the Grand Canyon.  

Our next stop was Lipan Point, a great overlook to view the geological layers of rock reflecting the age of the Grand Canyon. The youngest layer is the Kaibab Formation. This is the top layer that we walk and drive upon and dates back 275 million years. The oldest layer on the bottom is the black Grand Canyon Schist and is over 1 billion years old. The tour guests had a lot of fun observing the layers and climbing down the cliffs for some unusual pictures.  

Moran Point was our next stop. Thomas Moran is a famous landscape artist and spent every winter painting the Grand Canyon from 1899 to 1920. His work hangs in many western museums and art museums across the country. The Bright Angel Lodge at the Grand Canyon also displays one of his works. The vastness and ever-changing shadows and colors make Moran Point one of the most beautiful views in the Park. The views from the overlook play with one’s senses creating disbelief that the Grand Canyon is real and not a painting. Pictures cannot do the Grand Canyon justice. And its age is beyond human understanding.

Grand Canyon National Park

Our next stop was at the Grand Canyon Village and the Bright Angel Lodge. This was also our lunch stop. Following lunch at a choice of three restaurants, many tour guests hiked a short way down the Bright Angel Trail knowing that a fifteen-minute hike down would take thirty minutes to hike up. Many walked along the Canyon Rim and took breathtaking photos. Others shopped in the Bright Angel Lodge’s Grand Canyon Gift Shop.

Following this two-hour lunch stop at Grand Canyon Village, we drove to the General Store for a thirty-minute shopping experience and then onto the Visitors Center Complex. The Complex featured a short walk to Mather Point with magnificent views of the Grand Canyon.

Mather Point – Grand Canyon National Park

We departed the Grand Canyon via its Southern Entrance and arrived back at the Drury Inn for the start of the Kickback. Everyone was inspired by this beautiful day. Our brains were exhausted from seeing endless beauty and trying to fathom endless geological time all day. Playing at elevations of 70,00 feet added to our tiredness. A good rest was in order.  

Day 19: Thursday, September 21, 2023

We had a fine Drury Inn breakfast. Our lunches were delivered from the Aspen Deli and I handed out the bags to each guest in the hotel lobby before departure. 

I showed the video, “Arches National Park”, the same video that’s shown in the Visitors Center at Arches. It was a good introduction to Arches National Park that we’ll be experiencing tomorrow morning. We continued riding on Arizona two-lane roads with 65 mph speed limits until we reached our rest stop, the Shinto Marketplace, an oasis in the desert.  

The Shinto Marketplace is owned and operated by Navajo who welcomed us and were grateful for our business.  

We continued on Arizona US-160 towards our lunch stop. I showed the documentary, “The Harvey Girls”, the story of Fred Harvey and the women he hired in the 1930’s to work in his restaurants. Fred Harvey revolutionized food services at train stops in cities throughout the Western United States and hired single women to serve the predominantly male customers. Harvey quoted the women serve to lower the testosterone and keep a sense of law and order simply by their presence. The tour guests enjoyed this movie with its primary source interviews from actual Harvey Girls and original photographs and films from the time period.  

We crossed the border into southeastern Utah, twenty minutes away from the famed Four Corners where Utah, Arizona, New Mexico, and Colorado come to a point (unfortunately time wouldn’t permit us to stop). We arrived at the Sand Island Recreation Area at the San Juan River outside of Bluff, Utah. The sky was solid blue. The temperature was a perfect 72°. Everyone found their perfect spot along the San Juan River to eat their delicious lunch from the Aspen Deli. Some took a small hike after lunch. It was a scenic lunch spot on the river in a spectacular environment. 

We continued to ride through spectacular landscapes of weathered sedimentary rock of many brilliant colors, sizes, and shapes. We passed rocks with windows, pillars, and domes. Utah was showing off its absolute beauty. We soon arrived at the Aarchway Inn in Moab, Utah.  

We checked in and had a few minutes before departing for our evening activity. 

Canyonlands by Night served a buffet dinner to 140 people within an hour. They provided a salad bar and a hot buffet bar with their staff, mostly family, portioning out the food. The food in the hot bar consisted of corn, beans, pulled pork, roast beef, and chicken. The food was very good, and everyone left quite satisfied.  

The Canyonlands by Night boat cruise began just before sunset and motored upstream in the Colorado River for about forty minutes. Tasha, the tour guide, spoke about the history of Moab, the magnificent rock formations, and pointed out quirks in the rock that could look like an animal or well-known character. Darkness fell and the beautiful light show began; a prepared story with music and narration synchronized with specific sections of rock being engulfed in light. A truck carrying 40,000 watts of light orchestrated the light show. The music, narration, and light were shut down revealing a dark sky filled with stars twinkling brightly. The sky was pitch black. It was a sight that can only exist with the complete absence of light on the ground. Tour guests became emotional and awestruck with the magnificence of our endless Universe.

Canyonland by Night Dinner Cruise

Following the cruise, the realization of our 6:45 AM departure and the need to sleep fast sobered us. We will experience Arches National Park at dawn.

Day 20: Friday, September 22, 2023

It was a seven-minute drive into Arches National Park. First, we stopped at the Courthouse Towers Viewpoint to witness the sunrise that was expected at 7:15 AM. The skies were clear on this beautiful Utah morning. The surrounding colorful rock structures soon began shining brighter as the sun slowly rose from the horizon. It was an enlightening experience to behold. The contrast between the stars last night and the sunrise this morning filled up our senses with unimaginable tranquility. Gorgeous pictures were taken.

Arches National Park, Utah

We next drove to Balanced Rock, one of the three major features in Arches. One large boulder precariously sits upon a thicker layer of rock and points upward. Our third stop was the Windows Section. It was here that we spent the longest time so the tour guests could hike to the Double Window or the North Window. Some guests hiked to both. A window is formed when the center of the rock is eroded away, leaving a big hole in it. This phenomenon mainly occurs in Utah.

Balanced Rock – Arches National Park, Utah

Our final stop before the Visitors Center was the Lower Delicate Arch Viewpoint. Delicate Arch is the main feature of Arches. This Viewpoint allows the visitors to view Delicate Arch from a mile away rather than take the uphill climb to view it at closer range. Our weather remained absolutely perfect with deep blue, cloudless skies and temperatures in the low 70’s.

Double Arch – Arches National Park, Utah

The Visitors Center featured a theater, Gift Shop, the National Parks Store, and restrooms. This was our final stop in Arches National Park. Many bought mementos of Arches while others stamped their National Park Passport Book. We were soon back on the bus to head East towards Colorado.  

The terrain constantly changes from desert yellows, cacti, and plenty of desert brush to lush trees and mountains as we crossed the border into Colorado on I-70. I kept the bus quiet so guests might rest or sleep. At 12:30 PM, we pulled into the Mesa Mall in Grand Junction for lunch. We chose from a variety of Food Court kiosks to purchase lunch. We were back on the road quickly. 

I played the movie, “La Bamba”, the Ritchie Valens Story. Ritchie Valens rose to stardom in 1958 at the age of 17. He had a great musical career ahead of him when he died in a plane crash on February 3, 1959. Ritchie Valens was inducted posthumously into the Rock N’ Roll Hall of Fame in 2001. Everyone was riveted by the movie. 

The movie ended and we were traveling through the magnificent stretch of I-70 in the Rocky Mountains. Spectacular views surrounded us at every turn as we began climbing in elevation. John Denver’s “Rocky Mountain High” reverberated throughout the bus along with six more John Denver’s classics. We all experienced a total multi-sensory experience between the beautiful scenery and music. We climbed to an elevation of 11,500 feet before descending slowly. Fifty-four miles from Denver, we drove through the Johnson Tunnel that not only sits at 10,400 feet above sea level but has the Continental Divide crossing its center point. We were back in the part of our country where all running water flowed East to the Atlantic Ocean. 

We were making excellent time after a short rest stop heading for our Drury Hotel in Stapleton, a suburb of Denver. Suddenly, traffic just stopped 10 miles away due to lane closures. My GPS registered an hour delay but quickly offered an alternate route that eventually put us back on I-70 beyond the blockage. We only lost ten minutes in time and made it to the Drury Inn with twenty minutes to spare before the close of the Kickback. Everyone was tired and completely satisfied after another picture-perfect day of travel. 

Day 21: Saturday, September 23, 2023

While the East Coast was being slammed by strong winds and rain, it was another picture-perfect day as we departed Denver. We honored four tour guests on board with musical numbers since September 23 was a special day for each. We continued north eventually crossing the border into Wyoming. I played a few Western Songs to mark the occasion.  

We stopped at our unique rest stop, Little America, located in the state capital, Cheyenne. It offered us a restroom and shopping for things Wyoming. The highlight for many was riding the big green dinosaur outside the store. Many made a purchase at Little America and came away with some fun photos.

Starr Tour Director Gene Gray on Dino the Dinosaur at Little America Rest Stop

Back on the bus, I played the documentary “Mount Rushmore” from the History Channel. It used primary footage of Gustav Borglum and his workers building Mount Rushmore in the 1930’s. It provided a great appreciation of the patriotic masterpiece that is Mount Rushmore from inception in the 1920’s to completion in the 1940’s. Everyone watched with interest and commented later that the movie really set them up for viewing Mount Rushmore. 

After a few more western tunes, we arrived in Torrington, Wyoming for our lunch stop. Those that ate at Subway or Arby’s were served in quickly and had plenty of time to roam around this Western-style town. 

We were three hours away from Mount Rushmore. On the bus, I showed “Walk the Line”, the Johnny Cash story. Most watched this riveting film with interest and the music was terrific! 

We arrived at Mount Rushmore. The skies had intermittent clouds and the temperature hovered at 54°. The sun weakly peaked through at times. It was a perfect afternoon to view Mount Rushmore. We were amazed at the majestic stone carvings that depict four Presidents of the United States. Washington, Teddy Roosevelt, Jefferson, and Lincoln looked down upon us like royalty from their granite throne. Many of us chose to walk the Presidential Trail which wound around under the base of the monument for up close and personal viewing and photos. Many enjoyed shopping in the wonderful gift shop. A few had hot chocolate by a fireplace in the restaurant. We spent two hours and everyone had a magnificent experience. Mount Rushmore was finally checked off our bucket list!

Mount Rushmore

Less than an hour later, we were checked into our hotel, the Fairfield Inn Rapid City, SD. We look forward to visiting Badlands National Park, our last National Park for this trip, tomorrow. 

Day 22: Sunday, September 24, 2023

The weather was a cool 61° with cloudy skies and strong winds. We departed Rapid City and began our travels to Badlands National Park. 

I began the trip by showing the National Park Service video, “Badlands Suite: Land of Stone and Light”. It was a good introduction to the Badlands of South Dakota. We arrived at the Pinnacles Entrance to Badlands National Park and stopped at four beautiful overlooks; Pinnacles Overlook, Homestead Overlook, Burns Basin Overlook, and Panorama Point. Many disembarked while the weather conditions kept some on board. Each overlook provided different views of rugged terrain with sandstone pinnacles and colorful mounds enriched with iron and manganese. The road through Badlands National Park is just as breathtaking. We traveled on the narrow National Park road that weaved around mounds of colorful sandstone and pinnacled mountains. We stopped at the Visitors Center before departing. Everyone enjoyed the Badlands which was just as beautiful driving through as it was stopping at each overlook.

Badlands National Park, South Dakota

We drove to Wall Drug for lunch. Wall Drug is a unique establishment with a huge 560 seat restaurant where you order your food at a counter and your number is called within 10 minutes. In addition, Wall Drug is a department store with 23 themed stores under one roof. Wall Drug was started by the Hustead family in 1931 and became noticed when they advertised free ice water on highway billboards to thirsty travelers heading towards the new attraction of Mount Rushmore. To this day, they offer coffee for 5 cents a cup (and free ice water). Everyone enjoyed their lunch and the unique shopping experience.

Wall Drug Store, South Dakota

We departed Wall Drug and drove over 200 miles East towards Mitchell, South Dakota. I showed the 2004 Academy Award winning movie, “Ray” starring Jamie Foxx as Ray Charles. Ray Charles is an initial inductee into the Rock N’ Roll Hall of Fame in 1986. The movie depicts a tumultuous first 33 years of his life until he made the decision to wean himself off of heroin. Most watched this dynamic film with interest.  

We arrived at the Comfort Inn ahead of schedule. The tour guests had four restaurants in an adjacent shopping center from which to choose and were now on their own to enjoy their evening.  

Day 23: Monday, September 25, 2023

We departed and drove five minutes to the famous Corn Palace of Mitchell. Troy, the Corn Palace guide, met us and began telling us the history of the three Corn Palaces of which this is the third. He then took us into the main arena and explained the meaning of the hanging wall murals all made of different colored corn. The twenty-minute tour concluded at the gift shop. This was a fast and unique experience for everyone.

The World’s Only Corn Palace, Mitchell, SD

Back on the bus, the tour guests relaxed as the bus stayed quiet. After a short rest stop, I played a few songs requested by tour guests on Day 1 of our trip. We crossed the border from South Dakota into Minnesota where Buddy Holly was traveling in 1959 when his plane crashed. I played two Buddy Holly songs and showed the first half of “The Buddy Holly Story” starring Gary Busey as Buddy Holly.  

We arrived at the Ranch Restaurant in Fairmont, Minnesota for lunch. Our private room was set up with silverware, napkins, and menus. Four servers immediately took our orders. Everyone was served in a timely manner. The food was delicious. Sally, the owner, is wonderful to work with and runs a very efficient restaurant. Everyone enjoyed their lunch.  

I showed the second half of “The Buddy Holly Story”. The tour guests watched with interest despite knowing the predetermined conclusion. Buddy Holly was an initial inductee into the Rock N’ Roll Hall of Fame in 1986. He died at 22 years old! 

We crossed the border from Minnesota into Iowa. Dyersville, Iowa is the location for “The Field of Dreams”, from the movie of the same name starring Kevin Costner. Dyersville is located about 20 miles west of Dubuque, our destination for tonight. Each year, Major League Baseball plays a regular season game at this field made famous by the movie. I showed the movie, “Field of Dreams”. “Field of Dreams” is one of the best baseball classics of all time and evokes hope, wonder, and emotion. Everyone watched intently. 

We arrived at the Holiday Inn Dubuque and were on our own for the remainder of the evening.

Day 24: Tuesday, September 26, 2023

We departed for Chicago. We immediately crossed the “mighty Mississippi” which was low on water due to droughts. We were now officially in the East again. I played “My Kind of Town” by Frank Sinatra to get us in the Chicago spirit. I then showed the History Channel documentary titled “The Making of the Sears Tower”. We were going to the 103rd floor later today. Parts of the documentary were quite technical, but the primary source footage was fascinating to watch. Many watched with interest while some simply watched with eyes closed.  

We arrived at the Belvedere Oasis Rest Area off of I-90. The Rest Area spans I-90 from above and it is awesome to walk through and look down on the vehicles speeding by.  

Resuming travel, I played many songs from “Chicago” (the group) and then a few more Chicago songs such as “Bad Bad Leroy Brown” and “Chicago – That Toddling Town”. We arrived at the Chicago Navy Pier for a two-hour lunch and shopping event.

The weather became clear and sunny with temperatures hovering around 70°. Many rode the huge Ferris Wheel at the Navy Pier and had a great experience. A group went to Harry Carey’s Restaurant for a nice lunch. Many ordered a Chicago Hot Dog “Dragged Through the Garden” with all kinds of vegetables on it. Some enjoyed lunch at Margaritaville. Most bought a Chicago souvenir or two. Everyone had a wonderful experience at the Chicago Navy Pier.  

Chicago, Illinois

Our next Chicago attraction was the Willis Tower (formerly the Sears Tower) Museum, taking the elevator to the 103rd floor, and stepping out onto The Ledge. The weather totally cooperated with us as it has done every day of this glorious Cross Country Trip. The views from the top were spectacular in all directions; Lake Michigan to the north, Indiana to the east, Iowa to the west, and the beautiful city of Chicago everywhere below. The Museum created leading to the elevator was all Chicago honoring Chicago’s history from Fort Dearborn to the Chicago Fire of 1871 to the two Chicago World’s Fairs in 1893 and 1933. The Museum provided opportunities to take pictures with Michelle and Barack, Oprah, and Michael Jordon. There was also a section on the specialty foods of Chicago.  

On the 103rd floor, everyone had the opportunity to step out onto The Ledge where it appears there is nothing below you except the street 103 stories down. Most had a fun time having pictures of themselves taken while appearing suspended in midair. Many were simply proud to have braved The Ledge.

Starr Tour Director Gene Gray – Skydeck Chicago

Many walked to the Route 66 sign across from the Willis Tower for pictures. Once we arrived at the perfectly located Fairfield Inn, we were on our own to enjoy Chicago.

Day 25: Wednesday, September 27, 2023

We were all able to “sleep in” this morning since our Big Bus Tour of Chicago didn’t begin until 10:00 AM. Today is a well-deserved day of rest Fernando.  

The Big Bus Tour of Chicago started with Sara, our talented bus driver, handing each of us earphones that connected to a device at our seats so we could hear the automated narration. Sara drove all around the center of Chicago as we were told about the Magnificent Mile, the many architectural structures, the unique history of Chicago, and many more details. Music was interspersed throughout the narration. We drove past the Field Museum and the Adler Planetarium and stopped to take photos of the Chicago Skyline semi draped in clouds. It was a wonderful tour and provided a great appreciation for this beautiful city.

Chicago Skyline

The Big Bus dropped us off on the Magnificent Mile near The Shops at North Bridge. Everyone was now on their own for lunch. I created a handout of possible lunch places from which the tour guests could choose, and many were resourceful to find others.  

Many were enjoying a special treat from Ghirardelli’s located in the Wrigley Building when I arrived with the tickets to our 2:30 PM Architectural Cruise on the Chicago River and Lake Michigan. Once everyone arrived, we all walked down the 62 steps together to get in line to board the Wendella Boat.  

The skies were overcast with steady winds and temperatures in the low 60’s. It threatened to rain throughout the day but we were extremely fortunate that no rain fell. It was chilly but comfortable enough to sit outside and enjoy the sights and great narration from our guide and very knowledgeable resident of Chicago, Soria. He spoke about Chicago’s history, its magnificent buildings and architecture, and its uniqueness as a city. We passed through the lock that raises the Chicago River five feet to equal the elevation of Lake Michigan so we could pass through smoothly. Coupled with the Big Bus Tour, the tour guests received a great land and sea tour of Chicago gaining a wonderful perspective of our third largest city.  

We walked back to the Fairfield Inn to relax and refresh before meeting in the lobby to walk to dinner at Gino’s East at 5:45 PM. Upon arrival, we were seated upstairs at six booths consisting of 8 seats. The food was delicious. We were served wings, mozzarella sticks, salad, pasta, and a brownie and chocolate chip cookie for dessert. We were called up table by table to receive our choices of pizza – deep dish or flat crust. The pizza was plentiful, and a second helping was possible. Many people truly enjoyed the Chicago deep dish. The two servers assigned to us by Gino’s did a wonderful job taking care of our needs. Everyone enjoyed their dinner and waddled out of Gino’s for a short walk back to our hotel. 

We needed to get to sleep fast. We depart Chicago at 7:00 AM. 

Day 26: Thursday, September 28, 2023

Back aboard the bus, we crossed the border from Illinois into Indiana. The skies were overcast and constantly threatened with rain. Temperatures were in the low 60’s. A few deciduous trees were beginning to change color. Fall was in the air. We headed East towards Cleveland and the Rock N’ Roll Hall of Fame.  

I kept the bus quiet so everyone could get some rest. Prior to our rest stop at the Craig Travel Plaza in Elkhart, Indiana, our devices changed to Eastern Time. It began to feel like home! I played “Gary Indiana” from The Music Man and “Back Home Again in Indiana”, the song played each year prior to the start of the Indianapolis 500. Following the rest stop, I played the 2002 Academy Award Winning film, “Chicago” starring Renee Zellweger, Catherine Zeta Jones, and Richard Gere. 

“Chicago” was interrupted by our lunch stop at the Tiffin River Service Plaza in Ohio. Knowing we were having a large dinner tonight, many ate a light lunch or snack. I played the conclusion of “Chicago”. Some had seen the movie before or the live Broadway Show in New York. Everyone enjoyed the movie with magnificent musical numbers such as “Razzle Dazzle” and “And All That Jazz”. 

Following the movie, I told the history of the Rock N’ Roll Hall of Fame and played songs from the initial inductees from 1986. I instructed everyone about the strategy to get the most out of our visit. Start in the lower level in the Ertigin Room where 80% of the exhibits are found. Then go to the third level and see the plaques of the inductees from 1986-2022. Finish your tour in the gift shop.

Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, Cleveland, OH

Following the Rock N’ Roll Hall of Fame, we drove to the Hofbrauhaus of Cleveland for our Farewell Dinner. We were led to a long room upstairs that reminded us of Hogwarts. One long table was put together from one end of the room to the other. A German Pretzel with dip was at each place setting. The two servers got everyone’s drink order and proceeded to deliver the drinks. Many tour guests provided a toast wishing everyone good health and safe travels. Some thanked Fernando and me for a great trip. We were one happy family!  

The main course was served along with German Chocolate Cake and coffee. Following dinner, we drove to the schoolhouse that doubles as The Drury Inn of Cleveland. I handed out the keys and everyone was on their own to enjoy our final evening together as the 2023 Starr Cross Country Travelers. 

Day 27: Friday, September 29, 2023

Breakfast was served across from The Teachers’ Lounge on the first floor of this unique Drury Inn. It was a fitting final breakfast for our Cross Country trip. We departed for the last leg of our 27-day journey.  

I began the day by handing out my 8-page “2023 Cross Country Statistics” to each traveler. Shortly after, I asked everyone to take out their 29-page Cross Country booklets to use as a reference and provided the QR Code for the Starr Survey. The tour guests worked diligently on the survey.  

Our first rest stop was the Oakmont Service Plaza on the Pennsylvania Turnpike. It was a beautiful day so we did our final ceremony complete with speeches and award certificates outside on the patio.  

We continued on to our lunch stop, Eat N’ Park in Somerset County, Pennsylvania. I played musical requests from the tour guests and continued to honor future birthdays and anniversaries. Everyone applauded the honorees.  

After a delicious lunch ending with a smile cookie, we traveled toward home. Requests for songs continued my way. Some music was new to me. Everyone was feeling the end of this fabulous 27 day “Trip of a Lifetime”. We all sang “We Are Family” by Sister Sledge and after one more short rest stop, we arrived in Bensalem at 5:15 PM, thus completing our 7,400 mile round-trip adventure to California and back. Fernando was our hero! 

Starr’s 3rd generation owner, Sandy Borowsky greeted us with a “Welcome Home” sign and an acknowledgment speech on the bus that harbored standing ovations.

Starr Owner Sandy Borowsky Welcoming the Group Home

The hugs and tears were authentic as we said goodbye to each other and wished each other well.  

The shuttles were all waiting and lined up to accept luggage and tour guests. I dismissed one destination at a time to keep things running smoothly. Within twenty minutes, all tour guests were seated on their correct shuttle and confirmed their luggage was placed correctly. We departed Bensalem. 

All tour guests were dropped off successfully and picked up by their loved ones or friends. I received a text on Saturday morning from Maribeth in Maryland that Al, Marylanders had arrived safely and in a timely manner. This was the first Starr trip that included tour guests from Eyre Tours Powered by Starr and everything worked to perfection. The 2023 Cross Country trip truly set a high standard for more inclusive trips with Eyre Tours guests in the future.  

Words cannot describe the great job Fernando Berrios did expertly driving every mile of this journey. He cared for the bus at all times, handled each piece of luggage twice a day for 27 days, and kept us all safe every minute of every day. He is fun to be around and has a marvelous sense of humor. Fernando is truly a professional driver and is a pleasure to work with. He is a true asset to the Starr family. 

Thank you all for a fabulous 27 days. I wish everyone good health and continued safe travels! Happy Trails! 

Your Cross Country Tour Director (for the 6th time), 
Gene Gray

Starr Tour Director Gene Gray

Cross Country Adventure by Bus 2023 – Westbound

Our September 2023 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 47 travelers across our great country over the course of 27 days. This was Gene’s 6th trip and the 2nd 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. 

The second half of their amazing “Journey of a Lifetime” can be found here.

Overnight Tour Summary Report – Cross Country 2023 

Date: September 3-29, 2023 
Tour Director: Gene Gray 
Driver: Fernando Berrios
Starr Bus #: 207

Day 1: Sunday, September 3, 2023 

In Bensalem at 8:30am, people were bustling in all directions like Christmas in Rockefeller Center. It was a beautiful embarkation day! Our bus originated in Hamilton, NJ and we were joined by four shuttles of travelers from Maryland, Woodbridge, Toms River, Cherry Hill, and South Philadelphia. After boarding, we had a total of 47 Cross Country tour guests on board, all with great anticipation for our trip!   

Starr’s 2nd generation owners, Alan and Renee Glickman, were Starr’s VIPs in attendance and provided a grand send off for our 27-day journey. Alan & Renee wished us a safe trip, thanked all the tour guests, and stood for the playing of the “Star Spangled Banner” sung by Whitney Houston. AND WE WERE OFF!

Starr Owners Alan & Renee Glickman seeing our 2023 Cross Country Group off!

I began by welcoming everyone and introducing myself and our driver, Fernando Berrios. I then led a short orientation by reviewing the highlights for each day of the trip as each tour guest followed along in the 29-page booklet I created. I also passed around “Celebration Sheets” for tour guests to write down any event they are celebrating along with a favorite song. Time flew by and we arrived at our first rest stop (of many!), the Lawn Service Area on the PA Turnpike. After a short stop, we were back on the bus and continued west. 

After some quiet time, just prior to our arrival at Hoss’s for lunch, I honored our Military Veterans on board by thanking them for their service and playing the Armed Forces Medley. Hoss’s seated all 49 of us within minutes and served us with equal efficiency. Everyone enjoyed their lunch. Hoss’s salad, soup, and dessert bars were a popular luncheon item.  

Following lunch, I played the 3-hour ABC Special from 1979 titled “Elvis,” telling the detailed story of his life from age ten through his 1969 comeback tour in Las Vegas. The movie features his love for his mom, Gladys, his tour of Germany, his life with Priscilla, and his comeback as a singer in the middle to late sixties. Most watched with interest knowing that we’ll be visiting Graceland on Wednesday.  

We arrived at our afternoon rest stop for a short break before continuing westward towards the Drury Inn near Columbus, Ohio. We arrived in time for everyone to enjoy the “Kickback” that features alcoholic drinks and a buffet. Our travelers are now on their own to enjoy their first night after a very successful start to our trip.  

Day 2: Monday, September 4, 2023

Labor Day started off with a lovely Drury Inn breakfast buffet. After all luggage was accounted for, and all tour guests boarded our bus, we departed for Louisville, Kentucky.  

I began today’s ride by playing three songs from the great Jimmy Buffet who sadly passed away just days before our trip departed. I played “Come Monday,” his Labor Day song, “Take Me Out to the Ballgame” recorded at Fenway Park, and, of course, “Margaritaville”. Our guests enjoyed the tribute, especially the few Parrotheads on board. 

Following the music, I played the 2010 Disney movie, “Secretariat,” the story of the greatest Kentucky Derby and Triple Crown winning horse of all time. We will be doing the Backstretch Tour of Churchill Downs tomorrow. Everyone watched with great enthusiasm and applauded loudly when Secretariat won the Kentucky Derby and then the Belmont Stakes to earn the Triple Crown. The movie ended just as we pulled into the Love’s Service Plaza, our rest stop. We went inside dancing and smiling from the movie. 

We arrived at the Louisville Slugger Museum & Factory ahead of schedule and went right into the lunchroom where our boxed lunches were waiting for us. The lunches were very good and included a sandwich on a hoagie, a chocolate chip cookie, a bag of chips, and a bottle of water.  

The tour of the Museum was much improved compared to my previous visits. They highlighted 5 stops in the production of a baseball bat. Each stop now has a video displayed on large monitors with sound loud enough to overcome the loud sounds of the machinery in the background. The tour guide simply enhanced the videos and made this a most fascinating experience. We were surprised to see workers diligently making bats on Labor Day.

Louisville Slugger Factory & Museum

Our next stop was at the Prohibition Craft Spirits Distillery. The people working behind the bar welcomed us and invited everyone inside to relax, perhaps order a drink, and use their facilities. Upon entering, we saw a large bar spanning the length of the elongated room with a mirror behind it flanked by a multitude of bottles filled with different alcohol. The scene appeared to be taken from the old saloons in the Wild West – only missing the bullet holes in the wall. We milled about before Josh, our expert tour guide, introduced himself and took us to a large area behind the bar to begin our tour.

Prohibition Craft Spirits Distillery in Louisville, Kentucky

Josh spoke about the history of the distillery along with prohibition. He emphasized the bourbon making process and showed us the room that housed hundreds of barrels filled with 4- to 8-year-old aged bourbon almost ready to be opened and sold. Josh imparted a lot of information and was extremely knowledgeable about his bourbons. We then sat at a table set up with cups and napkins for our taste testing experience. Josh and a young lady, who we later found out was Josh’s wife, proceeded to fill five plastic shot glasses, one at a time, and provided a description of each bourbon. One tasting of rye was also included. The bourbons were extremely strong, so strong that a slight sniff of the liquid sent a rush burning through your nose and up into your brain! A taste sent the same sensation around your mouth and down your throat. Everyone had a great time in this relaxed atmosphere. One sample of bourbon was extremely high – 114 proof. Not everyone indulged, but during this experience, we became very friendly with each other! And as you can imagine, the room got louder as more shot glasses were filled! 

The Prohibition Craft Spirits Distillery was an extremely friendly place, run and owned by two families who were extremely grateful for our business. Josh sold a few of us bottles of alcohol and thanked us all for coming before saying goodbye.  

Our hotel for the night, the Drury Inn, was just a short ride away, as we were filled with laughter and lifted spirits. Our tour guests thoroughly enjoyed today and shared many compliments. Upon arrival at our hotel, I handed out the room keys and the tour guests were on their own for dinner and relaxation. Everyone was now looking forward to a long day tomorrow beginning with the horses in Churchill Downs and culminating with a fabulous show at the Grand Ole Opry in Nashville.  

Day 3: Tuesday, September 5, 2023

The odd thing about this morning is the tour guests had access to two breakfasts; one at the Drury Inn and one at the Backstretch Tour at Churchill Downs! Our wonderful Churchill Downs guide, Murray, was waiting for us as we pulled into the parking lot adjacent to the steeple.  

It was a cool, sunny, and energetic day in the backstretch. Groomers were busily feeding, bathing, and grooming the many horses in residence. Two-year-old horses were galloping on the Churchill Downs track in preparation for racing when they become a three-year-old in 2024. We were treated to a delicious breakfast before finishing our backstretch tour with a group picture in the iconic Kentucky Derby Starting Gate.

Murray was a magnificent guide sharing his knowledge with us before parting ways. Next, hopped aboard our bus to travel the very short distance to the entrance of Churchill Downs.

The Barbaro Memorial Statue in front of the Kentucky Derby Museum

The two famous spires that are designated as National Landmarks greeted us as we pulled up in front of the entrance. Also visible was the monument and burial place of Barbaro, winner of the 2006 Kentucky Derby. Our tour of Churchill Downs began with our guide, Ally, who led us out to the track. Ally told us many stories about individual Derby winners along with details of how the track is maintained. We witnessed the track being smoothed over every hour (similar to the infield in baseball every few innings) and watered – just enough to provide the perfect steady ground to maximize a horse’s speed. The tour was fascinating and enjoyed by everyone. 

We saw the fifteen-minute theater-in-the-round film, a 360° racing experience that had us at the edge of our circular stools. It highlighted the the magnificent Kentucky Derby winners, powerful Kentucky Derby races, and a morning ‘til night overview of Derby Day. After, we had time to look through the museum and purchase keepsakes from the gift shop. We departed Churchill Downs and said goodbye to Louisville after taking another group photo, this time in front of Barbaro’s statue.  

We were on our way to Music City, Nashville, Tennessee. Before arriving in Nashville, we entered the Central Time Zone and stopped for lunch in Smith’s Grove, Kentucky. In Smith’s Grove, we had a choice of five eating establishments and were able to eat, relax, talk, and return to the bus within an hour.  

We arrived at the Hyatt Place Opryland in Nashville on time to relax for an hour in our rooms before traveling the short distance to the Gaylord Opryland Hotel. 

From personal experience, I know that the Gaylord Hotel is huge and very hard to navigate! I made sure each tour guest had a color map of the Resort and I provided an orientation walking tour from the Cascade section to the Delta section. The tour guests marveled at the beauty of the Gaylord Resort, in many places replicating a rain forest. A few guests rode the Delta Flatboats through the winding indoor river. Everyone enjoyed their time here and found their way back to the bus for the short ride to the Opry.  

After taking pictures of the Grand Ole Opry and entering this iconic music venue, we found our great seats on long, cushioned benches, a comfortable and relaxed setting.  

The show, as always, was extremely unique. Despite not recognizing any of the performers, the music was fabulous, and the singing was dynamic. Charlie McCoy, an elderly Country Music Hall of Famer who recorded with Elvis and many others, received a standing ovation for his harmonica rendition of “Orange Blossom Special”. The second half of the show was being filmed for television and starred a young country singer named Tyler Childers. They were promoting his new album that was set to debut on Friday. Everyone enjoyed their experience in this iconic venue.

Evening Performance at the Grand Ole Opry

Tomorrow will be all about Elvis! 

Day 4: Wednesday, September 6, 2023

After breakfast, we departed for Graceland. I began our ride westward by playing the song “Graceland” by Paul Simon. I then took requests for favorite Elvis songs. Following the music, I showed the 2022 movie “Elvis” starring Austin Butler and Tom Hanks. This powerful movie featured the segregated politics of the 50’s, the fleecing of Elvis by his agent Colonel Tom Parker, and Elvis’s struggles as a person. Many enjoyed this movie and were happy to have seen it. 

We stopped at the Patsy Cline & Chet Atkinson Rest Stop for a short break before arriving at Graceland.

It was a great day to be touring Graceland as there were no crowds, no lines, and no wait time. Lucky us! We had the choice to eat lunch at either Vernon’s Smokehouse or Gladys’s Deli with our $15 vouchers. After seeing a seven-minute introductory film on the life and greatness of Elvis, we took the shuttle to the mansion where there was no line.  

Most everyone took an iPad and headphones to listen to the tour of the Mansion and grounds. We saw Elvis’s living room with the ten-foot white sofa. We passed through the kitchen and down the stairs surrounded by mirrors on all sides. We stepped into Elvis’s TV room and billiards room, decorated with unique artifacts, wall coverings, and furniture. We walked up the stairs to the famous Green Room where Elvis recorded an album including his hit “Suspicious Minds.”  

Once outside in the back, we saw horses grazing. We walked into Vernon’s office building and the Trophy Building that housed information on Elvis’s Family Tree with fabulous photographs of his entire family. Another building housed pinball machines, a piano, comfortable sofas, and a full-sized racquetball court. The final leg of our tour took us past the gravesites of Elvis, his parents, his daughter, Lisa Marie, and his grandson, Benjamin. Some tears were flowing.  

The guests enjoyed the many museums, gift shops, and the opportunity to walk through Elvis’s airplanes, one named The Lisa Marie. They also enjoyed the new exhibit featuring costumes, photographs, and video segments from the 2022 film, “Elvis” starring Austin Butler and Tom Hanks. The skies opened up a few times throughout the afternoon delaying our departure from Graceland until all tour guests could walk back safely to the bus.  

The Doubletree in Memphis was ready when we arrived with a warm chocolate chip cookie for each of us. Many tour guests walked the two short blocks to iconic Beale Street for dinner. I received a video in my text messages of many tour guests dancing to blues/rock music at a Beale Street restaurant. Others remained at the Hotel to eat in their restaurant, The Union Tap and Grill. Today was another fabulous day enjoyed by everyone.  

Day 5: Thursday, September 7, 2023

After breakfast, we traveled less than a mile to the Lorraine Motel to pay our respects to Dr. Martin Luther King. There was much construction taking place around the Lorraine Hotel, but we were able to take many pictures and experience this hallowed site with respect. Was his assassination a conspiracy? We discussed that idea as well. April 4 was the 55th anniversary of his death.

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

Back on the bus, we crossed the mighty Mississippi River into Arkansas. Today was a longer day of travel as we traveled to Oklahoma City. I played the songs “Abraham, Martin, and John” by Dion and “Old Man River” by Paul Robeson. The scenery in this part of the country is flat with green trees and some green fields. This scenery continues in Arkansas. I played the Academy Award winning movie, “Green Book,” based on a true story of a black concert pianist and his driver/bodyguard negotiating the Jim Crow laws in the South. The Green Book was first written in 1936 by Victor H. Green as a travel guide for the black traveler. State by state, the Green Book lists places that were safe for black people to eat, sleep, and attend. It was updated every year. The guests thoroughly enjoyed the movie that tugs at emotion, joy, racism, and ultimate respect.  

We made a short stop at a Love’s Service Stop and continued west on I-40. We stopped for lunch in Alma, Arkansas, just 13 miles from the Arkansas-Oklahoma border. 

We entered Oklahoma as the song of the same name rang throughout the bus. We are beginning to witness a change in terrain with a drier climate, shorter trees, and farms on either side of I-40. Temperatures hovered near 100°. But it was a dry heat and felt comfortable (to me at least). After another stop at a Love’s Service Area, I played a few songs related to Oklahoma such as “Okie from Muskogee” by Merle Haggard before we arrived at the Hampton OKC Northwest hotel, exactly on schedule. We were greeted with keys, luggage service, and a bottle of water, which felt like gold in 100° temperatures.  

Tonight’s dinner arrangements consisted of an optional one-mile bus ride to Penn Square Mall along with a few eating establishments located adjacent to the Hotel. The Penn Square Mall is a large mall with a food court with many options for dinner. The Cheesecake Factory and a wonderful Italian restaurant were also very popular with our guests. We now look forward to tomorrow as we begin our journey on iconic Route 66 and arrive deep in the heart of Texas.  

Day 6: Friday, September 8, 2023

After a hearty breakfast, we departed the hotel and stopped to pay our respects at the Oklahoma City National Memorial, site of the April 19, 1995 bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building. Corey, a very knowledgeable Park Ranger, gathered our group together to provide many details of that fateful day. The Memorial consisted of two monoliths, one at either end of a shallow waterway. The waterway represents 5th Street where Timothy McVay parked the Ryder truck with the bomb at the rear of the building. One monolith has 9:01 imprinted at the top while the other has 9:03. The first symbolizes calm, the minute before the blast. The latter represents the beginning of healing, one minute following the blast. Chairs of different sizes representing children and adults who died in the blast are lined up in rows on a beautifully manicured lawn. We all learned a lot and were grateful to have visited this hallowed ground.

Oklahoma City National Memorial

Everyone enjoyed our next stop, the National Cowboy and Heritage Museum. We divided into four groups of twelve, each with a docent who did a wonderful job interpreting the museum. Western paintings, statues, life-sized dioramas, and artifacts defined life in the “wild” west, which really wasn’t as “wild” as depicted in the Western Movies. The Western Movies and TV stars were depicted in one room of the Museum. Following our 90-minute tour, a delicious sandwich buffet including chips, pickles, a chocolate chip cookie, and a bottle of water was set up in a private room for us. After filling our bellies, we departed for Amarillo, Texas.  

Back on the bus, I showed the movie, “Hidden Figures”, the story of Katherine Johnson, Dorothy Vaughn, and Mary Jackson who overcame discrimination at NASA to help launch John Glenn into space and safely home. They each had brilliant mathematical minds and engineering skills. Everyone thoroughly enjoyed the movie.  

We stopped at a TA Service Plaza for a short rest stop and soon crossed the border into Texas. I played nine Texas songs beginning with “Deep in the Heart of Texas”. Everyone enjoyed the music as we passed through very arid terrain with yellow grass and flat land as far as the eye could see. The elevation rose to 3,500 feet above sea level. Many guests texted me requests for songs and then sang along as their song played. Before long, we arrived at our next hotel, the Comfort Inn & Suites in Amarillo. 

We were able to relax for about 45 minutes before boarding the bus to go to dinner. 

And what a fun dinner it was! The Big Texan Steak Ranch was bustling with servers briskly walking in all directions serving a packed house of festive diners. We were seated at picnic bench style seating set up with salad and cheesecake. Before long, servers were bringing out majestic sixteen-ounce steaks or sixteen-ounce chicken filets deliciously charbroiled to perfection. A baked potato, corn, and a dinner roll accompanied the entree. Everyone enjoyed their dinner along with the festive atmosphere including two guitar players walking around to play requests. Everyone also had ample time to shop for Route 66 gifts and Big Texan Steak Ranch souvenirs as well as enjoy the unique photo ops on the outside back porch. A fun time was had by all.

Dinner at The Big Texan Steak Ranch, Amarillo, TX

Tomorrow, we arrive in Albuquerque and will transition to Mountain Time. 

Day 7: Saturday, September 9, 2023

After a buffet breakfast, we began our day stopping first at the iconic Cadillac Ranch on Route 66 for a photo op. Ten Cadillacs from 1943 to 1963 in the name of “art” were placed front down deep into the dirt. Cans of spray paint lay on the ground, and many chose to spray a name or design on the helpless cars. Cadillac Ranch opened to the public in 1974. Now, the Cadillacs are completely stripped so all that remains are parts of the frame. Their colors are dynamic – quite a sight. 

I played the History Channel documentary, “Route 66” showing actual footage of the construction of this major US roadway. I explained its significance both then and now. Most watched with interest as we crossed the border into New Mexico, The Land of Enchantment. We were now on Mountain Time.  

One mile into New Mexico, we discovered a Phillips 66 Gas Station attached to the Russell Service Center. We decided to stop here since the New Mexico Welcome Center at the border was closed for repairs. Upon walking into the building, we saw a nostalgic 50’s style diner. Just up ahead and to the right was the Russell Museum with magnificent cars from yesteryear, life-sized replicas of Elvis and Marilyn Monroe, and many artifacts in showcases. A very large grocery store was also available. The Russell Service Center was an unbelievable stop that we found by accident and will make it a yearly tradition. 

Our next stop was in Tucumcari, New Mexico on Route 66. We stopped for a photo op of the “Historic Route 66” sign as well as a decorative Route 66 sign in front of the Tucumcari Convention Center and New Mexico Route 66 Museum. We all actually walked on historic Route 66, and some joked to never wash their shoes again. It was a fun experience.  

We continued onto Albuquerque and stopped at the Sawmill Market for lunch. The Sawmill Market is a plethora of predominantly international food kiosks under one roof providing a variety of foods and desserts. Everyone raved about this place and enjoyed their lunch.  

It was now time to go up, up, and away on the Sandia Peak Tramway, 10,378 feet above sea level. The ride up was smooth, and the scenery was gorgeous. Once at the top, we instantly felt the 20°+ cooler temperatures. A boardwalk pathway meanders to many scenic overlooks culminating at the restaurant. With the thin air at this high elevation, those in the best of shape were huffing and puffing as we climbed up and down stairs to the different overlooks.  

The Drury Inn was ready for us when we arrived, and we got to relax with a few drinks and food at the Kickback. Tomorrow, we’ll board a bus from a different company while our fabulous driver, Fernando, takes a well-deserved day off and we visit the highlights of Albuquerque.  

Day 8: Sunday, September 10, 2023

The Herrera Bus arrived and our driver for the day, Lawrence drove us to the Balloon Museum of Albuquerque. This is a small but informative museum presenting information on the history of ballooning around the world. Life-sized dioramas depict ballooning expeditions from the 1800’s to some of the most frigid regions on earth. Most of the tour guests took the opportunity for a photo op in a display hot air balloon. Many authentic artifacts were on display including survival equipment brought on expeditions. Everyone enjoyed the uniqueness of the Balloon Museum.

Balloon Museum of Albuquerque, NM

We arrived in Old Town Albuquerque, took out the maps and restaurant choices I had provided, and we were on our own for three hours to shop and have lunch. Many ate in the Church Street Cafe that features Southwestern-style sandwiches and mildly spicy dishes. The shopping is unique, as is the region. Cowboy hats, ponchos, and western style clothing are prevalent in the shops. Since Albuquerque is famous for its Hot Air Balloon Festival every October, balloon souvenirs can be found in many stores. Everyone enjoyed their experience in Old Town. 

Our third and final stop of the day was the Indian Pueblo Cultural Center. First, we were treated to a wonderful performance by a family of Native American dancers. Each of the three dances was accompanied by a chanter and a drummer. The first dance was by a solo dancer dressed immaculately in Eagle garb as he flapped his colorful wings around the circular dirt stage to the beat of the drum. The second was by two women dressed in colorful clothing balancing a large piece of pottery on their heads. This was the Pottery Dance. And the third performance featured four dancers representing a Native American Social Dance. Each of the performances were very unique and enjoyable.

Indian Pueblo Cultural Center, Albuquerque, NM

We then broke up into two groups for our docent-guided tour of the museum. The museum highlights the history of the nineteen Pueblos that exist from Colorado to New Mexico. The people of the Pueblo were taken over by the Spanish in the 1600’s, gained their freedom in the 1700’s, and then demoralized by white Americans in the 1800’s and 1900’s. We all hope that a degree of respect will come to all Native Americans in the 2000’s. Most of the tour guests learned a lot from the passionate docents.  

Back at the Drury Inn, we were on our own for the evening. Many took advantage of the Kickback while some walked to an adjacent restaurant. Many enjoyed socializing with each other. Some found the time to do their first load of laundry.  

Tomorrow is our first look into Canyon Country.  

Day 9: Monday, September 11, 2023

Today is September 11th, the 22nd anniversary of the terrorist attacks. I began the day with a ceremony remembering the events of the day and the lives lost. I spoke about the details of the day with the four airplanes striking different targets; the two towers of the World Trade Center, the Pentagon, and one that crashed in Shanksville, Pennsylvania. I then called for a moment of silence followed by the playing of “God Bless America” and Neil Young’s, “Let’s Roll”. The tour guests were holding their flags during the music.

Our rest stop today was the Navajo Service Center in Gallup, New Mexico, home to the $4.99 Mexican Blankets. Many took advantage of this major bargain and also purchased Route 66 clothing and souvenirs. Navajo turquoise jewelry was also on display for purchase. This stop was enjoyed by everyone.  

Upon entering Arizona, our devices turned back one hour. We are now on Pacific Time for the next ten days. Within an hour, we arrived at the Painted Desert National Park. I walked to the front gate to pay the bus fee while the tour guests had time to visit the National Park Store. I mentioned the National Parks Stamp Books that are available for purchase. You could also buy the yearly stamp set and then personalize your book by stamping today’s date next to the National Park you’re visiting. Many tour guests were interested in this program that highlights every National Park and Monument in the United States.  

We began our tour of the Painted Desert. We stopped at the Kachina Point Overlook for our first amazing view of nature’s beauty. The colors on the terrain were vibrant, helped a bit by the bright sunlight. Tour guests reacted with disbelief; the scene was magnificent, and no pictures could do this justice. Being here is so unreal. Unbelievable! As expected, many photos were taken.

Painted Desert

We drove to Chinde Point where covered picnic tables were available for us to eat our boxed lunches from Panera with views of the Painted Desert. The lunches were delicious and filling.

Pintado Point was our last look into the spectacular Painted Desert before crossing over Route 66 and into Petrified Forest National Park. Wood became petrified when silica (which glass is created from) infiltrated the logs from trees that had been uprooted some 200 million years ago. Petrified Forest has the most petrified wood of any place on earth. Our first stop was Agate Bridge. A giant petrified tree trunk traversed a riverbed below. Today, the petrified tree bridge had been reinforced with concrete and the water has dried up. Our pictures were fabulous.

Petrified Forest National Park

We drove to the Crystal Forest stop, the stop where you can see, touch, and experience petrified wood like nowhere else. Many tour guests took the .75-mile hike into the badlands of Petrified Forest to experience the thousands of pieces of petrified wood in all sizes and weights up close and personal. Many photos were taken sitting on or holding petrified wood. The rule is, you can pick up the petrified wood (if small enough because the silica makes the wood extremely heavy) but you must put it back in its exact spot. The hikers felt rejuvenated from this short but effective and fascinating walk. 

Our final stop was the Rainbow Forest and Museum Visitors Center which has a National Park Store, a museum, a short walk among pieces of petrified wood, and a separate gift shop. We had time to create and purchase more memories of the Painted Desert and Petrified Forest National Park. 

Winslow, Arizona was less than an hour from the National Park and since it’s on our itinerary for the 2024 Cross Country Trip along Route 66, Fernando and I mapped out a route to offer everyone a quick stop.  The song by the Eagles, “Take It Easy” immortalized Winslow with the lyrics, “I was Standin’ on the corner of Winslow Arizona”. Of course, I played the song (twice)! We took a five-minute detour off I-40 at Winslow and parked the bus on Kingsley Avenue, steps from the infamous “corner”. We took many pictures of the statue of a man “Standin’ on the Corner” (presumably Jackson Browne coauthor), a statue of Glen Frey, lead singer and coauthor of “Take It Easy” who passed in 2016, and a magnificent mural of a girl in a flatbed Ford painted on the side of the brick building. Individual and group photos were taken. Everyone was extremely excited about this unique piece of Americana sitting in the desert of Arizona.

Standin’ on The Corner Foundation in Winslow, AZ

We arrived at the Holiday Inn Express in Sedona at sunset. We were now in one of the most beautiful towns in Arizona surrounded by majestic mountains made of red sandstone. We were on our own for dinner and to have time to enjoy this beautiful town. 

WHAT A MAGNIFICENT DAY THIS WAS! Tomorrow is our exciting Pink Jeep Tour.  

Day 10: Tuesday, September 12, 2023

The adventure continued after breakfast. We traveled a short six miles to the Pink Jeep Tour. We divided into groups of six and were ushered into one of eight pink jeeps.  

The Pink Jeeps are opened on all sides with a roof covering you. Hand straps hang above you. Seat belts must fit snug around your body. The Pink Jeep drivers are all experienced off-road specialists as well as experienced guides. We were driven into the back country over large rocks that rocked us from side to side and up and down. We stopped at an overlook with the most amazing 360° views of the iron-rich red sandstone mountains. We walked around the area and took many pictures. The next stop was to an overlook looking down onto the city of Sedona surrounded by the magnificent sandstone mountains. The view was magnificent and showed the beauty of this Arizona city. Everyone thoroughly enjoyed the Pink Jeep Tour.

Pink Jeep Tour of Sedona, Arizona

We were now on our own for the next 2.5 hours for lunch and shopping in this quaint, western city of Arizona. Most of us ate at the Cowboy Club and Grille which featured an appetizer sampler consisting of Rattlesnake, Bison, Cactus Fries, and western-style flat rolls. Those who ate the Rattlesnake agreed it tasted like Kielbasa, the Polish sausage, and were excited to have tried it. Everyone enjoyed their experiences in Sedona, and some commented they’d move here in a minute. 

Our travels continued to the city of Scottsdale, Arizona, a suburb of Phoenix. En Route, we descended from 5,000 feet above sea level to 1,500 feet. We were traveling through the Sonoran Desert and when we were at the 3,200-foot elevation, Saguaro Cactus began dotting the desert terrain. Saguaros are the state plant of Arizona and are protected by the state government. Older saguaros, over 100 years old, grow arms in many directions and rise to 40 feet in height. We were able to take pictures of saguaros from the bus as well as around the building of the Western Spirit Museum when we arrived for our tour.

Our group was divided into two groups and docents showed us around the Western Spirit Museum, Scottsdale’s Museum of the West and a part of the Smithsonian Institute. The Museum highlighted American history beginning with authentic artifacts and clothing of the Hopi Indian Nation, native to Arizona. Lewis and Clark’s exhibit featured clothing, sculptures, and their original diary from their three-year expedition. Brilliant historic paintings adorned the walls telling stories of life on the prairie, cattle drives, and of Native Americans. Frederic Remington, Charles Russel, Herman Hanson, John Coleman, and Andy Warhol are just some of the famous artists featured in this museum.  

The Drury Inn was ready for us upon our arrival. We were now on our own to enjoy the Kickback and each other. Everyone was enthusiastic after another day filled with excitement and learning.  


Day 11: Wednesday, September 13, 2023

We departed Chandler after a fine breakfast to the tunes of “By the Time I Get to Phoenix” by Glen Campbell and “California Here I Come” by Al Jolson. We continued riding through the Sonoran Desert and passed by fields of Saguaros. I played the movie, “Founder” starring Michael Keaton as Ray Kroc. It detailed Kroc’s business savvy in creating and taking over the McDonalds chain. Since the original McDonalds was located in San Bernardino, California, this was the perfect movie to play. Most everyone watched with interest.  

We stopped at the Mohawk Rest Stop in the desert off of I-8 for a short bathroom break. Signs were posted warning us to beware of snakes. The tour guests were quick to return to the bus.  

We crossed the border into California to the tunes of “There’s No Business Like Show Business”, “That’s Entertainment”, and “Surfin’ USA by The Beach Boys. The desert terrain was covered with mounds of sand for as far as the eye could see. I played a few more California tunes before we arrived at our lunch stop in El Centro, California. The elevation in El Centro, California is 60 feet below sea level while the temperature today was a dry, comfortable 99°. We chose from Farmer Boys, Applebee’s, and Wendy’s. 

We crossed over and through the Sierra Nevada Mountains, an unusual terrain stacked with huge granite boulders in all directions. We ascended from 60 feet below sea level in the Mojave Desert to over 5,000 feet above sea level at the peak of the Sierra Nevadas. We began to see civilization once again as we descended into the suburbs of San Diego. 

Upon arrival at the Best Western Plus Bayside Hotel near Little Italy in San Diego, the bus pulled into a reserved parking spot in front of the Hotel on Ash Street. The manager met the bus and welcomed us warmly.  

All but five tour guests boarded the bus at 5:00 PM for a short ride to Old Town San Diego for dinner, shopping, and enjoying the perfect 72° temperatures with cloudless skies. Old Town recreates the Mexican Heritage of San Diego. Restaurant seating is mostly outdoors. Everyone enjoyed their time in Old Town.  

Upon return to our hotel, I noticed a group of our guests preparing to take a night walk. Everyone was excited to have traveled 3,000 miles to California and were thrilled to be in beautiful San Diego.  

Day 12: Thursday, September 14, 2023

This morning we had a “Grab N’ Go” breakfast before getting on our way.  

Today’s first stop was the iconic San Diego Zoo. Our first activity was the narrated forty-minute Bus Tour around the Zoo. Most of the animals were awake and active on this mid seventy-degree morning. We passed the lions, polar bears, and many more. The Bus Tour is the best introduction to the San Diego Zoo.

San Diego Zoo

After the tour, we had time on our own to walk around and explore the Zoo. The male koalas were wide awake and posing as cute as ever for photos. The giraffes were busy eating their vegetarian diet from food placed high up in trees. As the temperature began to rise, many animals such as lions, polar bears, and elephants became less active. But they were still fun to watch. Everyone had a wonderful day walking around the beautiful San Diego Zoo, considered to be one of the best zoos in the world. 

We returned to the Best Western Hotel for a rest before embarking on our afternoon boat cruise of San Diego Bay. The weather was perfect as we boarded the Spirit of San Diego. An extremely knowledgeable Navy Veteran narrated the cruise. He spoke about Coronado Island and each of the U.S. Navy Ships that were currently docked in front of us. One ship, the USS Somerset, was named for Flight 93 that went down on September 11th in Somerset County, PA. The ship was partially made from metal collected from the crash site. We saw cruisers, aircraft carriers, and three nuclear powered battleships. The power of the United States Navy was on full display for all to see.

Spirit of San Diego Boat Cruise

The second hour of our cruise took us past a sea lion rookery, the opening to the Pacific Ocean, and Navy helicopters, airplanes, and barracks where marines were working out. The sun was waning, and we were able to take the most beautiful sunset pictures. Everyone enjoyed this relaxing and informative two-hour cruise.  

We were now on our own for dinner and exploring San Diego. Our hotel is perfectly situated two short blocks from Little Italy, and our restaurant choices were numerous. Many ate in one of these fine Italian restaurants. Everyone enjoyed this day in beautiful San Diego.  

Day 13: Friday, September 15, 2023

It was time to depart San Diego and travel north. Our first stop of the day was the Richard Nixon Presidential Library and Museum in Yorba Linda, California.  

Upon arrival, three docents ushered us into a ten-minute introductory film on Nixon’s life from a young boy through his resignation as President. It featured his many accomplishments as President such as opening China to the Western World, starting the EPA (Environmental Protection Agency), and his passion towards equality for women and people of color.  

Following the film, we broke up into three groups and began touring. Outside the Museum is Nixon’s boyhood home which we were able to walk through. We also walked past the gravesites of Richard and Pat Nixon and through his Presidential Helicopter in which he flew away from the White House after resigning. The Museum featured exquisite exhibits on the Vietnam War, the POW’s, protests at home, opening up China, his campaigns in 1960, 1968, and 1972, and the Watergate Scandal that lead to his resignation as President. The Nixon Presidential Library brought back many memories and provided realizations we didn’t know about Nixon’s accomplishments. It’s a wonderful place to visit.

Starr Tour Director Gene Gray posing on Nixon’s Farewell Helicopter – The Richard Nixon Library & Museum, Yorba Linda, CA

We stopped for a delicious lunch in Yorba Linda and continued on to Los Angeles. Traffic became bumper to bumper with long delays. Traveling thirty miles took an hour. I guess that’s decent for Los Angeles traffic where a gallon of regular gas costs $5.50. 

We arrived at the Hilton Garden Inn Burbank and after a quick turnaround, Thirty six of us chose to head over to Universal CityWalk for dinner, shopping, and people-watching. Tonight was the opening night for Fright Fest at Universal Studios and the CityWalk was filled wall to wall with teenagers. We spent two hours enjoying the festive atmosphere. With numerous dinner choices from Bubba Gumps to KFC, everyone had a good meal and enjoyed this exciting experience.  

We made it to Los Angeles in 13 days. Tomorrow, we get up close and personal with The City of Angels with our seven-hour tour.  

Day 14: Saturday, September 16, 2023

After a wonderful breakfast, we embarked on a comprehensive sightseeing tour of Los Angeles led by Judy Paresi, local LA Guide extraordinaire. Judy is extremely knowledgeable and enthusiastic about her beloved city and speaks clearly with excited intonations. Our first stop on the tour was the iconic Hollywood Bowl where we were permitted to walk inside and take pictures. One could just imagine the Beatles or Whitney Houston performing here. The seats are wooden benches with a back while the more expensive box seats closer to the stage are soft folding chairs.  

We continued our tour and stopped at the TCL Chinese Theater formally known as Grauman’s Chinese Theater. The theater was founded by Sid Grauman in 1926 and opened on May 18, 1927, with the premiere of Cecil B. DeMille’s “The King of Kings”. In front of the theater, stars from every decade in the 1900’s were honored by putting their imprint into cement and writing their name. The Hollywood Walk of Fame extends along Hollywood Boulevard and has large stars on the ground with the names of famous performers from radio, television, movies, recording, and sports. Examples include Olivia Newton John, John Travolta, and Muhammad Ali.  In total, as of August 2023, there are a total of 2,761 stars on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. We also walked up the famous staircase leading to the Dolby Theater, home of the Academy Awards.

Dolby Theatre Grand Staircase, Hollywood, CA

We continued our tour driving down Sunset Boulevard and the Sunset Strip. We passed places where Marilyn Monroe frequented and where Elizabeth Taylor got married. We also passed the hotels where John Belushi, Whitney Houston, and River Phoenix died. We turned onto Santa Monica Boulevard and stopped for a photo op at the Hollywood sign and the “Peace and Love” Statue given to Hollywood by Ringo Starr. We continued into Santa Monica and took pictures of the end of Route 66 sign as well as the Pacific Ocean.

Our next to last stop was the La Brae Tar Pits before going to lunch at the infamous Farmers Market. Judy’s stories had us entertained every moment of the day as we gained a vast appreciation for the beautiful city of Los Angeles.  

Back at the Hotel, we were on our own to relax and enjoy a good dinner at one of the many wonderful restaurants along San Fernando Boulevard. Everyone thoroughly enjoyed these two days in Los Angeles.  

Tomorrow it’s onto Las Vegas where “What Happens in Vegas, Stays in Vegas”. 

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


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.