On the final leg in my quest to see all the states in the United States (and many US territories). Now, starting a new quest to explore Canada, our neighbor to the north. This blog chronicles my adventures with pictures & stories to hopefully inspire others to find the fun and explore.
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.
Ever drive across the Great Plains? I can't say that I have done the complete trip. I was never lucky enough to do that cross country drive (I kick myself about that miss opportunity in Grad School.) Recently, I was able to do about half... I drove with a friend from Denver to Houston via Oklahoma; meaning we drove through the plains of Colorado, Kansas, Oklahoma and Texas. And just as I had been warned, it is monotonous and a long trip! There is beauty to be seen in those rolling hills of grain, but if you are working on over 10 hours of rolling hills of grain, you can get mighty tired.
It is a long drive from Denver to Houston... I good 18 hours. Up to this point, the farthest East in Colorado I had been was Genoa and the areas of Kansas I had visited were on the Eastern end of the state... so, it was new (and it looked the same).
I drove the final leg of the trip from Dallas to Houston, and when you are tired, there is not much to keep you awake besides the Lady Gaga on rotation in the CD player (thank goodness of the goodness of the new CD). We did not know how lucky we were with our trip; the wild fires shut down I-45 a few days later between the 2 cities.
By the time we hit Houston, it was well past midnight and I was ready to sleep... we stayed downtown at the "Inn by the Ballpark." I have been to Houston a few times, but never stayed "downtown"... and honestly, I have never been a huge fan of Houston. It is a sprawled out city without a lively downtown and insane zoning. It doesn't make a lot of sense and for such a large city, it lacks a sense of centrality. Staying by the Ballpark worked because we were going to a game, and there is nothing more convenient than that! I am embarrassed to say that I did not know Minute Maid Stadium was covered, but with the stiffiling heat of the South, it made sense when I was not melting while watching the game.
I can't say I did not melt while visiting the Houston Zoo. Wow - was it ridiculously hot at the zoo. Simple to get to with the city's light rail from downtown, but sooo hot - when do you see the reptile house more crowded than the mega-fauna of the main grounds. Most animals were sleeping, in hiding or in the water. The zoo staff did show off the sea lion, and I have to say that I actually learned something... the giraffe exhibit/habitat was fantastic, showing different patterns on sub species of giraffes, including their Maasai herd.
While downtown Houston, I wandered a lot! Visited the Historical Park, learning a little about Houston history and taking in the different home styles. I was the only person on the tour, and I could tell that they were less than thrilled... still, the woman that took me around the grounds was informative and happy to show me her favorite houses. We looked at a multi-use homestead home from the 1800's, a 2 level home (where you had to access the 2nd floor from the outside) from the 1840's, a gorgeous home from the 1860's, and a very modern home from 1905 with all the creature comforts of today.
Shopping downtown is pretty sparse. I learned in previous trips that you had to head to Rice Village or the Galleria... did not have time this time. Instead, I stopped by the shopping "mall" and Macy's in center city... found a costume jewelry story to buy rings for my nieces, but that was about it. My friend and I did get a good dinner at the entertainment area and take in a comedy show at the Improve - Eddie Griffin was fantastic. We both noticed that the club has had a serious face lift since last year...
Little did I know that while Texas was hot, Oklahoma was hotter!
Today is my birthday and typically I would not be home... instead, off doing something new and fun. This year, I did get new, as I explored Oklahoma for the first time last week. I was surprised with how much I had to see and do there... but I had to come home in time for my Board meeting. I will be updating this soon to reflect all the sites and sounds of OK, and other excursions in Houston, TX. I can say there were zoos, historical and cultural sites, national parks, baseball games, movies, art and of course jewelry. I came home exhausted from all my running around and the extreme heat of the plains. It finally rained and cooled off yesterday when I left... it figures!
It is almost time to color... I am leaving for a three week (insane) trip tomorrow... I am headed to Texas tomorrow, then home to NJ for a concert, then off to Oklahoma for work (and to explore), and then back to Texas. I will return home in time for my birthday and a board meeting (yeah!) It may seem strange to some, but I am excited to explore a new state. I am planning on visiting the work sites in Tulsa and OK City, and some sites in those cities. I also want to see Platt National Park that was swallowed into Chickasaw National Recreation Area.... Wish me no tornadoes - please!
Following my Fairbanks excursion, I headed back to Anchorage. While I was there mostly for work, I was able to see a few friends and take in a few new sites.
I will write about my experience at the Native American Heritage Center (I threw arrows), the Saturday market (I met my favorite Alaska artist), re-visited some of my favorite jewelry stores, and took in the Mammoth and Mastodon exhibit at the Anchorage Museum . . . and of course, there was halibut! Yummy!
Right on the top of the list of places to visit in north central Alaska was Chena Hot Springs. Known in the region, and they say outside of it, as a hot spring with healing properties (don't all of them say that), Chena is a natural spring that runs just over 160 degrees... the area is miles away from the nearest transmission line so the owner/operator has invested in geothermal energy for the entire facility (instead of operating on diesel generators). It was actually quite amazing... a complete closed loop system that used heated antifreeze brought to a boil from the natural water temperature. No, I am not a geothermal energy genius... The resort offered all visitors and guests tours of their energy generation plant as well as their greenhouse... because, they grow all of their veggies on site, year round too! The owner has a reputation as quite the eccentric in Alaska, but he deserves the distinction... he bought this facility that the state operated, and transformed it into a resort getaway that now generates enough energy for it and some neighboring areas. The resort is over 20 miles from the civilization (and I use that term loosely).
The Hot Springs Resort reminded me of a summer camp with its cabins, the animal pens, the greenhouse, the pool and mess hall, aka restaurant. Within the campus were hiking, atv'ing, and sledding trails, a trailer hook up area, a recreation room, a barber (yes, a barber), a ICE carving museum, and, of course the thermal pools. The museum was very different from the ice presentation in Fairbanks; here was small warehouse, kept freezing cold, that not only housed some amazing sculptures, but included 2 ice hotel rooms and a ICE bar. I guess staying with a sweetie at such temperature would mean lots of cuddling, but I can't wrap my head around sleeping on ice. BRRRR!
On the complete opposite extreme was the hot spring. My day at the Springs was, of course, the warmest of my entire stay in the Fairbanks area. It was warming up fast, and when temperatures jump up to the upper 60's, nothing says refreshing like 140 degree pool water. I seriously felt like I was cooking. I do not think I lasted longer than an hour. Walked around the water, but never got comfortable... when I got out, I did not get back in... I was done. But I can understand why people would love the place on a cold night gazing at the aurora.
My way out of the Resort, I stopped at a few pull-outs to feed the mosquitoes. After being in such a warm area, it was strange to see fresh river water that was cooler (and some ever with ice breaking)... odd place