July 25-27, 2009 From Minneapolis to St. George, UT

Prairie Schooner

Originally uploaded by marymompics

Long story short, we got in the car in Minneapolis and drove. And drove. And drove. On through Minnesota, nipping the corner of North Dakota and across South Dakota for an overnight in Pierre. Back in the car and south through South Dakota then southwest through Nebraska and entering Wyoming in the southeast corner. Another night, this time in Rawlins, WY (where BTW we had some surprisingly good Chinese food.) Then the final push – south into Colorado, a brief stop at Dinosaur National Park and then traversing from northeast to southwest the whole length of Utah ending up in St. George. Ahhh…home away from home.

In case you weren’t counting that’s over 1700 miles in three days. We’ve just been zonking out here in St. George since.

Couple of things, Nebraska is quite pretty with some rolling hills. When we saw Scott’s Bluff we knew were getting home. There’s such a difference in a western landscape. Two, Pierre is the dinkiest capital ever. Three, who knew that the Wyoming plateau varies between about 6500 and 8500 feet in elevation. And finally we have a whole new way to travel which we like to call the “Oklahoma Method.” But I’ll leave that for John to explain.

The Oklahoma Method

Mary and I have long held that to go from point A to point B, we should be able to find some combination roads that go from A to B in a reasonably direct manner.  No going 40  miles out of our way to get to an interstate and then having to compensate another 40 miles on the far end.  The original application of this occurred many years ago while trying to go from Coral Pink Sand Dunes State Park in southern Utah to Las Vegas.  Armed with our trusty CSAA Indian Country road map, Mary noted, “there’s this road here”, going from south of Colorado City, AZ, across to Mesquite, NV, where we could pick up I-15.

The road was dirt, then rocks, then a stream bed that proved impossible to cross (especially given that we were in a rented Cadillac De Ville sedan).  We got stuck in sand, walked back through the desert until we luckily found a BLM crew to pull us free, and backtracked a long way to pick up I-15 at St. George.  Obviously, the direct approach method was going to need some refining.

A major advance came when we started driving from Pleasanton, CA to St. George, UT.  The standard way to go is via I-5 down the Central Valley of California, across CA-58 from Bakersfield to Barstow, then I-15 to Utah.  660 miles, virtually all freeway, mostly mind-numbing.  Then Mary noticed that if we went through Yosemite, the trip would be much more direct (only 630 miles) and much more interesting.  Saying “there’s this road here just past Tonopah, NV”, Mary found the Extraterrestrial Highway (NV-275) on which one can (wink, wink) make very good time.  No GPS or online trip planner would ever have discovered this.

Years pass, it’s summer of 2009 and we find ourselves in Liberal, KS, wanting to get to St. Louis, MO as quickly as possible.  Options: tack north to find an Interstate through the rest of Kansas or tack south to get to an Interstate in Oklahoma.  Either option will violate our primal urge to go as directly as possible; neither option will get us even close to St. Louis in one of our driving days.

Mary announces, “there are these roads here in Oklahoma just over the Kansas border.  I bet we can make good time without having to waste a lot of miles getting to an Interstate.”   Ignoring the small voices in our heads saying “be afraid, be very afraid,” we set off on our adventure across Oklahoma.  Never mind that Yahoo! and Google can’t be persuaded to find this route without manually coercing them every step of the way; never mind that Missy our GPS can barely find this route even under “Use Shortest Distance”; never mind that all the aforementioned calculators say that it will take 4 hours longer than the tack-and-interstate method.  We have discovered THE OKLAHOMA METHOD!

And sure enough, we scream across Oklahoma using a combination of US and state highways, our ETA moving sooner in time with every mile we drive.  The roads are very good, there are few towns, and there are no squiggles.  There are even interesting things to see out the window.  Northern Oklahoma turned out to wonderfully rolling and green.  Who knew?

We get quite far that day, all the way to Joplin, MO, just a couple of hours from St. Louis.  We feel very proud of ourselves, having finally understood what makes the Oklahoma Method work:

  1. Make sure the roads are paved and have numbers.  Failure to do this will have unpleasant if not life-threatening consequences.
  2. Choose roads with few squiggles and with few towns.
  3. Steadfastly ignore helpful advice from your GPS; you may have to program her in baby steps.

If you follow these rules, you will be rewarded with a route that closely approximates to the holy grail of both “Shortest Distance’ and “Shortest Time” while providing significant visual interest and the opportunity to search out interesting food choices (perhaps a mixed blessing in some cases, as loyal readers will already have noted.)

— John

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