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Road-trip 2017 Day 10

After a serviceable breakfast at the very retro Courtesy Coffee Shop (Lounge by night) in Blythe, CA, we headed on for a last bit of the wild before finishing up our drive into Los Angeles.  Joshua Tree started its life as a National Monument (proclaimed so by FDR in 1936) and was renamed/redesignated  Joshua Tree National Park in 1994, and protects 792,510 acres of mostly wilderness where the Mojave and Colorado deserts converge.  It proved to be a fine place to stretch our legs a bit.

We started our explorations in the southeastern part of the the park, part of the Colorado Desert, with elevations of less than 3,000 ft above sea level.  From near the Cottonwood Springs Visitors Center, we opted for the Mastodon Peak trail which did not disappoint.  Desert wildflowers and cacti blooms were abundant, although the intense sun of late morning made for some challenging photography. (ID help welcome!)

A few lizards also captured my attention.

 

As we made our way north and west in the park, we passed through what is referred to as a transition zone entered the Mojave Desert with elevations above 3,00 ft.  We stopped along the way for some shorter hikes.  It was at these elevations that we found expanses of the the park’s namesake, the Joshua Trees.  Tough and curious things, they’re not trees at all, rather belong to the yucca or agave family.  They have spiky succulent leaves that are kind of bayonet-shaped and every bit as sharp.

Of course in reading about the Joshua tree, I couldn’t help but stumble over references to the 1982 U2 album of the same name.  This Irish rock band was quite captivated with the deserts of the American southwest and found the landscapes to be quite fitting with the theme/songs of the album.  The cover photo however was not taken in Joshua Tree National Park, rather at another location in the Mojave Desert some 200 miles away.  While the actual tree fell some time ago, there is reportedly a plaque placed for those who go searching.

LS_20170405_171212 road snacks, Mexican-style

We left the park in the late afternoon with a plan to be at Duncan and Daniela’s place in LA for a late dinner.  A search for a milkshake or some such thing took us to a brightly lit place called La Michoacana in Beaumont CA where we picked up a couple of mangonadas, a kind of sweet, spicy, party-colored Mexican fruit drink with tamarind-coated straws.  Not bad really.   In any event, they quenched our thirst and tided us over to LA.

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Road-trip 2017 Day 9

Although much of this road trip is about exploring some new-to-us places, we made an exception passing through Arizona, opting for a repeat visit to an amazing place we’d first experienced almost exactly two decades ago while on a motorcycle trip.

LS_20170404_085337 breakfast at Baja Cafe, Tuscon

breakfast at Baja Cafe, Tuscon

Of course we started with breakfast, braving the traffic of Tucson to check out Baja Cafe. It was definitely worth a bit of a detour.  Portions were so generous we took leftovers home for another meal.  To our credit, we planned better, but they comped us a Snickerdoodle Pancake when they found out it was our first visit.  Every bite was delicious.

Fueled for the day, we headed on to the Arizona-Sonoran Desert Museum where we spent the better part of the rest of the day.  It was every bit as wonderful as we’d remembered.  It’s hard to think of this place as a museum exactly.  Their website describes it as a “98 acre… fusion experience: zoo, botanical garden, art gallery, natural history museum, and aquarium” which in my opinion is a spot on description.  Some of the creatures were quite captivating.  The big horn sheep  wee one was only a couple of weeks old at our visit.  The otter was also quite entertaining, but challenging to capture in a photo… it never stopped moving!  Of course prairie dogs always make me smile.  By contrast, the mountain lion was very very serious.

Of course there were lizards.

…and an aviary of birds, a couple of which were cooperative with my photographing them.  ID help welcome.

Our timing for this visit was most fortunate as the cacti were blooming riots of color. I’ll not even begin to be able to identify all of them, or even capture photos that do them justice, but it was a delight to spend an afternoon in their midst.

Having soaked up all we could of this place, we found a scenic bypass around the not-so-scenic Phoenix area and headed for the California border.

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Although we love our life aboard our Cheshire, we also love a good road trip now and then.  With our engine issues last fall, our late start on moving south, we’d opted not to get too far flung this year… at least by water.  Instead, at some point during our month + in Vero Beach, we decided we’d take a month long road trip to Los Angeles where Mike’s son and daughter-in-law are living currently. We made arrangements to leave Cheshire in St Augustine, booked a rental car and started researching.

Road-trip 2017 Days 1 – 8

Our first couple of days on the road were mostly making tracks.  We spent a night with my (Lori’s) Mom and sister in Panama City Beach, FL (with a plan for a longer visit on the return leg), then on to a HoJo’s (yes, they still exist) in Lafayette, LA the following night.  Days 3-4 found us in Texas where we found a great little ethnic enclave just outside of Houston where we lunched at Little V Vietnamese in Katy TX.  That afternoon we arrived  in Warda, TX for a stay at the Garrett Ranch and a visit with Mike’s Uncle Bob and his wife Altha.  We enjoyed a couple of days of catching up, touristing about LaGrange (yes, of ZZ Top fame, but we didn’t visit the Chicken Ranch).  We did stop into the Texas Quilt Museum  one day;  the Caryl Bryer Fallert-Gentry exhibit that we saw was quite beautiful, and much different than the more traditional quilts I’m familiar with from our time in central Ohio and Amish country.  We also took daily spins about the ranch on Bob’s Kubota 4×4 to check on the cattle.  The boys also enjoyed talking about the rolling stock and reminiscing.

 

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Mike getting his groove on with SRV,

From Warda we headed a short distance to Austin.  We’d originally thought we’d spend a bit of time here, but decided instead we wanted to get up into the nearby Texas Hill Country explore a bit.  We did pause in Austin long enough to visit the Bullock Texas State History Museum.  It was a nicely done museum, but a bit overrun with school kids at our visit.  The Stevie Ray Vaughn exhibit was a highlight.  On our way out of town, we checked out a public art spot known as Graffiti Park at Castle Hill aka HOPE Outdoor Gallery, then headed out of town to stage for an early morning start into Hill Country.

 

 

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Lark Sparrow

 

Day 6, we grabbed a quick bite of breakfast and headed out for a morning hike at Balcones Canyonlands NWR.  This refuge exists in part to protect the nesting habitat of a couple of birds, specifically the golden-cheeked warbler and black-capped vireo.  The warbler in particular nests only in Texas.  Alas, I was unsuccessful in spotting either of them, but we did enjoy the hike and saw plenty of another bird I’ve been unsuccessful in identifying.  (ID help welcome.) Wildflowers were also plentiful, but I for some reason was having issues with trying to photograph them.

We were on to Stonewall TX for the afternoon to explore the Lyndon B Johnson National Historic Park.  It was a fascinating walk through history and the life of a man I was previously not terribly familiar with.  No doubt it was in part his humble beginnings in this Hill Country of Texas that shaped the kind of president he would become, at least in terms of his Great Society legislation, although it seems for some these actions were overshadowed by his handling of Vietnam.  We were able to tour the residence, the Texas White House.  No photography was allowed inside, so you’ll just have to trust me when I say it was like stepping back into the mid-60’s.  No gold plated anything here.  LBJ’s indulgence however was to have numerous sets of televisions scattered about this Texas Whitehouse, in groupings of three, one for each of the channels available at the time.

I was also previously unaware that LBJ had been such a friend of the environment… read more about his accomplishments here.  I can’t help but wonder what he would think of our current state of affairs.  I found it interesting in reading the document linked to see that Florida’s Mar-A-Lago had been declared a National Historic Site during LBJ’s tenure. I had to dig a little deeper and found this bit of history.  It turns out Marjorie Merriweather Post (a quite wealthy heiress in her day), upon her death in 1973, turned her outrageously expensive private estate over to the federal government for use as a presidential retreat… except that a few years later they gave it back, having decided that it was too expensive to maintain and provide presidential-grade security for such a place.  Most interesting…

 

The following day was mostly spent on the road, though we did spend the afternoon/evening in Marfa TX to check out some art/sculpture at the Chinati Foundation and later had a most tasty dinner at the Hotel Paisano.

From Marfa, we were positioned for an early visit the following day to Fort Davis National Historic Site, an old frontier military post that protected west Texas and travel along the San Antonio – El Paso Road.  It’s an impressive collection of preserved and restored buildings with some hiking trails in the surrounding hills, another great opportunity to stretch our legs.

It was pretty desolate in terms of wildlife, but I did see a hawk and another small bird I’ve yet to identify, and was most entertained by my first Greater Roadrunner.  Beep Beep…

LS_20170403_130848 Greater Roadrunner

Greater Roadrunner, Fort Davis National Historic Site, TX, side view

 

We finished out this day with a drive on into Arizona.  More exploring to come.

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Road-trip 2014, Days 12 – 15

…or an alternate travel slogan… “Enter a Higher State”

Leaving the Salt Lake City area, we opted once again to take the backroads, including an only-recently-paved road through Big Cotton Canyon.  It was a gorgeous beginning to our drive.  We paused in Midway, UT for a bite of breakfast and by early afternoon were passing into Colorado.  After a quick stop at the welcome center in Dinosaur, CO, we dropped south on a scenic drive headed for  Colorado National Monument where we had a nice late afternoon visit.

We drove a loop through the park, stopped to do a couple of short hikes and managed to spot some pretty trusting wildlife, including one of the most colorful and patient lizards I’ve seen in a long time.

After an overnight in Grand Junction, we hopped on I 70 to make our way across western Colorado.  Independence Pass in the Rocky Mountains was our next stop.  At 12,095 ft, it’s said to be the highest paved crossing of the Continental Divide in the United States.  More snow on the ground, and wildflowers as well.  As we neared the Denver area, headed for Castle Rock to the south where my youngest brother and his crew live now, we decided to forego Denver and Colorado Springs and take a backroad into the western part of Castle Rock.  Who knew that SR67 would turn to dirt part way.  It a beautiful stretch though, which we later learned is a favorite mountain biking spot of my brother’s.

We had a great visit in Castle Rock, including hikes in the immediate area, a visit to Garden of the Gods near Colorado Springs (a beautiful area, but my midday photos weren’t too impressive), and lots of time with my nieces, nephews and their new puppy.

From Colorado, we headed back through the Midwest, spending several days each in Indiana with Mom and in Ohio with many of our dear friends.  Not much for wildlife at these stops except for the absolutely adorable feral kittens who took up residence on Mom’s side porch a couple of days before our arrival and were still there when we left.  Of course she/we were feeding them.  I named them Tic and Tac, and would have kept them myself if we still lived on dirt, but they’ve since been adopted and renamed by a couple who are proven capable pet parents.

All in all, Roadtrip 2014 took us 5505 miles, in 25 days through 15 different states (where we slept in 13 different beds) and 3 time zones.  It was a fantastic trip, great to visit family and friends and explore some new places.  But Cheshire (and a long list of boat chores) awaits, so back to North Carolina we go.

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Road-trip 2014, Days 10 – 11

… and more fun with travel slogans.

Our visit to the Salt Lake City area made the itinerary primarily to visit friends from Ohio, Dave & Deb, who have a vacation home in the area.  They are big snow skiers (and we’re not), but we found that the ski resort areas also make for lovely hiking locations in the summer time.  We spent one day hiking in the Alta area  in near perfect weather.  In addition to a ton of wildflowers (some of which I’d identified and now forgotten!), but equally as exciting, we had a moose sighting.  S/he was initially hiding/dining in the willows, but as we hung around, it eventually made a bit more of an appearance.  Photo credit to our friend Deb for the moose shots.

The following day we visited the Salt Lake LDS Temple complex in downtown Salt Lake City… when in Rome you know.  It was actually a quite interesting place, though one had to keep moving lest one be caught in… well, we just won’t go there.  After a morning downtown, we headed out, and it was quite a bit out, to check out the Great Salt Lake (Wikipedia article here).  Specifically we spent some time exploring Antelope Island State Park via some short hikes, but mostly by car given some pretty big trail distances, open terrain and some high temps.  Today’s wildlife highlight: bison.

After a wonderful few days with Dave and Deb, which in addition to the above included good food, wine and microbrews, as well as lots of catching up since our last visit, we said our good-byes and started our journey back east.

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Road-trip 2014, Days 8 – 9

jackalope, Douglas WY

jackalope, Douglas WY

Mid-day on day #8 we crossed from Nebraska into Wyoming.  We still had a couple of days to explore before we were expected in Salt Lake City, so explore we did.  Roadside America pointed to the jackalopes of Douglas, Wyoming as being worth a look. For those who don’t know, a jackalope is described as “the interspecies love child of the jackrabbit and the antelope”, which frankly is a bit scary to think about.  I can tell you though that the city of Douglas takes their jackalope very seriously.  In fact, the jackalope has been designated as the “official mythical creature” of Wyoming.  More here for the very curious.

For those not so interested in the wildlife, Douglas also has a nicely done Railroad Interpretive Museum and Visitor Information Center tucked into an old depot of late 1800’s vintage, and has an impressive collection of train cars  on grounds, dating from 1884 to the 1940’s, nine in all, several of which were open.

LS_20140713_193640From Douglas, we headed on to Casper, WY where we’d planned to check out the National Historic Trails Interpretive Center.  This is a cool place that tells the stories of the migration of about 500,000 folks in the mid 1800’s via four trails… the California, Oregon, Mormon Pioneer and Pony Express trails.  I was captivated, in fact we ended up closing the place.  Since we were headed to Salt Lake City, and still mostly taking back roads, Mike suggested we follow, as much as was practical, the Mormon Pioneer National Historic Trail.  On our way out of Casper, we found yet another Roadside America site, the A&W Rootbeer Family.  Looks like they’ve been around for a while, but I’m pretty sure they weren’t there when the Mormon pioneers came through with their wagons and hand carts.

We headed west out of Casper, and our next stop was Independence Rock.  It’s a huge rock-of-significance in the middle of nowhere WY, definitely a landmark.  One story  was that the pioneers needed to make this spot by Independence Day, July 4th, to have a chance of clearing the mountains to come before the snows came.  It’s now a state historic site complete with a visitor’s center, and during our visit, a couple of tour buses of Asian tourists.  What’s the deal with having your photo taken in various places while holding ugly scarves out into the wind?  Maybe I’ve missed something, but it looked like attempts at lame photo shoots to me.  In any event, we of course climbed to the top, and I was once again irritated by the modern graffiti, but then realized that the pioneers of long ago had also left their marks.  Still.

In the fading light, we motored on down the road, which weirdly we seemed to have entirely to ourselves.  Really, not another car in sight.  Nor did we have phone service, so no scouting electronically for the nearest Motel 6.  Through Jeffrey City (no accommodation options), through Sweetwater Station Junction (cool name, no accommodations).  Eventually we opted for a short detour up to Lander, WY, the nearest city in big bold print on the map, which it turns out was a perfect spot.  While Mike checked us in at the Holiday Lodge National 9, I scouted restaurants and confirmed a few kitchens still open.  We walked a short stretch to a fabulous alfresco meal at Cowfish where Mike finally at long last got the steak he’d been looking for.  Bonus that the folks who own/operate the restaurant also own the microbrewery next door.  It was a fine evening.

LS_20140714_083244Day 8 of our adventure had us leaving civilization, southbound on Hwy 28.  Again, likely bending the rules of our rental car agreement, we opted to detour off the main route (translate: a mostly dirt and gravel  road) through Atlantic City (not the Jersey version, rather this one is described by Wikipedia as having a “rustic flavor”) and then South Pass City.  Atlantic City was an old mining camp.  South Pass City apparently started life as a stage coach and telegraph stop, boomed with the gold rush and declined when it was discovered that the gold was not all as rumored.  The preservationists got involved at some point and now there is South Pass City where a handful of folks live, and the South Pass City State Historic Site where 30-some buildings of 1860’s and 1870’s  vintage are preserved.  We took an opportunity to stretch our legs on a short hiking trail that meandered past a mine and mill.

By mid-day, we’d left South Pass City in our dust (quite literally) and were headed for the Salt Lake City area for a visit with friends and some more exploring.  Stay tuned.

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Road-trip 2014, Days 5 – 8

Leaving Asheville, we had a number of days to spend before we would arrive at our friends’ home outside of Salt Lake City, UT, as they had other visitors immediately preceding our visit.  We decided to do some exploring in some new-to-us areas.  In our past lives, we did a couple of motorcycle trips exploring bits of   our nation’s West, but we’ve missed some spots, namely Nebraska.  (Just to clarify, I wasn’t necessarily drawn in by the official travel/tourism slogan noted in this blog’s title, just sayin’…, but I do find them amusing in general.)

LS_20140710_083220Despite our preference for taking the backroads, we decided to beat feet through much of the midwest… been there, done that.

North Carolina > Kentucky > Illinois…

Following an overnight somewhere in IL, we were up and on the road early, drove a bit before breakfast at a fun place called Goody Goody Diner , a 1930’s vintage diner near St Louis, MO.  Chicken and waffles for breakfast, yum.  I love, love, love these places and Mike is a wonder at tracking them down.  Let’s hope the new owners done screw it up.

Missouri > Iowa > Nebraska…

Here’s where we’d start to slow down and do some exploring.  After an overnight in Grand Island, NE (really, an island, in Nebraska?), we made an early morning visit to the Stuhr Museum of the Prairie Pioneer, an interesting living history museum recreating much of Nebraska’s history.  Of particular interest, especially if you come from a farming background (which I don’t), was the “Gears of the Land” exhibit… tons of antique farm equipment and household items, but a lot of vintage cars and buggies as well, including a buggy that was manufactured in Columbus, OH in the late 1800’s/early 1900’s.  Loved the goats and they loved us… feeding them corn.

Our route today would have us starting out on the Sandhills Journey Scenic Byway.  After spending most of the morning at the museum, we spent a lovely afternoon-into-the evening motoring through the Sandhills of central Nebraska, detouring off the Byway up to Valentine where we spent the night.  The following day I’m sure we “bent” the rules of our rental car agreement as we took the little Yaris off road on dirt and gravel through not one but two National Wildlife Refuges, spending the morning at Ft Niobrara NWR, and the afternoon at Valentine NWR.  The first was amazing, the second less so, though in all fairness, we were all about the wildlife and mornings are definitely better than afternoons for viewing.  Highlights were the elusive bison and the plentiful black-tailed prairie dog towns. In season (early spring), unfortunately not during our visit, the sandhill crane migration is supposed to be amazing when an estimated 80% of the world’s sandhill crane population passes through this area.

Rumor has it that the cattle population outnumber humans in this part of the country.  After our explorations today, we believe it.  The Captain was ready for a steak, alas, surprisingly, not to be had in Alliance, NE on the night of our stay.  Go figure.  What Alliance does have however is a pretty extensive city park, thanks to a CCC/WPA project back in the day, including what’s rumored to be a pretty impressive lit-at-night fountain.  What Alliance is really known for however is Carhenge.

In addition to searching out great food finds (Mike’s department), we often, when time allows, love to travel off the beaten path and explore the quirky attractions that are scattered across the country.  Roadside America is a great resource (there’s an app for that!).  Carhenge made the list.  A replica of England’s Stonehenge, Carhenge was erected in a farm field in the late 80’s, a family reunion project of sorts.  It was very cool actually, but I have to admit being more than a little peeved by those who apparently felt compelled to use it as a backdrop for their graffiti work.  Nevertheless, worth a stop.

LS_20140713_125920On our way out of town, we took advantage of another Roadside Attraction, a Rest Stop.

Thanks, Nebraska.  Next stop, Wyoming…

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