Saturday, November 26, 2011

Best Mom and Pop Motels on US Route 6

These days, jaded travelers might drive past a certain type of lodging - low slung, modest, parking space at the front door - believing that it's probably a no-tell-motel sleazy pay-by-the-hour type establishment.  But long ago, these roadside motels were downright luxurious compared to the tents that road trippers would set up in ubiquitous Travel Camps.  

In its heyday, you couldn't drive far on the 3,652 miles of US Route 6 without seeing one or a cluster of these motels, usually owned by a husband and wife who would do everything from make the coffee to clean the rooms.  Now, though, many of these motels have fallen into disrepair, were abandoned or have deteriorated into these pay-by-the-hour love motels. You can see the sad ruins as you drive across the country.

But some of these Mom and Pop motels have not only hung on, they have thrived.  Owned by couples who offer an inexpensive and clean option, the following motels go the "extra mile" with great service, perfect location, friendliness and amenities you'd find in higher end hotels at twice the price.

1. Sandusky, OH.  If you want a CHEAP place to stay within a few miles of Cedar Point, book a room starting at $30 at the Maples Motel, 4409 Cleveland Rd. (Route 6), Sandusky, OH (1/4 mile from east entrance of Cedar Point), 419-626-1575. Brick and not much to look at, this 24-unit motel is clean and cool and gets plenty of kudos and press for its affordability. With pool, air conditioning, cable TV, and a stones throw from one of the largest amusement parks in the US, the Maples Motel is, according to a recent Lake Erie Living article, “ a sliver of Americana capped with an orange and blue neon sign.”

The Maples Motel
Sandusky, OH
2. Glenwood Springs, CO;  For budget-conscious travelers, the best bang for the buck here is The Red Mountain Inn, 51637 U.S. Highway 6, Glenwood Springs, CO, 800-748-2565,, $66-$120 - a charming courtyard motel of a former era with clean, comfy, cute rooms and the friendliest owners around. Cottages cluster around a central driveway, creating an intimate atmosphere and low rates include free wi-fi, heated pool, hot tub, guest laundry, and a continental breakfast. All less than 2 miles from downtown.

Red Mountain Inn
Glenwood Springs, CO
3. Tonopah, NVFor wallet-watchers, Jim Butler Inn & Suites, 100 South Main St., Tonopah, NV, 775-482-3577,, $70-$95 looks like your typical roadside motel.  But inside the room, there’s a sitting area, a gas fireplace, a flat screen TV, and comfy bed with nice bedding.  The bathroom is the basic sink outside, toilet and shower behind a door kind of thing, but it's clean, very friendly and centally located to all Tonopah attractions.

Jim Butler Inn and Suites
Tonopah, NV
4. Lancaster, CAThe budget minded will be ecstatic at the Inn at Lancaster, 44131 Sierra Hwy, Lancaster, CA 661-945-8771,, $77-$87.  Lancaster identifies strongly with the what used to be Route 6, the Sierra Highway, and though most people travel through on the parallel and faster Highway 14,  the Inn at Lancaster is actually ON Sierra Highway. The Inn at Lancaster is a wonderful, clean, comfortable and pretty place with lots to offer;  a nicely landscaped outdoor pool, a complementary dinner in the early evening (ie, pizza,hamburgers), a complimentary continental breakfast, complimentary movie, fitness center, flat-screen TV’s and free Wi-Fi (always a plus). The Mom and Pop of record, Andy and Jeannie Holnberg, have a place to be proud of.

Inn of Lancaster
Lancaster, CA
Honorable Mention; 

5. Coralville, IA; This motel no longer exists but was inextricably linked to Historic Route 6 and so I have to include it on this list.  Blue Top Motor Court sat proudly on old Route 6 from 1952 – 1996. Twelve tiny cottages were arranged in a semi-circle around a swath of lawn that contained a grill, picnic tables and swing sets.  It was spotless, comfortable, and each cabin had a walk-in closet “larger than my room at the Jefferson Hotel!,” according to one celebrity guest, Bob Hope. Generation after generation of University of Iowa students and professors, families of Medical Center patients and road-trippers returned time and time again – the Blue Top was a touchstone for many. Poet Laureate of the State of Iowa, Mary Swander, then an Iowa Writer’s Workshop student, stayed for months in The Penthouse – the dormer apartment above the motel garages and later wrote an homage to the Blue Top. 

Replica of Cabin #1 at Blue Top Motel
Coralville, IA


Friday, November 18, 2011

Starr Restauranteur Opens Restaurant Named Route 6 Nowhere Near the Real Deal; Starr Restaurants Mogel Stephen Starr Opens Route 6 in Philadelphia Today

We've all known about US Route 6 for awhile now, but The Grand Army of the Republic Highway is gaining notice far from its northern transcontinental route.

Notable East Coast restauranteur Stephen Starr wanted to include a seafood place among his other hotspots in Philly, New York, DC and Florida, and the name Route 6 came to mind because "Route 6 is the main road through Cape Cod."  Little did he (or his PR people) know that the Route 6 in Cape Cod extends all the way to California, and ironically runs 440 miles along the northern border of Pennsylvania.

No matter.  They will soon.  Meanwhile, when you're in town, try a lobsta or fried clam with a swig of specially brewed, unfiltered Rye ESB called Route 6 Ale, at the one and only Route 6 in Philadelphia!
I wish it many successful years!

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Fracking Vs. Hunting on PA's US Route 6; Video of Dust-Choked Roads

Todays New York Times featured a National Section Front Page piece titled "Gas Drillers Invade Hunters' Pennsylvania Paradise."  Embedded within the story is a map magnifying Potter County, and specifically Coudersport, highlighting also a nice, clear Route 6 shield.  That natural gas drillers have taken over this area of PA's Route 6 should come as no surprise to my readers. I wrote about the hydraulic fracturing controversy, and spoke to those it effected both before and during my trip with inconclusive results.

As I made my way across country on US Route 6, I took daily videos through my windshield.  As you can see from the last few minutes (around 4:45 mark) of these snippets of the Hawley to Wellsboro segment, natural gas extraction might be an economic boon to "G-d's Country," PA, but it is also a dirty, dusty business (at least while clearing and drilling).

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Highlight Of US Route 6; The Wonderful Westernaires Learning Leadership and Responsibility on Horseback in Lakewood, CO

 I am often asked to give a one minute commentary on my 3,602 mile trip across country. Most people want to know  "What's the highlight?"  Well, there were many highlights - but the highest light came more than midway through my journey in a town outside of Denver, CO.  I wrote the following about this amazing youth group and hope everyone who reads this gets a chance to see The Westernaires in action:

Westernaires Practice At the Foot of the Rockies
Lakewood, CO

 If you happen to hit Lakewood, Colorado on a weekday evening around sunset, you must make time to watch The Westernaires practice precision riding at break-neck speeds. These impressive 9-19 year olds, will give you goose-bumps, get you teary-eyed and make you proud of our Country’s youth. 
Westernaires Tack Room
Lakewood, CO

The Westernaires, 15200 W. 6th Avenue, Lakewood, Colorado

Westernaires "Tenderfoot Board Meeting"
Lakewood, CO
(303) 279-3767 learn and practice drills at Fort Westernaire  -a complex of indoor and outdoor arenas (7 in all), classrooms, and a phenomenal museum – the Orrin C. Curtiss Westernaire Museum of Western and Riding History - that you can enter if you happen to come through on a Saturday (also a practice day throughout the year) between 10am and 2pm.  Based on the notion that “The Old West had values worth learning,” says The Westernaire’s director, Glenn Keller, “all Westernaires must visit the museum when they first sign up.”  Inside, there’s a library filled with Western and Colorado History books – among them an 1867 Revised Statues of Colorado.  The kids begin their training by first learning about the anatomy of the horse, the history of the region, including Native American History, the origins of the US Cavalry (the Westernaires portray this old branch of the military in shows), and the progression of the saddle. There are branding irons, various kinds of barbed wire, bits, bridles, stirrups and spurs and, incredibly, the carriage that brought Abraham Lincoln to the train in Springfield, IL as he set off for Washington DC to serve as US President.  This was the same carriage used by Buffalo Bill Cody in his Wild West Show, and its not by happenstance that Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show and the Westernaire’s Horsecapades  are so similar.  “We are the West Incarnate,” Keller says.

The Westernaires have had just two directors in the organization’s 62 years; E.E. Wyland who, in 1949 was asked by the Lakewood Youth Council to “start something for kids,” and Keller who, in 1983, grew the Westernaires into the 1,000-strong organization it is today. When Keller took over the reins, only 5% of the Westernaires went on to college.  Today, 95% do. Keller feels that for some of these kids who are at-risk and from broken homes, this program is so important they stay in school just so they can continue to be Westernaires (a requirement). Along with the obvious riding skills, kids learn perseverance, personal responsibility, leadership and respect for adults; all the ingredients of good citizenship.

Westernaires practice at sunset in the Rockies
Lakewood, CO
Children as young as nine years old start out in the “Tenderfoot” division and must learn the very basics even before getting on a horse.  After nine or ten years of practice, drills, diagramming, and bonding with their horse and like-minded colleagues, each Westernaire hopes to be called upon to join the elite Varsity Big Red Team, earning the coveted and prestigious “Red Sweater.”

Westernaires Varsity Big Red Team Member
wearing coveted red sweater
Lakewood, CO
“It’s a real family – you really get addicted,” says one parent/volunteer, Debbie Koop, who has two Westernaires daughters and is an instructor herself.  The program is so important to participants, many return as volunteers; there are 350 – 500 graduates and parents who just can’t let go and want to give back.  They sew the costumes, teach kids at all levels, and take care of the 30 acres of property. “We’re a totally self-supporting organization,” Keller explained. “We believe in doing for ourselves.” For the most part, the Westernaires are funded by ticket sales.  They put on a Wild West-like show – called Horsecapades - in Denver every year, selling over 42,000 tickets at $7 each. Participants in the program pay a nominal fee for training and costumes.  Excelling at precision riding, rough riding, authentic Cavalry Riding and Liberty Riding (no saddle or harness), the Westernaires are one of the best (if not the best) trick-riding teams in the United States, and merit the slogan “Best At Speed.”

It takes determination, tenacity, attention to detail and teamwork, plus lots of heart, sweat and tears to pull off effectively. If you hit it just right, watch a Westernaires drill against the backdrop of the Rocky Mountains and the setting sun, you will be touched.  Practice is most weekday evenings in the summer.