Saturday, August 18, 2007

LA to New Orleans

Leaving LA

We packed and left LA on Friday morning to head to Joshua Tree National Park. One thing is for sure - the urban sprawl of LA never ends. We had a good time there, but both felt as though we had been in cities for a long time. We looked forward to getting back to camping. Soon after leaving the city while crossing a small set of mountains we came across fields of windmills. Having never seen them up close I (kathy) was mesmerized. Josh thought they were cool and wants one. The windmills ended and the desolation of the desert began.
We might've forgotten, or never even gave a thought to, what the weather is like in the desert in August. Arriving at Joshua Tree, we were accustomed to National Park campgrounds being full. Josh asked the ranger at the welcome center whether or not we'd be able to find camping. She laughed at him and pointed out that it was the off season for the park. They were lucky if people were spending more than a few hours there. We spent two nights. It was about 100 degrees during the day but fortunately got down to a comfortable 70 at night. The hiking we did either had to be in the morning or early evening, since dehydration and heat exhaustion can quickly become a problem midday. We did one major hike to a mine built at the turn of the century It was pretty impressive, considering we were sweating bullets just walking there. I could never imagine having to work the mine, whether I was outside or inside. The main shaft was 500 ft deep! Joshua Tree was quite a different park than any others we had been to. The other parks had, for the most part, been Pacific Northwest parks with similar, yet beautiful, scenery.

Joshua Tree was the first change of scenery we had since crossing over the Rocky Mtns. It was beautiful but in an entirely different way. The second night we were in Joshua Tree the Persied Meteor shower was taking place. The campsite we stayed at was called Jumbo Rock. True to its name there were sites nestled between huge rock formations that were relatively easy to climb to the top. We climbed the boulders behind our campsite, which I would not have been able to climb without Josh's help, that's for sure. We saw some amazing meteors. They were so large you could see trails behind them. The night sky in general was fantastic. I think we could see the Milky Way the clearest at Joshua Tree. We had been waking up earlier than normal because of the heat so we struggled to stay up past midnight.

Hoover Dam and Las Vegas
After leaving Joshua Tree we headed towards Hoover Dam. We were ultimately heading towards the Grand Canyon and figured we might as well stop and take a tour.

After all, it is where Megatron is cryogenically frozen. (Transformers reference, if you didn't see it, move along) The scenery and the temperature got exponentially worse. What little vegetation was along the road pretty much disappeared and I believe it was 120 degrees at the dam. The tour was, at some times, a huge advertisement for the dam, but interesting nonetheless. The engineering it required in the 1930's was amazing; the scale of it fantastic. The gigantic turbines were cool. My favorite part was the time lapse video of the dam being built.

We weren't planning on going to Vegas, but decided it would've been silly not to stop. For one we were going to about 20 miles away from it. Two, being that it was 120 degrees during the day and 90 degrees at night camping did not sound all that appealing. We drove into the city that night, had a ridiculous buffet dinner and lost all the money we decided to gamble. Josh playing Blackjack and Kathy playing machines with flashing lights. Again, struggling to stay up we wandered the strip for a little while admiring the lights and dodging the people handing out fliers for "escorts." It was big, flashy and impressive but not my (kathy's) cup of tea. We were glad we stopped just to see it. But both of us were looking forward to getting to the Grand Canyon. For one, Josh had never seen it and it would be a whole lot cooler because of the elevation.

We sluggishly left Las Vegas and headed towards the Grand Canyon. It took vast amounts of motivation to get moving because of the heat. The AC in the car barely kept the temperature comfortable inside. It cooled a little as we drove North and the scenery got a whole lot more interesting. We went to the Northern rim of the Grand Canyon since we figured the Southern rim would've been much busier.

We also got to go into Utah for a little bit of the drive.
We got to catch a glimpse of what Utah looks like. It was quite the color combination with green brush grass and bushes, orange mesas and bright blue skies dotted with clouds. The mesas were fantastic, unlike anything we had seen on the trip so far. Once we got close to the Grand Canyon we began celebrating the sight of trees and hills. It also got really cool and rainy, which was like heaven after the dry empty expanse of the desert. We settled into a campsite and drove to the rim. We got there a little bit before sunset and enjoyed the view. The Grand Canyon is truly incredible considering its size and geology. Different striations of rock decorate the walls and cedar trees take up residence of some of the most precarious cliffs. We watched one of the best sunsets of the trip and headed back to make dinner. The next morning we did a small hike to the edge and hit the road. We changed our original plans, and needed as much time as possible on the road.

Our original plan was to visit the National Parks in the Utah/Arizona area such as Zion, Brice Canyon, Arches and possibly Mesa Verde. After spending a few days in the desert in August we determined that the heat was unbearable. We were limited as to how long we could hike and when we could hike. Furthermore we would only really have one day in each of these parks when they really deserve at least two. We were worn out on National Parks, and exhausted by the heat. We vowed to return to this part of the country and visit all these parks sometime not in August.
We then plotted our course and embarked for New Orleans.

We drove two long, tedious days through New Mexico and Texas. For those who told us that Montana and North Dakota were barren and empty, they've got nothing on New Mexico. I think at one point I only saw one car, no houses and maybe a dozen cattle for two hours. And it's flat desert, so there's not even any interesting scenery to look at. We stopped overnight outside of Albuquerque. (which is the most difficult U.S. city to spell) The truly momentous part of our journey to the deep South was Roswell, NM. No, nothing alien related although we did go to the museum. It was rather elaborate. My favorite part was the four X-Files posters framed and hung in the back corner.

We had a significant discovery at the local Goodwill. For the 9,000 odd miles we've been traveling Josh has been searching for cowboy boots. We found some in San Francisco for $250 but those were out of the question. The Roswell, NM Goodwill had a pair that fit him like a glove for 8 bucks. Josh got so excited he locked the keys in the car.
Thank goodness my (kathy's) birthday present this year was a AAA membership. It only took thirty minutes for the tow truck guy to get to us, and about five minutes for him to break into the car.
Our heading to New Orleans caused us to stray from our two lane highway plan too. We spent most of the time on Interstate highways, so the trip through Texas and the Eastern part of Louisiana flew by.

We have until Monday morning here before we start heading back to MI. We plan to arrive home on Weds. Our route home will take us through Graceland and Mammoth Caves in KY.

Friday, August 10, 2007

In LA! All it took was one month and 6500 miles.

Ok boys and girls, we have a lot to cover. Sorry for the absence but it turns out that the west coast is not the best coast for wireless internet access. We will start from Bend, OR.
So, for those that have been wondering, Longboard Louie's was fantastic! Great food, great prices and cheap beer. Everything that you want in a place that includes outdoor picnic table seating. We loved Bend and found it hard to leave. Kathy had gone to school there as a teen and decided to visit her old school. We spent a few hours there and it was a blast! Kathy and her old teacher swapped stories and it was just a classic friendly atmosphere that made a great afternoon.
Before leaving Bend we decided that to summit Smith Rock. Not quite a mountain but, hey, it was still a 1000 foot vertical climb. The view was beautiful and it couldn't have been hotter. We started out at high noon and it was like 95 degrees. (We love to do the most difficult hikes during the hottest time of the day, sheesh)

Well worth the sweat and tears to see the view. After all this we finally decided it was time to move on. So we headed South.
We decided that our next stop would be Crater Lake
National Park. It's in southern central Oregon. Glacier National Park left me speechless but Crater Lake blew my mind.

It's the deepest lake in the country and the fifth deepest in the world. It also holds one of the world records for clarity. You can see 144 feet down! The water is bluer than anything you have ever seen and is cleaner than tap water. Anyone that knows me can probably guess that I had to swim in it. There was a great jumping rock that was about twenty feet high. (hey! Kathy jumped too!)We spent three days at Crater Lake but easily could've spent more.

But we had to press on. So it was on to Medford, OR.
Kathy's Mom has a friend in Medford that she has known for years. So naturally we had to stop and say hello. She owns and operates a Wild Birds Unlimited and was very cool. She even hooked us up with a free minocular that has come in very handy. Since she was a local Oregonian I decided to run our proposed travel route past her.
Do you guys remember the family that got stuck in the mountains of Oregon and the father died of exposure looking for help? It was a terrible story. Well that same trail was the one I had planned to take over to the coast. She strongly advised against it. I'm a bit stubborn and decided that since we were stocked on food and water we were still going that way. It turned out to be 80 miles of extremely windy one lane road. So after a few hours of white knuckle mountain driving we made it to the coast. We decided to spend one more night in Oregon at a campground by the ocean. The next morning we set out to Northern California!
We headed across the California line and started down the 101. What a beautiful coastline. The people all seemed very nice and we found the craziest gift shop/museum. It was made out of an old retired boat.

The main deck had a normal gift shop and the lower portion was a museum. Picture all the makings of a horror film. The boat was old and musty. There were very few people in the gift shop and no one except us dared to venture down into the free museum. To get to it we had to descend a very steep very narrow flight of stairs. That's when we realized that this was no ordinary place. It had whale eyes, a whale fetuses, and snakes in jars on shelves. All kinds of stuffed dead animals and was spread out all over the place. Each staircase we descended, every room we entered contained more oddities than either of us can remember. In one room there were five mannequins dressed as pirates and a few as gypsies. The creepy part was that someone had taken the time to hand paint all of their eyes and it felt like they were staring us down. We went further and found bones and skulls neatly arranged on shelves all labeled with yellowing old paper. We ended the tour by finding lots of World War I & II items. Full Nazi and US military outfits and flags and lots of gruesome war photographs. It actually turned out to be pretty impressive seeing it was free, but it was still creepy being alone down there.
We soon came upon the Redwoods National Forest. What can I say, they were big! We found a cool campground in an area called the Avenue of the Giants.

Our site had this really neat hollowed out tree stump that stood 10 ft high and at one point must have been 15 ft wide. We were fairly impressed with our drive to the campsite but there wasn't much to do except hike. To tell you the truth we were ready for a city. We headed out the next morning with San Francisco as our next stop.
Since we have been camping for so long we thought that we deserved a little break and checked ourselves into a hotel for three nights. Furthermore, where would one find camping in SF? My (Josh's) cheap-ness won out and we stayed at the barebones Motel 6 by the airport. It was a little outside of the city. It didn't have an alarm clock or anything on the walls. It may have been under giant powerlines that crackled at night. It was cheap, pretty clean and had free parking but no internet. It didn't matter much since we found that SF has one of the best public transit systems ever! We did it all. We spent 10-12 hours a day walking through the city and riding the bus all over.

We were blown away by the MOMA (Museum of Modern Art) and had dinner at Fisherman's Wharf. We stopped to watch a street magician and Josh got into a long conversation with him about how we started. He mainly began performing because he could do magic and he was homeless. Seven years later he had traveled all over and was doing pretty good. We also had some of the best sushi ever! The only thing that we couldn't do was go to Alcatraz. The tour ended up being booked a week out in advance. We figured it would just be a reason to come back. Finally the time came that I think we wore out our welcome. The reason I say this is that we didn't so much choose to leave SF as we were run out of town by a large colony of ants.

That's right, ants. Unknown to us the three days we ran around SF there was an ant army of engineers that had taken the one single leaf that was barely touching our car and created a bridge for themselves. They took over the engine compartment, driver's side door and center console by the time we found then. In the first few minutes of the attack hundreds were lost on the ants side and I sufffered serious post traumatic stress. I took back the engine compartment with a bottle of Deep Woods Off bug repellant. The fight lasted days and know as I write this I think we have won. Of course I was compelled to turn to chemical means to achieve victory. (i.e. we bought ant motels)
After a wonderful weekend we headed south to see the Hearst Castle. That was really cool. I could have toured the place for days. The thoroughness and opulence of the place is unbelievable.

Even the rain gutters were detailed with swirls and curlicues. We camped near by in one of the most decrepit sites we've been in yet. The California stars made up for it. We were only about 250 miles outside of LA. We had planned on getting there over two days later but we figured our time is running out. So we headed out and and did a hard day of driving. We ended up getting into LA around 8pm and (thankfully) were not greeted with notorious LA traffic. We met up with a few of my good friends that had moved out here from Michigan, Nick and Linnea. They were generous enough to let us sleep in the living room for a few days. Nick even called in sick to work and showed us around. For those of you that know Nick this was amazing considering it was the first time in like five years he's called in. We skipped most of the stereotypical LA sights, such as the walk of fame and the Chinese theatre. No tour of the star's homes for us. Instead we went hiking to an abandoned commune site, complete with empty buildings and amazing graffiti.

One of the days Jenn, Nick and Linnea's roommate, took us surfing. Josh was brave enough however I was not. We spent our time mainly hanging out and eating like kings.
Soon we'll be heading out to Joshua Tree National Park and back to camping and driving. Being in San Francisco and LA for about a week has been a nice respite from the grind of the road but it's about time we began our final journey home. Tomorrow we begin heading East for the first time.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

July 25th Part II The Plight of 1000 Puppies!!!

We may have just stumbled on the greatest sign of the trip. Sure there have been many, and we have not photographed them all. (A special shout out to Washington. because your signs rock! You have a strong voice but a soft hand) This one takes the cake. Maybe its because we having been moving so much that we both have the 1000 yard Vietnam stare or because its really horrible to think of your dog throwing himself off a cliff. Or it could be the placement of the "!". I like to think that the first line "Many dogs have died here" is said in a deep warning voice. Then the next "Put your dog back in your vehicle!" is frantic because you're thinking "Yeah right." Take it as you will. The "Put your dog back in your vehicle" command is my favorite part of the sign.
-kathy If you feel strongly either way feel free to leave a comment. Because we like the people who are reading this. And we like comments.