Mission

MISSION:
To spend quality time in at least one area of every state. Quality time means exploring the area; rest stops, gas stations, airports or train stations do not count. The goal is to explore the natural and cultural environments of these regions. Each location visited has a story, pictures for my amateur hobby addiction, and maybe a piece of jewelry/art.

Friday, January 28, 2011

Who Goes to the Pacific NW in February?

Leave it to work to pick Oregon for the location of a workshop in February!  Who knows what weather to expect... right now, it is warmer than here and that is a good thing.  But I can't depend on it.

A few years ago, a friend moved to Portland - I took the opportunity to visit once.  That friend has since moved, and since that move work has sent me to Portland several times in the last year... ironic, maybe.  My friend took me on my first trip to Oregon's rocky coast.  I remain struck with its rugged beauty.  I also remember how cold the water was (when I got soaked taking pictures).  Since that trip, I have not explored much beyond the city and the Columbia River Gorge area.  Going back again, I do not want to just stay in Portland, I want to get out and see some more of the area.

I am taking my chances with the weather and planning a quick 2 day excursion.  A friend also attending the workshop will join me.  She is leaving the planning to me...  I have a lot to figure out.
  • Of course being that close to Washington state is tempting.  My friend asked if we could cross the border, so I am trying to figure out how.  My first instinct would be to see Mt St Helens, ever from the visitor center.  I have never made it to that volcano.  It seems that most observation areas are closed in the winter... I have have research to do to see if this is feasible.
  • What I really want to do is explore the central coastline.  I would love to check out the famous Seal Cave in Florence.  Reading up, it seems that while the seals will not be active in the water, they will be hanging out inside the cave.  
  • Consistently ranked in the Top 10 of US aquariums - the Oregon Coast Aquarium, in Newport is a must for me... I make it a point to check them out whenever I can.  Good aquariums only spot light the local ecosystem in addition to highlighting the pretty fish of the coral reefs.  From what I have read, the Oregon Aquarium has special information on tidepools and the rocky shore, as well as an interesting special exhibit sea plastic made into art.
  • In that same area, is the Oregon Dunes National Recreation area.  I am not interested necessarily in renting dune buggies, but the prospect of nice weather for a nice walk by the water and huge sand dunes looking at tree islands sounds relaxing... 

It is lots of work for a quick trip... but I am excited that I have company.  If the weather works out it could be great.  If they get the weather that we are having on the East coast ...  well, I might want to check out what is to do in Eugene and Salem.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Ladies and Gentlemen, Elvis Has Left The Building

Two weekends, and two Elvis sightings.  HAH!

My first weekend of the year getaway took me to Vegas, and it is not a Vegas trip without a sidewalk performance or 2 of Elvis.  You can't get away from them... well them, and Sponge Bob, a bad Mickey and friends, Michael Jackson and just about every incarnation of the surprise statue you can think of.  I still don't understand how people still are shocked by that one...

This trip to Vegas was to warm up from the the frigid cold of the East coast weather... what better way to do that than to get out in the desert.  About 45 minutes outside of Vegas is the first Nevada state park, Valley of Fire.  I took a tour - Pick Jeep Tours - that picked you up, dropped you off, and provided a guide (works for someone alone without a car).  Nothing can fully describe the jaw dropping moment when you crest a hill, having left the Strip behind, and see the striking red rocks against the dry browns of the surrounding desert.  It was so striking the the entire tour group became silent and just stared.

And the park - its story was just as striking.  Slated to be buried underneath Lake Mead when Hoover Dam was proposed, locals rallied and stuck a deal with the Department of the Interior to save the Valley if it was named for conservation.  The State moved forward with the deal and designated the area part of the first named state park areas.  According to park propaganda, it is one of the most visited state parks today.  Honestly, I could see why.  Within an hour of the largest city in Nevada, it offers beautiful scenery, picnic spots, hiking trails... glad I went in the winter; it has to be excrucitingly hot in the summer.

The best compliment to a day hiking in sand and bouldering is a day at the spa... I think I found a great combination... Vegas did its job - I got warm.  I saw some shows (Terry Fador was awesome) and I went home relaxed, well relaxed minus the horrible plane trip home.

Then this weekend, I headed South to Florida.  It was supposed to be warm, but is wasn't.  Warmer than home, but not the not Southern Florida warm.  Still, I was not out there for adventures this time - it was my mother's surprise birthday party.  At that party Elvis rocked out...yep, my brother hired a Elvis impersonator to get the party off right.  Too funny to watch your aunts dancing around a man with long sideburns, a white jump suit and shades.

Got lucky and struck art while I was down there... in a trip to City Place in West Palm Beach, mom and I stumbled on an arts festival.  We spent hours combing through the booths looking at local artists wishing we could buy lots.  Fell in love with a few, namely the artwork of Jim Lewk with his fun and whimsical sculptures of a Frenchman in various poses, Ancizar Marin's hanging sculptures for a bit of fun scaling  your wall,  the jewelry with unique stones and feathers, vivid colors in the metal work of Lenny Marucci, the flower photography on glass by Kirk Ellison, the flower inlayed in windows and doors (and the fun furniture) of The Perfect View, and the wooden kitchen utensils by Richard McCollum.  I love art festivals; they provide great local flavor, a chance to check in with various styles and just have fun outside.  The problem with art shows is that I find so much that I love... I need to hit the lottery!

This Room Is Not For Men

Sometimes airport restrooms are interesting places - sometimes scary, sometimes funny... this time, I think all the labels qualify.

Stuck in a stall and I hear one woman start to loudly exclaim, "this room is not for men" over and over again.  Then, I heard a more urgent voice - "I am not a man".  That voice got louder and louder.

I was kinda stuck.  It was a small bathroom and I had no idea if either of them knew there was another... I was horrified and a bit curious.  And for some reason all I could think about what that story last year of the South African track athlete that had to go through months of tests and testimonials to prove she was a woman.

Is this is what happens when you do not look like your gender?  The woman in question must have done something to prove she was a woman, because I heard a meek "I'm sorry" then all went quiet.  When I exited no one was around.  How do you prove your gender?  An ID, flash them?  Do you walk away, go somewhere else or stand your ground?

I am left to wonder what was appropriate.  I would not want a pervert walking into the bathroom... but I also would not want to insult someone.  What is right?   What is appropriate?  That was a first for me... and I feel badly for both women involved.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Aghhh... The Weather!

You gotta love traveling in the winter.  It is always unpredictable.  AND... it is never a good sign when you arrive in your connection city to see most flights to your final destination cancelled and delayed.

I arrived in Chicago yesterday, with a 2 1/2 hour lay-over.  In the winter, I expect delays, so quick turn-arounds are never smart!  Anyway, the weather in Chicago was nasty and the weather on the east coast was not helping anybody.   Flying into DC, all earlier flights were cancelled or delayed... and I was flying into National Airport (home of the short runway.) Ice, snow, wind and rain do not do any favors for the Capital City.  Plane overbooked already, we were told that we would take off.

While we boarded within a few minutes of your scheduled time, we sat on the runway; first for deicing and then because only one runway was in condition to use.  Once in the air, and almost home, the flight crew notified us that we were rerouted to Dulles International Airport.  Yes, that is an incredible inconvenience, but you do not want to slide off the runway and into the Potomac River.  It was reasonable until we were told that since the weather was bad and that we were not expected, there was no transportation from the airport, that the airline was working on it and a bus would be there in an hour to take us to National Airport.

My short trip home was turning into an affair.  And it only got better.

No taxis, no Super Shuttles... and more than a few planes of people in need of transportation...AGHHHHHH!  Even if the Metro system did have its act together and was available at Dulles, it would not have been running anyway since it was so late.  We were stuck.  And it wasn't fun.

The bus showed up after an hour and a half, only it was not a bus, but more of a shuttle that would seat 20+ people.   A bunch of us shoved onto the only transportation to be found and not until we were on the toll road did the driver ask if were were all going to National Airport; and amongst the yeses several no's were heard.  I initially thought they were kidding, but there were 5 people on that mini bus thinking that they were going to a hotel.  AGHHHH.  And to add to the fun, there was no guarantee of transportation from National - it was just closer to home.

Once we finally made it to National, the line for taxis at an airport supposedly shut down was mind-numbingly long (and it was freezing).  Luckily, they were allowing taxis that were not the "approved" cab company to take people.  The problem was that living so close the airport meant that no one wanted to take the cheap fare as opposed to DC or Maryland riders.  It took over an hour to get through that line.

I was supposed to land at 11:30 and be home by midnight.  I got home after 4am.

I have to give credit to the airline - United.  They at least tried to do something instead of stranding its passengers at Dulles.  I have no idea what happened to those hundreds of people stuck at Dulles.  You take taxi's for granted - they have always been there to get you home.  

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Hoover Dam & Las Vegas

The first time I ever went to Las Vegas (4 years ago), I made sure to take a day trip to Hoover Dam and the Lake Mead Recreation Area.  Not knowing what to expect, I was struck by the beauty of the architecture inside the facility and in the area around the dam - complex mosaics on the floor, statues guarding the dam, the monument to those that built it.  It was impressive.  It was grand. And it was guarded (outside and inside).  Still,  the power it creates, the control it commands - you could not help but be awe-struck.  The water was go clear, I could see fish swimming below as I looked down the side of the dam.  Looking along the edges of Lake Mead, the drought was obvious; bleached rock illustrated the dropping water line.   And the heat... oh, the heat!  The tour guide warned everyone to take water if they wanted to walk on the dam, the temperature was well over 115 F.  But what can you expect when you decide to do this in the heat of the summer, right?

The trip marked an iconic structure off my must see list and answered curiosity I had on the storied structure.  And it left me heat sick for the rest of the day!

Hoover Dam has come up a few times the last few days.  A good friend is headed to Las Vegas for the extended weekend, and they have never toured the dam even through they have been to the area a few times.  I highly recommended it.  It came up again in a gathering of friends yesterday... there, I was told that it was now closed to visitors.  Stories of bomb plots and danger were weaved.  I was surprised.  I thought that it was an important symbol not only for the Bureau of Reclamation but as a testament to American engineering.   I had been following stories of the bridge by-pass construction.  Everyone I knew that drove over it spoke of the horrible traffic... I never had that opportunity, just that walk in the extreme heat.

After a few quick web searches, I discovered that the dam in not closed to visitors, it is closed to those that want to drive over it.   The by-pass bridge is now completed; traffic will no longer be routed over the Dam.  They say it will be quicker.  And I am sure that it will be safer.  You can still see the dam though.  All tourists to the dam will still be vetted through security... and they should.  You get taken into the bowels of the dam.  You are afforded access to the structure.  It is worth it.  So.... I am going to recommend to my friend that the trip be made.  It is worth it.  And if you are in the area, stop by Boulder City - there were quite a few local artisan shops that sold native designed jewelry.  Much cheaper than in Vegas, and a great place to get a quick bite away from the lights.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Pictures, Jewelry/Art (and maybe a magnet)

What do you take away from a trip?  I raise an eyebrow at those that say that I take a memory... everyone takes a memory.  Right?  I make plenty of those, but I also like to take something (or somethings) back home with me.   Honestly, I often take more than one thing back for me.

Major locations have gift shops, and there you can get your souvenirs - your thimbles, spoons, magnets, key chains, tee-shirts or other novelties and baubles.   People collect all sorts of things.  Often times, these gift shops are one of my first stops.  Here, I can stock up on postcards, because a trip is more fun if you can brag about it to others... kidding, sort-of.  I love sending postcards for a few reasons: (1) I like getting mail other than bills and I am sure others do too, (2) family and friends track where I go (my mom keeps a book of all my trips, and I used post cards to teach the map to my younger brother), and (3) writing postcards helps me reflect on my trip as it goes along and plan for the remainder of my time there.

The real souvenir for me though is something from a local artisan.  I search local galleries, co-ops, boutiques, shops, festivals and vendors for something that catches my eye.  You can find jewelry artists of all skill levels wherever you go.  I love wearing something unique and I can tell you where each piece is from.  Besides, it is fun to have a story (and that memory) behind something that I put on every day.  That is not to say that I also do not look at at other local art - watercolors, folk art, pottery, sculpture... it is fun, it supports the arts, and it is something that you cannot find anywhere else.

My final take-away are my pictures.  I am always with a camera and when I travel it is essential.  You never know when that moment will POP.  I have a few pictures from my trips scrolling on the sides of this blog.  By no means am I a professional photographer, but I enjoy it.  I do not have the patience or the time to lie in wait for that "perfect shot," but I think I do okay.  The really special shots get rotated on a wall at home where I can look at my moments.

Souvenirs clutter more that just memories, but at least mine have flare! And for me, that is better than a bunch of snow globes or a cluster of keychains (not that there is anything wrong with that).

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Looking Back on 2010

While 2010 was a tough year... on the travel front, I must admit that I was able to do a few things off my lists:

  • My new state for the year - South Dakota
  • New cities - Santa Barbara, Amarillo, TX (stretching "city" a little), Pensacola
    • Art Towns - Bisbee and Tombstone AZ
  • New national park areas - Badlands, Wind Cave, Gulf Shores National Seashore, in addition Columbia River Gorge & Multnomah Falls (national scenic area in OR)
  • New Aquarium - World Aquarium in Dallas
  • Funky Feature - Wall Drug in SD
  • Iconic Sites - Mt Rushmore, inside the Rose Bowl (soccer game) [and by comparison but no where near as iconic - the Cotton Bowl]
Keeping up with my Birthday tradition of doing something new, I took a bit of time in June to head east from New Orleans and visit Pensacola for the first time.  Timing wise it could not have been more  iffy.  Oil from the Deepwater Horizon spill was headed that way.  When I arrived the water had started to hit sections of the Gulf Shore Islands, but the Pensacola beach was clear - crystal clear.  I was lucky - oil was reported to the east and west of the area; so for that day I enjoyed the last of the gulf shores beauty.  For anyone that has not been to the Gulf Coast - the water is warm and and blueish green, the sand is crystal white.   I wanted to see what was happening in the area, so on my way back to Louisiana, I took time to stop by Orange Beach, Alabama; there you could see the oil coming in.  There the water was closed, and yet I saw people going in anyway (people never cease to amaze me).  Forever I will remember this quick trip for the young child running to his parents with a black ball in his hand, screaming, "Mommy, Daddy, I found a tar ball!"  It just was heart breaking.

Making it to Santa Barbara was a big deal.  Home of the TV show Psych, this city has been ohhhh-so-close yet so far away for years.  Through work, I have spent time in Ventura County and have never made the time to drive the 30 minutes north.  I have instead spent time taking the boat to Channel Islands or visited with friends in LA.  So, this year I had an opportunity to visit this sleepy city and the timing could not have been better - I was able to make it for the Old Spanish Days Fiesta.  I had no idea that smashing eggs on people's heads was a welcome greeting... but I guess it is okay if they are filled with confetti. 

After years of staring at a map and hearing how close South Dakota really was, I finally took the plunge and drove from Denver to the Black Hills.  Of course I was planning on visiting Mt Rushmore... that is what everyone does when they get to the Black Hills, but there is so much more to stuff into a trip.  I took the guided tours in the most interesting caves I have ever seen, awestruck at the beauty of Jewel Cave.  The whole area was nothing like what I pictured for SD; it was serene and soft.  That beauty was contrasted greatly with the stark bleakness of the Badlands about an hour and half away.  The greenery, rolling hills and meandering streams were gone - they were replaced with the complex formations of the eroding landscape.  This quick get-away was all about power touring... and if I recommend anything from that trip beyond the parks, it would be the Prairie Berry Winery and their Red Ass Rhubarb wine - it tastes like pie! Well the pie and a quick stop in Hill City to visit Teddy Bear town - you have not lived until you see thousands of bears stuffed into a tiny home.

2010 also seemed to be a Texas year for me...  I spent some quality time in Houston - finally able to see more that just the office, I was able to explore the museums and city sites. I saw my first shrunken head at the Science Museum (at the cannibals special exhibit) and I honestly will not be upset if I never see one again. That same trip included a road trip to Galveston; got there too late to tour the historic homes, but did get to the shoreline and ate some gulf shrimp from an east coast transplant.   I spent some time in Dallas, actually getting there 3x last year,  I  finally got to see the World Aquarium which is more of a rainforest than aquarium; still, it was beautiful.  Then there was Amarillo - can't say that I spent a lot of time there, but I have seen it, slept there, ate at a local hole-in-the-wall breakfast cafe... Yep, definitely a year to see Texas.

I was also able to visit some of my favorite places, while still managing to do something new in each:
  • New Orleans - St Patrick's Day and the Italian-Irish parades
  • New York City  - took in a game at the new Yankee Stadium
  • Philadelphia - took my niece for her first trip to the Franklin Institute
And there were trips to other places - the weekend getaways to the beach, the repeated trips to Denver and the road trips through the Rocky Mountains, a short trips to Portland, Baltimore, Jacksonville, St Augustine and Tucson/Phoenix and return trips to a few great national parks, like Rocky Mountain and Saguaro.
Honestly, looking back, I can reflect on some fun road trips, relaxing weekends with friends and exciting new discoveries.  Guess that is why reflection is so important - sure there were challenges, but there was love and discovery, education and relaxation in there too.  Not a bad year after all.

Monday, January 3, 2011

Getting Started

New Year's Resolution for 2011 - find a way to chronicle my travel exploits.  Often told that I always come back from a trip with a story to share, I decided to embark on this venture and share my adventures, views and finds with anyone who is interested.  I like to think that I have a unique approach to travel; namely, I do as much as I can to explore the area.

For years I have been working my way across the country, leveraging work trips to see regions that would not have been as easily accessible.  Through work's temporary duty locations, I have been able to  explore areas in the deep south and the mid-west.  Growing up on the east coast, it was natural to explore the I-95 corridor.  As friends have moved, I have been able to explore areas on the west coast.

Now - look at my map!!!  I have a big gapping hole around the Great Lakes region.  (Well that, a few stragglers and Hawaii.)  My goal is to start coloring that area of my map.  One of the easiest ways to start that process would be to finally get to Ohio.  I have been as close as Pittsburg, Pennsylvania and Lexington, Kentucky, but never crossed into Ohio!  Technically it is driveable from the DC area, but United often has affordable flights... so watch out Ohio, I am tackling you this year.

There are plenty of other locations in states that I have already visited that will make me go back.  My travel bug moves beyond the states... I want to see the major national parks, the cities and the unique manmade structures/monuments.   My travel itch is not just about the map but about the locations (I am a frustrated photographer at heart).

With these travels, I have a weird wish to see some of those strange things that we all laugh at but stop at when in the area... those eclectic sites... those things that you would not see but for being in the area.  Some people call them tourist traps, some people call them Americana, others call it just plain fun.  So, if I am in an area and there is a giant fiberglass donut (LA), elephant (NJ), neon graveyard (Vegas), or bug museum (Colorado Springs), I am there.

My goal with this blog is to share my stories.  I will tell you where I went, what I did, what I saw and maybe drop a few hints about local artisans and galleries, local eateries and restaurants.  My trips often mix the city and the "country."  Museums and galleries, scenic drives and hiking, history and ghost tours... I want it all.  And along the way, I want to find a piece of local jewelry to remind me of all the fun (who needs a giant shot glass collection?)

So, I ask you to join me on my adventures as I complete my map!  I hope that I make you smile.  May this spark your inner travel bug as well.