And Suddenly We’re Back

RoadTrip 2014 just flew by! Bittersweet as usual.

Fourth of July in St. Louis

Fourth of July in St. Louis

We left out on the Fourth of July and headed to St. Louis, Missouri. From there to the Field Museum in Chicago, to the Eternal Flame Falls, the Great Lakes, and on up to Maine and the easternmost point in the United States.

On the loop back, there were museums, dinosaur tracks, New York City, and Washington D.C.

Attempting to Use the Furkot Road Trip Planner

I would like a road trip planner that does what I need and is flexible. It also, of course, has to be free. Furkot seemed to be a popular one, so I figured I would give it a try. I didn’t have much faith as I haven’t had much luck with anything. I’m still pretty upset with Google Maps… 25 stops… What kind of road trip is that?

My Furkot Map

My Furkot Map

I had fixed the 2013 in Furkot (in the pic above), changed it to 2014, but one of the problems with Furkot is that it doesn’t always save stuff. I’ve had all kinds of weird little issues with it. It’s very flaky. Some of the markers are blue, and some of them are red, and some have a museum icon for museums and some don’t. Maybe the colors have meaning, but there’s nothing about it in the help file. Sometimes the miles and hours just don’t show up.

While I’ve always had it set to be a round trip, it refused to finish the trip off. Not at first, at first it seemed to return, but quit after a while. Then it worked again. Add a new place, change something like the dates or driving times, and issues often fix themselves. Better than if they didn’t, I guess.

Usually if you click on a place and then add a new place, it puts it right after, but sometimes it just throws it in there randomly. Tool tips pop up, cover up parts of the plan, and won’t ever go away.

It also plans in your overnight lodging, picks a hotel or motel for you even. I really don’t care for that. You can change the motel, but you can’t easily get what you want. I am going to try setting the drive time to 24 hours a day and putting in my own motels.

I am going to keep using Furkot for a bit and see how it works out, see if it gets any better. Maybe some of the flakiness is the browser? I’m using Chrome, but might try it in Firefox.

The Big Google Map Disappointment

Google Map Crapout

Google Map Crapout

So, I’m merrily adding my destinations to my Google Map and getting enough of them on there to start routing. I route a ways up the Great Lakes, and suddenly Google Maps can’t add anymore places to the route. I remember this happening with the old Google Maps, but I figured they had improved it with this big, new map deal they have going on.

But they have these layers, so I add a layer. I add a few more destinations, and then it craps out again. And then won’t let me add anymore layers. So, I’ve got the destinations and half a route for the trip, and now I’m just basically stuck. I am really needing a new road trip planner. And I am still determined that it be free.

And Onto the Maps!

Google MyMaps map of RoadTrip 2014 so far

Google My Places map of RoadTrip 2014 so far

God, I love maps. I always have. When I was little, I would make maps of our property, the back pastures and the ponds and the woods. I wanted to be a cartographer when I grew up.

I like Pinterest’s new map feature, but I can’t believe you still can’t reorder the pins on a board. How are you supposed to use it as a trip planner when you can’t put the locations in the order you are going to them? And they’re going to have to add some sort of distance measurement.

New York City -- 2010

New York City -- 2010

So, when Terry says he wants to go to Maine, Benjamin and I immediately think New York City because it is on the way to Maine. So, we can go ahead and mark some places on the maps like The Build-A-Bear Workshop (because it has one of the few Build-A-Dinos in it) and the 9-11 Memorial (Benjamin is really wanting to see it) and the Central Park Zoo. We also think of Washington DC, and we get several of the Smithsonians and some of the war memorials marked.

How am I “marking” them on the map? Two ways, on a Google My Places map and on a Pinterest board map. I also use Evernote’s Web Clipper to make note cards for each place. Evernote is also good for Web pages that have lists of places, like the page with all the waterfalls of the Finger Lakes. I have a travel notebook in there, and I tag each one with the Roadtrip 2014 tag, the state, and the type of place. The Evernote notebook can be easily accessed on a smart phone while on vacation.

Google Maps has proven itself to be the best way for me to plan a road trip; I can’t find anything that will let me place dozens of places on the map just to try them out, and nothing can find as many places as Google can. Although, I have been having some problems with Google Maps finding parks in towns where they have farmer’s markets.

While searching and marking all the natural history museums and science centers from here to Maine, Benjamin discovers the Cryptozoology Museum. He just has to go there. It’s probably full of bigfoots or bigfeet or whatever you call plural bigfooted monsters. While on the subject of cryptids, I remembered Champ. I find Lake Champlain on the map, there at the top of Vermont and mark it. We have to go look for Champ. He’s America’s Loch Ness monster.

I especially mark all the dinosaur museums that I think ought to be good ones, like the Field Museum in Chicago, the Carnegie Museum, the ones at Harvard and Yale, and the one at Amherst. Museums at colleges usually aren’t so touristy, so they’re often better.

Then I’m watching the Today show, and think, we should go to Rockefeller Center, maybe get to watch the show through the window. I find there’s other stuff there, too, like a Lego Store.

While zoomed down on the satellite map, just scrolling around New York City, I find Bowling Green. There’s a subway station out there looking like some sort of portal. I want to take the subway there. So, I mark Bowling Green.

I find a dinosaur trackway in Connecticut and look into some others. I mark the Gateway Arch in St. Louis, Colonial Williamsburg, and Coney Island.

Then, and here’s where I was dumb, I thought Maine was the most northern state in the continental United States. Well, it’s not. It’s Minnesota. When I realized that, I was disappointed. I wanted to go to the most northern point, and we really don’t have time to go to Minnesota just for that. But, while I’m looking into that, I find out that the easternmost town in the United States IS in Maine! That’s just as good! There’s a tiny little town called Lubec on a peninsula, and it all looks very interesting. And, of course, there’s a lighthouse, the easternmost one, on a little peninsula just south of Lubec’s peninsula.

Then I discovered the Finger Lakes….

The Time to Plan Is Now

New York City

New York City from the Empire State Building in 2010

I have to interrupt last year’s epic tale because it’s winter now, and this is the time for planning a summer vacation!

This is how it starts: where should we go next year? This time, Terry immediately says, Maine. Why Maine? Who knows. Something about lobsters. Last year, I chose Florida since we hadn’t been there in over two decades and had only been there once, and Benjamin had never been. Florida was our first road trip, in fact, back in 1991.

So, I start with Maine. What’s in Maine? Not much. I start in the usual way, searching for museums, zoos, and other attractions in Maine. I don’t find much. I also check the Motel 6 site, for one reason just to see how far civilization reaches into a state. In Maine, that would be Bangor. Then I start remembering places that I have been wanting to go to in the northeast, so I go ahead and look those up. There’s Eternal Flame Falls in New York, the natural gas flame behind a waterfall. There’s also the Liberty Bell which we still haven’t seen even though we’ve been to Philadelphia twice looking for it. We want to go back to the National Museum of Natural History because you can’t see it all in two trips, and we would like to get to some of the other Smithsonian museums and the National Zoo.

Smithsonian Museum of Natural History

At the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History in 2010

Then I think of Rockefeller Plaza where I could watch them film the Today show through the windows. When I look it up, I find that there’s a Lego Store there, too, so Rockefeller Plaza went over well with Benjamin. He then announces that he must return to the Build-A- Dino that’s inside the Build-A-Bear Workshop in New York City. I remember that we’ve never made it to Coney Island. I throw in Colonial Williamsburg, the Gateway Arch in St. Louis, and the White House for good measure. While in D.C., I added the World War II and the Korean War memorials. Dad was in those two wars.

Since I still haven’t found a (free) trip planner that lets me do what I want, I’m using Google Maps Engine, Evernote, and Pinterest with its new map feature. I added all of the places that I had thought of, all those places we’ve been wanting to go already, to a new Google Map in My Places and to a new Pinterest board. We won’t get to go to all the places, of course, but I put them all on there. Then we can choose from those. A route will emerge on the map. I start to see where we will be going. Also, seeing them on the map helps because you can see if something is really out of the way and not worth driving to. Evernote is great for just having a record of every location, whether it’s a specific place or a listing of of some kind of attraction in an area. I use the Web Clipper in my browser. The problem, however, is that ever since it upgraded in Chrome, it doesn’t work anymore. I have to use it from Firefox where it never upgraded and still works. Pinterest’s new maps feature is nice, and I’ve found that this is the best way to show Terry and Benjamin the things I’ve put on the map. With Pinterest, they get the pins, too, with the pictures from Foursquare and descriptions that I’ve added. I do wonder about using strangers’ pictures from Foursquare. Do they know that the pictures they put on there are going to be used on Pinterest boards?

Next, poring over the map, the way I’ve always done, even before the Internet came along. It’s so much better now.

What I Did Last Summer Part 2: Alabama

Alabama Museum of Natural History

The basilosaurus is the state fossil of Alabama.

On day two of our trip, we woke up in Tupelo, Mississippi, hit the road for Tuscaloosa, Alabama, and did our first museum of the trip, the Alabama Museum of Natural History on the University of Alabama campus.

Old Alabama Geological Survey wagon and equipment

Old Alabama Geological Survey wagon and equipment, some of which belonged to Eugene Smith, the guy for which the museum building, Smith Hall, is named.

It’s a really nice museum, and we liked it even better than some of the bigger ones. It’s not a big, flashy one, but it’s classy and has lots of interesting things. It’s a beautiful building, too, Smith Hall, named for Dr. Eugene Allen Smith, an Alabama geologist who also taught at the University. I loved that they had a bunch of his old stuff, personal items and an old Geological Survey wagon and equipment like he used. He dug up a lot of the things at the museum. It was cool to find out about the guy who found the stuff.

Benjamin and Terry at the Museum

Benjamin and Terry at the Alabama Museum of Natural History

After the museum, we headed northeast about three hours to Scottsboro, Alabama to the Unclaimed Baggage Center where lost luggage from all over is collected into a store.

The Unclaimed Baggage Center

Benjamin and Terry head for the Unclaimed Baggage Center.

We found our first geocache of the trip here. I’ll give you a hint. It’s behind that sign out front. Benjamin loved this place. It was one of his favorite places that we went on this trip (along with the Lego Store and the T-Rex Cafe). It’s not just a store; it’s a tourist attraction. We didn’t find a lot, but Benjamin went nuts over their selection of DS games. It was interesting to see what all people had lost, kind of sad. I hoped none of the stuff had sentimental value for anyone, their great-grandmother gave them that purse on her deathbed kind of thing. Benjamin found an unknown object in the toy section for a dollar. We Googled the one word printed on it and found out that it was a small, working replica of a robotic arm, probably a model that a sales rep lost. So, you really can find just about anything there at any given time.

That night we drove to Georgia. We got lost. There was drama. We arrived late at Terry’s brother’s house, prepared to sleep late the next morning…

What I Did Last Summer Part 1: The Crossroads

Four months after our summer road trip, I think I have recovered enough to write about it. Oh, it wasn’t bad, no trauma or catastrophes. The flat tire discovered the next morning at a motel was probably the worst thing to happen. No animals escaped from any zoos.

The Crossroads

Where the devil tuned Robert Johnson's guitar

We set out July 12, 2013 at 8:00 am from Greenland, Arkansas.

I had been wanting to drive through Clarksdale, Mississippi for some years. Ever since I had heard about Robert Johnson and his late night trip down to the crossroads where he met up with the devil who tuned his guitar so he could become the best blues player ever. Or something like that. I read all up on it, found out it was the crossroads of Highways 61 and 49, and they met up in Clarksdale, Mississippi. I read how Robert Johnson took his guitar down there and saw the hell hounds snarling and rolling around in the ditch before the devil showed up. And how anyone could do it, go down to the crossroads and have the devil make you prosperous. I thought about taking a pencil down there for the devil to sharpen, to help my writing. But I figured I would always have to write with that same pencil for it to work. I thought about pianists dragging their pianos down to the crossroads on flatbed trailers and wondered how long it took the devil to tune a piano. I read that the usual story was a little off, that you don’t go down there at midnight, but around three or four in the morning, and the guy who shows up isn’t the devil, and he won’t take your soul. He’s just a helpful sort.

I like to see places like this. I know there’s not much there to actually see or take pictures of, but I just like to be there, to have been there, to know what it’s like to stand there and think about what may or may not have happened on that spot.

So, it turns out enough people were intrigued by the story of Robert Johnson that they built a memorial there at those crossroads, a big sign reading “The Crossroads” with crossed guitars and 61 and 49 highway signs.

A group of people showed up while we were there taking pictures. They were really friendly and had musical instruments. They asked where we were from, and I wound up telling them we were there to see the devil. They told me that they had run him off. Then they proceeded to go into the little grassy area in the crossroads under the sign with the trees and began to play gospel music. We figured it was time to go try try the local barbecue.

Abe’s BBQ is about a block up the street from the Crossroads. It was OK. We got out of there for about $35. I found the BBQ sauce too sweet, tasted like it had lime in it.

Benjamin at the Crossroads

Benjamin waiting on the devil...

After the Crossroads, we headed on down the road to Tupelo, Mississippi to a motel and some Pizza Hut delivery.

Next… Alabama!

Working on the Plan

I might use Google Maps a little differently than most when planning a road trip. Sure, I use it to create a map of the trip with the locations marked and the route routed. But see, I love maps. I just like to look at maps for hours. They could be maps of anything really, physical maps, political maps, historical maps, you name it. So, in the old days, I would get out the Randy McNally and pour over it, looking for anything that appeared interesting. I would find all the little red squares that showed attractions and such, but I would also look for interesting geographical areas, places that might be off the beaten track. That’s how I found Seligman, Arizona, the birth place of Route 66. I had just located a long stretch of original Route 66 on the map and decided to check that out. And there we happened upon what was possibly the biggest tourist trap in the U.S. It was very cool.

Seligman, Arizona

Seligman, Arizona, the birthplace of Route 66 and also tourism... with mannequins

Then I got The Cartographic Satellite Atlas of the World back in the nineties that included satellite photos of each region of the United States. I studied this book extensively. I looked at the landforms and learned that Colorado is mostly desert. I already had an inkling about Colorado from when we went through there in 97 and drove around for hours looking for trees, but the book confirmed it.

And then online mapping was born. Now I can spend even more hours looking at not only maps, but satellite photos of everywhere. Zoomed in and everything.

So, for this trip, I was zoomed and slowly scrolling (cuz that’s how I scroll) through the Everglades.

Google Map Satellite Photo of Everglades

Google Map satellite photo showing the road to the campground where no one can hear you scream

And I see this road, labeled as Florida State Road 823, Main Park Road, and Ingraham Highway, that comes out of Homestead and winds down into the swamp. And there is just nothing else around. It’s a road that goes through pure swamp for about forty miles and ends of at a campground out in the middle of nowhere. Sure I could use Google Street View (of which I can never remember the name and just call Google Drive By) and see what it’s like through there, but I want to be surprised.

I know what you’re probably thinking now, who wants to drive forty miles through the swamp and end up in a place where no one can hear you scream, but you can also use the zoom and scroll method to find big stretches of white sand beach or find out if your camping plans are going to put you in a desert instead of in the woods.

Then when you find that beautiful white sand beach, you might wonder, is this even a public beach? You can try Googling the area and try to find out if that cool looking piece of land is accessible, but the quick way is to use It’s great for finding other things, too. So, that’s for next time…..

A New Year, A New Trip Plan

Florida Alligators

Some alligators I found in Florida in 1991

Here it is, the beginning of a new road trip plan! The beginning is the most exciting part, before it devolves into fighting and broken dreams. It starts with a place, any sort of general place. Maybe there’s a place that sounds intriguing like the Outer Banks or maybe it’s a direction like Out West. This year, the word is Florida. Benjamin has never been to Florida, and Terry and I haven’t been there since 1991 on our first road trip. That time, it was all about the alligators. At least for me. I had never seen an alligator and wanted to pet them and love them.

Darla Kay and Baby Alligator

Here I am in 1991 holding a 2 year old alligator in Florida.

I’ve seen many alligators now, and I still love them. Benjamin and I would like to plan some alligators into this trip. But one of the first things that came up, months ago, was the T-Rex Cafe near Orlando. That was Benjamin’s. I want to see what I didn’t see before when we were in Florida, the Keys. I want to go to Key West. I want to see those cats with the toes. All the stuff goes into the plan.

This year, I’m trying something new for the planning: Evernote. We’ll see how it goes. In the past I’ve tried making web pages for the plans with info on the places and links to the sites. I’ve tried blogging it, and I’ve tried the online planners. I’ve used Pinterest. I’ve even tried using an Excel spreadsheet.

Now this part of the planning is just for me to see. It’s the ugly guts of the planning that probably shouldn’t go public. So, the blog didn’t work. The web pages were clunky. The online planners aren’t flexible enough for me.  I really don’t plan my trips like other people do. The spreadsheets got too technical, and Pinterest has been such a disappointment to me. It can’t pin half the pages I try to put on there. Evernote has the web clipper so I can clip the page and then add my own info to the note. I can tag them and sort them.

I’ll still use Google Maps of course. I’ll mark all the places we want to go using My Places. Google Maps is great. You can really see your route when you get done putting in all the places you want to go. And then you can route it and have your mileage and times. And I can also use this as my trip plan to show the world.

In the old days, I used the Rand McNally Road Atlas, and I still use it some. Mostly I have Benjamin looking it over now. It’s still fun, though, to crawl through the state maps, looking for the little red boxes that indicate attractions. And it’s still a good way to find them even with the Internet and all. You definitely want to take a good paper atlas with you on the trip. They’re very handy when the phone service drops out in the middle of nowhere.

I use Google Maps in a different way when I’m planning a trip, too. I’ll talk about that in my next post and also how I use in the planning.