hatman: HatMan, my alter ego and face on the 'net (Default)
( Nov. 18th, 2009 01:59 am)
Hey, cool. Got a notice from Schmap travel guides that they've shortlisted one of my pictures for possible use in the next edition of their San Francisco guide. I don't get any money or anything from that, but still... Recognition, appreciation, potential usefulness.... Neat. :)

For the heck of it, I'll link to other pics from the trip, for your browsing pleasure. And day-by-day entries about the trip (including a small selection of those pics) are, like this entry, posted with the "roadtrip09" tag on LJ and DW.
hatman: HatMan, my alter ego and face on the 'net (Default)
( Sep. 11th, 2009 05:47 am)
I spent the last few nights going over notes and pictures and writing up my experiences from the cross-country trip. Uploaded over 200 pics (out of about 850) along with some video. (For which purpose I upgraded my flickr account, at least for the year.) You can find that all here, but I also tagged the pics by date.

I ended up writing a separate entry for each day of the trip, but I backdated them all to their proper dates so as not to flood your friends/reading pages. All entries share the tag "roadtrip09," but you can also just start at Day 1 and then use the "Next Entry" button to navigate along. Each entry starts out with a link to the flickr tag for the day, but I've also embedded smaller versions of certain pictures in the entries themselves. The more beautiful or interesting ones, or the ones with particular stories attached to them. Still, there are some more stories and sights in the flickr pics and their attached comments, if you're interested.

You can see a rough map of my route on Google Maps by clicking here. For the record, the rental company says that I put 3026 miles on the car after I picked it up in California, and I know we put at least 3000 miles on the truck driving there (it was something like 2950 to drive straight, and we did some detours for food and lodging). So that's at least 6000 miles in just over 2 weeks.

Hope you enjoy. :)
hatman: HatMan, my alter ego and face on the 'net (Default)
( Aug. 17th, 2009 05:26 am)
Repacked my stuff to condense things for the airline. My main bag got heavier, but I didn't think it would be a problem. It ended up weighing in at 46 pounds. Thankfully, the limit was 50 pounds (more, and you get charged extra). I've seen it lower, especially in airlines that figure primarily in kilograms. It would have been overweight, actually, if I'd kept the maps and guidebooks. Fortunately, I'd donated them to the hotel. (I got them free with my AAA membership anyway.) Front desk person seemed kind of confused about that idea. I heard her calling someone (presumably the manager) to ask what to do with them. But hopefully they'll make a good library for future guests.

Speaking of collections... if you're interested, you can click here to see a bag with all the insulin syringes I used during the two weeks of the trip. (I kept them in a bag until I could dispose of them safely and properly.)

Got to the airport, returned the car (I'd forgotten to top off the tank that morning, but luckily I'd filled up not too far out of town the night before), checked in. Went to buy lunch to take on the plane, but the McDonald's was only serving breakfast. Ordered a chicken biscuit sandwich, but that turned out to take much longer to put together than anything else they were serving. Realized I was getting late for the flight. Rushed across the airport. Found the gate. Completely wrong airline, with a flight going in the completely wrong direction. Looked at my ticket again. In my haste, I'd gone to my seat number instead of the gate number. My gate was all the way across the terminal (though, fortunately, I was in the right terminal - both seat and terminal were A, even if the numbers were different). It was hot, I was short on sleep, and my bags were heavy. I looked for an electric cart, but the only one I saw was charging and there was no one to drive me. Made it as quickly as I could, and was the last on the plane. With a lot of carry-on. But I made it, and on time. Whew.

Flight took me, ironically enough, to Newark Airport, a place I know well. It's the closest one to home. But my family was in MA, having driven up the day before for our annual vacation. So I walked across good old Terminal C to the departure gate for my connecting flight. At Mom's advice, I stopped to double-check the departure board, and, sure enough, the gate had changed in the few hours since I'd checked in at Denver. Luckily, the new gate was only one over, and I had no trouble getting to it. Except the flight... wasn't there. Completely different flight leaving from there, and that one was departing late. I was told it was the correct gate, but that my flight had also been delayed. Even though it was still listed as on time at the departure board and the online systems.

Managed to piece together from stuff overheard and things my bro-in-law was able to find online, that, for some reason, the plane which had been supposed to take me had been diverted to another route for some reason, and there was a delay getting the new plane in.

Delay was 30 minutes. Then two hours. With the computers still insisting, right up until the time the plane was supposed to have taken off, that the flight was on time. Then they just wiped the flight status off the board. Flight listed, status blank. Then I was quietly told by the gate agent that the flight had been moved back next door to the original gate. The announcement was made shortly thereafter. And then, about 10 minutes later, they made another announcement... the flight wasn't going to be delayed for another hour and a half, after all, but would be taking off in about half an hour, and all passengers were requested to come back immediately. Which threw a bit of a wrench into the plans of those who had, hearing of the delay, gone off to find dinner.

The plane was small, and there weren't many of us flying. We got seated, and then were told that we'd have to move around a bit in order to balance the plane. How reassuring.

But things actually went smoothly from there. Got to the airport in MA to find that my niece and nephew, having demanded the privilege of greeting me, had been granted special dispensation to stay up long past bedtime. After two weeks away from the whole family, that was quite a greeting.

And then I settled in for two weeks with my parents, siblings, nieces, and nephews at our cozy, relaxing, familiar, and beautiful annual vacation spot. A very satisfactory end to the trip.
hatman: HatMan, my alter ego and face on the 'net (Default)
( Aug. 16th, 2009 04:48 am)
Pics for the day

I checked out of the hotel in the morning. For posterity, here's what I'd been carrying around with me:

Two weeks' worth of all-weather clothing, a month's worth of medications, maps and food, my computer, my CPAP, distilled water for the CPAP, and, of course, hanging off the end, the black shoulder bag I use to carry my day-to-day stuff (wallet, insulin, glucometer, camera, etc etc). I really miss the days when I could travel light.

I had to make it to Denver that night, but I figured I had some time to play with, and there was more I wanted to see in the area. So I took a drive out to Custer State Park.

Absolutely beautiful. Though there were some hairpin turns, narrow roadways, areas where there was a cliff instead of a shoulder, and, of course, some narrow one-lane passageways:

I passed more bison (which, of course, meant rubbernecking delays), and, around the corner from them, a herd of elk. I silently apologized to both for having eaten their cousins the previous day.

I tried calling one of the local radio stations, but they were doing their weekly blues program and no one picked up. I was also, thanks to the mountains, getting spotty reception both on the radio and my cell phone.

Passed by a campground named "Horse Thief." Across the street was a house with... a horse in the front yard.

As with Yellowstone, I found the drive, beautiful as it was, took longer than I'd planned. It was getting a little late by the time I got through the loop. I noticed, though, that the blues morning had ended. I'd left a message on their voicemail making the request, but I decided to give it one more try. Called... and got voicemail again. I left a second message apologizing for being pushy but explaining that it was my first time in the Black Hills, that I'd been having so much trouble getting through, that I was going to be leaving the area very shortly, and that it would mean a lot to me if I could hear the song before I left.

On air shortly thereafter, the DJ announced that he was going to commercial, and that he had the Rolling Stones and I forget what else cued for when he came back. Dang.

Kept driving, taking in the sights. Radio came back from commercial, and... some very familiar acoustic guitar strains started to play. I got a big grin on my face, and it stayed there through the whole of Rocky Raccoon.

I called back and left another voicemail, saying that I had a long drive ahead of me, but that he'd just made my day.

A little while later, I realized I was in sore need of a bathroom. And I was in the middle of a state park. I kept driving, but no opportunities presented themselves. The road took me out of the park, but there was nothing by the roadside. I started bouncing in my seat, wondering if I was going to have to pull over and duck behind the bushes. Kept driving. There was a town on the map, but... nothing there. Missed a planned turn-off (I'd had the GPS off for my meanderings through the park) without realizing it. Finally came to a gas station, which turned out to be just down the road from my hotel in Custer. Stopped. Jumped out of the car. Found the women's room. Circled the building. No men's room. Went inside. No men's room that I could see, and no attendant.

Finally, in desperation, I hobbled rapidly across the parking lot to the little booth for the miniature golf place next door. Attendant there was nice enough to let me use the facilities there... just in time. Whew.

Back in the car, back on the road. Approached the town of Newcastle (a little ways back across the Wyoming border) just around lunchtime. There was a billboard announcing a restaurant called the "pizza barn," which sounded kind of cool. But the sign for the turnoff was small and poorly marked, and I missed it. Ah well. I'd be in Newcastle proper soon enough, and surely they'd have...

Blink and you miss it, especially since the turnoff I needed was on the near end of town. I was out into nowhere before I even realized it. Considered making a U-turn, going back, and exploring around until I found something open for lunch, but just then there was a sign saying that the town of Redbird was only another 20 or so miles down the road, and that there were a couple more towns along the way, too. So I decided to press on.

I found myself driving through empty desert. Long stretches where there wasn't even anything on the radio (except, sometimes, a NASCAR broadcast, which I listened to for a while). It was a Sunday, and it was already after 2:00. Remembering my experience of just a couple of days before, I realized I was in trouble.

Stopped off at a rest stop in what turned out to be Redbird. No sign of a town whatsoever. I was halfway between the tiny town of Newcastle and the next town over, Lusk. The rest stop barely had running water. Under the toilet seat was a huge gaping hole which led directly to a large septic tank.

Lunch was peanut butter crackers and boxed milk at a shaded picnic bench at the rest stop.

It started to rain shortly thereafter. Which, as it turns out, meant seeing the biggest, clearest, most beautiful rainbow I'd seen in years:

Made it to my hotel in Denver. Had dinner at the 50s-themed diner next door. Got room 408 at the hotel - same number as the room I'd had for my first two years in college. I looked at my remaining food supplies and saw to my surprise that I was down to my last box of milk. I'd originally planned to take 3 or maybe 6, for emergencies and times when the hotel I'd chosen didn't offer breakfast. I figured that'd be enough, and I could always get more on the road, if need be. But the grocery store had only had 9-packs, and I'd decided to take all 9. It seemed like more than enough, but I knew I could always donate them to someone if I had extra. And somehow I was down to my last. That night, I had a low blood sugar. 9 had turned out to be exactly the number I'd needed.
hatman: HatMan, my alter ego and face on the 'net (Default)
( Aug. 15th, 2009 02:55 am)
Pics for the day

Stayed at the Holiday Inn Express in Custer, SD. The second (and last) time I stayed at the same hotel for two nights on the trip.

What I never understood was why they were called Holiday Inn Express. The idea of an "express" hotel just makes me think you need to sleep fast or something. Even if you set that joking aside, it just makes the hotel sound cheap and stripped-down, like the "express" versions of fast food restaurants you find in food courts. Don't know what they were thinking when they chose that brand name. But it turns out to be a very well-appointed hotel. Luxurious decor, very nice breakfast, comfortable rooms. There's even a beautiful waterfall out back (behind the big plate glass windows in the lobby/breakfast area):

Oh, and a nice little sitting area behind the elevator with comfortable chairs and a lovely view of... the vending machines:

The hotel also happens to be directly across the street from Flintstones Bedrock City amusement park and campground. (Large picture here.) All the buildings are done in the style of the cartoon. It was kind of cool to look at, though I wasn't overly tempted to explore further.

My first stop for the day was the Crazy Horse Memorial. It's a 100-year project to carve a sculpture in honor of Sioux chief Crazy Horse out of a mountain in the Black Hills, which were long sacred to the tribe. (The fact that the sculpture is a mere 10 miles or so from Mount Rushmore is, of course, a complete coincidence.) The sculpture is huge. All four faces of Rushmore would fit in just the head, and the plan is to carve out a full torso and the corresponding portion of a horse, too.

The sculptor doing the work (at the behest of the Sioux tribe) was an assistant on Rushmore. His parents were Polish immigrants, but he was orphaned at a young age and raised by an Irish ex-prizefighter in Boston until he left at the age of 16. He married a woman named Ruth, and I'm wondering if, perhaps, he was Jewish (by birth, at least). They had 10 kids - 5 boys and 5 girls. He died in the 80s, but his kids (8 of the 10, anyway) continue the work. It's the project of their lives, as it was for their father.

The whole thing is privately funded. He started off working by himself on a shoestring budget, but as the project has picked up fame, donors have come in. And tourists (like me). They've got a whole museum now with an extensive gift shop (the inventory coming largely from donated goods, most made by local native tribes). They've been offered government money more than once. Large federal grants. But the sculptor insisted on turning it down. He didn't want to be beholden to anyone but the people, didn't want the project to belong to anyone but the tribe.

The face is done, and the area above the outstretched arm has been blasted clear. Millions of tons of granite have been removed, but there is considerable work left. Decades' worth. You can see here the scale model of the finished product, as well as a better view of what's done so far. The visitor's center is a mile away from the mountain, and if you look closely at the second picture you can see a large steamshovel on top of what will be the arm.

There are a few more pictures in today's batch, including some informational signs and a picture of the old compressor he used back at the beginning (after a year or two). It's amazing, and touring the visitor's center was a real learning experience. About the mountain, the tribe, local history...

On the one hand, you've got the copycat angle. Rushmore draws so many visitors, is so well known. And here they've decided to not only carve their own mountain right nearby, but do it way bigger, too. I mean, really.

On the other hand, it's a grand work. And they certainly deserve the recognition. The tribes themselves as well as the rich, bloody, tragic history.

In truth, I got so much more out of visiting Crazy Horse than I did Rushmore, and I wouldn't be surprised if, 50 or 100 years from now, it became the bigger attraction - figuratively as well as literally.

Oh, quick in-joke I have to share. A sign on the road up to the Crazy Horse visitor's center:

Cows ensue. ;)

Oh, another animal mention... You'd think daily mountain carving and frequent explosions would scare the local wildlife, but it seems that a herd of mountain goats took a liking to the stairs carved out by the Crazy Horse sculptors. They took up residence on the mountain, making use of the stairs, early on in the process, and they've grown entirely accustomed to the explosive goings-on. They just live on the mountainside, paying little attention to the tons of rock being blasted away nearby. The carving has been going on for over 60 years. Who knows how many generations of goats have grown up with it. Kinda cool, really.

Anyway, from there I made my way around the corner to Rushmore:

No, wait. Sorry. That's just the Coke machine in the parking deck.

Hmm. No. Not quite it, either. But at least I got my face up there with them.

Ah, there we go.

Except that that's not how it was supposed to look. The sculptors had to make some changes along the way. Jefferson was supposed to be on the left of Washington, but that area of mountain proved too unstable. There were many other revisions along the way, too. And even once they got the faces in the right place and started to work on the rest of the plan... they encountered a vein of loose shale running across the middle of the part of the mountain they'd intended to carve. So the final carving ended up a little short of the master plan:

Still, it's an amazing feat. To carve out the mountain, they used dynamite to blast away huge chunks of rock. With care, precision, and experience, they managed to place the explosives in such a way as to get within inches of the final curves. From there, jackhammers were used (with various heads for the final stages). All this was done by workmen who were lowered off the top of the mountain in harness chairs. And yet not a single life was lost during the entire process.

There are four presidents on Rushmore. Washington, to symbolize the founding of the country and the struggle for independence. Jefferson, to symbolize the expansion of the country. Lincoln, to symbolize the union of the country and the equality of its citizens. And Roosevelt, to symbolize the (then) modern role of the country and our place in world affairs.

At that point, it was lunchtime. I headed over to the Pioneer Lodge in the little town of Keystone. Looking at their menu, I noticed elk burgers. I felt a little bad about it, but also rather curious. With apologies to Bambi's distant relatives, I gave it a try. It tasted... pretty much like any other hamburger. Ah well.

From there, it was off to the Museum of Geology at the South Dakota School of Mines and Technology. Dinosaurs and fossils and minerals (oh my!). It wasn't exactly the Museum of Natural History in NYC, but it was still well worth exploring.

While I was there, I asked the people behind the counter if they could help me find a certain ancient artifact. Something called a... uhm... oh yeah. "Phone book." That earned me a brief smile. And it turns out that they actually did have such a thing. I knew if one was to be found, it'd be in the museum with the fossils. Flipped through and got the numbers to several local radio stations.

You see, I'd realized that I was in the Black Mountain Hills of Dakota, a place I'd heard of in song but had never expected to visit. I'd only had a vague idea of what they were (mountains somewhere in the Dakotas, obviously). But, being there, I just had to hear that old song again. The one we used to sing on family bike trips when I was a kid. The one I used to make my first solo L&C vid. Rocky Raccoon, by The Beatles.

I tried calling a few of the likely stations. The ones that played classic rock. But no one picked up. I think their weekend programming was nationally syndicated. Or dedicated to specialties like the blues or Woodstock (much talk about the anniversary, and some of the stations were playing music recorded from the event). Ah well.

It was late afternoon by the time I left the Museum of Geology. I had enough time to see one more site before 5 or 6pm closing time. I considered my options and settled on Sitting Bull Crystal Cave. There are several caves open for tours in the Black Hills. Jewel Cave is the second longest known in the world, and is said to be very beautiful... but it's so famous that there's often a huge line for tickets, especially later in the day. I could perhaps have explored Wind Cave, which is also supposed to be very beautiful, but it was too far - I'd realized when I'd chosen to head in the other direction to go see the Museum of Geology that I'd never be able to make it back in time to see that. But Sitting Bull was open a little later, was on my way back to the hotel, and was said to have the largest known specimens of certain crystal formations in the world.

Getting there was interesting. Once you turn off the main road, you have to go down a narrow path barely wide enough to allow two-way traffic. And it's got major major hairpin turns. There are huge signs up to warn you to honk your horn before taking the turn (to warn any oncoming cars from the other direction who would have no way to see you in time and no room to pull over). It was... intense.

Once I finally made it down, I learned that I'd just missed a tour. Luckily, though, there was time for one more. I'd just have to wait half an hour or so. But they hesitated in selling me the ticket. It's an 11-story climb down. Over 800 stairs. Very steep stairs. Not recommended for anyone with a disability or anyone not used to a good amount of exercise. But I told them I could make it.

The cave wasn't the most beautiful I'd seen, but it was interesting. There were crystal formations (some of which reminded me of the end of Superman Returns). There were also fossils embedded in the rock:

If you look closely inside that red circle, you can see a fossilized shrimp. In the middle of South Dakota. The middle of North America. Because, yes, once, many many years ago, the middle of what is now North America was at the bottom of the ocean. I'd known that, or at least heard it a few times here and there, but it was really cool to personally see solid evidence.

Then again, I also saw solid evidence of something very different:

A fossilized pineapple ring!

I wonder what that means... ;)

By the time I got out of the cave, the thunderstorms we'd been expecting all day had finally arrived. There'd been not-too-distant thunder when I went down, but the rain still hadn't come. (Something I personally put down to the fact that I'd been carrying my raincoat around with me all day. A talisman to ward off the actual rain, you see... ;) Luckily, it wasn't too far back to the car, and I did, as mentioned, have my raincoat on me.

Went back to the hotel, did a bit of research online (wireless in the hotel didn't work so well for me, but they had a backup - ethernet jacks. Which actually worked - once I reinstalled the ethernet drivers, anyway. Oops.) into local classic rock radio stations. One wasn't answering the phone. Another was scheduled to have Casey Kasem's Top 40 the next morning. Another was going to dedicate the morning to the blues. And I couldn't get the clock radio in the room to reliably pick up any of them. Ah well.

Went for dinner at Elk Canyon, a restaurant just down the street in Custer. Nice place, and not too far in case the rain (which had eased up and finally stopped) decided to pick up again. Also, I'd noticed on their menu (posted online) an interesting item - the "Bucket of Bones." BBQ ribs served in a bucket. Buffalo ribs. Not something you often get a chance to try. At least, not if you live in NJ. I went for it. They were good, too. Incredibly tender. Though the sauce was a little more watery than I'd have preferred. And they didn't come with much on the side. Still, I was glad of the experience. (And it sort of carried on the theme from lunch. About which I had some mixed feelings.)

Returned to the hotel with a few hours to bedtime and not much to do. Decided to poke around online... and lightning struck the hotel, knocking out the cable. Just at the very second that I pressed the button to send an email to one of the local radio stations about how to go about making a request. Dang.
hatman: HatMan, my alter ego and face on the 'net (Default)
( Aug. 13th, 2009 09:27 am)
Pics for the day

Had a little adventure of sorts in the morning. Roommate went off to work. His wife worked to make breakfast for us. Their toddler daughter climbed up the stairs. Mother was not overly concerned, but I went up to look after her. She showed me a toy in her room and then went to climb back down the stairs. I hesitated, not sure how to get past her safely on the narrow staircase. And, as I looked away for a sec to examine the toy she'd handed me (after the mother gave me a little of its history)... the baby slipped. When I turned back, she was already down the first step. I said something, I don't remember what, but basically I froze in horror. She tumbled all the way down.

Fortunately, the stairs were carpeted and there was a rubber mat at the bottom. And she ended up tumbling so that she rolled sideways down the stairs. Scared the living heck out of all three of us, but she was okay. I later learned that by the end of the day she was happily climbing back up the stairs. Still... scary. Mother felt awfully guilty about it, and I don't think I felt much better. I stayed long enough to make sure things were okay, but I think the mother (though very polite, even under the circumstances) was happy to see me go.

So I got back on the road and went to explore Yellowstone.

There was a fire in the park back in '88. Much of the area is still recovering. There are entire hillsides covered with the burnt-out trunks of trees. In some places, you can see newer growth mixed in.

There are also herds of bison and other animals that roam the park. And whenever any one (even a single animal) appears by the roadside, everyone stops. Major rubbernecking. Which can be amusing, helpful, or frustrating, depending on your mood and your plans. I saw a moose in the forest on the way into the park and several herds of bison on the way through it.

Headed towards Old Faithful, but the (anticipated) schedule wasn't posted anywhere outside the geyser's visitor's center, so I had no idea what time to aim for. I decided to just take it easy, explore, and either catch an eruption or not. As it happened, I got there midway between eruptions (which happen approximately every 90 minutes). So I took a picture of the base of the geyser and moved on. I'd already seen other geysers, and there was plenty more to see in the park. I don't regret the decision.

Did some walking on the trails, saw a waterfall, mountains... so many beautiful things.

I'd planned to leave the park around sunset, and did actually start heading out around then, but the park is huge and traffic moves slowly even when there aren't bison by the roadside. It was full dark by the time I got out the far side of the park. I used my high beams where I could, but tried to shut them off when I saw I was going to be passing a campsite, not wanting to disturb anyone. It was tense at times. I didn't get to see much. Later, looking over the AAA guide, I saw that the road I'd traveled from the park to my hotel for the night had been described as "the most scenic 52 miles of highway in the country."

It was pretty late by the time I got to the town of Cody, Wyoming, and I was very tired. Fortunately, I'd called ahead to the hotel to warn them that I'd be late. They'd told me there was a restaurant just up the street from them that would be open for a late dinner. I stopped there.

My waitress was nice and friendly, but her shirt had some trouble covering her... rather full chest. I wasn't staring or anything, but I was tired enough that I wasn't looking up too much, either. And I think I was probably blushing a bit. Went to take my insulin after dinner (which meant standing in a bathroom stall, since I don't like to take the injections anywhere public, for a number of reasons). I think the host might have come in to check on me. Not sure. But I found my waitress talking to a coworker behind the counter when I came back. "He probably went to *whisper whisper*," she said, and my waitress had this reaction... part horrified amusement, with a mix of other things...

Too tired to clear things up sensibly, though, even if they had been talking about what I suspect. Ah well.

Drove the last couple of blocks to my hotel for the night, the Buffalo Bill Cabins. Each room is its own freestanding "log cabin" with parking space, and there's a stuffed buffalo waiting to greet you on the bed (with a note attached that you need to leave him there to greet the next guest). There's also a sign in the room to let you know that if you leave anything behind, they'll happily mail it home for you - and they can do that because they have your license plate number. A friendly way to hide a subtle warning.

I got to the hotel just after the main office had been locked for the night. As I parked, I met the guy who'd done so. He told me he'd dropped my key off at the hotel next door (on the same property, owned by the same people), and took me there in his golf cart. Waited for me to sign in and get the key, carted me back to my car, and then drove ahead of me to show me to my room. Refused a tip to thank him for staying late to show me around.

I settled in, found a shaky wireless signal from the hotel next door (there was a somewhat better one for guests of the cabins, but I didn't have the password), and went to sleep.
hatman: HatMan, my alter ego and face on the 'net (Default)
( Aug. 12th, 2009 08:53 am)
Pics for the day

I'd stopped off for the night at a lovely little Hampton Inn in Mountain Home, Idaho. Grown fond of Hampton on my various trips, though their prices have gone up a bit in the last couple of years. Finally had good internet service. Expansive breakfast. And it didn't hurt that the staff seemed to consist mainly of charming young ladies.

Spent much of the day driving across the Idaho countryside. (Fortunately, the GPS, having had the night off to reset itself, worked just fine.) It was almost entirely unpopulated. More mountains than I'd expected. More cows, too (though, in truth, not that many). I saw one field that could maybe possibly have been growing potatoes, but no more than that. I have no idea where all the potatoes actually were. Most of what I saw was endless patches of scrub brush, one of which turned out to (somewhat randomly, as far as I can tell) have been designated a National Forest.

In the middle of a long stretch of road through said scrub brush, I noticed a decades-old plastic sign off the side of the road advertising Pepsi. Behind it was about the most beat-up, dilapidated, sketchy-looking, ramshackle old wooden building I'd seen (not counting long-abandoned farmhouses) in some time. The sign said it was a hotel. I think it was actually open. Later, I realized that it was probably a hunting lodge, since I'd seen several turn-offs with little signs announcing "sportsman access."

Also along the highway were historical sites... which turned out to be little pull-out areas in what would otherwise be the shoulder of the highway. There would be a large sign at each... and not much more. A view of miles and miles of empty and unmarked scrub brush. But there was a branch of the Oregon Trail that went through the area, and I'm sure there was plenty of history involving the natives. Still... kind of underwhelming, as historical sites go.

On the radio, I heard ads for a drag racing meetup, apparantly a big annual one in southern Idaho. (There was also, as it happened, a big motorcycle gathering in South Dakota shortly before my arrival.) What attracted my attention was the name. And, to some degree, the location. It was at High Desert Speedway, which was, according to the ad, "just 5 miles past the stoplight" in Gooding. What amused me more, though, is that the name of the event was "Thunder On The Butte." (It's pronounced "beaut," but still... Okay, fine. Maybe I'm being juvenile. It still amused me.)

Made it across state route 20 to Craters of the Moon National Park. It's a vast area of lava flows with odd rock formations and unusual plants. NASA has used it in testing to simulate conditions on Mars.

I drove around the park and took a couple of walks along short trails. Pics and a couple of videos are linked at the top.

Went to explore at least one of the "caves" (not technically caves, since they're actually just holes in the lava flows). It was a mile-long walk down a paved path over the rocky hills. In summer desert heat with black lava rock all over. It was a bit of a trek. The trail split at one point, one end going to a single cave, the other going to "Boy Scout Cave" (known for having been explored by a troop of scouts, and for having an entrance small enough that you pretty much had to be a small child to get in) and to "Beauty Cave." I decided that two chances at caves were better than one, particularly when one of them is named "Beauty Cave." I got there to find some people coming out with a heavy-duty flashlight. Kicked myself for not having thought of that and for having left my little flashlight in the car. Decided to go see the cave anyway.

It was a treacherous climb down over loose, sharp rock:

At the bottom, there was... darkness. It did, however, feel surprisingly, refreshingly cool. Cool enough that I saw my breath misting in the air, despite the scorching heat topside.

I waited a few minutes to see if any of the people who'd been behind me on the trail (and might have flashlights) would catch up, but they didn't. So I climbed back up and started on the trail back, warning people as I passed that they should have their flashlights ready, but that they could expect major relief from the heat. One of them told me that, no, they didn't have a flashlight, but that they'd decided to go to the cave that didn't require one. I looked at the brochure in my hand (which I'd glanced over without reading the main text). Sure enough, the other branch of the path would have taken me to a cave with natural openings in the ceiling which let in enough light to see by without a flashlight... and also had a nice, easy staircase to help visitors get down to the bottom. Brilliant.

But it was late and I was tired so I decided to skip it. Got into the car and headed over to my next stop - the new home of my old college roommate, his wife, and their 16-month-old daughter. Was good to see him again and meet the baby and all that. We stayed up late chatting and playing games.
hatman: HatMan, my alter ego and face on the 'net (Default)
( Aug. 10th, 2009 07:07 am)
Pics for the day

Spent the day touring around Portland with a friend. We'd lost touch for a couple of years, but a serious knee injury had left her with time and motivation to look up an old friend or two. We'd gotten reacquainted just in time for me to plan a detour out so we could get together in person. It was a little funny getting used to touring around with her. I'm used to being the slow one, fragile one, but she'd only recently graduated to being able to walk on crutches. Every time we stopped (and I'm sorry to say it slipped my mind at least once), I had to get my cane out, hobble around the back of the car, get her crutches out, and come to help her. We were "gimp and gimpier."

She guided me along the highway down the Columbia River gorge, which was just beautiful. We stopped at Multonomah Falls, which was awe-inspiringly beautiful. There was a sign at the bottom of the falls warning visitors to beware of a beaver which had been sighted in the area and might maybe possibly be rabid. I took a picture. It's not often you see a "beware of beaver" sign.

From there, we drove over the Bridge of the Gods (I managed not to call the tolltaker "Heimdall." Barely.) to the Washington side, and from there to the Bonneville Dam. The dam was put in by the Army Corps of Engineers, and it was pretty cool. They had a whole museum set up with the history of the dam, its impact on the coastline (they had to move a whole town several miles downriver, since building the dam flooded the original settlement), the impact of western overfishing on the native tribes, and all sorts of stuff. There's even a view into the fish ladder. I took a video of that (included in the day's pictures). The fish were swimming at a good clip, but the current of the river was so strong that they weren't getting anywhere. It was like an aquatic treadmill. Or, more aptly, as my friend put it, like one of those "endless" wave pools.

At the beginning of the fish ladder, the passageway was deliberately narrowed so that they could make an official count of the fish that swam through, keeping a track of the different species, when they came through, etc.

There was also a sign pointing out a lighted passageway through the dam. A narrow channel of water that went as far as the eye could see, with regularly spaced electric lights above it. Seems that the fish won't swim through in the darkness. That was pretty interesting to learn, I thought, and to see the lengths they went to in order to accommodate the fish. With the fish ladder, the lighted tunnel, and other measures, something like 98% of fish survive passage through the dam (which, BTW, only blocks about 1/3 of the river). Including the minority that end up going through the turbines. Very impressive.

Oh... should mention the dam's elevator, also designed by the Army Corps of Engineers. There are three floors in the visitor's center. The middle one is where you come in, and has a small display area with some exhibits. The upper one connects to a pedestrian bridge that takes you to the dam itself, where you can see the turbines and part of the museum. The lower one takes you one floor down, where you can walk outside to visit the fish ladder and the area of the museum dedicated to the native tribes of the area. The buttons on the elevator are not labeled 1, 2, and 3. They are not labeled "Ground," "Lower Level," and "Bridge." They are not labeled with anything you're likely to expect. Instead, they are labeled 75, 90, and 115. Because they decided to label them by the number of feet above sea level.
hatman: HatMan, my alter ego and face on the 'net (Default)
( Aug. 9th, 2009 05:55 am)
Unfortunately, there was a blackout at 7 in the morning. Turns out it'd been a scheduled one, but that, since the last several announced blackouts had failed to actually occur, the owners hadn't expected this one to, either. So my CPAP shut off, waking me up. And breakfast was cooked (fortunately they had a gas burner) by candlelight. The inn had an emergency generator, but it wasn't enough for full power and had to be restarted several times.

Had a nice conversation with my tablemates while we waited for food to be prepared, about politics and Harry Potter and a bunch of other random things. The inn's owner whipped up french toast and scrambled eggs and I forget what else, cooked to order, doing what he could with whatever worked in the kitchen. He was working pretty furiously back there, and it took him a while to fill the orders, but, as far as I'm concerned, the results were well worth it.

After I'd eaten, power had been restored, and things had settled down at least a little, I stepped over to get a picture of him in the kitchen:

Also got a picture of the front of the inn:

And the view across the street to what there is of the town of Myers Flat ("sneeze and you'll miss it," as the hostess said):

The hostess loves to give talks about the area and what there is to see. Unfortunately, I had a long drive ahead of me and couldn't afford to spend the time. She was disappointed, but her husband gently reminded her that I did need to go. And I caught part of the talk on my way out. Husband asked about my bags, but I'd already gotten them downstairs and into the car, using the back stairs (which led almost directly out from my room, which was at the end of the hall). He was all set to help me, even seemed a little disappointed that I'd already done it myself, but I told him he'd clearly had enough on his hands with breakfast and the blackout. He smiled and thanked me, admitting that things had been pretty hectic. Said a quick goodbye and then hurried back to the kitchen for more work.

I headed back to the road, driving through the very scenic and peaceful redwood forest. Stopped off at Prairie Creek State Park. Outside the visitor's center, there was a wooden sign attached to the side of the building just to the right of the door. At the top there was a little bird's nest. I managed to snap off a shot just as the mother flew in to feed one of the chicks:

At the advice of the very helpful woman in the visitor's center, I drove a couple of miles down the road to stop at the Big Tree and walk the shorter pathway that looped through a section of the forest. It was breathtakingly beautiful. (And, in parts, reminded me of Endor. Probably not that big a coincidence. Those scenes were surely shot somewhere amongst California's redwoods.) Check out the day's pics (linked at the top of this entry) to see for yourself. Included are two short videos - one of the drive through part of the forest, the other of the Big Tree.

Back on the road, I followed 101 up the coast before cutting back to I-5 via 199 (a little south of the Oregon border). I was sorry to miss the Oregon coastline, which more than one person had told me was even more beautiful than California's, but I didn't have the time. I was due to stay over in Portland, which was still several hundred miles away. (Google maps says about 460 from Myers Flat to the suburb where I stayed.)

Along the way, I passed a sign marking the 45th Parallel - halfway between the equator and the north pole.

I also heard an old song that's long confused me. She's A Beauty, by The Tubes. The song itself doesn't confuse me. It's pretty clear what it's about. Which is exactly why I'm always confused about why it gets as much radio airtime as it does. Maybe I'm just too much of a prude.

Other thing I noticed on the highway. Very odd, and somewhat frustrating (though I tried not to let it get to me too much and to keep a sense of humor about it)... I'm driving along the highway with two lanes going in each direction. I'm going at a good clip - speeding a little, but not by more than about 5mph. In the right lane, there's a truck that's going along somewhat under the speed limit. Behind the truck is a car or small truck. I can see them from a mile off. Possibly more. There's no one in the left lane as far as I can see in front of me, and no one in the left lane for at least a mile behind me. This happened at least five times that day, and several times a day on subsequent days. In every single case... Just as I catch up with the two vehicles in the right lane, the driver of the car (perhaps inspired by my example) suddenly decides that he'd like to pass the slow(ish) truck in front of him. Shifts lanes right in front of me with about a second to spare, going 5 or 10 mph slower than I've been going... just fast enough to very gradually pass the truck (after which he shifts back into the right lane and proceeds along just slightly faster than the truck). Every single time. Could have easily done it with time to spare when I first spotted him. Could have done it just as well just after I passed. But no. Every single time, he decides that the perfect time to edge past the truck he's been following for miles is just before I get there. *shakes head*

Two other things of note about driving in Oregon...

First, all gas is full serve. Just like NJ... and *checks* yep... no other state in the country. I discovered this when I stopped off for gas (naturally). Took a while getting my stuff together - getting my shoes back on, digging my wallet out, etc - and then opened the door to the sound of a cheerful "Hello!" Jumped in my seat and whipped my head around to find a boy in his mid-to-late teens waiting patiently right next to the door. I think he was sort of used to it. And also used to people like me who forget to actually pop the cover on the gas cap. (Though in my defense the car I usually drive automatically unlocks the gas cap when you unlock the doors - a strange and somewhat unsettling mechanism when I first encountered it, but now one that I'm thoroughly accustomed to.)

Other thing is speedometer check areas. I don't think they have those in the northeast. Basically, it's a measured mile (which we do have), but there are signs beforehand which tell you it's coming up and how long it should take you to go that mile at speed limit. Kind of interesting, though I'm not sure how often people actually make use of it, especially since it involves timing your drive to the second. (Not to mention holding to speed limit on a nice big open stretch of interstate highway.)

Anyway, that's about it for the day. I'll spare you the bit about the front desk worker I didn't really get along with (I think she was having a stressful day) and just move along to the next day.
hatman: HatMan, my alter ego and face on the 'net (Default)
( Aug. 8th, 2009 04:57 am)
Pics for the day

Spent the morning helping Dan out with stuff. Mostly getting his rental car. I was supposed to meet some family friends for a late morning coffee, but had to postpone and ultimately delay it. Seems the rental company was in the midst of a nationwide software update, so computers were down for the day at every rental location. And they didn't have his car ready at the small out-of-town rental location where it was supposed to be. And the larger, even further out-of-town rental location was backed up. They were supposed to send a driver over with his car, but it was taking forever. And I think I sort of understood from what the guy was saying that there was only one driver at that location, and she had a number of other drop-offs to do. So we drove down there, figuring it would take less time. Which it probably would have. But the big location was hugely backed up. (And there nearly no room in the glorified driveway that served as a parking lot for me to park or turn around. Managed it, but ended up staying with this huge SUV double parked in the back of the lot with just enough space next to me for the - fortunately professional - drivers to squeak in and out of the car wash/car prep area.) The whole thing took hours, not to mention the driving time back to town and then through town...

But we managed it. And I headed into San Francisco to see what I could see. I knew the friends I was supposed to meet had a lunch engagement, so I decided to hold off calling them for a while. Hit more traffic going across the bridge into the city, and then bumper-to-bumper delays going through Golden Gate Park (which wasn't so bad, because it gave me a better chance to see the sights, even though I'd planned to park and walk around). Friends called me back while I was in the middle of that. Turns out they were heading in for the lunch thing late, but that I could join them (not their first choice, but not that bad, and really the only option if we were going to get together, since I wanted to be out of the city and on the road by mid-afternoon).

The lunch thing turned out to be a farewell picnic for a friend who was moving overseas. Put together by a fair-sized group of friends. It was held in Dolores Park, in the middle of the city. I programmed the GPS (we got one for my dad for Father's Day, and he let me borrow it for the trip - turned out to be very useful, particularly after I split off from Dan to explore the country on my own) to take me there, headed across town, and then looked for parking.

There were no spaces, particularly nothing large enough to fit the oversized SUV. Everything that did look like a space turned out to be a driveway or hydrant or something. It was as bad as trying to park in Manhattan, and I didn't know the streets of San Francisco. And I was pressed for time. Then, as I got to the corner of the park (after having tried a side-street which turned out to be a narrow dead-end), I noticed a likely-looking space around the corner. Big enough to fit the SUV, right near the park... it seemed too good to be true. I checked the signage, but the only one posted was about weekly street cleanings on a completely different day. Looked around, didn't see anything else to indicate a problem (sidewalk normal, curb not painted, etc.), parked. Got out of the car, which meant stepping into the road, and hurried down to the corner to get away from oncoming traffic as the light changed.

Spent an hour in the park. Saw the friends. Ate the food (it was a potluck collective), but tried to keep the portion modest. Offers of payment were refused. Took my insulin, but cut back a little since I'd held back on portion size. Returned to the car just in time to find an officer writing me a ticket. The first ticket I've ever gotten (for parking or anything else). Turns out there was a big gaping garage door right next to where I'd parked. It'd been closed when I'd parked, and was painted the same color as the rest of the building. Completely unremarkable. I told the officer I hadn't seen it. "What, don't they have driveways where you come from?" she snapped in response. Finished writing the ticket and drove off. There was an address on the back of the ticket for appeals. I wrote the story up and asked that the ticket be forgiven. Haven't heard back yet. We'll see, I guess.

Oh, and it came up that one of the people there (a school principal, no less, IIRC) had never heard of Free To Be You And Me. It's an absolute classic. My big sister loves it. She's been giving the CD to all her friends. And now, realizing that her kids, while they enjoyed the CD, didn't really get into it until they saw the DVD, she's been giving that out. Highly recommended to anyone with small kids.

But there's a song included that's been on my mind since. I laughed the first time I heard it, then thought it was cool, but then developed an association with something very different. Now, every time I hear it... (I'll put it under a spoiler thingy. Highlight only if you're willing to take the risk of forever associating a beloved childhood classic with something icky from SNL. The song is "Parents Are People." (Lyrics are here, among other places.) It starts out with the declaration that "Mommies are people..." And now, every time I think of it, I can't help but hear Phil Hartman desperately shouting out, "Mommies are people! They're made out of people!!!." Thanks, of course, to the SNL skit about Soylent Green (video, transcript.)

Anyway, from there I went to see the Golden Gate Bridge. I wanted to do that much before leaving the city behind. Parked nearby and went to walk through the park (Crissy Park, not Golden Gate Park, as it turned out) to get a view of the bridge. Here's what I saw:

A little disappointing in one respect, but pretty cool in another. Was less fun to drive through that, though. Maybe 30 feet of visibility. On a bridge. With a fair amount of traffic. Though the effect as the support towers rose gradually and majestically out of the fog was pretty cool.

I also got a nice view of Alcatraz from the park... and, in front of it, the International Kiteboarding Championships:

It was about then that I noticed I was feeling shaky. I realized that my blood sugar was going low. I looked around for a concessions tent, figuring there had to be one with so many people gathered, but the only one I saw was selling t-shirts and water bottles. I went up to explain the situation to them and ask if there was somewhere I could get something. Turns out I'd just about passed the building with the cafeteria in it on the way over from the car, but there were people handing out free sports drinks. They gave me a bottle they'd collected earlier, which I gratefully sipped on my way over to the cafeteria. Got myself an overpriced but pretty good muffin, waited until I felt a little more stable, and got back on the road. Drove over the bridge, as mentioned, and then out along Route 101.

I'd originally planned to take the highway up and cross over to 101 further north. There was a nice cutthrough that went through the middle of what the AAA map said was state and national park land (though Google Maps doesn't seem to agree). A couple of things I was interested in possibly seeing along the way, too. But I also wanted to take the Golden Gate Bridge, just for the experience of it (and I'm glad I did)... and that leads directly to 101. Going to I-5 would have been out of the way. And, looking at the map, 101 seemed at least a relatively major road.

It turned out to be more local than I'd expected, but it worked out. I called from the road to secure a room, but the place I'd selected was booked solid. I tried a B&B a little further down the road. It was more expensive than I'd hoped for, but the woman on the phone sounded really welcoming and hospitable. And my call had come at the end of a sudden and unexpected flurry of activity - they only had one room left. So I decided to splurge a bit and go for it. They gave me directions to the hotel (many GPS systems were known to have the location off by several miles) and to the Avenue Cafe, a nearby pizza place which was sort of on the way, highly recommended, and open late. That turned out to be pretty good, with good food, very friendly service, and really reasonable prices.

I got to the Myers Country Inn after the lobby was technically closed, but (once the owner came to unlock the door) had no trouble checking in and getting settled. He insisted on helping with my bags, taking several of the heaviest ones up the stairs and down the hall for me.

It was a beautiful little place, and the hosts could not have been nicer, friendlier, or more welcoming. For once, I had a workable wireless signal, too... until the router went down at 10:30. I decided not to disturb the hosts. So I flipped through the maps and guidebook for a while and went to bed.
hatman: HatMan, my alter ego and face on the 'net (Default)
( Aug. 7th, 2009 08:28 am)
Not much to say about the 7th. We drove the last 50 or so miles and offloaded what we could from the truck. Had pizza for dinner, as per moving day tradition. Oh, that's something. I went looking online for local pizza places. But we were in Berkley, CA. One of them offered pizza with all sorts of organically grown stuff in weird combinations. Another made more normal-seeming pizzas... until you got to the part where they delivered them uncooked so you could throw them in the oven yourself. Only thing with normal pizza in the area was a Domino's. So I ordered online (which one of the people in the house thought to be a brave and odd move). That was cool. The website has a progress bar for your order, so you can see stage by stage when they start on it, put it in the oven, box it, send it out for delivery... Finally, there was a line on the form for special driver instructions ("use the back door" or whatever). I put in "big yellow moving truck," figuring it would be a good landmark, and the driver would know whom to look for. Turned out to be a good thing. We were out at the truck when he pulled up. So he did, indeed, deliver the pizza to the big yellow moving truck. I found it vaguely amusing.

Went to pick up my rental car. I'd ordered a standard, but when I got there, I was given something a little different:

Turns out there was a company rule that since I was returning it to a different state they had to give me a car with out-of-state plates. And that was all they had.

It turned out to be a good transition. After a week of driving the truck, the huge SUV felt small, light, and low to the ground.

One other thing - looking at the maps of the area, I noticed that one of the suburbs of San Francisco is named Sunnyvale. I kind of want to go there and open up a themed restaurant and nightclub... named, of course, "The Bronze." I bet it'd pull in fans from all over. Don't know how it'd work getting the rights and requisite memorabilia and all, and it's not like I have a few million dollars just lying around waiting to be turned into a nightclub, but still... that would be awesome, wouldn't it?
hatman: HatMan, my alter ego and face on the 'net (Default)
( Aug. 6th, 2009 07:51 am)
Pics for the day

Driving across Nevada offered some bits of interest. Well needed, since it wasn't uncommon to go through 30 miles of desert between one exit and the next.

One thing is that every rest stop, even just the little roadside gas stations, had at least a row of slot machines.

Another is that northeastern Nevada has some interesting places:

Beverly Hills (Nevada), for example. Also:

Deeth Starr Valley. Hometown, no doubt, of Garth Wader.

Then we saw this behind the town of Carlin:

I don't know if it's for airplanes or tourists or what, but it seemed cool. Less cool, however, at the next town over, Battle Mountain. Something about a big brown hill with the giant letters BM on it just didn't seem so attractive.

We drove another 500 or so miles to Roseville, CA, where we stayed at the Orchid Suites. If I ever find myself in the area, I'll have to remember to stay there. It was a nice room (interestingly, the bathroom was in the middle of the room, dividing it into two semi-private bedrooms, each with a queen bed. The semi-privacy, however, was somewhat defeated by a large mirror in the sink area. The hotel has this gorgeous oak tree in a central courtyard, with a huge deck underneath. At night, it's lit up with white Christmas lights in the lower branches. Just inside, there's a bar area with free snacks, and each guest gets two coupons for free drinks. And there's a really nice breakfast in the morning, also free. Very impressive. Only thing that wasn't impressive was... wireless internet. They had it, but, once again, we could barely get a signal from our room. Ah well.
hatman: HatMan, my alter ego and face on the 'net (Default)
( Aug. 5th, 2009 06:57 am)
Pics for the day (Page 2 includes shots of the front grill of the truck. We had a really impressive collection of bugs. Monarch butterfly, a variety of bees, some beetles... Later, we came back to the truck to find a couple of sparrows taking advantage of the buffet.)

The day's drive took us through Wyoming and Utah. Another day, another 500 miles.

We drove through several patches of road under construction. Actually, we hit a lot of construction throughout the trip. Summer is the season for paving (you want it to set during the warmer times, or else you'd have more trouble with cracks and potholes from heat expansion), and the stimulus specifically included extra funds for highway roadwork.

There was a scary bit. I was driving the truck. We were coming down a mountain side. I was focusing on my left mirror, watching a car in the next lane over (and I think I was preparing to change lanes). There was a curve coming up, but it came up faster than I'd realized, somehow. Dan called a warning. I turned to keep us on the road (and away from the mountainside, which wasn't too far off the road, though there was a big shoulder) and somehow cut it too sharply. The trailer swung out, pulling the truck. I steered to correct, and the trailer swung the other way, back and forth like a pendulum. It was really scary, but I did manage to get the truck back under control. Fortunately, the car I'd been watching had noticed and dropped back to give me room. Got things straightened out, pulled over at the next exit. The truck was fine, but Dan and I were both pretty shaky. He took over driving, and thankfully we were fine from there. (The incident also served as a warning for us, so we were more careful coming over the mountains the next day.)

Passed the southern end of the Salt Lake, but didn't get to see too much of it. Still, more of it than I'd seen during my last trip to Salt Lake City (for my roommate's wedding). We also drove across the salt flats (smooth land with salty, sandy soil, the former bed of what was once a much larger salt lake), a perfectly straight shot of road that went on for about 50 miles with nothing by the roadside. We were glad we'd filled up not too far outside of SLC.

We did see this thing in the middle of the salt flats, though I still have no idea what it is or why it's there:

Also saw this:

It's a Morton's Salt factory. Seems that at least some of the salt you find on the grocery store's shelves comes from dredging up and processing the salt flats.

If you want, you can see a video of a train. I took pictures of the first couple of trains we saw, but as I started to take in the size of them, I switched to video. It's incredible. This wasn't even the biggest one we saw, and some of them had containers piled two or three high. (I hear from a friend of a friend that much of what's in those containers is the stuff that's too hazardous to legally transport on the highway. So you get all sorts of creepy, disgusting, and scary things in the mix.) I showed my nephew this video after I got back. At first he was just happy to see a real train. Then, as he started to taken in the size of the thing, his jaw dropped. Then he started making these funny gasping noises, which turned to full-out laughter as the train just kept coming. Made me glad I'd taken the video (something I'd done specifically with him in mind, though I'd never expected that much of a reaction).

We also passed some (more) wind farms. Modern day windmills are things of surprising grace and elegance (when in the proper setting).

They're also friggin huge. Take a look at one a little closer:

And now take a look at a single blade, being transported on an oversized flatbed truck:


But, back to the salt flats... People drive on them. I mean, duh. That's what they're best known for. That's where people come every year to try to break the world landspeed records using rocket cars and all sorts of funky things. But we saw a lot of tire tracks just leading off the highway. People who just drove off the middle of the highway to camp out on the flats. Sometimes, they left messages behind. Their names or something. Sometimes a phrase:

They also left other things behind:

That is apparantly Utah's answer to the fairy ring. It's a ring of beer bottles, pushed upside-down into the salt. We saw a few of them. I managed to take this picture on the first try, out the side window of a truck moving at highway speed using a digital camera with a noticeable delay between pressing the button and triggering the shutter, and I even got the ring almost centered. Dan was very impressed. (You should be, too. ;) )

There are a few more sights of possible interest in the pics, but their captions tell the story. I won't clutter this post up too much more. We drove on past the salt flats and over the mountains and stopped for the night in West Wendover, NV. It's just over the border. You can walk from there to Wendover, UT. But the two towns are very different. And, actually, West Wendover is a bit of a study in contrasts, too.

See, West Wendover has casinos. They don't have those in Utah, of course. Not so much with the drinking, either. So Wendover is very much the poor side of town. It's where people stay before sneaking across the border to drink and gamble and what have you. The casinos (and there are 4 in the little town) are, of course, lavishly decorated and prepared to offer all sorts of luxuries. Outside the casinos... it's like I've heard about Vegas. You go off the strip, and you're suddenly in the area that belongs to the people who work for the casinos. The ones who scrape by on low wages to help create this atmosphere of luxury for the people who have money to throw away. (Or who don't have the money to throw away, but are desperately hoping to beat the odds. Or just can't help themselves.)

All that said... we got our most luxurious room of the trip for the lowest price of the trip. Casinos are very happy to have people stay over.
hatman: HatMan, my alter ego and face on the 'net (Default)
( Aug. 4th, 2009 06:35 am)
Pics for the day

Passed our first wind farm. That was cool to see. Oddly beautiful. Graceful. Also huge. I have a bunch of pics of the windmills, but I've also got one (taken in CA) of an extra-long flatbed truck carrying one of the blades. You just don't get the scale of the things until you see that.

Also passed our first Oregon Trail site (though we blew right by it without stopping), which was cool. And made us think about what it would have been like to travel the country as a pioneer. In the truck, we were covering every half hour a distance it would have taken a chuck wagon a full day or more to cover, even on a good day. And we had maps, a GPS, cell phones, a paved highway, rest stops, hotels, modern medicine... Amazing what the settlers managed.

Passed an interesting sign along the highway, too. It said that 47,000 tires had been recycled and used in the paving of the section of highway we were on going between two towns. We wondered how many miles that would be. We guessed. I looked it up on the map. You want to guess how many miles of highway you can pave with 47,000 tires? Remember that the tires are only a portion of the mix used to make the pavement.

Made your guess yet?


The answer is... 6. 47,000 tires made 6 miles of pavement.

Had lunch at just about exactly our halfway point in the little town of Kearny, NB... just after passing their Archway. It's an odd sight. Hundreds of miles of cornfields (and little else) behind you. Hundreds of miles of the same ahead. And, out of nowhere, this arch spanning the highway. Which turns out to actually be a museum (which we unfortunately didn't take the time to explore). Go figure.

Another interesting series of signs were the ones warning that if the attached lights were flashing, the highway ahead was closed and we should exit immediately. They're there for winter storms, mostly. Now, we get blizzards in NJ. At least we used to when I was a kid. They've been more rare in the last 10 or 15 years. Stupid global climate change. But NJ is the most densely populated state in the country. Constant traffic keeps the snow from piling up on the highways, and there's no shortage of plows. The idea of a major highway having to be closed so often as to require a permanent sign with flashing lights and heavy construction was just completely alien to me.

And, other than passing exits for Granger and Potter, that was about the most interesting thing we managed to see from the road. Iowa and Nebraska were, for us, 1000 miles of cornfields. (And, every once in a while, a field or two of some other crop we never definitively identified (hard to tell at highway speed. A little poking on the 'net seems to suggest they were likely soybeans. Would not have guessed that.) Glad to know we still have thriving agriculture (most of NJ's farms were bought out and paved over during my childhood, if not before), but it does get kind of monotonous.

I suppose I could mention the radio. Fits as well here as anywhere. We came across a lot of country stations, of course, but neither of us is particularly fond of the genre. So we searched for what else we could find. That was almost always classic rock. Which makes good cross-country driving music, I think. Pleasant, with a good beat, but not forceful or aggressive or overly fast-paced. Thing is that as we approached the center of the country, the age of the music increased. The mix included a bit of the 90s, then down to the early 80s, then 70s and below. Then, as we got past Wyoming and over towards the west coast, we traveled back through time to more modern music. Very odd effect.

Other thing about the radio is that we found ourselves hearing songs we hadn't heard in years... only to hear them again later that day or the next day and again a day or so later. From completely different radio stations. (Though probably stations owned by some media conglomerate.) I heard more Gin Blossoms that week than I'd heard in a decade. After their heyday in the early 90s, I don't think anyone played the Gin Blossoms except at some random listener's request. But we heard them as we traveled back to the 90s (in Iowa or Illinois) and again as we returned through time (in Nevada and eastern California). I forget other specific songs and artists, but it happened again and again with a variety of them. It was fun at times, but also just weird.

Anyway, we made about 500 miles for the day. Stopped for the night in Laramie, WY.
hatman: HatMan, my alter ego and face on the 'net (Default)
( Aug. 3rd, 2009 06:34 am)
Pics for the day

In the morning, making my way to the hotel's breakfast area (in the lobby near the front desk), I saw a guy hanging around just outside an open door. He was wearing a t-shirt that said:

[I forget what the 3rd was. Something similar.]

I thought that was kind of interesting, but shrugged and moved on. After I passed, he stepped out of the door and wandered off somewhere. A little ways further, I realized that the door he'd been in hadn't actually been a guest room but rather the door to the little office that connected to the front desk. Seemed kind of an odd thing for a hotel employee to be wearing, but... whatever.

As I entered the breakfast area, I saw a hotel employee lead a guest back to the front desk. She explained that she was actually off duty, but since there didn't appear to be anyone manning the front desk just then, she'd get behind the desk and help out... and, actually, it appeared that the manager, who had been behind the desk, had just stepped out. Brilliant.

Back on the road... we passed a few examples of an interesting Ohio highway feature. Every once in a while, there'd be a sign saying that there was emergency parking 1/2 a mile ahead. Half a mile later, there'd be a section about 100 feet long where the guardrail moved out far enough to allow a car to safely park without getting smashed by highway traffic. There was another sign to indicate that it was emergency parking... and that there was a 2 hour limit.

All of which seems to miss the point of emergency parking. When you have an emergency, you can't necessarily wait 1/2 a mile (or, for that matter, the 30 or so miles between emergency pullouts). And then, how are you supposed to see it, pull over, stop, and then get back up to highway speed when the thing is 100 feet long? And then... a two hour limit? And what if your emergency can't be fixed within 2 hours?

Other thing about Ohio is that all of the rest stops (except one) were exactly the same. It was the same building with the same restaurants and everything. Same restaurants isn't that unusual. The NJ Turnpike Authority owns the rest stops on the Turnpike, and it gives the rental contracts out to all of them rather than one at a time. But this was the same exact building. An unusual building, at that. An asymmetrical design with the restaurants built along one side of a bright, open rotunda, and a hallway (with bathrooms and information) leading out the other side. It's pretty cool. Effective, and surprisingly beautiful. But very odd to see it and appreciate it only to find that the next five rest stops are exactly the same. (And even odder to decide to take a picture of one, only to find that the last rest stop in Ohio had an entirely different design.)

Something else we passed on the highway - triple trailers. A semi towing three full-sized containers behind it. It was shocking to the see the first. I couldn't imagine steering something like that, especially after having experienced what it was like to drive a moving van with a single trailer. But then we started seeing more of them. A few from FedEx and the like, but the vast majority seemed to be owned by a company called Con-Way. I've got a picture of one of those. I'll upload it when I get around to sorting pics.

We ended up driving 767 miles that day. Further than we'd wanted to, but there was nothing between Des Moines, IA and Omaha, NB. Nothing. In late afternoon, it looked like we'd hit Des Moines in the early evening, maybe around dinner time. Dan liked to stop early by my standards, but even so, we should have been able to make Omaha in time. Except that we ended up taking a very long dinner break. At first, we couldn't find the place we'd been aiming for. Then we had a long, relaxed dinner. And then filled up with gas. I forget what else happened, but basically, we didn't make it to the hotel until something like 1am. Partly my fault for flubbing the estimate, and I feel bad about that. But we made it. And made up for our slow start on the 2nd. And give ourselves a bit more wiggle room to relax the following day.
hatman: HatMan, my alter ego and face on the 'net (Default)
( Aug. 2nd, 2009 06:11 am)
First off, I suppose I should introduce you to The Beast. A 22-foot (6.7 m) Penske Moving truck towing a trailer with a station wagon on it. This picture was actually taken on the 8th, after much of the cargo (including the station wagon) had been offloaded, but you can still get the idea:

Dan did the driving in the morning, taking us through local roads until we got to I-80. I took over somewhere in PA:

Driving the van was an experience. It was huge. And noisy. And slow. With the trailer, we weren't supposed to go faster than something like 60mph, though we did push that a bit. Still, the thing couldn't go up hills without slowing significantly. Many were the times we found ourselves dropping to 45mph and then down and down. A couple of times, I ended up chanting "I think I can. I think I can. I think I can..." as we inched up a hillside at 25mph.

I learned to drive the truck fairly quickly, I think. The controls were the same as a car's, for the most part. Thank goodness for automatic transmission. (I've always held that only witches should drive stick...) The gas pedal was oddly binary, however. You either floored it or you didn't. I'm not sure how cruise control managed, but somehow it worked, and I was glad of that, too.

Maneuvering it did take some getting used to. The front turning radius was much tighter than I'd expected, but there was a heck of a lot that needed to follow. To turn a corner, you needed to swing wide, and wait to turn until you were almost up to the place you wanted to end up. Then cut the wheel all the way over and hope the trailer missed the curb.

There was no rearview mirror in the windshield, so everything had to be done with the side mirrors. Fortunately, those were the giant elephant ear ones, with very handy bubble mirrors underneath. You got a good long view in the flat mirror and a wide angle just below it in the very convex mirror just below. There was a blind spot right behind the truck, but luckily it was occupied mostly by the trailer (we could just see the wheels of the trailer, but not the trailer itself).

It was kind of fun sitting high up, too.

Oh, and I learned a few special rules. If the truck drops below a certain speed (50 or 45 or so, depending on the state), you have to put your hazard blinkers on. Also, as a courtesy, if you're driving a truck and another truck passes you, you blink your headlights when there's enough room for it to safely move back in to your lane. It's helpful when you're looking in the mirror and trying to judge whether or not you have the space for the whole back of the truck.

The truck had a 55-gallon tank. Luckily, it ran on diesel, but it was still about $80 every time we stopped to fill up. And that was a whole other learning experience. Finding the truck entrance. Maneuvering the truck up to the pump. Using the squeegee with the extra super long handle so we could reach the windshield. Finding a parking space big enough (especially at hotels and other places that weren't rest stops) was interesting, too.

Not much to say for the day specifically. We drove about 500 miles - somewhat less than our average, but we did get a later start and we also spent time navigating local roads. Nothing really remarkable to report about the PA countryside. We stopped for the night around 9pm in the little town of Milan. Milan, Ohio, that is.

From driving up and down 95 with Mom (something we did several years running, getting Grandpa's car down to Florida for the winter and then bringing it back up in the spring), I'd learned to book hotel reservations from the road using the AAA guide. The first place I tried had one room left. It had a single king-sized bed... and an in-room hot tub. I quickly decided that while I do like Dan... I don't like him that much.

Instead, I found a room at a Best Western. Decent place for a good price. They said they had wireless, but, even though the room was not very far from the lobby, both of our laptops struggled to get (and keep) any kind of signal. Surprisingly, that turned out to be a fairly consistent problem that week, no matter what hotel we stayed in.