The Great American Road Trip

Great American Road Trip: Day 1 Hello from Flagstaff, Arizona!

It is cool here compared to Phoenix where it's been hovering around 100 degrees for the last few days. Here at 7000 feet above sea level it's been in the 70's with nights in the 30's.

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Thanks for joining me on this trek along Route 66. This is going to be an amazing week. We will hear some amazing stories. I've never driven the old Route 66 so seeing some of the small towns and some of the tourist spots along the way will be fun.

We got to Flagstaff Sunday just as the sun was starting to go down. Already we've met some amazing people. I'm focused mainly on gas prices here because despite the decline that the country is expecting, there is no relief from gas prices here in Northern Arizona yet. Flagstaff historically has the state's highest gas prices because the fuel has to be trucked up to this elevation. Right now gas is around $3.80 a gallon -- far cheaper than what I'm used to in California, but expensive for Arizonans. Some gas stations are closer to $4.

Among the people we've met here is Rayetta. She sells jerky on the side of the road in downtown Flagstaff. She's had to fight just to get a permit to sell her meats. She told me some amazing stories about how she is struggling to survive, because in this economy with its high gas prices, tourists are not stopping any longer to buy jerky. She said gas prices are so bad that her son cannot afford to take his child to school, so she now does it to save her son the gas money.

We also stopped by a bar where we ran into some characters. Yes, some of them probably had too much to drink. One woman, who said she runs a gas station, told me even she bikes to work because she can't afford her own gas prices. She says she is yelled at daily by angry customers but that she can't bring down the prices until the big oil companies do. Right now her gas station is only making a few pennies off each gallon of gas that's sold.

Finally, while walking down the main downtown street here, I stopped into a tourist gift shop that also sells tours. I bought a Route 66 sticker while I talked to Ricardo at the counter. He told me just a few days ago they raised the prices for their tours by $15-$20 per person to make up for higher gas prices. Most tourists who walk in and book a helicopter or driving tour don't know they're paying more, but the tour company says if it wants to survive, it has to up the prices.

Now we're about to hit the road to head east along Route 66. Monday we'll be spending the night in Santa Rosa, New Mexico, about halfway between Albuquerque and Amarillo, Texas. We'll be stopping at rest stops and in small towns talking to folks along the way. We'll be focusing on all things economy, from gas prices to food prices to daily life. It will be interesting to see if gas prices do, in fact, drop during this week we're on the road.

If you live along Route 66, shoot me a note at alex.stone@abc.com or find me on Facebook and tell me about how you're dealing with this tough economy. Tomorrow's focus will be on businesses and how they're struggling in tough times.

Great American Road Trip

Hello Santa Rosa -Day 2 Welcome to Santa Rosa, New Mexico! Our hotel is on the old Route 66. This is a town that grew with what was once "America's Highway." The small diners and motels are straight out of the iconic ‘50s image of a Route 66 road trip.

On our 430-mile journey from Flagstaff, Arizona to Santa Rosa, N.M., we heard a real mixture of stories. First, we were enlightened when we stopped in Albuquerque and met a small business owner named Cathy Kumar. She owns the Southwest Green Building Center, a store that sells earth-friendly products. She told us her life is getting better. For two years after she opened, she wondered whether the business would survive. Now, she says, people finally are coming in her door and seem to have money to spend on her products.

But then a short way down Route 66 -- well, actually down I-40 since big chunks of Route 66 don't exist any longer -- we heard a very different story. After we filled up the car with gas in Moriarty, New Mexico at $3.81 a gallon, we walked into one of the many fireworks stores that line the freeways here in New Mexico, where high-powered firecrackers are legal.

William Brandon, the manager of the store, was very candid with us. He tells us how tough life is in a small desert town these days. He says they aren't selling a thing. A decade ago they could not order enough fireworks; now he goes some days without any customers. He has a warehouse full of fireworks -- some over $600 that are not selling. He says life is painful these days in these small towns where tumbleweeds constantly pass by.

Then we stopped at the Flying C Travel Center on the old Route 66. Manager of Operations Kit Johnson showed us around and said their hands are tied with gas prices. The gas they sell is coming to them expensive and they have to pass that along to customers. In fact, he told us prices had gone up 16 cents yesterday alone. That means a big hit for sales inside their shop of items like souvenirs and food. Sales are way down because customers are spending money on gas.

It has been a very windy, dusty day here in New Mexico. We drove through big dust storms. Today, we have another 430-mile day stretching across the rest of New Mexico, through Texas, and into Oklahoma City where we will spend the night. We are rollin' right along! We're talking to some amazing people!

Great American Road Trip

Day 3: Oklahoma

Day 3 of the Great American Road Trip, dateline: Arcadia, Oklahoma. The story there is a world away from the overflowing banks of the Mississippi River. In Oklahoma, they have not enough water and very little to no assistance.

Monte Tucker is a sixth-generation rancher who lives on the property his family has owned for years. He's now suffering from not only high gas prices but also high grain prices and a severe lack of rain, which is equally disastrous for his ranch. His cows don't have enough grass to eat, the wheat he grows is dead, and grain prices make it expensive to feed that to his cattle.

Monte drove Alex and producer Pablo into his pasture. Monte's truck smelled of smoke because last weekend he was battling a wildfire on his property. Wildfires have become quite common with the drought here. The folks are their own firefighters. The locals say it's worse than the Dust Bowl.

Then there is Pops, right along Route 66 North of Oklahoma City in the town of Arcadia. It's a futuristic looking soda shop, diner, and gas station all in one. The director of operations spent some time showing us around and explained how he just not seeing the tourists this year because of the high gas prices. And get this, just yesterday, the gas sold to Pops went up 31-cents and now that has to be passed onto the customers. The staff working at Pops says prices are just going up, not down as analysts had predicted.

Great American Road Trip Day 4: Kansas and Missouri Video: Great American Road Trip

There's only one more travel day left before arriving in Chicago at the end of Route 66. So far, with about 500 miles left to go our gas bill is a little over $230. The most expensive gas was along I-40 in New Mexico and Texas. The cheapest was in Oklahoma City.

Leaving there, we chatted with a car mechanic named Joe Janis. We've seen the reports that say used car prices are at all time highs right now. Joe backed that up, saying he's getting calls constantly from folks who are looking for used Toyota Camrys and Hondas because they know the cars get good gas mileage but they don't have the money to buy new cars. He is also seeing a whole lot of older cars in for service where owners are running them longer -- sometimes way past when he thinks they should drive them -- just to save money to prevent buying a new car.

From there we drove to Baxter Springs, Kansas. Route 66 only dips into the Southeastern border of Kansas for a few miles and that's where we stopped. We were interested to see how rising food prices are affecting folks in Baxter Springs. We found a locally owned grocery store that will be taken over by a grocery store chain in a few days. While food prices may come down, the employees of the small store are worried they will lose their jobs or lose pay with the new company.

Dave Mitchell, the produce manager at Baxter Foods told us prices are going up quickly. He says customers are complaining about it but there is little they can do because high gasoline makes it more expensive to truck in food. Produce is hard to grow in Oklahoma because of drought, and in the Mississippi region because of flooding.

Outside the grocery store was a mom who said food prices are affecting her life greatly. She and her husband are trying everything they can to cut down on spending at the grocery store. They are now attempting to raise their own meat – mainly pigs – and grow their own garden full of veggies so they don't have to buy them at the store. She called it an experiment but she's hoping it will work.

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