MISSION: To visit every state and territory in the U.S. For my mission a visit is greater than a stop over; I wish to explore the natural and cultural environments of these areas. Each of these locations has a story to tell, and I want to find it.

As of February 2018 I have visited all 50 states (and Puerto Rico and 2 island in the US Virgin Islands) at least once.

Monday, March 25, 2013

Time to Start Blogging Again (2012 review)

Hello friends, family and neighbors.  It has been almost a year since I have posted here.  I must apologize for the delay, but I have a valid excuse… my home was flooded last year.  I lost much (and among the damaged items was my computer).  With no real time, home or technology to use, I lost track of my new hobby.  I have a year of pictures still to download off my cameras!!! Somehow my insurance company thinks that all of this was perfectly acceptable (I will save that rant for later).

 That is not to say that I did not travel – oh, I traveled last year.  Now, I am stuck with where to begin.  Do I start with the past and then get to recent trips, or do I act like the airlines and cover the current stuff and fill in the past when I get a chance?  Anyone have ideas? 

Because there is really much to write about, I will start with a basic year summary for 2012:

  • New States – I only got to one new state in 2012 – Arkansas (and finished the “A” states).  I was pleasantly surprised by my stay and will definitely plan another visit to areas I missed
    • All States Visited – AK, AR, AZ, CA, CO, FL, GA, LA, MD, NC, NJ, NM, NY, PA, SC, TN, TX, VA, WA
  • New Cities – Memphis, TN; Flagstaff, Arizona; Lake Charles, LA (technically I was there before for 4 hours)
    • Art Towns – Flagstaff and Tubek Arizona
  • New Aquariums – Moody Gardens (Galveston, TX)
  • New Art Museums – Albuquerque Art Museum (for a show on Goya), Seattle Art Museum
  • New Parks/Monuments – Chiricahua National Monument (AZ), Petrified Forest National Park (AZ), Pipe Organ Cactus National Monument (AZ), Big Thicket National Preserve (TX), Flight 93 National Memorial (PA), President Clinton Birthplace Home (AR), Golden Gate National Recreation Area (CA)
  • Funky Features/Events – Alaska State Fair (the world record cabbage), Diamond State Park, Arkansas (sadly I did not find a diamond), Chihuly Garden and Glass (Seattle), Gas Plant Park in Seattle, Meteor Crater (AZ)
  • Paranormal Adventures – ghost tour on the Queen Mary (California)
  • Iconic Structures – Queen Mary, The Wizarding World of Harry Potter, Disney World, Disney Land, Graceland, Golden Gate Bridge
  • Bowl Game – Russell Athletic Bowl (Orlando, FL)
There were several truly notable trips last year that struck a chord, places that I have wanted to visit for a while.  First and foremost, I must say that Arkansas is not what I had imagined.  It was much greener and lusher.  In my mind, I had created a landscape similar to that of Texas.  It is not!!! In fact, its features reminded me of northern New Jersey with the rolling mountains, meandering streams and woodland areas.  I was only able to visit 3 southwestern areas of the state – Texarkana, Hope and Murfersboro.  I already know that I need to go back and visit Hot Springs.  While in Arkansas this trip, I stopped in Hope to visit the Clinton home.  In order to get a picture, you literally have to walk across the street to get a good view.  From that “little town called Hope,” I traveled north to the infamous Diamond State Park.  Yes, you can keep what you find.  And NO, it is not easy.  Diamond pit mining is not for the faint of heart.  And going in June is not a good idea.  I went to say I tried and tip my hat to all the die-hards/regulars that make a go at the search.  I must say that the park offers plenty of enticement, with bronzed shovels where the real big finds were uncovered.   What amazed me most was the willingness of so many to dig through the cracked earth for hours, the excitement at their find and then the sad let down when appraisers tell them their find was just a piece of quartz.  It was interesting… and I can say I tried (for a few hours).  It was good to see they had a waterpark attached – you need it to cool down.  So, if this park interests you – don’t go in the summer, aim for the fall or spring!

Yes, that is a mouse on the wheel!
Cabbage = 136 lbs.
I had a huge Alaska let-down in 2012.  For years, I have wanted to visit Katmai National Park – not exactly  This time, I thought I had a plan – heck, I even had reservations.  Alas, it was not to be, as work pulled out at the very last minute, as in the day before I was to leave.  This left me with time to fill and with no place to stay in King Salmon; I had to scrap my plans.  The newfound time allowed me to head to the Alaska State Fair for the first time.  If you have never heard of this fair, you must look it up!  Here, Alaska farmers really shine with gigantic vegetables (the world record was cabbage was shattered last year).  Typically you see huge pumpkin, zucchini, cabbage – those harder skinned veggies and leafy heads.  Of course, the fair is more than veggies – you get all the fun of a boardwalk for 3x the price.  Games I grew up playing at Seaside were $5 a pop here.  There were rides, food, musicians, shows 4-H animal exhibits and even a magician. 

On the opposite end of the spectrum, I traveled around Southern Arizona exploring some parks, searching out art towns for awesome baubles and taking in the views of the Saguaro cactus.  In 2011, Arizona was scarred with several intense wildfires.  My hike in the Chiricahua took me right through a canyon blacked from its fury.  There were beautiful rock formations and sturdy pines in the mountains of SW AZ (and a 10 degree difference in temperature to Tucson).  Sadly, as I hiked the path, the blackened earth took over, and I lost my sun cover.  Such dramatic changes in the landscape were intensified as I hiked to the cicada serenade.   I went from the mountain pines to the only place in the US that you can see Pipe Organ Cactus.  I have always thought of Cactus Pipe Organ as one of the most dangerous parks in the system, and apparently boarder control does as well – I passed through at least 6 check points on this trip.  I had a plan for this park – and that was to wait out the heat.  I was staying in Tucson and changing to a hotel in Phoenix the next day, I wante dto time it right.  I was to leave in the afternoon, drive the few hours and make it to the park while it was still open … Well you know what they say about best laid plans and border control stops... needless today say, I just missed the ranger.  They were literally locking up as I got there.  I was able to do a few car tours (I was not hiking alone in this park – EVER), snapped a few pictures of this cacti and headed off for my hours long drive north. 

In 2012, I made a trip through Bayou country – visiting Lafayette, Houma and Lake Charles Louisiana, as well as Lake Jackson, TX.   It was during these trips that I was able to visit the Cajun history district of the Jean Lafayette National Park and learn about the French migration to southern Louisiana.  I headed to Galveston, TX to see how the small city has come back after its hurricane damage.  I fed many mosquitoes at Big Thicket National Preserve, a true unappreciated gem in the national park system.  Where else do you see so many ecosystems collide in one place?  Looking around, you see vegetation from all over the country in one place – pickly pear cacti next to loblolly pine; pitcher plants next to giant fern.  They say the thicket is where glaciers from the last ice age converged and deposited seeds from all over North America in one place.  More specifically, it the merging of 4 ecological zones: bottom land hardwoods and cypress sloughs, palmetto hardwood flats, wetland pine savannah and slope forest (for those of you that really want to know).  It is also the only place you can see 4 of the 5 carnivorous plants in the US, including Pitcher Plants and Sundews.  This bayou trip was also noteworthy because my small camera "walked away" while in Galveston.  So while I got pictures in Big Thicket this marked my second trip to Galveston where my pictures were lost.  =-(

pom-pom ponytails unite!
I started the year strong with my first trip to Memphis.  Visiting the National Civil Rights Museum and Graceland was a study in contrasts.  On the one hand, you had the solemn nature of the site of Martin Luther King's assassination at an ordinary Motel in the city (the only one that allowed him to stay there at the time), on the other, there is the sprawling nature of Graceland (not really a show of decadence, but a tribute to the King of Rock).  I finished up the year with a trip to Florida with a good friend. We took a road trip from NJ to FL for the Rutgers Bowl game.  I won’t comment here about the lousy game – my poor team had no offense.  But I will say that we stayed in Orlando and can honestly tell you to stay away during the holidays.  I have never seen Disney like that (and yes, I have been there around the holidays before).  It was miserably crowded.  With lines that lasted hours, we were glad that we had “been there and done that” before.  We took in shows and tried not to get too knocked around.  A HUGE highlight of the trip was the Wizarding World of Harry Potter, where we drank butter beer, pumpkin juice and relaxed at Hogs Head and Three Broomsticks.  The new year’s countdown at EPCOT was epic, noting other continents’ celebrations and ending in one amazing firework techocolor bananza of a show.  It was a good trip to make up for the sorry game and a fun way the end the year.

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