Wednesday, December 1, 2010

11/19/10 Day 47

     Today we decided, would be our last of sight seeing, and the last monument we would visit would be the Gateway Arch in Saint Louis.  Virginia had been to it many years ago, but I had never seen it.  It was visible almost as soon as we entered the city, looming over the skyline.  We parked and began walking towards it.  It looked even bigger up close.
     The monument was build to commemorate the explorations of Lewis and Clark and the westward expansion of the United States.  The Arch has an underground museum on these subjects, and after passing a metal detector test, we went inside.
     Originally we hadn’t planned to go up to the top of the Arch, because we didn’t want to pay for tickets, but we decided it would be pretty silly not to and decided to get some tickets and check out the view.  We boarded the cramped little capsule that would take us to the top almost immediately after we purchased the tickets.  The capsule elevated us up the leg of the Arch to the observation deck.  The view was amazing!  Cars looked like tiny models driving down the matchbox-sized streets.  We didn’t linger here long, as the area was crowded and the windows small, but it was worth it. 
     We spent another hour or so looking around the museum and gift shops, and then we were on our way.  We were right by the Illinois border and as soon as we crossed it, the scenery became more and more familiar and reminded us that we were almost home.  We were heading for Bloomington, where my younger sister, Molly, attends Indiana University and hopefully had some space on her dorm room floor for us to crash. 
     We got there after dark and went to a Chinese buffet for dinner.  Next we returned to campus and Molly’s dorm where they were celebrating the release of the latest Harry Potter film.  The night’s activity was a showing of “Wizard People, Dear Reader,” a bizarre and humorously misinformed retelling of the first book synched with the first movie.  Virginia and I stayed to watch this while Molly went off with some aquaintences to make friendship bracelets.  When the film was finished, we retired to Molly’s dormto make our beds and relax for the evening. 
     The next day we would travel to my parents’ home in Kokomo and from there to my Grandparents’ in Lansing for Thanksgiving.  The travels aren’t over for us, but the tour of western America felt completed.      

11/18/10 Day 46

     Today’s goal was to eat lunch at Oklahoma Joe’s BBQ in Kansas City.  We had seen it on Man vs. Food the night before and decided that we simply MUST HAVE IT! 
     After about an hour on the road, we were pulling into the gas station parking lot that was also the home of Oklahoma Joe’s BBQ.  We waited in line for about half an hour before we got to order our food, but we got our food soon after we ordered.  I got a pulled pork sandwich and Eric got beef brisket and ribs all smothered in Oklahoma Joe’s signature BBQ sauce.  We sat and ate our delicious food and drenched it in yet more BBQ sauce. 
     We blew through Missouri and got a great deal on a hotel just outside of Saint Louis.  We chilled in the room and got a good night’s sleep. 
- Virgina 

11/17/10 Day 45

     We slept in a bit longer than anticipated because the curtains in the hotel room blocked the sunlight from coming in deceiving my internal clock.  We didn’t get going until 10:30 am and missed our free continental breakfast.  We grabbed a couple of danishes at a gas station and set out for the long drive across Kansas.  Our route took us diagonally across the state.  Last night’s rain and wind continued throughout the entire day making for a pretty shitty day and putting both of us in poopy moods. 
     We were too grumpy to really talk to each other, so we began listening to The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman, an audio book Eric’s parents referred to us.  The day dragged by with no cool scenery to look at and no neat attractions to stop at. 
  By about 4:30 or 5pm I was more than ready to stop driving and settle into a nice warm bed.  We found a hotel about 100 miles west of Kansas City.  The day had been so dumpy that we just decided to get beer and ice cream and hole up in our room.  We watched Man vs. Food all night until we just couldn’t take it anymore.  We had to go and get some delicious Arby’s roast beef.  We woofed it down and promptly passed out.    
- Virginia

11/16/10 Day 44

     We got up and had breakfast with Chan and Gill, took some pictures then began cleaning up and packing.  We were getting pretty comfortable in the bunkhouse and had a hard time leaving.  We said one last goodbye to Chan and Gill, and were on the road again, homeward bound. 
     We took a route that went through northeastern New Mexico, a tiny corner of Texas, and stopped for the night in Guymon, Oklahoma.  Nights were beginning to get very cold and camping in a tent didn’t seem like fun anymore, so we got a hotel.  It was a good thing cause it was extremely windy and rainy all night.  We settled down for a snack, watched some TV and drifted off to sleep. 
- Virgina

11/15/10 Day 43

     We sat down at the table for breakfast of sausage and eggs.  They were delicious even though Chan forgot to put the green chilies in them.  We packed yesterday’s sandwiches and headed to Bandolier National Monument.  This is a very cool park that contains the ruins of many ancient cliff dwellings and Pueblos, some of which you could even climb up in and explore.
     These were all along the park’s main trail.  Before we started our hike, we were given a pamphlet at the visitor’s center full of information on all the ruins we would see that day.  We were to keep our eyes open for a numbered marker at each site, this would tell us what section of the pamphlet would be about what we were looking at. 
     Brochure in hand, we began down the trailhead.  We read about some of the natural features of the canyon and looked at a spot that might have been an Indian garden back in the 15th century.  This was all pretty to look at and we were enjoying it, but it wasn’t anything special.  We’d seen lots of trees, rocks, streams, etc. in all the other parks. 
     What we hadn’t seen was a Kiva.  These are circular rooms dug into the ground and we were now looking at a partially excavated one.  The pamphlet had a lot to say about this site, so I began to read it out loud to Virginia.  I didn’t think I was reading particularly loudly, but It was loud enough apparently because a young woman standing nearby jokingly asked if I could read louder please.  Virginia and I laughed and smiled politely before moving on to the next site. 
     We were admiring the first story ruins of a pueblo village on the canyon floor, when the woman caught back up with us.  There was a young man with her and we overheard them talking excitedly about how fascinating the site was, sometimes joking and laughing generally having a good time in much the same manner as Virginia and me.  Occasionally she would ask a question out loud, seemingly addressing anyone present, and I would make an answer.     
     Presently Virginia and I left the pueblo and went to look at the cliff dwellings.  The same thing happened.  The other pair caught up with us and we talked a little more with them.  This continued until we felt fairly well acquainted and we stuck together as a group for the rest of the hike.  It turns out that these two, named Taz and Tussin, are brother and sister.  They live on opposite sides of the country and had decided to meet in New Mexico for five days of hiking and exploration.
     We told them about our travels as we looked at the caves and petroglyphs scattered across the canyon wall.  We were especially tickled by a petroglyph that seemed to be a man jumping for joy.  It was great to enjoy a park with similarly minded people.  Eventually our band came to the main attraction at the end of the trail.  This was a 140 foot climb up a cliff wall, accomplished by long rustic ladders and steep stairs leading to large open cave and a reconstructed Kiva!  The ladders looked a bit daunting, but they were easily overcome by our excitement to get to the top.  Once we made the ledge, Virginia and I stopped to catch our breath and have a snack while Tussin and Taz explored the area.  The Kiva up here is the only one in the park that the public is allowed in and we all took a look inside. 
     There weren’t any ruins on the path back to the visitor’s center, so we spent the time talking and enjoying the beautiful nature around us.  At some point I mentioned how they measured hiking distance at the Grand Canyon by how many sandwiches you should eat, and that became a running joke.  Eventually we made our way back to the visitor’s center.  Here we bid farewell to our new friends, not without exchanging contact info though, and headed back to Pecos. 
     My second cousin Nathan and his girlfriend were there when we arrived and we talked about their recent vacation to Florida over a meal of delicious pork chops prepared by Gill and Chan. 
-       Eric Lauterbach

11/14/10 Day 42

     We were on our way to Santa Fe today.  We had been told and had read a lot about how the Santa Fe and Albuquerque area have been a hot spot for filmmaking in recent years and were pretty excited to check it out. 
  We ate breakfast with Chan and Gill then packed a lunch for ourselves and started toward the city.  First we parked and walked around the plaza.  There were tons of art galleries and little artsy shops.  There were a bunch of Native Americans selling jewelry on the streets and a couple of food carts.  We stopped and did a bit of shopping at a local Five and Dime; we looked at some of the other shops, but they were very expensive. 
     We explored the town for a couple of hours and were beginning to get hungry.  The plan was to go back to the car and eat the lunches that I had packed, but the thought of more cold meat sandwiches didn’t sound very appetizing.  Delicious Mexican food sounded WAY better, so we went to the Blue Corn CafĂ© and Brewery.  The food was excellent and the beer was alright too. 
     We decided that we were done in the city and would head back to Pecos, stopping at the International Folk Art Museum on our way.  We paid the admission fee and were given a brief tour by a volunteer docent.  We kinda wanted to walk around on our own, but she seemed pretty insistent that she show us around.  We were very impressed by the folk art displays.  There were dozens of windows ranging in size that were full of hundreds of tiny handmade figures arranged in various ways.  There was a window for nearly every country containing folk art made there.  Most of the scenes in the displays seemed to show something specific about the country from which the art was made. 
     There were several other galleries in the Museum including:  Silver jewelry, Empowering Women Artisan Cooperatives that transform Communities, Textiles from around the World, and artwork by individuals from New Mexico that have been recognized by the National Endowment of the Arts.  Eric and I enjoyed the Day of the Dead display and everything in the International Folk Art Gallery. 
     When we got back to Chan and Gill’s we hung out in the bunkhouse for a bit then were treated to another meal out in Pecos at Canelas.  The inside of the restaurant was beautiful!  Chan and Gill said that the place never had any business, and it was apparent as we sat alone in the high ceilinged dining hall for a couple or hours enjoying our meal all alone.  Eric had a delicious sirloin steak and I had a less appetizing enchilada.  Eric tried a local brew called Monks Ale and he liked it a lot.

11/13/10 Day 41

     It didn’t take us long to get to Pecos.  We left the hotel at around 10 or 11am and arrived at Eric’s great aunt and uncle’s at about 1:30 or 2pm.  We only got lost for a few minutes because the road sign was missing at the end of the road we needed to take towards their house.  We went by the road several times before deciding that it must be the road we wanted and turned.  Moments later we were greeted by Chan and Gill.  They showed us where we were to be staying.  It was a cute little bunkhouse fully equipped with a kitchen and bathroom, it was very cozy.  They showed us around their house briefly then we piled into their Prius to go to lunch at Frankie’s at the Cassanova for some authentic New Mexican food. 
     We ordered off of the small menu and enjoyed the atmosphere of the restaurant.  Eric and Chan swapped family news while we were waiting for our food.  We looked around the place a bit and saw an interesting mural on the wall above the bar that seemed to depict a bar fight. Chan and Gill explained to us that most New Mexican dishes were served green or red in reference to the chilies.  Red is HOT while green is a bit milder.
     After lunch, we relaxed in the bunkhouse for a while and did some much-needed laundry.  A few hours passed and we decided to join Chan and Gill in the house.  We did some crosswords and watched Wheel of Fortune and Jeopardy, and then sat down to a dinner of spaghetti and meat sauce.  They showed us a slideshow of pictures they had taken during their trip to England (Gill’s homeland).  They told us all about the pictures as they showed up on the digital picture frame. 
-       Virginia