Friday, June 30, 2006

Almost home...

Yesterday morning we continued driving down the Great River Road along the Mississippi River, crossing back and forth through Iowa, Illinois, and Missouri. The GRR is scenic, especially when it's within sight of the river, but it takes a dang long time and we spent two full days not getting very far very fast while driving it. So we eventually skirted St. Louis and headed east on our old friend U.S. Highway 50, stopping for the night in Salem, Illinois.

Dang, but there's a lot of corn in Iowa and Illinois. Now I know where my cornbread comes from.

This morning we awoke earlyish, for us, by seven, ate breakfast at a diner in Salem called Austin's, and continued east on 50 through Illinois and Indiana, with a detour to Madison, Indiana for candy at Mundt's and the best sundaes ever. Instead of continuing to Cincinnati, we decided to plunge into Kentucky and go south to Frankfort to pick up I-64, which heads straight back to Charlottesville, although we might take further detours before we get back. We've avoided interstates as much as possible unless we really just needed to cover a lot of ground quickly, but we've gone rather slowly the past few days and I'm a little eager to get home. We stopped for the night in Charleston, West Virginia, which puts us within a few hours of home.

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

The last week and a half, in brief (very)

We arrived in Seattle late (but not too late) the Sunday we left Berkeley, and left the next Saturday morning. Crammed lots of family time, and a little family time, into those few days. No rain, shockingly.

On Saturday we got up at the absolute crack of dawn (which is VERY early in Seattle in June), drove on I-90 to Spokane (someone in front of us got pulled over, which is the closest we've come so far to a speeding ticket), then switched to US-2 and got as far as Shelby in one very long day. This was via Going-to-the-Sun Road in Glacier National Park.

Sunday we got up early-ish and visited Havre, Montana, where my grandfather grew up, and I took the underground tour, Havre Beneath the Streets. Then we drove south-ish into Wyoming and spent the night in Newcastle, Wyoming, near the border with South Dakota. The motel owners were a friendly (Asian) Indian couple with two very friendly dogs.

Monday we did quick drive-bys of the Crazy Horse and Mt. Rushmore monuments to avoid paying for them (I was fine with $8 to park at Mt. Rushmore, but $20 to see a monument that isn't even finished yet seemed a little steep)...thank goodness for telephoto zooms. Skirted the edge of Badlands National Park through the Pine Ridge Indian reservation. Visited the Museum of the Fur Trade in Chadron, Nebraska. Spent the night at a campground in Nebraska's Sand Hills, within hearing range of lowing cows. We were the only people there, which is either very good or very scary depending on how you look at it:

[Animal noise]
Justin: What was that? Was that a wolf?
Juliet: I think it was a cow.

Tuesday we got up before dawn after very little sleep--neither of us has camped in years, so it kind of hurt, but at least we finally used the tent and sleeping bags we brought with us--and drove east, back up through South Dakota, and into Minnesota, to see Justin's ancestral homeland around St. Cloud. We saw the farm on the Mississippi River, now a regional park, that was in Gomma's family for nearly all of the twentieth century, in Rice, then drove down the road to Clear Lake, where several generations of Schwabs are buried, starting with Phillip Schwab, who came to America in 1861, was immediately press-ganged into the Union Army, and once the war was over got as far from the damn Yankees as he could. Ate dinner at Mickey's in St. Paul, a diner in a train car, and spent the night in a motel in Red Wing, Minnesota, after a bit of driving in Wisconsin.

Today we finally gave ourselves the chance to sleep in and followed the Mississippi southward as closely as possible, zigzagging back and forth through Minnesota, Wisconsin, Illinois, and Iowa. Ate lunch at a beer-and-brats garden and bought too many books at a wonderful rare bookstore in the charming riverfront town of McGregor, Iowa. We're spending the night at the Abbey Hotel in Bettendorf in the Quad Cities, which, as its name indicates, is a converted abbey. Very cool.

This obviously wasn't the most direct route, but neither of us was really enthusiastic about North Dakota, the most obvious route between our two grandfathers' hometowns, so we slipped down into South Dakota and Nebraska for a while, which took some time.

I have been putting pictures on SmugMug but I'm only up to Nevada so far, and there's a lot to go.

Friday, June 23, 2006

A clearly modified bumper sticker seen in Seattle


Sunday, June 18, 2006

Ely and Berkeley

As befits Berkeley, I'm not writing this post while entirely lucid. Blame Tim for mixing a wicked strong margarita. Wow. I mean, just, wow.

After getting the hell out of Vegas, which is of course by far the biggest city in Nevada, we headed up to Ely on (I think) highways 93 and 318, which are not billed the Loneliest Road in America as Highway 50 in Nevada is, but might as well be. This is where you see signs that say "No Gas for 111 Miles" and that sort of thing. When you have a gas gauge that isn't really even working, you pay attention. Nevada is big and empty. Vegas and Reno have grown in the past few decades; meanwhile, dozens of mining towns have turned into ghost towns. And they don't have gas stations.

We spent the next two nights at the Hotel Nevada in Ely. I've been there twice, and Justin has been there four times (once with his brother Zach, once with Jove and Whitney when he was driving the Jeep out to Virginia). It was built in 1929 and at the time was the tallest building in Nevada--at six stories--and the first fireproof building. Legal gaming came in 1931. The rest is history. Dozens of moderately famous people have slept there; we stayed in the Vicki Carr room, and if you know who she is (I don't, really) you can imagine the albums and pictures that decorated our room. Aside from the plumbing, which offers scintillatingly variable showers, the Hotel Nevada is a pretty cool, and very cheap, place to stay.

During our full day in the Ely metropolitan area, we went to Great Basin State Park, which receives, I believe, an average of 90,000 visitors a year. Not a lot, maybe because it's more than an hour from Ely, and even Ely is in the middle of freaking nowhere. But Great Basin is cool for several reasons: it encompasses the second-highest mountain in Nevada (Wheeler Peak, at 13,093 feet), the moderately famous Lehman Caves, which we didn't visit, and some millennia-old bristlecone pines, which we meant to visit but didn't, because the hike was a couple of miles at an altitude of 10,000+ feet and an ascent of 600 feet, and Justin's hip hurt, and I'm not in great shape, and we go to Ely so often that we'll see those pines someday.

The next day we headed to Reno to stay a short drive from the Bay Area. We went to Louis' Basque Corner for dinner, which was one of the best dining recommendations we followed. There are a lot of Basques in northern Nevada, and I'd never had Basque food, so it was a great experience. We had a six-course meal and got to choose our main course (anything from lamb, which I had, to sweetmeats, which I tried thanks to friendly neighbors); it was one of the most European dining experiences I've had since, well, Europe. Very cool.

The next morning, after a night at the Circus Circus (very cheap and centrally located) I woke up with some weird hive thingies thanks to God knows what, either bedbugs or some bizarre detergent they use on the sheets or odd Basque spices or something. Justin was unaffected. I'm still itchy, although alchohol helps. (!) We drove to Berkeley and have spent the past 24+ hours with Tim (a classics person) and his wife Joanna. I went out to Walnut Creek last night to see Cars with my cousin Peter (on the bookish, engineering-oriented Crawford side) and his wife Megan, whom I haven't seen since their wedding last summer. That was even more fun than I expected; it's odd with cousins (I've rarely met any who were automatically very close in age or affinities) how much you have in common once you start talking.

Today Justin met with his advisers while I puttered around Telegraph. When I met with Justin afterwards, he said, "I was wondering why I ever left until this crazy guy started yelling at me," which is how things go. Grow a beard and crazy people start shouting at you for no reason. Well, I wouldn't know, but Justin does. Anyway, we came back after hanging out with Joanna downtown, and Tim made us these insanely strong margaritas, so...Justin and Tim went to a classics party, and I'm blogging. Is this entry different? You can understand why. I didn't feel up to socializing, but I am blogging, so...draw your own conclusions!

Tomorrow, we're headed straight up to Seattle, as early as we can get outta here. Hopefully be there before midnight, Deo volente.

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Civitas Dei vs. vanitas vanitatum

The day we left Moab, we drove toward Canyonlands once again, but this time turned off a few miles before the entrance to visit Dead Horse Point State Park, which has a wonderful view of Island in the Sky. I'll post picture to SmugMug soon. They aren't as stunning because they're from midday, but they're still pretty cool.

We continued to Salt Lake City. Now I don't know if it's just that the weather was absolutely perfect--low 80s and sunny--but I liked it. A lot. The city's laid out on a grid with street names that are a bit confusing, but pretty straightforward once you get the hang of it (radiating out from Temple Square, of course). The Wasatch Mountains, still snow-veined in June, are visible down all the very broad east-west streets, giving a native Northwesterner a sense of direction. Everyone is ridiculously nice. Half the residents are Mormons, but the other half seem to be relatively liberal, outdoorsy, coffee-drinking, and just plain old drinking gentiles. Alcohol's not that hard to come by as long as you don't want to go someplace just to drink, which we don't really do anyway. And I assume that everyone assumes you're Mormon, so it's the only place in the world that Mormons won't try to convert you. [Justin here - it's also the only place where Mormons cling selfishly to their Books in place of aggressively thrusting them upon you.] I don't want to be Mormon, but I like Mormon city planning.

After a day and a half of wandering around Salt Lake City and failing to get lost, we headed down to Vegas. I'm writing to you from our suite at the New York New York, which is larger than our apartment-condo: 1100 square feet, two TVs, a hot tub, a king-sized bed, a kitchen-dining room thingy, ridiculously cheap for what we get. Of course they have other ways of getting your money, heh. We don't need to leave the hotel, or even our room, because everything is here: food, coffee, shopping, a spa, a roller coaster, the casino... The service is effusive. Everyone walks very slowly, gawking, to whatever their destination is, or maybe they don't have one. Most people are white or Asian. There are black shoe-shine men and Mexicans on the streets, handing out flyers; I was wondering why they ignored me until I realized what the flyers were for.

I'm trying to appreciate Vegas for what it is--extravagant, ebullient Americana--but there are my nagging prejudices: how can people use up so much water in a desert? Why should I want to visit a fake Venice, Paris, and New York when I've been to the real Venice, Paris, and New York? Why was the drive-thru line at the In-N-Out so freaking long? I mean, if you drive 2500 miles to be in In-N-Out land again, it would be nice if you didn't have to wait in 100-degree swelter for half an hour in a dangerously overheating car to get an In-N-Out burger. (You could make a movie out of our burger pilgrimages. The first time we were here, in the outskirts of Vegas, we spent a lot of time fruitlessly searching for an elusive In-N-Out that was supposed to be there but was impossible to find.)

On the other hand, I had the mother of all spa treatments today. I smell of lavender and pomegranate, and my face is shiny in a good way. I look and feel as glamorous as a nerd in pajamas can look and feel, which is pretty cool.

Tomorrow, we are headed through hundreds of miles of desolation toward Ely, north of here. Nevada tends toward extremes.

UPDATE: Justin thinks my comments on Vegas are pretentious, which is probably true, but whatever. Also, I changed "ginger" to "pomegranate," which is more lyrical.

Thursday, June 08, 2006

Taos and Moab

Monday morning we left Denver, delayed somewhat by additional repairs and fluid flushes we needed (or were told we needed) when we got the oil in our Jeep changed. We still need new shocks, but "need" in the sense that I wouldn't need to go to the bathroom as often as I do on the road, not "need" in the sense that our vehicle's going to fall off its axles if we don't get them now. One more thing to do in Seattle.

We took almost the same route we did last year from Denver to Taos, south on I-25, only we did the other (shorter, southern) side of the Enchanted Circle once we got off the interstate in New Mexico. Taos was where we decided it'd be nice to spend my birthday, since it's pretty and has good restaurants and there are galleries and shops where Justin could buy me sparklies (I got a sort of multicolored metal fish pin. I like seafood).

Yesterday, we left Taos and drove through a huge rain/sand/thunderstorm that pursued us through three states: New Mexico, Arizona, and Utah. We stopped at a gas station in Blanding, Utah that had lost its power, so they couldn't do anything for us except offer us an unlit bathroom and a bag of peanut butter M&Ms (because the day after my birthday is still kind of my birthday, right? I was born at 9:22 Pacific time, which was the next day on the east coast). I heard on the radio the next day that there were 60 mph gusts in Blanding and (relatively) nearby Monticello.

Oh, and we cracked our windshield somewhere in the Four Corners area. I guess we should get that fixed too. Also our fuel gauge appears to be broken. It only goes up to the halfway point, even though we're pretty sure we've filled the tank every time. But we're not positive, and who could be when the gas light keeps going on after 100 miles? So that could be interesting.

But we finally made it to Moab. I drove up to Canyonlands National Park to take sunset pictures, then got up six hours after I got back to the hotel to take sunrise pictures. The light wasn't ideal for either perspective, but I took a few nice pictures that should make it on SmugMug soon. (Canyonlands probably merits a separate blog entry.)

The weather has gone from ambivalent to downright nasty again in the past couple of hours, so I might not get up to the park again before we leave (and I can't say I absolutely relish the idea of getting up at 4:30 AM to drive an hour in pitch darkness for a second morning in a row anyway), but that's okay. Justin promises me we'll be back, especially because we're skipping the other southern Utah parks this time around. The park ranger at Canyonlands told me the light is better for the pictures I want to take outside of summer anyway, so that's a good excuse to return.

Stay tuned next week, when we go to Salt Lake City and Vegas! Those should be two very, very different experiences. (Dad, who has his priorities straight, advised us to bring booze to SLC.)

Saturday, June 03, 2006

Oklahoma City to Denver

First and most importantly: I'm starting to post pictures from our trip on my Smugmug site. Check out the album here. There's a permanent Smugmug link on the sidebar. Hopefully there will be frequent updates.

Yesterday after waking up relatively late and eating our free continental breakfast at the Days Inn (apparently in Oklahoma, "continental breakfast" includes biscuits and gravy, eggs, and waffles), we drove by the memorial at the site of the federal building in Oklahoma City. We didn't stay long, but I took a few pictures. We got out of Oklahoma City pretty quickly because we wanted to get to Denver in one day, and it's like 650 miles or something. From OKC, we drove northwest into western Oklahoma. The landscape changed pretty quickly from verdant, rolling hills (which I hadn't been expecting in Oklahoma) to less verdant farmland, although the badlands of the panhandle weren't as bad as I was expecting.

In the panhandle, we headed northward on Highway 83 into Kansas and ate lunch at a Mexican restaurant in Liberal (which probably isn't). Then we continued northward into Garden City, got kinda lost trying to get out after getting gas and pie, and drove east on Highway 50 to Lamar, Colorado, and northwest to Interstate 70 for the final haul into Denver. From Liberal the landscape changed from prairie to sagebrush and then finally to Denver's urban sprawl.

We'll probably be here a couple of days to recover from several long days of driving and the inevitable altitude sickness. Our original plan was to take about a week longer to get to Denver (via Taos and southwestern whatever), but we're trying to fit in more time in Seattle, Berkeley, and the ride back, so this is okay. And now we know we can get from Chapel Hill to Denver in three solid but not quite exhausting days of driving. This country is big. Really big. But not quite that big.

Friday, June 02, 2006

Dispatch from Oklahoma City

Here is where we've gone so far:

On Memorial Day we drove to Chapel Hill to spend a couple of days with Justin's family. We had dinner at the Weatherlys' house Tuesday night with all of Justin's grandparents and his Aunt Ann and cousins. Also spent time with John, who is headed to Thailand for a year starting probably in July.

Wednesday, we drove west on I-40 and stopped for lunch in Asheville, which I had wanted to see for a long time because Justin keeps telling me it's a nice Appalachian college town and I'd like it, which I do, although we didn't stay long. From there we drove on highways 19 and 74, skirting Great Smoky Mountains National Park (we'll be back there on another trip, hopefully), drove in and out of Chattanooga as quickly as we could given construction on the interstates, spent about two miles in Georgia, and then continued on to Huntsville, Alabama for the night.

Today we drove on Highway 72 from Huntsville through northern Alabama and Mississippi. We stopped for lunch in Memphis and ate barbecue at Leonard's, recommended in Roadfood, one of our assorted American roadtripping guides. Then we crossed the Mississippi into Arkansas and took Highway 79 instead of I-40 to Little Rock for more scenery. I've never really had any conception of what Arkansas is like, and I like it. Eastern Arkansas is much like the rest of the Mississippi Delta, with rich colors that I've never quite seen anywhere else in nature, and western Arkansas is hilly as it rises into the Ozarks. In Little Rock we paid a quick visit to the Clinton Presidential Center, as one does, then plunged onward through the remainder of Arkansas into Oklahoma.

Oklahoma isn't as I imagined it so far. I had always thought of it as drab and flat, but it's hilly in the eastern part at least and has been green all along. The colors approaching sunset were surprisingly vibrant--green fields and trees, blue sky, white and dusky clouds. We're staying tonight at a Days Inn in Oklahoma City with free wireless. Yay for Days Inn!