Dick & daughters in Mexico

Dick Estel's Early Trips


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Long before I started Emailing reports on my travels, I was taking trips. This is going to be a relatively brief summary of the more significant ones, more for my own and my familyís benefit than for my mailing list or the general public. But Iím still sending it and posting it on line just in case anyone is interested.


Ohio 1941          Mexico 1969          Cousin Don's 1971          Ohio 1973          Ohio 1978


Ohio 1941: The earliest long trip I took was with my parents back to their native Ohio when I was 18 months old. Needless to say, I donít remember anything of this, but I know it was the only time I ever saw any of my great grandparents. (I occasionally remind my two grandsons how lucky they are to have many grandparents and great grandparents in their lives. Johnny, now 21, knew five of his great grandparents and one great, great grandfather, while 8-year old Mikie has had three great grandparents in his life. And now, in 2021, Johnny's sons, age 6 and 8, also have regular contact with several great grandparents, including myself.)

We were in Ohio for several months during the winter, since my fatherís job in the sawmill was seasonal, winter snow making the area inaccessible. He had neglected to make it clear that he was returning, and when we came back, his job had gone to someone else, so he worked for a different mill for one season until he could get back to his original job.

During my childhood and teen years, our family trips were either one-day visits to nearby Yosemite National Park, or long weekend visits to relatives in southern California, mainly Ventura and the San Diego area. For those of you familiar with Yosemite only in recent times, it may be surprising and depressing to know that in those days we would drive to all the major tourist stops in Yosemite Valley, never having any problem finding a parking space.


Mexico 1969:

Way back in 1969 my wife, Jackie, and I decided to take a really nice and adventurous vacation Ė all the way to Mexico. The kids were five and three at the time, so we figured somewhere on the ocean would be a place everyone would enjoy. We settled on Estero Beach Resort, a few miles south of Ensenada, about an hour south of the border.

In those days crossing the border was not the hassle it is today, and Tijuana, which has over a million people now, was a large city of 300,000. We stopped first to visit friends in San Diego, Sandy who had attended elementary school with Jackie in the San Fernando Valley, and her husband Leonard. We had a nice time there, and they and another couple made plans to join us in Mexico for a day during the weekend.

We got into Mexico and through Tijuana with no trouble, and headed south on a very good highway to our destination. The motel was located right on a nice little bay, with clean sand and remarkably warm water. I am not very big on swimming, and anywhere I had been in the ocean before always seemed too cold, but this was just right.

We had a good time swimming and playing on the beach, even though I had a brief, painful encounter with a jellyfish. It hurt for a while, but was nothing excruciating, and didnít detract from our fun.

We wandered around the town of Ensenada, buying some souvenirs, eating tacos from the street vendor, and taking pictures, some of which appear below. We also took a motorboat tour of the harbor.

At the motel, the kids made the acquaintance of Lalo and Pita, who I believe were the children of an employee there, and had a good time playing, with no need for a common language.

Although I tried out my high school Spanish a few times, for the most part everyone who catered to tourists spoke English (and accepted American money).

When we returned, we had only a short delay at the border. We had to give up a bottle of Mexican beer that we had brought, but conveniently there was a gentleman hanging around the entrance station who was only too willing to take it off our hands. We headed on home, with movies and photos and some great memories.


Cousin Donís 1971

Some time around 1970 my cousin Don Hall stopped to visit us in Fresno. He grew up in San Diego County, but was now living in Oregon. He had been released from the Army a year or so earlier after serving in Vietnam. He and a friend took the money they had saved and each bought 50 acres adjacent to each other on a mountain near OíBrien, five miles north of the California border on US Highway 199, which runs from Crescent City CA to Grantís Pass OR. OíBrien was just a post office, store and gas station; the nearest ďrealĒ town was Cave Junction, about ten miles away, with a population of two or three thousand. Twenty five miles up the highway was the city of Grantís Pass, where US 199 meets Interstate 5.

Don had built a cabin from logs he cut on his property, and was eking out a living selling firewood, doing odd jobs, and whatever. The life in rural Oregon sounded fascinating to my wife and me, having been city dwellers for most of the last 12 years or so, and we decided to visit Don during the Thanksgiving holiday in 1971.

We loaded up our Opel mini-brute with two little kids, age seven and five, plus way more cold weather clothing than we would ever need, and a ready-cooked turkey, and headed north. We went up Highway 99 and I-5 through Sacramento, Redding, Weed, Yreka, Ashland, Medford and Grantís Pass, where we turned south toward Donís. We found his turn-off with no trouble, and headed up about a mile and a half of somewhat primitive dirt road (no big deal, since weíd done a lot of camping on similar roads in the Sierra).

In addition to my cousin, we found a group of four or five guys that he knew from San Diego, who had all come up with the same idea we had Ė getting away from it all in the backwoods of Oregon.

We had a great Thanksgiving dinner, but we had little cooperation from the weather. It started raining not long after we got there, and rained all three or four days we were there, except for a break of about an hour and a half one day. We took advantage of this to go out walking, heading over the mountain to visit George, Donís friend who owned the other side of the mountain.

The life in this rural setting took such a hold on us that on the way home we talked about chucking it all and moving up there. Fortunately the realization that we had no skills for such primitive living soon hit home, and a couple of nights back in the comfort of our home helped us realize what a silly idea that was.

However, I have made many trips to Donís since, getting to know him and his family. He is about eight years younger than I, so when we saw each other in our childhood, he was just a little kid, and I spent most of the time with his two older brothers. I have watched as the cabin became a real house; as he became a father when his girlfriend gave birth to a daughter; and later as he married and had two more children, all of whom are grown up now. His economic situation also improved over the years as he became a building contractor and owner of several rental properties in Cave Junction.

Somewhere in my report on Later Trips I will report on a trip to Donís with my older grandson Johnny.


Ohio 1973

 My first major trip as an adult was to Ohio in 1973, when my daughters were about seven and nine. Packed into my yellow Opel station wagon, we headed north from Fresno on state 99 and Interstate 5, then east on I-80, which we followed nearly to our destination.

We left the Interstate in Indiana, heading north into Michigan, and followed state roads to the home of my aunt Lnora in Adrian MI. My maternal grandmother was living with them at the time, so my daughters had their one visit with her. She had visited her other three daughters and families in California several times in her younger years, but was no longer able to travel or live on her own.

My paternal grandmother, who lived in California, had two sisters, a brother-in-law, and a brother living at that time, all in northwest Ohio. We visited all of them, in addition to other relatives in Ohio and Michigan. I donít recall how long we were there, but it was probably a week or so.

On our trip home, we went through Chicago, then headed northwest into Wisconsin, Minnesota, and South Dakota. We drove through the Badlands, visited the famous Wall Drug Store, and stopped at Mt. Rushmore. We followed I-90 much of the way into Wyoming. We then took a more northerly route, entering Yellowstone National Park through the Shoshone National Forest.

Our tour of Yellowstone was much too short, lasting through that afternoon and the next morning. We stopped at Yellowstone Falls, and saw a bull moose in a meadow, then spent the night at a lodge near Old Faithful. Arriving on a Friday or Saturday in mid-summer, we were lucky enough to get a cabin with no advance reservations.

The next day we went south out of Yellowstone, and through Jackson Hole and Grand Teton National Park. We took a road over the mountains, dropping back down to rejoin the Snake River in Idaho, and following it to the western part of that state. We entered the high desert country of eastern Oregon, and drove south and west to my cousinís house in the southwestern part of the state, five miles from the California border near Cave Junction. After a night or two there, we drove northeast back to I-5 and headed home.

Ohio 1978

In 1978 I had acquired a blue Datsun pickup with a white camper shell. Several people I had known in Fresno had moved to scattered locations around the country and it was time for another cross-country adventure. The girls were 11 and 14, and we were joined by their best friend Angie, who I believe was 12.

A lady I had worked with at KJEO, Channel 47 was living in Helena MT so this was our first destination. This time we went east over Tioga Pass through Yosemite, then on into Nevada. We turned north to I-80, and followed it a short distance before going northeast into Idaho and Montana. We had a nice visit with Harold and Joyce, staying there overnight.

Continuing east, we generally paralleled the course of the Missouri River, passing the mouth of the Yellowstone River canyon where it comes out of the mountains. We spent a fairly long time in Montana, since it is over 600 miles across, then entered North Dakota. We took a northeasterly heading toward Duluth MN, where we spent the night with my sister Linda.

She then joined us for the trip across northern Wisconsin and Michiganís Upper Peninsula, then down through the Michigan Mitten to Aunt Lnoraís in Adrian. We made this our headquarters while we visited people in the area. This included my parents, who were then spending every other summer in Ohio, living in their motor home at a cousinís RV park in Delta OH.

We were there for about three days, then we headed south through Ohio to Cincinnati, where Angieís grandparents lived. That evening we had the most miserable humid conditions I have ever experienced. I was unable to get to sleep until a thunder shower came through and cooled things off. In the morning Angieís grandma fixed a breakfast fit for a farm laborer Ė bacon, sausage, ham, pancakes, and I donít recall what else. Stuffed full, we headed northeast across Ohio, through Cleveland, across Pennsylvaniaís tiny panhandle, and into New York, our destination being Niagara Falls.

When we left Cincinnati we drove on a freeway with six or eight lanes in each direction. We were zipping along at normal speeds, but the traffic coming into the city the other direction was moving at a crawl. The same conditions prevailed going through Buffalo, but we were zipping into the city, while the commuters crawled out.

We got to Niagara Falls in time to walk across the street from our hotel to the falls and take a look. Then I drove about 15 blocks across town and back to get pizza. The next day we spent more time looking at the falls, including a one hour trip across the bridge into Canada to see that side. Although the height of Niagara is not that great compared to the thousand foot or more drops weíre used to in Yosemite, the volume of water is unbelievable, and itís a truly impressive sight.

I had brought with us all the music cassette tapes I owned, stashed in boxes here and there, including a large number of them on the floor of the front seat. The Canadian border guards were suspicious that I was bringing them in to sell, but I convinced them that we needed them all for our entertainment on the road.

After our night at the falls we headed east across upstate New York to Phoenix, a small town near Syracuse. Here we stayed with Wayne and Carol Wheeler, who had lived in California for a few years before returning to their native upstate New York.

A bit of ďback storyĒ explanation is in order here. When Teri, my older daughter, turned six, we joined the YMCA Indian Guides/Indian Maidens program. Also at the first orientation meeting was Dusty Smith and his daughter Charlene. He soon recruited a friend and co-worker, Ron Reed. Ron had met Dusty's brother in the Navy, and had moved to Fresno from Phoenix NY to join the brothers in the wallpaper business.

We became friends with several of the Indian Maiden families, especially the Reeds. A couple of years later, Ronís brother Gary and two friends, Wayne Wheeler and Paul Pullam, came to stay in Fresno for a while. At the time they were young hippie-types, hitch-hiking around the country, and sporadically employed. I was newly separated and had a three bedroom house, so they stayed with me for a few months, soon joined by Wayneís girlfriend Carol.

After this, another half dozen or so friends and acquaintances from Phoenix made their way to Fresno. Some returned within weeks, and ultimately Gary and another guy, the late Mike Richards, were the only ones besides Ron to become permanent California residents. For a while nearly all the people I hung out with were from Phoenix NY. I had kept in touch with Wayne and Paul over the years, so we decided to make Phoenix NY one of the stops on our trip.

From Phoenix Wheelers took us up into the Adirondacks (my memory says we went as far as Old Forge); then another day we went to a state park on Lake Ontario. We also saw some of the landmarks of Phoenix that weíd heard about so many times, and had a picnic at Carolís sisterís place.

When we left New York, our next destination was Memphis, TN.* We traveled south through Pennsylvania and West Virginia into Kentucky, then west and south into Tennessee. At Memphis we spent the night with Judy and Tom Scarano. Judy worked at the welfare department when I started there, but Iíd known her through my sister even before that. With the short amount of time we had, we didnít do anything but visit and eat before we headed west across the Mississippi into Arkansas and on to Oklahoma. Here we visited some more people with a YMCA/Phoenix connection. Dusty met Steve McCullough in the Navy, and he and his wife Roseanne moved from Washington to Fresno, also to work with the Smiths; however, by this time they had moved on to Wagoner OK.

They lived near a big lake in a fairly rural setting. Our visit here included a trip into Tulsa to check out the local redneck bar.

This was our final stop visiting people; now our goal was to get across Texas, New Mexico, and Arizona and back home as soon as possible. I donít recall a lot of details about this part of the trip, but I know we ate breakfast in a roadside restaurant where the service and the food were terrible.

We spent a night in Gallup, NM, and ate lunch at a Mexican restaurant in Albuquerque. Iím not sure if we spent another night anywhere before we got to Needles, just inside the California border on what is now Interstate 40. I do remember that most of this trip after Texas was on old Highway 66, since I-40 was not yet complete across this section. My favorite stop, just for gas, was Flagstaff, AZ, which was cool and surrounded by beautiful pines and other evergreens.

From Needles we made it home to Fresno, having traveled about 7,000 miles in 30 days, never staying longer than three days at any one stop. Of course, I was working at the time, so in another day or so I was back at the grind, but the seed had been planted for the idea of seeing as much of this country as possible, a goal I am now carrying out a few miles at a time.

Note: Sadly, I took very few pictures on these trips. I may have some on slides that have not yet been scanned; if and when I find them, they'll be added below. 

Epilogue: In those days, the Interstate Highway System was not complete. Most stretches of most roads were done, but there were gaps. On our 1973 trip, we had 50 miles of two-lane road when we entered Nebraska on Interstate 80.

I-40, which essentially replaced Route 66, was not completed through Arizona till about 1980. Iím almost certain that our entire trip across that state was on the legendary Mother Road.

And now, check out this report, condensed from an article in The Fresno Bee :

ďThere's a lot to celebrate about the U.S. interstate highway system, which turns 50 today.

For one thing, here's the number of traffic lights on its 47,000 miles: zero. For another, here's the minimum lane width: 12 feet. And the minimum right shoulder width: 10 feet. That's three reasons that interstates, mile for mile, are twice as safe as all other U.S.roads.

Here's more on the country's main arteries, which President Dwight Eisenhower championed as a means of moving military materiel quickly from coast to coast:

Interstates make up just 1% of total U.S.road miles, but they carry a quarter of all traffic and 40% of all truck traffic.

About 60,000 people ride over the average mile of interstate highway daily.

Pre-interstate, drivers could cover about 250 miles in a dawn-to-dark day on the road. Interstates doubled that.

Why do interstates feel more congested these days? Because they are. In the past decade, their traffic volume increased 29%. Total interstate lane miles increased just 4% in the same period.

What state has no interstates? Alaska. Hawaii has highways that are considered interstates because they're paid for out of the same federal fund and built to the same standards, but they're designated with an H instead of an I."


 *It may seem unnecessary to specify that we were headed for Memphis in Tennessee, but Wayne now lives in Memphis NY, not far from Phoenix (NY).

(Photos open in a new window)

Dick with great grandparents
K.K. and Tillie Watkins
Merrill's Mill - the living area
was behind the cameraman
Grandma's kitchen at the mill cabin
Dad, mother and my sister Linda at Sentinel
Dome in Yosemite, September 1945

Dick & Linda with grandparents
Frank & Mabel Estel in Ventura 1943

Dick & Linda with mother Hazel at
Wawona Point in Yosemite, June 1946

Opal and George Mason
family, probably 1927
Lnora Mason Drefke, 1987 Teri & Jennifer at Missouri River July 1973
At the Badlands, South Dakota Mt. Rushmore Shell Creek in Wyoming
Yellowstone Falls Teri & Jennifer at home in Fresno with
a whole bunch of people from Phoenix NY
(Gary upper right; Wayne lower right)
Angie, Jennifer & Teri after the 1978 trip
Dick, Jennifer, Teri, & Angie at the
canal in
Phoenix NY, August 1978
Don Hall's cabin in 1972 The "cabin" in 2004
Don & friends with Dick's
Opel in the background
Don Hall & Jackie Estel, 1972

Jennifer & Teri Estel in Mexico, 1969

Dick & daughters in Mexico Diane, John, Jim & Don Hall
with their maternal grandmother
Opal Mason, about 1951
Ishbel Hall, early 1980s

Related Links

Merrill's Sawmill Where the heck is Wagoner The Snake River
Badlands Wall Drug Store More About Wall
Mt. Rushmore Yellowstone Grand Tetons
Cave Junction OR Estero Beach Resort Ensenada, Mexico

Mt. Rushmore

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Updated September 16, 2021