It was something we had talked about doing for a long time but had never gotten around to it. We thought it would be a great adventure to jump into the car and head West– without any kids or grandkids.

Now we did plan our 11-day, 3,200 mile trip well enough to earmark our destination each day, but nothing was written in stone. We had plenty of flexibility in our planning in case we decided to take a little side trip, or stay a bit longer at a point of interest.

Wife Susan was the navigator and after receiving a GPS for Christmas two years ago, she finally got to put it to good use on this excursion. It not only gives specific directions, but also informs one of the elevation and the distance to the next point of reference.

We embarked from Orange with a cloudless sky Monday morning—Oct. 10—and headed west on IH 10 to Fort Stockton. After passing San Antonio the speed limit on the Interstate jumped to 80 mph. It felt strange to be going that fast and still be legal. But that area was pretty desolate—no houses, people, animals or birds.

The next point of reference was to reach Santa Fe, N.M. by going northwest, but before we started traveling, we visited the fort. The reason the government selected that middle-of-nowhere site was because of the artesian springs located there that were capable of producing 60 million gallons of water each day.

There were five barracks that each housed 50 soldiers and three stables that each accommodated 100 horses. Because of the segregation that existed in the U.S. Cavalry after the Civil War, former slaves who wanted to serve their country during the Reconstruction Era were sent to Ft. Stockton and were called “buffalo soldiers.”

En route to Santa Fe we went through Pecos, Carlsbad and Roswell. It’s no wonder there were reports of outer space aliens landing in the Roswell area– the outskirts of the city look just like pictures of Mars and the moon, making those aliens feel right at home.

Santa Fe is a beautiful old city at an elevation of around 7,000 feet. And to think that would be our lowest point that day as we headed for our targeted destination of Vail, Colo. which is nearly 12,000. The snow near the top of the mountains that we had seen earlier in the day was right on the side of the road at Leadville where we stopped to eat lunch. It had snowed a couple of days earlier and hadn’t melted much. The temperature there was only 39 degrees at 1 p.m.

We continued to Vail and found our hotel—the Arrabelle—and saw our elegant room which commands between $800-900 per day during the ski season. But in October, the cost was just a fraction of that. The suite was huge with a fireplace and even had heated ceramic tiles in the bathroom.

We learned quickly that if you don’t ski, but enjoy the beauty of the mountains, October is the time to visit Vail. All of the many shops had reduced their merchandise at to 50% off and the elegant restaurants had their entrees at 50% off.

We left Vail Friday morning to begin the second leg of our journey—to see the newest member of the huge McGraw Clan of which Susan is a member. Susan’s father was one of 13 children with the descendants still living in Central Missouri.

Brody Bult is the newest member. The nine-week old boy now weighs 14 pounds, three ounces and is 25 inches long. This places him in the upper 90th percentile for babies’ height and weight. We are sure he is going to make his dad proud whenever he’s able to put a football helmet on.

His mom Glenna is an assistant high school principal and his dad Brock is an assistant football coach at Fort Osage High School, the alma mater of World Series star Albert Pujols. The football team made it to the state finals last year and is 8-1 and perhaps even better this fall.

Another of Susan’s cousins, Mike and Sandy McGraw, are proud of their football-playing son Owen, who is a senior two-way performer at Blue Springs South High School, a Class 6-A school in the Kansas City suburbs. Owen is a cornerback and a wide receiver on the team that boasts an 8-1 record and also is headed to the state playoffs.

We also visited another of her cousins, Patty McGraw, who has Orange connections because her brother Russell Long lived in Orange and worked for Gulf/Chevron Chemical.

We traveled East down IH 70 to Susan’s hometown of Marshall, Mo. to visit her only living uncle of the McGraw Clan, 89-year old Charlie McGraw. I call him Uncle Chuckie, but am the only one who calls him that. We met him and four of his five kids—Danny, John Paul, Charla and Janie plus grand-daughter Glenna– for dinner. Mike McGraw wasn’t there.

I had hoped to sneak in a round of golf on Tuesday, our final day in Missouri, but saw a bunch of young people eating breakfast at our motel. They said they were members of a college golf team from Indiana that was playing against Missouri Valley College in Marshall. That killed my golf plans because the course would be tied up.

So Susan suggested that we go to near-by Waverly where she used to go with her parents to get apples. She insists that the Jonathan apples from Waverly are THE BEST for making apple pie. And after eating her apple pie last weekend, I agree.

We drove Southwest through Missouri and Oklahoma and spent the final night of our trip in Paris, TX. We both were happy Thursday afternoon to see the sign saying “Orange County Line”.

Eight of our 11 days were cloudless, blue-bird days. We encountered a short rain shower the Monday night we were in Marshall, but never had to drive through any rain the entire trip. And we never saw a mosquito until we returned home Thursday where they seem to be swarming.

KWICKIES…Congrats to the West Orange-Stark Mustangs for edging out football victories against cross-county rivals Orangefield and Bridge City and leading District 21-3A with a 3-0 loop mark. However Friday’s game at Silsbee will probably be their toughest district contest so far and should determine their playoff status.

The word in Missouri is that the Mizzou Tigers want out of the Big 12 and after leaning toward the Big 10 will probably accept an invitation from the SEC. However, their reason for leaving, unlike the Texas Aggies—is not out of jealousy of the Texas Longhorns Network, but just to play in a tougher conference. Of course it must be pointed out that Mizzou—just like the Aggies– didn’t exactly tear up the Big 12 during their tenure in it.

The Dallas Cowboys finally had to utilize their talented rookie running back from Oklahoma, DeMarcus Murray, Sunday and on his first carry of the game he broke loose on a 91-yard touchdown gallop and finished with 253 yards on 25 carries. This surpassed NFL rushing leader Emmitt Smith and Hall of Famer Tony Dorsett to the top of the franchise’s single-game rushing chart. The Pokes (3-3) ripped the winless (0-6) St. Louis Rams 34-7 by scoring in every quarter.

The Houston Texans were piqued that they were a three-point underdog Sunday at Nashville against the Tennessee Titans and that so many NFL experts picked them to lose the game for first place in the AFC South Division. They took their wrath out on the Titans, obliterating them 41-7 with their most impressive performance of this season—and any season for that matter. Now they are sitting atop the AFC South with games coming up against Jacksonville (1-5) Sunday, then Cleveland (3-3) and Tampa Bay (4-3) before having a bye week.

JUST BETWEEN US…With the sale of the Houston Astros still up in the air, look for Major League Baseball to dangle a carrot in the form of possible compensation to prospective new owner Jim Crane to move the team to the American League. This would be a very unpopular move for the Houston Astros’ fans and probably even the players, but a possible $50 million compensation package for Crane and his group of investors might do the trick. MLB has been trying to even the two leagues with 15 teams each, but every National League team asked by Commissioner Bud Selig has flatly turned down the suggestion.