24 October 2010

Road Trip 2010
(recompiled from the originals to be in order)

Day One: Liberal, Kansas

So we're off on another roadtrip. We like roadtrips...they are expensive, sometimes monotonous, and challenging, and who doesn't like such things? We decided to increase the challenge a bit and take along a 2 1/2 year old.

Oh, and I also decided to invoke a beardomorphosis. Purely temporary, mind you, but you can see the varied stages below. I am fond of the "ear-tethered fu manchu" but Debra was not.

A road trip would be bland and pedestrian without last minute car troubles! First, we remembered at 10:30PM on Friday that the gas cap was reported stuck, so I went out to see...turns out it was cross threaded, and a locking wrench was necessary to get it free. One challenge past, we got some sleep, got up at 5AM and got off on our way, only to find our tire pressure low. Then we found out that a nail had damaged the valve stem and low pressure sensor, so we had to postpone departure and get this little bugger, pictured below, replaced at Walmart. After a healthy round of shaking my fist in futile rage at whatever goddam sumbitches conspired to lay nails across the road, we got off a couple hours later.

We had planned to have breakfast at the Matfield Green reststop McDonalds on the Turnpike, but we had lunch instead.

Gretchen discovered the virtue of ketchup used in concert with chicken nuggets.

Knute Rockne! ....died here apparently. Sad, that. Ah well. Knute! Knute! Knute!

Stopped for gas in Greensburg, Kansas, made famous by the movie "Twister". Some still-damaged trees around.

The Mid-America Air Museum in Liberal, Kansas:

This was an interesting exhibit of rubble from the Twin Towers. One could examine it up close. Nothing special, of course, but it almost has the feel of sacred relics or something.

An F-104 Starfighter:

One of the choppers they show on the intro to M*A*S*H, but they couldn't afford to actually record on set in the actual show.

Family in the HueyCobra:

Gretchen was not as impressed as I hoped but then again, she is a submariner at heart.

Actually she is a "doggie" at heart. Barking and crawling around in front of the SBD Avenger.

It's a fantastic museum.

One of the side effects of bringing along a small one is that bed times are rather soon in arrival, so I'd best wrap this up. Cheers, and shall likely post again tomorrow.

Day Two: Gallup, New Mexico

Slightly longer day today, started out with an actually quite decent "continental" breakfast. Continental in what sense? The European sense, as in prone to smelly cheeses and world wars? Or as in the Continental US? Do they serve these cold free breakfasts in Alaska and Hawaii?

But anyway, it stormed fairly heavily out of Liberal and most the way through the OK panhandle, but that didn't deter us from a quick stop for this photograph in Hooker, OK:

I'm not sure but it seems like they are playing off of some kind of double meaning here, or something like that. Maybe it's just my imagination.

Crossing into Texas, the enormous windmills. Texas pretending to be green by putting windmills right on their borders. Sort of like a meat market putting soy chicken substitute in its front window.

One of the things I have noticed is that the comic fodder on this trip has been significantly picked over...amusing, I hope, observations I would otherwise be prone to make have already yet been made, the last time we traversed this particular path three years ago. Ah well. The road signs are still amusing. In New Mexico:

Lights On For Safety! It's a fantastic little motto, like Hats Off For Cancer Awareness, or Knees Bent For Organic Farming.

As we sowed McNuggets, so did we reap. The semi-mountainous roads just outside Albequerque were a bit much for Gretchen and the poor girl offered up her stomach contents in oblation. So we had to stop in Albequerque and figure out how to clean up our daughter and our vehicle. Again, this is all part of the challenge that makes this "fun"! We're settled in Gallup, NM, on the other side of the state, and tomorrow should be a bit more fun with the Petrified Forest National Park and then the Grand Canyon.

Pretty country though!

Day Three: Grand Canyon, Arizona

This morning, we left Gallup, and rather shortly, New Mexico, around 8AM. Right at the Arizona border is one of those kitschy "Indian Settlements" that sell blankets, jewelry, and a lot of other classic southwest gift shop things with lots of gaudy signs, so we stopped and visited the "Largest Teepee in the Southwest" which actually was a nice little shop, but as mentioned, completely the same as all of these genre of souvenir shops. Got a decent price for some turquoise jewelry.

Another hour or so and we were at the Petrified Forest National Park. We bought our annual park pass and intended only to make a cursory run around part of the park (Gretchen was asleep anyway). But the northern "Painted Desert" section was stunning in person. Now that we're in a cabin on the rim of the Grand Canyon, these pictures make it look a bit weak and uninteresting but after driving through KansasTexhomamexico flatness it was quite cool.

Further south in the park were the "Teepees", strange cones of rock. Here were a few of the whiter ones, most of them were a dark grey, almost black.

In the far south of the park is the actual petrified forest section:

There was an entire field of these logs:

Up close:

Here's some more of the somewhat lunar scenery on the way out:

Back on the road, we approached what is the city of our eventual intended dwelling, Flagstaff. Located quite high in altitude with a generally mild climate, I just need to be offered a good CIO position there or become independently wealthy. We'll see what happens first. Once through Flagstaff and driving north, the Cococino Forest was quite beautiful, but we only really found out that when we frantically pulled over believing Gretchen to be in the initial throes of carsickness. We took a walk.

Lovely crisp clean air, pine trees, I think I'm love. Mountain just behind us:

But we got back in the car and hurtled on towards the south rim. You'd never guess, well, you might, or you might know from actual experience, but the mass of humanity clustered round this particular tourist attraction is particularly diverse, in the sense of being made up of mostly non-Americans. The sheer ubiquity of Germans would have been sufficient, one would think, to make the also-prevalent Frenchies a bit nervous in a way reminiscent of 1940. It took rather a long time to sort out where to park; it really was packed out. But we reserved a nice little cabin room about 50 feet from the rim, perhaps. Here is Gretchen in front of it as we're preparing to go see the canyon:

Don't fall in!

Pictures are a rather lame way of showing this:

Towards the canyon floor...

To prove she was there!

The canyon just after sunset.

Day Five: Disneyland

So Day Four is missing, you say. No, in case your mind is swirling with all sorts of improbable astrophysical explanations for a missing day, I must ask you to apply the Razor that that bloke Ockham bunged about the place. No need to overcomplicate, the simplest explanation is that we simply didn't blog about it. Due to some great fun at the Grand Canyon involving sleep, or particularly, the inability of our daughter to get to the same, we ended up leaving quite early in the morning, about 3:30AM, and made an early start to our trip to Los Angeles. I would say that the scenery is beautiful in Western Arizona, and indeed I remember it to be, but the pitch black night did not favour me with a refreshment of the memory. Breakfast in Kingman, AZ, with a LOT of coffee, and we were in Diamond Bar by midday. The rest of the day was spent recuperating and spending time with family, and I've got no further pictures. Bit of an adventure, and the stars finally aligned that night for Gretchen to get a full amount of good sleep. And us as well!

The next day, of course, was our long-awaited Disneyland trip, Gretchen's first. Debra has been excited for this for ages. Gretchen too, although she scarcely understood the meaning...she'll happily prattle about Dih-Nee-LAND! but I think she assumed we were going somewhere to watch Disney movies.

And...we're there! Disney frigging Land!

Gretchen in line for the Peter Pan ride:

She's excited!

Blowing kisses to her fans (her old man, and grandma) from the carousel:

A look of boredom while waiting for it to commence...

Followed by some growing panic as it moved a bit faster than carousels of her previous acquaintance!

The horticulture here is incredible.

Looking out on the Casey Jr's train ride:

And sacked out after a morning of lines and rides.

She did snag one of the requisite mouse ear hats, embroidered with her name.

Waiting in line for a million psychotic, probably murderous dolls to shriek repetitive platitudes at us...in air conditioning...at the "It's a Small World" ride. Replete with CHURROS!!!

Gretchen, Mom (in keeping with her independent streak, Mommy is now "Mom" now often), and Grandma on the way out. Good times had by all. Bed time was no problem.

Day Seven: North Hollywood, California

Pleasantly restful day, excepting the homicidal intensity of Los Angeles freeway transit. We galloped, galavanted, and generally gallopvanted off to a place of my youth, "Travel Town" in Griffith Park. Basically, a train museum.

Here I am assuring her it will be more fun than she is at the time thinking:

Off and running!

Up in the locomotive:

And one of the empty passenger cars was fun:

...because you can run around like mad in it.

Racing to catch up to mommy and grandma:

But the highlight of the trip was of course getting the plastic toy train whistle, which was mastered within SECONDS! This child is a train whistle prodigy!

Then it was off to North Hollywood, to visit with Gretchen's great-grandad. Fine old chap and a gentleman. I raise my icewater to his health and long[er] life! The girls out front:


We drove out to visit some more family in sunny Rancho Cucamonga today, which is just a fun thing to say, and Gretchen was much pleased to see and somewhat harass a pair of large labradors. From there, the 210 and the 57/60 led us past South El Monte and........TANKLAND!

The American Military Museum (as far as I can tell that is its official name, generic though it may be) is a wunderland for those few of us geeky enough to seek out armoured vehicle museums in their travels. As a child I wanted our family to head east to visit the US Army Ordnance Museum in at the Aberdeen Proving Grounds. But this is a good first step.

I was on, if not Cloud Nine, then one of the Clouds at least above level Four, conservatively speaking.

The family very sportingly came with. Gretchen was particularly fascinated with the quality and grading of the rocks, gravel, and dirt with which the outdoor museum was lavishly furnished.

Nice little amphibious armoured car whose name escapes me. Lou? Henrik?

A trio of Shermans, the workhorse of Patton's Third Army and the most iconic American tank of WWII.

The miscellaneous ordnance section...bombs, missiles, rocket launchers, torpedoes, and marine mines.

The landing craft and marine section, with the family. Gretchen taking another sample of the absolute exquisite El Monte dirt!

Patton tanks, an M48 and some later models.

The working quarters of a very large self-propelled howitzer piece.

...and the rest of the same.

A Bofors emplacement! Probably from a scrapped battleship or similar vessel, definately a naval emplacement from a ship likely of the WWII era. Quad 40mm autocannons for anti-aircraft.

I don't recall the details on this similar anti-aircraft naval emplacement but it looks like twin 30mm autocannons, and I love the fact that its enclosed and has windshield wipers on the front. I wonder if the replacement blades for the wipers are a standard size they can get at an automotive shop. More likely they are contract made for $300 each!

Pretty substantive fixed gun nestled into the corner of a museum.

The Priests lined up.

Another Bofors!

And a northward pointing big fella waiting to shell El Monte Proper, apparently.

Bren Carrier and my daughter. A bit smaller and it be perfect size for her!

An old 30's era "Combat Car" and a Chi-Ha mockup.

M50 Ontos, without its characteristic array of recoilless rifle tubes.

The M5 Stuart, a capable American light tank that served in WWII, and probably beyond.

M551 Sheridan, an interesting vehicle with a missile launching tube, essentially, for a main gun, and mostly aluminum armour for lighter weight, designed to be airdropped, seeing some service in Viet Nam.

Daughter satisfied with face-applicated soil samples.

Pak36, a German anti-tank gun in 37mm. Small little unit, probably easily transported, though outclassed by heavier, later tanks.

Motorcycle and a row of Willys jeeps and other trucks.


Long suffering fam in front of a nice, I think British, armoured car on the way out.

Day Ten: San Simeon, California

Yesterday after bidding fond farewells and heartfelt yet insufficient thanks to our hosts/relatives in Diamond Bar, we drove up the coast. Up being in a northerly direction, I should probably specify. But we took a brief stop in Solvang, where we discovered the place has been increasingly o'erwhelmed by tourists such that the wait for a plate of pancakes has become somewhat ludicrous. I grant that Solvang has always existed for no higher purpose than tourism and pancakes, but still, we gave it a miss this time, and I vowed instead to learn how to make my own sodding Danish pancakes.

We landed, so to speak, in our usual haunt on the central coast, the San Simeon Pines resort. It was spitting in a weird Californian way all day, a totally different sort of rain than we are used to in Missouri, where it either is raining or isn't, but a limbo-esque rain that leaves you perpetually neither quite wet nor quite dry. Across the street for a brief walk to the ocean:

It's quite nice there even in worse weather. The sun peeking out over on the left; the rays shooting through had a very nice effect.

Playing the "throw a rock towards the ocean and then panic when the waves come up to get your precious rock" game. We're still learning the precise rules of this game.

On the boardwalk by the sea.

Playing in the largest sandbox she has ever seen. Hopefully with less cat poop.

The pines for which the place is named are quite interesting in shape.

This morning we went to what is the coolest playground I've ever seen. A few feet to the beach!

She (Gretchen, I should specify) loves getting close to the waves and then running away. Although she will occasionally insist on being carried for extra safety.

Sand sampling!

The "puppy" was less able to quickly move away from incoming waves.

Back at the resort, we stayed at a little vending machine lobby while folks finished cleaning our room, and Gretchen took it upon herself to correct the egregious errors made by the folks in charge of decorating. If you can imagine, they had placed the three flower pots on three SEPARATE tables! Hah! And hadn't even so much as placed a plastic bead necklace over the pots! Amateurs.

Then after grabbing a pizza in town we went up the coast to see the elephant seals.

Day Eleven: Barstow, California

So today's travel blog is a bit of a mixed bag. Relatively boring day, driving through the central part of California from the coast, but will get to that later. First, some few remaining pictures from San Simeon yesterday.

At sunset the trees were well illuminated:

This cluster of trees caught my eye:

We were working on tiring Gretchen out by having her play outside, so we spent some time in this gazebo.

Where she took on as her task the predation, decapitation, and dismemberment of dandelion flowers.

Another walk by the beach:

The surf at dusk:

Signs are posted everywhere about not feeding the wildlife but something tells me the surprisingly tame squirrels have sorted out how to game the system.

And here is the same fellow leaping for the jugular vein in rage as he learns I have been coaxing him near with a proferred hand of naught more than pebbles. Gretchen follows my lead, in her less subtle way, by picking up pebbles and throwing them at the squirrel who wisely decides to make acquaintance with tourists more amenable to breaking the posted rule.

OK, back to the trip. We passed a delightful night that evening until about 2AM when Gretchen decided that WOW she was sure AWAKE! and wanted to do anything but keep quiet and go back to sleep. We eventually went on a drive which at long last put her to sleep again, and we got some more sleep. It was nice to see the ocean under a full moon, very entrancing, particularly when one is yearning for sleep anyway.

So this morning we got off and passed inland towards Paso Robles, Bakersfield, and Barstow. Paso Robles is a nice area dominated by vineyards, and we noted a large quantity of "report drunk driving!" signs which became a bit funnier when interspersed with the dozens/hundreds of "Wine Tasting Next Right!" signs put out by the vineyards.

Bakersfield is a nice enough town, it's a decent size and seems to have lots of the accoutrements of a medium-sized city, such as a Trader Joe's, which we gave our patronage, but try as it might to be cosmopolitan, the air smells of cattle manure. Not an altogether bad thing, it is likely better smelling than vast swathes of New York or Paris. At least there is the sense of old-fashioned farming and ranching there.

Tehachapi was cute, particularly the huge hills of the Tehachapi Wind Farm and the hundreds of windmills, precious few of which were turning. I wonder what it cost the Californian taxpayer to put in. I wonder how much each year the bill is for maintenance. I like to amuse myself with the thought that when proposing the initiative, none of the dingbat lawmakers responsible bothered to consider much in regards to ongoing maintenance costs, but I could be wrong.

Finally, we passed Barstow and went on a dozen miles to Calico, a ghost town/theme park I remember from many years ago. We didn't actually spend a lot of time there. Strangely there were mostly foreigners there, like at the Grand Canyon. Whole busses full of Japanese, and a number of German and French visitors were audible. It's a quaint sort of thing because you pay for admission, and then most everything inside is a shop where you can buy things. If you can work out paid admission to a shopping mall and get busloads of foreign folks eager to deplete travellers checks in your retail stores you've got on to a good thing.

The famous CALICO written in the hillside:

Walking up to the rock shop to buy a piece of amethyst:

Very interesting rock formations, layers of sedimentary rock obviously contorted and squeezed:

Day Twelve: Zion National Park, Utah

This morning we departed Barstow, after pillaging and ransacking their delightful breakfasting area, replete with all manner of upscale hotel breakfast fodder, of a decidedly non-continental nature. We ran straight into a surprisingly vicious desert rainstorm. Impressive winds and quite a downpour, but we were heading east and in no mood to remain perpetually in bad weather so we powered through. Once out of the rain, driving was a bit less tense, but the clouds were treacherously low and brooding. Took a picture or two of the yucca trees and the low-lying clouds:

And the clouds over this mesa were interesting:

We finally crossed out of California, that beloved, though ape-shit crazy state of my nativity, and passed into Nevada. Nevada is the sort of state that would be a bland, uninteresting ranching state like Idaho without gambling, and one can spot any highway border with Nevada by the unspeakably garish gambling settlement planted inches from the actual state line. No, I didn't take any pictures.

But we drove through Vegas, which I've never been profoundly fond of, and the traffic and omnipresent advertising did little to win me over, but we had one last In-N-Out burger there and enjoyed the less-expensive-than-California gasoline. Cheers to Angle, though!

Next up, the corner of Arizona, a state I've come to be rather fond of. Not much of it to see when chipping the northwest corner on I-15, but the Virgin River Gorge is impressive. We took copious photos while passing through but none really display the massiveness one observes, deep in this rather narrow chasm, hurtling through at 55mph. Here's one such insignificant shot.

Then into Utah, home of the Momos! On highway 9, getting close to Zion:

Beautiful ridges on the outskirts:

So we checked into our hotel, and after unpacking, I took my laptop onto the balcony to work on my work emails. This was the view from my "desk":

Also from the balcony:

The family went for a swim. Nice view from a swimming pool:

Gretchen loves swimming, need to start this girl on swimming lessons.

Sun starts to set...

Gretchen loved the horses next door!

I decided to grill, so we picked up some italian sausages and peppers to cook, and I headed back towards the picnic area. They had a little spot right next to the river:

Nice backdrop to cook by.

Day Thirteen: Zion National Park, Utah

Still in Zion, a somewhat simple day that doesn't lend itself to a lot of commentary, in that all we've really done is sort of wander around and look at things, which is the proper and expected activity in a place like this. We were expecting rain all day but it has been sunny and cool all day, with no signs of oncoming storms as of this afternoon.

Here was a shot at the entrance to the park, where the morning sun brightly illuminated the top of the canyon walls, wreathed in clouds.

We rode the shuttle to the Temple of Sinawava, which sounds like it belongs in a role playing game from the nineties, and we walked along the "Riverside" trail.

I know I'm fast becoming cliche-sodden when I insufferably trot out that old "pictures can't express blah blah blah" line, but, well, it is sort of applicable.

Gretchen was, of course, most interested in playing in the sandy dirt.

The canyon floor and river:

Me trying, again, in vain to show the scale of these walls:

One of the great things about Zion is the vibrance of the colour...plenty of green, in comparison to the Grand Canyon, contrasting with the very rich red of the earth and rock.

The river:

Thought that this strange cutout in the canyon wall was interesting. Many stories tall. I wonder if the rock just fell away at some point.

The shelf halfway up on this cliff had a carpet of trees and vegetation that give a semblance of scale.

Angel's Landing, seen through the window of the bus. The first time we came to Zion I was ignorant and thought "hey why don't we hike this?" I learned more about it and wised up.

The Patriarchs, shrouded in clouds. Shooting through bus windows doesn't really help the image quality, sorry.

Back in town we realized, much though I had vowed not to, we would in fact eat lunch at the fusion Thai/Chinese place that charges way, way too much for food that I would barely pay McDonalds prices for in Kansas City. I mean, it isn't terrible, but it's not that great, and certainly doesn't deserve the insane prices it commands. However, what I vow in Kansas City is different than in Springdale, for the alternatives were even more expensive and less impressive. This is not a good town to save money on food in.

The horses at least have a fairly readily available source of food:

Tomorrow marks the beginning of the final stretch, three days of driving and we're back in KC.

Day Fourteen: Glenwood Springs, Colorado

We left Zion National Park, or rather entered it, as our means of egress was actually to drive into and across the park to exit on the opposite side, this morning. Before going I got one last shot of the place from our balcony after the sunrise:

Once through the park, driving extremely slowly on winding mountain roads, we stopped for gas, and I'm not sure if this local eatery was getting at some sort of double meaning with their advertising. Perhaps eliminating unnecessary letters to save on electricity?

The fall colors are quite nice in the area.

We entered the Red Canyon in Dixie National Forest:

Had a couple of the tunnel roads...they made you wonder, was it really easier to bore through the rock more than shift the road to the right a few yards?

We entered Bryce Canyon National Park, and did not stay long, but went to three of the observation points. I would say something grandiose, like, "there are no words to describe Bryce Canyon!" but there demonstrably are, unfortunately: "Bryce", and "Canyon". That semantic niggle aside, I am looking forward to returning here to spend more time. It kicks the pantalones off the Grand Canyon in some ways. I'm going to just post all the pictures we took and not belabor you with forced commentary:

So with mild reluctance, but an eager spirit to make miles to our west, we departed, and continued north and then east across the stunning landscape of Utah. Many of these pictures are somewhat underwhelming in that driving at 70mph in frequent rain, a majority of pictures had to be discarded regardless so only a subset are available. Here is a typical roadscape with beautiful trees on each side.

Lots of these rock formations about.

The San Rafael Reef, I believe, from my map. Shrouded in mists, rather ominously!

Impressive bit of natural architecture. What is amazing is these are not in a National Park. Not in a National Monument, National Forest, or state park, even. I assume the government owns the land. If these were located in Missouri or anywhere east where we consider a minor hill a mountain, they would hands down be a full-fledged National Park!

Good sport in the back seat:

Into Colorado, I kept trying to get a good shot of the river by the interstate, and this was the meager best I could get while at speed:

Tomorrow will be an interesting day, regardless. The plan has long been to drive through Colorado and stay in western Kansas, driving back on Sunday to KC. We shall see. On the road, a sense of general vacation fatigue settled onto us at long last, and we considered the semi-maniacal task of driving straight through tomorrow. But, there's the question of the weather, where a first major snowstorm is expected here overnight. We'll see if this vacation ends officially tomorrow, or Sunday, or who-knows-when if the Colorado weather gods get really nasty with us.

Day Fifteen: Kansas City.

This is a bit of a short-circuiting of my plans...today, my plan, formulated, quite honestly, over a year in advance, was to take this day and travel from western Colorado to western Kansas, giving us a modest drive home on Sunday. However, a growing dislike for living out of suitcases and a yearning for home, not to mention the lack of any glorious aesthetic wonders of staying in a small town in western Kansas, made us succumb to the temptation to do foolish things, such as drive from Glenwood Springs to Kansas City.

In late October.

Yes, all was hunky and not a little dory as we ambled away from the picturesque town and started through the mountains on the western slope. We had heard of some potential snow issues at higher elevation, but hey, shouldn't be any trouble for us, right? We got up to Vail, and all it was doing was spitting semi-freezing rain at us. No sweat. Here's a pic of the pleasant little surroundings.

And as you can see, the roads look fine! No worries!

It was rather beautiful...apparently the first major snowstorm of the season in the area.

Then we started to gain in elevation and the fun began at Vail Pass. I've driven in a lot of snow and ice in Missouri, but to be stopped in a traffic jam for about an hour on an incline slope full of very, very slippery icy snow should be out of bounds for the relaxing vacation itinerary. We were on the knife edge of getting hopelessly stuck and/or colliding with other struggling motorists more times than I can count, and the constant stoppage of traffic (for hapless motorists foolishly bringing their rear wheel drive Jaguars into the mountains...stupid rich gits!) meant it was not so much driving, as the constant spinning of wheels in icy snow directed carefully to effect forward momentum. Good God (and He is good, and we made many prayers to that effect afterward, not a few of which apologetic for our many coarse invocations during), that was the most intense driving experience I've encountered. We found out that they had closed I-70 eastbound, but we had gotten through before the closure. It eased up later and the other high elevation points were not so challenging...the pass around the Eisenhower tunnel was a bit slushy but nothing too hair-raising after the first experience.

Then into Denver, and we never exulted so much in the act of leaving the mountains behind as at that point. The eastern Colorado plains were terrifically boring, but we made it across them and into our neighbor state of Kansas. I could have kissed the earth.

Something peculiarly sweet about our daughter when she is asleep. Perhaps because she is at her quietest? Except when she has "doggy dreams" and barks in her sleep.

So yes, at long last, we are back in Kansas City, and aside from the fact that the Kansas turnpike from Lawrence to Kansas City is under construction and to charge for the passing there-through is larcenous and akin to...wait for it...highway robbery, and aside from the fact that I-70 eastbound is so comically pretzelled that motorists passing through from other states must be still trying to find their way through, years later, subsisting on crumbs from the cracks in the seat cushions of their Chevy Luminas, and aside from the fact that we had a great time seeing the West, we are very, very glad to be home.