Category Archives: Cross-Country Trip
Although I’m no expert, I love to dabble in some creative activity like painting and cooking. I find them to be stress relievers. So as Nate played video games, I was playing with fire and trying out some new and old recipes in our quaint, green-tiled kitchen.
After Nate and I got settled in our West Hollywood apartment—it took us a week to find an apartment and move in, an additional month to find and purchase furniture—we decided to throw our inaugural house warming party. I was able to show off some of the paintings I did to brighten up our white walls (I hate painting apartments that we’ll eventually have to paint again) and entice our guests with an assortment of treats.
4648 Miles, 1 month, 80 hours of driving
Las Vegas, Nevada (August 12, 2011-August 13, 2011)
Getting there… Zion National Park, the Narrows
So, this blog post is a bit late, but for all of you loyal readers out there, thank you for your patience. At this point, our road trip is coming to an end and our last big adventure is that of Zion National Park.
Nate and I planned on taking a hike through The Narrows of Zion National Park. We kept postponing it during our three day stay in St. George, Utah but knew it was a Must-Do Adventure. Fellow Ithaca College ’08 Alum, Nic B., provided us with insight about Zion. He said, “If we like heights, do Angel’s Landing. If we like water do the River Walk. If we feel gutsy, do the Narrows.” Thanks for the tip, Nic—we chose the Narrows after reading up on the park.
The only comparison I have for the Narrows is that it is similar to William Goldman’s book / movie “The Princess Bride”and the ravine that leads to the Fireswamp. Essentially, the canyon walls are so high, there’s only two ways to go: back to where you started at the end of River Walk or forward, toward the unknown. We did not approach any giant rodents or quick sand, but we did see tadpoles and little fish, and sometimes found water too deep to walk through.
It was a blast hopping from boulder to rock, and splashing our way upstream. The hike is said to be 60% through water, and the water was a cool, refreshing 60 degrees. We chose a great day to hike in the water, the rest of the park was over 100 degrees with heat glaring off of the canyon rocks. We definitely got
a work out wading against the current. The muscles I used to keep balance on the rocks are those that I used in Field Hockey, a lot of leg muscles! The water wasn’t as high as we expected, due to the drought season of Northern Utah. Most of the time, we walked through calf-high water, a few times we went above our waste. Only twice did we have to swim.
The first part of the hike was crowded with people, some even carrying young infants through the water. As we kept trudging through the canyon, the crowd thinned and soon we only came upon a group of people every so often. One of the favorite hotspots was about a half mile from “Wall Street”. A giant boulder (7-8 feet high) stands in the water base. The water surrounding it was deep enough to jump into (7 feet). Like some others, I tried climbing the boulder to take a plunge, but couldn’t pull myself up. Instead, Nate and I walked full into the water and let the current take us around the boulder. We did this a few times before heading on.
The “Wall Street” of Utah is a part of the hike where the river gets very narrow and the cliffs very high. It was peaceful
here, and I wish we could have continued on. From what I understand, the Narrows get so, well, narrow, that the sky is barely a slit above. I hope to return someday to hike the entire length, perhaps I can convince my brothers and sister-in-law to come for a visit there. The entire tour takes a day and a half; some do it in eight hours.
When we finally decided to turn back, Nate and I were going with the current of the Virgin River. We decided to make a fun game of it, and where the water was deep enough, we let the current take us. I used the back-pack my brother and sister-in-law gave us as a type of life jacket. The air in the back-pack kept me slightly afloat. It was definitely more exhilarating, but similar to a “Lazy River” you’d find in waterparks. In fact, the whole Narrows is much better than a waterpark!
A Change of Plans
In The Narrows, we kept saying “after the next bend, we’ll turn around” and “well, let’s keep going until we’re out of the thick of the crowds”. So by the time we exited the Narrows and made the 40 minute trip to the car, it was already 7 pm. With some smart phones and a few phone calls, we decided it was best to drive the four or so hours to Las Vegas and stay one night. This would mean we only had a two and a half hour drive to finish off our National Road Trip.
We arrived in Las Angeles late, 10 pm…. Well, I guess for those who go to Vegas for fun, that’s early. But after spending the day using muscles we forgot we had, we went right to bed. The one thing I can say about Vegas is that if you’re driving in at night time, from a far, you’re approaching a “Sea of Lights”. At that angle, Vegas is quite pretty. A majestic land of Tinkerbelles glittering the desert earth.
The following morning, we checked out of our hotel. And by the way, don’t stay in Vegas if you’re passing through and just need a bed… the resort fee is ridiculous. I tried talking it down, but Nate had to play good cop to my bad cop.
We met my biological grandfather, Jim, for breakfast before heading to our new hometown. The abridged story is that mother was reunited with her father and aunts late fall, 2010 after last seeing Jim when she was five (ish?). I had only met him once prior to this breakfast, at Christmas-time surrounded by my family. I was a bit nervous having a one-on-one meal with him, but he’s a very nice man and seemed genuinely interested in getting to know Nate and I. Once we’re settled, Nate and I will have to visit Jim again for a weekend and get the real Vegas experience.
We left Jim and headed on to our last stop. Los Angeles! I may write another couple of blogs, to give you an idea of where we found an apartment. Essentially, I’ll keep writing if I have something of interest to write about… you should do the same!
Arriving in Los Angeles, California…
4648 Miles, 1 month, 80 hours of driving
St. George, Utah (August 9- August 12, 2011)
A bit sunburned and tired from our trips through Rocky Mountain National Park and Arches National Park, we packed up our overnight bags and headed out of Moab, Utah for another drive in the desert. This time, we drove to St. George, Utah in the day and were able to see much of the beautiful land. Not long into our drive, I spotted a Prairie Dog peering out of burrow. Later, Nate and I both would see a Coyote pup trotting alongside the road. I wonder how our family dogs’ Frank, Josie, and Jorgie would like all the wildlife.
After driving a few hours with not much of anything around, except the gorgeous landscape of Desert Mountains, canyons, and colorful earth, we
found a great diner in Salina, Utah at Mom’s Café. The beef dip was no substitute for an authentic Philly Cheesesteak, but it sure hit the spot. Topped off with a slice of cherry pie, we were quite satisfied. And yes, we saw billboards leading to Mom’s Café touting the “Great Pie”. Other than the diner, there seemed to be very little in this cowboy town.
Arriving in St. George, Utah we found a cute pedestrian mall area in Dillon to have dinner. We enjoyed sushi and Thai at Benja’s before walking around the area under the star-lit sky. It was a relaxing evening before our exuberating tour of the Grand Canyon the next day.
More Than a Big Whole…
Of its annual visitors, only 10% visit the North Rim of the Grand Canyon. We were two of the lucky few who get to
experience a more temperate environment. The Ponderosa and Pine forests provided a much needed reprieve from the heat. I especially liked the Smokey the Bear signs along the way, warning “Only You…. Can Prevent Forest Fires.” Apparently, his advice was not heeded; we saw forests re-growing after a 2006 wildfire. The North Rim Country
Store, operated by a lovely old couple, was a great stop. We got some ice cream novelty bars and were told of some great places to visit in the Canyon. We were also made aware of a natural surprise….
Herd of Buffalo
As we entered the park, we greeted by more wildlife, actually a herd! Wild Buffalo were grazing in a field and enjoying a watering hole. The grazing area and the water hole were separated by the paved road, which meant we got to watch up close and personal as the large graceful animals crossed the street. It was mesmerizing seeing the herd of over a hundred meander about. The herd even had young calves running around. It wasn’t until a Park Ranger asked us to get back to our vehicles that we headed off for more glorious sites.
The Grand Canyon was one of the first natural wonders that President Roosevelt preserved despite protests from mining claim holders. I can’t imagine how the park would be today if it had not been protected. The sheer size and wonderful views is very grounding, it puts your life into perspective and can make you feel like a very small piece of the universe. It’s exhilarating to be humbled by rock and nature.
At times, the views and far off horizon look fake, as if painted by Monet or Cézanne . One can see land masses for miles and miles. At one point, we even saw mountain tops of California (luckily, there wasn’t much smog that
Nate, again, drove for hours, navigating the Kia through tight and windy roads. We stopped along the way to take in the views and get as close to the edge as comfortable. One stop, near Cape Royal, we were able to walk along a cliff that jutted out about fifty yards and was only
about five yards wide. We battled vertigo by looking across the vast Canyon instead of straight down. Below, you could barely make out the Colorado River. The only evidence of the water source was the line of trees following a squiggly pattern through the canyon.
It was a pleasurable afternoon, gazing upon the pink sand dunes and rock formations. It’s amazing how much fun and excitement you get from looking at rocks and the absence of earth. These visits and sites make me want to paint again….
A Little Bit of Nothing
Our second day in St. George was nothing to report on. We slept in and worked.
To Las Vegas, Nevada…
4648 Miles, 1 month, 80 hours of driving
Moab, Utah (August 7- August 9, 2011)
Getting there… Through the Rockies
Nathan and I left Denver, Colorado anticipating our next adventure to be one for the ages. Our plan was to drive through the Rocky Mountains. And drive, we did. The Kia Rio, packed to the brim with our belongings, chugged along the highest paved road in America. As Nate said, “we were playing King of the World.” The road was windy, taking us through Rocky Mountain National Park. We felt like the Little Engine that Could, “I think I can, I think I can.” At times, we were 12,000 feet above sea level. At other times, a mere painted line separated us from the edge of a cliff. Nate was a champ through the entire drive. The four-hour drive was worth the majestic views and experiences we had.
Every so often, pull-offs were available for sightseers to park and drink in the views. We were naïve to think how amazing the first couple of views were. The lush valleys were ski moguls compared to the vast cliffs and terrain we would see later in the day. The rocky earth was littered with plants and foliage that could endure the high altitude and rough soil; at a certain point we could see the clear distinction of the tree line as the Pines and Evergreens stopped growing. The Rocky Mountain Alpine Zone was unsuitable for sustainable growth of the trees.
We donned our hoodies and had a bit of trouble breathing as we climbed a path to some “mushroom top boulders”. But the crisp, clean air was worth it. Similar to the Artic Tundra, we saw snow-capped mountains and even made a snowball that survived a day in our cooler.
Here, we also saw two Elks grazing. On our descent towards Grand Lake (a great place to camp or lodge if you want multiple days in the Park), we passed the Continental Divide. You could say, we were in two places at the same time.
Had we more time, we would have taken a couple hikes, but our car did the work for us. We continued toward our next destination, Moab, Utah and excitedly watched as the greenery of Colorado turned to the desert of Southern Utah. One thing is for sure, this road trip has brought back vague memories of grade school geography; I was glad to have remembered about Plateaus and the Great Basin. After a few hours of driving, we stopped for a gourmet pizza at the Rockslide Brew Pub in Grand Junction, Colorado. It was the only place open at 8 pm and as we left the restaurant, we could smell something weird in the town. Apparently, oil was being refined in the area.
As we drove into Utah, the welcome sign reading “Life Elevated”, I saw a Coyote or American Jackal running along the shoulder of the road. It was very graceful as it trotted along towards our car. Coming in to Utah after dark, we had no idea of the beautiful landscape that awaited us for the next morning.
The Arches National Park
We awoke to find red hills of stone and canyons
surrounding us. Nate had especially planned our next excursion knowing that the Arches National Park was one of the most beautiful parks in the nation. If you watched “127 Hours” (the movie James Franco was nominated 2011 Best Actor for his depiction of the canyoneer, Aron Ralston) you may compare some of our photos to the scenes filmed in Moab, Utah.
I even acted out the part of the canyoneer trapped on the arm by a fallen boulder. Don’t fret, no arms were harmed in the making of this photograph.
This was another park that you can drive through, and much like the Rocky Mountain National Park, stop at certain locations and explore. The four-hour drive led us through canyon desert and natural sandstone formations. The desert formations were very interesting.
With the sun glaring down us and reflecting off the red stone, we explored areas like the Balanced Rock, Courthouse Towers, Double Arch, and Fiery Furnace. The Balanced Rock is the size of three school buses balancing high above the ground; Nate and I spent time walking around this area and “tried lifting the boulder”. Just kidding, but we did have some fun with the photo taking. The collection of tall stone columns makes up the Courthouse Towers, but real fun was to be had at the Double Arch where two arches share a common end. Nate and I climbed the double arches to peak through the windows.
Unfortunately, I got afraid when I was almost to the top and was too scared to sit on the “window sill”. But I did get a peek through the open window and into the vast desert that lay beyond. I couldn’t even imagine exploring the desert. Although we wanted to see the Delicate Arch, which has become a symbol of Utah, we chickened out because of the three-mile hike in the intense heat of midafternoon. Next time, I’ll bring my camel. We did make one last view of the Fiery Furnace, an area of maze-like narrow passages and tall rock columns.
I can’t believe just several hours earlier we were wearing sweaters and playing in the tundra snow of the Rocky Mountains and today we were soaking t-shirts in ice water to wear as make-shift turbans. Gotta love the West.
While driving through the National Parks, we meet interesting people along the way. At the Arches, I noticed a couple whose car had USC and UCLA bumper stickers. We started up a conversation with them (as Nate says, I’m very much like my father in this way), and they introduced us to their daughter, a current USC student. They provided some good advice about our future city home.
Dinner and a Movie
Spending the morning and afternoon in the sun meant a slow and relaxing evening. After taking a dip in the hotel pool and a brief nap, we headed out for chili at the Moab Brewery and a movie from the Red Box. The Moab Brewery is the only micro-brewery in the area and its food is served in large proportions. There were slim pickings for the movie, but Nate and I got a few good laughs at “The Others”.
To St. George, Utah…
4648 Miles, 1 month, 80 hours of driving
Denver, Colorado (August 5- August 7, 2011)
Nate and I decided we’d rather see the Colorado Rockies instead of going to Yellowstone National Park so we changed our itinerary. This decision will cut off a few days of our trip and save us some mileage. I love this decision because I had wanted to see the mountains.
Murty and Susie treated us to one final meal in Kansas before we left. They took us to “Almost Home Diner”, located in a place that reminded me of the movie Field Of Dreams. This small diner is the definition of “If they build it, they will come”, because it’s essentially in the middle of a cornfield, yet filled with customers. Susie and Murty say many of the local farmers patron the diner every morning and even discuss crop pricing there. It definitely cooks up meals fit for hearty farmers; my single pancake hung over the plate and was over an inch thick. Needless to say, I do not have a country appetite.
Middle America is quite easy to drive through. With the speed limit at 80 MPH and flat straight roads, we really did
follow my dad’s travel advice, “drive fast and stay between the ditches.” Many people think there isn’t much to see in this part of the country. However, as it’s our first time, we were intrigued by several things. First off, we made a short visit to the Eisenhower Library located on the property of his childhood. Had the archives been open, we may have enjoyed this stop much more. Back on the road again, I really loved that the Kansas state flower is my favorite- the sunflower. We saw fields of them! We were also amazed at the Windmill Farms, Oil Drills, and the low-flying biplane crop dusting.
After getting used to the flat land, BAM! The mountains appeared.
The City of Denver
I describe Denver, Colorado as the Ithaca on Steroids because it’s a very liberal community with independent stores and Fair Trade, surrounded by natural beauty. Nate and I spent a day walking around the pedestrian malls, meandering through shops with the Rocky Mountains peaking in and out of view.
The pedestrian mall has Pianos, artfully painted in different designs, every four or five yards. These pianos can be played by anyone and encourage creativity and music. We approached one and I jokingly told the young man sitting at it, “Well, play something for us.” Surprisingly, and very coincidental, he played Elton John’s Tiny Dancer. It seemed as if he knew I’d soon be an “LA Lady”.
The city is full of eclectic people. From sports fans, to tourists, hipsters, and bikers, everyone can feel right at home in this city. Nate and I could have spent hours people watching in Denver, however, we decided to spend a good chunk of time at a large, independent bookstore, Tattered Cover Books. Although a lot smaller in size, it reminds me of Strand Bookstore in NYC. After getting our fill of books, Nate and I found a bite to eat at Illegal Pete’s Mexican. It’s not a fancy restaurant, you go through a food line to get your meal, but it’s tasty!
Denver, Colorado boasts having the most parks for a city. Nate and I took advantage of the River Walk and strolled through the watery walkway. Many people were biking and jogging, and unfortunately, we came across a few beggars that creeped us out. Thankfully, we were not bothered and were able to stay close to a couple with a dog, who we’d imagined would protect us if needed.
If the parks and natural geographic surroundings aren’t your thing to marvel at, Denver has a very cool looking Convention Center- the Colorado Convention Center, to be exact. Its tall glass windows and covered archways make it seem like you’re walking outside even though there’s a covering above. I wouldn’t mind going to a conference in Denver with all of the restaurants and night entertainment there!
I know most of you were expecting to read about our time in the Rocky Mountains, but since we toured them on our way to Utah, see our next blog (LA Trip Part 10: Moab, Utah) in the “Getting There” section for our adventures miles above sea level!
To Moab, Utah…
4648 Miles, 1 month, 80 hours of driving
Topeka, Kansas (August 2- August 5, 2011)
At this point, I’d like to point out that I have not yet given in to Fast Food! The cooler and grocery stores have been a great substitute. The look on fast-food cashier’s faces when I order just hot water (for free) is priceless. I use it to make hot tea or instant coffee. Nate suggested that the last blog, when all is said and done, should be on how to travel for cheap (and healthy).
The ride from Nebraska to Kansas was quick and easy, a mere three hours without any detours for floods. For those of you following along our map route, you may have noticed that we backtracked. Nate and I really wanted to see his Aunt Susie and Uncle Murty in Topeka, but the only way the schedules would work was if we added some extra mileage to the Kia.
A notable occurrence: we got the first “You’re not from around here, are you?” This question was directed at Nate from a teen Burger King employee when he asked for a Coolata. Turns out Kansas (or at least the part we were in) doesn’t have Dunkin’ Donuts or blended coffee drinks.
Did I mention the Heatwave?
Arriving in Topeka, Kansas we were greeted by Nate’s Uncle Murty, who gave us a tour of his home. He had been waiting for us in the garden and said the temperature read 110. Good thing they own a lovely in-ground pool, which we took full advantage of.
Little House on the Prairie
Murty and Susie took us to some of their most frequented restaurants. Our first evening in town, they drove us through the grasslands of the Prairie to a small “one horse” town for steak and potatoes. The flat prairie land stretches as far as the eye can see, dotted with cattle and other livestock. The sky was beautiful blue and cloudless. Discussing the geography reminded me of a childhood book series I used to read, Little House on The Prairie. The town we had dinner in could also be picked out of the book. The gravel and dirt roads led to a small general store. The clerk saw my NY license and commented on how different Kansas and NY were. I told her that I was from a very rural part of the state, however, instead of beef cows, we have dairy farms. Never had I been so proud that Cato, NY had paved roads and a single traffic light.
Nate and I went night swimming the first night in town, relaxing under the stars and cooling off from Topeka’s 112 degree high. However, the following day we were more active in the pool, splashing and playing around. It’s all fun and games until someone gets hurt. Actually, no one got hurt, but I did have water in the ear that stayed with me all day. It took some medical treatment from Susie, who’s a doctor, to relieve the pain. Let’s just say I had enough wax build up in the ear to make a candle, and this had trapped the water.
Vacation from a Vacation
Aside from the pool and eating out, Susie and Murty’s home is like an oasis. They have a great Guest Apartment setup in the basement. Nate and I were able to relax and enjoy the time with his relatives, without feeling as if we were in their way.
Time seems to stand still. We enjoyed watching the wildlife come into their garden, such as the two deer eating apples from the trees and the hummingbirds chasing each other. Bluebirds were also prevalent, perching on the timber posts above the garden tomatoes.
It truly was a relaxing stop, halfway through our trip to Los Angeles. But, alas, onward we journey.
To Denver, Colorado (a change in our original route)…
4648 Miles, 1 month, 80 hours of driving
Omaha, Nebraska (July 30, 2011- August 2, 2011)
We left Missouri for Nebraska and had an interesting tour along the Missouri
River. The Heartland Flood took us by surprise. At first, I thought the river looked like the Florida Everglades with water vegetation emerging from the water. At a closer glance, we realized these were land trees and the river had flooded. A mile or so further down the road, we saw houses and barns submerged in river water up to the eaves; what should have been a road, we saw just barely the power lines above the water. It was surreal. With only a few other automobiles on the road, it seemed like we drove into a post apocalypses. Later, we found out that the Missouri River had flooded because Canada had released dam water at the same time the heartland was getting a lot of rain.
After getting through the flooded part of the country (the water just once came close to the highway), we had to detour through Iowa; not sure if this was because of the flooding. We drove through isolated roads with Wind Mill Farms and pastures. We lost almost two hours, but we got to the Juarez Home safely.
I’m just grateful we stopped for lunch before we hit the detour. We happened upon a restaurant called the Mongolian Grill. The best way to describe it, is the lovechild of a buffet and hibachi. You essentially fill a bowl buffet style with veggies and raw meat, then watch the grill chefs cook it with pizazz. It was a healthy (Mongolian Grill Link) lunch alternative to fast food (still going strong!)
The roads we have been taking have been following along the “Lewis and Clark” exploration trail. It’s interesting imagining the trek to the West and the awed feelings of the explorers. We followed the trail through Missouri, Iowa, Kansas and Nebraska. I’m going to try and read more about Lewis & Clark and the settling of the American Mid-West.
We arrived at Nate’s Aunt Lynelle and Uncle Jorge’s home to a warm welcome. We had dinner and talked for hours with his cousins, Maria and Tony, and Tony’s wife Chelsea. We also played a rousing game of house tag with Tony’s four-year old daughter, Morgan. It was nice spending the weekend with the Juarez Family. We were able to spend the following day work-free. We took Morgan to the Family Fun Center, where we played old-school arcade games. Nate spent a lot of our tokens playing “Star Wars”. Sadly, he was conquered by Darth Vader. I had fun playing Skee Ball, Crane Games, and racing games. I was disappointed that the Arcade did not have “House of the Dead”.
After we got our fill of games, and embarrassed ourselves enough on Dance Dance Revolution ( we got booed off the stage), the family headed to Gorats for dinner. Gorats is a traditional steak house that Warren Buffet loves to eat at. Of course, we had a steak, a T-Bone to be exact. Nate was a little disappointed it didn’t come out like a cartoon steak you can throw to a rabid dog to get him to stop chasing you. Gorats had quality steaks, but the seasoning had a lack of flare. We attributed this to the age-group of the patrons. The best part of the meal was being with Nate and his cousins, Aunt and Uncle.
The family fun did not stop- we tried beating Aunt Lynelle and Uncle Jorge at a game of Cranium. We held our own, but could not beat the couple. Nate was awesome at guessing my charades- he even got “Kindergarten” by my crawling on the floor and playing with a crayon.
Beat the Heat
One thing about the Mid-West is that it gets H-O-T in the summer time. Step outside and the humidity takes your breath away. To beat the 104-heat index, Nate, Tony, Maria and I went to Maria’s boyfriend’s home for an afternoon of swimming and fishing. His property includes a small lake. I say small, because I’m used to the Finger-Lakes region of Central New York, but it was a fairly large private lake. We floated around on tubes and got out a canoe. We played water catch with the same football that floated in the Atlantic Ocean. The lake swim was so nice, the surface felt like a hot tub, but the springs underneath kept cool spots that were always a pleasant surprise.
The three nights we spent with Lynelle, Jorge, the cousins flew by. Before we knew it, Morgan was begging us to stay and play for longer. As Nate packed the car, I played “Tornado Morgan” with the lego playhouse. We’ll have to make a plan to visit the Juarez Family again.
To Topeka, Kansas…
We’ve decided to head West through the Rockies as opposed to seeing Yellowstone. Our Updated Itinerary is:
Topeka, KS……………..August 2,1PM – August 5,10AM
Denver, CO…………….August 5,4PM – August 7,10AM
Moab, UT………………August 7, 5PM – August 9, 10AM
St. George, UT…………August 9,5PM – August 12,10AM
Los Angeles, CA………August 12,5PM
4648 Miles, 1 month, 80 hours of driving
St. Louis, St. Robert, and Branson Missouri (July 27 – July 30, 2011)
So far, I’ve enjoyed the road from Tennessee to Missouri the best. We started off at the Grand Ole Opry (see LA Trip Part 5) and drove through two additional states: Kentucky and Illinois. I held my breath as we drove through Illinois because my family has had some bad luck when traveling in this state. We made it through safely and had some fun road side stops along the way.
Storming the Fort
We stormed the Fort at Fort Massac. Literally, it was closed off, but we opted to imagine the signs read “enter at own risk” and walked through the wooden castle-like replica of the French-American era Fort.
Nate and I even stole a
kiss in one of the barracks. This Fort was located on the Mouth of the Ohio River and was a stop on Lewis & Clark’s trek West. Later, we’d continue traveling along the Lewis & Clark Trail. This Fort was also rebuilt by the request of George Washington. If you’re ever in the area of Metropolis, Illinois, we recommend packing a picnic lunch and stopping at this State Park. The Fort itself doesn’t have much to see, but the Visitor’s center has an interesting museum that covers the history of the area during the French and Indian War.
It’s a Bird… It’s a Plane… It’s Superman
Past Fort Massac, we arrived in Metropolis! Yes, home of Superman!
We dropped in on the man of steel for a photo op. Metropolis is a small town and has two roadside attractions. Of course, we had to stop in at “Americana Hollywood Museum” before we arrive at the real Hollywood. Like Zern’s Flea Market (See Post: LA Part 2), Nate found a lot of good classic toys. He also took a ride in the Bat Boat. The other roadside attraction of Metropolis, Il is the “Super Museum” . When they say “Museum”, they really mean all things Super Man for sale.
After being rescued by Superman, we needed to cool off a bit with a delicious treat: Dip n Dots! The inventor of the treat was Southern Illinois University Carbondale graduate Curt Jones in 1987. The dessert is flash frozen with liquid Nitrogen and it sure is refreshing!
Back on the road again, we drove for a few more hours, listening to Hard Core History podcasts and Harry Potter.
We arrived in St. Louis. As I was approaching it, it reminded me a lot of Philadelphia, a lot of highways leading into an amazing view.
Nate and I had a romantic, but hot, picnic dinner under the Arch! It was the highlight of the day. The Jefferson National Expansion Memorial consists not only of the Gateway Arch (Gateway to the West!), but also the Museum of Westward Expansion. We enjoyed the free museum; it was an interesting and well-designed exhibit.
The Missouri Tausend’s
The ride from St. Louis to my family in St. Robert, Missouri was uneventful. We had a great welcome from my cousins Lindie and Kasey and could have stayed up all night talking had I not been so exhausted.
Kasey (21) and Lindie (18) took me to Branson, MO while Nate stayed behind and worked on his book. I loved spending some quality time with my cousins; we see each other only once a year and they were so happy to show me around their part of the country.
Did I mention, Kasey’s car didn’t have AC and it was 100 degrees out? It was not an ideal situation for a two-hour drive. I couldn’t keep the Nalgene bottles filled. And it was so hot, the painted letters (Ithaca College) melted off of it. That was the only disappointment about the mini-road trip.
I finally got Southern Chicken! The girls took me to Lambert’s Café, where I enjoyed traditional Southern food such as ochre, mashed potatoes, sweet yams, fried apples and fresh hot rolls (thrown at us). Delicious!
After we got our fill, we found our way to an arcade “The Tracks” where we played Laser Tag, Bumper Boats (yes, water!!!) and Go-Kart the Lumber Jack. We returned to their home to take Nate out for Mexican. Lindie’s favorite restaurant, El Jimador, was delicious. However, we’re looking forward to the Mexican restaurants in Southern California.
Kasey and Lindie also showed us their favorite hang-outs, such as Ob’s Billiards Hall and Club Trinity. For those readers from Syracuse, NY, Club Trinity reminded me of Daisy Dukes: one side is “Country”, including billiards and a mechanical bull. The other side is “Rock n Roll” or modern dance club style. It was fun being with my cousins, getting ready to go out. It reminded me of my college years.
They also took us to the “Giant Frog Crossing”. A boulder high up a steep hill painted to look like a frog. We climbed this hill with a bit difficulty and then to cool off after, we walked along a creek.
My Uncle David and Aunt Vicky took us on a more historical tour of Missouri. They showed us Old Route 66 Devils Elbow, a bad bend in the Big Piney River. Old Route 66 was also the country’s first four lane highway. We also saw a small museum of the history of St. Robert, MO; Vicky’s father is a co-founder of the town.
It was a lot of fun seeing my family and reminiscing about our childhood, Nate will be getting this experience as we head to Nebraska to see his cousins next.
To Omaha, Nebraska…
4648 Miles, 1 month, 80 hours of driving
Nashville, Tennessee (July 26- July 27, 2011)
Getting to Nashville was hard. It was our longest stretch of the trip and our plans to stop in Knoxville for an authentic Southern meal and blues music was thwarted by the need to go to an Apple Store. Never had I been so mad at an inanimate object. (Editor note; Nate; Sorry, Julie!) I really wanted Fried Chicken, but by the time we had gotten Nate’s iPhone fixed, we had spent two hours at a mall in Charlotte, NC– though, admittedly, we did get a Starbucks fix. By the time we would arrive in the area, the restaurants would be closed.
However, my attitude was changed slightly when we had a melt in your mouth peach from Pee Dee’s Orchards, a road side stop. The delicious ghost of that peach is still haunting my stomach. We also cooled down with some homemade ice cream (of course, peach flavored!) and bought some Peach Cider.
On this stretch of the drive, we drove through the Great Smokey Mountains. Bordering
North Carolina and Tennessee, the Mountains come up on you by surprise and are very pretty to look at, but the roads are curved and change in elevation.
Arriving in Knoxville, TN, it took us over an hour to find a restaurant for an 11 pm meal. Nate settled for a Sonic fast food hamburger. I ate some fresh vegetables we had on hand, thus keeping my no fast food meal streak (March, 2010!). I don’t think I can make it all the way across country without eating fast food, but I’m sure going to try! Nate would suffer through the night because of the Sonic burger. He even had a horrible Claymation nightmare. We blame the fast food.
Arriving at Nashville, we forgot about the time zone change. Yes! We traveled back in time! Well, at least we gained an hour and settled in by 2 am Central time. Never mind that it felt like 3 am for us.
The Grand Ole Opry
Remarkably, we were able to wake up early enough to see the Grand Ole Opry before hitting the road for Missouri!
The Opera house was interesting to look at, but what drew our attention the most was the Gaylord Opryland Resort and Convention Center. I’m going to look into the architectural structure of the hotel. It’s large, white, beautiful and reminds us of the White House on Steroids.
Speaking of the White House, when I first saw it in Eighth grade, I was unimpressed by the size. But the Grand Ole Opry made me realize how difficult it must have been to build an architectural structure of such large scale with the materials and techniques available at the time…. The White House must have been huge for the standards of the 19th century.
From the Grand Ole Opry, we continued on our way across the country.
To St Robert, MO…..
4648 Miles, 1 month, 80 hours of driving
Holden Beach, North Carolina (July 21-July 26, 2011)
The drive from Virginia to North Carolina was very hot. Thankfully, we had ice and some refreshing lemonade and iced tea to keep us refreshed during the heat wave. I have to give a shout out to my colleague, Wendy, who provided us with a perfect car-sized cooler for the road. I definitely recommend one while traveling, so that you can keep beverages and healthy snacks like fruits and vegetables cold.
This part of the trip was packed-full with friends! We stayed in Holden Beach, with our good friends from Ithaca College, Timmie & Ryan. Chilled out with our feline friend, Figaro. Had lunch with Brian and played on the beach with my childhood friend, Jenn.
The Purple Onion
Brian met us at a local diner, The Purple Onion, for a lunch date; it was great catching up with this
college friend. Nate may have even convinced Brian to move to LA….
Timmie & Ryan took us to Wilmington, NC for a relaxing evening. I recognized a few of the locations from the television shows, Dawson’s Creek and One Tree Hill. Wilmington is a very relaxed riverside town with shops and restaurants. You can find entertainment on the river boardwalk, like we did, when we saw “Slippery When Wet” perform. If there’s no community event, you can spend time meandering through the shops, bars, restaurants or take a river boat cruise. The four of us had a delicious English Pub meal at the Front Street Brewery. After, we enjoyed a stroll on the riverside and had delicious homemade ice cream from Kilwins.
The line was out the door and is definitely worth the wait if you’re ever there. Not only do they
serve homemade ice cream, but you can watch them make waffle cones and chocolates in the shop. You walk into the store and can taste the sugar in the air. In fact, there’s a sign that reads “Air may contain peanut particles.”!
Timmie had trouble getting us to leave, mainly because she fed us so well! Every dinner was a gourmet delight, from spicy sole and ratatouille, to fresh seafood, or turkey and mashed potatoes, we loved every bite. Oh, not to mention, she made my favorite dessert: cheesecake!
The great thing about being with Timmie and Ryan is the beachfront access to the Atlantic Ocean! My childhood friend, Jenn (we met in Kindergarten), joined us for a day on the beach.
It was so much fun jumping in the warm waves. I did realize from this experience that my idea of learning how to surf will be much more difficult. As Nate says, “baby steps, learn how to swim in the ocean first.” Jenn, Nate, and I played football in the surf; throwing the ball way out in the ocean and diving for it as it came past us on the waves. Nate and I will definitely be planning beach excursions with our friends in California.
Nate and I also enjoyed a long sunset walk on the beach the last evening in North Carolina. We sipped Ithaca Beers, found some giant seashells, played in the sand (pictures)and had some great talks about our future in LA…. So excited!! It was also cool seeing a family fly kites. We can really see why the Wright Brothers chose North Carolina shores for their launch of the 1903 Flyer.
Case of the Mondays
The sunny heat wave didn’t last. As Nate said, “the Weather has a case of the Mondays”. At least it cooled down some. We spent the rainy Monday inside working, relaxing, watching the
Food Network (must be the secret to Timmie’s success in the kitchen).
To Nashville, TN….