These are Nicoline’s diary entries, with the newest entries at the top.
03:00 alarm goes off
03:22 drive away from hotel & get on to I-95
04:30 enter Rhode Island
05:13 enter Connecticut
07:44 enter New York
08:13 enter New Jersey
10:40 enter Delaware
10:57 enter Maryland
12:13 enter Howard County
The antibiotics had done Mark some good, because he woke up actually wanting some breakfast. Unfortunately, like most of the rest of our last hotel, it is disappointing. Too bad the last "continental breakfast" is not very tasty. It's already hard enough to believe that today is the next to last day of our vacation. Tomorrow we'll fix our own breakfast, because we intend to be on the road by 4 a.m. at the latest. We want to avoid rush hour traffic around Boston and get a head start on the trip home. The 17th also happens to be Mark's 14th birthday, and the sooner we get home, the more he'll get to enjoy it.
However lousy the breakfast was, it did lead me to a flyer for the Salem Ferry, which is a regular ferry service between Salem and Boston. It's for tourists as well as commuters. One drive around Bean Town during rush hour is enough for Eric, so after some deliberation we decide to head for Salem and the ferry. It turned out to be a catamaran, which took only 45 minutes to get us from one city to the other. It was quite an experience, as we'd never been on one of these before. We have taken ferries on either coast, and two on the Gulf Coast!
We arrived at the New England Aquarium Dock at 10.45 a.m. and decide to walk from there to Boston Common following the "Freedom Trail." This self-guided trail is marked on the pavement in red paint or red brick and leads you from one historic site to the next.
Of course we don't have time to explore all of them in depth, but we did see Faneuil Hall, where the art of political oratory has been practiced by Benjamin Franklin, William Lloyd Garrison, Susan B. Anthony and John F. Kennedy, to name but a few. We also saw the Old State House, where the Declaration of Independence was read to the people of Boston on July 18, 1776. Before that, it had been the place where the latest dictates from London were read to outraged Bostonians. Walking along the trail, we also saw the graveyard where the victims of the "Boston Massacre" are buried, as well as Paul Revere. When we got to the Commons we had lunch at McDonald's and then went out again to enjoy America's oldest public park (according to the AAA tour book) at our leisure. The kids waded in the "frog pond" and played in the playground, while we went off to see the bar that formed the inspiration for the sitcom "Cheers," which happened to be located near one of the park entrances on Beacon Street. After that, we walked back to the ferry dock where we caught the 3 p.m. ferry back to Salem.
Among the flyers I picked up at the Massachusetts Welcome Center yesterday was one from the Salem Witch Museum. It depicted the history of the 1692 Salem Witch Hunt in a number of tableaux, which were really well done. When all was said and done, several hundred people had been accused of witchcraft, with 19 of them condemned to hang and one to the even more barbaric fate of death by crushing. Several others died in jail, all because some teenage girls craved some excitement. The museum also did an excellent job of giving a overview of the history of witches and the role the church played in associating witches with forces of evil. It also linked the Salem Witch Hunt to later manifestations of the phenomenon, such as the internment of Japanese-Americans during World War II and of course McCarthyism in the 1950s.
Afterward, we went to the Barnes and Noble store near the hospital to sit down, grab a bite to eat and find an internet connection so Eric could update the site one last time before we get home.
The day began rather uneventfully with a long drive from Batavia to Danvers. Lots of evidence of Dutch settlement along I-90, by the way. We looked for accomodation closer to Boston itself, but ended up going to the next town over from Salem, because every hotel I tried was either sold out or had only double beds. In the end it didn't matter, because that was the only kind the Danvers Days Inn had, but oh well. We'll survive, and in two days we'll be sleeping in our own beds.
Mark had been complaining of pain in his ear for the last few days. The over-the-counter drops I bought for him in Chicago didn't seem to have much of an effect, and by the time we reached Massachusetts, he could barely open his mouth to eat (not that he had much of an appetite). So I found the nearest emergency room and spend the afternoon waiting for a doctor to diagnose Mark with what was clear as day by that time: ear infection. We were at Lahey Clinic in Salem by 4 p.m. and walked out with a prescription for antibiotics in hand around quarter past seven.
After dropping Mark and me off at the clinic, Eric and Frank went plane spotting at Logan Airport. Unsurprisingly, the viewing tower they used to have there has been closed since 9/11, but they got some good shots of different airplanes anyway. I'll leave it up to Frank to describe exactly what makes Logan Airport so interesting, other than the fact that the 9/11 hijackers took off from there.
After getting the prescription filled at the grocery store across the parking lot, Mark and I waited at a Barnes & Noble store for the other half of the family to return so we could go to dinner. We ended up having dinner at the Denny's in front of our hotel. Mark still couldn't chew and wasn't too hungry, but we insisted he eat something anyway, so in the end he had a bowl of chicken soup and the first two tablets of his antibiotics (it's one of those new-fangled treatments, two tablets the first day and then one a day for four consecutive days).
We finally got to the Canadian leg of the tour today. The kids had wanted to go to Canada at Vancouver or in Montana, but it was too out of the way in those places. We drove back up to Detroit from our motel in Toledo and crossed the Ambassador Bridge into Canada.
Then we drove mostly along Ontario route 3, the King's Highway. That sign must be at least 55 years old, as there's been a queen on the English throne since 1952! The weather was kind of dreary for the first half of the trip, so it didn't look like much, but when the sky cleared it looked a lot prettier. It was very flat country, and at some points we could see Lake Erie to the south. We had to stop and get gas. At some stations the sign said "we serve" as opposed to "self serve" and of course the quantity is measured in liters ("litres," since the Canadians use English spelling), which the kids thought was pretty fascinating. Poor things, they think that "standard" weights and measures are used all over the world instead of Liberia, Burma and the U.S. We came through a town called Delhi, which called itself the heart of tobacco country. I was surprised to learn they grew tobacco in Ontario, since I've always thought tobacco plants need to be warmer than it is likely to be that far north. Also, there was a Delhi-Belgian club, which was kind of surprising. A Delhi-English club, or even a Delhi-French club (the French were in India before the English East India Company muscled them out), but Belgian?
Anyway, we got to Niagara Falls, which was the object of our trip today, at about 4 p.m. We had been to the falls ten years ago - it was one of the first trips we ever made in America - but Eric had never had the chance to get good pictures of the waterfall, because we pretty much stayed on the American side then and the view is much better on the Canadian side, but we didn't know that at the time. So he took some kind of ski lift down to the viewing area, while we stayed on the plaza near some hotel/mall/casino. The kids didn't care to see the falls at all and I didn't feel like hanging around for a half hour waiting for the light to be just so.... I just don't have that kind of patience (actually, I don't have any).
We had an early dinner - with only one soda each, because they don't do refills in Canada, or at least the place where we ate didn't - and then crossed the border back into the U.S. I'm sure lines have been getting longer even at Canadian-U.S. border crossings ever since Chertow's guts started telling him things, but we finally made it through.
We wanted to get a bit of a head start on tomorrow's drive to Boston, so we drove for another hour or so, until we got to a town called Batavia. Batavia was the Dutch name for the city of Jakarta in what is now Indonesia, but which was then the Dutch East Indies. Eric's family on his father's side is from that neck of the woods, so bunking down in Batavia was kind of fun. I don't know anything about the history of Batavia, NY, but I'd guess it was settled by Dutchmen who got tired of the Hudson Valley, or why else would it be called Batavia. After all, they called the Caribbean the West Indies.
Today was probably the day the kids had looked forward to the most. They were going to Cedar Point. According to Frank's research, it was one of the first places in the U.S. to have a roller coaster, built in 1892, and today it is home to the second tallest coaster in the world, the Top Thrill Dragster. It is 420 feet (130 meter) tall, so there is ab-so-lu-te-ly no way I'll ever ride that monster. So we dropped the kids off at Cedar Point at about 10 and we had the day to ourselves.
We finally found a AAA office where they supplied us with a map of Ontario, Canada, and a couple of other ones that will be helpful on the way through New England and, eventually, home. With that out of the way, we went to Toledo's Botanical Garden. It was very beautiful and peaceful, and we spent a couple of hours there, just reading and enjoying the park.
However, before we could find an ice cream place, or even look at the signs explaining the history of Sandusky, Frank called to say that they were ready to be picked up and that they had a surprise for us. It seems there's a limit to the time even teenage boys can enjoy amusement parks, after all :-) So we hurried to Cedar Point and wouldn't you know it, they had each won several stuffed animals! God knows how we're going to fit all of them into the car!
We went back to Detroit today to visit the Ford factory. The Ford people make a big to-do about calling it the "Ford Rouge Plant" because of its location on the Rouge River and because this was apparently Henry Ford's dream come true. He not only wanted to have a factory where he could build cars that would cost less than any other car on the market, but he also wanted to control the steel production and the coal necessary for the production of said steel. In fact, in that respect he was probably a lot like John D. Rockefeller, who wanted to control every aspect of oil production.
We bought tickets for the factory tour at the musuem and then waited for the bus to take us to the plant. The tour began with an introductory movie about Henry Ford and the history of the Ford Motor Company, co-produced by the company and the United Auto Workers. Not surprisingly, they make it sound as though the partnership with the union has been the greatest blessing to the Ford Motor Company, but many of the problems the car maker has these days relate to the promises made to the union that Ford Motor Company would not only pay generous pension benefits, but also continue to provide health care to their retired workers.
What Ford is doing at the plant to protect the environment, however, is quite impressive. For instance, most of their parking lots are not covered with regular asphalt, but with a special kind of porous asphalt, that lets water drain tthrough underground filtering systems instead of just running into rivers and streams as run-off. They also re-use the energy used in painting the cars to generate electricity for part of the plant, and they have "green" roofs, which allow for a substantial reduction in heating and cooling costs, as well as run-off.
However, what would probably do the Ford Motor Company's bottom line more good in the long run would be to set some serious CAFE standards instead of the wimpy ones the auto industry still insists on. One way to achieve this, in my humble opinion, would be to quit overbuilding their light trucks. Most people I know who own pick-up trucks hardly ever use them to haul heavy loads or pull heavy tows. They drive a truck because it's so much more macho than driving the world's largest diaper bag, also known as the minivan. Instead of "building Ford tough," build it as lightweight as possible and have a line of workhorse trucks like the F350 or something similar for those who really need the power.
After we looked at the classic Fords, from the Model A (the Model T was apparently never built at the Rouge plant; at any rate, it wasn't on view) to the Mustang, we went into the gift shop. Now maybe I'm just being silly, but if I go into the gift shop at the Ford factory, I expect to be able to buy stuff with the Ford logo on it. I was looking for a postcard with the familiar blue and white logo, to send to my parents. My paternal grandfather used to work at the Ford factory in Holland and they used to vacation at a Ford recreation site as well, where I used to visit them when I was a kid. However, the only thing they had with the Ford logo was a set of playing cards for $8.95. Yeah, right! So we ended up taking a picture of the Ford logo in the parking lot back at the museum.
We left Chicago today and drove to Detroit by way of Kalamazoo, MI, just because Eric and Mark thought that that was such a funny name for a city. It has been home to a sizable Dutch community since the mid-19th century. Actually, to judge by the names of some towns, there must have been a large influx of Dutch settlers. Not just on account of a town called "Holland" but what about "Watervliet"?
In Detroit we visited the Motown Museum. It's housed in Barry Gordy's house and an adjacent house, so it's not real big, but it did give a nice overview of the history of the label and of course the sound. Even the kids recognized most of the songs we heard during the introductory film. Everything has been restored to its late 1950s condition, and that gave Eric an opportunity to explain the inner workings of a dial phone to the kids, who have scarcely seen one and certainly never used it.
Since we were in Detroit early, and the Motown Museum didn't take as long as we had thought it would, we tried to fit in a visit to the Ford plant in Dearborn as well. Unfortunately, the last factory tour had left half an hour before we arrived. The factory, it seemed, doesn't run continuously as one might expect. Instead, they take breaks and shut down for the weekend or holidays and what not. I almost told the lady at the entrance "No wonder you guys can't turn a profit, if they have to shut the factory down so people can go on lunch break all at the same time" but I managed to keep that in. Also, Japanese car companies aren't shy about hawking their wares right in Motor City, either. Old Henry Ford would be turning in his grave if he knew, I'm sure!
After dinner, we noticed that Mark, who hasn't had much of an appetite lately, had grown an inch or two and is now taller than I am. We went back to the hotel where I did another two loads of laundry. Growth spurt notwithstanding, Mark had to have a coloring book and crayons while we waited for our food at Applebee's. Unfortunately, he forgot to take them out of his pocket, so most of our clothes now feature splotches of red, yellow, blue and/or green crayon in a Jason Pollock pattern. It's a good thing we're in the final week! Three of the four of us have done something stupid on this trip: Eric dropped his camera, I managed to dent the rear fender of the car at the Michigan welcome center yesterday and Mark forgot to take his crayons out of his pocket. I think I'll chain Frank to the bed to make sure he doesn't get in to trouble!
Although at first we hadn't planned to visit Chicago, we both felt that that really wasn't right, so we adjusted the itinerary. It made Frank very happy, because he claims to love cities and kept pointing out places where he'd like to live (mostly in very expensive neighborhoods :-)
We had found a hotel off I-80 near the southern end of the city, so we decided to do a big loop (although not the loop) back into Chicago along Lake Shore Drive. It took us into Indiana before getting into the city itself, but the view of Lake Michigan was worthwhile. In the fourth picture you can see the intake towers for Chicago's drinking water, as I learned while we visited Sears Tower.
Of course we had to do the touristy thing and visit Sears Tower, which actually hasn't been home to the Sears Corporation since the mid-1970s, or so they told us in the "Modern Marvels" documentary the tower people apparently bought from Discovery Channel.
Eric managed to find a parking garage within walking distance of the tower, and we ended up parking on the 12th floor. Frank and Mark thought it was cool to look down from there, but the way they leaned over the barrier almost gave me a heart attack.
Unfortunately, going up to the 103rd floor didn't do us any good when it came to getting a view of the city. Just as we arrived at the viewing deck, a layer of clouds had come up and for a while we couldn't see a thing. After a while, it cleared a bit, but viewing conditions were still far from ideal.
Anyway, it did give us a chance to enjoy the history of Chicago panels, which took us from the first explorations by LaSalle and Joliet to the the French and Indian Wars, the Great Fire of 1871 and the World Fairs in 1893 and 1934 to (in)famous Chicagoans, music, arts and sports. I learned that the name Chicago is derived from a Native-American word for wild onion.
For lunch we went to Giordano's, where we enjoyed a large Chicago-style stuffed pizza. The kids were worried that one pizza wouldn't be enough (Frank especially seems to be a bottomless pit these days when it comes to food), but in fact we could scarcely finish it.
After lunch we decided to drive out into the suburbs to visit the place where Ray Kroc built the very first McDonald's restaurant. If I remember David Halberstam's "The Fifties" correctly, Kroc had come across the McDonald's brothers restaurant in San Bernadino, CA, while he was a salesman for a company that made milkshake mixers. He sold them a custom-made one that could mix the shakes right in the cardboard cups in which they were sold, which was more efficient. He was very impressed with the way the brothers ran their place, so they went into the hamburger business together. But while Kroc wanted to build a hamburger empire, the McDonald's brothers just wanted to make a nice living, so in the end they had a falling-out. Kroc bought out the brothers and then trademarked the name "McDonald's" and the golden arches, and an empire was born. Halberstam also recounts how Kroc used to walk along Lee Street in Des Plains to pick up discarded cups and wrappers, so the area would look clean and neat to potential customers, and how he would salvage unused condiment packages. A lot has changed since 1955... They look at you funny when you return unopened ketchup packets to the condiment bar now.
To Frank's delight, we also found time to take a short detour around O'Hare International Airport on our way back to the hotel.
Seen on a newspaper dispenser at our motel: "How do I prepare for the caucases?" Seen on the side of an Iowa barn: "Hillary stay home"
It had been a night of thunderstorms and rain, and of course this had to be the night we chose to keep the carrier on the car instead of schlepping it inside. Supposedly it's watertight, but after six weeks it's beginning to show some UV damage and I'm not so sure all our stuff is still dry. Oh well...
Anyway, we drive back to Beatrice to visit the Homestead National Monument. They've opened a new building just this year, and it is shaped to look like an old-fashioned plow from a distance. We began by looking at the introductory movie, which gave a pretty good overview of the history of the 1862 Homestead Act and how settlers were sometimes lured to rather marginal lands by the prospect of "free" land and unscrupulous advertising practices. I was amazed to see that Florida was one of the states covered under the Homestead Act; but of course it had variously been in Spanish and British hands before becoming a state in the mid-1840s, I think. Under the Act, anyone over 21 years of age who was a head of household could file a homestead claim. If he (or she; widows and single women also qualified) lived and worked on the land for five years, the settler would gain title to the land. Of the western states, Montana had the most successful homesteaders, while Alabama settlers were the most successful settlers back east. I'm not sure that the numbers would look the same if the number of claims relative to the size of the state and or territories is taken into account. I was also surprised to learn that the last homestead claim was filed in Alaska in the mid-1980s.
The reason Homestead National Monument is located in Nebraska is that it was the site of the first claim filed when the Homestead Act went into effect and because Nebraska had the largest percentage of land open to homesteading. The original claim has since been allowed to revert to tall grass prairie. An effort to restore the original flora of the plains has been under way since the 1930s Dust Bowl, after unlimited sod busting combined with a prolonged drought to blow away the fertile topsoil of much of the plains states.
From Beatrice we drove on to Columbus, where we wanted to see the Andrew Jackson Higgins Memorial. I also came across the cleanest, nicest gas station restroom I have ever seen. Guys - at least my three - don't seem to understand that relieving myself is a little more difficult for me than it is for them, and my anatomy requires that I find facilities that are at least moderately clean. Well, this restroom was. If any of you ladies out there ever travel in Nebraska, use the ladies' room at the BP at Nebraska highway 92 and NT country road, just west of the town of Wahoo.
Anyway, to continue my story about the Higgins memorial. Higgins was the owner of Higgins Industries, Inc. which built, among other things, the landing craft used in the D-Day landings on the beaches of Normandy. It was pretty amazing to see that the memorial was built over a period of three years as a service project by a local high school. They certainly did an excellent job! Not only does the memorial contain a life-size replica of a landing craft, it is situated on a patch of sand composed of sand from beaches where the landing craft were used. Not only D-Day and Sicily, but also throughout the Pacific and after World War II when American troops landed on Inchon during the Korean War and during the Vietnam War, when Marines waded ashore at Danang. They even have replicas of "Rommel's asparagus," steel barriers that were supposed to prevent an Allied landing.
After the two memorials in Columbus, we continue our journey on U.S. 30 East. We plan to end up somewhere in Iowa for the night.
Well, we're not in Kansas anymore. (Sorry, couldn't resist that.) We traveled from Topeka to Red Cloud, NE, home of novelist Willa Cather. Not that I'm such a great fan of Cather's work, but because the Willa Cather Memorial Society owns a 600+ acre tract of "unbroken prairie" just outside Red Cloud and I wanted to see what the prairie would have looked like in the late 19th century, before most of it was turned into farmland.
We traveled along U.S. 46 West. It is called the Pony Express Highway because part of it lies along the old Pony Express route (which Buffalo Bill traveled in his youth). Before we got to Nebraska, we also passed through the town of Lebanon, which is the geografic center of the lower 48 states. Actually, the marker was a little bit northwest of the town, but we figured the town itself was close enough.
In Red Cloud I fixed a hot lunch in the public park next to the swimming pool and right around the corner from Willa Cather's childhood home. AFter lunch, the kids decided to have a swim, while Eric and I walked up and down Main Street, trying to find a store where we could get some digital pictures printed, but they didn't have one.
So we continued on our way to Beatrice. Having had a long lunch break, we were too late to visit the Homestead National Monument, so we thought we'd find a motel room and see the monument the next day. Yeah, right. I don't know what it is with these two-bit towns that have like ten motels and yet never have any rooms available! We ended up driving 35 miles north to Lincoln to find a room, which means we'll have to drive an additional 70 miles to see Homestead National Monument. But by golly, I came to see it and I will see it! So there! :-)
We decided to get a hotel in the city this time, so we'd be able to walk places. Unfortunately, it is close to 100 degrees F (40 degrees Celsius) here, so it's much too hot to be walking anywhere. We began the day with breakfast in the hotel's atrium. It is built to look like an old-time city square, and it's really well done.
After breakfast we go to the Brown vs. Board of Education National Historic Site. It is housed in the building of Monroe Elementary School, one of four segregated schools operated by the Topeka Board of Education in the 1950s. Oliver Brown was one of the plaintiffs in the case that led to the 1954 Supreme Court decision mandating school desegregation.
One of the rooms in the school is set up with screens on either side of a narrow isle, and on the screens they continuously display the screaming white mobs threatening the first black students to attend white schools, not just in Topeka, but also - famously - in Little Rock, AR and New Orleans, LA. Parents are warned not to let children under 12 walk through this part of the exhibit alone, as it is very intense. It certainly made me appreciate the courage of kids like the Little Rock Nine or Ruby Bridges of New Orleans, who were made to walk this gauntlet for an entire school year, when little Ruby was only six! Imagine having to be escorted to school under protection of federal troops. This kind of thing unfortunately isn't something of the past, either. There was a picture there of Catholic kids in Northern Ireland requiring police protection to travel through a Protestant neighborhood on their way to school, or maybe it was vice versa, I forget, but this kind of thing is still happening in the 21st century.
Of course we ended up in the bookstore and I wished I could have bought a copy of nearly every book they displayed. That being impossible, I decided on "Brown v. Board of Education. A Civil Rights Milestone and Its Troubled Legacy" by James T. Patterson.
From the National Historic Site we drive through Topeka to the post office to mail home a bunch of flyers, brochures and other stuff we've picked up on the way, as well as a set of DVDs that Eric made as a backup of the website, so we wouldn't have to lug about pounds and pounds of paper. The idea is to use some of these flyers and things in a collage on the dining room wall at home (assuming the house is still standing after eight weeks :-)), together with some of the best pictures of our trip.Check out the R2D2 mailbox in front of Topeka's main post office.
Once that's out of the way, and my backpack is about five pounds lighter, we go to the zoo. It has a rainforest exhibit that Mark particularly wanted to see. By the way, we weren't the only ones traveling around the country this summer. Look at this display on the side of a n RV in a Topeka parking lot.
It was interesting, with a lot of beautiful birds, but it was so hot and muggy that is was a relieve to step back into Topeka's 100 degrees heat! We spend some time looking at the other displays as well, but animals are a lot smarter than humans in some ways and they know better than to be outside in this heat. Or if they are outside, like the lions, they are lying in the shade absolutely motionless.
We return to the hotel for lunch and a break from the heat, and then I find out that the Kansas History Museum isn't open on Mondays. Bummer!! So I do a load of laundry and spend the afternoon reading my new book. In some ways it's a relieve to take it easy. Not only because it's so hot, but also because we've been on the go so much that there's hard any time for reading.
In the late afternoon we head out again, because we need to get the car an oil change. We've driven over 12,000 miles in total, and it has been over 5,000 miles since the last one in Oakland. The van continues to serve us well, and we want to keep it in good shape. So we find a Jiffy Lube and eat our Panera dinner in the shade while the car is being serviced.
Traveling across southwestern Kansas nearly finished off my appetite for beef. On the way from Garden City to Wichita, KS, we passed Dodge City. It's apparently still an important center of the beef industry, because we passed several large feed lots. There was one near Garden City, too. And the smell of these things!
An advantage of not traveling on interstates all the time is that we sometimes run into really interesting, off-beat stuff that the AAA tour book forgot to mention and which we would otherwise have missed. We came across this display of scrap metal art in Mullinville, maintained by an artist who appeared to have a beef with the Kansas State School Board. Well he might, since the board now requires Kansas public school to teach nothing but creationism and "intelligent design." We should all look forward to the generation of "scientists" Kansas is producing this way. However, he seemed to be an equal opportunity protestor, since he had plenty to say about the Clintons, Janet Reno and the Branch Davidian affair in Waco, TX, Ted Kennedy and others.
We travelled on to Wichita, which turned out to be an important center of the general aviation industry. Several manufacturers of small aircraft, such as Cessna and Bombardier, are located there. It's also home to the Kansas Aviation Museum. Unfortunately, Frank had not looked into the possibility of doing a tour of one or more of the airplane factories, and the museum is closed on Sundays, so we just drove by.
After Wichita, we were tired of driving along U.S. routes, so we decided to change to the Kansas Turnpike between Wichita and Topeka. Too bad it meant skipping Osawatomie and the John Brown Museum and State Historic Site, but it was really too far out of the way. We'll go to the Kansas History Museum and the Brown vs. Board of Education National Historic Site in Topeka instead.
Today we drove from Castle Rock, where we had spent the night, to Pikes Peak, which was a bummer. The state of Colorado is apparently desparate for revenue, since both the road to the airport and the road to Pikes Peak were toll roads. Furthermore, there were entirely too many people on the road to Pikes Peak, so that we would have had to drive in some kind of rush hour traffic to get there. The view was supposed to have been worth it, but no thanks.
So we gave up the idea of Pikes Peak, and drove away from the mountains towards the plains instead. I had always thought that the prettiest part of Colorado would be in or near the mountains, but actually the plains were far more beautiful. Not only because there were far fewer people around, but because of the wide open space.
We stopped in a small town called Ellicott to buy stamps and some stuff for lunch, which we enjoyed on the banks of Big Sandy Creek, not realizing that this was the Sand Creek for which the Sand Creek National Historic Monument is named.
Sand Creek was the site where a band of Colorado volunteers murdered the inhabitants of a Native-American encampment, the leader of which, a Cheyenne named Black Kettle, had concluded a peace treaty with the U.S. not three months before. The commander on whose watch these atrocities were committed was Col. John M. Chivington. He later testified before a Congressional committee investigating the massacre that he believed the encampment to house warriors hostile to the U.S. We thought it was important to show our kids not just the achievements of white Americans in fulfilling their "Manifest Destiny" but also that land now used for grazing cattle and growing crops had been bought and paid for in blood. Such clashes of civilization happened all over the world, not just in the Americas, but the difference here was of course the fundamental inequality between tribes of hunter-gatherers and a technologically highly developed people in whose eyes the land just cried out for agricultural development. At any rate, I was pleased to see that the town of Chivington is far from a thriving farming community. In fact, it seemed as good as deserted. The site of the massacre - or rather, from where the attack was launched - is marked by a single granite monument, where people have left small mementos of their visit. We added the palm leaf rose that a homeless man in Galveston had made for us. Present-day Native-Americans also have annual ceremonies during which they remember the massacre, the park ranger told me. Sand Creek is the newest national park. It opened on June 1, after the site had been closed to the public for many years. The land was apparently in private hands, and some people had vandalized the memorial before the park service acquired both. There is as yet no visitors center, although one may be built in Chivington.
As we drove from Sand Creek into Kansas, it occurred to Eric and me that we have now visited the oldest and the newest national park (Yellowstone and Sand Creek), as well as the smallest (Jazz Park in New Orleans, which owns no land at all, according to the ranger), although, according to the National Park Service website, the largest national park is Wrangell-St. Elias National Park and Preserve in Alaska, with 13.2 million acres and the smallest is Thaddeus Kosciuszko National Memorial in Pennsylvania with 0.02 acres.
We had a rather uneventful day today, as it was one of Frank's flying days. We checked out of the motel and dropped him off at Salt Lake City International Airport at exactly 8 a.m.
While he was flying somewhere overhead, we spent the rest of the day on I-80 east and I-25 south to get to Denver. The weather wasn't so great either, but it did make for some interesting cloud formations.
After breakfast we drove from Lava Hot Springs, ID, to Salt Lake City, UT, today over a road that is part of the Oregon Trail scenic route. The more I see of the terrain the pioneers had to cross, the more I admire them. We cover these distances in a comfortable car over smooth asphalt roads, while they had nothing but jolting oxcarts and if they were lucky, they could follow the trail of someone who had gone before them.
Our route took us through Logan Canyon, along U.S. 89, through the Wasatch-Cache National Forest. It was absolutely gorgeous, even though the weather wasn't too great. It seems we've managed to catch all the rain Utah is supposed to get this year. It rained in Goose Necks State Park and it rained most of the way down to Salt Lake City.
Of course we had to visit the Mormon Temple in Salt Lake City, even though non-Mormons are not allowed inside it. We were allowed inside the tabernacle, however, where someone demonstrated the excellent acoustics of the building and we saw the grand pipe organ. Now there's an organ to play a Bach fugue on - but unfortunately, it was being tuned.
I went to the visitor center while Eric went around Temple Square taking pictures and a Brazilian Mormon came up to me asking me if she could take to me about Jesus. No, you may not. I'm just here because I love history, not because of any religious conviction (or lack thereof).
There are a number of religious statues on the square, but also statues of Joseph Smith and Brigham Young. Smith founded the Church of the Latter-Day Saints (LDS) after purportedly receiving a vision in the early 1820s saying that there was no true church of Christ on earth and that God called Smith to right this wrong. He also received the Book of Mormon from the angel Moroni. Since he was of course loathe to call the new religion moronic, he decided to call it Mormonism.
He was then apparently called to the priesthood of this new church. In subsequent visions, he was was supposedly given to understand that he must found "Zion" in which the faithful could live on reservations, safe from persecution. The believers first traveled to Ohio, then to Missouri and Illinois, only to be run out of all of these states. Joseph Smith was killed while imprisoned in Carthage, IL and the council of elders then elected Brigham Young as his successor. He led the community out of the settlement in Illinois they called Nauvoo and into a winter encampment in Nebraska.
The following spring the Mormons traveled on to what is now Salt Lake City, where they began building the temple in 1853. It was not finished until 1893, just three years before Utah gained admission to the United States on January 4, 1896 as the 45th state. Statehood would have come earlier, if it hadn't been for the "twin relics of barbarism," slavery and polygamy, which had by then been accepted as tenets of LDS faith. According to a website maintained by the Utah State Historical Society, several attempts at Utah statehood were made, starting as early as 1849-50, but all of these foundered on the practice of polygamy. It wasn't until Mormon leaders began to see that it would be more in their interest to have anti-polygamy statutes enforced by their own elected officials than by hostile outsiders that acceptance of a state constitution with a clause prohibiting polygamy became possible.
Interestingly, the Museum of Church History and Art located just across from Temple Square makes no mention whatever of polygamy, either in the past or the present, or of the less-than-stellar record of LDS when it comes to racial equality, but in fairness to the Mormons, I wouldn't expect to get an entirely unbiased view of Roman-Catholic doctrine or church history in St. Peter's Square either. Still, it is interesting to read the list on the back of Brigham Young's statue.
Nevertheless, Brigham Young should have known better than to change winning formula. He supposedly had a heavenly vision in which the building plans for the temple as well as its layout on the - yet to be constructed - square were revealed to him. I suppose this accounts for the fact that it is difficult to get the sort of sweeping vision of a grand cathedral overlooking a square that you find in Rome and other European cities, and an ugly 1960s-looking administrative building - where they apparently keep track of all Mormons around the world - towers over the temple itself.
Driving between Jackson and Lava Hot Springs I didn't get to see much of the countryside because I was working on updating my trip diary, but the few glimpses I did get convinced me that there are far prettier parts of Wyoming than Yellowstone National Park.
We only drove about 200 miles today, so we arrived at Lava Hot Springs fairly early. It's a really small town of some 500 people, but it is really nice. It has plenty of lodging, eateries, a supermarket and a post office, and the people are really friendly. What more could you want?
The main attraction of course is the olympic swimming complex and hot pools. The diving platforms are approximately 30, 25 and 15 feet high. No way I'm jumping off of any of those, but of course the kids can hardly wait! At first they were a little leary of jumping off the highest one, but of course they did do just that eventually. Eric was brave enough to dive off the low diving board (just the regular board, not one of the platforms), but I stuck to swimming.
The Aura Soma Lava motel where we've booked a room has its own hot pool, so after we've spent a couple of hours at the big pool and had a bite to eat, we tried the hot pool. Frank and Mark were especially anxious to get into it, because jumping off those high platforms had been kind of hard on their backsides. Serves 'em right :-)
The only thing that was a little troublesome about Lava Hot Spring were the freight trains rumbling through just outside the town at all hours. Apparently it was necessary for them to sound their horns (or whatever that's called on trains) too. However, when we checked out the proprietor told Eric that there are plans afoot to reroute the railway line around the other side of the mountain, so there'd be less noise. So if you ever plan to visit southeastern Idaho, be sure to visit Lava Hot Springs!
Somebody please explain to my why two of the most famous U.S. National Park were such a let down? I suppose we must have had unreasonably high expectations, but Yellowstone seemed to be one of the least attractive parts of Wyoming.
We drove toward it over U.S. 16, through Shoshone National Forest, which was beautiful (although a vandal of a developer apparently decided that starting a subdivision of "estate homes on three acre lots" in the valley just outside Cody was a swell idea). But as soon as we entered Yellowstone, the scenery changed for the worse. There was a lot of evidence of more or less recent wildfires, but there were also lots of dead trees in areas that hadn't been scarred by fire. Yellowstone Lake was pretty, but nothing out of the ordinary really.
However, the most bothersome aspect of Yellowstone were the crowds. There were just way too many people there. We should have read the statistics on Yellowstone more closely, I guess. In 2006, a total of 2.8 million people visited Yellowstone, of which 1.9 million came during June, July and August! I know the National Parks are paid for with tax dollars and all that, but someone ought to think up some way of limiting the number of visitors to some reasonable number so you can actually enjoy the park, as opposed to fighting your way through the crowds to see a single solitary elk! Suppose they were to take reservations, say 500 cars, plus a number of say another 250 on a first come, first served basis. IMHO, they should also have a shuttle that could serve both those who want to hike the trails or the back country and people who only want to see Old Faithful or any of the other standard touristy things. That would really improve the Yellowstone experience, if you ask me. Of course we also visited Old Faithful, along with a couple of hundred other visitors. We also ran into a couple who were not only from Maryland, but from Ellicott City!
Nobody is asking me, of course, but I offer my opinion anyway. I am also of the opinion that if you want to see a beautiful Wyoming national park, go to Grand Teton instead. It's just to the south of Yellowstone and even though the South entrance road to Yellowstone leads through Grand Teton, it is much quieter and therefore much more enjoyable than Yellowstone. We went there after we had given up on Yellowstone, and it was much nicer. We had a picnic dinner on the bank of String Lake, where the water was incredibly clear and we saw lots of wildlife. No grizzlies, to Mark's disappointment, but I can do without marauding bears when I'm fixing dinner.
PS I said I would reserve judgment on Theodore Roosevelt National Park until I had been to Yellowstone NP. Well, the former wins hands down when it comes to the beauty of the scenery, viewing wildlife and peace & quiet!
After a good night's sleep we were ready to hit the road once again. We only went from Gillette to Cody, WY, so today wasn't a very long drive. The first part we traveled over I-90, which wasn't too interesting, except for two people on a bike eating lollipops! The kids were incensed that they should do so on a motorcycle, when I used to not even let them walk while eating lollipops!
Once we turned on to U.S. 16 the scenery became more interesting. We drove into the Bighorn National Forest.
There were signs all along the road pointing to different rock formations and giving information about when they were formed and what geological area they were from. I'm always kind of surprised to see such signs in states that are overwhelmingly conservative and christian.
The more I see of this country, the more I am awed by the people who acted upon the concept of "Manifest Destiny." It's all very well to criticize them as imperialists, but it cannot have been easy to carve roads, however rudimentary, in a wilderness such as the one we traveled through today and you can't help admiring them for their tenacity. We were rather bored after driving through western North and South Dakota. Imagine covering the same distance in an oxcart, when it would have taken weeks to go from Dickinson to Spearfish!
We stopped for lunch at the Ten Sleep Saloon in Ten Sleep. A sign on the wall of a gas station explained how the town got its name.
We continued our journey on S.R. 434, from Ten Sleep to Greybull, a scenic route. And very scenic it was. I couldn't help wondering if this kind of scenery would ever seem commonplace even if you lived here.
Along the way, on U.S. 16 West, we passed through a town - a hamlet, really, - called Emblem. The sign proclaimed the population to be all of ten souls, but it did have its very own U.S. post office!
We got to Cody in plenty of time for the Buffalo Bill historic center that I intended to explore. Frank and Mark, however, who have never been interested in westerns and even less in history, unfortunately, preferred to go swimming once they found out from the lady at the desk that free passes to the Cody quad center are available. Cody must do pretty well out of the tourism business that they have such a fancy swimming pool and other sports facilities.
While they swam, we immersed ourselves in a piece of history that has taken on near-mythic proportions, not least because the protagonist is such a larger-than-life figure. Born on the Iowa frontier in 1846 and forced to become his family's breadwinner at age 13, when his father was killed by pro-slavery forces in Missouri, he worked as a bullwhacker, a prospector for gold and a rider for the Pony Express. During the Civil War he fought with a number of Kansas regiments on the Union side and after the war acted as a scout during the Plains Indians campaigns. Among other things, he saw action against Sitting Bull in 1876. He also freelanced for the army as a buffalo hunter, thus earning his sobriquet "Buffalo Bill."
Buffalo Bill became most famous as the owner-operator of a legendary Wild West show, which toured the country and even Europe until just before World War I. At the height of its success, the show included 600 performers and 500 heads of livestock, with housing and equipment to match. The show was seen by Kaiser Wilhelm and Queen Victoria - who is said to have been amused by it - among others. At one point the show even featured Cossacks among the riders.
According to one of the exhibits at the museum, the Buffalo Bill's show was both a boon and a curse to Native American culture. It was a boon in that Cody did not discriminate against Native Americans in his shows. Instead, they were an integral part of the show and this allowed them to hold on their culture as much as possible. Cody also encouraged them to bring their families on the road. At the same time it was a curse, because most of the Native-Americans who joined Buffalo Bill's show were Sioux and this has led to the skewed image of in which the Sioux tribe has become synonymous with Native-American culture to the detriment of other tribes. Indeed, it was not until I visited the Plains Indians Museum in Browning, MT, that I learned that Blackfeet warriors wore eagle feather war bonnets in which the feathers pointed straight up, instead of slanting backward from the wearer's head like those of the Sioux, for instance. These stereotypes were also perpetuated by the western-themed dime novels featuring Buffalo Bill. Native American culture was already severely threatened by the encroaching white culture, an aspect of the history of the West that the museum didn't gloss over as much as the museum in Browning. The 19th century attempts at stamping out Native American culture, such as the Indian boarding schools and forcing Native Americans to live in houses just like white settlers are part of the exhibits, too. There was also quite a bit of information on contemporary Native American culture and the revival of cultural traditions like beadwork in a contemporary setting.
Another attraction the lady at the hotel had pointed out to the kids was a "gunfight" that is apparently staged every evening at 6 p.m. at the corner of Sheridan Ave. and 12th street. It is actually a charity fundraiser, but it was kind of fun anyway. It had all the standard characters: the sheriff, the bartender, cowboys, outlaws, whores etc.
Having had our fill of the Wild West, we decided to go see the Simpson's Movie, which was a lot of fun too, except that one of the songs is now stuck in my head and I can't get it out!!!
To Frank's chagrin we got up early once again to go to Theodore Roosevelt National Park. We wanted to get there early so it wouldn't be so hot and also because the best time to see wildlife is early in the morning or toward dusk. Since morning light works much better for pictures, and I am a morning person, that means we get up early rather than stay out late :-) Moreover, we also wanted to get to Wyoming, which would be 300-odd mile drive.
Roosevelt National Park was beautiful, but I'm reserving judgment on whether it compares to Yellowstone until I see the latter, which is planned for later this week.
Eric, Mark and I hiked a trail for an hour, but by then it was already so hot that we skipped the second hike we had planned. However, the scenic loop drive around the park more than made up for it. We saw any number of prairie dogs (which really aren't dogs at all, but rodents, and their numbers in the park reminded me of nothing so much as a rat infestation, yech!), rabbits and deer, but to Mark's delight there were also a lot of wild horses and toward the exit we ended up in the middle of a herd of buffalo!
From Roosevelt National Park we drove south on U.S. 85 through southern North Dakota into South Dakota. The landscape stayed pretty much the same, and since none of us had slept well the previous night, it was a pretty tiresome drive, although we did find the geological center of the U.S. in a town called Belle Fourche, SD. Why they don't make a big deal out of that, I don't know, since Belle Fourche not quite in the Black Hills yet and there's not much else around it. We apparently drove past the post marking the exact geological center along U.S. 85 and we never saw a sign or anything. You'd think they could at least make it as big a deal as the Four Corners... Eric only happened to see a few words about it on the map. Anyway, we did get a picture of the marker at the Chamber of Commerce in town.
We were all very glad to get to a motel with a pool in Gillette, WY. The first thing we did was stretch out in the pool and relax our aching muscles in the hot tub!
Two things particularly struck me as we were driving through Montana today.
One is that the country along U.S. 200 was amazingly empty! Sometimes I drove for 20, 25 miles without seeing a single house. Imagine living in an area like that. You could hardly call the people who live nearest neighbors. Sometimes we would see a mailbox, but no house. I guess the people whose mail is delivered to that box need to drive over to pick it up. I only wish I could imagine what it would be like to live in such lonesome spot, but I'm afraid that once you learn to live in a place like that, you'll never be able to go back to suburbia.
The other thing that struck me is the variety of the landscape. You kind of expect large fields with grazing cattle, for miles upon miles, but actually there was a lot of change to the scenery along the way.
Then in North Dakota, it looked different yet again. I don't think I'll ever tire of looking at this landscape!
We drove to Theodore Roosevelt National Park, where we had planned to do some camping. But it was so hot that we nixed that idea and ended up finding lodging in Dickinson, ND, about 30 miles from the park.
We left Columbia Falls and Glacier National Park early, and drove along U.S. 2 around the southern edge of the park. We weren't sure about this route, as there had been reports of a wildfire in the area, but we couldn't find anything on an active fire along U.S. 2, so we decided to take that route. It turns out that there was a fire after all, but it didn't flare up again until later in the week. See also this NPR story.
We traveled towards Browning, which sits on the Blackfeet reservation east of Glacier, because we wanted to see the Museum of the Plains Indian. It is run by the Department of the Interior. As I had expected, it gave a bit of a biased view of American-Indian relations, although the museum itself wasn't established until the 1940s. The role American westward expansion played in the displacement of tribes and the atrocities committed in the name of "Manifest Destiny" are glossed over. It was interesting to see, however, that some of the plains tribes had trade items obtained from the Hudson Bay Company. What was also interesting was the fact that most artifacts donated to the museum had been in the possession of families with decidedly English-sounding names instead of Native-Americans. I found only two of the latter, a lady called Mable [sic] Little Bull and Daniel Buffalo. According to the lady who ran the gift shop and who was herself from the Blackfeet tribe, this is because during the 19th century a lot of settlers bought Native American items. Some were also owned by the railroads which were at the time being constructed on Indian land. Unfortunately, the museum didn't allow photography inside, so we only have pictures of the building's exterior. According to the Blackfeet lady, today's disputes are not so much about land as about water rights. The land east of Glacier National Park is quite dry, so it is a very important issue, which according to her is being fought all the way to the Supreme Court.
From Browning, we drove south toward Great Falls, where we stopped for a picnic lunch in a town park and the kids played on the swings like they used to.
Also, I obtained evidence of Eric's sufferings in the interest of photography. He's so fixated on taking pictures that he's easily tripped up by attack microbes and so his legs have become a bloody mess.
From Great Falls we drove non-stop to Lewistown. It's easy to see why Montana is called the Big Sky State if you look at pictures taken en route! Look closely at pictures no. 4 and 5 and you may be able to spot our car parked on the shoulder.
One of the things I love about this vacation is that there is room for the unexpected. Today, for instance, we had planned to just bunk down in Lewistown, MT, en route to Roosevelt National Park in North Dakota. When we checked in to the Super 8 motel in town, we learned that today was also the last day of the county fair, so we decided to go there and see if it was any good. The kids were mainly interested in the rides and typical fair ground snacks, but as it turned out there was going to be a rodeo at 7 p.m. I had been looking at rodeos before we left, but all I could find were those on the professional circuit, with admission fees to match, and while we were on the road, the only local rodeos I saw announced were either too far in the future or long past when we saw the sign. So of course we jumped at the chance of attending a real Montana rodeo!
Well, it was quite an experience. It started with a riding drill by a local team, followed by girls on horseback carrying flags of the companies sponsoring the event. Then the microphone was handed to a young lady who could not sing well enough to give her own rendition of the national anthem, but who tried - off-key - nonetheless.
After that, the real rodeo began with bareback bronc riding. The kids were incensed that they were hurting those horses, but I think they just raise them to be wild as deer. I mean, there wouldn't be any fun in watching a cowboy sedately ride around the ring, right?
Then there was steer wrestling, the object of which is to wrestle the steer's head to the ground. Given how mean and ornery these monsters are, that's not easy.
The next event was calf roping, in which the idea is to lasso the calf, roll it on its back, tie its legs together and get back on your horse without the calf getting up. It probably wasn't a very pleasant experience for the calves, but they didn't seem hurt when they were untied and were herded into a pen on the opposite site of the ring by some of the same girls who had ridden around carrying the flags. They were obviously old hands at this kind of thing!
After that, there was a slate of ten cowboys trying their hands (and their behinds) at saddle bronc riding, which to me looked a lot like bareback riding, only with a saddle.
One of the things I liked best was the ladies' barrel racing event. Young women on horseback rode at full speed around a track made by a tractor with a harrow-type implement. The object is of course to complete the course around three barrels as fast as possible, without knocking over any of the barrels. I'm sure these are people who must have practically been born on horseback, because I don't see how you could learn to do that otherwise! There was also junior barrel racing, which is the same thing done by kids. I don't know what the age cut-off is, but some of them seemed no older than 12.
Next came team roping, during which two cowboys lasso a calf. One rope is supposed to go around the horns, the other around the hind legs. How they make these ropes go exactly where they're supposed to go I have no idea.
Then came what Frank and Mark regarded as the "real" rodeo, bull riding. The idea is to hold on to a running and bucking steer for at least eight seconds with one hand. Most of the cowboys didn't even make it to eight seconds. They also had two lifesavers (the guys in the yellow and black) in the ring, whose job it was to rescue the cowboys once they fell off the steer, so they aren't trampled or gored by the bull.
To keep the tension as high as possible, they divided the bull riding into two segments, with ladies' breakaway roping and junior breakaway roping in between. With breakaway roping, the object is to lasso the calf, but not tie it down. I'm sorry to say neither the ladies nor the juniors seemed much good at this. Perhaps it's something to do with men having better depth perception? Only a few ladies managed to get the rope around the calves' horns. However, by this time it was getting too dark to take pictures from up in the stands, so unfortunately there are no pictures of these last two events.
Once the second round of bull riding was completed, the rodeo was over. I think the bull riding section was won by a black cowboy from Billings, which must have felt like sweet revenge for him. In between events, we were "entertained" by a rodeo clown, who was some local yokel performing in blackface. Among other things, he did a spoof on Michael Jackson, and generally acted like a stereotypical idiot. I could not believe that they still do that kind of thing A.D. 2007!
The kids still had some tickets for the rides left, and we also found some on the ground, so they went into the fun house mirrors and the cakewalk, and then it was time to go back to the motel and to bed.
I think I discovered paradise today.
The State of Montana, and especially the town of Kalispell, west of Glacier National Park, was high on my list of things to see this vacation. That's because Eric once had the opportunity to take a job in Kalispell - it was before the dot.com bubble burst - and I was all for moving to Montana. Luckily we didn't, or we would have been in serious trouble once the boom ended. Besides, Kalispell, or at least the little we saw of it, was quite disappointing.
We drove on to get as close to Glacier National Park as we could, and we ended up finding a motel in Columbia Falls, about half an hour from the park entrance. Eric and Mark went to pick up brochures and stuff at the visitor center, and saw a really grossly inappropriate anti-Hillary bumper sticker. I'm no big fan of her myself, but this is really going too far. I'm glad we got our own bumper stickers before we left!
I did the laundry, since the car was beginning to smell like a smokehouse, and Frank spread the tents out to dry at the motel. An interesting thing here in Montana is that laundromats often seem to be paired with car washes. What's up with that?
We had ice cream and strawberries for dinner, and the kids went swimming. We went to sleep early, since we wanted to be well-rested for our hiking adventure tomorrow.
We had to pack up our tents and the clothes we had worn for kayaking all damp and smelling of wood smoke, because it was time to leave the island and we wanted to get the second earliest ferry at 8.10. The kids thought that that was way too early to get up anyway, but they made up some zzz's on the ferry. San Juan Island looked a lot prettier in the sunshine. Too bad we couldn't stay. Coming off the ferry, we got on to U.S. 20 and stayed on it for the entire trip.
We wanted to drive all across Washington today, and end up as close to Montana as we could. At first Washington didn't look all that spectacular, but the farther we got, the more beautiful the scenery became. Diablo Lake, in north central Washington was beautiful! We had speculated that the greenish tint of the water might be caused by the presence of copper in the rocks, but it turns out it is the green shist which is ground to a powder finer than sand by glacier action and gets suspended in the lake water that gives it its peculiar color. Thanks to the U.S. Park Service for its very instructive exhibits and signs at the Diablo Lake Overlook.
We drove through a town called Winthrop which seemed to have come right out of a western. Even the local real estate office looked like a log cabin.
You could really see that the climate on the leeward side of the Cascades is much drier.
We ended up driving all the way through the state, to Priest River, ID, where we stayed at a very nice, yet extremely reasonably priced motel and had the best hamburger I've ever had right across the street from the motel. Way to go, Idaho!
Although the kids complained that it was cold, their tents stayed perfectly dry on the inside. Ours, however, had developed a condensation problem and one of the air mattress covers had got a little damp. We spread it out to dry as well as we could and hoped for the best. The island sits close to shipping lanes. We heard the fog horn last night, and this morning we a freighter passing quite near.
The weather had cleared up some, but it is still pretty overcast. The kids explored the beach and the rocks nearby and found some huge starfish. I didn't know such colorful fish lived in these waters; it's more something I'd expect in the Caribbean.
We were supposed to go kayaking today, but when I called the place to ask what type of clothing they recommended, it turned out they didn't have our reservation. I don't know what went wrong, whether they transposed a number when they took the credit card number so the reservation couldn't go through, or whether I thought I had made a reservation with one when it was really the other...whatever. In the end, we were able to rent kayaks for ourselves and the kids for a tour of Roche Harbor at the northern end of the island. In fact, the owner let us have the kayaks for the kids for free, because he felt so sorry for us. So if you ever go to San Juan Island and feel like kayaking, go to San Juan Safaris! (See Eric's post for the link)
Kayaking was a lot of fun, despite the weather. We weren't allowed to take the kayaks out of the harbor - not that we would have wanted to, as novice kayakers - but we paddled about the harbor. We saw mostly water fowl, and we picked up some trash, so at least we left the place cleaner than we found it :-) This time it was apparently Frank's turn to get lucky, and he saw a sea plane land in Roche Harbor. He even got to chat with the pilot. You learn something every day: I didn't know they use the floats for storage.
On the way home we came across an alpaca farm. They are some of the cutest animals I've ever seen!
I made pancakes for dinner, while Mark tried to get a fire going. He did manage to, in the end, but if we had been salmon, we would have been smoked by the time we went to bed. And wouldn't you know it, by then the sun had made an appearance! Well, at least we did get some pretty pictures of the setting sun.
We started the day by driving to Everett, where we visited the Boeing factory. It was something Eric and Frank especially wanted to do, but I must admit that I thought it was interesting, too. I mean, how often do you see an airplane being built, right? Unfortunately, Boeing didn't allow any photography inside the factory. Unfortunately, Boeing didn't allow any photography inside the factory, but it was OK in the museum.
From there we went on to the San Juan ferry. At first it seemed as though the weather was clearing up. We even got some sunshine, but unfortunately, by the time the ferry left the dock, it started raining again. As it was a 90 minute ferry ride, we ate the sandwiches I fixed while on board, so we'd at least be done with dinner when we got there. It was already kind of late, and we needed to find the camp site and put up tents before dark.
At least by now we've had plenty of experience putting up the tents, so it doesn't take too long in the rain. We weren't quite sure the boys' tents would be entirely watertight, so we spread an extra layer of plastic over Mark's and a tarp over Frank's. The weather is too miserable to do anything but sit in the car and read, so went to bed pretty early.
We wanted to get as far into Washington state as we could today, so we decided to skip the Ten Falls Trail near Salem, OR, and drive mostly along I-5. We started out, however, by driving through the Umpqua-Rogue River National Forest. It is one of the most beautiful areas I've ever seen! In fact, I think that, all things being equal, I'd choose Oregon over New Mexico, however beautiful the latter was. But that may just be my northwest European heritage speaking :-)
We turned onto I-5 at Roseburg and settled in for a day of driving. I worked on my diary until they all started yammering that they were hungry and wanted their lunch. (I had prepared ham and cheese sandwiches that morning). As you may know, today was the publication date of the last Harry Potter book, so we drove into Albany along the way to find a bookstore or some other place where they would have the book. We found a Target store nearly right away and bought two copies of the book, and that was that for the kids the rest of the day. Neither of them spoke another word, they were so engrossed in the book, until we got to Vancouver, WA, where I wanted to see Fort Vancouver.
Fort Vancouver was an outpost of the British Hudson Bay Company and was an important fur trading center. At first it was supplied from England by sea or overland from Canada, but this was a rather expensive way of doing business as you can imagine. So they looked for ways of making the fort economically self-sufficient, such as by opening trade with China. However, this did not go over well with the trading firms who had been granted monopolies by the East India Company. Another way they tried was by growing their own crops and raising livestock, even though the staff complained that they didn't like the homegrown stuff and preferred the English foodstuffs they were used to. Meanwhile, in the 1830s, American settlers were pouring into the Willamette Valley by the hundreds. This was the end of the fur trade, but agricultural development really began to take off, especially after John McLoughlin took charge of the fort. He realized that the occupants of the fort could never hope to hold their own against a militia of well-armed settlers, should they become hostile toward the Hudson Bay Company, so he decided to stay on their good side by making loans to settlers and letting them borrow tools and seeds. This is how he became known as the "father of Oregon." The fort was abandoned once the question of the northern boundary with British Canada was settled in the late 1840s. Some jingoists wanted to fight the English for possession of British territory as far north as what is now the southern border of Alaska, but President Polk realized he could not hope to win against the superpower of his day, so he instead picked a fight with Mexico and gained just about all of what is now the southwestern U.S. McLoughlin became a U.S. citizen and served as the first mayor of Oregon City. The U.S. Army established a military outpost there in 1849 and the list of former superintendents reads like a who is who of the Civil War: Grant, Sheridan, Pickett, and Howard all served there before the Civil War. It was renamed Fort Columbia in the late 1800s and it was one of the places where George C. Marshall served before he rose to fame as Chief of Staff, Secretary of State and winner of the Nobel Peace Prize for his brainchild, the Marshall Plan.
In case anyone wants to read more about the history of Fort Vancouver, the Enoch Pratt Library in Baltimore has a copy of John A. Hussey’s book The History of Fort Vancouver and its Physical Structure, which was published in an edition of 1,000 in cooperation with the National Park Service and the U.S. Department of the Interior in 1957. You can get it through an interlibrary loan from any Maryland public library. It might be a little harder to get a hold of outside the U.S, though :-)
We got back on I-5 and drove on towards Seattle, which is about 150 miles from Vancouver, WA. The weather got progressively worse and by the time we were near Olympia, the rain was pouring down. We decided to try and find a place for the night, but there was some *&^%$# soccer tournament in Olympia and a *&^%$#@# rodeo in the next town , so we drove to Tacoma in the pouring rain. We still had trouble finding a room there, but not because of a special event. It turned out the area where we tried to find a place for the night has some problems with prostitution and they try to prevent "immorality" by asking for ID from both people who drive up. Not knowing that this was the problem, we were incensed at being asked to show both IDs, as if they wanted to make sure we were married. Well, they wouldn't have known that by looking at our driver's licenses anyway, since I go by my maiden name. Anyway, after a lot of driving up and down South Tacoma Parkway, we finally found an America's Best Value motel, and the guy at the check-in desk explained what was up with the ID check, so that's how we found out. By this time, Frank had finished his Harry Potter book, so after I had done a load of laundry (story of my life) and Eric was busily making backups on CD of the website, I stayed up until 1 a.m. reading.
Before we even got to the Jedediah Smith park, we came past an elk viewing area. None of us had ever seen these animals, so we stopped to take a good look.
We planned to visit Crater Lake and do some hiking. Although northern California looked a little like we'd imagined Oregon, Oregon itself, once we entered it, was more rugged-looking. Maybe I just imagined it, but the forest looked denser, too.
We got to the hotel around 2.30 p.m. so we had plenty of time for the hike at Crater Lake we had planned. It is supposed to be the deepest lake in the United States. Also the coldest, if you ask me! In fact, it was so cold and windy that we decided to skip the hike altogether and just drive around it. You are actually allowed to swim in one area of the lake, but according to the park service newspaper the water is so cold that most people last only a few minutes, if that.
The animal in the picture was not a chipmunk, as we thought, but a gold crested ground squirrel. Some Kentucky idiots thought it was fun to feed it bit of white bread, even though you're asked not to feed wildlife at each and every national or state park we've visted so far. It tends to make them aggressive and apart from training them to look to humans to feed them instead of getting their own food, it can also cause the wrong kind of bacteria to grow in their digestive tract. That leaves them unable to digest their natural food, and they starve to death on a full stomach. If that isn't the saddest thing you ever heard, I don't know what is.
The lake itself is at an elevation of about 6,600 feet (2200 m), so that explains it. In fact, part of the Rim Drive had only opened recently. It is closed most of the year due to snow. There were still patches of snow on the ground, so the kids climbed up to one and had a snowball fight in the middle of July.
To celebrate the fact that we had made it to the halfway point safely and without any major blowups, we had a pretty fancy dinner at the historic Prospect hotel. Mark, however, chose to stay in the room and eat pizza in front of the tv. Well, have it your way. Why buy someone who doesn't appreciate it a gourmet dinner, right? It also has a few motel rooms, which is were we stayed. The boys were thrilled to sleep in separate twin beds for the first time since we left home!
The Prospect Hotel has played host to several famous Americans, among them President Theodore Roosevelt. I had hoped to see the Roosevelt Room, but it was being used, so it wasn't possible. The Roosevelt Room is the one in front, with the balcony. Perhaps we'll come back there some day and book it for ourselves!
Yesterday we admired the giant redwoods from the road, and today we explored a tiny little part of the redwood forests on foot. We were in Humboldt State Park, home to the Avenue of the Giants, but there's also the Jedediah Smith Redwoods State Park and Redwood National Park about 55 miles from Eureka and several smaller parks, recreation areas and nature preserves in between.
I wondered why both species of giant trees grow only in California, so I asked a park ranger. He told me that these trees used to grow all over what is now the west coast of the United States, but climate change over several thousand years has left only two areas suitable. Sequoias and redwoods are actually cousins, if you look at their Latin names. Redwoods are "sequoia sempervirens" and giant sequoia are "sequoiadendron giganteum." According to the park brochure, redwoods are so tall that they actually inhabit three climate zones and have two kinds of needles, broad flat ones at the bottom to catch as much light as possible, and thin ones at the top to prevent drying out by wind and sun. They also share the same fire and insect resistance, with a bark low in resin and high in tannin.
However, I've always been much more interested in history than in botany, so I was about floored to learn that it can take 400 years or more for a fallen tree to be recycled by the forest. Some of the logs we saw would have fallen around the time the English first settled in Virginia!
On of the trees on trail, called the Dyerville Giant, was estimated to be about 1,600 years old when it fell on March 24, 1991. That means it would have been standing when the Roman Empire fell! It was a sensation comparable to standing on the Porta Negra in Trier, Germany, which is probably only two hundred years or so older than the Dyerville Giant.
The only thing that was rather a pity about the Redwood Forest was that it was such a moist environment that we were nearly devoured by mosquitos. We had bug spray, but as we hadn't had to use it since Texas, it was in the car instead of where we needed it, i.e. our backpacks. Smart move, no?
To pay homage to the history of the area as a hub of the logging industry, we had dinner at the Samoa Cookhouse. It is the only surviving logging camp cookhouse on the west coast. Meals were served boarding house (=family) style and the "all you can eat" designation is a godsend with two teenage boys! We had pea soup with ham, salad, roast beef and pork, each with gravy, a baked potato each, peas and apple pie for desert. Very filling, but if you saw the pictures of the trees they felled with mostly hand tools and horse power, you could imagine the appetites these loggers brought to the table.
The town of Eureka was home to several pioneering lumber barons, who left their mark on the town in the shape of grand Victorian mansions. These homes are gorgeous, but I sure am glad I'm not the one who has to sand and prime and paint the woodwork, especially this close to the ocean!
There was also some rather more contemporary art work on display, which was fun to look at. I especially liked the one with all the animals representing different professions.
Whatever you do, do not ever, under any circumstances, book a stay at the Edes Avenue Motel 6 in Oakland! I don't know what was going on, but people seemed to be coming and going in cars with the "music" blaring until the wee hours of the morning, people were running along the second floor corridors, which seemed to shake the entire building to its foundations, car alarms went off, helicopters whirred overhead, in short, it was a zoo! The guys of course slept like logs, but I hardly slept a wink, so I got up early to get gas and take the car through the car wash. It will be in tip-top shape for the rest of the trip!
After breakfast in the room Eric drove across the Bay Bridge into San Francisco, because he absolutely wanted to drive down Lombard Street, which is supposed to be the crookedest street in America. It sure looked crooked and steep to me!
From there he drove to the Golden Gate Bridge and got all the pictures he wanted at the viewpoint the State of California so thoughtfully provided at its northern end, at the Memorial of the Lone Sailor. It honors all sailors who set sail from the port of San Francisco, because it was at that particular point where they caught the last glimpse of their native shore.
When that was done, we turned on to U.S. 101 north and we pretty much stayed on it from Sausalito to Eureka, although we did take a little detour over the Avenue of the Giants. Texas must be so bummed that both kinds of huge trees (sequoias and redwoods) choose to grow in California :-) We walked through a sequoia, and now we drove through a redwood. Well, we would have driven through it if it hadn't been for the giant zit on the car's roof, but that's just nitpicking. The scenery on the way looked just the way both of us had imagined Oregon would look like. It's very beautiful, with all kinds of firs covering steep hill sides and rivers at the bottom of the valley. The California wine country, notwithstanding the fact that it produces French-type wines like merlot and cabernet, looked very German to us.
By the time we got to our motel (which was listed as the Sunshine Motel in the AAA tour guide, but had been renamed America's Best Value Motel in the meantime), we all agreed that our water bottles were icky, so we emptied and washed them all.
Today we left the car at the motel in Oakland - which seems to be in rather a seedy part of town - and took the Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) into the city. San Francisco is really not a city conducive to driving. For one thing, it is seriously hilly and it's near-impossible to park there. The train only took about 15 minutes, so it was really convenient.
The first thing we did was take a ride on one of the cable cars, which are a San Francisco attraction, but we also walked a good part of the way to down to Fisherman's Wharf. One of the things we had wanted to do was to take a ferry to Alcatraz, to visit the former U.S. prison which is now a national historic site. Unfortunately, ferry tickets tend to sell out about a week ahead of time, so we weren't able to do that. Frankly, I wasn't too upset about that. There was a pretty stiff breeze and the water in the bay looked pretty choppy to me. So instead we looked at the sealions and explored the wharf.
What we found among the attractions of Fisherman's Wharf, was a place where they sold "pommes frites" the Dutch way. So we had to have that for lunch of course. Luckily, they didn't serve the condiments on top of the fries, as they would in Holland, which makes for rather messy eating. Instead they served the chipotle or pesto-flavored mayo in little plastic containers, and they gave you a styrofoam cup to hold the fries with. Heresy, but it works :-)
From Fisherman's Wharf we walked back toward Ghirardelli Square, because I wanted to see the chocolate factory and see if their sundaes lived up to their reputations. They did. It was quite a walk, but worth it. They do seem to have rather an odd way of providing handicapped access, though. Look closely at the picture and note that the arrow with the little wheelchair symbol is actually pointing at a flight of stairs. The chocolate is great, but I already knew that. Even the kids agreed that it is much better than what they usually eat. (I keep the good stuff to myself, or I share it with Eric; they can have the Hershey's).
From Ghirardelli Square we walked back to the cable car stop, where we waited for about half an hour for the next cable car to take us back into the center of town. It was the end of the line, so the cable car has to be turned on a turntable to be able to go back. That was fun to watch! While we were waiting, Eric tried to get pictures of the Golden Gate Bridge, but it was too far away and a bit foggy. When we finally got on the cable car, it was pretty crowded, so to their delight, Frank and Mark got to ride on the outside of the car.
From the center we took a bus to Haight Ashbury, the birthplace of the hippie movement. The hippies are long gone, but it's still a funky neighborhood. Frank was pretty amazed to see the pipes and bongs sold quite openly in smoke shops and the proprietor of one saying that he could arrange for the real stuff to be sold to someone over 18 (moi). In case you are wondering, I thanked him politely, but passed. We had a bite to eat at the Red Victorian, a holdover from the Summer of Love (1967), because we wanted our food experience to match our city experience, and not spoil it by having something we could eat anywhere, like hamburgers or pizza or something. By then we were all pretty tired after walking around San Francisco all day, so we decided to head back. San Francisco treated us to one of its famous weather changes by having a low-hanging cloud descent on Haight Ashbury as we left the Red Victorian, to complete our tour.
After packing up and no breakfast at all, because the propane bottle apparently didn't have the right valve, we drove away from Sequoia NP en route to San Francisco. We stopped in Fresno and treated ourselves to a hot breakfast at Denny's.
California is quite varied when it comes to scenery. From forests and mountains we drive into plains so flat you'd think you're in Holland (except for the palm trees, of course) to yet another mountain range (I never knew California had mountains other than the Sierras!) until we get to the coast.
It is as beautiful as before, but quite a bit colder. In fact, it is so cold that even Mark doesn't want to go into the ocean. Fortunately, the tide has formed a kind of lagoon, and the sun has warmed the water in it nicely, so they waded around in that for a while.
We also got our first taste of San Francisco weather, with low-hanging clouds. It's really odd, one moment you're driving in bright sunshine, and the next it's all dreary and overcast.
We entered San Francisco via the San Mateo bridge at about 4.30 p.m. and find our motel practically right away. It's again close to the airport, and after we all have a shower (definitely a necessity after two days of camping and no showers!) we treat the car to a well-deserved deluxe oil change (oil, fluids, filter, tire pressure, the works). Although our experience of owning an American-made car has not exactly been wonderful (the Pontiac was a disaster), I have to say that the Dodge Caravan is doing really well and has taken us through deserts and mountains and all kinds of traffic and road conditions without a hitch. Chapeau! Also, we intend to drive through the Rockies in the coming weeks, so it behooves us to keep it in good shape.
We spent today exploring a small part of Sequoia National Park. After breakfast (without coffee, because the propane bottle was empty) we went to the camp store to stock up on some necessities, as well as hotdogs and s'mores for tonight. I tried to boil water over a camp fire, but that wasn't such a great idea. If I had had a kettle, it would have been justified in calling the pot black. Also, I don't think the pot's handles enjoyed the flames too much. The kids wanted to build a big camp fire to make s'mores and to proof that they know how to start a fire. Yesterday, it took them a while to get a fire started (and then I almost choked on the smoke from some kind of moss-covered bark they put on it. Today they're supposed to build a fire the boy scout way (or whatever way they learned at Sandy Hill camp).
The ranger wasn't kidding about bear activity in the area! We see a black bear cross the road in broad daylight. Unfortunately, we weren't fast enough to get picture.
After we put away the groceries in the bear safe, we drove to the Sherman Tree, which is the largest living thing on earth. These trees are huge! We saw some yesterday on the way to the campground, and I thought those were enormous, but the General Sherman was something else!
From the Sherman Tree we hiked the Congress Trail which took us along on a path along a whole forest of sequoias. They were truly unbelievable! Sequoias can only grow in a 2,500 feet zone between 5,000 and 7,500 feet. They're also quite picky about the right soil conditions and moisture. The Park Service used to try and prevent fires among the sequoias, even though they are fire-resistant. However, research has shown that forest fires are actually a necessary part of sequoia development. If there is a thick carpet of needles and other debris on the forest floor, the seqoia seeds - which to my surprise turned out to be about the size of a flake of oatmeal - can't germinate and die. Their bark also doesn't catch fire like that of other pine trees. It will scorch and smolder, but it doesn't burn. Another reason these trees grow to the size that they do, is that their bark is very rich in tannin, which protects it from insects which infest other pine trees in the area. When sequoias die, it is usually because they've grown too big to keep standing and they fall over.
Even though we've tried to prepare ourselves for hikes out here by doing segments of the Appalachian Trail, but the higher elevation (6,000 odd feet) really took it out of us today, sow e decided to head back to camp and take it easy. I showed the kids that I can start a fire (with two matches) by starting one while they went in search of a ranger to approve Mark's fire pit. In the end they decided that it would be easier to just set a fire in the fire pit provided, but it took them about half a box of matches to get it going. Anyway, we cooked hotdogs over the camp fire and then they built it up higher and higher for the s'mores. It ends being a regular inferno!
While we were eating hotdogs and s'mores (well, OK, I ate Doritos because I'm not big on marshmellows) we saw plenty of deer. They weren't very shy either. They just grazed right in the middle of the camp ground.
Seeing that many deer, we figured that there wouldn't be any bears around. However, in the middle of the night we wake up someone screaming "Eliza! There's a bear!" or something like that. I lay awake trying to listen to every sound, and thinking that the kids were "safely" in their tents. In the morning, however, it turns out that Mark had been sleeping next to the camp fire after we had let it go out!
Today was the day we had set aside for the one thing Mark absolutely wanted to do on this trip, which was to visit the Exotic Animal Training and Management Program (EATM) at Moorpark College. I hadn't realized we were so close to the Reagan Library, but its opening hours were not conducive to an impromptu visit, unfortunately.
Anyway, Mark was delighted to visit his future college. Moorpark is actually a community college, but the program at EATM is so demanding that they recommend completing a bachelor's degree elsewhere first before coming to Moorpark. It was very interesting to see the different animals and see the students interact with them. They put on different shows, too, and work with animals I didn't know you could train, like Madagascar hissing cockroaches!
We left for Sequoia National Park in the early afternoon. Of course we had underestimated the distance, so we ended up having to rush to get the tents set up and cooking dinner almost in the dark. When we arrived, the ranger gave us a whole spiel about bear activity in the area. There had been several bear incidents in the past few days, so you have to put absolutely everything into bear boxes. Not just food, but also anything that gives off a smell, such as soap and toothpaste and things like that. It was a little more than we had bargained for, but the bears were thoughtful enough to allow us a decent night's rest.
Today was the one that so far that Frank actually wanted to wake up early. That's because he would be flying from Las Vegas to Los Angeles, while the rest of us would be driving. We knew we were close to the airport, but we hadn't realized we were within three minutes of the departure terminal.
Although Frank has flown plenty of times and is probably more familiar with the layout of various airports and airline procedures than most people, I was a little nervous about this enterprise, so I decided to take him all the way to security. However, when we got there, there was a very long line and as we needed time to get to Los Angeles, I decided to leave him to handle it himself. Flying to Los Angeles would normally take about an hour or so, but Frank managed to look up a flight that took him first to to Seattle and back down again to Los Angeles. So I said goodbye and hurried back to the car. He was there more than two hours before his flight, so he would definitely be on time, and besides, he was eager to get beyond security, where you can usually get a much better look at the planes. He called me to let me know he had made it past security before we were out of Las Vegas. I hadn't asked him to do so, so I appreciated this bit of thoughtfulness.
I managed to fall asleep practically right away, so I missed our entry into California, dang! At first it was very much like the desert landscape we had seen in most of the southwest, but after we stopped for lunch in San Bernadino (or perhaps it was another town close to San Bernadino, it wasn't easy to tell) it became much more like the California I had imagined.
Of course it turned out that we had covered the distance Las Vegas - Los Angeles so quickly that we had plenty of time before we were due at the airport. Mark wanted to see Beverly Hills, and especially the Beverly Hills police building, because he's been watching "Beverly Hills Cop." We couldn't find it, but we did see plenty of other famous places. We also saw the Hollywood sign, but we couldn't get close enough to take a good picture of it.
Pretty soon it was time to get to the airport. For once, we decided to turn on the airport information channel, and a good thing we did, too! At Los Angeles International you are not supposed to park for even a minute, unless it's to let passengers in and out of the car. You're supposed to just keep circling and circling until your party is at the curb. You pick him/her up and drive off. You'd think that in a city like Los Angeles they would have figured out a way to put in a cell phone waiting area, such as the one at Washington-Dulles, but no. Luckily, Frank's flight arrived on time and as he had no checked luggage, he's out pretty quickly.
We decided to take state route 1 along the Pacific to drive to Moorpark. Seen one freeway, seen 'em all, right? At Santa Monica, we decided to take some time to stop and actually see the ocean, which was a first for Mark and me. Eric had been to California several times before, and Frank had just flown up and down the Pacific coast. To my mind, the Pacific is a much more proper ocean than the Atlantic. For one thing, as we drove toward it, it appeared after you go over the top of a hill. Also, the sun sets in the sea, as opposed to over land. And it was cold! If there's anything I remember from beach vacations as a kid in Holland, it is that the water was always freezing cold!
After driving up the coast past Pacific Pallisades and Malibu and other famous places, we turned back inland on state route 23, which was marked as scenic. It's scenic alright, but almost impossibly steep and winding. We end up getting to Simi Valley (which happens to be home to the Reagan Presidential Library and Museum) a little late, and since it took some time to find a room, it's pretty late by the time we settled down for the night.
We went to see the Hoover Dam on the Colorado River between Nevada and Arizona today. It was pretty high on Eric's list of must-sees, but not so much for me. However, it was very interesting.The scale model gives you an idea of the magnitude of the operation.
Now I understand why Las Vegas is lit up like there is no tomorrow. And to think that they didn't even build the dam for the express purpose of generating electricity! According to the tour guide, the main purpose of the dam was to control the flood cycles of the lower Colorado River and to provide enough water to facilitate agricultural development. The electricity is just a nice added bonus. They also generate all their own electricity, and filter their own water. Look at the tiny little generator they use for that, compared to the eight monster turbines lined up on the Nevada side. There are nine such turbines on the Arizona side, the tour guide told us.
The dam itself was at first knows as the Boulder Dam, because they had meant to construct it a little higher up the river, in Boulder Canyon. Another reason the present site of the Hoover dam was chosen is that the dam is now parallel to the geological fault lines that run through the area, rather than being perpendicular to it at the original site. In some cases, the materials necessary to complete the dam were so massive that it was easier to dismantle a whole factory and rebuild it in Boulder City than to transport the completed pieces, since many roads and bridges along the way would not withstand the weight.
The reason the town that sprung up to house the construction workers is called Boulder City is that it wouldn't have done in those days to call it Hoover City. It wasn't until after World War II, when memories of the Depression had faded a little, that President Truman and Congress decided to rename it for former President Hoover. Hoover was an engineer by training, and although he may have been a visionary in his support for the dam project, he knew nothing whatsoever about social engineering and thought the Great Depression should be left to run its course, as a kind of Margaret Thatcher avant la lettre. That's why "Hooverville" connotates a shantytown and a people sleeping rough under old newspapers were said to be sleeping under "Hoover blankets."
After we came back from the Hoover Dam tour, it was really too hot to do anything. I believe the temperature went up to 107 Fahrenheit, which is about 43 Celsius. The kids went to swim, and we stayed in our room. The result was that we were well-rested when it was time for dinner, while the kids were exhausted. So we bought them pizza and soda and left them in the room, while we went to take another look at Las Vegas.
I especially wanted to see the Venetian hotel/casino/resort, since it was said to be a pretty faithful replica of the city of Venice. I've never been there (argh, to think of the places in Europe I should have visited!) but I recently read "In the Company of the Courtesan" by Sarah Dunant - which I recommend wholeheartedly if you like historical fiction - and if I couldn't visit the real Venice, I could at least do the next best thing. One area was supposed to replicate the Grand Canal, and when you walk into it from the artificial light of the shopping mall, you really are fooled into thinking that you're outside for a second or two.
They really put in quite a bit of effort to make it look realistic, even including ceiling frescos. They also had them painted on the ceiling of the casino, where they are sadly wasted, because everyone is much to busy looking at the card games or the roulette or the slots. I wonder if the person who painted them asked the same question Michelangelo is said to have asked the Pope when the latter wanted frescos painted on the ceiling of St. Peter's Basilica :-)
There was one store in the shopping area where they sold Venetian (Murano) glass. If I had had a way of getting it safely home and a small fortune... Tell me if you don't think these chocolates look good enough to eat, and yet they are glass!
Still, Las Vegas got a bit overwhelming in the end. There were so many lights and sounds and other distractions to look at that after a while I couldn't take in anything anymore. How people manage to concentrate on gambling in these halls with row upon row of blinking, bleeping, rattling slot machines is beyond me!
We left Arizona on I-40, part of which is also historic Route 66. It was a strange experience to see a road sign indicating the distance to Los Angeles. It made me realize quite how far west we had come already.
Having criss-crossed Northern Arizona in search of a "real" cactus, what do you think is the first thing we saw when we drove across the Arizona-Nevada line? Exactly! Well, anyway, we did see a cactus, so that our picture - mostly based on western movies, of which neither of us has ever been a great fan - is complete.
We arrived at our motel around 3 p.m. The lady at the check in desk said that it wasn't particularly hot after last week's "blast furnace" but it was still plenty hot for us, even if it didn't quite go to triple digits. So we stayed in our room while the kids went swimming. We had Frank book a room based on the information we found in the AAA tour book, and since he'll be flying from Las Vegas to Los Angeles by way of Seattle on Friday, we wanted to be close to the airport. It turned out we can see the airport's back fence from our room, and planes come right overhead. You hear them, of course, but it's not so loud that it's bothersome.
After last week's natural canyons, we went to explore a rather different one today. Since neither of us care to gamble and the kids are too young for it, we decided to splurge on the rides at the Stratosphere Tower. We got there just before sunset, so we could see the lights of Las Vegas come out. It's quite a sight!
We only got tower tickets for ourselves, since Eric is more interested in taking pictures of it and there isn't enough money in the mint to make me want to go on any of the thrill rides, but of course Frank and Mark thought that they were the coolest thing of all. The view alone was worth it, and I hope to live long enough to have them stand and watch their kids go on rides like that!
On the way out through the slot machine hall, the kids asked us to put some money into one of the machines, "so they could at least say they gambled in Las Vegas." We put in a dollar and won a $0.25 voucher :-) However, the casinos take the age restrictions quite seriously. The kids were not even allowed to watch us "gamble." As soon as they stood still at the slot machine, a hostess told them to move on. They're allowed to walk through, but no more than that. At Fremont Street, Frank went to talk to a lady standing in front of one of the gambling places holding Mardi Gras beads. He wanted to add to his collection from New Orleans, but she would not give him any, because he was clearly under 21.
After the tower, we decided to get a more down-to-earth view of Sin City, so we drove to the end of the Strip at Fremont Street. They have constructed a pedestrian mall there some vintage neon signs are on display. We saw only a few of them, but they are quite different from the ones at the newer casinos at the other end of the Strip.
On the way down the Strip, we saw a lot of the famous Las Vegas wedding chapels. There is even a drive through chapel! Unfortunately, we couldn't take a picture of it in the dark from a moving car, but it was fun to see anyway. There was also a wedding chapel in the tower, and as we were waiting for the elevator, we saw a bridal party getting ready to go to whatever floor the chapel is on. We only got a glimpse of the bride, but check out the men's outfits, especially the bottom half:
There were several street performances that we watched for a while, and every hour on the hour the neon lights are turned off. The ceiling became a light show by itself, and it was quite an experience. The Fremont Street Experience:
After all the stuff that one or both of us especially wanted to see, we planned something especially for the kids, Slide Rock State Park near Sedona. It made for a nice diversion during a hot day, but as the water comes from a mountain spring, it is freezing cold. So I gave it a miss and just enjoyed the scenery.
Of course the "slide" didn't interest the kids for very long and they found jumping off the cliffs far more interesting. They're teenagers, so some cliff jumping is OK, but to Frank's fury we drew the line at this one, which we estimated to be about 35 feet high.
Of course we ended up driving farther south than we had intended to, ending up in Prescott. Unfortunately, we couldn't find a hotel room there on account of some church conference or other going on this week, so we turned back north and ended up at a motel on I-40 in Seligman. It's a little rundown - the carpet looks like it's been there since the mid-seventies and the shower curtain is a bit mildewed - but it had been a long day and we need a place to stay. The beds were OK, though.
Well, I hate to tell you so, but Theodore Roosevelt was wrong. He is quoted in the AAA tour guide as saying that the Grand Canyon is something every American should see at least once, or words to that effect. Perhaps it was because we had seen so many astounding natural monuments before. If you drove up to the Grand Canyon straight from I-40 or if you flew into Flagstaff and drove up from there, you probably would be awed. But I'm afraid we had become rather jaded by seeing the Painted Desert, the Valley of the Gods, Goosenecks, and Bryce Canyon and we were not as overwhelmed by the Grand Canyon as we had expected to be. It also didn't help that the weather was a tad hazy, so we couldn't see across to the South Rim. One thing that worked out really well, though, is coming the North Rim instead of the South Rim. Unless you prefer your bread and circuses to enjoying nature and such quiet as can be found in July, the North Rim is definitely the way to go! Point Royal on the North Rim is also the only place in the Grand Canyon from which you can see the Colorado River. From Point Royal we drove back to Point Imperial, and then back to the visitors center to watch the sunset. We saw lots of wildlife on the way down and back, too.
I had wanted to get up early, both to beat the heat and to give Mark a chance to see wildlife using his binoculars. However, the shuttle service from Ruby's Inn didn't start until 9, so we got to sleep in a little.
After all we'd seen earlier this week, I was afraid seeing a canyon up close could only be a disappointment, but it was spectacular! This is the view from the start of our hike, the first thing you see as you walk toward the canyon.
The park is actually named for a Mormon settler who wanted to start his own ranch here in the early 20th century. People who already lived there told him he should go visit the canyon near his home. He did, and fell in love with it to such an extent that he decided to start a kind of inn right on the canyon rim. When the canyon became a national park in the 1920s, he had to move the inn to his ranch, which is where Ruby's Inn is today.
We chose to do a combination of two moderate hikes, the Navajo Loop and the Queen's Garden Trail, which took us all the way down to the bottom of the canyon. Part of the Navajo Loop was blocked by a rock slide. The Park Service is working on reopening it by the end of this year. So we had to cut the hike short, but only by a little. The trail was paved and was fairly easy to walk. With proper footwear, that is. The information flyer the Park Service gave us yesterday warned that the number one, two and three causes of injury in Bryce Canyon are wearing unsuitable types of shoes and people did not read the flyer, or perhaps they preferred being fashionable to being sure-footed. But then, they also specifically ask that you do not feed wildlife, yet the chipmunks were nearly tame and had to be nudged gently on their tiny little behinds to make them get out of the way. I'm pretty sure that means they've come to expect being fed by humans. The only complaint I have about the park is that there are entirely too many people, but unfortunately, that's what you get in National Parks during the summer. Hint, folks: try to do a trip like this in September. Sure, some seasonal stuff may be closed, but you would probably have good weather and you'd definitely get away from the madding crowd.
After breakfast we thought we'd try the ferry again, but seeing the line and not knowing whether or not they would except traveler's cheques, we decided to drive the long way around, a large part of which was designated as "scenic" on the map.
And rightly so, although after all that desert scenery, which at one point resembled nothing so much as slag heaps at a steel factory, I was thankful to see a forest again. We drove through Dixie National Forest along S.R. 12, which was absolutely gorgeous, but the real surprise came as we drove along the northern rim of the Grand Staircase - Escalante National Monument. I was driving, so I didn't get to enjoy the view as we were driving through, as you will understand when you see the pictures. The road was Utah S.R. 12 and ran on top of a ridge just wide enough for a two-lane road. Some of the grades were 14%, with almost 90 degree turns in between!
We were tired when we finally plonked ourselves down at Ruby's Inn just outside Bryce Canyon National Park, but the kids couldn't wait to check out the pools, both indoor and out. We, meanwhile, picked up some National Park information, found out about the shuttle service between the motel and the park, and other stuff. We'll probably turn in early tonight, to be in good shape for the hike.
I've run out of superlatives to describe the landscape. I always thought that the southwest looked more or less the same from New Mexico to Nevada, but our trip once again proved me wrong.
We drove into southeastern Utah today and the landscape immediately became more rugged-looking than any we had seen so far. It seemed the cliffs were pushing there way up through the earth while they crumbled from the top down. Of course, that's geology in a nutshell, but that was really the way Utah looked to me. The colors were astounding, too. At one point, the cliffs on one side of the road were red and on the opposite side they were grey.
Most creek beds we passed were dry, but you could tell where there was water, because trees grew there and farmers were irrigating their land. I haven't figured out why they insist on doing that in the middle of the day, when it seemed hot enough that 80% of the water would evaporate right away.
One of the things that Eric really wanted to do on this trip was to drive through the Valley of the Gods. I'll leave it up to him to describe it, but here are some pictures. Talk about an isolated homestead!
We had planned to do some primitive camping at Goosenecks (NL equivalent: zwanenhals) State Park, but right around dinner time some rather threatening-looking clouds developed and we saw some flashes of lightning. So we decided not to risk a camp-out on an exposed plateau and instead drove on to Halls Crossing on Lake Powell, where we had hoped to catch the ferry. Check out the switchbacks I navigated on Utah state route 261. The view back down and of the rainbow were worth it!
Unfortunately, we arrived after dark and the ferry only runs during daylight hours, so we made camp by the light of the car's headlights (the kids opted to sleep in the car).
It was such a privilege to be able to explore this country the way we are doing now. The part of Arizona that we drove through today was amazing.
At first we seemed to drive through a big meadow, with cliffs in the distance. The fields were yellow-greenish, with some kind of low shrub that forms dark green splotches here and there.
Then all of a sudden we were driving along what looked like the bottom of a canyon, with the cliff walls rising almost right next to the road. You could really see the layers of earth. Mostly red and white, but occasionally there are black and brown layers as well. Sometimes the cliff looked as though it had caved in just yesterday, or as if a giant had sliced it with a knife. Bright yellow cattle guards really stood out. Why they paint them such a bright yellow I don't know. Maybe on account of dust storms?
Then the road turned and we drove along a meadow again, with grass in every conceivable color. Some of it along the road was so pale yellow that it seemed to give off light. There are also grasses that are a silvery green, and tufts of the brightest kelly green you'll ever see outside of a St. Patrick's Day parade. The background color, however, was mostly mustard-colored. The cliffs were again in the distance, and horses and cattle grazed right along the edge of the road.
Once we got past a town called Many Farms it seemed as though we drove right through the Grand Canyon itself. Red cliffs rose on either side of use, and although they looked smooth from a distance, we saw them up close enough that we could tell they were textured. The most amazing thing to me was that people live in this amazing landscape. Do you suppose it is just as normal and uneventful for them to look out of their kitchen window and see those cliffs as it is for us to see our neighbor's house across the street? Some of the houses were of a type I'd never seen before either, octagonal in shape. In some case they were used as houses, but in others they seemed to be just outbuildings. I hadn't known, either, that cliffs and rocks could come in so many amazing and beautiful shapes and sizes and colors. Really, I'd have to be a poet to do it justice with words.
The amazing landscape continues right up until the Four Corners monument. I had expected it to be a real tourist trap, but it is actually pretty low key. It is owned and operated by the Navajo Nation and although there were some souvenir shops and things like that around it, which mostly sold pottery and silver jewelry, it was nothing like some towns I remember driving through in the Smokey Mountains, for example, or Niagara Falls. I bought a set of earrings in the shape of a galloping horse for one of my nieces.
The one thing I hated about the landscape is the way some idiots apparently use it as their private dumping grounds. The state of Arizona put up signs saying "Littering highways unlawful" but it doesn't seem to work. What these people could be thinking (if you want to grace it with that term) is beyond me. I mean, if you heave a soda can out the window on the Washington beltway, it's still litter, but at least you're not spoiling the landscape. But to through things out along U.S. 160? They ought to be shot!
From Four Corners we drove on into Colorado, and the landscape remained as awesome as ever. At first it didn't look at all like I'd imagined Colorado, with lots of spruce and steep mountains. That only came just before the town of Cortez. Cortez itself was just such a tourist trap kind of town with restaurant upon restaurant and tourist attraction upon tourist attraction, and after the "solitude" and stark beauty of the desert and the plateau we just traveled through, it was rather a jarring contrast.
Mesa Verde more than made up for it, however. The visitor's center was 15 miles from the park entrance and we drove along a winding mountain road to get there. It worried Frank a bit, because in places there were no guard rails. Just to the north of Mesa Verde a thunderstorm was brewing, but it hadn't reached the mesa yet, so as we drove along, we saw panoramic views with one half of the sky dark and threatening and the other half bright and sunny.
When we got to the visitors center we signed up for a tour of the Cliff Palace. It is a what is thought to be a prehistoric place of ceremony of the Pueblo indians. They built it right into the cliff wall, using the available sandstone and making mortar whenever they had enough rain. On top of the mesa they grew corn and other crops, and to reach their fields, they climbed the canyon wall like squirrels. They used small crescent-shaped indentations to cling to these walls. I was thankful the park service saw fit to provide us with ladders, which was quite adventurous enough for me, as the thunderstorm had finally moved over to the mesa. We had found come across a hotel right on top of the mountain which offered reasonable rates and great views, so we decided to stay the night. We even got to see a coyote from the restaurant and an amazingly clear rainbow. L [ater on we saw deer grazing from our hotel room window. Too bad it remained rather cloudy, or we would have had a great view of the night sky too.
I woke up early today, and persuaded Eric to get up with me and sneak out to go back to the Painted Desert without a chorus of complaints to spoil the scenery. We were almost the first visitors in the park and hiked one of the trails, enjoying the views and the plant and animal life along the way. If it hadn't been for the low murmur of traffic on nearby I-40 it would have been perfectly quiet. It was well worth getting up early!
We also went back to the Route 66 monument, which is on the road between the Painted Desert and the Petrified Forest. Check out our new hot rod :-)
Other than our early morning hike, we didn't do much. We went swimming at mid-day to cool off, but the greatest cooling effect comes when you get out of the pool. There is a pretty stiff breeze pretty much all the time, so your wet skin develops goosebumps even in desert heat. By the way, can someone explain to me how they manage to keep the pool water so cold? It's out in the sun nearly all day, yet it didn't seem to warm up at all.
For Fourth of July dinner I grilled some hotdogs and we treated ourselves to Doritos and soda. For a little while just before sunset we were afraid fireworks would get canceled because the wind picked up to such a degree that it became a dust storm. I'm sure Arizonans didn't call it that, but it sure felt as if I was getting sandblasted and I could feel a thin layer of dust forming on the laptop keys and everything else that was outside. So we took all of our stuff inside and waited for it to blow over. Fortunately it did, and we watched the fireworks display that the town of Holbrook put on. OK, it's not the spectacle that we see at Antietam or in Columbia, but you have to see fireworks on the fourth, and we did. Besides, we didn't even have to leave the campground to watch them; we just put our chairs down at the end of the park and watched the fireworks being set off across I-40.
The last leg of our drive through New Mexico was just as spectacular as I had hoped it would be. In the morning we first drove to the Radio Astronomy Observatory - Very Large Array. There they have lined up 27 (!) radio telescopes which are used to explore the universe. From a distance they look exactly like sombreros.
According to the DVD that was played at the visitors center, most of the recent Nobel laureates in physics have used the VLA at some point in their studies. Apparently, they can get a much more detailed picture of developments in our solar systems and even beyond. All I know is that it is the first time that I ever remember Eric being moved to buy a souvenir T-shirt! It reads: "The universe exploded out of nothingness 14 billion years ago. All I got was 100 trillion interconnected cells, a self-aware consciousness, and this lousy T-shirt!" He also insisted upon wearing it right away.
While Eric and Frank had a ball getting as close as possible to one of the telescopes, Mark and I did a good deed by rescuing a bird that had fallen out of its nest. Mark found a stick which he used to lift the frightened little creature back into the nest.
From the VLA we drove on along U.S. 60 to Pie Town, which is just past the continental divide. Frank insisted upon seeing if water really flowed to the East or the West, but of course it really only flowed into the nearest hollow thanks to good old gravity :-) Of course Pie Town makes a living selling pie(s) to silly tourists impressed by passing the divide. However, in our case, the pie place was closed for the 4th of July holiday. I'm sure our waistlines are thankful for that! We did get a good picture of deer Mark, though.
Right around lunch time we reached Arizona, but since it is not on Daylight Saving Time, we gained an hour, so we ended up skipping lunch. Arizona is an entirely different landscape. It certainly appears to be much more forbidding. It is beautiful in its own way, but it is a starker beauty. It's also much more desert-like, although the signs at the Petrified Forest National Park speak of "semi-arid grasslands." It sure looked bone-dry to me, but what do I know? The Petrified Forest was an interesting experience. We got there at just about the hottest period of the day, but of course we insisted upon taking a hike - nothing major, only about two miles on paved trails - in the blazing mid-day sun. The park rangers have probably long since given up on dissuading silly Easterners from such undertakings, so they just told us to take water bottles and wear sunscreen. The boys complained loudly about being made to walk among "stupid fallen trees that are not even beautiful unless they're polished" (they had seen commercially available petrified wood in a gift shop just outside the park entrance). Their griping so riled us that we insisted on dragging them along on not one, but two trails. Let's just say that we were all thankful to be back in the comfort of an airconditioned car! From the Petrified Forest, you drive on into the Painted Desert National Park, which has the most amazing views, but none of us really had the heart to get out and take another hike. So I just stopped here and there so Eric could take some pictures. We promised ourselves that we would come back in the morning and really enjoy the spectacular scenery without a backdrop of complaining teenagers.
We were all pretty tired and cranky when we got to the campground, so we just told the kids to go find the pool, while we unpacked and I went and did two loads of laundry. Whether we are in Ellicott City or two thousand miles west, it seems housekeeping is still my department :-)
When we drove into New Mexico from Texas I thought today's drive was going to be rather a bore, since it seemed nothing but shrub and sand on either side of the highway. Well, I was wrong!
As soon as we headed west towards Roswell, the landscape started changing. It was still stark and desolate-looking, but with a beauty all its own. It's hard to describe what it looks like. For miles and miles you see an arid landscape, with few if any trees, and then all of a sudden a farmer with access to a well (or wells, perhaps) has assiduously irrigated his fields and they are as bright green as any you see in Maryland.
Near Roswell, we happen upon what Frank tells us is a storage facility for disused airplanes. The airline companies store older jets there, and use them for spare parts. Eric starts to shoot a series of pictures, but pretty soon a security guard drives up who tells him it's a secure area, photography not allowed. So we have to move on, but he did get some nice ones.
It is after Roswell that we begin to drive into a more mountainous area and this is where New Mexico really shows its beauty. At first the land itself is still rather flat, but it has views of reddish brown-gray shrub-covered mountains with the clear blue skies and cloud formations above. After we stop to buy some lunch at a gas station in Hondo, the landscape becomes absolutely breathtakingly beautiful. Of course, we are still essentially lowland dwellers, so anywhere mountainous is exiting in and of itself, but New Mexico is incredible. Again, pictures don't do it justice (especially the ones I shot from the car), but it gives you an idea of the treat we had today.
Near Carrizozo we stop to buy a cantalope at a roadside stand (have to get our vitamins somehow). The couple who run the stand are native westerners, though not originally from New Mexico. They also lived in Maine for a considerable number of years, but they always missed New Mexico and came back as soon as they could. The lady tells me one of the state's nicknames is "the land of enchantment" and it truly is enchanting.
Just when you think you've seen every conceivable kind of landscape, we drive through the Vally of Fires. The ground looks as though it was recently burned to a crisp, but the vegetation suggests otherwise. I guess it is volcanic...
We had wanted to visit the Trinity site, but is is open to the public only two days of the year, in April and October. There is a historic marker near the site of the explosion, though.
Since today was supposed to be an easy day, we decide to find a motel just after turning onto I-25 and we end up staying at an Econo Lodge in Socorro, which has a pool. There is a Wal-Mart across the street, within walking distance even in 105 degree New Mexico heat, where we finally replace the flip flops Frank lost at the Gulf of Mexico. We end the day with Mexican food and the kids are in bed, watching tv by 8 p.m.
We left Pedernales Falls State Park rather later than we had planned, because the alarm didn't go off. We're not sure that we'll be able to make the bat flight out off Carlsbad caves, but we will try to make it in time. So we drive and drive and drive and then drive some more. As we drive from Johnson City to Fredericksburg, TX, we pass stand after roadside stand of peaches. Peach icecream, peach preserves, peach salsa, peach pie, peach cobbler, peach anything and everything. The lady at the LBJ park told me that it was actually the first time in three years they had had a good peach crop, the previous ones having been lost to drought or frost or hail storms and what have you. The weather in this part of the world must be something else!
It is a very long drive, but it is interesting how the landscape changes. You gradually see it turn from fields and orchards and stands of deciduous trees to pines, grasses and cacti to scraggy, small pines and shrubs. Except for the fact that there are quite a lot of windmill farms, you expect to see cowboys and indians riding across the scenery at full gallop any time :-)
At last we arrive at Carlsbad, just in time for the last self-guided tour into the cavern. More luck than skill, since we get to set the clock back an hour by going from central to mountain time. Personally, I'm not a big fan of caves. I always wonder if they're not going to cave in suddenly and even though the cavern chambers are of the humongous variety, they give me a closed-in feeling. But that's just me. What possesses people to begin exploring a cave is something I'll never understand. You couldn't pay me to! The caves are really quite beautiful, though. .
The drive from the main road (U.S. 180) to the park's visitors center is a treat. . The pictures hardly do justice to the beauty of the scenery, but they at least give an impression.
I choose not to take part in the bat flight program, because they creep me out. I know they're useful and all that and eat their weight in insects every night, but I don't need to see them up close, thank you very much. So Eric drives Frank and me to the Carlsbad RV Park & Camp Site, so we can get situated in our cabin, cook dinner, do laundry and all that good stuff. A good thing too, since Eric and Mark don't get back until about 9 p.m!
Well, the first day in Texas. You feel very small and insignificant in a landscape as big as this. I can't help but wonder what it must have been like for earlier settlers. I mean, we travel in the comfort of an airconditioned car over paved roads with plenty of conveniences and have accurate maps and all that. Part of the mission of the Lewis and Clark expedition was to provide accurate maps of the area the U.S. had just purchased. Of course Texas wasn't part of that, but I doubt the Spanish had mapped their New World possessions very thoroughly. Even Lewis and Clark were instructed to look for the fabled Northwestern Passage! But to travel into an area on horseback or in a horse-drawn wagon, with only the most rudimentary of maps if any, without knowing what lies ahead of you, or if you're going to find food or water, making perhaps 30 or 40 miles a day when you have no idea how far the land stretches, doesn't just take undaunted courage but quiet determination as well.
Anyway, from Houston we drive to Johnson City in Texas Hill Country. We first visit the Lyndon B. Johnson National and State Park, where we take a tour of the Johnson Ranch, including the house that was called the Texas White House during his presidency. He loved this land, and it is easy to see why. It is beautiful! Just the skies are a source of amazement, it is never the same two minutes on end and it may be raining one minute and bright and sunny the next.
From the Johnson Ranch we go to and exotic zoo and petting farm, because we've yet to do anything that Mark especially enjoys. And boy, does he enjoy it. He feeds deer and camels and buffalo and ostriches and heaven only knows what other critters. Frank and I aren't so keen on animals and we especially dislike the male ostrich who thinks nothing of sticking his head into the trolley and grabbing the feed right out of the bucket. Mark also gets to spend a good half hour at the petting zoo, refreshing his goat-handling skills, before we head out to Pedernales State Park (the locals pronounce it Perdenales, by the way) where we have reserved a camping spot.
It's pretty late by the time we get there, so it's all I can do to finish the cooking and washing up before dark. It's a shame, because it's a *beautiful* park and I would have liked to explore it further. The kids also wanted to go swimming but I don't let them, because the river has just flooded and is still kind of high, according tot he park ranger. He also had a story about a narrow escape one family had just a week or two ago. They had to be rescued from the river by helicopter and only just made it to safety. Besides, it is so humid that the wet towels and swimming trunks will never get dry before we have to pack everything up again. We all go to bed early because we want to leave for New Mexico early in the morning. Frank sleeps in the car, because his allergies are acting up. Also, it saves putting up and taking down a tent.
We left New Orleans behind, and wouldn't you know it, no sooner are you outside of New Orleans city limit or the Baptists are out in force again :-)
Anyway, we drove through a really swampy area between New Orleans and Baton Rouge, until we got to the road that took us to Eunice. The Cajun Hall of Fame was kind of interesting. It's only a small place, but since none of us know much of Cajun music or culture, it was a great place to get started. Lunch was a little disappointing. We ate at "Nick's" on 2nd street (Deuxieme Rue; all street signs in Eunice are in French) because the lady at the museum had recommended it, but we felt like second class citizens. Some of the locals came in after us but got their food and their check before the waitress had even found time to take our drink order. Whatever...
Between Eunice and the Texas welcome center on I-10 we ran into some pretty heavy downpours. At times I couldn't go more than 30 mph. However, the advantage of rainstorms here seems to be that they are intense, but they don't last that long. After the welcome center, Eric took over driving and we took a little detour along the Gulf Coast. We even got to swim in the Gulf! It is so nice to go into warm seawater. That's something we miss out on on the East Coast (and the West Coast, too, I hear). We used to take beach vacations in Holland when I was a kid and I never liked going into the water there, either, it was always freezing. We drove along the Gulf coast almost from Port Arthur to Port Bolivar. We enjoyed a beautiful sunset and took a ferry to Galveston. From there we drove north until just west of Houston, which is a city like a christmas tree. Really, I have never seen so many lights on at once! Too bad you can't take pictures of it at night. It was after 10 when we found a place to stay for the night, but it was a great drive!
Then we walked a little further along Magazine Street, to the National Park New Orleans Jazz Park. The program we were most interested in didn't start until 3 p.m. so on the advice of the park ranger, we walked back along the waterfront to a ferry across the Mississippi.
A local advised us to walk along the embankment on the Algiers side of the city to where the Mardi Gras floats are built.
So we did that, and then got back on the ferry and walked through the River Front mall to the Convention Center to go to the National World War II museum. All this, mind you, in 95 degree heat and I don't even want to know what kind of humidity. According to yet another local, it's not even exceptionally hot for New Orleans yet. That will come in August and September, he said. I thought heat and humidity were bad on the East Coast, but this beats everything! How people ever lived here before airconditioning and wearing the sort of clothes they did is beyond me.
Anyway, we saw the World War II museum, which was interesting, but a little disjointed in my humble opinion. They should have more general information about the war instead of concentrating so much on individual campaigns. If you don't have a pretty thorough knowledge of the war in general, I think you're lost by the time you visit the Midway exhibit, however interesting the veterans' individual stories are. But that's just me. The reason, by the way, that the World War II museum is located in New Orleans is that that's where the landing craft that were used in all major World War II campaigns, including D-Day, were built.
From the museum we walked back on Magazine to the National Park service station, where we attended the ranger program. Two park rangers provided almost an hour of information, including music and singing, on the influence of Creole music on New Orleans jazz and how it traveled down the Mississippi out into the Caribbean. We learned that the expression "Hey, la bas!" is the "Whassup?!" of the French-speaking Caribbean. The French they speak, however, is quite different from the little French I remember from high school and also delivered in such a rapid-fire way that I can't do much more than pick up a word here or there.
Afterwards, we walked back yet again to let Mark buy a souvenir t-shirt and to get back to the hotel. I think we must have walked at least 4 or 5 miles today! All the same, we get the kids some pizza and soda and go out again for "diner a deux" and walk down a few blocks from our hotel to the House of Blues on Decatur Street and afterwards to Jackson Square to watch the people go by, which is an attraction in itself in New Orleans.
From there we drove on to Natchez, which is a very pretty little town. According to the the Triple A tourbook, it was once home to Maj. Andrew Ellicott, who apparently did survey work there, as he did in what was to become Washington, D.C. I'll look into this when I get home.
We wanted to see at least one antebellum mansion, and we decided to visit Rosemont Plantation, the boyhood home of Jefferson Davis. As it is not a national historic site but still privately owned (although the Jefferson mansion is no longer lived in), the tour information was a just a tad biased towards the southern point of view, but whatever. It's a beautiful house, with a lot of period furnishings.
To the relieve of the boys, we finally went on to New Orleans after visiting Rosemont. The drive there was uneventful and to be honest a little tedious. We chose to travel via Mississippi state route 24 to I-55, so as to avoid rush hour traffic around Baton Rouge. Besides, Frank had requested that we drive into New Orleans over the Lake Ponchartrain Causeway. This 20+ mile bridge spans Lake Ponchartrain and it is quite an experience to drive over such a large body of water. It puts the Bay Bridge to shame. Frank rode shotgun, and he got some really pretty pictures of the sun and clouds over the water.
After some searching (Mark riding shotgun and map reading) we found our hotel, which is right on the edge of the French Quarter. Getting the car into the parking garage was an adventure in itself, with Frank walking next to it to make sure cargo bag on the roof wouldn't hit the ceiling. It only just fit in some spots! After we got all our stuff out of the car and into the room (except for the stuff in the rooftop carrier, which we stuffed in the back seat), we went out on to Bourbon Street. I now understand why NPR commentator Andrei Codrescu says that New Orleans is the only place in the south where you can get away from the Baptists. Really, as beautiful as the states that we've driven through so far are, you can't go a mile and a half before running into a Baptist church or some equally conservative other brand of religion. Whoever thought up the strategy of convincing the faithful that God really wanted a Republican in the White House was an excellent political strategist (but a lousy statesman). Let's hope God has tired of Republicans as thoroughly as the rest of the country! Bourbon Street probably qualifies quite easily as the most sinful street in America, but they're quite open and honest about it. Bourbon Street is one big frat party, but the rest of the French Quarter is charmingly old world, with people sitting outside cafes on sidewalks, pedestrians everywhere. The only thing I have against New Orleans is that it is so hot, and that will only be worse tomorrow, when we intend to walk to the different sights we want to see.
Today we drove back roads all the way to U.S. Highway 61. I had no idea Mississippi was so green and beautiful! Of course we've only seen a small part of Mississippi before, when we saw Elvis Presley's birthplace in Tupelo, which is in the eastern part of the state. The Delta is at the western edge of the state.
On our way down U.S. 61 we visit the Delta Blues Museum in Clarksdale. Unfortunately, we can't take pictures inside, but one of its artefacts is the cabin in which blues legend Muddy Waters grew up. It's pretty squalid looking, although it was expanded to a four-room little house when he lived there. We also take the time to do a load of laundry in Clarksdale.
When that's out of the way, we drive on toward Vicksburg, crossing the Mississippi at Greenville and driving from Arkansas into Louisiana.
There we turn back east to Vicksburg where we find a motel for the night and I dine on fried catfish and fried dill pickles. When I first read about those (probably in Grisham's "The Firm") they sounded rather disgusting, but they are actually really good.
The weather forecast for Atlanta said that temperatures would climb into the mid-90s today (that's about 35 degrees Celsius) with poor air quality, so we decided to go to the Dr. Martin Luther king National Historic Site first, because that would involve some outside activity. It was pretty impressive. I had wanted to attend services at Ebenezer Baptist Church, but I didn't bring any remotely dressy clothes and I didn't want to offend worshippers by walking in in shorts and t-shirt. But the house was fun to see, and even though the exhibit at the visitors' center did not tell us anything we didn't know, it is strange to think that only about 40 or 50 years ago, we would have seen "whites only" signs all over the South. It reminds you that, while "Gone with the Wind" is a great novel, the period it is set in isn't one we ought to be nostalgic for. Nevertheless, we came to see the GWTW sights, so after some searching (really, highway signage in Georgia needs work!) we managed to find a visitors' center, but it was closed. So was the restored antebellum mansion we had wanted to visit. Drat! Not wanting to drive back into Atlanta to visit Margaret Mitchell's house, where she wrote GWTW, we decided to give it up and head back to the hotel. So we lazed about at the pool instead, to brace ourselves for tomorrow's drive to Memphis.
Just when you think you've seen it all (a guy on a motor cycle with a small dog perched in front of him, for instance), someone surprises you. This time it was a lady in an ancient Chrysler with Pennsylvania tags driving with at least three (Mark says there were five) parrots. One, a big green and yellow thing, sat almost on her shoulder, next to the headrest. A smaller white one sat on top of its cage in the passenger seat, and the smallest one, which was also white, I think, was climbing its way up the interior, which was torn in places. Eric got a picture of her, too.
Another weird sight was a water tower somewhere in Georgia done up as a giant peach. We also saw one in Virginia that had been painted to look like a basket of apples. Unfortunately, I wasn't sufficiently awake to get a picture of the apple basket, but I did get the peach.
It's been a long day from 4 a.m. this morning. Eric and I of course took turns driving, but it still tiring and neither of us slept well the night before we left. Then of course there are all the last minutes things to pack and to do, so I'm always the last one in the car. I'm sure it drives the kids nuts, but someone has to take care of stuff so the house'll still be standing when we come back!
Well, we finally managed to get everything into or on top of the rental van. Mark joked that we should have rented an 18-wheeler, and for a while this afternoon I thought we'd never get it in, but we managed. As icing on the cake, we put the bumper"stickers" (they're more bumper magnets, really) on the van, so as to enlighten Jesus Land :-)
All in all, we worked hard, but a Nyquil should see us safely asleep at 8 p.m. and on the road by 4 a.m. tomorrow!
I've been writing letters like crazy the past few months. Now I'm writing a rather difficult one to my friend Terry, who is our emergency contact if anything should happen to us on the road, and a letter to Bonnie Keyes, the pet nanny, who will take care of our cat while we are away. The letter about the cat isn't that hard, except that there's only so much you can fit on a letter-sized piece of paper. Also, I doubt that she would want to read a novel the size of "War & Peace" regarding a *cat*. I mean, it's a cat. She needs cat food. She needs the litter box changed. That's it, right? The letter to Terry is harder. I don't want to be ghoulish, but it really makes you confront your mortality. It's stupid really, because you should probably be far more aware of your mortality driving around the beltway than crossing the Rockies, but there it is.
Saturday 6/16 M&T Bank (E&N) Clean gutters (E) Wash cars (N) Mark pull weeds front & back & sweep, ironing Frank dusting, vacuuming, folding laundry Litterbox Buy cat food (N&E)
Friday 6/22 Clean fridge & turn off (N) Fill water bottles, freeze (M) Clean litter box (F) Vacuum (N) Pick up rental car (E, N, F) Pack (all) Add fuel stabilizer to Hondas (N) Spray silicone on rubber seals (N) Strip beds, wash linnens, put camping stuff on pillows etc., use sleeping bags one night (M) Load cooler (N) Shut off gas (E) Turn off water heater (E) Set thermostat (E)
Thursday 6/21 Clean bathrooms (N) Do laundry (N) Get out camping gear and provisions (N) Put flea medication on cat (M) Trim cat's nails (N, M) Put out new scratch thing (M) Put out trash (E) Take in patio furniture & recycling can (F, M)
Wednesday 6/20 Put out recycling (N) Call Bonnie (N) Call landscaping guy (N) Inform neighbors (N) Check tire pressure Hondas (E,N)
I am SO tired of everlastingly preparing for this trip! Every breath I take, I think of something else to put on the do not forget list, which is about a mile and a half long by now. I wish it would start already! Do you suppose Ike felt the same way about the invasion?
Mark told me today that he is looking forward to the trip, but all his friends commiserated with him for having to spend 8 weeks with his brother. Frank, being 15 and not in a particularly good mood because we are making him review for his upcoming finals, would rather mow the lawn with nail clippers for 8 weeks than go with us. He managed to lose his MP3 player, so he won't be able to shut out our excreable taste in music, either :-)
I talked to Bonnie (Mrs. Keyes) to arrange for pet care while we're exploring the U.S. She loved the idea of touring for eight weeks, and thought that we would particularly enjoy New Orleans, because it is similar to Old Ellicott City and very pretty & interesting. She also expressed an interest in taking a look at the website, once it's completely up and running.
OK, now I have to try putting in a picture. This is what we'll be doing a lot of this summer, although it will be warmer (hopefully):
Hey guys, suppose we get some bumper stickers to put on our rental van (with the aid of vent magnets, of course) before our forray into Jesus Land? They have some real good ones at http://carryabigsticker.com/index.html We still have the First Amendment, and it's not only our right but our duty to take some food for thought to the heartland. Take a look!
I'm getting really excited about this trip! Every time I sit at the dinner table (which, as you know, is quite a lot these days) I look at the map and think about all the places we're going to be able to visit and the things we'll do etc. It's almost time to start planning our route! Too bad we don't have six months, so we'd be able to see all 27 of my red pins and Dad's 18 yellow pins. How are you guys liking the new receipes I'm trying out?