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California Here We Come!

Leaving Yosemite was difficult because a) it was SO beautiful and b)  it was our last park on this trip. But we were ready to be homeward bound, so as the sun began to slant lower in the sky, we drove out of the park and headed for Angels Camp, CA, randomly chosen as within striking distance of Yosemite and a good place to lay our heads for the night.

Driving up and down steep hills and along switchbacks with names like “Priests Grade” as in the grade of the hill, we frustrated local drivers behind us with our newbie pace. Oh well! One of the nice things about getting older is not worrying about what people are thinking about you, be it the outfit you are wearing, your voting preference or the speed at which you drive. My Brooklyn-born grandmother used to make me laugh when, at a stop light, if someone behind her honked after the light turned green she slowed down to a crawl – just to stick it to them. We would laugh so hard as we crept along, knowing the person behind us was fuming.

We arrived in Angels Camp in the dark, driving through the charming little one street town with its frontier style buildings to get to our hotel which was just north of town. That night, I called my daughter on FaceTime and told her where we were. Her partner jumped up off the couch and said, “YOU’RE IN ANGELS CAMP? My mother grew up there!”

After checking out the next day we spent the morning strolling around this town, famous as Mark Twain’s inspiration for his story, The Jumping Frog of Calaveras.IMG_1444

We strolled along the street lined with very old buildings, updated inside to accommodate today’s businesses. We sampled the local bakery’s delicious scones and checked out an antique store filled with fascinating objects from days gone by in this gold-mining camp town.

Next we drove through Murphy’s, a town our waitress in Yosemite’s Majestic Lodge Restaurant had told us about and in which my daughter’s partner’s mother spent a good deal of her childhood. Lots of wineries, eateries and lovely shops. Fall colors were glowing and I was reluctant to leave – it felt mysteriously like home there. But we had our day planned so we hit the road.

One night in Santa Rosa and then we drove to the coast, beginning our trek north in Bodega Bay. Needless to say the California and Oregon Coasts are breathtakingly beautiful. Whoever decided to put Route 1 and 101 right there, on the coast, was brilliant! We stopped along the way at beaches, so happy to breathe the salt air again and be in what felt like familiar terrain.

Dan was enjoying seeing certain locations, such as Point Arena (below), that he had seen from various boats during deliveries up and down the coast back when he was doing that. We stopped at Point Arena and had a picnic lunch, basking in the warm sun and watching whales breach in the distance.

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Point Arena Light

Next stop: Mendocino. I had heard about Mendocino for a while, how lovely it is, the “Mendo good life,” a place where people want to be. Being there was proof positive of why people love it and find a way to live there. We stayed in a lovely Victorian Inn owned by a couple who have made their Mendo dream come true.

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Hard to leave here but the Redwoods and Home were beckoning so we continued our drive north.

Next up: The Redwoods and beyond.

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Finding a Global Community in Zion, Death Valley, Yosemite

As we settled into the rhythm of our road trip, my senses were awakened. By the astonishing sights we were seeing. By the scent of sagebrush and pine and desert. By the flavors of regional foods we tasted! And by the touch of my fingers on ancient rock carvings and pieces of pottery!

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So many people in Zion!

It was in Zion, our next and most populated park, that my ears awoke to the preponderance of languages and accents overheard on hiking trails, at lookouts and in eateries. People come from all over the world to see the sights that our beautiful country has to offer. This piqued my curiosity enough to start conversations that inevitably leaned towards politics, travel, shared experiences, family and our global community.

Zion is a lush and lovely park and was high on my list after the desert-like, red rock parks we had seen up until now. It did not disappoint. The park was very full – I can only imagine what summer time is like. Car traffic is discouraged in Zion so we boarded a bus which took visitors to desired stops and hikes throughout the park. Even on the bus, the cacophony of tongues being spoken lent an exciting, celebratory atmosphere to the experience. We walked beside rivers, past hanging gardens, and through lush paths leading to emerald pools, striking up conversations with people from different parts of the U.S. and the world.

 

Next stop: Death Valley. What a change! We drove down, down, down into this rocky, cracked earth park which plunges below sea level as the temperature rises to 90° in the shade! Death Valley is desolate and beautiful in its starkness and brown, crusted earth, occasional trees and brush, dark ridges and remnants of a long ago ocean. It was at the side of the road, marveling over the vastness of the sand dunes, that I dug into my high school and college French to chat with a couple from northeastern France who were on their second national park trip.

 

That night, we climbed up to Mammoth Mountain where we stayed the night before heading on to Yosemite. We awoke to a brisk 17° morning, bundled up and stopped in town for coffee and breakfast before heading to Yosemite, which was in its full Fall Glory. There, we met folks from Ireland and Australia looking up in wonder at El Capitan from the valley floor, marveling at the wisdom of Theodore Roosevelt and John Muir in preserving this beautiful place.

 

It was in Yosemite at Tenaya Lake, pictured below, that I sensed my mother close by. I teared up unexpectedly with longing and missing her, knowing she had wanted to travel to the Southwest, but never made it. And questioning some of the choices we had made in our own travels. I walked beside the lake alone for a while, trying to compose myself. When I looked up at the point pictured below, I felt suddenly calm. Peaceful. And I knew with certainty that this trip was as perfect as the view and all was as it should be. I felt lifted up and joyful. A total about face from the deep grief I had felt just minutes before.

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Tenaya Lake

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Bridal Veil Falls

Yosemite Tunnel View

Tunnel View

At Tunnel View, pictured above, I took a photo for a Pakistani couple who were visiting their daughter, son-in-law and grandchildren, all of whom posed for the photo in their native dress. Next, a German couple asked for a photo, and then took this one of us, and in so doing taught me something about my phone camera that I had not yet discovered! In their travels all over the world, they said, nothing they had seen compares with our national parks for their vastness and beauty.

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World Visitors at Tunnel View, Yosemite

I imagine many people in the U.S. think they have to travel outside their country to expand horizons and get a sense of the wider world. In truth, as we crossed state borders and arrived at destinations, other than a shared language, I felt very much a visitor, a stranger. Not only because of the scenery, but also because of the culture that arises from climate, environment, history and traditions.

And as I met travelers from other countries, I had an opportunity to act as a host, to welcome them, to show them that Americans are not necessarily what is portrayed by the media in their countries, or what our current government may lead others to think.

This is one of the main benefits of travel. To unite us in our humanity. To represent our best selves to one another. To demolish stereotypes. As Mark Twain so famously said, “Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one’s lifetime.”

I am grateful for so many aspects of this trip. For demystifying the geography of the vast Southwest. For seeing things that photos can only begin to capture. For meeting people not only from my own country, but also from others all over the world and for realizing that one does not have to travel far to expand one’s mind.

 

 

 

 

 

Canyon de Chelly – Native Mysticism

 

Next on our list was Santa Fe. But we weren’t sure. To Santa Fe or not to Santa Fe? Did we really want a city? Was it as special as we had been told? Was it worth the drive?

We made our decision based on the knowledge that if, when we are this close, we didn’t go we’d never know and always wonder. So we booked a few nights in the area.

On the way down from Taos, we visited Abiquiu and Ghost Ranch, paying homage to Georgia O’Keefe.

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Approaching Ghost Ranch

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O’Keefe’s Inspiration

We also visited Chimayo, a place that was a sacred and healing site for the native people who lived there long ago. Catholics built a Church there and miracles continued. In one of the three churches on the site, there is a tiny room where pilgrims may obtain “holy” dirt, purported to have healing power. The anteroom leading to the hole where pilgrims dig and fill containers with this dirt (the level never seems to lower no matter how much dirt is dug out) is lined with crutches and walkers and wheelchairs. We took some dirt which I rubbed on my sore back and Dan dusted across his brain-injured forehead. And then we placed the bag in the glovebox for protection on our journey.

 

From Chimayo we made the trek Santa Fe – made longer because of road work – oh yes, urban life! That night, we dined with a former colleague of my father’s whom I had not seen for decades. She greeted me and looked at me with recognition saying, “Oh – you are an equal combination of your mother and father.” I was moved to tears to be with someone this far away who knew these two people whom I miss terribly and whose loss I am working through on this trip.

 

We woke the next morning to rain and bitter cold. Enough to make us want to skip our day out and about. But we were there and so we bundled and braved the art galleries, high priced tourist shops and restaurants. I am sure that at another time and in different weather we would have had a different experience, but we decided after Santa Fe to chase the sun and get warm. Especially when we awoke to a couple of inches of snow on the ground. Brrrr….

 

Our next destination – and the title of this post because of its strong impression on us – was Canyon de Chelly (pronounced “Shay”) National Park. Similar in some ways to Mesa Verde because of its ancient dwellings, the canyon is still home to Navajo families. The only way down into the canyon is with a Navajo guide, but we opted to view the canyon from above on our own. We left our Navajo run hotel, The Thunderbird Lodge, which we chose because of its location right in the park and our desire to support the tribe. Driving the North Loop we were awestruck once again by the magnificence of nature, by the continual habitation of the native people in this stunning canyon, and by the vastness of the views.

 

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Canyon de Chelly

IMG_1013A woman standing nearby said, “This is better than the Grand Canyon.” I asked why. “It’s more intimate. More powerful. Just as beautiful, but smaller.” I smiled because we had just made the decision to forego our visit to the Grand Canyon which had been one of my goals. This felt like affirmation for our choice not to add hours and distance to our already lengthy road trip.

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“White House” Ruins

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It was at the next viewpoint, Spider Rock, that something remarkable happened. In the canyon, cell phone reception was nil. I noticed when I took photos the “No Service” on the top left of the screen. And that was that – but who needs cell reception in a place like this?

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Spider Rock

Spider Rock, a massive monolith shooting 800 feet into the sky from the canyon floor grabbed hold of me like no sight I had seen on this trip. According to Native lore, Spider Woman was one of the Dine (Navajo) tribe’s most revered deities. She loved the people infinitely and intensely and saved them from their enemies and using her divine powers, continues to protect them for all time. She chose the top of Spider Rock as her home from which point she watched over her people saved them from troubles.

I began to think about my mother. What a spider woman she was. How she loved us all with a fierceness that at times caused us pain. But what I would give to have her back for just a short while. To feel that love. As if on cue, my phone lit up and started jingling with signals of messages coming through. A text appeared from one of my sisters with an attachment. I pushed the “play” button on the screen and heard my mother’s voice. It was an old voice mail of my mother’s that my sister had saved and sent earlier that day.

Standing on that spot, I listened to my mother’s voice and looked at this surreal and sacred sight.

Do I miss her? Yes. Is she with me? Most definitely.

And so, at Canyon de Chelly, as at Chimayo, and as with the reconnection with my father’s colleague, I came to see that miracles do happen, that people we love don’t have to be physically in front of us in order to be with us. I felt myself move into a new phase of my healing during this chapter of our trip.

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I heard my mother’s voice here.

 

 

 

 

New Mexico Morning – Coffee and a Kiva

“I think it might be too far,” I told Dan when we were planning our next destination. “Why don’t we do it another time?” But for Dan, Taos was non-negotiable. Some time ago, Dan became interested in Earthships, which are super smart, off-the-grid housing designed by a man named Michael Reynolds that happen to be based in Taos. In researching Earthship Biotecture and the area surrounding Taos, Dan became fascinated by the area in general and the quintessential southwestern adobe architecture with its vigas and kivas and thick walls. So it was off to Taos and the Earthships.

The drive through Colorado and into New Mexico was beautiful. Up we climbed, into the mountains. The temperature dropped. Tawny fields flecked with green spread out below, aspens turning yellow and mingling with the snow dusted pine trees gracefully lined the road. We were heading into different territory for sure.

One of the things about this trip that I have cherished, is that from state to state as we have entered different terrains we have begun understanding a bit more about how this country is put together. The native people who lived in these areas adapted to their surroundings and that adaptation in turn informed their cultures. I imagine that at one time, this  country felt like many countries that overlapped. Navajo, Anasazi, Cherokee, Puebloans, Hopi. They had different ways of dressing, different languages, different types of abodes.

In Taos, Dan adamantly wanted to stay in a traditional adobe casita for our three nights there. We found one a little bit outside of town, 15 minutes north.The roughly 1,000 square foot home was aesthetically lovely and so comfortable and we wasted no time making ourselves at home. A hot tub in a little “tea house” across the garden took the evening chill away after a day traipsing around.

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Our Taos home.

The stars of both living room and bedroom were the kivas, traditional wood-burning fireplaces which require the wood to be stacked on end instead of on its side. I awoke on our first morning there to a fire Dan had built and freshly brewed coffee. We sipped our coffee in front of the kiva warming our insides as well as our toes.

At night, after sitting in the hot tub, Dan built a fire in the bedroom which was…  heaven.

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Before bed kiva.

It took me a while to figure out Taos. I had expected a quaint, artistic community, rich with adobe architecture and charming, small galleries and eateries. It was all that, but far more commercial and touristy than I had anticipated.

Walking around the town I saw lots of tourists, hippies, women with long gray hair, lots of chunky turquoise jewelry, native people. An eclectic conglomeration of people and hard to pinpoint locals from visitors.

We strolled around the Plaza, which is filled with tourist trap shops. We visited Taos Pueblo  whose multi-storied adobe buildings have been inhabited for over 1,000 years and whose inhabitants live as their ancestors did, without the benefit of electricity or running water. We visited the Millicent Rogers Museum, which explores the history of Taos through its weaving, pottery, basketry, jewelry and painting. Millicent Rogers, and heiress and model, came to Taos to heal from her painful breakup with Clark Gable. I loved learning about her life as much as I enjoyed the museum named for her.

Thanks to a friend of my sister’s who lives in Taos, we gained a bit of local insight into the town. We had dinner at a favorite local restaurant, met some of her friends who have lived in Taos for a long time and went to a concert of traditional Brazilian music where we met several Taos locals and snowbirds.

Someone we ran into the next day while walking the town asked me what I liked about Taos besides the Plaza. “I don’t like the Plaza,” I replied. “I don’t know what it is exactly, but this place just takes hold and makes me want to stay longer.

Which we did! We extended our stay for one more night, sadly not at our little home, but happily at the Mabel Dodge Luhan House.

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Mabel Dodge Luhan moved to Taos in 1917, joining her third husband who was living in Santa Fe, working as an artist. Upon visiting Taos, she fell in love with a raw, early version of the town we saw and immediately arranged to rent rooms in a home next to what is now the Taos Inn. She never left. Eventually, she and her husband divorced and Mabel married Tony Luhan, native man from the Pueblo, and they built a beautiful home in town, drawing creative, independent thinkers such as Mary Austin, Georgia O’Keefe and DH Lawrence. Most came and went, except for O’Keefe who stayed, living nearby in Abiquiu and Ghost Ranch (both of which we visited). It was here that she famously painted Southwestern scenery and buildings and landscapes.

Mabel and Tony’s home is now an inn and guest house and that is where, at Dan’s insistence, we stayed for the last night.

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Front Entrance

As with travel anywhere, the experience becomes as much about the people one meets as it does about the places one sees. At the Mabel Dodge Luhan House, where great thinkers and creatives once met, I met Carol with whom I talked on several occasions. “We must have known each other back in Ireland in another life,” she said with her faint but unmistakeable brogue. Dan connected with Keith over the mysticism of the Southwest and he gave Dan a book on the subject. There was Steven, a climate scientist, who gave us some grim details about what the future holds for our planet. Lois and Dorothy gave me a new mantra over breakfast one morning: “Be politically active, but spiritually calm.”

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Outside door to Mabel’s Room

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Windows painted by DH Lawrence

It was hard to leave. But, alas, it was time to move on so we reluctantly left this place that surprised us with its subtle charm, fascinating history and spirituality. You’ll just have to go and see for yourself.

MESA VERDE

I had seen the pictures and knew that this national park was devoted to preserving remnants of human habitation as opposed to the other parks that preserve natural wonders. When I looked at photos online, my brain refused to see anything other than miniature replicas of the ancient villages nestled into clefts in the rock walls of a canyon. We just had to go and see for ourselves.

Arriving in Cortez, Colorado after a three-ish hour drive from Green River, we checked in to our Airbnb. The day was coming to a close so we scurried over to Canyons of the Ancients Monument where we an hour touring the excellent museum. Preserved pottery and baskets, tools and household items, all of which were found on the sites at the monument, were on display.

There was an interactive exhibit where I opened a drawer and saw bits of pottery. The idea was to pick up individual pieces attached to small boards with velcro. Under each was an explanation of who had made the pottery and when. Picking up several pieces, I stroked my thumb along their surfaces, feeling the curve made by another hand so very long ago. My thumb felt different for hours afterwards. Smoother. Tingly. Alive with connection to the past.

The following day, just after breakfast, we headed to Mesa Verde, stopping at the Visitor Center and then beginning the lengthy drive up the mountain. It was a steep climb up switchbacks. Higher and higher we went, missing a few views due to fog and low hanging clouds…

…but eventually getting to our first cliff dwelling overlook, Spruce Tree House. I went ahead while Dan changed his shoes and grabbed his rain jacket. When I reached the point where I saw the first village I gasped. “Oh!” I said, turning a few heads. I dashed back and met Dan, grabbed his hand and said, “Wait ’til you see this.”

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Spruce Tree House, Mesa Verde

That started us on a day of wonder. The more we saw, the more we wanted to see. We gazed across the canyon in awe at cliff dwellings from vantage points along the road. At several places, examples of pit houses, pre-dating the cliff dwellings, could be see where they were preserved under cover, dating back as early as 650 AD. In case you think that is a typo, see below! We walked around the perimeter of the floor of one of these homes with evidence of which areas were used for what purpose. Gave me goosebumps.

Cliff Palace was the largest “neighborhood” with 150 rooms. I wondered about what it took to build these dwellings, high up a steep hill, in impossibly hostile conditions. I read that the inhabitants carved notches in the canyon wall which served as footholds and handholds. They had to carry babies on their backs, haul water, transport food up these steep walls. It is unclear what caused them to move to these habitations, and unclear what caused them to leave. There are theories but no one really knows. What is clear is their level of sophistication in their building technique, societal structure, basket weaving, pottery making, food storage and preparation based on findings of archaeologists.

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Cliff Palace, Mesa Verde

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Square Tower House, Mesa Verde, AD 1200 – 1300

On the way down the mountain, we stopped at Sun Temple, a site unlike any of the others and purported to be a ceremonial, spiritual location. The structure is shaped like a letter “D” with no evidence of a roof. Along the perimeter was a small bowl that held water, clearly shaped with fingers from long ago. I placed my fingers in the grooves made by an ancient hand. Again the feeling of connection.

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Sun Temple interior

We had planned to spend only a couple of hours in Mesa Verde, but ended up mesmerized for the better part of the day despite the rain and cold.  One sign encouraged visitors to imagine the sound of laughter, of dogs barking, of parents calling to their children, of people talking. This is more than just a place of stone and mortar. This was a home, a village, a safe place for the people who lived, worked and raised families.

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As the afternoon waned along with our energy level, we visited the last place on the road. At Far View Sites we were able to walk through the remains of small villages where, again,  I could not resist touching the stones, tracing finger trails in the mortar in an effort to connect with the ancients, to somehow touch them. I thought about the thriving cultural society that lived here. The sun made a brief appearance, lighting up the stones and the surrounding area, giving us a moment to see how beautiful this place must have been and why people chose to live here.

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Far View

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

NATIONAL PARKS VIRGIN NO MORE

Despite some extensive traveling in my time (numerous European countries, the British Isles, Mexico, Panama and British Columbia, Canada to name a few) and despite considerable knowledge of both U.S. coasts, I have not traveled extensively in my own country. And, I had not been to one – not a single one – National Park. Until now.

Our first park was to be Arches National Park in Southern Utah. Because motels in nearby Moab were either booked or exorbitantly expensive, we settled on Green River, a 45 minute drive from Moab and the park, where we booked three nights at the Robbers Roost Motel. The reviews were mixed and it was remarkably inexpensive, which always makes me wonder.

After a long day on the road, we pulled into Green River, a four lane strip of road with a mixed bag of thriving establishments, barely patronized but still functioning businesses, and long-ago-abandoned motels, diners and shops.

IMG_0622The rooms were very basic, but very clean. But very basic. Did I say that already? I could imagine my daughters’ telling me to, “Get over it Mom, it’s fine!” So I set to work nesting and make it our home for three days. The price was certainly good and the sign alone was worth the price of admission! And the bed was so comfortable that this tired traveler slept until 9:45 the next morning.

But we did not go to Green River for the hotel. We went there so we could see Arches and Canyonlands National Parks.

We woke to pouring rain, complete with lightning and thunder. Deciding to make the most of it and drive into Moab for a museum or two, we had breakfast at a nearby cafe and lingered over coffee. Dressed in museum hopping clothes, we decided to throw some hiking gear in the back of the car just in case. Sure enough, on our way down route 191, the sun came out and the sky cleared as we approached the entrance to Arches. Screeeech! We hung a left, bought our pass and stopped at the visitors center.

I went up to the desk and told the ranger that this was my first National Park. “Oh!,” she said. “A National Parks virgin! Congratulations!” She mapped out a few easy hikes for us since we weren’t exactly prepared for a big hike and we drove up the switchbacks to the first overlook.

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Arches, Park Avenue

Nothing prepared me for the magnificence. I’d seen pictures, but to be right there, next to deep red rock formations reaching up from desert terrain toward the sky. To be dwarfed by these works of art sculpted by time and nature. I was stunned into silence and tears.

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The wonder of the scenery and the realization that we were here, we were actually here, we had finally made it, took away my breath. Dan and I hiked in silence looking at the scenery, taking photos and meeting other, equally amazed folks from all over the world.

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Arches, Windows

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On another note, I was captivated by a homestead in the park where a man named John Wolfe had moved, seeking a dryer climate to relieve a Civil War injury. To think what he must have had to do just to get through each day in this desolate place with an injury. A Civil War injury! What must life have been like for him and his family?

Top left: the original cabin. Top right: the new, improved cabin with wood floors, built at the insistence of his daughter upon visiting for the first time and finding the original dwelling far too primitive. Bottom: view from the homestead. 

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Another view from Wolfe cabin. See the arch in the distance? 

As the sun sank lower in the sky, we headed out of the park, continuing to photograph the rocks. The late afternoon sun’s slant enhanced their color, offering a golden orange glow as a parting gift.

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End of an amazing day

The next day we were too tired to do too much (still recovering from prepping and driving) so we decided on Sego Canyon, just a half hour down the road, where a rancher named Henry Ballard discovered coal in the early 1890’s when everyone else was searching for gold and silver. He gave mining a go for about 10 years before selling the land to new owners who worked the mine until 1947.

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Sego Canyon

The sun was so warm that we lingered for quite a while and then drove deeper into the canyon. Aside from it’s natural beauty I found it hard to imagine living in such a rugged, dry terrain.IMG_0684

But what do I know? Long before Mr. Ballard settled in Sego Canyon, three ancient indigenous tribes lived here, the Ute, Fremont and Barrier people, and left behind evidence in the way of well preserved rock paintings estimated back as far as 1100 A.D. This was the real draw for me in visiting Sego.

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Sego Canyon Rock Art

What do you think? Some have said the figures look like aliens. One man we met said that he thought the inhabitants were letting potential intruders know that a great horned god lived here so they better back off. I wish there was some way of knowing.

We met a couple from Austria who were on their sixth trip to this region. The had done the “big” stuff and were now experiencing the smaller, less popular sights. Knowing how long people have lived here and knowing that people from as far away as Austria keep coming back told me that we were in for many more treats this month and that this would most likely not be our one and only trip to this region.

Next up? Either Canyonlands or on to Mesa Verde in Colorado. Tune in tomorrow!

ROAD TRIP 2018!!

We’re doing it. We are finally going to see the Southwest. This blog began as a reflection on my experiences in Panama. But since we are no longer spending time in Panama, it has morphed into a blog about traveling, exploring and stepping outside the box. I hope you will stay with me!

The Southwestern U.S. has always been a mystery for me. I’m from the east coast where things are close together. Remember that New Yorker Magazine cover? Steinberg_New_Yorker_CoverWhere everything on the east coast was in detail and the west was just, well, out there? That has been my impression of the region, even after living in Seattle for 30+ years.

Ironically, one of the reasons I moved to Seattle over 30 years ago was to explore the west. But very soon after arriving, I got busy with children, work and it just didn’t happen.

My mother’s death in late March brought into stark focus the limited time we have to do the things we want to do. To see the things we want to see. My husband’s 70th birthday in September was a reality check in that regard as well. It’s time.

We are devoting the next decade to travel, with at least one major trip a year. Maybe throw in a minor one as well. The first one is happening right now! We are doing the road trip that I always wanted to do back in the day. Except then it would have been in a van, wearing torn jeans, my hair down past my shoulders, endless music tapes and probably something green and illegal in the glovebox.

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Planning the first of many trips this decade

Instead, this trip involves a comfortable car, gel seat cushions and small pillows for lumbar support, stretchy clothing, Spotify for our road trip sound track, ice packs in the cooler and an ample supply of Ibuprofen. We are calling this our Geezer Hippie Road Trip. Same people, same places. Different time of life and mode of travel.

On September 30, as fall was taking hold in Seattle, we drove away from our Seattle marina. Our car was loaded with clothing, hiking poles, hiking shoes, hiking packs, a plug-in cooler for cold drinks and snacks, a first aid kit, maps and AAA guide books covering every state we would be driving through. Leaving behind the tears of the past few months, the anxiety of a stressful IRS audit, the sideshow of our political situation and the traffic and noise of the city we hit the road. “Here we go!” I said, amazed that we had finally pulled it off.

Just a couple of hours out of town, the scenery already had changed. Driving through eastern Washington we were in greener, more mountainous surroundings. Fall was in full display here. Until it changed again as we hit the more desert-like terrain with dry, grassy hills the color of burnt sugar.

We spent our first night in Pendleton, Oregon, a weary old town with lots of dusty saddle shops, whose claims to fame are the beautiful woolen blankets made there and the annual Pendleton Roundup. We had breakfast at the Rainbow Cafe, the oldest, continuous restaurant in town serving folks since 1863. Looking around I knew I was a stranger in a strange land. Everyone who came in greeted one another, said hi to the waitress and the bartender, ordered “the usual” and hunkered over their tables talking and eathing. I was tired and a little uncomfortable – unlike Dan who was digging the scene big time – so I just ate my breakfast and tried to enjoy the vibe…   ’nuff said.

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Next stop: Boise. The scenery became flat and stretched for miles in either direction. Passing places called “Deadman Pass” and “Old Emigrant Hill” and “Poverty Flats,” I knew I was in the Wild West. We were following roughly the Oregon Trail where pioneers in rickety wagons with cattle and horses searched not for hotels and wifi signals, but good grass and a water source. Some described choking dust and unbearable heat and 35 miles without water for their cattle. Once they got to where they were going they had to build their homes. FROM SCRATCH!

When I woke up in Boise I thought, “what have we done?” The drives were long, my back ached and we had many miles to go before we reached a stopping point. Our host concurred, saying “Everything out here is at least five hours away.” I don’t know if that made me feel better but in the light of day I felt excited to put some of those miles behind us as we headed for Salt Lake City, taking a few scenic byways on our way and getting closer to our destination(s).

The terrain changed dramatically as we entered Utah. Incredible mountain ranges, buttes and mesas, vast, breathtaking skies. We had landed in another world yet again.

Utah

Utah

Next up: Green River, our gateway to Arches, Canyonlands, Moab and the National Parks. Tired but happy. The big driving will be over and the adventure will begin. Or, rather, continue.

 

 

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