Feb 22 2009

We Ore Gone!

We’re finally back and trying our best to unwind from the trip and get ready to slip back into the normal swing of things. The last couple of days have been all driving, so I’m rather beat. We didn’t end up stopping any place other than a couple of rest areas and places to eat. We stayed overnight in Sacramento and then continued driving this morning. I wish I had something more interesting to write, but I really don’t.

We had a great time on our trip and got to see so many interesting things along the way! The 3 nights we stayed in Seaside were relaxing and much appreciated. Sam and Rece are growing up so fast, so trips like these are all the more important. They might act as though they didn’t find much of it exciting or interesting now, but speaking from the experiences of my own youth and the many trips our family took, they’ll remember these trips as being mostly fun and something worth repeating the with their own kids.

With so many people living in their own isolated little worlds, it’s good to know that Rece will grow up knowing that not every street is paved. That cell phone service wasn’t available everywhere. That sometimes not being able to do much more than stare out the window and watch the passing scenery is actually a good thing. Most of all, he’ll grow up knowing that people are different and that it’s not only OK that they are, but that it’s one of the best parts of living.

This entry remembers staring out the car window, too.

Feb 20 2009

Portland and Haunted Pizza

We loaded up around 60 geocaches into our GPS receivers to possibly find along our trip. Time and the elements – or just lack of interest – prevented us from going after nearly all of them. The only geocache we were determined to go find was the Original Stash Tribute Plaque, where the game of geocaching originated. It was located rather out of the way, outside of Oregon City, Oregon. We found the plaque, snapped a couple of pictures, found the cache, and were quickly on our way to Portland.

First Geocache Tribute Cache

Downtown Portland is an interesting place. It has many of the oddities you’d expect a big city to have, just a bit smaller in scale in most regards. The river walk was pretty busy, probably due to it being an unusually pleasant day for February, but the city itself wasn’t too much abuzz with cars and people, which was nice.

Williamette River

We stopped in to Old Town Pizza, an establishment that’s been reported to be haunted and a local favorite. We sat in the back booth where it is rumored a girl named Nina died after being thrown down an elevator shaft (and is now the booth we dined in). None of us could claim that we experienced the spirit of the girl visiting us, but it did make for some interesting conversation while we dined.

Old Town Pizza

Keeping in theme with the unusual, we stopped into Voodoo Doughnut, where they claim that “The magic is in the hole.” They have some rather interesting types of doughnuts such as the Voodoo Doll Doughnut (a voodoo doll filled with red berry filling, impaled with a pretzel stick), the Bacon Maple Bar (a maple bar topped with bacon), and the Cock-n-Balls (shaped like, well … as it sounds).

Voodoo Doughnuts

While none of us were brave or hungry enough to order the Cock-n-Balls (it was rather large, after all) but we did enjoy our choices as we walked down the street in search of Powell’s Books. After wandering a bit and asking directions (it wasn’t on our map!) we found the book store. There’s a reason why this place is so well known. Not only is it huge, it houses an incredible variety of books!

Baby Daddy

Our day ended with a feast at Christine’s sister’s home. Her husband is an incredible cook and made us a delicious meal that would have taken us days to finish, had we the time. Tomorrow we depart on our return trip to California.

Check out the trip photo set.

Memorable quote: “I can’t believe that I’m saying it’s warm while walking around Portland in February!” – Gabe

This entry is going back to Cali … I don’t think so.

Feb 19 2009

Lewis & Clark

Today – yes, I’m actually posting on the same day for once – we left Seaside and drove up to Fort Clatsop. This is the area where Lewis & Clark finally came to the Pacific Ocean and stayed the winter of 1805-1806. We learned a lot about the expedition and found some new respect for the men and their journey.

Fort Clatsop

We went on to Astoria, Oregon where we tried to climb the Astoria Column only to find it was closed for maintenance. The tower itself was quite interesting, though. After the tower, we visited the Maritime Museum and learned much about the history of sailing and the coast guard – we even got to tour an old light ship that was used to help ships find the mouth of the mighty Columbia River.

Light Ship Columbia

With the long Astoria-Megler Bridge in sight, the decision was clear that we’d be driving into Washington and taking the northern route to Christine’s parent’s home. This also happened to be the reported general route of the Lewis & Clark expedition. Wouldn’t they be astounded by how easy it is now to cross the country now?

Check out the trip photo set.

This entry probably isn’t rugged enough to have made the journey on foot.

Feb 19 2009

Three Nights in Seaside

Seaside is a sleepy little town in winter. Our arrival on President’s Day deceived us, as there were still plenty of people about town. The next morning, as we walked the downtown area, the town seemed almost deserted – not that we minded. After our first restful night, we visited with Christine’s family who had rented a house a few blocks from where we were staying. We checked out the local aquarium and fed the sea lions there.

Feeding the sea lions

Most of our trips don’t allow for Sam & Rece to have much time to pursue their own adventures. We felt that Seaside would be a good place to let them roam freely. They enjoyed spending time away from our watchful eyes and to do whatever they felt they wanted without having to worry about them getting into trouble. They seemed to enjoy their freedom and looked like they were enjoying the vacation even more.

Seaside, Oregon

One morning we rented some beach cycles and had fun riding them around on the beach. Christine’s nephew hadn’t much experience riding a bike, but took to these without any problem.

Beach Cycles - Traffic Jam

Christine and I checked out Cannon Beach to take some photos and to watch the sunset. With the large rocks on the coast and a setting sun, it wasn’t difficult to take a lot of great pictures and enjoy the view.

Cannon Beach - Near Haystack Rock

We spent 3 nights in Seaside and left feeling rested and ready to move on to more adventures.

Check out the trip photo set.

This entry would love a cabin at the beach.

Feb 18 2009

The road to Seaside

The drive between Newport and Seaside is only around 3 hours, if one were to drive straight through. In our ordinary fashion, we nearly doubled that time by stopping at a few places along the way. The first of these stops was the Tillamook Air Museum in Tillamook, Oregon.


Within this emense wooden structure you can find a large collection of vintage aircraft. The history of the place is intriguing and the building itself is incredible (the world’s largest wooden structure). This is definitely worth a stop for anybody traveling through the area.

Our second stop was the Tillamook Cheese Factory. We’d all driven by this place before on various trips of our own – and we all really liked yummy, delicious cheese – so we planned to go on the tour of the place. We enjoyed a lunch of grilled cheese sandwiches and cheese and broccoli soup at their cafe. If you’re like us, and like good cheese, this is a great place to check out!


We arrived in Seaside, Oregon and checked in to the Tradewinds Motel, our home for the next 3 nights. As daylight faded, the colors of the sky shifted from blue to orange, then warmed up to red. I grabbed my camera and ran out on to the beach to take some shots. The peaceful feeling that came over me warmed me, even in the brisk evening air.


Check out the trip photo set.

Memorable quote: “My lips feel like lizards!” – Gabe

This entry will never get tired of watching an ocean sunset.

Feb 18 2009

<- Big Tree

The magic hour of photography refers to the hour after sunrise and hour before sunset, when natural light appears warmer and more diffuse. It was for this reason that I decided to wake up at the early hour of 5:45 am on Sunday morning. What I didn’t know was that sunrise this far north wouldn’t occur until shortly after 7:00 am. So fully awake, I looked out of our cabin door into darkness.


What was nice about the darkness was that it allowed me to see the moon – which meant that the sky was clear and that it wouldn’t be raining this morning. This was good news after yesterday’s dark and wet drive.

We went down to the Seascape restaurant for breakfast, which had an excellent view of Trinidad bay. Breakfast was excellent and very filling, thanks to some very generous portions. The morning sun rose and literally brightened our day.


Due to the hour that we had arrived the night before, we were unable to take pictures of our cabin, so we made a point of doing that when we checked out.


Christine has talked about elk and Elk Radio – “All elk, all the time” – often enough that I had planned to stop at a couple of locations along the way where they were known to graze. We happened upon a group of them and managed to get out of the car and snap some pictures before scaring the herd away.


The next stop on our list was the last bit of the redwood forest. The weather was perfect for a short walk through the giant trees and the lighting was good for some pictures, even in the shaded groves of redwoods. The 9-mile drive through Prairie Creek Redwood State Park is a great way to check out the redwoods if you’re driving along highway 101, but don’t have the time for an extended excursion into the forest.


Another quick stop was just as we were driving into Klamath, California, where we got to drive the car through a redwood tree.


With the redwoods behind us our next destination was Newport, Oregon. The drive along the coast was beautiful, with the improved weather conditions. We made good time and still got to stop at a few places along the way that we found interesting.


Arriving in Newport, late Sunday afternoon, we checked into our hotel and got in touch with my friends, Melanie & Brian. We decided on a place to eat and met them there for dinner. We decided to send the kids back to the hotel to watch a movie while the 4 of us went out for a few drinks. Melanie had it in her mind to get me to sing karaoke, which I only agreed to do after having a couple of beers. We had a lot of fun watching Brian and others sing, and enjoyed some good conversation before it was time to call it a night. It was good to finally meet them in person.


Check out the trip photo set.

Memorable quote: “Look, ponies … oh, they’re elk!” – Christine

This entry is gonna love you forever and ever, amen.

Feb 14 2009

Entering the Redwoods

After a rocky start, we managed to get on the road last night and made some progress north and then checked into a motel. With a fresh start in the morning we progressed through central California and then into Oakland, before crossing the bay into San Raphel to catch the 101.

As with most of our trips, we front-loaded the driving on the first day. Our goal was to get up to the Redwood Forest with enough daylight left to be able to enjoy them. Mother Nature decided to dampen our plans, literally, but we did still manage to get a good look at some mighty redwoods along The Avenue of the Giants.

Fallen RedwoodOh, how the mighty have fallen!

The clouds hung over the mountains, dropping sporadic showers on us as we traveled. The dark sky and drops of rain did not deter me from trying to take some pictures! Late in the afternoon, we stopped as a shower broke a bit and walked amongst the giants – and even encountered a couple of deer!

“Damn paparazzi!”

With a cloudy sky and progressively fading daylight, I snapped one more picture of the gang to help show the scale of these mighty redwoods.

Big Redwood
Are we done giggling yet?

Our adventure in the redwoods isn’t over just yet. We’re staying in a cute little cabin at the Emerald Forest of Trinidad (they even offer free Wi-Fi!), with a good chunk of the redwood forest left to explore! Hopefully the weather will be a little better for pictures tomorrow.

Check out the trip photo set.

Memorable quote: “Barstow is the gateway to fun!” – Christine

This entry likes to wander the forest primeval.

Jul 28 2008

Christine’s travel blog

Christine wrote a blog about our cross-country trip. She wrote about a lot of stuff I had forgotten about, some interesting/funny things that happened, and posted some more pictures – I’m even in some of them! 🙂

It’s a multi-page deal, so click on the next page link at the bottom. You can view the pictures larger by clicking on them.

This entry ain’t no sissy boy.

Jul 23 2008

Road Trip 2008

We just recently returned from a journey across 8 states, over the course of 16 days, spanning 5999 miles. Christine, Sam, Rece and I (yeah, we really do need to come up with a traveling group name) drove from Costa Mesa, California to Asheville, North Carolina and back again.

More kicks on Route 66

We made plans to explore more of the Mother Road, picking up from where we left off last year on our Grand Canyon trip. So from the Petrified Forest National Park in New Mexico to Oklahoma City, Oklahoma that’s just what we did.

As we learned all too well over a year earlier, the old road isn’t always easy to find. Not only that, but the damned thing had been rerouted so many times since it was started that there are multiple pieces along the same area — often miles apart. I found a set of Route 66 maps that did a pretty good job of helping us find it, for the most part.

To help put us more into the mood of the old highway, Christine did a great job of finding historic Route 66 accommodations and attractions to see along the way. Old hotels, cheesy roadside attractions, and classic diners helped give us a taste, if you’ll excuse the pun, of how it was to travel the road back then.

One significantly long section that had been bypassed was the loop up to Santa Fe, New Mexico. Taking that loop meant leaving another rerouted section of old 66 near the I-40 unexplored. I figured that I’d be more likely to be driving across the I-40 than around Santa Fe, so I could leave the smaller bits for another trip.

This journey left us with only one more stretch of Route 66 to explore at a later time. Maybe some time in the next couple of years we’ll get to finish it by driving up the Oklahoma City to Chicago portion.

City Slickers

Christine was very creative in her choices for places to stay along our journey. One of the highlights was a stay at the Flying W Guest Ranch, just outside Sayre, Oklahoma. After a relaxing night’s sleep we went went for a morning horseback ride.

The owner and his daughter were very friendly and made us feel right at home. Their ranch is quiet and beautiful. What a great place to go and get away from it all.

World record family

My mother is a wonderful artist and does a lot of traveling to shows and events, mostly around The South. She and her partner and will do all sorts of artistic things like portraits, caricatures, and face/body painting.

For the 4th of July they attempted to create a Guinness World Record by body painting 900 people and arranging them into an image of the American flag in Kingston, Tennessee. Unfortunately the support they seemed to get from the people of the town wasn’t what it appeared to be and they didn’t make it.

We met them there and camped out for a night. It was what you might expect from a small town patriotic celebration in the conservative South — complete with speed boat races (Earl won). Honestly, I wasn’t impressed and the people seemed very closed to strangers. I didn’t feel the least bit welcome, except by the people wanting money. So much for breaking a stereotype.

Fire and light in the dark

My family, at least the ones that had met up at the campgrounds for the body painting event, went back to my mom’s place to hold our own celebration of the 4th. We were in a fairly remote area with little light in the sky, which made the fireworks all the more brilliant. During the pyrotechnics, I tried to capture the fun with long exposure shots. They turned out pretty good. After we ran out of things to burn, my brother Danny and I experimented with the long exposure (bulb) setting on my camera and a flashlight. The results were quite interesting.

Flexibility of plans

Christine and I did a lot of planning for the trip. Well, actually Christine did the majority of planning, seeing how it’s one of her strengths. Despite all the planning, we still had plenty of spare time to make unplanned stops and to deal with the inevitable unforeseen delays. This allowed us to enjoy our trip and see all that we wanted to without feeling stressed for time.

All the flexible planning came in handy while we were in Tennessee and decided to drive to Asheville, North Carolina to see more of the family that couldn’t make it for camping. I had an absolutely wonderful time getting the chance to spend some time getting caught up with the family.

Eat here, get gas

Gas prices fluctuated a bit in price across the country, but even in the middle of nowhere the price of a gallon of gas was much lower than we were used to paying in California — and thankfully much lower than the $5.00/gallon that I had budgeted to pay by the end of the trip.

Food is always part of the fun on any trip, if you’re like Christine & I. We go out of our way to eat at locally/family owned food establishments instead of (inter)national chains. Most of the time we found ourselves enjoying a tasty meal with the comfort of knowing that the money we spent was going directly back into the local economy. It also meant that we were getting a taste of something new or a slightly different variety of an old favorite.

At least it’s a dry heat

The weather turned hot the week before we left for our trip. Even though the temperature was lower than it was back home for most of the trip, the humidity more than made up for the difference. I’m a huge wimp when it comes to the heat, even more when it’s muggy. 85° F with 95% humidity in Tennessee felt far worse than 101° F and dry in Arizona. It’s no wonder that things move at a slower place … who wants to move around much in that!?

Needless to say, I spent a good amount of time trying to stay cool on the trip. The rest of the gang didn’t complain nearly as much as I did about the heat and I’m glad they were able to tolerate my whining.

Science and history

You can’t help but see a bit of days gone by along Route 66. The boom and crash of small towns that once lined The Mother Road is rather astounding, but helps one understand how fickle business can be and how the economy can change over time. The history of the road wasn’t the only education we received, though.

We visited museums and national parks and stopped at historic placards along the way. Here’s a quick list of the places we stopped:

Zuni Pueblo/Reservation – We drove around a small Zuni Indian settlement (pueblo) and saw some Indians in tribal/ceremonial outfits walking about.

Devil’s Rope & Route 66 Museum – I was completely surprised by this one. A top-notch museum about barbed wire and how it changed the world. It also included a small pictorial display about the dust bowl that really moved me.

National Route 66 Museum – For a new museum, this wasn’t very good. In fact I felt oddly detached from the information they were trying to present. The short film about the evolution of America’s highway system was very good, however.

Hot Springs National Park – Not only the oldest of the national parks in the country, but the only one contained within a city. A great place to come if you enjoy hot springs and spas – and also learning a little bit about history.

Texas Snake Farm – An unusual place with an amazing diversity of animals.

Natural Bridge Wildlife Ranch – Drive through and get up close to the animals. If you’ve ever wanted to have a zebra poke its head in your car window to say hello, then this is the place to go.

The Alamo – You should have no trouble remembering this piece of history after you’ve spent some time exploring the site.

Carlsbad Caverns – Incredible! This is a must-see. Who would have thought that a cave could feel so spacious? Do yourself a favor when you visit and go on at least one of the guided tours (reservations needed).

NRAO Very Large Array – A deliciously geeky place to learn about radio astronomy and see some very cool (and large) radio antennas (don’t call them satellite dishes!).

Titan Missile Museum – Want to see an nuclear missile up close? This decommissioned Titan II missile silo has been converted into a museum. Take the tour and go down into the silo and learn more about these cold war weapons.

The end of the road

16 days in a car can really put people to the test. What’s good is that we all had a good time, even during the long and boring stretches of driving. You know you’re with good company when the trip is over and you’re still getting along just as well (or better) as you did before you left. This will be a trip we’ll all remember for a lifetime.

Be sure to check out the set of photos from our journey.

Christine also wrote about the trip on her travel blog.

This entry dislikes living in California even more, now.

Feb 22 2008

Living it up, down in Death Valley

Death Valley is known for its highs and lows: the highest temperature recorded on the planet and the lowest elevation in North America. It’s also known for its once bustling mining towns and strange geology. We felt it was worth checking out.

Christine, Sam, Rece, and I — we really should make up a name for our group, since we travel all over the place together — set out on a 3-day, 2-night journey to view Death Valley National Park. With a rented 4WD SUV, and a few bags and cameras in hand, we made our trek across the desert.

As usual we brought along our GPS receivers, loaded with geocache coordinates along the way. The first of them was at the oddly named Zzyzx exit, followed by Baker and its oh-so-many sights.

The last 3 trips we’ve made out to the desert have given Christine reason to get excited about the prospect of visiting (and eating at) the Mad Greek in Baker, CA. Unfortunately for her, it has always been too far out of the way to justify the long detour. This time our route took us right to Baker, home of the Worlds Tallest Thermometer and also the Mad Greek restaurant (one of their many locations – but she had to go to THIS one).

Having filled our bellies with decent enough Greek-style food, I pointed the 4runner north, towards Death Valley. We stopped quite a few times along the way, either after spotting a point of interest (we stop for almost all historical markers on all of our trips) or to hunt for a geocache.

We’ve come to learn from our past trips that travel time is usually at least double of what it would be if the distance was covered without stopping. So it was already a known variable in our plans that we probably wouldn’t be entering Death Valley on the first day. This proved to be true and drove on to our first night’s stay in Pahrump, NV. I’ll admit that this was probably due a good part to the name of the town, but it was also the closest lodging that probably didn’t have a Norman Bates type of person running it.

Our hopes for word-play were dashed after discovering that we could not stay at Terrible’s Casino (they didn’t have a hotel at this one). Here’s a short list of some possible fun phrases we were unable to use:

  • We stayed at a terrible hotel in Pahrump, NV.
  • The hotel was terrible — and so was the casino!
  • After a terrible night’s stay, we awoke and enjoyed a terrible breakfast.

Then another catastrophe: the Nugget Hotel & Casino was more expensive than other places in town and had no more non-smoking rooms available. So we couldn’t say we stayed in “Pa’s rump nugget” or anything silly like that. We had to settle for the Saddle West Hotel & Casino, which wasn’t a bad place to stay — it just had a boring name, comparatively.

Day 2 began about as planned and we filled up at the buffet breakfast at our hotel. After backtracking to Shoshone, CA, then turning north we reached the southern most entrance to Death Valley. We thought areas of California state highway 395 were remote and desolate, but they seemed pretty crowded compared to Death Valley. Sparse desert hills for miles and miles — the only living creatures were a few crows.

We arrived at Badwater Basin, one of the lowest points in Death Valley (there are a few other points a few feet lower, but they’re difficult to get to) and found one of the largest groups of people we’d see for the rest of the trip. (As introverts, Christine & I enjoyed the lack of people.)

Continuing on our northern route through the park, we stopped at the Devil’s Golf Course, Artist’s Palette, and Furnace Creek Visitor Center (central hub for the park).

Our primary destination for Day 2 was the Devil’s Racetrack (also known as Racetrack Playa) , which is located in a remote part of the park far up in the northern area. The Racetrack is a natural oddity that I just couldn’t miss. You can read more about it here. The road was 27-miles long and washboard gravel/dirt which added to the adventure. I think I took about as many pictures here as I did all at the other areas we visited in Death Valley combined.

With sunlight soon to be gone, we departed the Racetrack and made much better time on the way out than we did on the way in, having discovered that the bumps smoothed out more the faster I drove. How fun is that?

Driving into the night, we again had to modify our very flexible plans and change the town where we’d be sleeping. Beatty, NV turned out to be the closest option. Apparently it was better that we arrived at night when we drove through and decided to stay at the local Motel 6 — daylight revealed a different mood. The town seems to be in a slow, but steady decline. It had obviously seen better days when tourism brought more people through. But now it seems a little sad — or at least I felt a little sad for the town.

A nice fellow in the motel parking lot pointed out that our back tire looked a bit low on air and he told us where we could get it fixed in town. Coincidentally, the tire shop was next door to the hole-in-the-wall Mexican restaurant we had decided to patronize the night before. Some yummy food and a $20 tire patch later we were headed back towards Death Valley.

A sign along the highway pointed to Rhyolite, NV, a ghost town we had read about while planning for the trip. This was another of our impromptu stops and an interesting discovery. Not only had the town been occupied and thriving a mere 100 years ago, but we also found an open air museum with some bizarre sculptures.

Just a few miles after getting back on the highway we detoured onto Titus Canyon Road. Another 27-mile washboard dirt/gravel road, but this time one-way and through, well, a canyon. Aside from one pickup truck and a mountain biker, we were completely alone. The road brought us by some mines and another old mining (ghost) town called Leadfield. Beyond the ghost town the canyon drive became quite narrow, which made us feel as though we were in an old Western film or an Indiana Jones flick.

With the canyon drive behind us, we made it back to California highway 190 and westward through the park. A few minor points of interest later and we again found ourselves on another dirt road in a desolate area on our way to see the Wildrose Charcoal Kilns. These beehive-looking structures were quite remarkable.

Finally, after leaving Death Valley, our last stop was at yet another ghost town named Ballarat. The caretaker was an interesting fellow with a friendly and playful dog. He pointed out a rusty old truck on display and told us it used to be owned by Charles Manson. We didn’t really believe him until we looked it up for ourselves.

The drive home was uneventful, aside from learning that Carl Kartcher had passed away a month earlier when we went into Carl’s Jr. for a potty break and ended up buying a Captain Crunch Shake – it was the first day they started selling them (and they’re actually quite tasty).

As usual we took pictures. Lots of pictures. You can view them at:

Gabe’s photos

Christine’s photos

Sam’s photos

This entry still feels a little dehydrated.