Road Trip 2013

Back in 1973, after working a few months at the Old Faithful Cafeteria in Yellowstone National Park, I elected to purchase an Ameripass on Greyhound, since they were offering it at a very reasonable price of $150 (with an optional second month for $100.) Well, the first month I rode all over the USA , staying overnight in hostels and cheap hotels, and ended up my journey with a trip through Canada, from Montreal to Vancouver, BC . Since by the time I reached Canada I was running short of funds (I budgeted about $200 for the whole month) the last seven days I slept on the bus and ended up with swollen ankles to boot! Highlights of this first month included a very windy walk through downtown Omaha, 'tripping' on the live oak and Spanish Moss of Tallahassee, Sunset at Key West, strolling Virginia Beach, gazing out from the Empire State Building (and being propositioned by the whores nearby), sampling gelato at the Boston wharf (and being manhandled by a huge sailor who thought I might be carrying a knife), braving the White Cedar Swamp (very spooky) at Cape Cod, admiring the elegance of Providence, RI, sitting on bird poop at Bar Harbor, Maine, wandering through the drippy caves at Niagara Falls, and overwhelmed by the sheer immensity of the Canadian Rockies at Banff, Alberta. My travels didn't end there. After returning home and resting a few days, I purchased the Ameripass extension and spent a week in Key West (careful to get off the bus each night on the way there and back.) On this leg of the trip I tramped around New Orleans and the French quarter, and enjoyed a mountainous slice of lemon meringue pie at the San Antonio bus depot. All told I visited or passed through forty-four states in six weeks or so, as near as I could figure at the time. Some of the states like Connecticut , Iowa and Tennessee I passed through at night on the bus route, so I didn't see much of them then.

It was always my intension to visit all fifty states whenever possible. The states that remained for me to visit, after 1973, were Hawaii , Alaska , Minnesota , Wisconsin , Oklahoma and Arkansas . With my wife we honeymooned in Kauai and returned to Kauai and added the Big Island on our twenty-fifth anniversary. We cruised Alaska 's Inner passage a couple of times in 2007 and 2011. On our Montana trip in 2009 we added a side trip to touch on parts of west Minnesota . So three states remained for me to see, which explains part of the current road trip. I also promised my wife a trip to Banff , which had impressed me deeply the first time I saw it, and mentioning this to my wife Bev made it a must-see for her too. This was a promise made several years ago, but in the interim we had other places to go, like Australia and Northern Europe . My standing goal, being a confirmed rockhound by this time, was to travel to the Craters of the Diamonds in Arkansas and thereby reduce my unvisited states to one (Wisconsin.) Happily my wife was able to accumulate five weeks paid leave and receive the off time too all in one scoop. So the trip was extended to include Great Smoky Mountains National Park (Tennessee and North Carolina), Voyageurs National Park (Minnesota), Banff, Glacier National Park (Montana) and Emerald Creek, Idaho (to collect garnets.) Theoretically a loop of approximately seven thousand miles, our trip later turned into 9100+ miles with all the side excursions and miscalculated routes and a pit stop for repairs in Nash, Texas.

Let me tell you, this was not the easiest drive I've ever made (my wife having retired from any long distance driving years ago.) It was certainly my longest trip by car by far. With lots of surprises and enjoyable outings, I hope I can give you a glimpse at least of what we experienced (through the 1300+ photos and videos I took on the way.) Our five week passage included seventeen states and four provinces of Canada.

July 26, 2013

We started out early intending to breakfast in Solvang, Little Denmark, and enjoyed a plate of hearty wheat pancakes and fruit. The town sure has grown since we first saw it in the 80's. Next we had lunch with a friend I've know since the 60's. Steve got me started in photography and an appreciation of rock and fossil collecting. (My first camera was an Argus 35mm, about $25 at Brooks Cameras in San Francisco .) Then it was on to Anaheim for a day at Disneyland . Bev has watched Disneyland grow and expand each decade since the 50's when it opened. In the 70's she had a vision on Main Street that led to us getting hitched a few years later. Whether or not it was a shadow of me she saw that day that foretold our meeting and eventually marrying, I was convinced within a month of meeting her that she was the one to ride trail with, and after thirty-three years the passion's still there....

August 27, 2013

At Disneyland we started in California Adventure Park , with the Twilight Zone Tower, which is one of the few drop-zone-type rides I've ever been on, and probably won't go on again. However, that wasn't nearly as nauseating to me as Mickey's Fun Wheel. Bev was unfazed and went on a few high-speed roller coasters and loved them all! At Car's Land we rode the Radiator Springs Racers which was a gas until my hat flew off near the finish line. The best ride of the day for me was the Grizzly River Run, with my camera carefully wrapped in a waterproofed sleeve. When at Disneyland I always like to open up my camera on the dark rides and let the neon lights paint streaming pictures. Here are some eye-popping shots I took that day (gallery here.) See if you can guess which ride(s) they were taken on.

July 28-29

We traveled east on Interstate 10 through Blythe and Quartzsite to Phoenix then north on AZ 87 to Payson , Arizona . Originally I thought we could go east to Zuni by way of Globe and do some onyx collecting in the locale, but having done that a few times before and remembering the horrid washboard condition of the road, the poor condition of the onyx, and how lucky not to stumble over some rattlesnakes on the path up the hill to the collecting site, I decided to look for an alternate route through Arizona with new places to explore. I found that via Payson when I spotted the Tonto Natural Bridge State Park north of Phoenix . I remembered reading a book by Zane Grey titled Under the Tonto Rim, so I wondered if this was the area Grey was writing about. Sure enough, a little more digging on the internet revealed Zane had built a cabin near Payson and what he called the Tonto Rim was actually the Mogollon Rim, a two-hundred mile escarpment defining the Colorado Plateau, just as the Colorado River defines the Grand Canyon . During our time in Payson, we visited a reconstruction of the original Zane Grey cabin (the original having burned down in the 1990 Dude Fire), the Natural Bridge State Park (gallery here), and part of the Mogollon Rim off Hwy 260 (gallery here).

July 30-31

I visited Zuni for the first time in 2008 on a week vacation I took solo when my wife was unable to get the time off. Zuni fetishes inspired me initially to begin carving stone, so it was thrilling to have the local carvers come up to me on the street and offer me a pick of their fetishes. I was unable to meet a carver at his workshop, however, but in driving around his yard there were a few other carvers who met me in their autos and again offered me a choice of their wares. Zuni is a town where dogs run free, and the info brochures was careful to mention this to prevent tragic auto accidents. I was saddened to see, despite the warnings, a family pet lying lifeless on the roadside... With the interest Bev had and still has in Southwestern/Native American jewelry I knew Zuni was a town she'd love for the inlaid jewelry the Zunis were also famous for, so that was another promise that was fulfilled on this trip. The town has grown somewhat since I was first there, but it still retains its unassuming look. There are plenty of fetishes to be had, and a Zuni Craftsman Cooperative that works with the carver's directly, though I had long outgrown my need for more fetishes.

From Zuni it was on to Albuquerque, New Mexico , with a stop at Petroglyph National Monument (gallery here.) At Rinconada Canyon the trail weaves in and out of volcanic rock covered with the pictographs of another age. Here we did run into a snake of unknown species that crossed our path unexpectedly. Stretched out straight across the sandy path silent and motionless, about five or six feet long, it was a rather thin snake with a scaly diamond-textured body which I at first mistook for dead, its head being contracted and almost skeletal. Then it slowly slunk into a nearby bush and was lost from view before I could snap its photo.

The next day we took the Sandia Peak Tramway to the 10,378 foot peak. This is a skiers delight in winter, with awesome views all year round (gallery here.) After quenching ourselves with some ice tea and feeling well hydrated, I was ready to do some exploring. The hiking trails on the peak go mostly downhill, so knowing Bev's aversion to up and down hiking, I decided to follow one of the trails solo and see where it led. I took the Golden Eagle trail (actually a biking path) thinking it might lead to some eagle's nest. I spotted an interesting wavy tree, but no eagle on top of it. After a mile of switchbacks descending through meadows and wooded areas and seeing no eagles, I turned around and huffed it back to the observation tower.

August 1

Since we were limited to half a day in Amarillo, Texas there wasn't a lot to see there in that time restraint. We strolled through the lovely Botanical Gardens there (gallery here) and admired the art and crafts in the Kwahadi Museum of the American Indian.

August 2-3

Reaching Oklahoma City, Oklahoma in the late afternoon we had just enough time to tour the Museum of Osteology . Wow, the variety of skeletons in that museum was truly amazing (gallery here.) The following day we spent at the Oklahoma Zoo (gallery here.) We each bought an unlimited pass for all the rides and attractions, but unfortunately that didn't include the latest attraction at Stingray Bay . Still we rode the ChooChoo and Safari Tram, cruise boat and carousel, and saw most of the animals, including the baby elephant (video here.) We really wore ourselves out in the swan paddleboat, or I did anyway. Bev had a lot of fun with that but being not much of a swimmer and being that close to the water made me a little nervous, and the non-intuitive steering of the paddleboat took a bit of getting used to to avoid colliding with another swan boat on the lake.

August 4-5

We reached Murfreesboro, Arkansas early enough in the day to check out the Crater of the Diamonds State Park . I'd really been looking forward to hunting for a raw diamond to set in a pendant, but it turned out most of the diamonds found there were pea size or smaller. With the temperature hovering in the mid 90's even with our Camelbaks it was just too hot to sift through the furrows for more than a couple of hours for something that small. There were plenty of large chunks of jasper to pick up and I managed to find a few small agates and pieces of calcite, but it was hardly worth the effort to hunt for diamonds, in all that heat... The retail prices in that area were also outrageous, several hundred dollars to over a thousand for a very tiny Arkansas diamond.

By this time an issue with my car's brakes needed to be fixed, having narrowly averted a couple of accidents due to them freezing up while coming off the freeway. The nearest Toyota dealership was in Nash , Texas about seventy miles away. In the morning it took two trips to the dealership before they finally got the problem fixed, having to backtrack twenty-five miles when we discovered that the problem persisted after they had resurfaced the rotors and replaced the brake pads. But happily the final repairs (and the most expensive) were on the house, as the head mechanic apologized for not spotting up front the actual problem (a faulty vacuum pump.) Real Texas hospitality!

On the way back to Murfreesboro we sought out the Ka Do Ha Indian Village which was prominently advertised around the town. The village turned out to be a few miles out of town on a narrow road that twisted and turned unpredictably. The history of the thousand-year old village was fascinating, originally covering a two-hundred square mile area. There was a museum inside the main building that was full of artifacts and complete descriptions on how they were used a thousand years ago, and out back there were the burial mounds, some that had been excavated to a depth of about ten or twelve feet with skeletons at the bottom revealing part of what had been unearthed there. There was also a plowed field of a few acres where they let you hunt for artifacts. Since this was privately-owned land, they let you keep anything you find. The temperature was more moderate on this day and the ground softer so it was rather easy to search the field. We found a few large arrowheads, a one inch quartz crystal and most surprising of all a good-sized stone tool that might have been originally used for grinding corn -- not a bad haul for the very reasonable entrance fee paid! (picture here)

August 6-7

One of the most controversial and dynamic fractal artists and a social poet of no less distinction lives in Little Rock, Arkansas, Terry Wright . Terry also happens to be a good internet friend of mine and long-time fan of my software, so it was a real pleasure to meet him and his wife Cindy in person. Terry is the original inspiration behind my poemscapes, as without his examples and encouragement I wouldn't have thought to combine text and fractal into an expository art form. While most of my fractal art is off the cuff like spontaneous jazz, Terry really works on his fractals, post-processing to the extreme until only the art form remains, and exemplifying whatever story Terry has in mind.

Little Rock has a great water park called Wild River Country, which was just the thing for my wife Bev to cool off at. (Meanwhile I sat and read or played games on my Android tablet. Incredibly there was no charge for seniors 60+, so we both got in free!) Later, we enjoyed a fine catfish dinner at Catfish City with the Wrights (Both Terry's ordered the Large Catch, with hushpuppies, coleslaw and potato wedges, yum.) The next day we visited Terry at the University of Central Arkansas where he now works as the Interim Dean of the College of Fine Arts and Communications (for many years he was a Professor of Creative Writing there.) Terry is an irrepressible conversationalist and his office displays his love of fractal art with large canvas prints and other fanciful art objects.

August 8

In Nashville, Tennessee there is a full-sized replica of the Greek Parthenon in Athens , complete with an art gallery (featuring Paul Lancaster's paintings) and a 42 foot statue of Athena (Gallery here.)

August 9

In Sweetwater, Tennessee is a geological wonder Bev and I were greatly anticipating seeing, an underground lake called The Lost Sea that now ranks the third largest underground lake in the world, after Lake Vostok in Antarctica and the lake in Dragon's Breath Cave in Namibia . We took the guided tour which includes a maze of unusual caverns to descend through. At the bottom we boarded a glass-bottom boat for a cruise around the lake. Bev had her hand tickled by one of the many trout the lake is stocked with. (Gallery here)

After lunch we headed on to Pigeon Forge, Tennessee a short distance from Gatlinburg and the entrance to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park .

August 10-11

Great Smoky Mountains National Park on the border between Tennessee and North Carolina has to be one of the most romantic national parks in America , with gentle mists rising from green valleys and settling with a blue cast on mountain peaks. On Clingmans Dome the wilderness and mists surround you, like Steven's jar, as you look out upon the majestic expanse (Gallery here.)

August 12

Lexington, Kentucky was our next stop, for Bev loves horses and the Kentucky Horse Park was a must see. While I hadn't ridden a horse since 1980, and quite shaken up by the trotting on Kawai then, the horseback rides offered at the park promised to be at a slow walk. Then it rained and the thunder canceled our ride, but as luck turned out the skies later cleared and we managed to book the last ride of the day. I was a little nervous mounting but my horse had a steady gate and only balked once, at which point I was told to kick it a few times until it got going again, faster than it was supposed to, a fair trot to catch up with the horse in front, until it was fairly packed in close to its hind quarters. (Gallery here.)

August 13

In the Lafayette, Indiana area at Battle Ground to be precise there's a wolf park where wolves, coyotes and foxes are much in evidence. If there's anything that Bev loves more than horses it's wolves and here more than anywhere else you could see the wolves close up and free to roam. Unlike most zoos we've been to the wolves were out in the open and doing their thing, chewing on meat or surveying their natural landscape. (Gallery here.) On the guided tour around the park we also had the chance to actually howl with the wolves! (Audio here.) We also visited the Tippecanoe Battleground Park in Lafayette . The battle has an interesting history, but as in many accounts of Native Americans vs US Infantry the impetus for all the bloodshed was a land grab in favor of the encroaching European settlers (A few pictures here.)

August 14

When she was five or six my mother lived on a farm in Kenosha , Wisconsin . She often recounted that while my grandfather was plowing the field one day the horse suddenly stopped and wouldn't go any farther even when whipped. Then my grandfather spotted my mom in a trench directly in front of the horse... So we stopped in Kenosha for part of the day, visited a public museum and looked out over the bay to Lake Superior (Gallery here) before heading on to Waukesha for the night.

August 15

Two attractions of interest in Eau Claire, Wisconsin (on the way to Duluth, Minnesota ) were the Paul Bunyan Logging Camp alongside the Chippewa Valley Museum (pictures here.) In Duluth we enjoyed a couple of pizzas at Pizza Luce in Duluth, though the lightly roasted garlic cloves on mine went somewhat overboard (more on this later.) The layout of the place was quite campy with a wide-open kitchen trimmed with a brick arch and wood-paneled warehouse-like feel reminiscent of Al Capone days perhaps, and glamour shots of the stars and abstract paintings posted all around.

August 16-17

In the morning we drove by the birthplace of Bob Dylan (picture here) and then drove to Hibbing to see his childhood home (picture here.) Not much to identify or honor Dylan at either houses but there was a street sign at the corner of the block in Hibbing (picture here.) After driving in circles a hundred miles we finally located a vacancy in International Falls, Minnesota , about ten miles from Voyageurs National Park . (We made the mistake of visiting Voyageurs first before seeking lodging, and by the time we finished a short hike near the lake the Knights Inn was booked up, as was the other hotels and motels on the main drag. We headed south out of town, but there was nothing available for fifty miles, so back we came to International Falls and were lucky to find a room off a side street. After this experience we called ahead the night before to book our rooms in Canada and Montana .) The next morning we booked a boat tour on Rainy Lake, but coupled with an overdose of garlic cloves (from the leftover Duluth pizza) and the fried fish dinner I ate the night before at the Chocolate Moose (more like a frozen TV dinner than fresh seafood) I only made it half way through the tour before I had to lay down and was suffering the rest of the day and night from presumably a case of acute indigestion or fast-food poisoning. (Gallery here.)

August 18

Remembering the restrictions on cruise ships I was worried if the border guards thought I was too sick they might not let us pass through to Canada , but thankfully by morning with the aide of aspirin the worst of my symptoms had lessened to the point I was barely sweating. So after having our luggage and passports thoroughly checked by the guards and Interpol (security is tight on both sides of the border), we were on our way to Winnipeg and a stroll through The Forks (Gallery here.) Just to be safe I opted for a vegetarian dinner at The Beachcomber, though the seafood menu was tempting.

August 19

It's a long drive from Winnipeg to Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan , so we broke it up with a few stops along the way. Located in Souris, Manitoba is Canada's longest swinging suspension bridge (pictures here) and a rock pit where I managed to collect some nice agate, jasper and petrified wood (picture here.) As well as the world largest teepee in Medicine Hat there's the Blackfoot Crossing museum, a unique architectural structural that houses the history of the Siksika people. Photography is prohibited on the lower level of the museum, but outside the view is awesome. (Gallery here.) At Moose Jaw we arrived just in time to catch the last two tours of the underground Tunnels. Both were quite an adventure!

August 20-21

We finally made it to Banff, Alberta . The town has grown since I last visited in 1973. The Chateau at Lake Louise has added a couple of wings, so I hardly recognized the place. But of course the views of the Canadian Rockies are phenomenal both at Banff and Lake Louise . We took the Teahouse trail at Lake Louise, a continuous climb up numerous switchbacks to Mirror Lake. (Gallery here.)

August 22-24

At Essex , Montana there's an old-fashioned railroad inn we stayed at, our gateway to Glacier National Park . It was very spooky walking the woods surrounding the inn at night, with nary a light to guide your way. We were lucky to see some mountain goats at the Goat lick near the inn (Video here, Gallery here) and inside Glacier, as well as some mountain sheep at Logan Pass. We hiked the Hidden Lake trail, another straight up trail but well worth it! (Gallery here.)

August 25-26

In Saint Maries, Idaho we stayed at a lovely Bed and Breakfast on the shores of the St. Joe River (Gallery here) in preparation for a day collecting garnets at the Emerald Creek Garnet Area. It was hard work, due to recent rains, shoveling up the garnet gravel and hauling buckets of it to the sluicing area. Once you get the hang of it, the garnets really pop out at you. Most of the garnets were small or in pieces, it being the end of the collecting season, but I did manage to collect a few ounces of garnets (picture here.)

August 27

Since it was close by I opted for a visit to Graveyard Point, Oregon , once a premium site for collecting plume agate. Following the Graveyard Point road to the collecting areas is a not difficult, but we always seem to get lost coming back from there, and this time was no exception. Once we arrived though at a BLM entrance I just walked up the hill stopping to pick up chunks of agate and jasper along the way (picture here.) There were enough pieces of agate up and down the trail that it didn't bother me that the main collecting sites at the top were depleted of anything useful.

On the way to Boise, Idaho we stopped to admire the view at the White Bird Hill overlook (pictures here) then dinner at Smoky Mountain Pizzeria in Boise .

August 28

We stopped to enjoy an authentic Basque dinner (family style) in Winnemucca before retiring for the night in Reno, Nevada .

August 29