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.      
-Eric  

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 Café 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.
  -Virginia

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 

11/12/10 Day 40


     We got up and leisurely got our things around.  Then we started towards Santa Fe.  Eric had called his great uncle Chan the night before and he seemed to think it would take over a day to get there, but I thought we could have made it easily in one day if we got going early.  However, Uncle Chan requested an extra day to get ready.
     So we didn’t hesitate to stop when we saw a sign for the meteor crater.  Upon discovering that admission to the crater is fifteen dollars a person, we hesitated, but we had already driven the six miles out of our way and had gotten more and more excited along the way, especially when the humongous form of the crater walls came into view.
     We paid and quickly ran up the stairs to see the huge crater.  We glimpsed the rim of the crater but went to a short movie about the formation of this natural phenomenon before exploring it.  Then we went through the museum and learned a lot about meteors and where they come from and what they are made of.  Next we participated in an hour long guided walking tour along the crater’s rim.
     Our tour guide was a spunky Mexican named Eduardo.  He was very knowledgeable and also told a lot of jokes.  We learned that the huge hole is as deep as the Washington monument is tall.  The meteor’s impact created a crater large enough to fit twenty football fields and within ten seconds and literally turned the earth’s crust inside out!  Early discoverers of the hole assumed it had been created by a volcanic eruption, but in the 1960’s it was scientifically proven to have been created by a meteor impact.  Some shit from space blew a hole in the earth!  Its pretty amazing if you really think about it.
     We enjoyed the crater a bit more, then got a Subway sandwich and continued on our way.  We found some hotel coupons at a rest stop and stayed at a Sands Motel for cheap that night.  We ignored the warnings on our camp stove that told us we would die if we used it indoors, cracked a window, and cooked some of rice tomato beef soup concoction. 
-       Virginia

Sunday, November 21, 2010

11/11/10 Day 39


     When I woke up the next morning, I told Virginia all about my strange experience.  We debated possible causes, but couldn’t think of any that were very convincing.  We quickly put the mystery to the back of our minds though as we began formulating plans for our day at the Grand Canyon.  We were very excited because the 11th of November is Veterans Day and all the National Parks were celebrating with free admission!
     We rolled into the park and after quickly orienting ourselves at the visitor’s center; we decided that the best way to get around the park was by using the free shuttle service.  There are three loops:  Blue, which goes to the park village; the red loop connecting the village and Hermit’s Rest; and in the opposite direction of the visitor’s center, the green loop to the Kaibab trailhead.  We started with the blue and red loops since they had the most stops at scenic overlooks.  The driver of the first bus we got on was very talkative and told us lots of interesting tidbits about the canyon and upcoming overlooks. 
     We hadn’t had a real opportunity to look into the canyon yet and we were getting very excited and anxious to see it!  We stepped off the bus and towards the vast chasm.  It was breathtaking.  The thousand-year-old gorge stretched before us, and dropped thousands of feet below us.  We could see tiny specks walking along the Bright Angel Trail, headed for the bottom of the canyon.  Each stop offered something new and something familiar.  At some spots you could see rapids of the Colorado River or an old mineshaft, but the craggy red and orange rocks were always jutting around enclosing it all.   
     Since we were stopping at every look out along the way, our trip down the Red Loop took almost three hours, and we were wearing down when we finally made it to Hermit’s Rest.  
     This is a really cool building.  It was built in the early days of tourism to the canyon and served as a rest stop and place to take refreshments at the end of scenic carriage rides along the rim.  It still serves this purpose with a small snack bar and now also houses a giftshop and bookstore, but it has retained all of its old charm.  Hermit’s Rest would be hard to find if it weren’t for the rock archway with the bell marking its location.  From the outside, the building just looks like a pile of rocks. 
     The inside is stunning though.  The north wall is almost entirely windows, which look out onto a small porch with full-timber beams sitting right on the edge of the canyon.  There are small rooms adjoining on the east and west of the main chamber, housing the aforementioned bookstore and snack bar respectively.  The south wall of the building forms a half vault.  It resembles a massive igloo build of stone and has a grand fireplace in the middle.  Virginia and I sat here to take our lunch on rustic furniture that, judging by several photographs, has been in the building almost since its construction. 
     After cooling our heels and warming our bones by the fire as well as regaining energy from our nourishment, we caught a return bus.  We stopped at a few lookouts we had not yet seen and at the end of the ride, we set out to explore the Grand Canyon Village.  We looked in whatever Hotels and shops we could, of which my favorite were the El Tovar and Lookout Studio.  El Tovar was built in the early 1900’s and was designed to mimic a Swiss hunting chalet.  Lookout Studio was a multistory structure built out of native rock.  It was designed by Mary Colter, who also designed Hermit’s Rest as well as several other structures in the park, and it was situated similarly close to the cliff face.  Virginia fancied the Hopi House, also designed by Miss Colter, which was built as a traditional adobe pueblo and is used as a shop for Native American artwork.
     Although we were starting to feel worn out, we still wanted to hike at least part way into the canyon, so we headed back to the visitor’s center and caught the green loop towards Kaibab Trail.  The sun was close to setting and we didn’t have much in the way of supplies, so we decided to only go a short distance down the path.  The first bit of our journey was in icy shadows, but the steep grade and many switchbacks we followed helped us get quickly into the sunshine.  One gains a new appreciation of the canyon descending into it, as the sheer towering walls and the slow speed of one’s progress to the floor bring its gigantism into real palpable perspective.  The going was so easy and the scenery so beautiful that we wanted to continue all the way down.  Virginia and I knew, however, that between the steep switchbacks and the thin air, it was going to be a real struggle back up and it would only be worse the further we went, so we reluctantly turned around. 
     We began huffing and puffing almost immediately and hauling ourselves all the way back to the rim began to seem an impossible goal.  To remedy this, I began looking ahead and choosing nearer landmarks to which we would trek; once there, we would catch our breath and choose the next check point.  Once, while resting at one of our break targets, a pair passed by us at a fast clip, not even gasping and, in fact, carrying on a full conversation.  Virginia and I found this rather confounding, but we never the less pushed on.  Finally, wheezing and weary, we hove up over the top ledge.  We had made it!  But we hardly had time to catch our breath or celebrate before the rumbling of a bus sent us scurrying toward it.
     We rode the short distance to the next stop, where we finally caught our breath and then watched the sun set over one of the ridges of the Grand Canyon.  We headed back to the hostel in the dimming light, thoroughly exhausted, but in exceedingly good spirits.  We stopped at McDonalds on the way and had what seemed like the best hamburgers we had ever tasted because we were so hungry!  Once we got back to the room, memories of the previous night’s strange occurrence began to creep into my head, but I was too pleasantly exhausted to give it a second thought before I passed out for the night.  The last thing I remember thinking was if it did happen again, we should ask the manager for a discount in the morning.
-       Eric

11/12/10  Day 40

11/10/10 Day 38


     First thing I did today was try and fry some eggs for breakfast.  I’ve always been more of a scrambled egg kind of guy and things usually turn out kinda rough when I stray from my area of expertise.  This time I broke the yolk on both eggs.  I didn’t really mind since it mean we wouldn’t have to make anything to sop up the yellows, but Virginia was a bit upset.  She gets sorta picky about her eggs being perfectly once over easy.  Luckily this was the only mishap today. 
     We drove further into Arizona to get some tourist info and to mail a bundle of postcards.  This was also where we found out that Route 66 was right nearby, so we hopped on that and continued East.  My favorite part of taking this historic highway was reading the Burma Shave signs along the road.  There would be about five of the red signs spread evenly in a mile, each bearing on line of a simple couplet until you reached the final marker which bore the Burma Shave logo. 
     While I was reading these poems from the drivers sear, Virginia thumbed through the materials we’d picked up at the Kingman visitor center for a place to spend the night.  She found the info for a hostel fifty miles from the Grand Canyon.  She placed a phone call and after finding the price was fifteen dollars a person per day, we made reservations.           
     A short while later we were there and settling into our room.  The living quarters were furnished with a bed and blankets, a space heater, two chairs, a mirror and a dresser.  The showers, sinks, and toilets were in a building out back.  There was a common room with books and a television and an attached “kitchenette” which was really just a microwave and a mini-fridge.  The floors were rich with stains and the countertops covered with remains of spilt beverages.  There was no shortage of dead bugs all around either.  It was cozy!
  We still had most of the afternoon to kill, so we caught up on the journal and watched TV before retiring to NPR on our radio.  A while after that we settled into bed, but I didn’t sleep well.  For some reason I kept waking up every hour or so.  The strange thing was that every time, when I was in that place between dreams and full awareness, I would hear a woman speaking to me.  Once my head cleared and I returned to consciousness, I couldn’t remember what she said, but I felt very disconcerted.  Part of me wanted to explain this as a haunting, but I decided to wait and see if the events would repeat themselves the next night before I gave my eerie dreams this label

-       Eric

11/9/10 Day 37

     We got up and packed up fairly early, so we would be ready when Tom came to get his keys back.  This wasn’t necessary though, as Tom was running late.  We didn’t mind, however, because there was a balmy breeze blowing.  It felt nice to let the warm sun wash over us as we sat on the terrace and waited.
     Tom showed up eventually and we snapped a picture with him before returning his keys.  Then we headed to Albertsons to stock up on groceries for the trek to the next stop, but first we snagged a late breakfast at Yum Yum Donuts.  The roads and freeways were actually pretty easily navigated and were not permanently gridlocked despite our preconceived notions. 

     We stopped at a rest area for lunch after crossing the border into Arizona, and Virginia looked in some of our campground guides to find our stop for the night.  We settled on a Land Management Area near the Cholla Cactus Garden because it was only several hours away and it was right off the highway AND it was free.  It was dark when we got to the entrance, which was simply a dirt road leading away from the highway exit and into the Mojave Desert.  A couple of miles out we found the camping area, which was just a circular clearing on the rocky ground.  There were no picnic tables or toilet facilities and the only signs of human life were a junk pile, a stone fire circle and a few empty and broken beer bottles scattered in the red rocky dirt.  
     We had to use the headlights on the car so we could see to set up the tent.  When we were done and had shut off the car, losing our only source of light other than our headlamps, there was nothing to do but eat our leftover donuts and read until we felt sleepy.  It was pretty chilly as we slumbered that night and I had a feeling we wouldn’t want to spend anymore nights in the desert with only a tent to shield us from the elements. 
 -Eric 

Thursday, November 18, 2010

11/8/10 Day 36

We slept in a bit this morning since we didn’t have anything planned until the afternoon and Sarah and Tom were at work.  Most of the morning was spent trying to print Craig Ferguson Show tickets on Tom’s ancient printer.  When we finally got that figured out we lounged around for a bit, then got all cleaned up for the show.
     At about 1pm we headed towards CBS Studios to get a parking spot and hopefully a good seat for the show.  We stood in a line outside for quite some time before we were lead into a more sheltered section of the studio, but still outside.  There we were sat on benches and told how we should react as a studio audience.  No weird or loud laughing, no shouting when it is inappropriate, make sure you laugh at EVERY joke, etc.  Then we were seated on the Late Late Show set and a warm-up comedian named Chunky B came in and got our giggle boxes working.  He was pretty mediocre.  One joke he told was this:  What did one butt cheek say to the other butt cheek? ….. If we stick together we can stop this shit!   HAHA!
     Then Craig came out and it was utter awesomeness from there on.  The show was great, as always.  I kept forgetting to watch the real thing and found myself watching the monitors instead.  Craig was as goofy as ever and we even saw a couple of characters we had never seen before (It has been a while since we have been able to stay up late enough to actually watch The Late Late Show), Geoff Peterson and Secretariat (Apparently there is an accompanying dance).  The guest was Tom Selleck and his mustache was magnificent especially in person. 
     After the show, we went over to Sarah’s apartment and she took us out to dinner at a brick oven pizza place that she and Tom had heard about on the Food Network.  It was really delicious!  They used fancy buffalo cheese.  We went back to Sarah’s and hung out with Loki for a while until she said she had to kick us out.  We took a picture with everyone, including Loki, in which Loki looked like a crazy demon.  I know you are thinking “big whoop, his eyes are red, happens all the time.”  I guarantee you have never seen crazy demon eyes like this before; it is like his eyes exploded into stars!  It is by far the creepiest picture I have ever seen.  We will post the picture when we get home.
Gaze into the eyes of the horrible demon cat!


     So after laughing about that disconcerting picture for a bit, we said our goodbyes and went back to Tom’s place for our last night in L.A.
-Virginia
     
        

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

11/7/10 Day 35

     We got going at about the same time as the previous day.  We were going to the La Brea Tar Pits!  I remembered them from the movie Last Action Hero with Arnold Schwarzenegger and Eric remembered them from old Warner Bros cartoons. 
     I guess a ton of prehistoric mammals thought the pits were watering holes and went up for a drink only to find themselves stuck in horrible tar!  A lot of well-preserved fossils have been found during excavation of the pits including those of:  Dire wolf, giant ground sloth, mammoth, mastodon, saber toothed cat, and many others. 
OH NO! Get outta there, that's tar!

     We walked around the park where the pits are located.  There are a bunch of tiny pits sneaking up to the surface all around and Sarah said that even the mall where she works is on top of a tar pit and methane gas is a problem there sometimes.  Eric poked some tiny tar pits with a stick.  We saw a couple of excavation sites where volunteers were working on removing and cleaning the bones found in the pits.  There were some cool statues of ground sloths that we took pictures with.  Oh yeah!  And there was a huge pet adoption fair going on so most of the park was covered in tents housing hundreds of animals from the humane society.  We walked through one of the cat tents and had to restrain ourselves from adopting all the kitties and loving them to death!  We decided to steer clear of the animal tents from then on for fear we wouldn’t make it out without a furry friend or two in our arms.  We went to the museum to look at some furless and skinless ugly animals to get our minds off the cute kitties.
Some of the dead things were cute too

     The museum was pretty neat, lots of bones and history of LA and the tar pits.  Apparently anyone can volunteer to work in the tar pits or in the lab cleaning and identifying the fossils.  Sarah says that working in the tar pits is Tom’s next project and it sounds like it would be pretty fun.  You could tell that the volunteers have fun by looking at some of their signs and the things they keep in their areas. 
     We grabbed some lunch at In n Out Burger, which is a fast food restaurant native to California.  It was a pretty good burger.  Their menu basically consists of a hamburger, a cheeseburger, or a double cheeseburger.  It was and easy decision.
     Then we headed towards Venice Beach.  In an attempt to avoid paying for parking, Sarah parked in a lot a few blocks from where the main festivities of the beach are.  Well, she thought it was only a few blocks and a short walk, but it ended up being much further away than she had thought.  It took at least half an hour to 45 minutes to get to the area we wanted to see. 
     So after that invigorating hike, we were in the heart of Venice Beach, where the weirdos are.  The walkway was lined with mostly souvenir shops and marijuana doctors on one side and street artists on the other side.  There were surprisingly few buskers.  The aroma of patchouli and pot smoke filled our nostrils as we walked along the beach and saw Muscle beach, a drum circle, and a rollerskating, guitar playing, turban wearing, middle-eastern man.  There were definitely many interesting characters and even a freak show that sounded like it was mostly mutated animals.  We saw some hand painted Day of the Dead skulls that we really liked, so we bought one then started the daunting walk back to the car. 

420 doctors can't be wrong!

    Sarah dropped us off at Tom’s and went back to her place so she could get some work done before having to go back to work Monday morning.  We made some chicken and noodles for dinner and looked up a silent movie theater Tom had pointed out to us the day before.  We thought it would be cool to go to a silent movie at an old movie theater in LA.  Upon researching the theater online, we found that it only played silent movies once or twice a month.  The movie that was playing this night was actually a pornographic movie from 1972 called Score.  We decided to go anyway!
     The movie was actually very well done and more about the art and storytelling than the sex.  There was definitely plenty of sex in it though!  The Director and one of the actresses were there for a Q &A session after the screening.  We enjoyed it overall; it was definitely an experience. 
-       Virginia

11/6/10 Day 34

     Sarah and Tom picked us up from the apartment at about 10am.  First we headed to The Grove, a shopping mall where Sarah works.  My uncle(Sarah’s father) is constantly talking about Sarah’s job and how much of a big wig she is and how cool her job is, so I told her we simply must see what all his fuss is all about.  Sarah is second in charge at Crate and Barrel.  She designs and sets up all the second floor and window displays.  It sounds like a pretty sweet job and she is very good at it.  She showed us her office and all the furniture and light fixtures and rugs she has to lug around and hang.  It was pretty pimp!
     After that we headed to the famous Chinese Theater and the walk of fame.  We walked all around the theater as much as we could.  Much of it was roped off for the AFI Film Festival.  We actually were thinking of trying to see a film in the festival because the tickets were free, but didn’t get organized enough to get to one.  We walked along the walk of fame for a bit and saw all the hand and footprints of celebrities imprinted in the cement all around the Chinese Theater.  We walked up a couple of flights of stairs to a good view of the Hollywood sign.  We tried to take a couple of pictures, but the sign was so far away you couldn’t really tell what it was.  We grabbed lunch at Quiznos, which was surprisingly delicious, then walked a few blocks down to where we were to meet for a tour.
All the greats have a star on the walk

     Sarah and Tom had told us about this tour called The Dearly Departed Tour.  They both said that they had gone on it several years ago and found it highly entertaining.  The two and a half hour tour consisted mostly of driving around LA while our tour guide told us grisly tales of murder and suicide.  We saw many places where celebrities died or ate their last meal.  A few of the places we saw included where the Black Dahlia murder took place and the home of the suspected killer, where Bela Legosi, John Belushi, River Phoenix, and Janis Joplin died.  The tour guide was fantasic!  He really enjoys what he does and is very knowledgeable of Hollywood history.  It was definitely the perfect tour for us.  There were many other tours available such as celebrity houses and sightseeing, but Sarah knew that we were morbid freaks and that the Dearly Departed Tour was perfect for us.  We were also tempted to take the 3-hour Helter Skelter tour, but the one tour was enough expense for one day.
     After the tour, we planned on dinner and a movie.  We were craving Mexican, so Sarah and Tom took us to El Torito.  The restaurant was right on the canal at Marina Del Rey.  We took a walk on the boardwalk along the bay while we were waiting to get seated in the restaurant.  We watched some sea birds and a few seals (or sea lions) playing around in the water near the fishing boats. 
     The restaurant was so busy we didn’t get finished in time to make the movie, so we headed back to Sarah’s apartment to watch something on demand.  We ended up watching How to Train Your Dragon and it was pretty cute. 
 -Virginia

11/5/10 Day 33

     We survived the acorns overnight onslaught and weren't bothered by bears as we slept, so the day was already off to a good start.  We were excited to see more “big trees,” so we headed out of the valley.  We were looking for the nearby General’s Highway, which winds among the many majestic sequoias, passing numerous breath taking vistas along the way. 

     Our day’s first goal was to see the General Sherman sequoia, which is the largest tree in the world and still growing.  To ensure that people take the time to get out of their cars and actually enjoy nature, this and many other famous trees are only accessible by hiking trails, though it wasn’t always that way.  It was easy going on the way to the tree, since it was downhill from where we parked and we got there just in time to hear a volunteer give a twenty-minute talk about sequoias. 
This sucker's big!

      These trees are remarkable, and learning about them as we starred at the General Sherman was awe inspiring!  After looking around a bit more, we started back to the parking lot.  This rather harder than the jaunt down, as we were at 7,000 feet above sea level and the air is very thin.  They even had signs reminding us of this placed convincingly near benches along the path, several of which we took advantage of before reaching the lot. 
     It was a short drive from there to the Giant Forest Museum, where we spent some time looking at the exhibits.  It was also here that we found out that there was major construction being do on the mountain road we would need to take out of the park and that they were only letting traffic through at the top of each hour.  We were too far away to make the currant hour’s exodus.  We needed to find something to do other than sitting in a parked car for an hour, so we decided to explore the land around us.
     On the other side of the Museum’s parking lot is a smooth, stony outcropping known as Beetle Rock and we made our way there.  We both round the landscape as well as the views it offered exhilarating and time just slid past as we scrambled over its craggy surface.  We could feel the power and majesty that caused individuals like John Muir to fall in love with the area. 
Beetle Rock Rocks!

     We were reluctant to leave, but we had to start making time if we wanted to make Los Angeles by early nightfall.  We left a tad early and ended up parking the car and waiting on the construction crew, but this gave us time to eat a quick snack lunch before beginning the long labor of snaking down the mountain.  After refueling the car, we headed straight to LA, only stopping once for dinner at Denny’s. 
     The traffic was not nearly as dense, nor the roads as confusing as we had feared, and we made it to Virginia’s cousin Sarah’s without accident.  Upon arrival at here apartment we were introduced to her Norwegian long haired tabby, Loki, whom we played with as we chatted with her and waited for her boyfriend, Tom to arrive.  It was decided that we would stay in Tom’s apartment and he would stay with Sarah for a few days.
-       Eric    

11/4/10 Day 32

     Today we were going to see the giant sequoias in Sequoia National Park and National Forest.  We skipped the sequoia groves in Yosemite because we were planning on going here.  We got up and had some cereal.  Eric was feeling much better and it made it a little easier to get going.  We said our goodbyes and took a picture then went on our way. 
The Jack 'o' Lantern on the left is Cameron's understudy


     It felt good to be back on the road again.  We didn’t have to go far until we were approaching the entrance to Sequoia National Park and an added bonus we didn’t know about, Kings Canyon National Park is pretty much connected to Sequoia so we got into both parks for the price of one.  We stopped at a ranger station right outside the entrance and the ranger told us that Kings Canyon is deeper than the Grand Canyon!  She said that they call it their “secret little slice of heaven,” because it is not widely known. 
    When we entered the park, we knew immediately what the ranger meant.  It was beautiful, and there weren’t nearly as many people in the park as compared to Yellowstone or Yosemite.  It is so much more enjoyable to experience these wonders of nature without a million other people swarming around them like at other more popular parks we had been at.
 
     The first thing we did after paying the entrance fee is go to Grant’s Grove, where the General Grant Tree is located.  It is the second largest tree in the world.  There were several other trees named after states in this grove as well as a fallen tree with its trunk hollowed out to make a tunnel for visitors to walk through.  It was pretty neat. 
     We continued on the road towards Kings Canyon.  The road provided many beautiful overlooks.  The mountains surrounding the Canyon are covered in trees and they were turning brilliant colors for the fall season.  The trees were mostly evergreens, but a few orange and yellow leafed trees sprinkled the mountainside too.  It was stunning.  The most picturesque area we have traveled through so far, in my opinion. 
     On the way to the Canyon, we stopped at a couple of small waterfalls, but mostly just enjoyed the leisurely drive through the magnificent scenery.  At one point we were driving right along side the river and could see the rocky rapids.  We drove the canyon road until it ended then headed back towards a small National Forest camping area we saw on the way in.
Nothing like sleeping under the stars!  Or acorns, in this case
 
     The weather predicted a warm night, so we didn’t even bother to put up a tent.  We laid out a tarp and rolled out our sleeping gear.  Eric went to find wood for a fire and I cooked up some burgers Melissa had sent with us.  We ate, then sat around the fire and read our books until we got drowsy.  Then we settled into our sleeping bags with nothing between us and the great outdoors.  It felt pretty invigorating.  We slept under the stars and under the acorn tree threatening to drop its nuts on us all night.    
-       Virginia

Friday, November 12, 2010

11/3/10 Day 31

     We got up early in order to get to Yosemite and have enough time to see most of the sights.  It took a little longer to get ready because Eric wasn’t feeling well and was slow going.  We finally got on track to Yosemite, but soon I was in the driver’s seat and Eric was struggling with head congestion and watery eyes.
     We were held up for about an hour due to construction on the road into the park.  We paid our admission and were excited to explore, then we had to sit in a car and wait for an hour… it sucked.  Eric took this time to practice his accordion and I worked on my hair, which is slowly turning into dread locks.
I practiced my ukulele to!  I find unusual instruments therapeutic

     Finally we got through the construction, passed through the tunnel and were greeted with a magnificent view of Half Dome, El Capitan, a small waterfall and various other rock formations.  The information called this "tunnel view" because it is the first thing you see when you come out of the tunnel and you simply must stop for pictures.  So we did.  Then we headed towards the valley.
     We saw Bridal Veil falls, upper and lower Yosemite falls, Half Dome, El Capitan and Cathedral rock.  All were pretty flippin sweet!  We were going to take a rather strenuous hike up to Vernal Falls called The Mist Trail, but to my disappointment, Eric wasn’t feeling up to much more than a half an hour hike.  I wish we had had the time to hike more because it seems like half the park is only accessible by foot, but we only had a day and it had already been cut short by the construction.
He couldn't do this if it was a whole dome
  
     We did get a good look at the historic Awahanee Hotel.  It was very pretty on the inside.  There were plenty of rought iron decorations and Indian designs on the walls and windows.  Even the china had Indian art on it.  We went up a flight of stairs and were offered tea and cookies, which we graciously accepted.  Then we explored the remaining 5 floors.  Many had a little tidbit of history posted on the wall for all to read.  We ran into another couple that seemed to be simply walking around much like us and we joined with them for a bit (Eric was also intrigued by how the young man dressed). 
     Then we headed toward the exit.  It was only 4:30, but the sun goes down at about 5:30 and we didn’t want to get stuck in the park after dark trying to navigate the perilous curves in the road.  We didn’t get far before we were stuck behind a line painting truck.  So much for getting out before sunset, by the time we got to pass the truck it was dusk and we were far from out of the park. 
     I turned the wheel back over to Eric because I have horrible night vision and we began the slow trek back to our friends’ place.  The construction we had driven through earlier seemed to be finished, but the lines and reflectors had yet to be replaced.  This made for a difficult and stressful drive.  We were concentrating so much on the curves that we failed to see a family of deer in the road until it was too late!  Eric slammed on the brakes, but couldn’t swerve very much or else we would plummet to our death off a 1000 plus foot drop off.  We clipped the rear end of the fawn with the driver’s side front bumper.  At the next pull off, we checked the car over.  There didn’t seem to be any damage or blood.  We didn’t know if the fawn survived, but hey, wolves gotta eat too right? 
     We made it back to Melissa and Cameron’s about an hour later and they had dinner ready.  We both cracked a beer as soon as we got inside to take the edge off from the drive.  We finished off the evening with lasagna, beer and a movie called Cry the Beloved Country
-       Virginia

11/2/10 Day 30

     We wanted to go for a hike today, since we were so close to all kinds of national parks and forests.  We’d been loafing around most of the morning, so we decided to go after lunch.  Cameron’s brother Cory has hiked many of the trails, so we had him lead us to one of his favorite trailheads.
     We followed him down the path to a beautiful waterfall.  Cory left shortly after, while we stayed and explored this wonderful hollow.  When we’d seen most of the little nooks and crannies, we began hiking up the trail in order to take the next fork.  This track crossed back and forth over rivers and streams, which were spanned by many rustic bridges.  One was simply a log with the top flattened and hand rails on the sides.
How lazy can a bridge builder get?

     We trekked along until our legs were wearing out.  We weren’t tired of the great weather or lovely scenery, but it was time to go home and rest.  When we got back, we ate cookies and watched Disney’s surprisingly good “Frog Princess” to unwind.
- Eric

11/1/10 Day 29

     We relaxed today, hanging out with Melissa, catching up with the journal and playing with the kids.  Later we went for a walk up the road and back.  It was nice to have a day to take it easy.  We couldn’t get in a big hurry anyway, because kids always add extra time to getting things done.
     Later, when Cameron got home he had a few beers after dinner, then chatted and watched some T.V.
- Eric

10/31/10 Day 28

     We got up and went for a walk along the rocky cliffs for a little exercise and fresh air.  Next we brushed off all the sand left on the tent from camping on the beach the night before.  Oh, and since it was Halloween, we put on our costumes for the drive.  Even though we didn’t really get to celebrate the holiday, we enjoyed getting into the “spirit” of things, and hopefully gave some people a fun surprise at our stops along the way.
     We got back on the "coastal road of death" and wound our way around towards San Francisco.  We stopped at a beach where we though there were a bunch of seals in the water, but when we got out our binoculars we realized it was a gaggle of surfers.  Dozens of them were out at Bodega bay catching the waves.  We watched them riding their boards and wiping out for a few minutes, it was pretty entertaining!
Seals?  NO!  Surfers dude! WHOA! Cowabunga!

     About an hour later, we were crossing the Golden Gate Bridge into San Francisco.  
Yeah, we both hummed the Full House song too...


Our original plan was to maybe find a hostel so we could spend the night in the city and not have to worry about finding a campground.  We took a wrong turn as soon as we got off the bridge and quickly got frustrated because we hadn’t gotten to stop at an info center to get a map of the city.
     We found our way back to the highway and went a little further south to San Mateo where we parked and found a Peruvian restaurant to eat at.  We wanted some fresh local seafood, so I got some halibut and Eric ordered seafood picante.  This day is also our three-year anniversary of dating, so we kind of splurged and ordered a dessert of picarones, which are Peruvian pumpkin fritters in a honey and cinnamon sauce.  It was delicious! It was a nice end to a delicious lunch for me, and a tasty relief from a slightly nauseating one for Eric.  He said that his meal tasted too fishy and looked too much like a bunch of fish guts dumped in tomato soup for him to enjoy.
     We tried to find a hostel by using the laptop, but Eric couldn’t steal wireless successfully, so we just decided to continue towards Oakhurst where my friends Melissa and Cameron live.  We aren’t meant to stay in big cities I guess.
     We got back on the Highway and I thought we would just find a campground for the night, call Mel and let them know we would be there the next day, eat some chili, and that would be that.  However, we made much better time than I expected, so we were very close to their house and it was only 5pm.  I called and informed them of our situation.  They were a little unprepared (messy house and such) but otherwise welcoming.  It took us another 3 hours to get there, but we made it!

10/30/10 Day 27

     I woke early and was sick of laying in bed trying to get back to sleep, so I got dressed, sat outside and read my book for about an hour or so before the sun rose and Eric woke up.  I made coffee and began preparing a breakfast of oatmeal before he arose.  We ate and promptly packed up the wet, sandy tent.  Then we went to explore the beach for a bit.  The massive white sand beach went on for miles in both directions.  We found some shells and half a sand dollar.  The waves were huge and the mist from them made it difficult to see very far out to sea. 
     We got back on the road and drove through the Avenue of Giants where we saw many tall trees.  There were a lot of tourist towns along the road and many roadside attractions involving these massive trees.  There were a few you could drive through, a tree made into a house, and a living chimney tree.  The only one we stopped at was the chimney tree ‘cause it was free. The restaurant and gift shop accompanying the chimney tree seemed deserted and there really weren’t any people around. It was kinda weird.  The actual chimney tree was pretty much just a hollowed out tree with a door put in the side of it.  Disappointed in this, we continued along the Avenue of the Giants yet to really be awed by this special detour from the highway.  
another Paul and Babe we found in the Redwood forest


Then we came to a gift shop called The Legend of Bigfoot.  The shop was surrounded by many impressive wood carved sculptures including a 10 foot tall Sasquatch.  We got some postcards and were on our way.
This is my new boyfriend, I met him in the woods

     I then directed Eric to the costal highway.  I thought it would be really neat to drive right along the coast!  We started westward and quickly realized that this road was going to be a bit more than we bargained for; switchbacks every few feet that were to be taken at 10 miles per hour or less.  Eric was a little stressed about the road, especially since everyone else on the road seemed to have a death wish and wanted to go like 50 mph.  Cars kept riding our ass 'til we got over into a turnout to let them pass.  It was kinda annoying.  It took nearly an hour just to get to the coast, then the road pretty much stayed right there along the edge.  The seascape view was awesome!  Eric was still struggling with the curvy road and inconsiderate drivers and I was beginning to be sick from all the curves.  We stopped for lunch at a pull out, threw an apple core out for the hungry seagulls, saw a seagull swallow an apple core whole. 
pesky sea birds kept trying to snatch our sandwiches right outta our hands!

     We drove along the coastal highway for a while longer, then began looking for a campground.  We had some trouble finding a campground within our price range.  There were quite a few regional and state parks but apparently all state and regional parks in California cost 35 dollars a night.  That’s about as much as a cheap hotel!  We kept looking 'til we found a private one that was only 20 bucks.  It was a really nice place.  Instead of being on the beach tonight, we were camped on a cliff a couple of hundred feet above the rocky sea.  
There is a cliff like 50 feet behind him.


We camped near the cliff and had a brilliant view of the ocean.  We made chili for dinner then enjoyed a restful evening. 
-       Virginia

10/29/10 Day 26

     We got up, ate some cereal then followed Avery back into “town” to visit Peg at her post office.  The town of Siead Valley is very small. It basically consists of a trailer park,  a few scattered homes, a small store, and the post office (there may have been a small café in there somewhere too).  Peg sold us some stamps and we took a few pictures with them at the post office.  We got a few supplies at the little store there then we were on the road again. 
Aunt Peg's post office

     Peg and Avery didn’t think we should try to go through Happy Camp and take the mountain pass there (it was closed due to weather anyway), so we backtracked all the way to north of Ashland and then headed towards the coast in search of the great costal redwoods. 
     A few hours later, we noticed the trees getting bigger and taller, then we saw the misty coast.  We stopped in one of the many redwood groves along the road and took a short hike through the damp mossy forest.  There were giant fallen trees covered in other growth, fungus and lichens.  The forest floor was a blanket of red pine needles.  The needles contrasting with the lush green undergrowth and the moss was amazing! 
The trees are closing in!

Eric stomps across the bridge to scare off any trolls that might be lurking
the troll lurking

We decided to have banana slugs for lunch because cold meat was getting so old and banana slugs sound so delicious

     We continued through the forest, occasionally driving right up next to the coast.  After another hour or so of driving, I directed us to a county park right on the beach.  It was nearly dark outside when we arrived, so we were setting up in the blackness with only our headlights for visibility.  The park seemed to be a popular stop for many a wayward traveler.  There were a couple of people staying there who appeared to be traveling with nothing but a backpack and their thumb for rides.  We made a meal of a can of beans and settled down for the night.  
-       Virginia