Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Denver and Missouri

I drove about seven hours yesterday, from Ohio to Greensboro, North Carolina, passing through West Virginia and Virginia at different points. It struck me that I really am doing a hella lot of driving and will continue to do so for a few more weeks. And I'm still not even done recounting my drive east even though I'm closer to starting my true drive west. In any case. After Utah and driving through the Rockies I arrived in Denver, where I stayed with P. and his wife C. Like AK, they had put me up on my way out, so it was kind of neat to do the same basic visiting in reverse. I haven't become an entirely new person, but my time at the farm did, I think, do some good work on my overall outlook on life and sense of direction, and maybe that was noticed by my hosts. Or maybe not. In any case, it was a lovely visit. We had a nice dinner one night, and enjoyed a sunny outdoor lunch on another. I tried an alpaca slider. Not necessarily going to be my go-to protein, but interesting enough.

A field I came across in Kansas.
I once again stopped in Hays, Kansas at a local brewery. I had a soup/half sandwich combo. The soup was so-so but the BLT was not skimping on the bacon.
The rolling hills of Kansas. It's simply not as flat as everyone says it is.
I also repeated my journey by breaking in Kansas City, and having dinner at Antoine's. I planned on having a steak but was tempted by their special of the night: osso bucco. Honestly it was good, but I think a steak would actually have been more satisfying. I sat in a high chair along a small bar that faced the kitchen, as there were no tables available. I had a great vantage point to see a new dude screw up a lot of salads, which I think was as frustrating to him as it was to the servers and higher-ups of the kitchen. More interestingly, I saw the guy who seemed like the second in command cut a lot of steaks from a larger chunk, which was pretty neat.
The next morning I found that my car's back left tire was no longer inflated. I put on the spare and spent a bit of time waiting for it to be patched. It doesn't look that flat in this photo, but it was.
My end destination was Tennessee, which I could have reached in one long day of driving, but I decided that I wanted to see just a bit more of the country before arriving at more familiar locales. To that end, I stopped in Cape Girardeau, Missouri. Honestly this was a pretty arbitrary decision, and I mistakenly assumed there would be some kind of old school, not-too-fancy, hotel right in the heart of this old town along the Mississippi...I was wrong. Still beautiful though. Missouri is pretty, who knew? Full of racists? Yep. But pretty.
The river.
I stopped here for a buffet barbeque dinner, which I enjoyed. I then drove back out close to the interstate and stayed at a rather average hotel.
The next day I chose to take quite a meandering route. I wanted to see as much of the Mississippi as I could, but I don't think there really is any road that nicely runs parallel to the river and allows you to actually see it. I did take the Great River Road route, which kept me close to it, but I had to work a little to actually see the river. I think I spent a minute in Illinois before entering Kentucky and then finally Tennessee. Really small roads, lots of country and not so much of the ubiquitous same-ness that the towns right along major highways usually exhibit.
It was very cool to drive in the morning, as there was a nice amount of mist on the river. It eventually burned off, but not before I snapped this pic.
Me and the Mississippi.

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Cross Country Drive Continues: Nevada, Utah, Rockies

My evening in Battle Mountain was uneventful and the next day I hit the road on a generally early note. I had asked the nice older lady at the front desk for directions to Lewis Canyon, which I read was nearby, but her directions were ultimately very confusing, as they were actually directions to an entirely different canyon two hours away. I ended up going to that canyon, as I already had basic directions, and it was worth my time. Lamoille Canyon was a little ways outside the town/city of Elko, which is, if I were ever to drive through Nevada again, I'd stay instead of Battle Mountain. I didn't quite know what I was going to see as I started the ascent after driving on pretty flat roads for a handful of miles. This first photo is right before I really got into the canyon itself. It was relatively untraveled area, so I was able to basically stop and stand in the middle of the road...but I was not smart enough to avoid getting my finger in the picture.  I also saw some very pretty birds around these parts.
I tried throughout my drive up and around the canyon to take photos that took in the scale of where I was - the bottom - and just how dramatically the mountains (mountains?) rose around me. I would have loved to see this in the summer, as I imagine maybe then it wouldn't be so brown? My main issue with Nevada and Utah and parts of western California was just the brown-ness of it all. Yes its exact hues varied a bit, but brown on brown on brown just ain't my thing.

An educational sign informed me that this location was where three (I think it was three) different glaciers crashed into one another one billion (hyperbole) years ago thus forming this series of ridges and dips.
I took a small walk on a loop trail and got to see some slightly different trees/landscape.
As usual, I've waited too long since the experience to retain the information I learned at the time. For example, the body of water in the photo below has some fancy geographic name, as it was formed by melting ice one zillion (hyperbole) years ago. I do recall the informational sign/paper guide as saying that this one of the last spots to still have water in the height of summer, and was usually warmer than other spots during the worst of the winter.
It was gorgeous, and as I walked around its edges I thought to myself...'is that a beaver dam?' And then I almost convinced myself that it was not, because what do I know about Nevada and beavers? Nothing, is what.
Beaver dam? Or just some weird bottleneck of sticks and whatnot?
But then as I was walking just a bit away, I found this...which is, unless it was staged to confuse people like me, clear proof of beavers in the area. I thought it was quite neat to see how they use their teeth to whittle and chop away at the base of the tree. The texture and angles. It just got to me. So cool.
Once I drove as far as one can into the canyon (about twelve miles), I turned myself around and drove back to Elko. I had read about the Basque population in Nevada, and Elko specifically, and decided that before getting back on the highway it was entirely worth it to stop at Basque place for lunch. There were a few to choose from, but the Star Hotel generally had the best ratings, so it is there that I stopped. The main dining room was thrumming, with many family-style tables where different sets of folks all sat elbow to elbow. I ended up at a small table for two in a corner, so didn't really have the group eating experience. Their salad, which was simple in being mostly greens, was not simple in its deceivingly simple dressing. Very good. I also had a lamb burger that I had no complaints about. I wish it had been possible for me to overlap with the establishment's annual Cowboy Poetry Festival...but it simply wasn't in the cards.
As I was getting into my car, I looked down the street a bit and saw a sign for Mona's can't really make it out because my phone's camera is rather shitty, and I felt kind of conspicuous, but this was a brothel. Mona's Ranch brothel. This made me think of Tales of the City a bit, which will probably only resonate or make sense to about five people.
I was also amused by the idea of a bar called Stumble Inn, and was sorry that this business didn't make it.
Once I left Elko I just drove through Nevada and into Utah. Seeing salt flats and other brown things. It's a weird landscape with a sense of beauty, I guess, but guh, not my favorite. Once I arrived at Ak's in SLC, we soon got into her car and made our way to Ensign Peak (or at least I think that's what it was), which we then climbed. It was pretty steep and I won't lie and say that it didn't tax me a little, but in a good way. My main regret was simply not thinking to bring water. We were two of many making it up in order to be able to see the city/the lake as the sun set. Pretty stuff. After that we had a lovely dinner.
And the next morning I got up quite early to once again hit the road, but I did need gas. Here is a thing I saw at the gas station.
This is a few hours south and west of Salt Lake City. Definitely interesting, but again, to me, rather bleak.
Me looking a little happier than I actually am about the landscape.
Eventually I crossed over into Colorado and found myself entering the Rockies. I was really glad that I got to do this, as I was unable to drive through the mountains last winter because, duh, snow. And even more glad that it was still decidedly fall, and the different colors of foliage were quite lovely.
I wanted to stop a lot along my Rockies drive, as there were more pretty things to photograph. But I managed to generally keep it together.
And thus concludes my Nevada->Denver part of the drive. What I've learned is: I do not really like Nevada; I could have really enjoyed spending way more time exploring the Rockies (I saw people kayaking in a river and I would love to do that); the Rockies are intense and tall. That's basically all the lessons.

Saturday, November 29, 2014

On The Road: California

I left the island on a Monday, I believe, and spent a few hours in Seattle with M&A and their new little one. Soon enough it was time for me to more fully hit the road and make it to my first overnight location: Portland, Oregon. As I drove away from Seattle it struck me that this was going to be the first time since I took a plane to NYC for S&C's wedding that I had gone more than a two hour's drive from the farm. I took that plane in March, so it had been a while. I was going to stay with N. and her fiancee C. I hadn't seen N. since we were both bridesmaids in L.'s wedding two years back, and had never met C. or their dog Silo. It was great to see/meet them all. We went out to a nice pizza dinner at a restaurant, the name of which I forget. L. had wanted a photo to prove that we had met up, and this is it...why it has the sort of ghost of an Instagram heading is a mystery.
N. was actually leaving very early the next day to fly to Philly and see L. I woke up early too, but not early enough to see her off. It was still dark as I started my first full day of driving. I had decided to take a relatively scenic/long approach to at least the first portion of this cross country trip, and that started by spending as little time on I-5 as possible as I wended my way to the Pacific Coast highway (101). I've spent nearly no time whatsoever in Oregon and while I knew it was pretty, I was quite surprised by just how pretty it was. The back roads I took gave me access to copious and diverse views, from a giant field of pumpkins awaiting their Halloween or Thanksgiving fates to an even larger tract of land brimming with sheep (at least five times our own flock). I went from what seemed like valley lands to wooded mountains, the trees along the roads covered in a green moss I had yet to see in my travels around New York. An old man at a relatively remote gas station called me "kid." 
After a couple of hours I emerged from the forests and mountains and found myself on 101, seeing many signs for the Oregon dunes. I paused briefly at one of the many state park entrances to the dunes and took a few quick photos, but I admit I didn't actually walk out to them. While I was taking my time and playing it loose with my final destination for the day, I did know I needed to at least make it to California. Still gorgeous.
When you see a slightly hilly road with a huge VIEW THIS WAY painted on it, you verge off course to see this did not disappoint, though it was so incredibly windy I did worry about flying away.
I'd seen a little of the Pacific when I first got to the west coast back in February, but the experience of driving on 101 and getting numerous opportunities to look to my right and see things like this was especially gratifying.
Rocks a' looming. This is definitely a different look and feel to an ocean than the Atlantic that I've grown up with. I'm sure that there may be slightly similar views to be had (maybe) somewhere in the north (Maine for example), but all the stand-alone monoliths of rock, and then the looming cliffs and mountains to the east of the road,  made for an especially lovely and unique driving experience.
Did you know that when you drive into California from Oregon there is a checkpoint with folks asking each and every car if they're driving in produce from out of state? I didn't. It felt like a very strange border patrol, but friendly. At some point after hitting California I saw a very small sign directing folks to come see a very large tree. I think they proclaimed it the largest cypress in the U.S....but maybe it's not a cypress? I'm not even sure if this is the tree...I took the small road as directed, but was deposited in what felt more like a small house's driveway than a place where one should get out and take a photo of a tree. Missed opportunities.
I ended up stopping for the day in Crescent City, which in terms of having a lot of interesting things going on, was perhaps not the best choice. And when I say "interesting things" I really mean "interesting restaurants." But I did find a nice motel with rooms with a completely unimpeded view of the Pacific, which was in easy walking distance.
The view from my motel room.
The next day I continued south on 101, driving through many sections of state parks and rather rural communities. It was too early to do any touristy things associated with these statues of Paul Bunyan and Babe, but I did get out of my car to take a photo or two. Gives new meaning to the phrase blue balls, don't you think?

I had read about elk being often seen figures in the forests and took the time to go to the aptly named Elk Meadow with hopes of catching a glimpse...but there were no elk, which I found can't just randomly show up at an elk meadow for five minutes and expect elk! That's just not how the world works. But soon after getting back on 101 I was held up by a line of cars. At first I didn't understand what was happening. There were about five cars in front of me, and a van-like car on the other lane with flashing lights. I thought some sort of low-stakes accident? Then I realized that there were a few elk in the road, and that the vehicle with the flashing lights was a ranger blowing a horn and shooing them away. They tried to shoo me away as I was frantically trying to take a photograph of the animals, which were waaaaay larger than I really imagined! Unfortunately this is the best I could do before getting a finger wagging honk.
I drove through Eureka to get to the Avenue of Giants, a nice stretch of road that curves and stretches its way through many Redwood groves.
This will be stating the obvious, but redwood trees are, like, super big and tall. I tried with my shitty little iPhone to take photographs that showed the scale of these trees and generally failed.

A nice Canadian couple were inspecting a few of the same trees (I went on a short mile loop just to get a sense of more than what the forests looked like from the road) and were kind enough to take a photo or two of me. Probably the most effective sense of scale, I suppose.

After taking in the redwoods, I headed back north just a bit in order to take quite the scenic drive on route 36. This was 140 miles of nothing but trees and mountains. I think I saw maybe a total of 20 cars during the time I was on this road. Some serious switch back curves and crazy ups and downs. No guard rails, almost no houses that I could see and pretty much no cell reception. Remote, I think, is a word you could apply to this section of my drive.
It was quite surreal to transition out of those high peaks into what I called lowlands (but I'm not sure that's really accurate), with their relatively consistent golden brown hues and rippled hills.
And shoe trees of course.
My intention on that second full day of driving was to make it to a campground for the night, but I realized that the evening's weather would make it a tad too hard core for me. The idea of setting up the tent just for one chilly evening just wasn't all that palatable. I ended up staying in Red Bluff California at a hotel that made me uncomfortable. And then I kept driving, back into California mountains. I should really be better about geography and geology, because I saw so many different iterations of forests and mountains and valleys and desert on this journey, and while I can generally remember what came where, the why of it all eludes me. This was about an hour's drive out of Red Bluff.
Soon enough I was driving through a rainy day in Lassen National Forest, which was slightly more populated than my route 36 drive, but not by much. I, of course, appreciated the relative isolation and generally envied those who seem to live here full-time...until I started thinking about what the winters would be like.
Lake Alanor through the trees.
And then I hit what felt like "Cowboy Country." Was it the desert? Maybe? Was it near Nevada? Yes. I've described the overall drive as having given me landscape whiplash, which I think is fair given I saw so many different environments in just my first 48 hours. I should also note that I saw so many hobo-like homeless folks in Northern California. Packs on their backs, but not in a recreational sense of the word.

Channeling my inner pioneer cowgirl persona.
Far less pioneer-y.
And then I was in Nevada.
I rested my head at a completely decent Super 8 in what I felt was a pretty sad town: Battle Mountain. It was the kind of place that I could imagine kids growing up wanting to leave...but finding no way to do so. I had dinner at a restaurant that had a number of elk hanging on the walls. I had the steak, which was not all that great...but which came with a rather comically large crock of soup that I was to ladle into my own bowl. That doesn't really make it clear what I'm saying. It was ceramic and maybe five or six inches tall, oval in nature, with far more broccoli cheese soup than any one person needs when they're also going to be eating a salad and steak.
And that concludes the first three days of my drive. I was texting L. as I drove about my respective destinations and plans, often signing off with messages like "If I disappear it's because I was bitten by a rattlesnake or kidnapped by a hobo."