Archive for the ‘travel journal’ Category

The Unexpected   Leave a comment

So two blogs back, I listed the top ten favorite places or memories from the recent trip we took to California, while delivering our oldest to grad school.  I knew on this trip we would head into new territory simply because while our family enjoys camping in our pop-up in the west, we have never ventured so far before (mainly because it’s a heckuva drive and requires too much vacation time).  We have camped in Texas, New Mexico, Utah, Arizona, Colorado, Wyoming and Montana, and the states you must drive through to get to these places from our home.  But we had never continued past western Wyoming.  So when we reached Salt Lake City and went, well, beyond, I knew it would be different.

However, until you’ve been there–to Nevada–to California–you can’t know how different it will be.

Some of these differences are just wonderfully striking.  California seems to be a land of extremes, all different types of biomes and so many amazing giant plants.  Then there’s the unsurpassed Yosemite Valley.  There’s no place else like it on earth.  So all of these things were glorious.

But we had all other sorts of unexpected moments.  Those of you who are well-traveled know that on any trip, alongside the wonderful memories, the beautiful places, and the great pictures, you also experience the Other Stuff.  Stuff that is bizarre–the strange–the unusual–in short, the unexpected.

Here are the highlights.

First, it is disorienting but delightful to be able to travel from one biome into a different one when traveling up and down the Coast range in California.  You are in a golden, grassy field with the wind blowing through, and thistles, and twisted trees, and then you take a winding two-lane road sharply downhill past some vineyards, and just like that, you’re in a primeval forest of giant trees.

Food was definitely less expensive than at home–I could get, say, plums, for one-third of what I’d been paying all summer.

Also, the location of the entrance doors for grocery stores in California seemed to be a secret only locals understood.  It took me a while to figure out how to get in, since the doors I always walked up to were clearly marked “exit”.

We also had various adventures that were mostly created by the challenge of having one group of people driving two vehicles cross-country.  These included our scenic tour of the Salt Lake City airport, when our intention was just to find the last gas station before the Great Salt Flats.  The airport access and apparently the entire airport were under construction and the road followed a meandering route similar to what food experiences moving through your intestines, so it took us a while to find our way back to the interstate.  I’m sure the jet-setting departees from the airport were amused to see a golden yellow Penske truck crawling through the detours, closely followed by a dirty minivan towing an old pop-up trailer.

We also took an accidental detour into a semi-truck weigh station as we approached the agriculture check after entering California.

Then, once we got back out of the line for the weigh station, I discovered that while I was doing a great job driving the moving truck, the one thing I did not actually have with me in the truck was the key for the padlock we had put on the back compartment to secure it.  The key, which yes we needed when they asked us to open the back, was conveniently located in a very safe location: the glove box of the other vehicle.

We also had the door of the pop-up camper take a ninety degree flop to the right.  This is normal protocol and would have been ideal if we were setting up camp at the time.

Instead we were hurtling downhill from Donner Pass.  But thanks to the two-way radios, the people in the moving truck were able to alert the driver of the pop-up rig before any supplies came out to decorate the shoulder.

I did not expect to spend an evening helping my son pick baby ticks off himself in Kansas.

I did not expect to have ants invade the cooler at the RV park in Sacramento West.

Or to have a man invade the bathroom at the RV park in Sacramento West.

But he wasn’t the only man I found in women’s bathrooms.  There were routinely men in the women’s bathrooms in Hodgdon Meadow campground in Yosemite.

Perhaps this was because the men’s urinal was non-functional and full the entire time we were camping there.  This may have been caused by the sheer difficulty of bringing in plumbing supplies to a location so remote.  That was another unexpected–the sheer remoteness of the places we visited in the mountains.  I had no idea looking at a map that the roads would be so winding, the elevation changes so extreme.  There was nothing remotely resembling cell reception at either park we stayed in.  In fact, even after we drove out of the redwood valley park on our way back toward San Jose and were cruising the top edges of the ridges, where you’d think there wouldn’t be any large obstacles blocking signals from cell towers, there still was no reception.

But that was actually part of the charm of the state park we enjoyed.  Portola Redwoods State Park has not yet been discovered by the masses.  They don’t give change at the gift shop, and they don’t accept outgoing mail.  It is quiet and un-busy there.  One of the most rewarding events during our stay there was that Portola has been discovered by the masses–masses of vivid yellow banana slugs.  We got to meet them and play with them on our second day after a light rain brought them out trolling the campground for treats.  So I’d have to say another unexpected thing about California was the sheer number of luscious banana slugs.

Also, we learned that a yellow jacket is strong enough to take off with a bacon bit in her mandibles.  I did not know that.

She landed on someone’s salad plate after dinner, found an abandoned bacon bit, checked it out, grasped it firmly and then to the surprise of all managed to lift off!  Sure the flight trajectory was a bit sloppy, and she buzzed my forehead as she took off, but she left with that bacon, and came back later for more.

Our campsite in Yosemite was totally unexpected.  The ranger at the check in said he wasn’t sure how we’d park our pop-up in site thirty-three but we thought he was joking–until we got to the site.  We look at it.  Silence.  Then my husband says, “I’m sorry.  I had no idea this site was like this.”  It really wasn’t his fault that it was approximately forty feet from the road to the picnic table and bear box, and downhill steeply enough all the way that, no, you really couldn’t level an RV of any kind on the provided pad.  We had to camp parallel to the road crammed in behind a large dumpster.  The compensations were that we ended up cooking outside at the table near the bear box, since that’s where all the food was anyway, it was actually quite pleasant, and we were reminded that we could survive without using the super galley kitchen inside the pop-up.

I guess I should have expected something groovy and relaxed, since we were on the beach in California, but I was not quite ready to see a naked old man dive into the freezing surf at Point Reyes.

However, as I say, this is California.

One of the last unexpected things actually happened at home.  Our pop-up has an awning we use sometimes and like most such awnings, it stores rolled up, attached to the length of the pop-up by adhesive.  When you’re driving at highway speed and it’s an unusually windy day, you will see the awning bag flop up and down when looking in the rear view mirror.  It did that all the way across Kansas (because why would it be windy in Kansas?) and I remember thinking “of course this awning is designed to handle the stress of being blown like that.”

We were unloading the supplies the day after we got back.  After taking a short break, I went back out for the remainders, to discover the entire awning lying peacefully on the doorstep of the camper.  After thousands and thousands of miles on the road during which it could have given way to bludgeon the vehicle behind us, instead it waited until we were at home to drop to the ground.

Now that’s unexpected.

 

 

 

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Posted October 24, 2017 by swanatbagend in humor, travel journal

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Top Ten Favorite Things from our trip to California   1 comment

Our family recently took a trip from the upper Midwestern United States all the way to the Pacific Coast in order to move our son and his books and belongings to grad school. We camped along the way and continued to do so after we turned in the Penske moving truck. Nobody in our family had experienced the Golden State recently and our children–not at all. It was quite an experience in the land of extremes.

Here, in no particular order, are my handselected favorite experiences and most wonderful places of this trip.

1. Like most people who visit it, I would have to start with Yosemite Valley.

2. Watching the water at the Vernal Falls footbridge in Yosemite Valley while everyone under 23 years of age climbed all the way to the top of the falls trail

3. Watching the Pacific Ocean under my feet, while sea lions played in the foam, from the Golden Gate Bridge

4. Our campsite at Portola Redwoods State park was surrounded by our own cordon of redwood guardian sentinels. There were five immense, wise trees around the table and campfire circle.

5. The Old Tree and Slate trails at Portola Redwoods leading to the Old Tree herself

6. Highway 20 east of Grass Valley, the prettiest forest drive I’ve ever seen

7. My oldest son experiencing a banana slug oozing across his face

8. The Humboldt River Valley in Nevada (I realize this particular view was not in California, but it’s still one of the best things about the trip.)

9. Having our cousin from Colorado come along with us the share the work (sorry, E!), the adventures, the stress and the joy!

10. Late night singing of Monty Python and Weird Al songs on the way back to the campground from our day in the Bay area

Posted September 21, 2017 by swanatbagend in camping, travel journal

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I love my home state   Leave a comment

It took me a few years of living here, but as I was driving home down an amazingly beautiful rural road last night, with the summer sun slanting toward me from the west, I realized that I absolutely loved the scenery and the place I was driving through.

I was returning from a gathering out in the sticks, where there was absolutely no road noise and almost no cars moving through.  I started back from a tiny community at a cross roads.  After passing over a low bridge and full creek, I drove across flat creek flood plains with fields, up wooded valleys, around curves, amongst houses and farms, through trees.  I realized how beautiful Kentucky is, and in tandem with that realization, I knew that, finally, this is my home.  It must be now–otherwise, this girl who loves the west and the wide open spaces would not react this way.

The light, the green, the trees, the horses with their tails swishing, the old tobacco barns and pastures along the way, the smell of the air at the end of a summer day.

No billboards.  No big box stores.  No gas stations, even.

It was an undesignated scenic drive–the best kind.

Posted June 26, 2017 by swanatbagend in travel journal

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5,000 miles   Leave a comment

Disclaimer: This is not a polished blog entry (if you have experienced that here before–maybe you haven’t).  This is a rough journal of impressions of our recent trip to Arizona.  Thanks to my husband for providing a note pad which I used up, since this writer foolishly left home without one.  I didn’t forget anything else, however.

 

Best moments:

Seeing my aunt and cousins in Scottsdale Arizona

The Milky Way at the Needles area of Canyonlands

The hummingbird pavilion at the Sonora Desert Museum

The covey of quails in our campsite

The desert millipede who was almost six inches long

Seeing Neptune while at Kitt Peak, first time ever

Sunset view from Kitt Peak

The slivery new moon and Venus at Canyonlands

Meeting a pair of entomologists from University of Cal Riverside at the Canyonlands Visitor Center

Marshmallows in the dark at Durango–you know who you are

 

 

10/1/16 There’s something about an open vista that gives perspective.  That’s why road trips, especially those to west, where you can see for twenty–thirty miles, are so helpful.  Seeing into the distance — being surrounded by the big picture — by definition, these experiences allow one to place oneself in the world.  At a literally level and in a personal way.  It’s not just metaphorical.  If you can get a view of the world, you will be more correctly placed in the world.  You will know better who you are.

Will I regret spending the last 17 years homeschooling when I get to the end of the process?

I have passed up other opportunities, mostly because I just didn’t have the energy. But if I had chosen a different route — a career, to work on a novel, would that work be more rewarding or meaningful than the way I have spent my life now?  I chose to invest my energy in being present with my kids.  I chose to spend time with people — the three of them, and the others our lives intersected with.  I’m not saying that this choice is the ultimately superior one for every family.  Not at all.  Each person has a gift to contribute to the world with her life, and God knows it.  I chose this way which led on to way, and no, I never did come back.  Do I regret not doing the other things instead?  I can’t.  I don’t.  No.  I had a time and a place to be with some people and I lived that.  What would my kids’ lives look like right now if we had not homeschooled?

 

10/2

Arkansas River morning.  Traveling the valley from Cañon City to Salida.  Gold and orange on the mountains.  Smooth glide of water over the stones rounded in the river.

Afternoon north of Pagosa Springs.  The most perfect valley I’ve ever seen.  Dimpling pools, streams, meadows, pines, aspen and sunlight shedding more gold over the gold already there.  Almost no sign of humans, except for a few fences and a road leading off.  Cliffs and pine forest on either side as we dropped downward alongside the water.

 

10/3

The ridges running north-south around Durango vanish in an amazing vista as we head west toward Cortez and pass over the major ridge.  Pink covered fins rise to the left — we can see for miles — maybe 50.  Down the other side, the bronze, brass and gold of the hillsides is interspersed with twenty shades of yellow of the aspen and willow.  The sky is vivid blue between the clouds.  And a strong wind from the south blasts us refreshingly.

 

10/4

Canyonlands–the Needles.

No cell phone reception.

Wonderful.

Blue sky.  Red rocks.  White cirrus clouds.  Green pines.

One tries to breathe in and bottle the sky somehow — take it in in huge gasps.  As if one could keep it, as if time, air, life, were collectible/salvageable/could be contained.  As if, if one tried hard enough concentrating one’s power of will that one could tame or retain blue space.  But like the place it is untameable and uncollectable.

Does one always travel with the past when in the national parks?  I find today I have Mom, Dad, my brother and my oldest son with me as I go from rock to rock.  They were with me before in parks in Utah, and so I find they still are.

 

10/5

Last night watching the sunset at Pothole Point, my twelve-year-old said he was thinking of the song about if all the stalks on earth were quills and all the seas ink, the sky would still not be great enough to contain would you could write about God’s greatness.  I asked him why he thought of that song.  He said it was because of all the amazing sights he had seen over the last three days.  That had included a night sky ranger show bringing in the arts, including references to Stars by Emily Bronte and Starry Night by Van Gogh, readings from Asimov, with the most incredible view of the Milky Way ever–it lit up the night sky–he said all the skies on every planet in the universe would not be big enough to contain that message.

 

10/6

Many honeybees on ubiquitous yellow flowers on scrubby plants.  At Goblin Valley and at Glen Canyon.  Where can they have their hives?

Over the Colorado River between Cataract Canyon and Lake Powell.  On the mighty Colorado goes to erode another layer of the Grand Canyon, as I roll on with my family toward another chapter of our journey.

NE Arizona south of the Monument Valley area.  It just goes and goes and goes.  We drove for over six hours today getting from north of Lake Powell to the Glen Canyon Dam.  The immensity of rock, sagebrush, the pavement rolling ahead of us in a swoop on a straight for miles–3, 10, 30?  I can’t tell.  I just can’t comprehend how much space and how few people to make it home.  Elemental.  Rock, air, fire and few plants.

I have a fun chat with a young Frenchman in the laundromat in Page.  He is visiting the southwest, sandwiched in between San Francisco and Los Angeles, with his girlfriend.

 

10/7

NE Arizona is bare and rocky.  And amazing.  I note on my map the entire area is the Navaho Nation and the Hopi reservation.  Page is the only city out there.  I can see the evidence of white greed.  Amazing the canyons may be, but fertile and pleasant, they aren’t.  Miles–miles–miles of openness.  Your eyes hurt from all the light.  I don’t think Montana has the sole ownership of the title “Big Sky Country” any more.

Lake Powell is a shock after hours of driving in rock.  Turquoise blue water, bizarre.

Flagstaff is my last dose of sniffing pine trees and feel cool air before I must trade ponderosas for saguaros.  But they are blah.

Los Muertos peach salsa, where chips go to die.

 

10/8

Unusual sign at a rest area: “Do not unload livestock at rest area.”  It wouldn’t have occurred to me to do so.  Also, “beware of bees.”  Africanized bees buzzing around the water fountains at the rest area put me off getting a drink.  But I wonder if the ones I almost touched at Goblin Valley were also Africanized? no way to tell by looking.

Late night last night at the Lowell Observatory.  We saw M15 at the Clark telescope and the Ring Nebula at the McAllister Telescope Dome on a 16 inch Cassegrain.  Cool mountain night with a few lonely crickets and many, many trains passing through Flagstaff.  The Clark is the telescope which was used for the observations that led to the discovery of Pluto.

 

10/9

Spent last night at Usery Mountain State park east of Phoenix.  Had a great Mexican dinner at Los Olivos with my aunt and cousins.   It had been six years since I’d seen my aunt and 19 since I’d seen the cousins.

The water tap at our campsite had a slow drip despite our efforts to tighten it down, but this attracted quite a few creatures: bees, a curve-billed thrasher, a grey bird with yellow in it, what looked like a flicker but may have been a Gila woodpecker and a chipmunk.  The thrasher gave us quite a few meaningful looks from its orange eye.  Early this morning, I was delighted before sunrise by an adorable covey of Gambel’s quail visiting the tap and our site.  I shadowed them throughout the campground trying to get pictures, as they hurried away from me muttering amongst themselves with their alert crests sounding the alarum.  Saw them three times, but not after the sun was actually up.  Also, I saw what appeared to be two budgerigars and a cactus wren.

Sonoran desert–I love you!  Especially after sunset or before sunrise, the sentinels standing tall with the Palo verdes and cholla rising around them.

 

10/10

Sonoran desert museum: hummingbird aviary.  Bright eyed little wonders tipping their heads to give us inquiring looks.  Saw a covey of disorganized quail ahead of us on the road; the birds could not make up their minds which way to go.  Tonight–Kitt Peak National Observatory: a fortress of white-capped domes on an impressive peak.

 

10/11

Saw these features from one of the many telescopes, the roll-off roof, with a 16-inch reflector.

https://kittpeak.files.wordpress.com/2016/10/alex-johnathan-phil-nop-oct-10-2016.pdf

Also a great intro to the use of binoculars and planispheres for star-gazing.  A beautiful night.  Never seen a sunset from such a vantage point…blue, purple, pink ridges one after the other, shading gradually to more faint colors.  We could see for miles in three directions.

 

10/12

Saw Meteor Crater this a.m.  Have heard about it for years and finally got to see it.  Took the guided tour along the north rim out to the ruins of the original office and house where Barringer’s mine manager lived.  Fascinating.  Heading into New Mexico now.

Made friends with Pumpkin, the v. round orange cat who lives at the Meteor Crater RV park last night.  He was an extremely friendly cat about town, and a highlight of our visit.  My sixteen year old picked him up and he purred mightily.

 

10/13

East to Littlefield TX after a longer than expected drive seeking RV parks in the Texas panhandle that did not exist, via Clovis New Mexico.  This area seems to me to still be recovering from the Dust Bowl.  A desolate and stern country with warm, tough people.

 

10/14

North to Amarillo and now on to Oklahoma City marveling again at how a map does not justly convey the distance you have to travel to get somewhere in Texas.  There is a time warp as you drive the straight roads — it seems to take longer than the actual elapsed time to get 10 miles.  Drive 5 miles, it would seem to take 15 minutes.

Oklahoma, you are a sight for sore eyes!

Rich red dirt and peaceful farm trees in the gentle hills and valleys….and of course the wind.  But it smells wonderful.  A hundred, a thousand flashbacks to my life when I was a young woman, junior high, high school, visiting my grandmother in Oklahoma City.

A side note: There aren’t any Honda Odysseys in Texas nor in most of Oklahoma, as far as I can tell.  Where I live, you can’t throw a rock without hitting one, but I went for several days out west without noticing any.

This has been a trip of extremes–in terrain: from the view of Pikes Peak, to the Colorado valleys of Durango and Salida, to the knobs and cliffs of Canyonlands, to the Sonoran desert, to the vast plains of Texas and Oklahoma–and in temperatures: 95 degrees in Phoenix, only four days after we hit 38 degrees in our pop-up at Canyonlands–and six different stops to see different groups of friends and family!

 

10/15

Red sumac on the roadsides in Oklahoma as we leave Green Country.  Golden glowing grass-heads straining north in Missouri as the grey clouds break up into beautiful puffs–the sun is out.  Another parting after another meeting.  This trip has been full of these which has brought joy–and pain, because partings always bring sadness, and when you schedule so many short visits, you haven’t had enough time to soak in the company before you must tear yourself away again.

This is the price I must pay for family and friendships scattered across half a continent.

God is good.  God is kind.  God is amazing.

To tell you my story is to tell of him.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Posted October 27, 2016 by swanatbagend in travel journal

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