These are Eric’s diary entries, with the newest entries at the top.
Nicoline had the idea of getting up really early, like we did the first day of the vacation, so that we would be home early in the afternoon, not the evening. We discussed and all agreed on this, so at 3:00 the alarm went off. We packed the car, including the carrier, and off we went.
After greeting our cat Butterscotch (who starts out by hissing at us, but soon remembers) we all work together to empty the car. Frank and Mark put away their stuff and then stay away on the computer, which Nicoline and I work through the rest of the piles. By 4:30, everything is unpacked, the house is aired, dusted and vacuumed, all appliances are turned on again, the first loads of laundry and dry, and Nicoline and I have showered. We sit down for a few minutes while Frank and Mark shower, then we go off to Red Robin.
Since it's Mark's birthday, we dress nicely (it is soooo strange to have all these clothes in the closet!) to celebrate the birthday and the end of the vacation. Mark even gets a serenade at the restaurant!
We turn in early tonight, in our own clean beds (which have been airing out for eight weeks), each in their own rooms... I have to say, I didn't miss home much, but it is nice to be back!
The last "event" of the trip, tomorrow we'll be driving home. We already did the airport (the reason Frank wanted to visit Boston), so now we want to see downtown. Nicoline noticed that there is a ferry from Salem that drops us right downtown at the aquarium; it beats driving and parking.
While waiting for the ferry we walk around Salem a little bit, which has a quaint old downtown. Lots of historic building (that is, anything over 100 years old), including this "West India Goods Store."
Once out of the Salem harbor we really speed up and almost fly over the sea.
The view isn't that great, until we get closer to Boston itself, pass a lighthouse, and approach the Boston skyline.
Inside Boston, we walk around downtown following part of the "Freedom Trail" until we get to the Boston Commons. Here we get our lunch at a McDonalds, then sit down at the Frog Pond, which is a wading pool / fountain mainly for toddlers. It is guarded by two frogs
Frank and Mark play in the playground while Nicoline and I walk down to the pub that was the inspiration for the "Cheers" TV series.
We had back out again. Mark's isn't feeling well; probably the greasy McDonalds food was too much after having hardly eaten anything the last few days. The ferry is delayed a little bit by a big, green, Norwegian natural gas tanker; no other ships were allowed to get too close, so we couldn't pass it. The ferry made up for it by going even faster after the tanker cleared the channel, and meanwhile Frank got some more views of the airport.
There was no photography in the museum itself, which had a presentation about the Salem witch hunt, how it came about, and its aftermath. Very interesting; I never knew there was so much context. The photos here are from the museum's foyer, where photography was allowed.
From Salem we go back to Danvers, to the Barnes and Noble there, where we have a snack for dinner. I buy two hours of wireless access to update the website one last time while we're on the road; Nicoline writes entries up to today and I copy photos over. Then we go back to the hotel for a short night sleep.
Again we try to leave early to get to the Boston area at a decent time. We drive through New York on the "New York Thruway" and through Massachusetts on the "Mass Pike" today. I don't like them. . For one thing, they are toll roads, and in particular the New York Thruway is expensive (almost $20 to get through the state). And then they don't accept credit cards!
For all that money, you'd think you at least get a nice road? Not really. Their rest areas are small and boring compared to what we're used to. We got gas at one of them, and there was no legal way back to the rest area proper. I had to go against a one-way sign to get to the parking area.
Finally, we seem to be back to sequential exit numbers, rather than numbering exits by the mile number. Everywhere in the U.S. they have switched to numbering exits by the mile post they are near, so that you don't have to change your numbering scheme when an exit is added or removed. But not in the Northeast! What I noticed, though, is that I got used to looking at exit numbers to keep track of how far we still had to go -- had to unlearn that for a bit!
Oh well, enough whining... by 2:45 we were on the good old I-95 and after passing an interesting Massachusetts school bus we got to our hotel in Danvers, north of Boston. The hotel is in the process of being renovated and is a bit of a dump, but by now we don't care much anymore. We dump our stuff in the room, then bring Nicoline and Mark to the nearby hospital, where they're going to try and get something for Mark's ear, which has been hurting a lot lately.
Frank and I go on to Boston to look at Logan Airport. We first find a place in Winthrop, across from the airport, where we are right under the approach path and also have a good view of the planes lining up to take off. This is a nice residential neighborhood and Frank said he'd love to live here :-)
Next we went to the airport parking garage, where we had a great view of the field itself. In fact, the view was probably better than what we would have gotten from the observation deck (which has been closed since the 2001 terrorist attacks). Logan is a busy airport and fortunately they provide visitors with a lot of great places to observe the action!
For our third observation point we had to drive through downtown Boston, which, without a decent map, was... interesting. But eventually we managed to find the fort, where we could watch the planes depart. From there we went back to Danvers, where Nicoline and Mark were waiting at a Barnes & Noble. We picked them up, had dinner at a Denny's right next to the hotel. I try to get the wireless working, but somehow it doesn't seem to want to make the connection. I don't know why, and don't really want to find out anymore. Tomorrow's a new day...
I guess that's how the plush animals are going to fit in the car :-). We get up on time today and are on the road by 8:00. Back up to Detroit, then crossing the bridge into Canada. We really wanted to see something of Canada on this trip, and have been dragging around our passports for just that purpose. For seven weeks I've had the pouch with passports and a spare credit card around my neck; finally we get to use them!
We don't stop for lunch, just get ourselves a snack at a gas station, because we've got quite a distance to cover. By now the clouds are starting to break and with the sun the landscape looks much friendlier.
There are a lot of new houses (mansions, some of them) along the road between Windsor and Niagara Falls, but also quite a lot of houses, barns and other buildings in disrepair or even fallen down in a pile of rubble. It seems that this part of Canada is changing, although I'm not sure from what to what they change. A lot of small towns along the road; it looks like every five minutes you have to slow down because the road goes through yet another village.
Taking the country roads is a bit of a gamble today, since we have to drive quite a distance, but in the end I'm glad we didn't take the autoroute. Interestingly enough, some of the signs on the route 3 still say "Kings Highway"; those signs should be over half a century old. I guess that after 1952 they figured it would be safer not to put "Queens Highway" on the newer signs, but just leave the line off altogether...
Around 3:30 we arrive in Niagara Falls. Since we don't have a clue what we're doing, we just drive around until we come to somewhere where we can see the falls. It turns out we're not in the right place, I have to take a tramway-type thing down to the viewing area. Later we find that we could have parked right there at the falls as well.
Anyway, I get some photos and we head out to an early dinner. Since we skipped lunch, we were all pretty hungry, and we decide on an "American-Italian" restaurant. Well, they're not American enough to provide refills on the sodas we have. This is the first time on the whole trip there are no refills!
After dinner we head back to the U.S. and re-entry was quick (it took less than an hour, which was pretty good; of course it took only a few minutes before Homeland Security got paranoid) and find a hotel past Buffalo in Batavia. As with so many place names, we know Batavia in a different form: it used to be the capital of the Dutch East Indies (it got renamed to Jakarta when the Dutch East Indies gained their independence as Indonesia).
Nicoline and I have a day off today! Well, kind of, a day without the kids at least. We start out driving to Sandusky, where the Cedar Point amusement park is. We thought it would be an hour drive but it turns out to be an hour and 45 minutes from our hotel. We drop off Frank and Mark; the park tried to charge us $10 for parking (what's up with this paying for parking around here?) but I got a $9.50 refund when we left. I guess they figure $0.50 is an appropriate fee to be allowed to drive on their beautiful parking lot?
Nicoline and I drove back to Toledo. On the way we came across an AAA office, where we got a map for tomorrow's drive through Canada, and also a street map of Toledo while we were at it. That street map helped us find our way to the Botanical Garden, where we planted ourselves in the shade and relaxed, reading our books.
Around 4:30 we left the park in search of a post office, then headed out back to Sandusky. We were using the Ohio route 2, rather than the (toll) I-80. The state highway may be a bit slower, but we weren't in a hurry now.
We had dinner at an Irish pub in Port Clinton, after which we continued to Sandusky. We had only barely arrived there when we got a call from Frank that they were ready to be picked up. He said they "had a surprise" for us, albeit not a bad one.
When they came out the gates at the amusement park, the surprise was obvious: they had managed to win a menagerie of plush animals. No idea yet how we're going to add them to all the other stuff we have in the car...
We get our tickets for the factory tour and wait for the bus to take us there. Not surprisingly, photography is not permitted on the actual factory floor, but I can take my camera to use on other parts of the tour.
In the visitors building, we first get to watch two films: one about the history of the company and the factory, the other one a multi-sensory "experience" about how trucks are build in this plant. After that we go to the observation floor, looking out over the factory.
Interestingly, the final assembly hall (the part of the factory we can visit) is a modern building with a lot of thought about ergonomics and the environment. Large skylights let in natural light, and the roof has plants on it that help with absorbing rain water, providing insulation to the building, lasts longer, and weighs less. They also use open asphalt in places, which allows the rain water to be filtered and cleaned before streaming to the river, and they don't mow the grass to increase its ability to clean the air. It seems that with this new factory Ford is really trying to be more environmentally friendly.
In the plant we see the assembly of the Ford F-150 trucks. The plant is shut down for the weekend (Ford can't sell as many cars as they can make, so they have to limit production) which is always a cool thing to see. After walking around the factory, we come to a museum-like part where some of the Ford cars that were made in this particular factory were on display.
After the factory tour we have an extensive lunch at La Shish, an Middle-Eastern restaurant in Dearborn. We're so full from this meal that we don't need to have dinner. We take the "long way" back to the hotel, in the hope of being able to get to an Ohio welcome sign, but no such luck.
In Detroit we want to visit the Motown museum, but since that isn't open on Sunday, we have to make sure we get there this afternoon. We leave the hotel at 7:30. It's really foggy, the short stretch through Indiana, but that clears up when we enter Michigan.
The drive through Michigan is quite uneventful. We do see plenty of car building-related things coming up, like this tire "billboard." And it is noticeable that the ratio of American to foreign cars is shifting. The closer we get to Detroit, the more American cars we see and the fewer foreign-made ones.
Since it was still early (in our hurry to get to Detroit on time for the museum, we actually got there by noon, which still ended as 1:00 since we went back to Eastern Time), we tried to see if we could visit the Henry Ford museum. After a little bit of back and forth we got there. We really want to do the factory tour, but the last one had already left. We looked at doing the museum, but at another $14 per person decided we'd skip on that. It seemed the museum was not so much about the Ford company as it was about the US in general. In addition, I found the fact that the Ford charges for parking on top of their sizable entry fees exorbitant. I guess they know better how to make money with their museum than with their cars (which are loosing money year after year)...
After deciding to come back for the factory tour tomorrow, we turned to find our hotel which we had booked in Toledo, OH, about an hour drive. We had been warned that Detroit was an expensive place for gas, so it had surprised us that gas prices actually went down by 20 cents a gallon when we got there from the Chicago area; driving on to Toledo they went down by another 20 cents: we filled up the car for $2.56 a gallon, after having paid $3.04 a gallon yesterday in the Chicago area...
We compressed our driving schedules, leaving us today with an opportunity to visit Chicago. Since we didn't originally plan to visit the Windy City, there isn't anything we particularly want to see. We decide to try driving along Lake Michigan and going up the Sears Tower; then see whatever else happens.
The Sears Tower was for a while the tallest tower in the world. There is an observation deck at the top floor. Getting there turns out to take half an hour; by the time we're up in the tower, clouds have come to block much of the view, even though it was clear when we walked up :-(.
Returning to the ground level, we take one last look back up, then start looking around for a place to eat. We settle for Giordano's where we order a large stuffed pizza for the four of us. It takes 45 minutes to prepare but it is worth the wait! This must have been one of the best pizzas I've ever had!
After lunch, we go back to the car. A few more views of Chicago before we move on:
Our next stop is the first McDonalds franchise restaurant in Des Plaines, a suburb of Chicago. The place is restored to how it looked in the 1950s; there is a present-day McDonalds next door, but of course we just ate.
Back from Des Plaines we pass O'Hare airport, an opportunity for Frank to take a bunch of pictures. We also see a wallet dropping ahead of us; I think it may have been accidentally left on top of a car. Frank retrieves the wallet and most of the money (which was flying away over the street) but the owner is long gone. Examining the content, we find a Mexican voter registration card, but no US papers, drivers license or credit cards. The only address is a Mexican address on the voter registration card. We figure the best thing to do would be to send the wallet to the Mexican address, which we'll do as soon as we come across a post office.
We continued driving through Iowa and Illinois today, all the way to Chicago. US-30, the road we're continuing to follow all day today, is also known as the "Lincoln Highway." The Lincoln Highway was the first highway to cross the entire U.S., predating the highway system with the numbered roads (the "US-" numbers). The sign at the historic Lincoln Highway bridge in Tama, Iowa explains some of its history.
The American Highway System ("US-" roads) was created on November 11, 1926 and established a network of roads, laid out a systematic numbering schema, and provided a system of standard signs for the highways. It served to make the United States a nation based on the automobile.
By the 1950s, however, many highways had fallen in disrepair, because the responsibility for maintaining the highways remained with the individual states. On June 29, 1956, president Dwight D. Eisenhower signed a law that created the Interstate system; 41,000 miles of limited-access freeways that are maintained by federal money. The interstates, without intersections or traffic lights, bypassing city centers, provided an efficient way for any American to get from point A to point B. The interstate system was completed in 1991. (Source: 2006 edition of the Washington State Highway Map.)
Corn fields galore today. Most of them are just corn fields, but some have series of signs with numbers on them. I think these are different types of corn, and the series of sign may indicate an experimental section where they try out different variants.
Frank is playing around with the GPS today and notices when we enter Illinois that we are about to pass the 90-degree meridian. We stop exactly at the point where the GPS indicates 90 degrees, meaning we're 1/4 around the earth from Greenwich, England. By the way, we bought the GPS for this trip, thinking that it might come in handy when we would be in some of the wilder areas of the country, but we haven't seriously used it once. We haven't had the urge to stray that far from the marked paths!
We look for a hotel to the south side of Chicago. Once more, it takes some time to find a place to sleep. Even here, where there are many hotels and motels clumped together, plenty of them seem to be sold out. I don't know what that is with places being sold out all over the country! I mean, in the end we have found something every day, but I guess the travel industry must be doing well these days if so many places are full.
We carry out stuff up and walk over to a Cracker Barrel which Nicoline noticed just behind the hotel to have our dinner.
Now that we're driving, driving, driving today, I want to write down some random thoughts about this vacation.
Trains. We see them everywhere. Moving trains, trains waiting at signals, train cars just standing there. Trains with containers, trains with trailers, trains with grain, trains with coal, mixed trains. Today we again saw a series of trains waiting, one after the other. I have gotten a new appreciation of rail transport in this country. I thought most transportation was by road now, but I'm starting to wonder if that isn't a wrong idea.
People. True, we have been through uninhabited areas, wilderness areas, badlands and such. But almost everywhere else there are people, individual farms, little towns, big towns and cities. Intellectually I know there are something like 300 million people in America, but this trip has helped me visualize this number.
Fields. Almost the whole country seems to be parceled out. Everywhere you go, there are fields of some kind, mostly with fences around them. Even with all the industrialization, and we've seen plenty of factories, plants, office blocks and the like, I can't help thinking that we really saw the agricultural backbone of the U.S. on this trip. Right now we're driving through Illinois, and earlier today Iowa, with one corn field after the other. In the northwest there was miles and miles of timber; in-between a lot of cattle. All over the place when there was water, we saw signs for fish hatcheries.
Car dealerships. Actually, all kinds of larger retail stores, but I specifically noticed the car dealerships in every larger town. If you realize that all of these dealerships need to sell a significant number of cars to be profitable, and the number of car dealers there must be, it gives you some idea how many cars there are here. Same for grocery stores, for Walmart, and so on. And not to forget the hotel chains, which we've seen up-close so often.
Highways. I think I mentioned this before, in New Mexico, but I have to agree that the best way to see the country is not through the interstates. The old US highway system may be a bit slower, but following those roads gets you much more in touch with the country. On Interstates, you just fly by everything. The highways sometimes go around towns, but sometimes also go right through them, enough to get a feel for them.
People (2). We've seen a whole lot of people (see above), but haven't actually met many. This is partly due to the fact that we're traveling as a family, but also partly a result of the type of people we are. Neither Nicoline nor I are the sort of person to go to a bar or local cafe or start chatting with strangers somewhere. That is one thing I would like to have done differently, although I wouldn't know how to do that.
Home. Tomorrow we finish our seventh week, one more week after that and we'll be back home. We were musing about that yesterday, how none of us is really homesick. Sure, Frank is longing to see the computer back, and Mark to see our cat again, and Nicoline and I are getting a bit tired of the driving and the going in and out of hotels, but no real homesickness at all. When we suggested to maybe skip Boston and go straight home from Detroit, neither Frank nor Mark wanted to hear about that!
We still have a week to go, but I think I already can say this vacation is a success. We've seen and experienced more that I thought we would, and I truly think we have gained a better, deeper understanding of this country.
Last night we had decided to leave the carrier on top of the car, rather than to try and drag it into the hotel. By the time we went to sleep, we were wondering about the wisdom of that decision. It had started to rain, and it seemed the thunderstorms continued all through the night. Theoretically, the carrier can handle that but it has been in the burning sun for over 6 straight weeks now, in 65-miles-an-hour "winds" and being dragged off and on the car almost daily, so it is no wonder it is starting to loose some of its strength.
It's still raining in the morning and the forecast is for the thunderstorms to continue through most of the day. We don't even bother trying to find out what happened inside the carrier, just cross our fingers and drive away.
First stop today the National Homestead Monument in Beatrice. Homesteading is the practice of the government giving people a "free" piece of land, under the condition that they live on the land and farm it for at least five years. It started in this form with the Homestead Act of 1862 and continued into the 1980s. However, it was the homesteading of the 1860s that really shaped the American continent.
The National Homestead Monument tried to show all aspects of the homesteading. Not only the successes but also the failures, the fact that the "free" land was obtained by forcing the Native Americans from their land, the speculation by the railroad companies and the deceit that went with it. Only 40% of the homesteaders actually fulfilled the condition of living on and working the land for five years. And many of those that did get the land weren't able to make it profitable.
We saw a homestead cabin, and this one was relatively luxurious, as it was made with wood. Many homesteaders had land in places without trees, and they had to make their initial homes out of not much more than mud. The cabin we saw was a single room, with a bed, a table, two chairs, a stove and a small cabinet. That's all. We probably carry more "stuff" in our car on this vacation than people had in their homestead...
From Beatrice we went north again, past Lincoln, up to a town called Columbus, Nebraska. Here we visited the Andrew Higgins memorial. Higgins was the founder of Higgins Industries and designer of the landing craft that were so instrumental in the second World War. It was these landing craft that enabled D-Day in Europe and many invasions in the Pacific. Without them, the allied forces would have had to conquer heavily fortified harbors, rather than be able to invade less fortified beaches.
The memorial was created by the Columbus High School and was very impressive. It was a tribute not only to Higgins himself, but also to the soldiers of World War II, the Korean and the Vietnam war, and included a September 11 memorial as well.
From Columbus, we turn east and intend to be following the US-30 highway through multiple states just about all the way to Chicago. We'll be doing a lot of driving the next few days! For today we end up in Ames, Iowa. We go out for a Chinese dinner, which was a great success, and ice cream as dessert.
We have been lucky to day that almost all the rain fell when we were in the car. We had a few drops when we were visiting the homestead in Beatrice, and a few more during our ice cream dessert here in Ames, but not much, and it was dry when we were visiting the memorial in Columbus. However, a little bit of rain did get into the carrier on the roof of the car. I've turned it around because I think the front part may have worn more than the back part. Hopefully this prevents more leakage.
Breakfast in the hotel isn't quite as good as it was yesterday—I guess they can't be everything for everyone and yesterday's selection happened to fit my taste very well. Today's doesn't.
We decide to turn the order around a little bit. Instead of first going to Beatrice and then to Red Cloud, we're starting out with the Willa Cather memorial prairie in Red Cloud. So we're driving through Kansas just about all morning and then, right after crossing the Nebraska state line, we run into the 610 acre (around 250 "hectare") land where the original prairie has been restored.
Prairie consists of lots of different, tough grasses with relatively deep and dense roots. In-between the grasses a variety of wildflowers grow. Together, these plants not only hold the topsoil in place (there is a constant wind here blowing everything away) but also help capture and retain the rain when it falls.
The restored prairie is beautiful, but I should have worn long pants: later today I find that I have been bitten by many mosquitoes or similar critters.
After walking into the prairie we continue to the town of Red Cloud itself, where Nicoline prepares a hot lunch for us. After lunch, Frank and Mark can go to the pool for an hour while Nicoline and I walk around the town. We have selected a handful of photos that we want to have printed for our parents, so we're in search for a 1-hour photo place. Of course, we don't find it here (we didn't really expect such a thing in this small town), but we do get an impression of what the place is like.
That last photo is of Willa Cather's childhood home, by the way.
After this longer lunch break we continue on our way to Beatrice. We don't get there until five, which is too late to visit the homestead national monument. In fact, it also seems to be too late to find a hotel now. We go up and down the highway, try just about every place in town, but they all seem to be full (or have double beds instead of queen beds). By the way, for the Dutch readers: a "double" bed is what's called a "twijfelaar" ("doubter") in Dutch: a bed that doesn't know if it's for one or two people. Uncomfortable for Nicoline and me, but really too small for two teen-age boys (in the 21st century, at least).
I have a bit of an embarrassing moment when I ask for a room in the historic Prospect Hotel, which turns out not to be a hotel anymore but an assisted living home. Oops... Anyway, we end up continuing to Lincoln, where we find a Ramada Inn with a nice room. And we ran into a Walmart where we had the photos printed.
As I mentioned yesterday, we're staying in one place today. After the breakfast, which by the way was excellent, we go and find the Brown v. Board of Education Historic Site, which is housed in a former Topeka public school. The site was only opened a few years ago and it commemorates the 1954 Supreme Court decision which held that segregation in public schools was unconstitutional, and therefore was the beginning of the end of segregation in education.
The first stop in the museum was a multimedia presentation about the history of racism, segregation, and the discrimination of African Americans. This presentation impressed me a lot; although we of course know a lot of the facts and events, they way they were put together here gave me a better understanding of African American history and present-day culture.
The other two exhibitions I found a little bit less impressive. Instead of a linear path one could take, there were all kinds of different displays that were interesting, but I felt the big story was lost in the many details. I guess I'm a bit old-fashioned, linear-thinking, not multi-tasking enough like the modern youth.
After the historic site we went to the Topeka zoo, which featured a tropical rain forest with many colorful birds. The rest of the zoo was not so interesting, but that may be because we're used to the National Zoo in Washington D.C. Besides, it was hot and we wanted to get somewhere where there's air conditioning.
We spend the afternoon in the hotel, reading. Frank and Mark are mostly in the hotel pool. When it's dinner time, we get our dinner at Panera and then eat it next to a Jiffy Lube while the car is getting an oil change. After that we go back to the Barnes & Noble where we were yesterday, where we sit and read for a couple of hours.
Nicoline and I discussed our plans for the next few days this morning, and we decided to change things a little bit. Since we're already in western Kansas, and are getting tired of all the running around, we decide to go all the way to Topeka today, then stay there for two nights. This means skipping the John Brown memorial park in Osawatomie, but it gives us some rest from what feels like continuous packing and unpacking.
So, today is another travel day - over 350 miles, as it happens, straight through Kansas. Getting to eastern Kansas it seems we're getting more trees, much more fertile land with corn, grass and other types of farm fields.
In Mullinville we run into something strange: a field with all kinds of metal art works. It looks as if someone started out being creative with scrap metal and then went overboard. Some of the creations are quite funny, others are silly or just weird.
In the hope of seeing the view that inspired the song "America the Beautiful" we head to Pikes Peak, just west of Colorado Springs, but the actual road up the mountain is a toll road ($10 per person) and seems to be chock full of tourists, so we turn around and head east.
Once outside of Colorado Springs, the landscape becomes one of rolling hills, grasslands and fields. We stop for gas and some groceries in a small town called Ellicott, then continue on to find a place for a picnic lunch.
Finding a place with a little bit of shade is not easy. We are looking for over half an hour, almost decide to just have lunch in the airconditioned car, when we come to a bunch of trees at Big Sandy Creek. We get a blanket and tarp from the carrier on top and sit down for some sandwiches. We also play a game of Uno, which we bought yesterday.
We continue on to Chivington, and to the Sand Creek Massacre National Historic Site. This is the very newest park of the National Park Service, opened only just over two months ago. It actually isn't easy to find; there are no signs on the state road and the approach is a ten-mile dirt road. If you aren't specifically looking for it, and have a good idea where to look, you'll probably miss it.
We talk to a ranger who gives us some of the pamphlets and go to the actual site. There is a simple stone marker at the site, where people have left little tokens of remembrance. We feel it is appropriate to leave here the palm-leaf rose we got in Galveston, TX. We have been carrying this rose around since June 29, stuck in the dashboard. After it has traveled some 8,000 miles with us, it now finds a place at this marker.
After the historic site we continue into Kansas. The timezone line between Mountain and Central Time goes through Kansas; after crossing through two or three counties, we're back on Central Time. Only one hour off compared to home! We should be staying on Central for a while now. There aren't many motels here, and the ones where we ask either are full or don't have queen-size beds. We end up in Garden City with a place to sleep.
A big driving day today, as Frank is flying from Salt Lake City to Denver. When planning the trip, we looked for opportunities for Frank to fly between big cities while we would drive the same distance. There weren't many of those, because we weren't planning to visit many big cities in a row. The first time was between Vegas and Los Angeles, and today would be the second opportunity.
With Frank flying, we get up early, drop him off at the airport, and then hurry while he does a whole lot of waiting. I had expected today to drive from Utah through the Rocky Mountains to Denver, but it turns out we are basically driving around most of the mountains: the I-80 takes us slightly up, all the way through Wyoming to Cheyenne, then along the Rockies to Denver. We did look at taking the other Interstate (I-70), which would have given us the opportunity to go through Cove Fort, the Western I-70 end point. My place of work is at the Eastern end point of the I-70 and every day on my way home I see a sign "Cove Fort 2300"; it would have been cool to actually visit the other end of this road. But unfortunately that would add 150 miles to today's trip, which is already more than long enough.
So, we drop off Frank and start going. After crossing the mountains directly East of Salt Lake City, the landscape is more hills than mountains. We seem to be going parallel to train tracks, as we see one freight train after another. One of them even has a whole bunch of UPS trucks on it. I never realized that when you ship something through UPS, they ship their trucks by train, but I guess it makes sense if it's planned well.
At one point, we passed one eastbound train after another, all of them standing still. Each of these trains is probably a mile long, and we passed at least six in a row. Who ever heard of a backup of trains?
We have a quick lunch at a Subway, at a rest stop next to the Interstate. It was strange to be sitting there with just the three of us. "So this is what it feels like to be an only child," Mark said.
All day we had on-and-off rain. I always thought Wyoming was a pretty dry state, but we had rain in Yellowstone and now again. For that matter, I also thought Utah was dry, but we had plenty of rain there. Colorado was no different; it poured around Denver. When we approached the airport, there was a weird cloud formation, looking like a bridge of clouds, which then slowly filled up.
After picking up Frank, we had dinner at a Chili's restaurant on the South side of Denver. They had a most interesting sign for their curbside pickup parking spaces. From there we went onward to Castle Rock, the first town south of Denver, where we found a place to sleep.
The hotel has a front porch and even though it is a bit chilly, we decide to have our breakfast there. It is not as if the hotel is on a busy road or anything (even though it is Lava Hot Spring's Main Street).
The destination today is Salt Lake City, preferably a hotel close to the airport, so that we can drop Frank off tomorrow and be on our way. It rained last night, and we still have drizzles as we drive through Idaho, culminating in a complete downpour when we get to Logan, Utah. The trip itself through the mountains is beautiful in spite of the weather.
When we have a pit stop for Mark, I photograph some grasses. A little bit later we come to what seems to be a wildfire; helicopters are flying to and fro with water buckets, but we don't see any actual fire.
We find a hotel in Salt Lake City early, then Nicoline and I want to go downtown while Frank and Mark prefer to stay in the hotel pool. We walk around Temple Square, not having much of a clue what we're looking at. There is a "visitor center" but that doesn't seem to have something as simple as a map of the area with an explanation what it what. It looks more like a lot of propaganda of the Mormon variety of "family values."
So I basically take pictures at random, but what the heck. The temple itself is obvious, although it turns out we approach it from the back (I figure that out when I take a picture of the angel Moroni at the top, and see through the tele lens that I'm looking at the back of the angel).
When we get to the front of the temple, there is a much better view of the building. I was already starting to doubt if they even wanted the temple to be seen (we had a hard time spotting it among the skyscrapers driving into town). But I still think it is remarkable, to say the least, that the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints Office Building so much overtowers the religion's main temple.
After walking around the temple, we visit the tabernacle, which is open for visitors to see. This is where the Tabernacle Choir regularly sings. They surely have one grand organ there. Most impressive, though, was the demonstration of the acoustics of the building. There was a lady standing at the front, talking in a normal voice, and we could perfectly hear it in the back. She shred some newspaper and it was as if it happened right in front of us. Really, really amazing.
After visiting Temple Square I went inside the Family History Center; this is the famous library of the Mormon church that is used by genealogists worldwide. They have rows and rows and rows of cabinets with thousands, maybe millions of microfilms.
The building has five floors with research centers for different regions of the world. I looked over the area of European research; they had plenty of Dutch genealogical reference works on top of all the microfilms. I didn't try to do any specific research, I would have needed to prepare for that, but it was impressive to see.
Back at the hotel, Nicoline does the laundry while (it seems as if that never ends!) while the kids continue to play in the pool. I first work on the computer but then join Nicoline in the lobby, where she's waiting for the dryer to finish, reading my book. We go to Denny's for dinner today.
The day starts out badly. When we're packing the car, I pick up my camera bag, and I hadn't zipped it up properly: both the camera and the telephoto lens fall out onto the parking lot! The filters in front of both lenses are shattered, but fortunately the lenses and camera still seem to work. The zoom function of my main lens is damaged; it is hard to zoom the lens now, not smooth at all anymore. I got the scare of my life when I saw the camera fall!
From Jackson, we went west into Idaho, and then to a place called Lava Hot Springs. We have a room reserved at the Oregon Trail Lodge so no trouble finding a place for the night. The afternoon we spend in the olympic pool in this town, where Frank and Mark jump off the tall jumping tower (the highest platform is 10 meters or over 30 feet high). I feel courageous just diving from the regular diving board!
After the olympic pool we have dinner, then spend a little bit of time in the hotel's hot-spring-fed pool. This pool is continuously fed by a clean hot spring and so is always nice and warm. Unlike many other hot springs, the water doesn't contain sulfur, so it doesn't stink.
We visit the famous Yellowstone National Park today. Boy, was that a let-down. I guess the weather had something to do with it; it is overcast all the time and just when we're watching the Old Faithful geiser it starts to rain. But it wasn't just the weather. The park looked dead! At first we thought it was just because there had been a wildfire a few years ago, but it seemed dead trees kept dominating the sights almost everywhere we went.
Contrast this with the drive up from Cody, which gave us some gorgeous sights, and the much nicer landscape the moment we left the park. I don't know what's going on with Yellowstone, but something's wrong there.
Of course, the number of people doesn't help either. The parking lot for Old Faithful puts any Walmart to shame and it was just about filled to the brim when we got there—and as I mentioned, it wasn't a nice day at all.
Originally we had intended to drive around the park, get to a ranger-led walk at 3, and then continue to the south. But because of the rain we turned back from the geyser. On the way back, there were a whole bunch of cars on the side of the road, so we stopped to have a look. It turned out to be an elk grazing maybe 100 feet from the road.
It's a wonder the elk didn't run away with all the people watching it. It was nice to know the elk was there because of the backup of cars, but its sad that the only wildlife you see is surrounded by tourists.
We pass Lewis Falls, where we stop to stretch our legs. Frank and Mark insist on crossing the river through the water, even though there is a perfectly good bridge there! Must have been cold on their feet.
From Yellowstone we continue into the Grand Teton National Park. Even though the road that exists Yellowstone at the south end continues through all of Grand Teton, so that every car that leaves Yellowstone on that side also has to go through the Grand Teton National Park, the road seems a whole lot less busy as soon as we leave Yellowstone. And it got a whole lot prettier as well. The Teton mountain range is impressive, of course, but the park itself is also a much nicer wooded area, with meadows in-between, and hardly any dead trees around.
We stop near the String Lake where Nicoline cooks macaroni for dinner. Frank and Mark get to swim in the lake, and jump from a cliff in the lake. We see squirrels, chipmunks, a snake and some big crow-like birds.
Today we're mainly crossing the state of Wyoming, on our way to Yellowstone Park. Like just about all the states out here, "just" driving through the state is still a fair number of hours in the car, but by now we're used to that. We've been ticking off miles as if they're nothing. In fact, we're almost up to the 10,000 mile mark on this trip!
I've said it before, and I'll say it again: one of the most amazing things on this trip is how the landscape keeps changing all the time. You'd expect that when you drive through a state it gets boring quickly, but that is not really true. The landscape keeps on changing all the time. There are prairie-like grasslands, grain fields, forests, mountains, and so on.
Most of the states we've gone through have a fence along all highways, keeping the cattle off the road. Some states though have "free ranging" areas, where you have to be careful because cows may be grazing right next to the roads. I kind-of like the free ranging areas better than those where the roads are all fenced in, but I read somewhere that keeping cattle in specific fields (and moving them to different fields) is part of the management of the land and is much healthier for the land than just letting the cattle range wild.
We have lunch in a little town called "Tensleep" in the Tensleep Saloon. The saloon looks authentic, with the stuffed heads and all.
Frank gets on the phone to find a place in Cody to sleep. When we arrive, they forgot to write down our reservation, but fortunately they do have a room available. Because it is on the second floor, we even get a $20 discount -- we split the discount with Frank and Mark each getting $5 to help schlepping the carrier up, and back down tomorrow morning.
Frank and Mark are not interested in visiting the Buffalo Bill Historical Center, but they have a chat with the people that run the motel and get free tickets to the Cody swimming pool (which is quite big, with slides and everything). So we drop them off at the pool while we visit two of the five museums at the historical center.
At the Buffalo Bill museum we learn about the life of the man and his traveling show, as well as life in the "West". For instance, this "sheep wagon" was used by a sheepherder; it has a bed, a stove, and everything needed to live alone.
Around 5:30 we pick Frank and Mark up at the pool because Cody as a free "gun fight show" at 6 in the middle of town that we want to see. It was funny, and loud even though they were using blanks.
After the show we go to a movie theater to see the Simpson movie, which was funny. Coming out of the theater it was dark and I realized that we hardly ever drive around at night on this trip. Mostly, we're in bed by the time it gets dark; of course, we're usually up around 7 and often we're on the road by 8 in the morning.
After having had a short glimpse of the park yesterday, and of the heat around here, we decide to visit the park early in the morning. That is, we get up at 5:30 and are ready to have breakfast as soon as the breakfast bar opens at 6. Of course, we do have to drive back to the park, but we are there at seven.
The park is still warm but at least not unbearably hot. Our first stop is for a prairie dog "town". These animals are so cute! They live together in large groups, it seems each with their own burrows. I guess they live in places where the ground is mainly sand so they can dig their holes easily.
We want to do some hiking, and stop at a ranch where it looks as if some hiking trails start. Unfortunately, the trails turn out to be horse trails, which wouldn't be so bad except that they cross the river and there is no way we can cross without getting wet. The view along the river is still gorgeous, though.
We ask at the ranch building (they offer guided horseback rides there) and the lady in the office guides us to the Lower Paddock Creek trail. Frank rather stays in the car but Nicoline, Mark and I want to get out here, get a bit of feeling for the landscape other than from driving around in a car.
We walk along the trail for half an hour, then turn back when we come to the actual Paddock Creek. In some places the path is very steep, going down to an empty creek and back up again, or narrow along a cliff (not high, a few feet, but still high enough that you don't want to mis-step).
After an hour we're back in the car an continue along the scenic route. By now it's past 9:30 and it is getting really hot, so we don't stop at every overlook. But we do make a few stops to take in the landscape.
Towards the end of the scenic loop, there is a complete herd of buffalo on and around the road. We take our time maneuvering among them, taking lots of pictures in the process.
After the park, we have lunch at the Painted Desert visitor center and continue south on US-85, through South Dakota. Nothing much memorable to tell about the drive, although we do find a marker in the town of Belle Fourche proclaiming it to be the geographical center of the United States. I can't quite figure out how they calculate this "center" part; after all, we're not that far from the Canadian border. Maybe they take the furthest points north (Alaska), south (Florida), east (Maine?) and west (Hawaii) and center from there?
Another 350+ miles of driving today, to get us into North Dakota. The goal for today was Theodore Roosevelt National Park. We had chosen to visit this park because it was supposedly as beautiful, but much quieter, than Yellowstone.
The trip through Montana reminded us a lot of the Badlands in South Dakota, where we were almost exactly 9 years ago (on August 14, 1998, to be precise). The landscape consisted of rolling hills with grass on them, as well as wheat. At times there were little canyons (a couple of feet only) in them. Kind-of like badlands in miniature.
Then there were stretches that were much more barren and rougher, like the badlands we've seen nine years ago. Not completely uninhabitable yet (and there were still fences all over the place) but it still brought back memories for Nicoline and me.
The other noticeable thing about Eastern Montana is how empty it is. We were obviously following a major road (the Montana state route 200), and according to the map it was just about the only major road in 50 miles. There were signs of habitation (apart from the continuous fence along the road), but they were few and far between. We did see other cars—a few of them. For long stretches the road just went on and on...
We stopped in Circle, MT at a grocery store to get some food for lunch, then had our lunch in the car.
When we did get to the Theodore Roosevelt park, it was not what we had expected. Part of it may be that it is hot today (96 degrees Fahrenheit, 35 Centigrade) but we had also expected a much more wooded, forest-like park. We do see a herd of buffalo when we go into the park to look at the campground, but decide not to try camping here: we'd rather have something with air conditioning. We end up driving almost fifty miles before finding a Super 8 Motel with a reasonable price, not all touristy, in Dickinson.
We're on our way from Glacier to North Dakota, and it is another two-day driving stretch. All the way through Montana is further than from our home in Ellicott City to Atlanta, Georgia (the stretch we did the first day of the vacation, by getting up really early and driving Interstate all day). Montana is one big, empty state!
Our first stop is at the Museum of the Plains Indian, which is run by the Department of the Interior. In spite of the dubious ownership, the museum was interesting in its displays. Unfortunately they didn't allow photos to be taken inside (I guess they're afraid we steal their secrets) so I had to do with a photo of the building.
We're now getting in emptier areas. The panorama below gives some idea of why they call Montana the Big Sky State.
We stop for lunch in Great Falls, in a city park where Frank and Mark release some stress on the swing set while Nicoline prepares sandwiches for lunch.
Around four we come to Lewistown, which is the last large town for a while, so we decide to stop here. There's a Super 8 Motel that has exactly one room left (at least, a room with a two queen-size beds, which is what we would want). The lady at the check-in tells us about the fair going on in town.
We do our usual unloading. Apart from the carrier on the roof of the minivan, which we always bring inside, we have a large duffel bag each, a backpack each, the computer bag and the camera bag, the food crate, the cooler, the bag with water bottles, and Frank and Mark each bring their own pillow. But, the rooftop carrier is always the most work to carry inside since it is heavy and pretty unwieldy. We don't dare holding it by the straps anymore; we used to do that but one of the straps has started to come loose and we don't want to put any more stress on it for fear of ripping it off entirely.
After unpacking and freshing up a little bit we go to the Central Montana Fair. The fair is fairly typical, with different attractions, 4-H presentations, street performers and different charities and churches selling wares.
The one thing they have at the fair here that you don't see back east is a real rodeo. We have been looking for an opportunity to visit a rodeo, but didn't want to go to one of those commercial ones where you pay 60 or 75 dollars per person. This one was 9 dollars each, which is altogether more reasonable.
The event lasted about two and a half hours and included all kinds of different competitions. It seems the competitions (for time or points) had been going on all week; I don't think any better times or points were achieved today, but it still was interesting (and sometimes a little bit scary) to watch. For instance, this steer wrestling: why would anyone jump off a perfectly good horse to literally grab a bull by its horns?
Or the wild horse riding?
There was an event for the ladies where they had to follow a specific course as fast as possible without tipping over the barrels. But most of the races were much more macho, like riding a wild bull. I had my doubts about many of the "games" but it didn't seem as if they were hurting the animals much. The riders, on the other hand, seem to actually run a risk of getting hurt.
In-between the different events they had a clown be silly, and commercial breaks in the form of a young lady racing a horse through the arena with a banner of a sponsoring company. And Miss Montana was on hand to hand out the show program.
After the rodeo Frank and Mark got to do two more of the fair attractions before we headed back to our motel room.
We stay in one place today and visit the Glacier National Park. The day consists mainly of driving and hiking. We have been warned that just driving from one side of the park to the other is about two hours, not including any stops we would want to make. So we get up early, at six o'clock, early enough to see the sun rise over the mountains from the hotel.
Into the park, our first hike is at the Avalanche Creek area. There are two trails here, one easy loop called the Trail of Cedars, along the creek, and from that a more difficult one to Avalanche Lake. We do part of the Avalanche Lake trail but don't go all the way to the end. There are warnings for Grizzly bears here; we make sure to make noise when we're hiking today, so that we don't surprise the wildlife.
Back down on the Trail of the Cedars I take a picture of the Avalanche Gorge waterfall; the picture turns out pretty well. I really should have taken my tripod on this hike, since it is so dark among all the trees.
After the hike we have a quick snack (banana) and continue driving through the park. We now come in the really mountainous area. We stop a couple of times to enjoy the view.
When we get to Logan Pass, we have a long stop. First for some photos around the parking lot: a waterfall, a ground squirrel that's posing, and some mountain goats that are right next to the road.
Next, we take the trail to Hidden Lake Overlook, a 1.5 mile (2.4 km) hike that goes 450 feet (150 meter) up. The path is not specially difficult (some parts are boardwalk-style, although some parts are narrow paths) but it does go up quite a lot. You don't see many people who are seriously overweight taking this path!
Although all paths are describes in terms of their destination in the park brochure, the actual hike is more than worthwhile on its own. The views are spectacular; we see different kinds of wildlife, and the meadows have many wildflowers.
At the end of the trail we come to Hidden Lake Overlook, which is indeed a worthwhile target. We don't stay at the overlook too long, since it is infested with stinging flies. We also don't want to take the entire trail to the end (the lake itself) so we turn back to the parking lot.
After Logan Pass we continue to the east side of the park (stopping for one of the few diminishing glaciers for which the park is named) and then on to the Many Glaciers area. Glaciers have been shrinking for over a hundred years and "global climate change" isn't helping them any. Supposedly you can actually see the difference when you come back in a couple of years; no "glacial speeds" here.
At Many Glaciers, we take our third and last hike of the day, to Redrock Lake. This trail is fairly narrow but well-traveled. This is another 1.5 mile (one-way) trail; all together we have hiked something like 10 miles today when we finish this one.
The ranger said there were often moose at the Redrock Lake but we didn't see any. Actually, the only wildlife we see on this hike are crickets that make noise when they fly, not when they sit on the ground.
We continue driving to the east today. Idaho is quickly over (an hour and a half to drive through the narrow top part) and then we're in Montana. Suddenly, we're back on Mountain Time and since we're going East we loose an hour now. Fortunately, it is not that far to Glacier Park, our target for today—except for the road work on the US-2. For miles and miles, the road is basically gone and traffic slowly makes its way over a dirt path, one lane at a time.
We can't complain, though, as we haven't had many delays because of road work yet. Bits and pieces here and there, but not much (knocks on wood :-)).
We have lunch in Kalispell at a Quiznos, then start looking for a place to stay. The motels in the AAA guide book that advertise a coin laundry are all full; we decide trying motels along the road. The laundry part is important, since we still have the dirty stuff from the San Juan kayaking; we managed to make sure it's dry in the hotel last night but laundry still needs to be done.
We end up in a motel in Columbia Falls. It is a bit more expensive that we'd have wanted, but that is kind of to be expected this close to a major tourist attraction, and the room has the benefit of two twin beds instead of the second queen, so Frank and Mark can each have their own bed. The motel doesn't have a coin laundry, but a car wash / laundromat is close bye. While Frank stays at the motel, keeping an eye on the tents that we hang out to dry, we drop Nicoline at the laundromat and Mark and I continue to the Glacier National Park visitor center, where we get information and maps for our visit tomorrow.
After picking up Nicoline, we do some shopping; the grocery store has a two-for-one deal on the pint-size ice cream so we end up having ice cream for dinner. We then drop Frank and Mark off at the community pool while Nicoline and I sit down for two hours with a book and relax a bit. Only after picking up the kids do I continue working on uploading the photos and such.
We get up early today (around six) because we want to catch the first ferry off the island. Today is the first of two days driving to Glacier National Park in Montana, and Washington is not a small state to cross. We figure we need to leave the campsite by seven, which we do. Some of the stuff we pack is still wet or damp, though. But we make the first ferry and thus gain two hours.
One gorgeous spot we stop is an overlook of Diablo Lake. The lake has a greenish color because of a mineral in the rocks called Greenschist. The mountains of the Cascades, with the patches of snow on them, make for an idyllic picture.
Further along route 20 the landscape changes, much more arid instead of the timber lands that gave Washington its nickname of "Evergreen State." Somehow, this landscape reminds me of commercials for cigarettes (is this the land of the Malboro Man?) or Western movies.
We continue east and the scenery changes again; agriculture this time. We continue all the way to the end, to Newport, at the border with Idaho, where we try to find a place to sleep. Actually, that isn't so easy, but after some calling around we end up at the Eagle's Nest Motel in Priest River, Idaho. Again, very friendly people here. We have dinner in a burger place across the road. Their bacon cheeseburger was delicious!
We don't have any plans for the morning; our only goal is to go kayaking in the afternoon. So we spend the morning looking around the campground, which is right at the edge of the island. We see the large vessels go between the islands towards the Seattle harbor, we see the weirdly shaped seaweed floating around, and we even spot a purple starfish in the water. Slowly, as the fog starts clearing up a bit, we can see Vancouver Island (part of Canada).
After lunch, we go to Roche Harbor to do the kayaking trip that Nicoline booked. When we can't find the place and Nicoline calls for directions, it turns out that they don't have a record of such a reservation, and they don't have a trip scheduled for this afternoon at all!
If I'm honest, I have to admit that I'm of two minds of this news. On the one hand did I think the kayaking would be a cool adventure; on the other hand do I also have a lot of trepidation about this trip. I have had concerns about going out in wobbly kayaks from the start, and the fact that it's cold (maybe 65 degrees Fahrenheit, 18 degrees Centigrade) and the water is really cold doesn't help. However, I've kept these concerns mostly to myself, since the others have been really looking forward to this part.
Anyway, the outfit that didn't have our reservation suggested to go into the town, on the dock, where there would be another company with kayak tours. We came there (San Juan Safaris), told them what happened, and asked if they had any tours available that we could join. No tours, but they also rented kayaks by the hour and would that be an option? They would provide a map and we could go out on the water on our own.
We decided to do it and they were very nice: because of all the trouble we had had, they only charged us for the double kayak Nicoline and I used; Frank and Mark got to come in single kayaks for free. So, here is a shameless plug for www.sanjuansafaris.com—they are very nice people!
So we go out on the Puget Sound and you know what? It isn't that bad at all. Even in shorts and flip-flops, I'm not really cold. And the kayaks are really stable enough for me not to fear tipping over; enough so that I bring my camera and can shoot some memories of our adventures.
At one place we find a lot of floating trash; it looks as if some grocery bag fell overboard. Mustard, butter, and freshly packaged fish. We pick what we can reach to throw out when we get back to land, although we open the fish packets and try to feed them to the seagulls. That doesn't quite work, though.
After the kayaking adventure we change into somewhat dry clothes in the car and head back to our camp. We pass by an alpaca farm; these animals are cute! Mark has been saying he wants and alpaca for his birthday ever since!
The big problem now is: how to dry our wet stuff? All our pants got wet in the kayak, and most of the shirts as well. With the weather still very damp, there is not much change of these cloths drying. We manage a line between a tree and the car, but it isn't helping a lot.
Nicoline makes pancakes on the new gas stove and Mark manages to get a fire going with all the wet stuff around. Nice achievement, but the result is that the fire smokes horribly and everything ends up smelling of smoke!
Finally, when the sun is setting, we get to see it as it shines under the clouds. Not very helpful to make us warm or dry, but resulting in a gorgeous sunset!
I didn't take very many pictures today; the main event was a visit to the Boeing factory in Everett and they don't allow cameras (or cell phones or PDAs) on the tour. I did get to take some pictures of the factory from the outside, though.
Anyway, we woke up, and I finished the backup I started last night. I had some trouble creating the back DVDs last night; some just failed writing (no clue why). I finished the five backup DVDs today, making two copies of each: one copy to send home and the other to keep with us. This way, I hope to ensure that even if something happens with the laptop, at least most of our photo memories will still be there.
Breakfast consisted of the pre-packed danishes that the hotel provided, along with coffee. After breakfast we continued up the I-5. Around Seatac (between Tacoma and Seattle) we stopped for half an hour to take pictures at the Seattle airport (I guess Frank will have more to say about that).
From there we continue north to the Boeing plant. As I said, cameras were not allowed on the tour. However, they do take you into the actual factory building, and we saw the first two Boeing 787 (the newest airplane) being build; these first two planes will not be sold but used by Boeing for extensive stress testing. They expect delivery of the first orders next year. We also saw the production line of the Boeing 777.
All day we have been debating whether to continue on to San Juan island, or to stay on the mainland and only go to the island tomorrow for the kayak tour. The weather forecast was for "showers" today, "few showers" tomorrow. As we drive, it doesn't seem too bad; the weather is mostly dry. So in the end we do decide to continue.
Nicoline makes sandwiches on the ferry, so we'll be done with dinner when we get to the island. Once on the ferry, it gets colder and wetter. By the time we reach the island, it is raining continuously. We do find the county park where we have reserved two camping spots, and manage to set up our tents in the rain.
We're going up on I-5 at the moment; we're having a mostly travel day today. We just stopped at a Target in Albany, OR to get two copies of the new Harry Potter book, so Frank and Mark are both reading. Nicoline just finished here diary entries in the past two hours while I drove, not it's my time. I'll be going over the past three days...
OK, I finished updating the diary entries and photos. Right now, we're still on the I-5, between Olympia and Tacoma in Washington. It's raining and we're trying to find a place to stay (it is getting close to 7), but the hotels in the Olympia area seem to be sold out because of some soccer thing. So we're going to try a little bit further up.
We had mostly a travel day today. Originally the plan was to go to around Salem, then stop there to go see the waterfalls, but then we would be very tight tomorrow (wanting to see Fort Vancouver, Seattle, and the Seattle airport, and still be on time to get to San Juan Island). So we decided to skip the entire Salem stop and continue into Washington instead.
I took some pictures of a river along Oregon route 138 but mostly we just continued driving until we got to Fort Vancouver, just across the state line in Washington. I'll leave the description of that up to Nicoline, since it's my turn again to go drive.
After checking in to our hotel, we continue to Crater Lake, getting there close to four o'clock. It is cold!!! Unfortunately, it is clouded, so we don't get to see the lake at its best, but the proverbial blue color of the lake is still apparent. We drive the rim road and by the time we reach the end it is getting pretty dark.
We also encountered some patches where there was still snow on the ground. Frank and Mark had a snow fight on one of those patches The snow remembered me of our vacation to Norway, some thirty years ago; when driving there in the summer, we also encountered some snow patches, and my brother and I had to get out and on the snow. My father took pictures of us standing on the snow; I guess history repeats itself...
Thinking of that vacation long ago reminded me that my mother wouldn't care so much for the grand view but would look at the little things. I indeed found some interesting wildflowers along the meadows as well.
Nicoline, Frank and I wanted to dine at the hotel dining room, which was a little bit up-scale, but Mark didn't care for that. We got him a pizza which he ate in the hotel room while we enjoyed a "real" dinner. While we wait for the dinner, I take some pictures of this "Historical Hotel and Motel."
We changed the schedule a little bit; instead of going up from Eureka to the Redwoods State Forest an hour up the coast, we had decided to stay two nights in the motel in Eureka. This gave us the opportunity to visit the Avenue of the Giants much more thoroughly.
We start out at the visitor's center, where they have a cross-section of a fallen tree marked with historical events. For instance, the arrow pretty near the center points to the tree ring at the time of the signing of the Magna Charta; the bottom one at the right hand side points to Columbus' discovery of America. This gives you some idea of the age of this tree...
After the Founder's Grove area, we went to a different area. The Tall Tree was 359.3 feet high when measured in February of 1957; it takes three photos to get all of it.
In this area we also see one of the "summer bridges" that were mentioned in different brochures. I guess that they remove the whole bridge at the end of summer and put it back after the spring floods, so that it won't be washed away.
From here, we continue a little hike about half an hour into the forest and back. We're all too tired to do much more, and we're being eaten alive by the bugs.
Back at the motel, we find that the car's back window is dirty again, in spite of us having washed the car only yesterday! We try to let Frank and Mark go to a nearby swimming pool, but Rec Swim ended just about when we got there. Instead, we hang out at a Borders bookstore until it is time for dinner.
We have dinner at the Samoa Cookhouse, where they serve "lumberjack style." That means: only one menu, but you can ask for refills as often as you want. I have to say that I didn't expect much taste-wise, but was pleasantly surprised. They also had a little museum that we browsed.
After dinner, we looked around Eureka a little bit more and took these pictures. The last mural is called "Animals are people too."
Leaving the hotel, we jump smack in the middle of San Francisco rush hour. Before heading north, we want to pass through Lombard Street and over the Golden Gate bridge (we are in San Francisco, after all).
First the Bay Bridge, though, to get to San Francisco. It's foggy (of course) but Nicoline still manages to snap a couple of interesting pictures.
Next stop, Lombard street. Not a stop, actually, as I maneuver the minivan through the "crookedest street in the world". It starts when you approach the street, and don't see anything but the end of Lombard something like a mile in the distance. It is as if the street entirely disappears. When you get closer, you see the switchbacks necessary to make this street accessible to cars. Looking back up after passing the street, you see how beautiful it is made with all the flowers.
Although Lombard Street is the "crookedest street" it is by no means the only steep street in San Francisco. In fact, one often feels as if the street just disappears in front of you. And we're driving a minivan; imagine driving an old American car with a big hood. You sometimes just have to guess that there is something ahead of you!
Approaching the Golden Gate bridge, there is still some fog, so it's not really worthwhile to try and get a good vantage point for photos. One day I want to come back to San Francisco and take some really good pictures of the bridge. For today, I have to accept the shots I get from the car driving over the bridge, and from the vantage point at the north side.
We continue driving through the Californian landscape, and it looks entirely different here. I guess we're going through the famous Californian wine country; we see several signs with vineyards and wine tasting opportunities.
At Leggett, we stop for lunch and start talking with a woman who lives there. There is a single K-12 school in Leggett with about 150 children (Mark's grade in middle school alone has over 200 children in it). The lady also mentions the "drive through" tree, which we want to try out.
This is one of the famous large Redwood trees. There are a couple of these "drive through" trees, created early in the 20th century to attract tourists. Back then, people didn't realize (or care about) the damage this did to the tree. I don't think any new "drive through" trees have been created in the last couple of decennia, though the existing ones are still privately operated.
After the break in Leggett we continue north to the Avenue of the Giants. This Avenue is a 32-mile stretch parallel to the US-101 passing many of the huge redwood trees. This is once more a feature that just can't be done justice with photos... But I try anyway!
From the Avenue of the Giants, we continue on to Eureka where we find a motel. It even has Internet access! We unpack, and Frank and Mark have the chore to clean all the water bottles we're carrying. Every night we fill up the bottles we've used, but once a week or so we make sure we clean and refresh the water in all of them. By the way, we're no longer using the extra 5-gallon water containers; now that we're through the desert, Shannon's water bottles are more than enough.
We're not driving at all today but take the BART into San Francisco. When we were still at home Nicoline already checked that the BART (Bay Area Rapid Transport) station is about half a mile from the hotel; now that we're actually here we wonder if there isn't a freeway in the way. But we're lucky and after asking for directions a couple of times we get to the station.
The first thing we see when we come above ground is a San Francisco cable car: we are at the end point of one of the lines. After asking about the price, we decide to take a day pass for not only the cable cars but also the regular SF public transportation ("MUNI"). We then take the cable car up to where it crosses the other line, with the idea of switching there to go back down to Fisherman's Wharf
Switching to the other line doesn't work: all cars that come by are completely full. So we walk back down through China town to the wharfs.
We wanted to take the Alcatraz tour but when we got to the ticket office, we found that the tour was sold out until Sunday! We go onto Pier 39 instead; a pure tourist trap, of course, but we spend the time looking at the shops. There aren't many sea lions around (most have gone south to mate) but the few that are there are still cute. And we at least get to see Alcatraz from a distance.
After lunch we walk along the wharf, visit the Musée Méchanique and continue on to Chirandelli Square. This is the home of the Chirandelli chocolate company. Here we have a "snack" in the form of a big ice cream...
We want to take the cable car back up into town but the wait is 45 minutes. So Mark and I walk a bit towards the Golden Gate bridge in the hope to get a better picture of it. That didn't help much, but we do get some other good shots.
The idea is to go to Haight-Ashbury, the neighborhood made famous for the "Summer of Love". Of course, that time is long over, but some memories are still alive. Including some stores where pipes "solely for use with tobacco" are sold. Frank and Mark talk with some of the store attendants about how they can openly sell what would be considered paraphernalia in Maryland and as such illegal.
We end up having dinner at a cafe in The Red Victorian (Frank and Mark wanted McDonalds, but I put my foot down; that would be completely inappropriate). By the time we were about to go live entertainment started, and it wasn't even too loud. I would have liked to sit there some more, but we wanted to make sure we would be back to the hotel during daylight.
The trip back was very uneventful, and we did make it back on time. The neighborhood of the Motel 6 really isn't one where you would want to be wandering around after dark. We did find that Nicoline and I both had a bit of a sunburn from today; it wasn't warm at all in the city (actually chilly at times) but I guess the sun still burned as strong as ever.
We didn't sleep as well this second night as we did the first night here. Still without the ability to boil water, we break up camp and go in search for a place to have breakfast. That is one thing I don't like about camping: it is a lot of hassle to set up camp, and then another lot of hassle to break it up. In that respect, a hotel or motel room is easier. Of course, the camping here in Sequoia National Park is even more work because we had to take just about everything out of the car and into the bear-proof safe to prevent bears from trying to open up the car (they had some pictures of cars opened by a bear, and they just rip a door out of its frame... expensive little thing, and generally not covered by insurance, even apart from the hefty fine imposed by the park service for not following instructions).
Anyway, breakfast was not easily found. It wasn't until almost two hours after we left, in Fresno, that we found a Denny's and had our brunch. Well, at least by that time we were hungry enough to do justice to the portions!
We continue on Route 180 to Fresno, then up route 99, then across to the sea on route 152. Again, changing landscapes through mountains, plains, and yet more mountains. At least, I call them mountains, even if people around here might call them hills.
By now we have gotten used to the car and the driving. We take turns in the front and the back of the car (although I don't sit all the way in the back, because I really don't fit there). Frank and Mark use the back row to watch DVDs (that row is darkest, also because of the crates we have on one of the seats). When Nicoline is driving, I work on the photos or diary on the second row.
We come back to the Pacific -- and it's cold! Frank and Mark try to go into the water at Waddell Beach but it's much too cold for them. However, there is a sort of river coming into the sea as well, and that water isn't quite as cold. There are also a lot of kite surfers here (a kind of windsurfing, but then with a kite).
We find our Motel 6 (I really wanted to stay in a "Motel 6 in California") and we understand why it's relatively cheap: it is relatively crappy. The showers are good, though: for the first time a hotel has a shower where I can stand up straight!
Sequoia trees are big trees. Not so much tall maybe (although they are pretty tall) but big in volume. The famous General Sherman is volume-wise the biggest tree in the world. They get this big because at some point they stop growing in height but continue growing in width. Where other trees get so tall that they can't sustain the height at some point, sequoias just keep on growing bigger and bigger for thousands of years.
Sequoias are also picky trees. They only grow in the Sierra Nevada, and only on this side of the mountain, and only between 5,000 and 7,000 feet, and only with the right moisture. They tend to grow together in groups or "groves", surrounded by more normal pine trees. In fact, except for their typical red color, they look almost entirely like pine trees when they grow up.
I didn't know any of these things when we woke up. All I knew was that something had gone wrong with our gas bottle for the camp stove and Nicoline couldn't boil water - so no coffee this morning. Apart from that, the night had been uneventful (no bears that we saw).
We first went to a camp store to buy a new gas bottle (which turned out not to fit even though it was the same brand we had) and ice for the cooler. On the way to the store we did see a black bear crossing the road but too late for pictures. After bringing the ice back to the camp, we went off again to the site of the General Sherman tree.
The parking lot for the General Sherman was a couple of hundred yards from the tree -- many of those yards vertical. Not for the faint of heart! Along the path was an outline of the tree. With the people standing in the outline, you get an idea of the immense size of the thing!
I'm sure you're all pretty curious about this infamous General Sherman by now. Well, here it is -- a photo taken from a distance, so that the whole tree would fit. It really looks very stocky; the trunk is wide all the way to the top. Below are some more photos from closer by.
After the General Sherman we hiked the "congress trail." Whether it was the height we're on (around 6,000 feet) or because our physical condition is lacking, I don't know, but I found the 2-mile trail pretty exhausting. It does go up and down a lot.
Along the trail we encounter many more giant sequoias, among them the "president" and the groups for which the trail is named: the "senate" and the "house" groups. Of course, the age of these trees makes even Strom Thurmond look young...
Some of the other sights we see:
Next stop for us was the museum, also the location of the "Sentinel" sequoia tree. I haven't quite figured out why some trees have names and others don't, but I guess the named ones would be the bigger ones. At least, this "Sentinel" is also a pretty big tree.
We had originally intended to do some more hiking, but by now we all felt we had just about seen enough sequoias and went back to the campground. I even took a bit of a nap in the tent while the kids went collecting firewood. Lots of firewood: they wanted to make a bonfire of sorts!
For dinner we had hot dogs prepared at the fire, followed by roasted marshmallows for dessert. Frank and Mark tended the fire; even Frank was now seeing something positive in the camping experience. Some of the marshmallows didn't quite work out...
Late at night, just before it got too dark to take pictures, a deer came walking through our campsite. It stayed something like fifty feet from us for a while, eating moss and grass. The fire didn't seem to scare it at all; I guess it's used to fires at the campsites.
Today was going to be Mark's day. We had found a hotel last night in Simi Valley, near Moorpark, just north-west of Los Angeles because Moorpark College has the "Exotic Animal Training and Management Program" (EATM), which if I understand correctly is the only university-level education for learning to deal with animals. I'm sure Mark can explain it much better but basically they have students with a bachelors degree who spend two years to learn about working with and training all kinds of animals. Graduates of EATM are picked up by zoos as well as movie studios around the world.
The following photos show some of the animals from the shows we witnessed:
Mark used this visit not only to have some idea of what EATM is like, but also to ask questions. Personally, I think it might be pretty ambitious to get into EATM (they only accept a relatively few students each year, from all over the country), but I was also impressed with what the students do and I think that if Mark puts in the effort, it's going to be a good fit for him.
The drive up to the park is impressive. We drive through plains for hours; it is so flat it almost looks like Holland (except they have the wrong trees here). Then come the foothills, changing into mountains. The road is no longer straight but goes up with switchbacks. At one point we have to wait for fifteen minutes at a traffic light where, because of roadwork, the road is single lane for a couple of miles.
Today is the day that Frank is scheduled to fly from Las Vegas to Los Angeles, while we make the same trip over the road. Frank loves to fly so we have arranged for him two opportunities on this trip to take a commercial flight; this is the first one.
Without Frank, we need to make sure we get to LA. We got up early (to give us enough time) and on the first leg, Nicoline get a chance to snooze while I drive. She misses the sight of Nevada Landing and the last casino before we enter California.
We drive through the desert and the mountains, until we get to the San Bernardino area. That stretch concludes our experience with the desert Southwest. From San Bernardino on, the scenery becomes much more green.
Something else I'm noticing: the different ways in which the speed limit is interpreted in different states. Here in California, it seems that five or ten miles above the posted limit is the normal speed (much like at home). In many of the states we have come through, people adhered much more to the speed limit; in Texas I noticed that most locals drove noticeably slower than the posted maximum. Yet another item where states are more different than I expected.
We get to enjoy the famous LA freeways (with the continuous backups) but we have time so we don't have to worry. We actually have so much time that we take a detour through Beverly Hills. We drive on Sunset Boulevard, Rodeo Drive and see some of the mansions (no idea which ones, but who cares) were I guess some of the filmstars live. We also see the famous Hollywood sign, but so far away that we don't get a good picture of it.
After picking Frank up at the airport, we continue up the coast. At Santa Monica, we get our first view of the Pacific Ocean (well, Frank already saw it from the airplane). We actually park at the beach and try out the water (it is cold!) for a few moments.
More or less at random we stop in Thousand Oaks at a mall for dinner, and end up at a Mongolian buffet place. You collect your own ingredients in a bowl, which are then cooked by the chef on a huge stove. The food was pretty good and we had a lot of fun at dinner.
Coming to Moorpark, we have some trouble finding a place to sleep. It seems everything is very expensive (surprise!) and/or booked. There is one cheaper place in town (a Motel 6) but it doesn't have queen beds, only doubles, and with Frank and Mark having to share a bed, we really don't want to go with the double beds. Anyway, we eventually find a Holiday Inn. After unpacking and everything, the kids quickly fall asleep.
Today we stay in Las Vegas and make a trip to the Hoover Dam; I've been to Vegas before for "Comdex" (an annual computer show) but at that time didn't have the opportunity to visit anything else, so the Hoover Dam was something I really wanted to see.
After the guided tour we took some time to look at the exhibits explaining the construction of the dam and it became even clearer what a engineering marvel this is. Back outside, we had a closer view of the dam, lake Mead that is formed by it, and the Colorado river continuing downstream.
After walking on top of the dam in the burning sun we took refuge in the gift shop where Nicoline bought some postcards and Mark tried on some of the sunglasses. Before going back to the car we treated ourselves to an ice cream.
After the Hoover dam we went back to the hotel room. I was really tired, so I lied down for a bit after copying over photos and rested while Nicoline was busy with the laundry. We intended to go into Vegas again in the evening (not in the hot afternoon sun) but we figured that Frank and Mark might not be all that interested. Given the choice, they'd rather have pizza in the hotel room and then stay there, which was fine by Nicoline and me.
We start out by being amazed at their mall. They actually recreated an Italian atmosphere in-doors. At first, you wander if you really ended up outside suddenly, except of course the fake sky doesn't look like the Vegas sky at all.
After being impressed by this sample of entertainment engineering, Nicoline and I continue down the strip a little bit and have dinner at Maggiano's. Finally, we briefly visit the Frontier casino, which will close next week after 65 years.
Like Nicoline, I'm not particularly impressed by Las Vegas either. I guess that if you don't drink, don't gamble, and don't want to spend a fortune to see a show, you're not really part of the primary target audience.... It was funny to see, and it definitely was different from what I remember from 18 years ago, but one day was clearly enough. Maybe in another 20 years I'd want to come back and see how it changed. Mostly, I'll be happy to just having seen it.
We're not getting up specially early today, since we don't have a huge distance to travel. Only up to Vegas, which shouldn't be more than half a day.
We continue out on the I-40 (again / still), which still more or less follows the legendary US-66. All the way to Kingman, AZ actually where we take Arizona SR-68 to Bullhead City, AZ and Laughlin, NV. We were along the I-40 in the Painted Forest as well; on this trip we seem to be running into certain roads repeatedly.
You know what surprised me most of all? How green the land just along the Colorado river was -- and what a dark shade of blue the river itself was. I guess it isn't really surprising, as the Colorado is of course the main source of water for a huge region, but the contrast between the desert we've been in for the past few days (and which continues just a few hundred feet beyond the river) and the area right along the river is astonishing.
After lunch we continue to Las Vegas, and Frank calls a hotel, then reserves a room from the car. The hotel is the Best Western right next to Las Vegas airport (and I mean literally right next to it; the airport fence is across the street). Frank of course loves to see how close the planes fly by in their landing approach; we like it because it's not expensive.
It's hot here (more than 100 degrees Fahrenheit, which is into the 40-s in Centigrade) and we take it easy in the afternoon. Frank and Mark (and in particular Mark) go to the pool while Nicoline and I work on our diary entries etc.
Late in the afternoon we go to "The Strip" (Las Vegas Boulevard) to see what Las Vegas is all about. We start out by driving down to Fremont Avenue to have some idea of what's there, then decide to start out at the Stratosphere Tower.
The tower gives a great view of all of Vegas. They also have "rides" up there; scary things like dropping from a tower or hanging over the edge. Not something I'd like to do, but of course these thrills are "the ultimate" entertainment for teenagers like Frank and Mark. The first one they ride is called "X-Scream" and in it you shoot out over the edge of the tower. It looks and feels as if you are about to drop to your death.
Anyway, personally I liked the view a lot better than those rides. I just love how the different colors show up when it gets darker.
After the Stratosphere Tower we went down to Fremont Street, which is for pedestrians only, and we walked that from one end to the other. There are not only the standard casinos and gentleman's clubs, but also live entertainment and many little stands selling all kinds of stuff.
Getting to the end, we had a bit of a snack (we basically skipped dinner today), by which time it was 10:00, time for the Fremont Street light show. The whole roof of the street is a gigantic billboard, on which a eight-minute light show is displayed accompanied by music.
All in all, it was very late by the time we got back to our hotel and to bed. We were all dead tired.
We all sleep pretty well in our tents and as always Nicoline is the first one up, gets things organized and prepares breakfast for all of us. We take about an hour and a half to get up, have breakfast, break up camp, and pack everything back in / on the car.
Today we continue driving through Arizona, including this panoramic view:
Our target of the day was Sedona's Slide Rock State Park, a place in the gorge we've been driving through where the rocks have worn down so much that they're flat and act as water slides. Frank and Mark of course love the water. Even I get to try the water (and let me tell you, it is freezing cold when you first get in!)
The last photo above is a rock Frank wanted to jump off; I didn't let him and he was furious about it. Anyway, after Slide Rock we continue south. We end up having dinner at a Red Robin in Prescott, which has an eerie resemblance with the one in Columbia. We can't find a hotel room there; the motels all seem to be having double instead of queen size beds, and the hotels are all full because of some bible convention. We end up driving back up to the I-40 and over to Seligman before we find a motel.
We are shifting our original schedule because we're getting a bit tired of all the national parks, and because the idea of watching the sunrise at the Grand Canyon doesn't seem very feasible. We decide to skip Zion and instead go straight to the Grand Canyon. So today instead of visiting Zion and ending up at our campsite, we will be going straight to the campsite and then on to the Grand Canyon.
Just after noon we arrive at the Jacob Lake camp site; we have reserved three tent sites here for the night. We put up our tents. Mark finds that his tent already has plenty of dust on it, so much that he can draw a smiley face on the window.
After setting up our tents we continue down to the Grand Canyon. It takes over an hour to get to the visitor center. Now that we're back in Arizona, we gain an hour again since Arizona is effectively on Pacific Time (they don't observe Daylight Savings Time in Arizona, except for the Navajo Nation, so although Arizona is in the Mountain Time timezone, their clock is the same as Pacific Time in the summer).
Since we are at the visitor center, we have a look at the Grand Canyon right here at the Grand Canyon Lodge.
From the visitor center, we go to two vantage points, first to the Point Royal:
Not just the view; there are all kinds of different plants with different flowers here.
From Point Royal we drive north to Point Imperial. Contrary from what I expected of the Grand Canyon region, the North Rim is a forest not a desert. In fact, the whole plateau on which the North Rim is the edge has a lot of forests and meadows.
Along the road, we see a Kaibab squirrel with the typical white tail and lots of dead trees that look almost as made from silver.
We get to the visitor center about two hours before sunset (7:48). I start taking pictures of the view and continue until about when then sun actually sets. It turns out that the best view is an hour or more before actual sunset. You can judge for yourself: the pictures below are taken 5:49, 6:35, 7:03, and 7:34. I feel sorry for the people who turn up just ten or fifteen minutes before the published sunset time.
All in all, though, I have to say I was a bit disappointed by the Grand Canyon. Sure, it is big and a great view. but to be honest, we have seen much of the same things in the last few days traveling through Southern Utah and Northern Arizona. I guess we have become a little bit jaded after driving through the Southwest.
We take the shuttle into the park and walk the combined "Navajo loop" (first half) and "Queens Garden Trail." The Navajo loop goes down rather quickly through a lot of switchbacks; the part back up is closed because of a rock slide.
The scenery in Bryce is spectacular! A few photos here to give you some idea of what it was like:
Once at the canyon floor, we're suddenly among pine trees rather than rocks. It is almost nice down here, a bit warm but not horribly so. We hike up part of the Navajo loop to the point where it's closed because of the rock slide, then go back down.
At the bottom, we take a break and some chipmunks come to see if there is something for them. They are almost tame, which is not good; getting used to human food makes it very hard for them in winter when there are few people around.
Finally, a view of the whole canyon:
We take the shuttle back to the hotel and in the afternoon take it easy. For Mark we have booked a horse riding tour; Nicoline does the laundry and writes letters, and I work at coming up-to-date with the photos and diary entries. And I finally make backups of the photos in case something happens with the laptop. When done with all our chores, we look around the shops and other things at Ruby's Inn. You can see we're in Utah: copies of the Book of Mormon, in many different languages, are distributed for free with all the tourist brochures.
We wake up at Lake Powell at a campsite where we basically crashed. The view is gorgeous, but none of us have slept very well. I was nervous about what would happen if someone would happen to notice we hadn't paid; Frank and Mark were very hot in the car. But at the early morning light, things looked a whole lot better.
After finding a place to pay for the camp, we go to the ferry, which would take us to Boulder. We start waiting for the ferry, but it's still an hour and a half before it would go. The sign says "cash only" and we don't have that much cash on us; we do have American Express traveler checks, but are not sure if they will be accepted (we weren't able to find a bank in Colorado that would accept them for less than a 10% fee). So, we decide to head back and around.
The road is very scenic, and although we end up driving almost 300 miles, the scenery changes all the time. Specially when we go past the Escalante Canyons, it is beautiful.
When we get to Bryce Canyon, we find a place called "Ruby's Inn" right before the park entrance. It is a bit more expensive than we would usually stay, but it has a great location to explore the park tomorrow and we are all so tired that we don't feel like trying to find anything better. It might be a hundred miles or so before we find a cheap but decent motel.
Nicoline and I get up early to see the sun rise over the mesa. I was ready with my tripod on the balcony to catch any animals that might show up, but all I got to photograph was the landscape.
We now notice even more the results of a big wildfire in 2000. One of the rangers told us that even after seven years, not much more than bushes have come up, the largest tree is not yet more than two or three feet high.
From Valley of the Gods, we continue to Goosenecks State Park, which overlooks the gooseneck-like bends in the San Juan river. The idea is to camp here, but it is very primitive: one shaded area with a camping table, and bathrooms with just a cesspool. No running water. We still decide to try camping here, though.
We arrive at two and spend the whole afternoon relaxing, reading a bit, and I of course walk around taking pictures. Lots of people come and go, a group of French tourists have to change the tire of their SUV. They are driving around with four adults, three kids, and their luggage, in a single SUV! Compared to them, our minivan must be spacious...
However, late in the afternoon, clouds start to build (seemingly right over our heads) and we feel uncomfortable staying. We hadn't put up any tents yet so packing up is easy; we decide to go to Halls Crossing at Powell Lake, which looks like a town that we think may be very touristic. The route there takes us through "Moki Dugway" on the SR-261, which is marked on the map with "Caution: Moki Dugway is gravel with 10% grades and switchbacks 2.2 miles." Pretty ominous, and surely, when we get there, the road sign says the same thing.
We get to enjoy the sunset while we continue to Halls Crossing. By the time we get there, however, we don't find a town at all, only a campground. Of course, it is past 10, it is dark, and everything is closed. We just squat on what looks like a tent site, put up the tent for Nicoline and me by the car's headlights. Frank and Mark both decide to sleep in the car. We are exhausted...
After a day's rest in Holbrook, it is time to move on. We have two specific things we want to see today: the Four Corners monument and Mesa Verde in Colorado. But most of all we want to experience the Arizona landscape.
The landscape is what I would call a desert (although maybe they still call it a "semi arid region" like they did at the Petrified Forest) and it is clear we are getting in the same region as Monument Valley. But we're not seeing any cacti! I had expected in Arizona to see the signature tall cacti, or at least some type of cactus. Mostly grasses and bushes, though.
The Four Corners Monument is not at all as commercialized as I had expected. I knew we had to pay to enter, but the fee is entirely reasonable. Even I find it worthwhile to be able to stand in four states at the same time!
The Four Corners is the only place in the United States where four states (Arizona, Utah, Colorado and New Mexico) come together in a single point. Mark tries out one of the traditional stances and as a family we stand in the four different states at the same time.
Entering Colorado we have to move clocks forward an hour, as Colorado does properly observe daylight saving time. Only Arizona doesn't. Shortly after entering Colorado, the landscape changes from desert to much more green. It is remarkable how the different states are actually different. As a matter of fact, the landscape often seems to be different from one curve in the road to the next...
We quickly drive through Cortez, which looks mostly like a tourists trap, on our way to Mesa Verde National Park. The Mesa Verde visitor center is 20 miles in from the highway, and they are spectacular miles indeed! The road snakes its way up the mountain, and we were "lucky" that there was a storm approaching, which made for a very dynamic view.
After booking a tour at the visitor center, we go check out the Farview Lodge right next to it. It turns out that the rooms there aren't that expensive at all and we take one. The lodge is at the top overlooking the mesa, in the middle of the park.
The tour we selected is the "Cliff Palace" tour, going to the largest of the "pueblos" in the cliffs. While we're waiting for the tour to start, it starts to drizzle. It isn't hot at all today, in fact, almost a little bit chilly.
Going down the steep path into the pueblo is fun. The tour itself, with the explanations by the ranger, is very interesting. The descriptions help imagining the people who used to live here. Then, to get back up to the top of the mesa, we had another steep path combined with a number of ladders...
We quickly go back to the Farview Lodge, eat in the cafetaria (from where we see a rainbow over the mesa), and go to our hotel room. There we get to enjoy not only the sunset, but a couple of deer only a few yards away under our balcony.
We have more or less a rest day in Holbrook today. However, when Nicoline wakes up at six, she finds the temperature so nice that she suggests we go to the Painted Desert right away, before it gets hot. So we let the kids sleep, leave them $5 for an all-you-can-eat pancake breakfast, quickly get dressed and get on the way. We are at the park entrance at exactly 7, when the park opens.
Again, the NPS park pass comes in handy, as we don't have to pay the $10 entrance fee. We stop at the different lookouts and walk the half-mile rim trail back and forth. I'll just let the pictures speak for themselves.
The trail goes from a lookout point to the Historical Painted Desert Inn, which used to be a rest stop in the Painted Desert. On the way back along the trail we finally get a chance to take a picture of a jackrabbit; we've seen plenty of those around, but never close enough for a photo.
We continue into the park up to the marker for the historic Route 66. By the way, the campground itself is at the road through Holbrook which used to be Route 66, so we can say we've "gotten our kicks on Route 66" alright.
On the way back we get gas, check on the kids at the campground, then go do some quick shopping. After that, Nicoline and I get to have a bit of rest too. Mark's already at the pool when Nicoline and I try out the water. It's chilly at first, but then nice, and when you get out, it almost feels cold in the wind!
For dinner we have hot dogs; it is, after all, Fourth of July.
The cabin itself is very nice. It is almost identical to the one we had in Carlsbad. A double bed for us, a bunk bed for the kids, a light and air conditioning. The air conditioning is nice to keep the cabin cooler for the night.
In the evening, we watch fireworks over Holbrook from the back of the campground. It is quite far away, so I didn't get any really good pictures, but the firework show was pretty good, and continued for a good half hour.
Remember how we decided to take it a little bit easier yesterday and today? Yesterday we were at the hotel at 4; today Nicoline and I get up at dawn (6:30) and I take some pictures of sunrise, but we let Frank and Mark sleep a little bit more.
We have breakfast in the hotel lobby and leave at 8. We drive out along US-60 through New Mexico, with the landscape alternating between flat and mountainous.
We stop at the visitor center, watch the slide show explaining what the observatory is about, and take part of the walking. This brings us close to one of the telescopes. I even buy myself a T-shirt here.
We come to the continental divide with Frank and Mark sighing that we are stopping again for pictures. Yesterday, I explained them what the continental divide was, and today in spite of the complaining, Frank insisted in pouring out some water on both sides of the divide (supposedly, from one side it would flow to the Pacific Ocean, and from the other side it would end up in the Atlantic / Gulf of Mexico.
Entering Arizona, we again moved our clock back one hour. Although Arizona is on Mountain Time, they don't observe daylight saving time, so effectively during the summer they are on Pacific Time. Anyway, the landscape changed in Arizona, starting to look much more like a desert.
Around 1:30 we come to the Petrified Forest National Park. 225 Million years ago, trees got washed away in a flood and then covered in volcanic sand and silt. Over time, as water seeped toward the buried logs waterborne silica slowly replaced the wood, creating the petrified logs. Through this process, many details of the shape of the original trees are preserved. Inside the petrified logs, however, the silica results in a beautifully colored display.
Although Frank and Mark don't see the use of it, we do take a hike along one of the trails. Not only do we see more examples of petrified wood, we also have a gorgeous view over this piece of the "semi-arid land" (supposedly it isn't a dessert yet; you could have fooled me!)
The last part through the Petrified Forest National Park is a section called the "Painted Desert." Because the different types of rocks, and the different minerals in those rocks, the desert here shines in so many colors, it looks as if it has been spray painted! Today's pictures don't do it justice, but we'll have better ones tomorrow.
After we had breakfast and are packing the car, I take the opportunity to take some pictures to show how we travel. From left to right: the camping gear (sleeping bags, tents, mattresses, pillows) goes in the carrier on top. On the second row on the left side we have a 5 gallon water container, which we filled now that we get to more desert-like areas. Here we also store the laptop. In the back we have one crate with all our shoes (left) and one with miscellaneous stuff like medicines, toilet paper, etc. These crates usually stay in the car. Under the crates are two camping chairs; two more are on the sides. Then there is a second 5-gallon water container, the three duffel bags with our clothes and stuff, and the laundry bags. Towels on top to keep it all cool. Finally, we have a cooler bag full of water bottles which we drink from (look familiar, Shannon?) and refill every night. If possible we try to keep them cool.
In addition, we have a cooler which we keep cool with ice with contains the perishables. There are two more crates on the back row: the bottom one with electronics (DVD writer to make backups, camera cleaning supplies, extension cord, and so on) which mostly stays in the car. On top of it we have the crate with food stuff, day-to-day plates, cups, etc. This one always comes with us into the hotel. Frank and Mark, when it's their turn to sit on the back row, make themselves comfortable there.
Anyway, at 9:30, when it's already 91 degrees, we're leaving for the next leg of our journey. We decided to skip on Los Alamos and instead use today and tomorrow to get to Holbrook in a more relaxed pattern. It should be a total of about 400 miles, so something like 200 each day.
We took a vote this morning whether to go through Roswell or more south (which would bring us past the White Sands National Monument. Not surprisingly, Frank and Mark both voted for Roswell, whereas Nicoline preferred the White Sands route. We could possibly do both, but that would go against the idea of taking it easy for a little bit. In the end, we decided to go with the Roswell path. I stayed out of the discussion, but I had a slight preference for the Roswell route as well -- not because of Roswell itself, but because that route would take us past the National Radio Astronomy Observatory VLA Telescope; it would be nice if we could stop there for a moment to get some nice pictures.
We first drive up to Roswell. We don't see any green aliens, but do come across an airfield that seems to be partial military and partial storage. I get a couple of pictures before we're chased away. More are in Nicoline's entry for today.
After Roswell we turn west and the landscape changes. It seems to become much more arid. Nicoline and I keep taking turns to drive; when she's driving, I'm sitting on the second row (I really don't fit in the back row) and use the laptop to work on my photos and diary entries. (For instance, it's July 3rd and we're just entering Arizona when I write this.)
From Hondo to San Antonio the landscape becomes much more mountainous. We start falling in love with New Mexico; it seems to be a very beautiful state. We stop at a roadside stand to get some fresh fruit.
From San Antonio we take just about 10 miles of interstate (I-25) to Socorro. Driving the interstate reminded me vividly why we've been trying to avoid it. Suddenly we're inundated with billboards, signs for McDonald, and the majestic landscape is taking a backseat. Driving the US highways is much more fun and almost as fast. Anyway, it is a sign next to the I-25 that guides us to our hotel for the night. It has a pool and free breakfast, and doesn't cost too much. Frank and Mark of course run off to enjoy the pool. And, it's right across a Walmart, so we can walk over to get some things.
At seven, when we're ready to go out for dinner, it is still hot: 104 degrees Fahrenheit which is about 40 degrees Centigrade. Fortunately it is dry heat. We do happen across an old church when we're taking pictures of the sunset.
We have dinner at a Mexican "family style" restaurant. The service wasn't great; the restaurant was empty and the servers were tired. It seems dinnertime is earlier here and they already had had a big crowd.
We intended to get up really early today (set the alarm at 5:00) so that we could get to Carlsbad by about 3:00 pm, giving us enough time to explore the caverns before they close. But somehow, the alarm didn't work and we didn't wake up until about 6:30. We rushed through breaking up camp, packing the tents wet from dew, had a quick breakfast, and headed out. We drove through some towns that looked distinctly Western in our eyes.
As much as we tried to rush through, we clearly weren't making it to Carlsbad by three o'clock. By the time we entered New Mexico at 2:37 and still had an hour and a half to go, that had become quite obvious.
Suddenly, at three-thirty, Nicoline had a brilliant idea: "Is New Mexico on Mountain Time?" she asked. We looked at our cell phones (which use the nearest cell tower to get the local time, and thus adjust automatically for time zones), and yes, she was right! We suddenly gained an hour! There was still a possibility to make it!
We got to the caverns around 3:30 and were just in time to enter through the "natural entrance." This entrance is through a path that goes does the 750 feet to the cavern, rather than through an elevator in the visitor center. You enter the cavern through what looks like a big hole in the ground and the path winds down steeply. The contrast between the bright sunlit foreground and the dark cave is too much for the camera, but you should still be able to see Frank and Mark running down the path into the cave way ahead of us on the second photo. The switchbacks on the path into the cave can be seen on the third photo.
I had decided to carry my tripod down into the cave (I asked and it was permitted). It is rather a lot to carry but it was well worth it. I got a bunch of photos that give some impression of what the Carlsbad Caverns look like. All of them taken without flash, some with extreme long exposure times.
After visiting the cave, we go to the camp site (Carlsbad RV and Campground) where we have reserved a cabin. We take out everything we need, including the camping stuff we want to hang out to dry. Then Mark and I go back to the caverns where we want to view the "bat flight". Since we now have some time, we stop along the way to take some pictures of the landscape.
The bat flight is interesting, although not quite as impressive I had thought. The bats in this cavern are tiny, only the size of a thumb. I was thinking more of the larger kind of bats I have seen in Europe; seeing 300,000 of them fly out would be quite a sight. Still, it was very interesting.
By the time we went back from the bat flight it was dark. Mark and I didn't get back to the campsite until nine thirty. Nicoline had made dinner and had eaten with Frank (they had also made camp, dried and cleaned all the stuff, etc.) and Mark and I could have a late dinner.
Today the idea was to drive half a day to Johnson City, TX, and then to visit the Lyndon B. Johnson historical site. However, we're finding that we haven't really done something that specially interests Mark on this trip yet. Frank has had his Atlanta airport visit (brief, but it was clearly for him only). Nicoline and I have been the impetus behind most of the other visits. When we noticed an "exotic petting zoo" in Johnson City among the brochures at the Texas welcome center, we wanted to fit that in as well.
However, that leaves us with not a lot of time. We drive more or less in a straight line from our hotel near Houston to Johnson City, only making a brief photo-and-pit-stop along the road (where Nicoline notices a big spider behind a tree).
Here we take a hour-and-a-half long tour, starting at two. This is a difficult decision, as we're not sure how much time it leaves us for the exotic zoo. But after all, this LBJ ranch is the main reason we're visiting Johnson City in the first place.
The tour takes us over the Pedernales River, which is swollen because of the recent rainfall, to a replica of president Johnson's birth house.
I finally get a chance to take a picture of Mark in the T-shirt he bought in New Orleans. The tour takes us further along the Johnson ranch, where we see plenty of deer, the "Texas White House," the airstrip that can be used by small planes and cows that are bred mostly to stay the way they were in the 1960's.
After the Johnson site we hurry to the exotic petting zoo. I guess Mark will describe this in more detail, but here are some of the pictures from there.
And a panorama from the parking lot:
Finally we go to Pedernales State Park, where we have a tent site reserved for the night. I'm working on putting up the tent while Nicoline prepares a pancake dinner. The park only allows to tents per site, and Frank decides to sleep in the car, rather than share a tent with Mark (Frank is not very anxious about the whole camping thing in the first place).
When we're done with setting up camp and eating, Mark and I walk down to the Pedernales river, which is clearly very swollen. It's getting very dark by now, so the pictures aren't too good (I didn't drag my tripod down).
Then it is dark and we go to sleep. Tomorrow we want to get up really early (at the crack of dawn) to have enough time to drive to Carlsbad, NM and visit the Carlsbad Caverns.
We will be heading into Texas today. If Louisiana was the first "new" state (we had visited all the others before at one time or another), Texas is the second new one. I'm particularly curious about Texas because I know the mental image I have is probably all wrong.
We get up, have a cereal breakfast in the hotel room, and while Nicoline and the kids finish packing, I go get the car out of the parking garage. Because the storage container on top was indeed scraping the ceiling of the parking garage, we want to get the car out of the garage before putting it back up. So I get the car our of the garage and drive it around the block to head back into the Holiday Inn entrance.
When Nicoline finishes checking out, Frank helps me to put the container back on top of the car, we pack the rest and go. We have some trouble finding the way out of New Orleans (some of the signs lost in Katrina don't seem to have been replaced yet) but do come by a cemetery. New Orleans cemeteries are special because nobody is buried under ground here.
Once we get to the I-10 west, we stay on it for a while. We make a brief stop at the Tiger Truck Stop where they have a real tiger; it looks kind of sorry, hanging around in a cage at a truck stop. It made Mark so angry that he wrote a draft of a letter to the humane society to protest this.
We continue on I-10, coming through marshes, swamps and other watery areas. For lunch we turn off to Eunice, where we visit the Cajun Music Hall of Fame and Museum. It is a small museum dedicated to Cajun music. One of the displays was a cabinet showing the steps in making a violin; the original owner was a musician as well as violin maker. This museum drove the difference between "Creole" and "Cajun" home to me; the former being the mix of a whole lot of cultures, heavily influenced by African and West Indies cultures, whereas the latter is mostly based on Western European French. The Creole language was almost completely incomprehensible (although I could see some of the French influence), whereas I could actually read the Cajun signs in the museum.
We have lunch in Eunice in a place called "Nick's on Second" and then continue back to the I-10. We're getting some more rain (it seems to be raining every afternoon when we're traveling). Traffic is backed up repeatedly so it is slow going into Texas. When we get to the welcome center, we stop to ask if there is any problem with the flooding we've heard about in the news, but they tell us we don't have to be concerned about that.
Continuing along the Bolivar Peninsula, we are driving almost on the beach. At a random point, we stop, hike through a little bit of dunes (not even 100 yards) to get to the Gulf Coast beach. Here we take the opportunity to do some swimming -- the water is positively warm. Pelicans keep flying over while we swim here.
We take the ferry from Port Bolivar to Galveston. Once in Galveston itself, we continue driving up the I-45 to Houston, taking its beltway, then back on the I-10 West. Beyond Houston, we find a Motel 8 to spend the night; it's past 10 pm by the time we get there.
Waking up in New Orleans... we're at the 19th floor (well, really the 18th because the hotel is missing the 13th floor) and have a view (as long as we look past the Marriott hotel, which is a block away and much higher than our Holiday Inn). Nicoline and I briefly wake up at six to see the sun rise but we go back to bed; the kids sleep until we get up at about 8:30.
Seeing that we are staying in the New Orleans, it would be a shame to have cereal for breakfast. Instead, we get dressed and go down to the French Market. OK, it is at the other end of the old quarter (a twenty minute walk), but here we sit down for coffee and beignets (a kind of French dough nuts) which are delicious.
After breakfast, we check out the National Park Service office and learn about a 3:00 performance there. They also point us to the free ferry across the Mississippi; Donna (a co-worker of mine) had mentioned that as well so it was on my list of things to look out for. The park ranger was able to point it out on the map for us.
In the ferry terminal, there is a depiction of the history of Mardi Gras in New Orleans.
From the ferry we have a great view of downtown New Orleans and the Mississippi.
We really didn't allow enough time to visit the museum. I spend some time watching a video about the battle of Midway, which was narrated by veterans who actually were there. Lately I have found the personal experiences of soldiers more interesting than the strategic details. After all, we already know how the outcome...
From the WWII museum, we walk all the way across town back to the National Park Service office for the Jazz presentation. Two park rangers sing, play music, and give information about the Creole roots of Jazz.
All day, I've been taking pictures of different New Orleans houses, which show a clear French influence with their iron balconies. The one thing I can't help wondering is, how did (and possibly still do) people manage to live in those houses without central air? Specially the top floor must be getting awfully hot in summer.
This being a favorite tourist attraction, I wasn't surprised to see T-shirts being sold everywhere. Mark bought a souvenir T-shirt himself; I'll try and get a picture of him wearing it soon. But this sign at a fire station surprised me.
We get back to our hotel around 4:30. On the way up, we pick up some pizza and soda for Frank and Mark; tonight is going to be a night off for Nicoline and me. Would you believe I hadn't considered this until Robyn (another co-worker of mine) mentioned it? But the kids are of course old enough to stay by themselves for an evening, while we go out together. Nothing fancy: we ate at the House of Blues and then sat on a park bench for a while, watching people go by. When we got back to the hotel around nine, Frank and Mark were watching "6th Sense" on the hotel TV. They and Nicoline were asleep by 10; I managed to work through today's photos and do a website synchronization before turning in myself around 11.
Spanish Moss, which we saw in the garden of the Rosemont Plantation. Our tour guide explained that back in the 1800s they used this to stuff pillows. The only problem was that there often were spiders hidden in it, which would then come out of your pillow. I guess people back then didn't suffer from arachnophobia much.
Today is the second day we intended to spend experiencing Mississippi. We ended up in Vicksburg yesterday, but it was overcast and even raining at the end of the day by the time we got to the Mississippi, so I never got any good photos of the river. One of the things I wanted to achieve today was get a really good picture of it. The first try was at Vicksburg itself, at the Tourist Information center.
At the tourist information, we learned that there is no road that comes close to the Mississippi, but one place where you can get close is at the Civil War park at Grand Gulf. We stopped there and I took a series of seven photos that could come together to form a single panoramic image:
The Mississippi is a river with a will of its own, and before the Army Corps of Engineers started "taming" it, it often changed it course. Still, the river will sometimes flood. Here is Mark with a flood marker at the Grand Gulf site, showing how much higher the river has come in the past.
The next stop was Natchez, because it is known for its old mansions, one of which is the House on Ellicott Hills which, we think, may be named after one of the Ellicott brothers who founded Ellicott City (where we live in Maryland).
After Natchez, we stop at the Rosemont Plantation in Woodville. We expected something of a tourist trap, but actually there was nobody else there when we came. We got a private tour by the caretaker, which was nice. She once more confirmed our impression of Mississippi being a very friendly state. One of the cool things she showed us was a chandelier of oil lamps, with above each oil lamp a porcelain smoke catcher. This to prevent the soot from staining the ceiling.
After Rosewood, we cut through to the I-55 and from there into Louisiana. As I was driving, I thought about the goodbye party for Mike Gallagher at work. Mike is going to enjoy his retirement in South Carolina; driving through the South as we have been doing the last few days, that idea starts to be more and more attractive. Mike, if you read this: I'll wish you well in your retirement!
We had dinner in a restaurant where they had lamps made out of musical instruments, like this trumpet lamp. After dinner, we went back to the hotel. Frank and Mark went to the hotel swimming pool (on the tenth floor, if you believe it), while Nicoline and I went back out. We picked up my tripod from the car so I could take some night shots.
After packing everything up, we drive towards Clarksdale. Again, we are struck by how green Mississippi is. Also, it comes across as a very friendly place. Somehow, the area we are driving through seems very well off; lots of expensive houses.
After visiting the museum, we get some carry-out at a Quiznos and eat in a laundromat, while doing our laundry. In there, I also take the opportunity to do some cataloging of photos. It looks as if there's even WiFi available in the laundromat (probably leeching over from a nearby business) but I don't try to connect.
From Clarksdale, we continue south on SR-1 towards Greenville. Along the road there, we come across a big patch of cacti, some of which are flowering.
At Greenville, we cross the Mississippi into Arkansas. It's only a little corner, before we come into Louisiana, but we've been here! Then we come back to Mississippi at Vicksburg, where we spend the night.
We have a long trip today, from Atlanta all the way into Mississippi. We want to get through most of Mississippi today.
Going through Alabama is a big stretch. We don't want to do just Interstates, so we take State Route 157 to cut through the state. For lunch, we take one of the side roads and find a spot where there is a bit of shade (it is getting quite warm by now).
Onward and upward, into Mississippi. Flat Sneaks, the Howard County Public Library cat, accompanies us, and we're getting in the habit of including him in our pictures. This way, he quite gets around.
One of the things that we find most noticeable about Mississippi is how green it is. The state is much greener, and a much lusher shade of green, than we thought! Continuing on US-72 through Mississippi, we come across the town of "Theo".
After setting up our tents, we want to go out for dinner, and decide to go down to Oxford, MS. We underestimated the drive; it takes an hour to drive down there. But we find it is a really nice little town.
We eat at the Rib Cage restaurant but find they don't have any ice cream for dessert. And we really wanted ice cream!
After dinner we walk some more through Oxford, and come to the Square Books bookstore. It is probably fortunate that these kind of bookstores are rare, otherwise we'd loose a fortune in them. Even without any space in the car, it is very hard to refrain from buying any books!
Today we explore Atlanta. After having breakfast in our hotel room, we head down to the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. National Historic Site.
Driving up to the site we notice how this is not one of Atlanta's better neighborhoods. Initially we drive straight by the site because we expected something with a big parking lot, and that just isn't there. Eventually we back up and park on an empty lot.
The tour of the house was impressive; thinking about how Dr. King grew up here, a "regular" boy. To me, it was interesting to see how he grew up in a pretty well-to-do family; that had never quite hit me before. Unfortunately, photos weren't allowed in the house. I loved to see how they tried to recreate some of the atmosphere of the house, and the guide was able to add a lot of little day-to-day details.
Right next to MLK's birth home were a couple of "alley houses" which used to house low-income families -- two houses in each of the green buildings. That must have been quite a contrast with the well-to-do family next door.
From the birth home we went to the King Center and walked around the reflection pool. This has the shrine for Dr. King and his wife, Coretta Scott King.
Back in the visitor center, I was struck by a quote from a Maryland law (not repealed until 1967) forbidding interracial marriages. To me it is still unbelievable that people would think it to be OK for government to have laws about who can marry whom. Of course, in a way that has not changed (think "gay marriage")...
After visiting the Dr. Martin Luther King Historic Site, we head further downtown into Atlanta. We wanted to see the "World of Coca Cola" but first we found they had moved, then when we got to the actual museum, we found that parking plus entrance for us would be $70. That really is a bit too much just to see the history of Coca Cola. Those kind of prices are OK if you're just on a short trip, but with an eight-week trip like ours, we just have to think very carefully about spending that kind of money on attractions.
After this we left Atlanta for the International Airport, which Frank really wanted to see. We parked in the daily parking and he was able to see planes taking off and landing from the top of the parking garage. .
We have by now established a pattern where Nicoline and I trade places behind the wheel; whenever I'm driving, Frank and Mark get a chance to sit up front. After the airport, we went in search for some place to connect us with the history at the time of the Civil War, but all the places we tried were closed on Sunday. Eventually, we went back to the hotel. Nicoline made us sandwiches for dinner, which we ate at the pool.
Last day at work yesterday, and today my vacation started. It was a busy day.
We were up quite early (six thirty); probably nerves :-). Until nine, we did preparations; for instance, I worked through the last finance things (entering credit card slips and such in the system) to make sure we would be up to date.
At nine, we left for Dulles to pick up the minivan. There wasn't much choice at the Avis rental agency and we ended up with a Dodge with 6294 miles.
After a little detour because of a wrong turn, we made a stop at the AAA office on the way home and ended up buying a case for on top of the car; that will hold most of our camping stuff (tents, sleeping bags, and such).
Still, when we got home, I had a moment of despair when I say the amount of stuff we were wanting to take and the room the car had. It took quite some judicious shuffling by Nicoline and me (Mark helped a lot too, in fact) but we managed to get everything in there.
Now, it's getting to be evening. We're sleeping in our sleeping bags tonight. At 3:00 am we will get up, pack the last few things, and go...
We went to stock up on books today... it is less than two weeks before the trip and we're getting down to the last preparations. One of the things we still needed to do was to get books to read. Because we'll be away for eight weeks, we can't take library books, but we all like to read a lot.
This afternoon, we went to the "Book Thing of Baltimore" (www.bookthing.org), a book exchange opportunity here in Baltimore. People are encouraged to take as many books as they want, and leave books they don't want anymore. Frank and Mark both got piles of books; Nicoline and I each got a couple ourselves, but not quite that many.
Frank and Mark both try their hand at baking pancakes as well:
Exactly a month before the start of the trip, the website goes live! I feel the site is stable enough now to publish its address and invite friends and family to join.
Of course, this probably means I'll find a big problem tomorrow, but that seems to be inevitable with projects like these...
We went to the Centennial Jazz Band festival, where jazz bands from the local elementary school, middle school (Ellicott Mills), high school and college (University of Maryland at College Park) played.
Mark actually had two solos in this performance! As parents, Nicoline and I were so proud!
Here are photos of the middle school, both high school, and the university bands:
I have now copied the whole website to our laptop, which we will be taking along on the trip. This is the first test of the "real" on-the-road functionality. If this entry shows up on the public website, things are working...
Summer has started this past weekend with 80-degrees temperatures here in Ellicott City. It is almost May, only a few more weeks until our vacation is to start. It suddenly hit me that I really need to get this website going! I've tried to get a more attractive banner at the top. Feedback is welcome!
OK, this is a diary entry. I've been doing a lot of updating and fixing of bugs on the site lately, so let's see if everything is still working.
Today we hiked one of the seven segments of the Appalachian Trail in Maryland. Howard County Parks and Rec organizes these hikes in the winter and spring each year. Participants assemble at the Longgate Parkway Park and Ride and get taken by busses to the start of the hike. The busses will then drive to the end of the hike.
Today's hike started in Gathland State Park. At the start of the hike, we all assembled at the War Correspondent memorial for an overview of the history of that memorial and general hike instructions.
When we do these hikes, Frank and Mark can usually be found up front while Nicoline and I follow further behind. Today, we were even more in the middle of the group because there was still a lot of snow on the trail which was sometimes hard to get through.
We stopped twice for snacks. The second time was at a shelter where a group of boy scouts were camping.
After the second stop, the path became very muddy, almost a stream.
This is the very first diary entry made into the system!