06 June 2014

Roadtrip 2014

Day 1: Across Kansas

30 May 2013

And off we go, again. A relatively easy drive across Kansas today. Peter saw fit to wake us up at 5am, which we feel is only going to increase in charm when we get on Pacific time and he feels that sleep is no longer necessary at 3am. Off we went after a flurry of last minute logistics, and promptly arrived right in the 7am traffic on I-70.

Our first stop was Fort Riley, just outside of Junction City, Kansas. The US Cavalry Museum was our destination:

Easier said than done, though. After getting entrance to the base via an MP that was so young I wasn't sure he didn't have acne and a cracking voice (or maybe I'm just getting old), we were misled by Google as to the location, it leading us first to the Post cemetary, which would have been an interesting visit, but we kept on.

Then we thought we had arrived, based on the adolescent MP's instructions, and we pulled off on a dirt road that led into a dark woods...shrouded with a cloud of moths that hovered eerily over the ground. The sign bruskly said..."PET CEMETARY - CLOSED". We turned around.

Then we got deeper into the base and found the museum, across from an old building named after one of America's last great cavalrymen:

The museum is build in a 19th century building that was original the fort's hospital.

Plenty of old WWII vintage vehicles in an adjoining park...an M5 Stuart and anti-aircraft halftrack.

Everyone enjoyed the somewhat idyllic (for Kansas) grounds. M4 Sherman, workhorse of Patton's Third.

The boy loved the place. It was a great place to stop for the outdoor portion alone.

M8 armoured car.

Then, on to the museum, M24 Chaffee in the foreground.

Late 18th century American sabre.

The boy recognized what this is!

Gretchen insisted on getting her picture taken next to the giant fake cavalryman and his horse. Will have to work on her salute.

Ahh, the mountain gun, reminds me of Kipling...
---For you all love the screw-guns -- the screw-guns they all love you!
---So when we call round with a few guns, o' course you will know what to do -- hoo! hoo!
---Jest send in your Chief an' surrender -- it's worse if you fights or you runs:
---You can go where you please, you can skid up the trees, but you don't get away from the guns!

Old cartridge carbines, from the late 19th Century at the height of American cavalry.

We then walked next door to the 1st Infantry Division (which is based here) museum. Not bad, although strangely I was most struck by this elaborate D-Day diorama. Somebody spent some time on this.

Then back on the road...at a rest stop we observed the local birdlife. We spotted a number of small birds I couldn't identify, then a Great-Tailed Grackle which was interesting.

In Burlington, CO we stopped at the Kit Carson County Carousel and its respective museum. Very old carousel with an original band organ.

The carving and painting is incredibly ornate.

Wonder who is at 130 E Duval Street in Philadelphia now. Google search later...not very much worth looking at.

The band organ was impressive! I want one for my living room to play when guests drop by!

The kids enjoyed it. Debra said it was the best carousel she's been on, and yes, that does include Disneyland.

Get a move on, son, that luggage isn't gonna haul itself...

An afternoon of swimming, then soup in our room...hopefully an early night. Tomorrow off to Casa Bonita for lunch, then through the Rockies.

Day 2: Across Colorado

31 May 2014

We left shades open on the west-facing window of our hotel room overnight, and were thus afforded with a beautiful, albeit intense, prairie thunderstorm. After a fitful sleep, my son determined that 4am was an ideal waking point for eastern Colorado, so by 5am we were up and packing. Unfortunately we planned a lunch in Denver at Casa Bonita, so we had to kill some time in between. We breakfasted grandly at the hotel, well, as grandly as complimentary Best Western breakfasts generally provide for, which is plenty grand for us.

Then into the car, and across Kansas, err, Colorado, towards Denver. We stopped at the Rocky Mountain Arsenal Wildlife Refuge to burn a bit of our extra time before lunch. The kids liked seeing the bison.

There were a number of other animals out...the usual suspects, jackrabbit and prairie dog, but also a beautiful bird we later identified as a Western Kingbird. Then into the Visitors Center, and yes, our kids look like a blur in real life.

Muley the Mule Deer had his eye on me. And I had my eye on him. Although technically this chap was stuffed so our mutual respect as adversaries was a little one-sided, actually.

The Arsenal used to be a military installation, and apparently this control panel was used in neutralizing mustard gas.

Time for Casa Bonita!

Casa Bonita is a unique sort of place. You walk in and the smell hits you...the decor doesn't exactly -hit- you but it glances menacingly and flinches at you with a closed fist. It's like Pirates of the Caribbean (I hate that I must say this, but...the ride, not the banal film series starring a mincing John Depp in drag and eyeliner) and, well, every American parodic conception of Mexico from the past 100 years had a love child and dumped it in a less than savoury neighborhood of Denver. The food is warmed over TV dinners, basically, but you're not here for that. The kids were in thrall of the cliff-diving fire juggler:

And, as last year, the boy loves his lemonade and consumes it with singularity of purpose.

I should point out that the children were watching Frozen earlier that morning on the drive. A line in the movie repeated a few times was "Big Summer Blowout!" and I commented that this, as we headed to subject our intestinal systems to all-you-can-eat at Casa Bonita, this was true prophecy! And within a half hour of our meeting...three members of our party rapidly succumbed to the grease's effects. Like flies dropping. Well, like something else dropping, as it happens. But I...only I withstood its effects. In Days of Old, They spoke of One. One who would come and eat The Sopapilla of Gastrointestinal Distress, and LAUGH AT ITS WEAKENED POWERS. I WAS THE CHOSEN ONE!

Then up into the mountains we go. Gretchen swears up and down she saw an elk...she identified the coloring patterns accurately. Proud of her knowledge in that area.

Lovely rest stop up in the mountains, by a lake.

Gretchen clambering on a rock:

Although, as you can see, Debra did not enjoy the lower temperatures up there:

Next rest stop was in Glenwood Canyon, made a bit more interesting by the flooding of the Colorado River. Bike path was closed. Love that they have to put a sign out to make sure no one just wades in there with their bikes. I mean, they DID just legalize something here, after all...

Me and Pete walked down to the river here, well out of its banks, and lay down on the grass for a bit looking at the sky. The others came along and I was mildly chastised for risking tick exposure...

Then back on the road again...and all the way to Fruita, Colorado, near the border with Utah. Several meltdowns along the way, of course. Time to fix dinner in the hotel room and start to wind down for the night...tomorrow bodes promise of two or three national parks in eastern Utah.

Day 3: Arches, Canyonlands, Capitol Reef

1 June 2014

An unexpectedly bounteous night of rest, aside from some coughing related wakeups, had me alert at 4am, unfortunately. The kids slept til 5:45! We hit the free breakfast and departed around 7:30, into Utah and down towards Canyonlands.

That said, a brief miscalculation and slightly lax sense of map obedience had us rolling into the outskirts of Moab, which we remembered, and which we should not have reached...we missed the Canyonlands turnoff by a fair measure. We headed up north and decided to stop off at Arches National Park, which was on the way.

After paying for our national park pass and getting in, we noted a rattling sound from beneath our car, and in my head the crackling electronic frustration music from "Planes Trains and Automobiles" started playing ("You're messin with the wrong guy!!"). Yes, that damned heatshield had busted loose. The Achilles heel of this car are these cheap tinfoil heatshields that bust loose and sound like bloody murder. Lacking a socket set and a collection of washers, with which I could have properly fixed this, a multitool, some cardboard to act as a pseudo washer, and a short strand of a sort of electrical tape I bummed off a ranger were what I had on hand with which to MacGyver a solution. When I get to LA I will fix it more properly, or if it comes loose again, but for now it has stayed put.

In to Arches...a short trip this time, the Balanced Rock:

Enjoying some shade from the massive tower of rock that sits astride it:

I should point out that the kids have been...special...today. The whining is weapons grade. However, times like this, hiking these short trails and letting the kids clamber about on the rocks, were great fun for everyone.

Then we sped off to reach our initial destination, Canyonlands National Park. Because of the delays, moods (both mine and that of the children, which were admittedly bordering on fractious), and general sense of scenery overload, we stuck to one trail and overlook, the Mesa Arch trail. Fitting, since while at Arches we avoided the actual, well, arches. A half mile trail was a good workout for the kids in the sun, and we saw lots of lizards along the way. Approaching the arch itself:

Gretchen was intrepid enough to want to climb on an outcrop right underneath the arch itself...which overlooks the canyon.

Quite honestly, even I was a bit taken aback when I sat next to her, inched a bit forward...and found NOTHING on the other side. "Whoah-ho-ho, that IS quite a drop!"

Shafer Trail Overlook on the way out:

Then back up to 70 and over to 24, to head south again towards central Utah. Plenty of beautiful desert scenery, but we didn't stop until we reached Capitol Reef National Park.

Flag flying over the Visitor Center.

Gretchen had fallen asleep and was just waking up as Debra coaxed her up the hill to Panorama Point...Mummy Cliffs in the background.

Beautiful landscape here.

Gretchen found the tree she posed on last year.

Looking back towards the Reef...

One more picture and back into the car towards Torrey...the gnats were thick in this spot for some reason.

Gretchen was disappointed in our lack of swimming plans that night, so as a consolation we headed to an outdoor pizza restaurant and had pizza and ice cream, which was a big hit. Beautiful backdrop of scenery, along with a nice cool breeze.

Tomorrow we traverse the beautiful, and at times slightly treacherous, Route 12, towards Bryce and finally landing in Zion National Park.

Day 4: Bryce Canyon, Zion, and Route 12

2 June 2014

This morning we scavenged the meager apportionments of a somewhat average non-chain hotel in central Utah, before heading out. That minor bit of...well, if not exactly criticism, then not exactly full throated praise, either...is buttressed by a profound respect for their enthusiasm:

Did you read that right? Are you a victim of Toilet Congestion? They are MORE than happy to hear about that! In fact, I suspect they fiddle with the toilets after checkout in hopes of provoking later cases of toilet congestion amongst the guests, with the accompanying happiness...no, MORE than happiness...that that brings.

There is something about southern Utah hotels...if you don't have horses in the adjoining lot, you're nothing. The first one we stayed at in Springdale had a llama instead, and I bet at the Southern Utah Hotelier Convention, all the other hotel owners cut them..."look, there are those folks that have llamas next to their hotel...who do they think they are!".

We headed south on Route 12...which has my vote, in my limited experience, as one of the most scenic roads we have available to us in the United States. Quick stop at the Larb Hollow overlook.

Gretchen got out with me while Peter stayed in the car, bribed for this injustice by a strand of licorice.

Near the summit, I think nearing 10,000 feet. What a lovely view it was...crisp and cold as well, so we kept on. Gretchen got a little carsick, but managed to keep the aforementioned average breakfast intact and in place.

One of my favorite, and Debra's least favorite, parts of this drive is a bit after you come out of the mountains and into more desert-like territory. Apparently it is known as the Hogsback, and the road rises into the air along a spine of rock, with deep canyons on each side. Treacherous driving if done without care. It's hard to capture it in pictures but here's the view from one side of the road:

And ten yards over, on the other side of the road, you have this:

View from another pullout further up the hog's back:

Then into Bryce Canyon National Park.

Gretchen felt more comfortable (but not TOO comfortable) with heights on this visit:

Debra and Peter walking a bit out ahead, along the rim.

There was a light cloud filtering of the sunlight that gave this a softer aspect.

Then on to Zion National Park, where it neared 100 degrees and the sun was so bright that these photos look washed out from the brightness.

Trotting up the Emerald Pools path, we didn't do too much walking...just enough to earn a dip in the pool later (not the Emerald one, I should clarify...they have signs about that).

Taking a water break and deciding to head back.

Photogenic lizard opted not to run away...must be used to the tourists.

Back down the path.

Now doing laundry and enjoying air conditioning, and planning to hit the pool before eating in with some canned soup and whatnot. Big day tomorrow, driving across much more unlovely terrain (looking at you, Las Vegas) to get to a nice plumb spot right across from the entrance to...you guessed it, Disneyland.

Day 5: Utah to Anaheim

3 June 2014

Woke up to a briskly chilly desert morning in Utah...lovely view from our balcony.

Walking up to the main office for breakfast, the sun starting to light up the western face of the canyon.

Speaking of breakfast, this one was quite nice...Germans run the place I believe and their home fries reminded me of those from the Rheinland restaurant in Independence, MO. Their artistic taste is more, one might say, modern. I was guessing...hoping...that this was gents room. Vomit closet? Zombie storage locker? Mauseoleum for guests who ate the discount sushi?

The drive was decidedly unscenic in comparison. Really, there is a reason we store nuclear waste, casinos, lawyers, and Wayne Newton in Nevada...better there than anywhere else. We cleared that soiled dustbin of a state and arrived in California, to be greeted by an unmanned station of the Fruit Patrol. We just passed right through...all the while possessing two or THREE non-native apples!

The drive was enlightening, as it always is, as to the depths of craziness California drivers indulge themselves in. We arrived at the hotel across from Disneyland and tried to recuperate. Gretchen dug the swan towels.

Thence across the street to Downtown Disney...we got dinner at Trader Sam's, a tiki bar by the Disneyland Hotel and a bit like the Tiki Room, all grown up. As you might imagine, if you know my tastes in music, it was right up my alley. Gretchen enjoyed it as well, although the special effects when certain drinks were ordered were a bit much for her (and definitely more than Peter was prepared for).

I ordered the Krakatoa Punch, which caused a shower in the restaurant and made the volcanoes on the wall erupt. And Debra gets the souvenir mug! Will be shoring up my tiki bartending skills it appears.

Beautiful gardens and fountains around the hotel area.

In the Frontier tower, they had a diorama of the Big Thunder Mountain ride that Debra was hunting for. Pete wanted, of course, to ride it...maybe in a few years.

Relaxing in the gardens...

From there we headed back to the hotel, got some ice cream, and are getting ready for bed. Big day tomorrow.

Day 6: Disneyland

4 June 2014

Woke up early...probably too early, but hey, its Disneyland day. Headed over to the hotel breakfast, which we found we were 45 minutes too early for. But enthusiasm remained undampened!

After breakfast at which the children harrassed the local sparrows, we headed across the street and waited in line. The gates opened a bit early and we headed through Main Street, then awaiting "Rope Drop". A trio of ducks buzzed my head en route to landing, and then proceeded (two male mallards and a female) to have a brief fight and attempt to do something that was not the sort of thing Walt Disney would have considered appropriate for his theme park. But at 8am they opened the park and off to Fantasy Land we went...

First ride was Dumbo. Gretchen was excited.

Debra and Peter getting ready for liftoff...

Nice view from aloft...both kids loved the ride.

Then to Peter Pan, which was a longer line, but fruit snacks made it bearable.

The Carousel was next.

My silly attempt to be arty, kids in the mirror on the carousel. iPhone also artistically visible.

We then hit several dark rides in quick succession...Pinocchio, Snow White, Mr. Toad's Wild Ride, and then Casey Jrs. Then we decided to subject ourselves to the multicultural midget death cult ride, a.k.a. It's a Small World After All. Hey, at least it's air-conditioned.

Then a snack at the Mint Julep Bar, with beignets and a "mint julep" which tasted like mint cleaning fluid ("in a good way!"). The children were eager in their anticipation.

Then we hopped on the Haunted Mansion, which while neither kid seemed to really enjoy (it is reasonably spooky), they took in stride and didn't melt down or anything. From there to the Jungle Cruise:

The Jungle Cruise had an exceptionally long line that was intertwined in a maze through two floors, and when we were coming close to the end of the line, and speculating that it was a psychology experiment to see how long people would queue in a complex but circular line before realizing that the joke was on them, we heard a chap next to us who thought his line was going back downstairs to board, but then got diverted away from the stairs, softly swear, and perhaps it was heat exhaustion but we found that intensely funny for whatever reason. We had a good skipper and the kids enjoyed the ride, but the most amusing part was at the end where the boat rammed into something just as we were about to dock and disembark, and it went off the track and we were adrift. The ride was shut down on account of us and the technicians were dispatched to bring the boat in, thus avoiding the necessity to swim to shore.

The Tiki Room was next, and while Peter initially registered fright, he got into it and was soon clapping and beaming a smile. Then lunch, at the Hungry Bear, which was packed. With Anatidae as well as human patrons.

Then we rode the Winnie the Pooh ride, and headed over to the kids' probable favourite, the petting zoo:

By that time the heat had become oppressive and the mass of sweaty humanity had become insufferably congested that we decided to make our escape. Prior to escaping the horde we grabbed a pair of churros:

We enjoyed relative peace in the "shrine" to Snow White by the castle. The squirrels apparently revere her as a deity.

A trot back across the street and we got in our car and headed north to Diamond Bar. The kids were out within a minute of getting in the car, I think.

Day 7: Planes of Fame in Chino, CA

5 June 2014

Today was a bit of recuperation, you might say. We spent the morning with family, and we attended to some practical necessities (getting prescription refills for Peter, actually properly fixing the heatshield on the car). Then we headed to Chino, just a few miles to the east, and visited the air museum there. On the way we saw a car sporting a "I'd Rather Be In Hawaii" license plate frame over a California license plate, and we resisted the urge to leap onto the car and beat on it in climate envy induced rage.

This is a great air museum, many of these classic planes are restored and flying. P-51 Mustang;

A P-47...big sucker.

P-51A (early variant, no large glass cupola).

P-39 Airacobra, always a bit of an odd duck. 37mm cannon in the nose.

In the naval aviation hangar, what I've always thought was the most handsome naval fighter, the F4U Corsair.

Next to it, a big Avenger torpedo bomber.

The kids were enjoying it thus far!

The B-17 was open to walk on...that said, it was a steel tube baking in the California sun...

We hopped on, but didn't stay long. Waist gunner position, which my grandfather manned over Europe and North Africa, just forward of Gretchen here.

B-25 Mitchell and a FockeWulf FW190 repro visible in this hangar.

I was hopeful when they wheeled out this P-40 that we might get to see one of these birds in action, but in reality, they just moved it so they could change a light bulb overhead in the hangar. Ah well...

An ME109 that was shot down and buried in a frozen lake, awaiting restoration. In some ways, it's more interesting and awe-inspiring in its natural and unrestored state.

Likewise the wreckage of a Japanese Betty was cleverly made into a jungle crash diorama. I didn't take the time to read the signs, but I wonder if this was themed based on the mission that shot down Admiral Yamamoto.

A genuine WWII Horten "flying wing" glider mounted overhead:

A Heinkel He 162, also genuine captured.

Gretchen insisted that I take a picture of this...F4 Phantom nose cone.

A twin-tailed de Havilland Vampire:

Which makes a nice segueway to the last exhibit, the P-38 Lightning. Beautiful old bird, the entire hangar was devoted to it.

Then back to Diamond Bar, and dinner with family.

Day 8: USS Iowa and Crystal Cove State Beach

6 June 2014

Today, to San Pedro to catch our first whiff of sea air and tour, again, the USS Iowa:

Getting started on the tour at the bow...the kids loved it this time, instead of the reluctant sulk of last year, because there was a game they could play to find the ship's dog in different parts of the ship.

Next to the forward main gun turrets, a sample 2,000lb shell and the powder bags used to send it 20 miles or so.

The XO's stateroom, including of course, a stuffed Bill the Goat.

Every telephone should have this stamped on it. Silly that we don't take this as a given.

I have one of these in my house! Having toured the mess hall and seen the giant stainless cathedral that is the ship's galley, I don't doubt that it took some serious voltage to run the fryer there.

5" guns, still a quite sizable turret.

Gretchen posing demurely, even though demure is not usually the first word I reach for when thinking of my girl's demeanor, on the bridge.

This is where the enlisted chaps slept. Still, got to be better than submarine bunks. Note the dog picture, part of the game...that was a life saver for keeping the kids motivated.

Here Peter is gesturing wildly, and with not a little sense of ownership..."MAH ship! MAH ship!"

Lovely boat and an even better tour than the last time.

Then In-N-Out and to Crystal Cove.

Peter would growl and roar as the water came in. He was quite keen.

He doesn't seem to mind getting his picture taken, he sees the phone out and then he mugs and says "cheeeeeese!".

It was a bit warm but the wind kept it pleasant. Many sailboats out on the water.

Pete meanwhile had decided to dump sand everywhere he could.

Everyone was pretty tired coming back...Pete playing with their souvenirs from the tour earlier, Vickie the ship's dog (which I noted, had the same smell of the ship, machine grease, primarily) and a model of the Iowa.

On our way home this chap pulled up next to me and seemed to indicate a challenge...I prepared to let him have a taste of my Versa's exhaust, but just as my foot hovered expectantly over the gas pedal, the Ferrari driver recognized he was outclassed and turned left instead of heading on straight. Ah well, wouldn't want to have given the family too much excitement, anyway.

Heading out to sea tomorrow, circumnavigating Anacapa Island and then trotting up to Solvang for the evening. Ready to get out of L.A. traffic, I can tell you, although it's been a fantastic time with loved ones here in the metropolis.

Day 9: Anacapa Island and Solvang

7 June 2014

Today we started our convoluted return leg of our journey. Up early and out the door by 6:45, we headed through downtown and then past Santa Monica and Malibu up to Oxnard, where we awaited boarding a boat that would take us out into the channel to Anacapa Island, part of the Channel Islands National Park. Waiting to board the "Vanguard" outside the offices:

It took us a while to acquire our sea legs but we eventually acclimated and Gretchen was very keen to keep a sharp eye on the horizon. She had to be bribed back into the interior cabin with promises of snacks, but otherwise wanted to be at the rail the whole time.

Her vigilance was eventually rewarded:

They swarmed the boat and Gretchen was beside herself. Peter was beside himself too, but in less an excited happy way, and more a "throw a fit at an inopportune moment" sort of way.

clear water afforded views below the surface.

Caught this one catching some air:

Anacapa looms up on the horizon:

We briefly docked and let off the daytrippers (Beatles riff starts instantly in my head, of course), before cruising on further down the coast.

Arch Rock is the most iconic part of the island.

Difficult to see, but a noisy colony of wild sea lions announced their presence:

The Keyhole Arch is further up the coast.

Everyone was cold. My condition was self-inflicted, short sleeves and shorts.

Gulls escorted us away from the island.

We encountered a tanker that was plowing into another pod of dolphins. The bulbous bow of the tanker afforded some visible dolphin jumps about the bow.

Took so many of these photos, but seeing it in person is really the only way to appreciate it.

Pete thankfully slept on the way back. Flies buzzing around everywhere but he was tired enough not to mind.

From there to Solvang:

We did a bare minimum of shopping and got a Danish style dinner at the Solvang Restaurant, one of the older establishments. Serviceable dinner with good frikadeller and medisterpolse.

Back at the hotel in Solvang, looking forward to a good night of sleep, and a smaller trip up the coast to San Simeon tomorrow.

Day 10: San Simeon

8 June 2014

We rose somewhat early in the half-timbered Danske paradise of Solvang and headed across the street to our usual stop, Paula's Pancake House, intent to get in before the hordes from L.A. made the wait interminable.

It was, as ever, quite good...freshly squeezed orange juice, Danish pancakes and American fare.

We drove up north, stopping in San Luis Obispo briefly and from there went to see the elephant seal rookery north of San Simeon. Two of them in center frame were fighting:

Very small ground squirrel hanging about the place (which was busy with PCH traffic).

On the way back we pulled off and saw in the distance some zebra, part of the Hearst Castle "zoo".

We went to a local playground in the Cambria area...still has my vote as most idyllic playground...short walk to the beach, and those pines are beautiful. The only blot on the landscape was a juvenile excrescence that insisted on throwing a soccer ball at kids on the playground, around small children...Debra asked him to identify his parents, so she could discuss his violent inclinations, and his smug, insolent manner in refusing to share this knowledge or cease in his child-smiting ball throwing very nearly had Debra getting booked on assault charges, so we left before the child got more than he bargained for.

I took a break to walk down to the pebbly beach, remove my shoes, and induce pain by wading in the surf for a few minutes. Very cold water.

We stayed at San Simeon Pines, our usual spot. I've stayed here 7 or 8 times probably, since first visiting as a kid with my parents.

We diverted ourselves with croquet while waiting for them to prepare our room.

The family was too tired and cold so I headed across the street to the state park on my own.

The paths here are quite familiar to me.

As are the local SQUIRRELS. We glared meaningly at one another, but Missouri small game license notwithstanding, he knew he was safe on his own ground and we parted with terse civility.

Out onto the rocks as the tide rolls in.

I took the opportunity, sans juvenile accompaniment, to clamber along the rocks and the cliff edge, in a manner that would have surely drawn reproving remonstrances from my better half. Took me back to my younger days when spent here. I saw these chaps inhabiting a neighboring rock:

Then I reached a point where the cliff got more sheer and the drop off to the ocean below was such that trying to continue along the rocks would have necessitated an upping of the term life insurance, so I scrabbled up the sandy cliff and walked back. On my walk I spotted a flash of something in the underbrush, and I tracked it about 50 yards, til I had spotted the cottontail, center frame here:

Found another one a bit further up the trail, but drove him to brush and couldn't spot the little sod. Back to the room, and we ate dinner a la microwave, courtesy the Campbells Corporation. We had a minor moment of excitement with a field mouse in the room...Gretchen thought he was cute, and instead of worrying about her inflatable mattress being on the floor, she hoped expectantly that the mouse would come and sleep with her. Tomorrow we head up into the mountains, staying in Sequoia National Park.

Day 11: King's Canyon and Sequoia National Parks

9 June 2014

First, a couple pics from the camera last night at San Simeon. Eating our cheapo microwave dinners next to the pool area. The not one, but two, distinct warnings against sufferers of loose stool partaking in the public pool was a little bit strange, but who knows, maybe they had an "incident"...

Afterward we were tempted by the dangling Skittles in the vending machine. After subtle nudges proved fruitless, we kept hunting for $1 bills, and ended up sinking three into it before calling it quits, realizing we weren't going to win the double candy jackpot. It was our version of Vegas.

Then this morning we headed across the Paso Robles wine region, headed north into Fresno and then east up into the mountains.

A view of King's Canyon from the road.

We registered early at the hotel, the Wuksachi Lodge. Pricey, but pleasant enough.

In the lobby the children were enamoured of one of the locals.

Then further south, and off to Moro Rock, a lofty outcrop of rock that affords spectacular panoramic views. Debra and the kids climbed up a little way but we quickly realized that the altitude (and the cliffs) were a bit outside the kids' ability, so they stayed down at the base and I headed on.

I pretended, to the smug hikers descending who surely knew better, that I was pausing on the climb to take pictures like this.

Breathtaking in a few ways, I guess you could say.

At the summit, peaks to the north.

Beautiful river valley to the south.

Rocky smaller mountain to the east.

Then I trotted down, offering occasional words of encouragement to the panting, gasping ascenders, and reunited with my family who were busy playing "I Spy". From there to the Giant Forest area.

We walked a bit of a trail but headed back as it was a bit more than any of us wanted to do.

The kids show off their gift shop swag in front of a giant sequoia.

Back at the hotel, which as I mentioned, is a bit pricey, I was a bit surprised to see the soda machine this "exclusively priced".

Tomorrow we head south around the Sierra Nevadas and begin our trek east across the southwest, ending in beautiful Flagstaff, Arizona.

Day 11: Into Arizona

10 June 2014

So we woke up early, after a fitful night dreaming about bears and such...I was quite worried that the food in the trunk might attract an opportunistic fellow of the ursine persuasion, and we headed out early, intending to bypass roadwork delays that begin at 7am.

We get to the car and godfrey daniels, there clear as day on the trunk lid, is the left front paw print of some kind of bear. Ironically, Gretchen had just purchased a print identification guide as her souvenir the previous day. Debra wasn't sure, and this picture isn't clear at all, but looking at the base pad print, the four "finger" prints and then the four circular claw imprints, I'd say the food in our trunk was of interest to Mister Bear. Luckily no damage to the vehicle.

A blurry goodbye to these giants as we inched down out of the park in low gear (our brakes were already squeaking a bit).

We passed several controlled burn areas and the smell of woodsmoke was intoxicating. I wonder what barbeque with redwood would be like? Probably never know. Some great views as we descended.

Down in the valley it was hot, dry, and just shy of miserable. We plodded our way through. The windfarm of Tehachapi was, as always, a landmark. Many of the windmills don't turn any more. I imagine future civilizations will behold these rusted out, static monuments with a sense of wonder, pontificating as to their religious origins or original imagined purpose, much like the moai of Easter Island.

Deep into the Mohave the rest stops are nothing but. No potable water, only a painful, dry, unrelenting wind of pure heat. Probably a mistake to stop here.

Through to Arizona, we had a late lunch in Kingman, enjoying In-N-Out one last time.

Around Williams the desert gives way to coniferous forest and elevation mounts, and heat dissipates. We arrived in the beautiful, pleasant town of Flagstaff...which I still continue to see as some sort of Eden of the Southwest...and checked into the Little America Hotel there, first attending to a promised swimming session at the pool, and then the kids going to the playground with Debra while I retired to the room to, well, write this. This hotel is something else...part stylish throwback to a Mad Men era of motels that actually had some class about them, part gaudy museum of the 1960s, preserved for our amusement. It's really a lovely little place, and quite unique.

And tomorrow is our "proper" southwest day, crossing Arizona and New Mexico, landing ultimately in Tucumcari. And I hear the sounds of returning revellers from the playground so I must wrap this up.

Day 12: Across the Southwest

11 June 2014

On the road again:

We arrived at the Petrified Forest / Painted Desert National Park early in the morning. Nice overlook at the Jasper Forest area.

Peter practicing his pullups.

The Agate Bridge, which was bolstered with concrete in 1911.

The Teepees, photographed at speed.

The Painted Desert was particularly lovely with a partial cloud cover making the colours seem a bit less washed out.

It was our last national park visit of the trip, so we enjoyed it a lot.

A lot of nondescript driving ensued...well, what can I say, we're tired. I did enjoy seeing the surreal sign celebrated by Douglas Adams in his Salmon of Doubt, "GUSTY WINDS MAY EXIST". Anyway, eventually we arrived at our destination in Tucumcari, first visiting the Mesalands Dinosaur Museum.

Peter gazing up at what must be what rush hour on the 405 was like during the Mesozoic era.

Peter making tracks in the sand pit.

Pretty impressive bronze casting of Torvosaurus:

Gretchen doing a rubbing of a fossil, and signing her name.

I guess our kids don't have a serious nut allergy.

The kids loved posing on this fellow, and we have too many photos thereof...

Pete rushed around the corner and was a little surprised to see something a bit more lifelike.

Saber-toothed cats.

Speaking of, Gretchen got a stuffed smilodon at the gift shop in honor of her birthday. She's a rather mature six years old today, so we decided to try and celebrate a bit more than our usual cheap fast food ways and went to Del's, a classic route 66 sort of restaurant on the "old" route 66. It was great! Gretchen got Happy Birthday sung to her by the waiter who certainly was intent on earning his tip.


Debra, ever the saint, has in an errand of mercy taken the kids across the parking lot to McDonalds for ice cream while I do this and catch up on work email. Tomorrow...home. The word rolls around the tongue like a rich port...familiarity tends to rob it of its magic, but absence makes the heart grow fonder, and while we had our sentimental moments today when pondering the impending end of our family vacation, we are absolutely ready to be home.

Day 13: Home

12 June 2014

Today we woke up in Tucumcari early keen to get home. There was a good breakfast at the hotel that had a green chile sauce for the eggs...nice last little touch of New Mexico. The breakfast was not done with us, yet. Having neglected to give Gretchen medicine, she got carsick, and reintroduced us to said breakfast. We pulled off (for lack of better stops) at a gate in the middle of nowhere, on a ranch of some kind, just to get her cleaned up. Gretchen was amused, and distracted, by the way the cows rushed up to the fence to the see the spectacle. At first there was one or two, but then we looked up and the whole herd was gawking at us:

Back on the road, we made our way out of New Mexico, passed briefly through northern Texas (even managing to get the middle finger from one of its denizens after some confusion, my fault, at a four way stop...one wonders if the smell of the cattle just gets to the inhabitants after a while...it gets really ripe down along US-54 at some points). Then across the Oklahoma panhandle, waving amusedly at the Hooker Chamber of Commerce and all its subtle, underhanded entendre. Then into Liberal, Kansas, where as we always do, we visited the air museum there. The kids loved it much more this time, really enjoying sitting in the AH-1 Cobra cockpit.

Honestly this was a high point for me as a kid, here, so its fun to see they enjoyed it so much. We had to drag them off of it. They kept wanting to switch between pilot and weapons officer positions.

Gawking at the B-25, a beautiful old bird. I kind of wish they'd let you do a walk through on this one, particularly.

A prototype X28 Osprey seaplane, interesting design.

B-25 tail end...Peter is endeavoring to convince us that he should be allowed to board that small yellow helicopter.

Another Corsair!

A kids/educational section kept the kids occupied for a while...

This is a 60s era helicopter trainer for the Navy.

Back on the road...had to stop on the turnpike to see the Knute Rockne memorial again, and get a spot of petrol. Peter apparently adding pushups to his regimen. We were tired and weakened at this point and consented to sugary drinks, candy, and cheezits in lieu of actual dinner. Don't-you-judge-me!

And soon enough we've arrived back home, rarely happier to see it. The kids are getting into bed and a semblance of order seems to be creeping back in, and I'll be back at my desk at work at 7am tomorrow. And of course, we'll soon be whitewashing the rough patches of the vacation from our memory and remembering only the wonderful moments (of which there were many), as we tend to do. But, Nic and Debra, if you are reading this in 6-8 months time...no. Give it another year. You're not ready yet. You think you've changed your minds, but no...just do some small day trips or something.

Anyway, quite an adventure for us, and hopefully recorded thus will help imprint the long-term memories...this is why I blog our vacations, because prior to 2007 I can barely count the amount of times we went to California, much less the day to day details of our vacations. Time to wrap this one up, I suppose. You're not supposed to write stuff like that, I think. Not that I've read posts on blogging that say "don't say time to wrap this up", because, well, I don't read posts on blogging except for when Brent Ozar sneaks it in, but I just get a sense that such is not great writing, but listen, Buster, if you'd just driven somewhere shy of 5000 miles with a two year old of special disposition registering his displeasure at intervals, well, your writing would suffer as well. So I shall take my leave of you with one of the Boy's favourite phrases of the moment, which he utilizes as a provocation to tickling, for some reason: "chikkinnuggets!"

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