Planning Anew

I wasn’t actually planning a road trip for this summer. I didn’t feel I could leave my Kitty Cat who was 21 years old and had just had a stroke; I lost her this winter, though, and I guess planning a road trip might be a good distraction. I told Terry and Benjamin this (they didn’t realize I hadn’t been planning one) and asked where we should go. Terry said, North Carolina. Ok… We’ve been there a couple of times before — in 2006 and 2013. So the first things that popped into my head — wild Venus flytraps and wild horses!

Wild horse on the beach in North Carolina

Wild horse on a beach in North Carolina, August 16, 2006

We only found one wild horse or Banker pony (from Outer Banks), so I want to go back and find more. So, I have to figure out which island we were on. I remember a ferry; it was on an island, and when we got there, they told us to go one direction to find horses and the other to find massive amounts of seashells. I chose the horse direction, since that’s why I was there, but thought, what seashells? I want seashells, too. This time, we’ll need to go both directions.

Wild Venus Flytrap

Wild Venus Flytraps, July 21, 2013

Of course I can’t remember right where the Venus flytraps were either. We went one place, but they said they didn’t have them anymore because vandals and thieves had dug them up. We went to another place, a place with an admission fee, but they didn’t have them. Then we finally wound up somewhere around the Green Swamp on a trail with a boardwalk that went through the swamp where there were the largest, meanest, biting, blood-drinking creatures I’ve ever seen. And then there were Venus flytraps! So… gotta find that place again.

And then Terry got to thinking how I said I might go camping if it were on a beach, so he brought that up. So, I’m looking into that; the Cape Hatteras National Seashore on Okracoke and Hammocks Beach State Park on Bear Island look good. I think we might have to kayak over to Hammocks, and I’ve never been in a kayak, but it sounds kind of fun. I probably need to be in a kayak at least once in my life, right?

Then I remember that my last post on this blog was about the Mothman Museum, and it’s in North Carolina! Boom!

Terry also wants to go through Virginia and West Virginia. He wants to see them. So, I’m thinking, West Virginia… what’s there? I want to see the landmarks, the big cities, the famous stuff… but I don’t think West Virginia has any of that stuff. Maybe it does; I will have to do more research. But I thought, what does West Virginia have? What do I know about it? What is it known for? I think, rural, mountain villages… Then I think, I will Google the towns in West Virginia with the lowest populations! So I did. I’ve looked at the smallest two so far. They both look interesting. By “looked at”, I mean zoomed down with the Google Maps satellite view. The Google car had even driven through one of them (the bigger one).

I also figured there would be some of those historical farms in the area, so I started looking into those and remembered Land Between the Lakes. We were there years ago, but I remembered Terry enjoying it, so I put it on the map.

I’m also looking at waterfalls. And I’m thinking that we’re going too close to Washington DC not to drop by and see some of the museums that we’ve still never had time to go to.

An Arkansas Vacation

Lake Wilhelmina

Lake Wilhelmina near Mena, Arkansas

This year we decided, instead of a two week whiz-bang extravaganza road trip, that we would take what we’re calling mini-vacations. Terry wants to see Arkansas. I reckon I do too. We do live here after all.

On our usual road trips, we drive far away, to the coast. I really like beaches. So does Benjamin. Terry not so much. I remember a lot of sunburn anger from beaches past. Terry and I didn’t use to sunburn, but now we do. We got old.

Mainly what there is to do in Arkansas is to go to the woods or to a river or a lake. There are a lot of these here, and they are really beautiful. The issue I have with vacationing in the woods is that I live in the woods, and with a few exceptions (like the Redwood Forest), most woods look about the same. Terry doesn’t think so. We were up in Tennessee once, and he was going on about the forests there. I said, they look just like the woods at home. He says, no, there are ash trees here…… Yeah…….

So, here’s how I thought of a place I would like to go. I remembered back when I was a kid, and my uncle would come to visit from Little Rock and bring my cousins, and my mom would drive us down to my grandma’s at Vandervoort (population 98) to meet up with them and our other cousins, and we would ride in the back of my uncle’s pick-up down to the Cossatot River. There we would swim in the clearest, cleanest water I had ever seen. These trips were some of the most memorable days of my childhood. Might as well go there, right?

Cossatot means “Skull Crusher”; the river is considered some of the best whitewater in the country. I don’t know anything about that. My brother remembers snorkeling in the Cossatot when he was a kid and talks about the crystal clear water. I have to get back down there and see if it’s still the same.

Benjamin and I are working on a map, using Google Maps. From the state park map, we’re getting help finding the bridges and good swimming areas, and we’re also marking the geocaches. There are only three in the area. Next I’ll post the map and then, hopefully, some excellent photos of an excellent trip to the Cossatot.

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.

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 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 Geocaching.com. It’s great for finding other things, too. So, that’s for next time…..

Back Home and Reflections on the Trip

Los Angeles from the Hollywood Hills

The smog of Los Angeles viewed from the Hollywood Hills

Whew! The first day back, my house didn’t even look like my house to me. I couldn’t find anything, couldn’t find my clothes, couldn’t even find my stuff in the shower. And I especially noticed the noise that evening, the cicadas and the frogs and the owls and the other racket making creatures. My yard is the noisiest place in the United States.

At a San Joaquin Valley Farmers' Market

At a San Joaquin Valley Farmers' Market

There were people and a cat that I missed, and it’s nice to be back in the humidity, but I still miss that daily excitement, rush and hurry, route and plan, find the geocache, reserve a room, get some pictures, hike seven blocks uphill somewhere, find a place to eat, pray to make it into an area with cell coverage before we’re completely lost, get carsick from looking at the map too long, get us back on the interstate, write a haiku, reroute, back up the day’s pictures, find the cheapest gas, and drive back to that motel to get that phone charger dangling out of the wall. It’s constant excitement, barely a moment to even think about anything that’s not part of the trip. Four days had passed at one point before I remembered I have a job.

Joshua Tree

Joshua Tree

I still have all the geocaches to log. Yeah, I could have done that on the road, but it just didn’t happen. I still haven’t sorted through all the trinkets or put the new magnets on the fridge, and Benjamin and I are going to do a scrapbook that he will also use to get his Webelos Scout Traveler’s Badge.

Webelos Scout Traveler Badge

Webelos Traveler Badge

Webelos Traveler Badge

If you have a boy, and he is in the Webelos, planning and taking a road trip can get him the Webelos Traveler Badge. You have to do five of the requirements to get the badge.

Number three is using a map on the Internet to plan a trip. At some point in our planning of 2012’s road trip (near the end, I guess), we’ll do a Google Map of the trip plan. That will take care of number three.

Number four is taking the trip. Benjamin will make a scrapbook when we get back with photos and postcards and brochures and such and take that to scouts to show.

Number five is to find the cost for gas for the trip. At least, I guess that’s what it means. It says to find the “cost per mile” for the trip, like you find the total cost and divide it by the miles. Why would you do that? I guess we can though. We’ll be figuring mileage and the costs for everything anyway.

Number six says to draw the route on a highway map. I always include the Rand McNally Road Atlas in our trip planning. Benjamin uses a highlighter to mark the route, and he looks for the little red boxed points of interest. I can’t read the tiny print in the atlas anymore, so he has to do all of that now.

Number seven is packing for the trip. I’ve always packed for Benjamin on all the past road trips, but I guess it’s time to teach him how to roll his clothes and organize things well enough to be able to take pretty much everything he owns.

So, that’s five, and that’s enough for the Traveler Badge. Benjamin’s already done a couple of other ones, too, and I think I need… I mean, he needs to get that geography belt loop, too.

While you’re out there tripping around, keep in mind that most of the national and state parks have scout programs. But on an extreme road trip, it can be difficult to find the time to do these and the park ranger programs.

Traveler Badge Requirements

Early Reconnaissance Missions

Route 66

The Route 66 thing in Tucumcari that Terry whipped by in 1996 that I finally got him to stop for in 2000 -- he even turned around and drove back by for me.

I used to refer to all of our road trips as reconnaissance missions. Mostly to lessen disappointments I had suffered on the trip. Weird statues that Terry wouldn’t stop for to let me get a picture. Famous city intersection signs that Terry wouldn’t stop for to let me get a picture. My sad face in the window as some one-of-a-kind roadside oddity whipped by. That kind of disappointment. I had to tell myself, this is just a reconnaissance mission. We’re just here to see what there is to see. Now that I know that statue is right there, I’ll be able to get a picture of it the next time we come through here.

And I’m glad I did that. It worked. It turned out to be real.

New York City

I still haven't spent the night in New York City, but maybe New York requires more than one recon visit.

So, my point is that I don’t call them recon missions anymore. They aren’t anymore, I guess. We’re going out west for the sixth time this summer. Of course, there are places that Benjamin hasn’t gone, that I want him to see, like the Great Salt Desert. And he doesn’t even remember going to Death Valley in 2005, so we have to go back there. Besides, we didn’t see the moving rocks when we were there before, the Racetrack. I’ve been wanting to go back for that anyway.

Death Valley

What Death Valley Looks Like

I also want to go back through the Petrified Forest National Park. The petrified trees aren’t all that spectacular, but the hills of the Painted Desert’s Chinle Formation are incredible. I have a couple of photos I took with a so-so camera back in 1997, and I have to get more pictures of that.

Crescent City Sea Lions

I also want to take Benjamin down to the docks in Crescent City to see the sea lions.

 

RoadTripping: Second Grand Opening!

Terry and Benjamin at the Edge of the Pacific

Terry and Benjamin at the Edge of the Pacific

I was kind of throwing this blog together over at WordPress.com. Some of the older posts are pretty… dry. Some might not even make sense. I was using the blog to plan road trips, but they were really just for me. Now, I want to really do this. I love playing maps and planning road trips and looking at pictures from road trips… Sometimes I wonder if I enjoy these things more than the trips themselves. I bore my family to death with this stuff. They like the trips, and I think they appreciate my planning them. Benjamin, my nine-year-old, is helping me plan this year’s trip to help earn his Webelos Traveler’s Badge. So, I will tell you all about the planning of our next trip — out west — and give you some roadtripping travel tips that I’ve picked up in the last twenty years of driving (and some flying) around the United States. There are still some states I haven’t been to and several that I haven’t put on my geocaching map yet so I still have a lot of planning and traveling to do.

We used to include airplanes in our travels, but in recent years, what with all the regulations and searches and getting radiated so they can see through your underwear at the airport, it’s just not worth it. When I heard that I couldn’t take a bottle of water with me onto a plane anymore or my fingernail clippers, I knew that was the end for me. And it’s too bad. I actually love flying. I like to sit by the window and see the tiny people and tiny cars after take-off and before landing and the shadow of the airplane on the clouds. I do love that stuff. But, I have come to see that the road trip rules. And the obsessive compulsive behavior comes in here. Traveling is difficult for me. I imagine it is for a lot of OCD people. Traveling on a plane is even harder. Getting on an airplane and knowing that if I forgot something, the pilot will not turn around and go back for me makes me just about have a panic attack. I can’t haul as much of my stuff with me on a plane, and I have to worry about them losing what I do bring. And then there’s this: I know it’s not logical, but it comforts me to think, if I drove here and something happens, I can always walk home if I have to. You can’t walk home after you get off of a plane. That’s just the way my mind works.

So, I’ll tell you some stories from the road. I have many. Some are funny. I might throw in some stories where I cry. I always cry at least once on every trip. The stress just gets to me after a while. I’ll tell you the bad stories so you know what to look out for, and I’ll tell you the good stories so you know the best places to go. I’ll try to help you to not forget anything and tell you the best way to pack. Yeah, OK, that’s my way. So, join me here for a roadtripping good time!