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.

No Guns...No...Seriously...

We saw this sign posted on the door of the Lawrence, Kansas, City Hall building...

And I thought they were joking. Until it occurred to me that we were in Kansas...

We also saw this sign posted on a car rental agency's door:

It says: "We are picking up a customer and will return shortly."

Only in Kansas.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Mississippi Flooding

Not far from Mark Twain's boyhood home, the Ole Miss crested when we visited. As one local said, it's the annual flood of the century.

Sounds of Home

Well, not only was the Mississippi River totally breathtaking, but while we were walking alongside it we were suddenly transported back to Cambridge because we heard this:

Of course these were Scottish bagpipes not Irish bagpipes, but Molly, we're thinking of you!

Power Pillow...

One of the best parts of Mike's love of coffee is the mix of Starbucks, new chains, and little Mom and Pop coffee shops we've visited across the country. And before we get too far away from Tennessee I want to tell a coffee story!

So poor Mike has been driving for 3+ hours and it was time for coffee and a driver change. We saw a sign for "Coffee Corral" and took the exit. And we come to a turn. And another turn. And another turn! And suddenly we're two miles off the highway following these little yellow signs for Coffee Corral, cracking jokes that we're heading to someone's home in the middle of Tennessee! (But what we found was so much better :).)

Finally we realize that the Coffee Corral signs are leading us to KOA Camgrounds and we pull into a parking lot. And it's like stepping into a time warp. As soon as we get out of the car we see the Power Pillow, which is unlike anything I have ever seen (we didn't get a chance to jump on it, but someday!). Then we went to find the coffee (which was next to the welcome desk) and suddenly 6 people came out to help us, asking if we camped, what about a cabin? People come in off the street all the time. We have somewhere to go tonight? No problem, here's the KOA directory with 400+ locations. Facepainting starts in a few minutes. And tonight it's the 50s Sock Hop. Ribs with your coffee?

Mike was a little taken aback at the overwhelming hospitality, but I kind of think it's charming. I'm not sure I'm ready for the hippie commune atmosphere yet, but maybe someday.

Thanks Tennessee.

Ride the Revisionist Pony

Where is the statue to honor the Pony Express, that hallowed institution of the wild wild West? Where is the statue depicting a horse at a gallop with a rider barely holding on to his hat and his reins? I can say now with no embarrassment that this vacancy is an honor. After all, the Pony Express is nothing more than a government boondoggle: during the mere 18 months of its operation, which was always at a loss, the founders staked the whole enterprise on the hopes of receiving a million dollar government appropriation. When that fell through, and thank goodness it did, the Express folded. It simply wasn’t sustainable. Not mention that its riders flagrantly trespassed through Indian Territory without any compensation to its owners. And besides, two days before the Express closed, the telegraph went transcontinental, making the pony information transport system as obsolete as the smoke-signal.

The views expressed here are independent of the Pony Express Museum and expression thereof may deny you entry.

I find it astounding, simply astounding that the Pony Express has any renown.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Hit & Run

I drove 30 miles in Arkansas with Sarah's purse on the top of the car. Among other irreplaceable objects, the purse contained her passport and Korean visa. Mommy!!! Somehow it hung on...Does anyone know why barns are red?...When I approached a public bathroom in New Castle, Delaware, a man standing outside of it said, "You're lucky it's open now. I had to go to the mayor's office to get him to unlock it." Busy mayor, I'd say...Context is everything. Sarah's friend made a mix for us and one song has grown on me. It sounds like Gwen Stefani singing a light reggae. But lo!!! It turns out the song is by hot hot skanky hot Paris Hilton. Does that mean I have to stop liking it?

A Quick Note on Landscape

Just a quick thought – so far we’ve driven 1/3 of the way across the country and we’ve already seen a vast range of landscape…I can’t imagine it changing anymore, but I know it will! So far Virginia, Tennessee, Arkansas, and Missouri were total landscape surprises for me – I don’t know what I was expecting but the lush, verdant greenery we’ve found wasn’t it! Virginia was full of winding mountains (the Blue Ridge Parkway). Tennessee, rolling hills. Arkansas, flat fields punctuated by trees. And the Mississippi River was breathtaking. Talk about awesome in the true sense of the word.

Here's the flatness of Arkansas:

And the lazy charm of the Missouri River (Big Muddy):

Best Deal/Worse Deal...So Far

Well, it is now Day 4 and we’ve traveled 1800 miles! And by far the WORST DEAL we have gotten on our trip was the cost of parking in Baltimore - $26 for two hours…I’m trying not to think about it!! (Luckily parking has been easier the farther from New York we’ve gotten and we actually got to park for FREE on the street in Memphis last night!)

But the BEST DEAL we found in Kroger supermarket in Knoxville, TN – Lemon Chicken for $3.49. Honestly, perhaps the best chicken we’ve ever eaten anywhere! Great dinner. And the 24 fresh chocolate chip cookies for dessert weren’t too far behind as far as value goes at $2.88.

Love the South.

Visiting "Vandy"

On our way through Nashville, Tennessee yesterday we stopped at Vanderbilt because Mike spent two years as an undergraduate there! We wandered around the beautifully manicured campus for a bit, hit the bookstore, and I even got a shot of him in front of his old dorm.

Although Vanderbilt was beautiful (and quiet) when we were there - it is NOT one of Mike's fondest memories...he was much happier at NYU. But as with all things, I say you never know who you would be if you hadn't had ALL your experiences... Would Mike be the Mike we know and love if he hadn't hated Vanderbilt so much?? We shall never know...

Visiting Friends...

I can’t believe I haven’t posted these yet – but we saw Caitlin (Vincent) in Baltimore on our first day! Caitlin was my roommate in college for 3 years and is now studying opera at Johns Hopkins. She seems very happy there (and who knew Baltimore was so cute??!!) and is heading off to Salzburg later this summer. I also couldn’t resist taking a photo of Caitlin next to the Proactiv vending machine – not because Caitlin needs Proactiv, but because my mother long ago instilled in me the idea that you can’t take a photo without someone in it. :)

Neely's Interstate BBQ

It's south of downtown Memphis. Keep driving past those impromptu Sno-Cone stands, on past the dilapidated gas stations, the bail bondsmen and billboards for defense attorneys. You won't be disappointed. Neely's tasty BBQ sauce (slightly sugary, slightly tangy), their large portions, friendly waitstaff--all of it will soothe the road weary traveler. It did for us.

The chopped pork sandwich delighted. A cool coleslaw balances a hefty serving of meat and sauce. Enjoy it amid wood paneled walls decked with pictures of the leading lights of Memphis: the Channel 3 News Team, Penny Hardaway, Cybil Shepherd, and MC Hammer.

And the meats...while not as tender as Rudy's in Austin, they'll have you believing you want to eat more even when you're full.

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Keep on Truckin'

Many of you already know my driver's license saga, but for those who don't suffice it to say it was a long, drawn out series of events that eventually ended with me getting a license...the day before I left for Korea! Which of course means I don't have that much experience driving, especially on the highway. But what better opportunity to clock time than a cross country road trip? And yesterday in Tennessee I did my first major stretch of driving (carefully watched by Mike who is an exceedingly patient teacher and assures me that I am great).

Anyway, I don't know whether there are more trucks on the road nowadays or whether it just seems that way from the driver's seat, but we have certainly seen A LOT of 18 wheelers since we left New York. I'm not sure anyone will understand my fascination with them, but they sort of remind me of dragons winding their way across the countryside, always looking forward, never looking back. Here are a few choice shots. :)

Revisiting Monticello

Mike put up some of the photos from Monticello and you can see what beautiful weather we had for our visit, but what we were unable to capture was the sheer majesty of the location...just stunning! King of the world type views. To be so lucky...

I also think one of Mike's insights into Jefferson was very apt (as usual :) - he called him a hacker! And he was - always adapting things he saw around him to improve his life. For example, he had wine bottle dumbwaiters hidden in his fireplace!

Here's an attempt to capture some of the majesty...

Friday, June 20, 2008


Transitory Enchantment

Before crossing the GW Bridge, at 55 mph down the Henry Hudson Parkway, Sarah offered a thought in wonder. It was an innocent one, but it has an impressive pedigree. (Most of Sarah's thoughts do, and what would a road trip be without dramatic inferences drawn from shabby tid-bits?) We were discussing the Dutch colonization of Manhattan--of course--when she wondered what it would have been like to have been Hudson gazing upon the Pallisades for the first time. What mystery! What wonder! The word she used was "vast". Three or more things then occurred to me. First, the last page of the Great Gatsby, where Carraway muses upon similar waters:
"...for a transitory enchanted moment man must have held his breath in the presence of this continent, compelled into an aesthetic judgment he neither understood nor desired, face to face for the last time in history with something commensurate with his capacity for wonder."

And then there's Sinclair Lewis's speech given upon winning the Nobel Prize for literature in 1930. Charge, he implored American writers, charge out of the stuffiness of safe, sane, and incredibly dull provincialism, drive across the GW Bridge, and with joy give
"the America that has mountains and endless prairies, enormous cities and lost far cabins, billions of money and tons of faith, to an America that is as strange as Russia and as complex as China, a literature worthy of her vastness."

And, yes, the obligatory Kerouac:
So in America when the sun goes down and I sit on the old brokendown river pier watching the long, long skies over New Jersey and sense all that raw land that rolls in one unbelievable huge bulge over to the west coast, all that road going, all the people dreaming in the immensity of it, and in Iowa I know by now the evening star must be drooping and shedding her sparkler dims on the prairie, which is just before the coming of complete night that blesses the earth, darkens all rivers, cups the peaks in the west and folds the last and final shore in and nobody, just nobody knows what's going to happen to anybody besides the forlorn rags of growing old...

Fried Pickles...

Today we explored Virginia and Tennessee and discovered FRIED PICKLES!!

I know. I've never heard of them either. But now I've even tasted them. :) The manager of "The Fried Pickle" thought we were hysterically funny and I'm sure we looked pretty amazed. They're not bad - sort of like a Blooming Onion from TGIFridays. We got an order of "half spears half chips" to go. Ah the wonders of the South...

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Virginia Dusk

Surprisingly, the Blue Ridge Mountains do appear to be blue. I'd say check for yourself, but you can't really see them in this clip Mike took WHILE DRIVING!!!!