no matter where you go, there you are

Thursday, October 6, 2011

wade in the water

Besides Graceland there wasn't anything else in Memphis that Molly or I were dying to do. We'd done a little research during our trek from the Grand Canyon but as we were trying to spend as little as possible, we wanted to find a cheap and interesting place. My aunt had recommended we go to the Slave Haven Underground Railroad Museum but there was also the Civil Rights Museum which is in the same building that Martin Luther King Jr. was shot. Decisions, decisions. Beale street was another option but that was going to be a drive-by. Neither of us cared that much to pay for parking and then walk in the scorching heat.

I think because of admission price we decided to head to the Underground Slave Museum which turned out to be a very good choice. However, as we never went to the Civil Rights Museum I can't say for sure that it was better. It took us a little while to find the museum and we were about to give up when we finally found it. There wasn't a distinct sign or anything to set it apart from the other homes in the the neighborhood but we somehow found it. Inside the back entrance was a collection of homemade trinkets and books relating to the Underground Railroad and Slavery. We purchased our ticket and was led into the front room whose walls were covered in quilts, pictures and prints. We were told to look around here and the other room while we wait for the "tour" to begin.

We ended up being the only ones on this tour so it was nice and personal. It began with our guide sitting with us and giving us a background on the house and its significance to slaves' escape during the 19th century. The house, owned by a white man whose name I can't remember, allowed passage of escape to numerous African-American slaves becoming a hero to many. He did own slaves himself but it was to maintain the image of fitting in with other white people so no one would become suspicious of his doings. Our guide was terrific. She told us stories, explained how they passed messages in quilts and songs, sang to us and made us feel quite at home. After the chat she took us down to the basement to show us the escape passage out of the house. They entered like anyone else would but then crawled through a teeny little hole in the basement and hid under the back porch until nightfall when it was safe to escape. All of the artifacts hanging up were fantastic and really added to the vibe of the museum. It was a great little non-commercial place I'd highly recommend to anyone in the Memphis area.

Afterwards we decided to drive by the Civil Rights Museum to see the iconic former hotel where King Jr. was assassinated and then do the driving tour of Beale St. The museum was nifty and they've worked to make it look frozen in the 1960s. Beale St. was a failure as it was barricaded off from driving down. Oh well, we did get a nice picture of it.

So that was the end of our day in Memphis. Before heading back to Mississippi and our wonderful hotel we stopped at the local AAA office to pick up Universal Orlando tickets with a small discount and decided to ask the attendant if she had any local food joint recommendations. She did, and it was a place only about a mile from the hotel so definitely not out of our way. It was a great recommendation and had an abundance of items you don't see on many New England menus. Fried catfish, fried green tomatoes...and plenty more. Now I'm not a big tomato person but the fried green ones were pretty tasty. And the catfish wasn't bad either.

as long as i live, i'll hear waterfalls and birds and winds sing - john muir

California is a huge state filled with a wide variety of landscapes and people. It has beaches, deserts, mountains and forests of all kind. Molly and I stayed in the northern half of the state before making our way down the east side towards Death Valley. Between visiting friends of Molly's in Berkeley and Death Valley we spent a wonderful day and a quarter in our first established National Park, Yosemite. We arrived in the south side of the park at Mariposa Grove to walk amongst the Giant Sequoia trees. These trees were probably just as tall as the grand redwoods but they were overall much larger because of their enormous girth. We opted not to hike the whole trail because it was getting late so we didn't see the tree you could drive a car under but we did see plenty of great giants.

The campsite I'd chosen was a non-reservation one up along the ridge south of the valley. It was nice, small, quiet and had some really cool boulders all around. We chose a spot, set up camp, made some quick food (which we then put away in the provided bear-proof container) and headed to bed. Like Yellowstone, Yosemite's evening temperatures are fairly low (I think it's the mountain thing) therefore we piled on a few layers before sleeping and set aside others as back-up. The only problem was keeping our faces, especially the nose, warm. In the morning we woke early, cleaned and packed up camp (something we were becoming experts in), and headed out for the overlook called Glacier Point. Here you get outstanding views of the infamous Yosemite Valley which includes the Half-Dome and Yosemite Falls. The view was amazing and I'd definitely recommend driving to the overlook if you ever get a chance. It's a little "out of the way" if you want to spend a lot of your time in the Valley where most of the tourist activities are; but it provides an overlook of one of America's most beautiful landscapes.

We then drove a little ways down the road to one of the multiple hikes within the park. It was really nice, bringing us through meadows and forests and by boulders and finishes with a climb up a rock face. We spent a bit of time at the top just enjoying the coolish weather and excellent views from the top.

We then traveled down into the valley to see if we could do one of the small, easy hikes to the bottom of Yosemite Falls, the highest measured fall in North America. The water flow wasn't super full as it was the end of summer and it tends to be much lighter at that time of year. However, the valley was PACKED! And I don't even think it was the highest tourist time of year. The valley though is very narrow so there is limited, limited parking. And its super congested. So we opted not to try and maneuver through all the people and settled for a stop by the river where Molly waded in the cool water.

Our exit out of the park to nowhere's ville camping was along the northern road to the eastern exit.  Although we drove by overlooks and stops, we opted out of them and only made one short stop at the Tuolumne Meadows. There wasn't too much to do since we weren't hiking so we didn't spend long at the ranger station. We were both fairly tired with a few more hours driving ahead of us so we popped back in the car to finish out the day.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

i could never stay long enough on the shore - helen keller

And continuing right along with our adventures in Oregon (except for Astoria because I already covered that) I move onto our 2 days driving along the beautiful, mixed-weather coastline. We spent the good part of our first day in Astoria and Ecola State Park and after completing our Goonies Tour, we hopped in the car and drove on down to Cape Lookout State Park which is right on the beach. We arrived at sunset, and it was so cloudy and rainy that darkness was settling fast. We set up the tent, walked quickly down to the beach and back, but it was cold and wet so we thought bed would be better.

In the morning we discovered that the clouds hadn't cleared but the rain had at least stopped. We strolled again down to the beach and though there wasn't much of a view we did appreciate feeling the ocean air again.

After packing up the gear we headed back into town, had a lovely breakfast at a cute cafe and found Oil Can Henry's, a drive-thru oil change chain along the west coast that was recommended to us by someone we'd encountered. I'd never been through a drive through oil change before and after Henry's I don't know how any other place will maintain its high standard. We didn't have to get out of the car, the two gentlemen workers explained everything very clearly, they gave us USA Today to read while they did the oil change, they were very nice and entertaining and best of all, they wore cute little uniforms.

With the car all refreshed we hopped onto US 101 and our first sightseeing stop was the Devil's Punch Bowl in Newport. The clouds had cleared a bit and it was a nice little stop to stretch our legs and look down at a fascinating geological formation.

Another great stop we made was at Devil's churn, a narrow inlet in Lincoln City. It can be very dangerous and waves can spurt high in the air. It was quite windy and I really liked the trees that were permanently shaped in that direction with the side facing the ocean stripped of any life.

Back in the car and on the road again the drive was very nice and didn't always hug the coastline but there were quite a few times when we drove by just ocean. The section of 101 in Florence near the Sea Lion Caves is one example. We luckily found a parking space right next to the Cave center and not down the road. The building is a very small containing only a small gift shop and ticket window booth. After purchasing your ticket you head down and have two options: the elevator down to the cave or the exterior overlook of outside the cave. We went down first. The elevator drops you down quite a ways and you exit right into a wet, cold cave. The view of the sea lions is small and gets crowded quickly so you have to wait your turn to see the animals.

Unlike an aquarium, the sea lions are not in captivity. They are all wild and the cave is their natural habitat so this attraction provides a safe lookout point for both the animals and the spectators. The sea lions weren't doing much on their rock. Lying and sleeping for the most part except for one guy who was bobbing his head a bit. It was really cool but since they're fairly far away, binoculars would have been a nice addition. Inside the cave there is also a wooden stairwell you can go up to see a lighthouse across the way.

Back to the elevator and up the hill we then took the trail down a slope to a lookout of the exterior of the cave. You can't see the physical entrance but there's a long portion of rock where tons and tons of sea lions are lounging about and sunbathing. I liked these guys better as they were a little more active. Multiple lions were slithering in and out of the water, playing with each other and entertaining themselves. It was nice to see animals I would never see at home interact in their natural habitat and not in one created for them at an aquarium.

Our last stop before finding a hotel in Brookings (the last town before the California border) was the Oregon Dunes National Recreation Area. South of Florence this area is a section of the coastline which has sand dunes for miles and miles and miles. We pulled up to no section in particular, just the first one we came across after entering. It was fairly empty and no one was there to swim and sunbathe. The temperatures were chilly and the sun had once again disappeared behind a layer of clouds. We took out our bottle of Atlantic Ocean water and Molly ceremoniously dumped it into the Pacific. I then filled it back up to bring home to the Atlantic.

We then spent some time individually wandering the area. I loved the look of the untouched sand, or the sand only affected by wind. The ripples were wonderful, and to see so much area that no human had stepped on for quite some time was really beautiful.

Last but not least, after a wonderful stop and a beautiful overlook where the sun was prevailing in the sky, we arrived in Brookings, OR.

Although it was a very long day of traveling and exploring, we still had the energy to grab a quick dinner at DQ Grill and Chill and walk along the local beach at sunset. It was gorgeous! All the beaches throughout the day were calming and peaceful, a great way to decompress and relax.


For a 5-week adventure across the grand Unites States of America, Molly and I did fairly well with not having any problems. The check engine light did come on a few times but we determined it was from the drastic climate changes so nothing to worry about...And then there was Portland, OR. Now don't get me wrong, Portland is a beautiful city and I have nothing wrong with the city itself. I don't have any hard feelings against the city, just at a certain cop on a motorcycle.

Let me backtrack just a little. Molly and I arrived in Troutville, OR after a lonnng, lonnng drive from Yellowstone Park, through Montana, Idaho and across the vast, open lands of Eastern Washington and Oregon. Although I found it dreadfully boring at the time (I think because it was such a long day), I am shocked at the landscape of Oregon and how there is a city like Portland that is so green and splendorific and then 200 miles east it's like the Great Plains of the Midwest.

The next morning we met up with Mark and Morgan (my sister-in-law) for breakfast and caught up with how their honeymoon in Hawaii went as they'd only returned a few days before. We then headed downtown so I could take Molly to Powell's Books, an excellent, fantastic, massive used book store. It has the atmosphere of a small business, cute bookstore but it's twice the size of Barnes and Nobles. We're both a sucker for used books so its right up our alley and we spent an hour or two browsing around.

As we still had a busy afternoon planned in Astoria, we departed around 1030 and hopped on the highway headed west. I don't remember if I've mentioned it before but we completed this trip with no GPS and a road atlas that was 10 years old. So sometimes in busier places or ones with bad signage we didn't always get onto the correct roadways. I don't remember how it happened, but we ended up getting off the highway by accident so we had to turn around and sidetrack to get back to where we wanted to be. So we're going through the backroads and finally arrive at a T-intersection that plops us right back on the state highway we'd accidentally got off. Cars are zooming by, and on the green we take the left and Molly accelerates. Not even 10 seconds later we see the flashing lights. So we pull over and the cop comes up and does the routine. Asks us if we know the speed limit, which we don't because we'd only been on the road for mere seconds. I don't think we'd even passed a speed limit sign yet. He points to one right in front of us and says we were going 52 and a 35mph zone. As we're waiting for the cop to come back from writing us a ticket we notice that cars passing us by are certainly not going 35 mph.

The worst part of it was that when he gave us the ticket and asked us if we had any questions, we said "no" and went on our merry way. When I finally got around to reading the ticket he'd marked us as going 52mph in a 35 mph zone (as told to us) yet also marked it as 21-30 miles over the speed limit, which determined, in part, the amount we owed. 52-35=17!!!!!! So much hate!!!! And since we weren't going to be in the state to go to appeal in court we had to write a letter to mail in. And as we were on the road up until needing to be in court, we couldn't wait until we got home and had a computer to type it. So the State of Oregon received a nice handwritten note from us regarding our cop's complete lack of basic math skills. (It didn't really say it like that but it did mention that we were charged unfairly).

So that was our experience in Portland. I don't like cops in Portland.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

bigger than rhode island and delaware combined...its yellowstone national park

Jumping all the way back to our visit to Yellowstone National Park, I haven't discussed all that we did on our first day there. The night before was all about showering, setting up camp and going to sleep. Inside the tent we ate leftover pasta and potato salad by flashlight then headed to bed (a little later than usual, around 830pm.) For our first day in such a big park there was much to do and little time to do so. We spent the morning at Yellowstone Canyon, midday at the hot springs, and the late afternoon taking a driving tour of the northern loop of the park.

The canyon was gorgeous and one of my favorite parts of the trip. Now the Grand Canyon is certainly grand, but in a way it's just so big and the walls that jut out from the Colorado River eroding down make it hard to see it in all its expanse. Yellowstone Canyon was a big canyon as well but much much much smaller than the Grand Canyon and I think it had a lot more character to it. The coloring of the walls were varied and gorgeous and the constant views of the lower Yellowstone Falls (both upper and lower) were just phenomenal.

Upper Yellowstone Falls
We hiked down the stairs installed on the southern side, climbed back up and then walked along the rim down to Artist's Point. Great views were in store all along and it was just a wonderful sunny day. There's a trail on the other side that goes all the way down into the canyon which I would have loved to do but it was an all day hike which we didn't have the time for. For next time...

After Artist's Point we followed a trail along to some of the ponds in the area and it looped back to the parking lot. As we were the only ones on the trail it was quiet and serene and the area was quite diverse landscape-wise. We passed some small mud pots and many warning signs to stay on the trail. No bears were encountered and the last bit took us through a huge meadow back to the parking lot.

Now a side note on weather. Although it was sunny and very very nice out, the heat in northwest Wyoming isn't dreadful like the Midwest or the desert. By midday it gets in the 80s but what's so surprising is how cold it gets at night. That first night we were not prepared and both Molly and I woke up in the middle of the night to add a couple of layers of clothes. The following nights we were prepared with only two pairs of sweats, a long sleeve shirt, socks, hooded sweatshirt and a camping sleeping bag keeping us warm. In the morning it wasn't as frigid but was still chilly so we'd change and then throw sweats over our clothes before heading out for a hike. However out on the hike, depending on whether you were in the shade or sun, you could be hot one minute and cold the next so until about noontime it was a constant battle over whether or not to keep the sweatpants on or not.

After the canyon hike we drove over to the Hot Springs and explored that area. There were some elk hanging out in front of one of the buildings and some lady was being really really stupid and walking very close just to get a picture...even though there were numerous signs saying "do not approach the elk."

Speaking of stupid, there was a lady and her family walking up one of the boardwalks along the hot springs and her hat flew off her head onto the sulfur-y, water-y ground where you're not supposed to walk. She kept prodding her adult son to go and get it. We saw them later and she was wearing the hat that had been sitting in all the nasty water so I don't know how they got it but ewwww.

The hot springs are just that, hot springs and they were of all shapes and sizes. And really different from the ones in the geyser basins as discussed here. My words don't do it justice so take a look at the pictures showing off the colors and wonders of the hot springs.

After the hot springs we made our way driving around the rest of the northern loop of the park. Taking a slight detour off the main road, we took a scenic drive which I hoped would give us some wildlife to look at but no such luck. However, there were some fantastic views that certainly made it worth the extra time driving 15 mph.