Sunday, June 14, 2009

Wheel stop

There were a couple of great days hanging out with friends and gracious hosts Mark and Mary in Co. Don't imagine it was all sights and touring tho. We also helped out with projects around the house. There was weed pulling in the garden and flower beds, maintenance and adjustments on the tractors, and we even scored a load of manure from the neighbors. The days usually ended up with a great meal and soaking in the jacuzzi till midnight. Life and priorities are different out there.

We finally escaped (they got tired of us) and continued westbound through the rest of the state and into the cathedral canyons of Ootah (Utah). The transitions were quite dramatic as we watched the trees turn to scrub and grass and the granite mountains change to fire colored sandstone. There are several viewstops spaced along the highway and we couldn't help but stop in a couple of them to just stare into the canyons for a while and only pretend to touch a part of their history.

Down at the bottom of the state the highway goes through St. George and drops through yet another amazing canyon. Every turn exposed another face, jagged rock wall, or a brief 70 mph peek at a dark canyon. It would have been be neat to stop and check out all of these, but we were very close to input overload at this point and like many a rental horse, this one was heading to the barn and was difficult to stop.

We blasted through Vegas(thinking later: I should have at least gone down the strip), State Line, Baker, Barstow, Corona, and finally home, ending a 13.5 hour driving day and a 2 week trip.

6400 miles
15 days
415 gals fuel
2 bags p-nut m&m's

Please return your seatbacks and traytables to their upright positions and exit to your right.

We pretty much accomplished what we set out to do. We logged quite a few hours rolling along the interstates, and also spent equal time on 2 lane back roads passing through bits of Americana. We saw little cool towns and met some neat people along the way. There were miles of grassy fields and pastures, neat old farms way older than me, and watched endless miles of green mammoth trees scan past the windows. This changed to amazing flatness from horizon to horizon, and again to majestically painted cathedral towers. We overnighted in the occasional Best Western, camped in a few state campsites, and tilted the seat back for catnaps in truckstops and rest areas. We went all the way to a little corner of Maine, footed the chilly waters and had lunch on the boardwalk looking over the Atlantic Ocean and came all the way back again. Oh yeah- the boat delivery went very well.

Wow. Thinking about it now. I Didn't have to show passport or ID once! Not too many places in the world that could still be done. America is a great country.

There were places along the journey where we thought about the first voyagers that did this in a covered wagon pulled by horse or oxen. Looking out the window at some of the terrain I would have just stopped right there and said "we are so screwed... ".

Monday, June 8, 2009

Black Canyon

Practically right off the doorstep of the M&M ranch (8 miles down the dirt road) is this little hole in the ground called Black Canyon. We actually approached via the lesser traveled North rim, but this made for less traffic on the roads and is more favored by the locals who know how to get there.

This water carved canyon varies from 1750 to 2500 ft deep. Unlike the Grand Canyon, most of the viewpoints were a sheer drop(really sheer). This made for breathtaking views over the edges that cameras just don't do justice for. For even more dramatic thrills, many other natural trails ended up with sudden ends with no railings at all. I guess that's the way they thin out the gene pool out here.

Approaching the edge you could feel and hear the water rumbling the walls of the canyon from the river a half mile below. While trying to soak it all in, we actually spotted a couple of climbers on the opposite wall. They were just dots. I don't know when they started, but it looks like they had a way to go (see insert). The optimist would say they might be almost to the top. The pessimist would say "Why the hell are you there in the first place?!?!?"

From falls, through flats, to peaks

With a sudden desire to pass some asphalt under the tires, we set out across the plains from Buffalo in the general direction of our next stop, Colorado. In between it was very flat indeed. Rolling hills and pastures passed the windows and day turned into night on this 22 hour run. We stretched in rest areas and had seat back-catnaps in truck stops along the way, but basically made a run for it. Did I mention how flat it was?

Odd things work into forms of entertainment out in the flats. For some reason a trucker hooked up with me and we traveled along for hours. When passing slower cars he made every move I did. We ran the same speed, he didn't want to lead, and even tho I passed a few of his fellow truckers running about the same, he stayed hooked with me. Occasionally another car would mux up a lane change/pass maneuver and he would get caught up behind a bit but it wouldn't be too long before I would see him back on my bumper again. I momentarily flashed back to a problem Dennis Weaver had with a trucker once and had thoughts this might not end well. After several hundred miles of this game, I finally had to pull off for a p-stop and he honked as we parted (whew).

------ Artistic Break ------

No matter how much he tried to ignore them all, little Splinter couldn't help but feel a little inadequate among his friends.

On down the road then...

Eventually, we hit these big things... (the Rockies). Faced with climbing through picturesque Colorado at night, we opted instead to bunk down in a room, freshen up a bit and wait till morning to make sure we didn't miss any of the sights. I'm soooo glad we did it this way.

Interstate 70 west of Denver is a masterful feat of engineering and a fabulous drive. I am very tempted to turn around and do it again. There are sections where the road is fully elevated as it snakes through a canyon with rushing river below. I don't know if this was by minimum footprint design or just because there was nothing but solid rock on both sides and this was easier. There is even a dedicated path for bikes and peds for several miles. There were several small and one long tunnel at the summit where they found it easier to just go through instead of around. Up near the top I noted my GPS display read 11.4 because it didn't have enough room to display my altitude. I would highly recommend this drive if you come this way but only for those with gutsy vehicles in perfect working order because some of the grades are very steep. I didn't see any signs, but they must have been around 7 or 8 percent climb/drop for 2500 feet and a climb again once you hit the bottom. It was pretty crazy.

Up around Aspen we pulled over in a viewstop and had the last of our manifold burritos, muffins and a cup of yogurt for breakfast. You can't beat that view for the buck.

Branching off the I70 highway to a smaller one gave us even more spectacular sights with every corner. We couldn't stop at them all or we would never make our destination. The road was very quiet and almost no other traffic. This took us to the small escape of Crawford where we found our even smaller road that eventually turned to gravel.

Way off the beat is where we are today, hanging out with friends Mark & Mary on their ranch sipping beers, and enjoying the 100 mile views from their jacuzzi deck. Birds sing, bunnies are chased out of the garden, deer roam around freely and I hear there is even elk around here on occasion.

Our hosts are running us around to all their favorite sights and points of interests (posted shortly).

I'm not sure how long we will hang out here, or when they will get tired of us and boot us back out to the truck.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Tag the coast

Caught some free wifi at a rest stop in Kansas. Time for some lunch and catch up.
We followed the small little lines, through some of the little dots on the map and made it all the way to the coast of Maine. The goal was to stick a toe in the water and say that we have traveled from the Pacific to the Atlantic coast. We stopped at a deli along the way and picked up some sandwiches for our picnic lunch. We had a little trouble finding the beach, as all those houses got in the way. Finally, we cruised through a town that dumped us right at a public beach. YAY! Our goal was in sight. We sat on a park bench and ate our sammies as the wind whipped our hair all over the place. Byron the brave took on the task of shedding his shoes and headed for the waters edge. I followed more reluctantly, camera in hand. Thankfully there were only little waves lapping the shore as Byron walked confidently into the water. After a series of posed shots, he finally embellished on a line from a movie "hurry up, it's freakin' cold in here, Mr. Bigglesworth!!!" and ran for warmer sands. Before we left, we collected a sample of sand, freshly ground by Atlantic waters as our souvenir.

On the way back from the coast we stopped at a campground in Vermont for the night. It was wonderfully planned out with grassy common areas and picnic tables, hot showers and secluded wooded campsites. What more could you ask for. Bug spray! I have already encountered the native bug life in New York, when we dropped off the boat. I am currently wearing the latest lakeside fashion of four welts on my head and neck, that I suspect were mosquito induced. Byron said that if I had a can of spray, all he would hear all night would be Psht... psht... pshhhhhhhhhhhhttttt of the can going off. Mock me if you will, but the next morning we ate breakfast in the truck and were swatting at bugs in the cab as we beat a hasty retreat to the interstate.

As we travel through New England, we opted for the back road routes through the small towns and countryside's of Vermont and New Hampshire. Each town had a Main Street where tall church steeples reside next to quaint old homes and buildings from the 1800's, contrasting oddly with the McDonalds and Walmart just down the block. Houses were surrounded by yards with no fences and every lawn was manicured by riding mowers. Lakes, ponds, rivers and streams dotted and divided the countryside in abundance. The tree lined roads would occasionally, give way to wide, open grassy fields on sloping hillsides, with grazing horses and reclining cows. Everywhere you looked there were grain silos and barns of every shape and size and in various conditions of disrepair, which only added to their charm. From the road side, patches of little yellow flowers were in bloom and could be seen randomly scattered across the fields. Strange how flowering weeds in another state is so much more appealing than when growing in your own back yard.

After driving through some states where roadkill is a common site, I am happy to report that some of the native wildlife have developed a healthy respect for road side etiquette. Driving through the more mountainous areas, we were startled when two deer burst out the woods near the interstate. Fortunately, they stayed to the side, keeping pace with us momentarily as we continued by. On another occasion, as we were driving the rural roads in Vermont, we suddenly came upon a duck and her brood of ducklings traveling along the road side. As we approached, I could see their little bodies awkwardly waddling along after mom. They were a little too close to the road, and we moved over to give them some room. I hoped that in passing, the wake from our truck and trailer didn't send them in a premature flying tumbling across somebody's freshly mown lawn.

When it gets dark we start looking for a spot to settle down. One such stop we found was a state park in Darien, New York, just outside of Buffalo. We are enjoying the warmth of a campfire, after just finishing off a quiet, cozy meal. I say quiet because it's midweek and there is only about four or five other families in the whole park and right now we have about six large sites in the area all to ourselves. Earlier, when we arrived, Byron went all McGyver and created a dome cover over his truck bed with the poles from an old defunct tent. We stretched a tarp over it, clamped it in a few places and called it home for the night. It is currently eight-thirty and the sky is only now turning to twilight with tall oak trees and their leaves clearly silhouetted against the gray clouds rolling by. A few birds are still chirping, as if getting in the last bit of gossip for the day. The temperature is comfortable and there are no bugs! It's a perfect night.

We got up to Buffalo to see Niagara Falls. We were not disappointed! I marveled at the water charging over the top of the falls, a translucent primary green color that looked fake, like someone dropped in a dye tablet up stream. Where was all the mud & debris that clouded all the other streams and rivers we had seen so far. We stood at the top of the falls looking down and was spritzed with spray from time to time. If we really wanted to get wet, we could have been on the tourist boat that we watched disappear into the mist of water at the base of the falls. As if that wasn't close enough, some people, dressed in the finest yellow bag apparel, took the elevator down to the base of the falls. There they exited a cave and walked along a pathway up to and even through one of the fingers of water pouring down. As we watched the powerfully rushing current, it was very hard to understand why someone would purposely choose to go over the falls in a barrel or anything else.

We are heading down the highway, starting our trek towards home and we are desperately seeking a Dairy Queen or Dairy Bar as they call them in New England. We stopped at a DQ and were just putting our shoes on when a family with kids walked out, happily licking their ice cream cones. By the time we made it to the door, we found it locked and the lights flickering out one by one. It's only nine o'clock! What kind of state is this! Byron and I think it's a conspiracy. Earlier, at Niagara falls we stopped at the snack bar for an ice cream cone. We were still deciding the flavor of the moment and stepped aside for a woman and a child. The next minute we were ready and went to get in line behind her, when we saw that she was part of a much larger group of 20 children or more that had just exited the trolly.

After driving all night and a quick nap, we woke up this morning to a buffet breakfast at a truck stop and a "How are ya'all doin?" These are the indicators that let you know you're not in California anymore.