Monday, July 21, 2008

Viva Las Vegas

The one thing I will NEVER forget about my first trip to Las Vegas was the bathroom of our Mandalay Bay room! A bathbub. A shower. Two sinks. A television. And a separate room for the toilet. With a phone in it. Seriously. Mike and I wanted to take it with us!

The Mandalay Bay was really nice, and certainly a nice change from our Super 8s and Motel 6s. But there's a completely constructed feel to Las Vegas. After enjoying the pool and a delicious dinner at Wolfgang Puck's restaurant (a nod to my current favorite TV show "Las Vegas") Mike and I went to go see the strip. Or rather, we tried to go see the strip - and ended up walking not only through the entire Mandalay Bay but through the Luxor Hotel too!! They're connected! (The Luxor is so cheesily Egyptian it was fun to walk through.) They do everything possible to keep you inside and spending money, whether it's on the casino floor or in the shops.

We finally made it out and walked to the Excaliber (an enormous white Arthurian castle - a kind of creepy adult Disneyland), oohed and ahhed over the lights, and then took the FREE tram home (bizarre huh?? They're so desperate to get you into the casinos they'll pay to get you there!).

A Beautiful Wedding!

I can't believe it's been over two weeks since the wedding and we haven't gotten these up yet! I'm clearly not working toward a career in wedding photography, but the beauty of the wedding withstands my poor photographic skills :).

Do you see the twin flower girls on the left-hand side? They were adorable! And they're holding matching parasols! The littlest girl in the middle was also amazingly cute - she kept waving to her parents in the front row - one of those open/close waves that children do so disarmingly (she's Scott's niece).

Can't forget the groomsmen of course - stunning in their black suits (note the "mint" vests!).

And check out Aileen's dress!! Isn't it stunning (not surprisingly :)??!! Her veil went almost all the way down to her feet.

And here's a taste of the "Best Men's" speech from the rehearsal dinner - I didn't manage to tape the real one, but as you can imagine they brought down the house.

And for a final testament to the wonderfulness of the evening check out Yuma and Lisa.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Cape Blanco, Oregon...Let's Revisit History

Up past the Redwoods, some 10 hours from San Francisco along the coast on the 101, you come to the Oregon state line, one of the most beautiful places on the earth. (It's amazing how many of these beautiful places we've seen on this trip and how varied they are.) The topography dramatically changes across the border: the coasts turn into giant crescents, harbors for giant rock islands known as "sea stacks." The trees are verdant, the plains lush. And the wind! It's constantly driving, whipping waves shore-ward.

The first town across from the California border is Brookings, Oregon. Once again, I've come across another piece of strange history. On September 9, 1942, Nobuo Fujita, a japanese pilot, catapulted his plane off the deck of a submarine near the coast of Oregon. He then flew down the coast, from Cape Blanco to Brookings, and dropped two 168-pound fire bombs over the forests with the aim of setting the forests ablaze.

The bombs fizzled. They started small fires, which the forest rangers handled without incident. The Japanese didn't realize how wet the forests were at that time...

Meanwhile, Fujita turns out to have been a peculiar man. He survived the war, and afterwards, he felt ashamed for having bombed Brookings. So he arranged a visit in 1962, taking with him a samurai sword. In the New York Times's obituary, Fujita's daughter tells the story:
She recalled that her father had been very anxious before that visit, fretting about whether Oregonians would be angry at him for the bombing, and so he had decided to carry the sword so that if necessary he could appease their fury by committing ritual suicide, disemboweling himself with the sword in the traditional Japanese method known as seppuku.

''He thought perhaps people would still be angry and would throw eggs at him,'' Mrs. Asakura recalled, adding that ''if that happened, as a Japanese, he wanted to take responsibility for what he had done'' by committing seppuku.

In the end, the citizens welcomed him warmly, making him an honorary citizen. He offered them his sword and it now hangs in the Brookings Library.

Monday, July 7, 2008

Korean Grand Canyon Guide

Oh, I almost forgot! Look what I found in the Grand Canyon gift shop! A Korean guide! Yay for international travel!

Navajo Nation

How could I forget the Navajo Nation??!! I'm embarrassed to say I didn't even know this existed! What beautiful land - very reminiscent of Moab. All along the highway there were little stalls selling beautiful handmade jewelry and Native American crafts. I couldn't resist picking up a few things for friends, and a beautiful "circle of life" charm for myself.

And isn't this rock formation cool?? It's called the Mexican Hat, obviously.

Grand Canyon

After re-visiting Colorado we headed southwest to the... Grand Canyon! I still can't believe I've seen it now... it's always been something I've wanted to see and now I have. Although, of course, half a day isn't really enough time to see it, and we're already planning our trip back. I'm hoping to take the mule trip someday.

Or at least take a slightly longer walk! We set out on a short jaunt, but were intimidated into turning around after 40 minutes by the posters describing the 24-year-old Boston medical student and marathon runner who died after setting out for a hike unpreparedly AND by the people coming back from hikes who kept telling us we didn't know "steep" was! And they were right. Not to mention the heat! Even though we began walking at 4pm, our two bottles of water emptied quickly, and it certainly didn't feel much cooler than it did during the middle of the day!

Sunday, July 6, 2008

White Water Rafting

And what trip to Colorado would be complete without a rafting trip?!! We had a wonderful 90 minute ride down the river in Durango (class 3 rapids :) with a guide who impressed us with her navigational skills and her local knowledge... not only did she get us safely down the river, but she also sent us to the local bakery where we had the BEST COOKIES WE'VE EVER TASTED. Seriously. Ask me in person.

Cliff Dwellings

So much has happened since our last post...more Utah, Colorado again, Arizona, Nevada, weddings in Los Angeles, and friends in San Jose!

But before we go into other details, check out these amazing cliff dwellings at Mesa Verde, Colorado (that's right, we hit Utah and Arches National park and then drove southeast back to Colorado).

Saturday, June 28, 2008

Brief Blogging Hiatus

Sorry - last night's hotel didn't have wireless and tonight we are exhausted from a day of Grand Canyon climbing!! But more posts coming tomorrow, including Colorado rafting, Mesa Verde, The GRAND CANYON, the best cookies ever, and why this blog is called Democratic Vistas...


Friday, June 27, 2008

Grandeur and Majesty

Our cameras have the disappointing effect of reducing all the grandeur and majesty of the mountains and canyons of the west. Our cameras dwarf what in person looks awe-inspiring and colossal. Our words are also pale substitutes. This is a land carved by giants and painted by gods.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

The Red Arches

Today's adventure blew our minds...if you haven't been to Arches National Park in Moab, UT, please, please, do yourself a favor and add it to your list! This place is unreal. Stunning. Magnificent. Sublime, as Mike put it. And the adjectives could go on, but don't take our word for it...come see it for yourself!

Just don't forget to bring water. Or gas. Like we did. And when you pick the hike you want to take, remember that it is summer in the desert...perhaps a "strenuous" 3 hour hike along "narrow ledges" with "exposure to heights" isn't a good idea.

So re-think your plans, and perhaps settle for a short hike to the iconic "Delicate Arch", featured on Utah's license plate like we did. No less breathtaking or death-defying. And certainly well worth the $10 admissions fee and 3200 miles of driving.

The Mint

Here's a challenge: you have to open a restaurant, but you can't charge for food. How can you make money? The Mint in Silverthorn, Colorado, has attempted something close to this. On a random night, maybe once a month, they'll announce in the local paper family fun night. For that night only, all their meats cost three dollars. The catch is that you have to cook it yourself on the Mint grill. Sarah and I were lucky enough to be there. And there was much rejoicing. We had two New York Strips and one Kansas City Cut for $9 and even tho we cooked them, they were awfully tasty.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Niobrara Chalk

Oh, yeah, there's no mention of this Chalk anywhere. Not on google. Not on wiki. Not in the Elks Club handbook. But it is in the tour guide I left behind in CT. Sarah called my Mom. She passed it to John, my step-dad. The only information he could tell us was that it is 18 miles north of Scott City. Now Scott City must be the sister city of Brigadoon because it's either invisible or it vanished. And this half of Kansas must look like a continent-sized Mondrian painting from above. We looked through the fields of wheat. No Chalk.

We did find cows.

And trees.

We were lost. No signs. And then there she was. The most inexplicable thing.

It wasn't clear why anyone would yield to anybody in this prairie. We guessed a turn to the left and we were wrong. So then to the right. And at last, 7 miles later, yielding to no one, we found it.

Some day, someone is going to have to explain to me why there's a formation of chalk deposits in the middle of a wheat field in Kansas.

Beale Street Buddies

We've described the awesomeness of the Mississippi, and the delicious barbecue we ate in Memphis, but we haven't really mentioned Memphis! We loved Memphis. A very cool city with a very active downtown - on Beale Street people buy beer through the windows of the bars that line the street and then walk around with them, while street performers do acrobatics and live music floats out of most bars.

Mike and I opted for a rooftop bar overlooking the activity and we were debating what we wanted to drink (Mike is a solid beer drinker whereas I'm a nice fruity mixed drinker) when the waiter came over. He asked what we wanted and Mike said, "Do you have any mixed drinks here?" and the waiter looked at him and said, "Well, there's this thing called a bar." And we all laughed and then Mike ordered a beer and I ordered a cranberry vodka, and the waiter looked at me and said "This was the complicated mixed drink?". The cracks kept coming all night. "Do you have a bathroom?" "Uhuh." Eyebrow raised. "Downstairs?" "Yeeeaah."

Mike loved that this guy called him out on the absurdity of his mixed drinks question so we had to take a picture before we left.

Dramatic Driving

Today's trip started in the vast, pancake flat plains of Kansas and ended in the jagged splendor of the Rocky Mountains, so we spent a lot of today with our noses pressed against the window and our mouths open, wondering at how we could have driven between such impressively contrasting landscapes. The Rockies are simply unbelievable. The pictures I took today failed to do them justice, so I'll try again tomorrow, but seriously. Wow.

But I do miss Kansas for many reason, including the fact that Kansas was perfect driving territory for me since it is completely flat! It's great! A few curves here and there, but otherwise pretty much a two lane road all the way through. Piece of cake.

And so there I was, driving along as we reached the border between Kansas and Colorado, everything's going smoothly. And I know that Colorado means mountains, so I'm planning to let Mike take over soon, but it looks pretty flat, so I'll just keep driving for a bit.

Wait, is that a storm cloud? It's massive! WAIT! Is that lightening? RIGHT NEXT TO US? WAIT IS THAT A FIRE STARTED BY THE LIGHTENING??!!

The answer would be yes to all of the above. Ok, it's not quite as dramatic as it sounds - the fire was really just the smoke from the smoldering grass, but yes there was an ENORMOUS scorch mark and small flames still leaping from where the lightening struck. Pretty terrifying when you're driving through the storm. My favorite moment: as Mike and I are looking at each other with raised eyebrows and somewhat panicked expressions, Mike says, "Ok, if lightening strikes near us, try to stay on the road. I know it will be scary, but just do your best."

Serves me right for trying to drive in Colorado! But the excitement was not over yet! As soon as we raced out of the storm cloud I happily relinquished the wheel to Mike, who expertly drove us to Denver, where we hit the Rockies. And the most intense mountain driving I've ever seen! At one point there was a 6% grade (incline) - downhill - it felt like we were skiing down the mountain!

Then we saw this sign:

Runaway Truck Ramp 1 Mile. And we're thinking Runaway Trucks??

Then we saw the ramp. It's practically vertical! Can you imagine what it would be like to be driving a runaway truck down a mountain and then have to use the runaway truck ramp?? Luckily we didn't see any runaway trucks... just several more ramps as we continued on our merry way.

But we arrived safely in Dillon/Silverthorne, Colorado where we have discovered a new favorite place (and the cheapest Super 8 yet! With the biggest bathroom!). More on the wonders of Colorado later.

The Baby Borrowers

So I know this isn't exactly related to our roadtrip, but I'm going to bring it up anyway. Has anyone seen the ad for the new reality show called The Baby Borrowers? Apparently they take young couples (mostly teens or early twenties) who think they're ready to be parents and give them babies so they can see what it's like.

What??!! People think this is entertainment? And where on earth are they getting THE BABIES??

Free State Friends

So we "aren't in Kansas anymore", but I still haven't had a chance to mention the wonderful time we spent visiting Jordinn, Craig, and Soeren (16 months) in Lawrence, KS! Jordinn is a friend of mine from Seeds of Peace and not only a wonderful person, but an incredible hostess! Not only did Jordinn and Craig open their home to us, they did so 10 DAYS AFTER MOVING IN and on Jordinn's FIRST DAY at her new job. Amazing!

They also took us to a great restaurant in Lawrence called Free State Brewery that serves local, organic foods and their own microbrew. Everything we tried was delicious, from the Cheese Ale Soup, to the Bourbon Steak, the Chicken Floutas, and especially the Bread Pudding and Old Fashioned Vanilla Ice Cream!

It was so wonderful to catch up with old friends and meet Soeren, a seriously cute little boy :).

Why I'm Just Fine...

Well, Mike and I have officially left the South (Tennessee was actually the farthest South we ever got) but we've taken some good old fashioned Southern hospitality to heart. While traveling, Mike described this Budweiser commercial to me:

Now we begin every conversation this way:

A: How are you?
B: Why I'm just fiiiiiiiiiinnnnnnneeeee!

Wait till you see us in person next...

Oh and we actually saw the Budweiser factory on our way through St. Louis! Here it is.

Mark Twain's Boyhood Home

German Hermann

For the enlightened mind...he always started his philosophical discourse this way...for the enlightened has a nice ring to it, but with each tasting of wine, the more his metaphysical speculation became plausible. Sarah and I were at the Hermanoff Winery in Hermann, Missouri, and our barkeep, our philosophical guide, was telling us about how the Missouri river had the rightful claim to being called the longest river in the world. This is for the enlightened mind, you understand. See, any good Missourian knows the Missouri flows like mud. As old Mark Twain said, "It's too thick to drink, but too thin to plow." And when the Missouri meets up with the Mississippi in St. Louis, what do ya think you see? Well, I'll tell ya what you see--the Mississippi is olive green and it comes flowing down into a confluence with Old Muddy. After the mixing, it's all brown, brown all over. So, for the enlightened mind, is the river south of St. Louis the Mississippi? Or the Missouri? (Incidentally, "missouri" means "men in long canoe".)

These enlightened minds kept drinking. The barkeep kept talking and we became even more enlightened. It was wonderful. The winery is cozy, built in the German beer haus style--in fact the whole town is built in this fashion--and it offers locally made cheeses, krauts, bratwursts, and sausages to eat along with the wine. Highly recommened. For the enlightened mind, that is.