Saturday, October 10, 2015


We had a great trip the past 5 weeks and are starting to plan our next trip. Even on days when we weren't visiting someplace special, it was interesting to watch the terrain as we drove.

We were able to check off quite a few places that were on our "bucket" list:
  • Travel across Canada to the west coast, driving above Lake Superior
  • Glacier National Park (would have liked better weather for the drive over the "Going to the Sun highway)
  • Banff and Jasper National Parks, especially walking out on the glacier
  • Victoria, BC and Butchart Gardens
  • Crater Lake National Park
  • Lassen National Park
  • Yosemite National Park
  • Sequoia National Park
  • Saguaro National Park
One of the nice aspects of our trip is that we didn't have a fixed schedule or itinerary and were able to decide each day what we wanted to do and often made last minute decisions to visit various attractions like:
  • Capilano swinging bridge park in Vancouver
  • Alberta dinosaur provincial park
  • Yuma territorial prison museum
  • Dodge City Boot Hill Museum
  • Lincoln home and tomb in Springfield, IL
  • Mark Twain home in Hannibal, MO
We were encouraged by the amount of solar and wind energy exploitation that we saw along the route with many large wind farms in agricultural areas where there was little disturbance to the farming and grazing going on around them.

Our trip also impressed on us how much land is used for agriculture, from Manitoba and Saskatchewan in Canada to California, Arizona, New Mexico and the rest of the way back to Ohio. We certainly wondered how sustainable it is to do intensive irrigation in desert areas. There were huge feedlots in Arizona and New Mexico with thousands of cattle that were surrounded by hay fields that were only possible through irrigation. Farm organizations had put up billboards highlighting the importance of water for farming yet in many places we saw water being used inefficiently, sprayed into the air at mid-day with 100+ degree temperatures.

Traveling through the west gave us a much better perspective of the pervasiveness of forest fires. From Alberta through Washington, Oregon and California we often encountered areas that had recently burned and could smell the smoke. Parts of Sequoia park were closed due to the active fires and visibility was very low.

All of our electronic gadgets simplify travel. With the car GPS we just plug in a destination address and don't really need a paper map anymore although it is often a good double-check as the GPS sometimes makes poor decisions on the route.

When planning our travel for the day, we would use Google Maps to estimate the time to various destinations and decide how many hours we wanted to drive each day.

Using the TripAdvisor app on my phone, we would check the hotels and their prices at our next destination and then use the hotel chain app to make the actual reservation in order to get our "loyalty points". It was a bit disconcerting to see how room prices changed dynamically. Sometimes after making a reservation, I would go back to check room prices and often just a few minutes later the cost of the same room would be significantly higher. Sometimes prices increased as the arrival date was closer and sometimes the prices decreased as the hotel wanted to fill empty rooms.  It would be interesting to know how to optimize this for our benefit.

We also used TripAdvisor to locate restaurants near where we were staying, checking the reviews for service and quality.

One of the apps that we enjoyed was the Banff GyPSy tour app by "GPS Tour Guide" that was like having our own personal tour guide as we drove. It was very accurate and would make suggestions like "look at the lake on the left that you are passing now" or "see the fire damage on the right". It also suggested stopping at some very interesting points that we would have bypassed on our own.

All of the hotels we stayed in had free WiFi although the quality varied considerably. At least it was enough to keep up on e-mail and work on our blog.

We are already planning our next road trip, probably down the east coast to Key West in the spring. We want to visit places like the Blue Ridge Highway, Smokey Mtn Park, Monticello, Savannah.

Day 37 - Sunday, Oct 4 - Akron, OH to Home!

Starting mileage:  10020 Starting time: 8:00 am

Ending mileage: 10518 Ending time: 4:00 pm
Travel mileage:  498 Travel time: 8:00 hours

As we've been driving back, we've noticed the purple asters blooming, a sign of fall. As we traveled into Pennsylvania we knew that fall was really here with all the maples that were starting to turn red, orange and yellow.

There weren't a lot of deciduous trees along our return route until we got to eastern Ohio. It was either desert, high elevation pine forests or farmland. It was fairly dense mixed deciduous and conifer forest the rest of the way home.

We didn't make any stops on the last day other than for essentials. We did stop at the Hurley Ridge Market to get a rotisserie chicken and some other things for dinner. After eating out every night for 5 weeks, it was nice to eat at home again.

The post office was supposed to hold our mail until we picked it up after our return but there was some confusion and our mailbox was stuffed absolutely full with mail. There was a cardboard box on our picnic table with the rest of our mail. Fortunately the canopy over the picnic table kept the mail dry.  We did a first try triage on the mail, separating our the junk mail and magazines from checks and bills.

Although it was sunny during the day, it was only 60 degrees in our family room and we made a fire in the woodstove for the first time.

Day 37 route

Saturday, October 3, 2015

Day 36 - Saturday, Oct 3 - Springfield, IL to Akron, OH

Starting mileage:  9511 Starting time: 8:00 am

Ending mileage: 10020 Ending time: 5:30 pm
Travel mileage:  509 Travel time: 9:30 hours

This was a solid travel day. It was chilly all day with the temperature only going between 48 and 51 and raining for about 4 hours this afternoon. The Akron weather said that this was the second coldest Oct 3 in history - what a change from 108 degree temperatures on Monday!

There were several wind farms that we passed in Illinois. At one of the rest areas there were tractor trailers carrying the wind turbine blades - it was quite impressive to stand next to them.

Tonight we are using up the last of our "points" for a free stay at the Holiday Inn Express.

Home tomorrow!

Day 36 route

Wind turbine blade

Day 35 - Friday, Oct 2 - Junction City, KS, Hannibal, MO, Springfield, IL

Starting mileage:  9065 Starting time: 6:30 am

Ending mileage: 9511 Ending time: 6:00 pm
Travel mileage:  446 Travel time: 11:30 hours

We wanted to visit the Lincoln home and memorial in Springfield, IL, so got up and left early this morning. Driving east we were able to enjoy the sunrise but were also blinded by the light - we decided to stop and have breakfast at Dunkin Donuts at the turnpike rest area until the sun was a bit higher.

On the morning NPR news we learned about the latest shooting massacre a Umqua College in Roseburg, OR. We stayed in Roseburg the night before visiting Crater Lake.

We realized that our route was going to take us through Hannibal, MO, the childhood home of Mark Twain and decided to make a short stop there. We visited the Hannibal historical museum on the main street where we learned that Hannibal also had a number of other notable citizens, including the "Unsinkable Molly Brown" (she was never actually called "Molly" - this was just for the show). We walked up the levee over the Mississippi River. We stopped for lunch where I had the best catfish ever and also the worst beer ("pretzel beer") ever - I couldn't finish it which is pretty rare.

After lunch we got on our way and crossed the Mississippi. In the past two days we crossed the 3 longest rivers in the US, the Arkansas, Missouri and Mississippi.

The terrain was becoming more and more green, with many more trees - starting to look more like home although still with large fields growing grain sorghum, corn and oats. We passed a large ethanol plant with huge corn storage bins and tractor trailers steadily bringing in corn - this is also the harvest time and we saw corn being harvested.

We arrived at the Lincoln visitor center around 3pm and were able to get on the 3:20 tour of the Lincoln House. The park service has done a great job of restoring the neighborhood to its appearance in the 1860s. 4 blocks have been shut off from traffic with many of the original houses, board sidewalks and cobblestone streets. Where one of the original small houses had been moved and a newer house built, they tore down the newer house and moved the old house back to its original position opposite the Lincoln house. In this house there were exhibits about archeology and the restoration process.

The Lincoln house is very much as it was in 1865. The park service worked with Sherwin-Williams to provide paint that closely matched the colors at that time. The tour is limited to 15 people at a time due to the number of people who can fit in the kitchen at one time. The tour guide was very good, with a sense of humor, engaging the visitors and very well informed. It was strange to think that Lincoln had stood in the same room and shaved in the same mirror on the wall, played with his children in front of the fireplace and Mary Todd Lincoln prepared meals on the wood-fired stove in the kitchen. It was well worthwhile to visit.

Afterwards we visited the Lincoln tomb although we just missed going inside the tomb itself which has additional exhibits of his life. It was much larger than we expected but not surprising given how much he was revered.

We parked so I could be in a conference call with the IBM team that has a weekly meeting on Friday at 3:30 PDT.

We have another free night at the Comfort Inn - the best room so far, a king suite with its own balcony. We had to stop at several restaurants before finding one that didn't have a 20 minute wait to get in - it is Friday night and people are out on the town. 

Day 35 route

Lincoln House

Lincoln Tomb

Day 34 - Thursday, Oct 1 - La Junta, Co, Dodge City, KS, Junction City, KS

Starting mileage:  8634 Starting time: 9:30 am

Ending mileage: 9065 Ending time: 4:30 pm
Travel mileage:  274 Travel time: 7:00 hours

We had a later start as we couldn't avoid doing laundry - some things just can't be avoided!

Looking at the map of where we could go today, we thought it would be interesting to stop in the historic Dodge City.

The weather has certainly changed from being too hot just with a t-shirt to cool even with a long-sleeve shirt.  It was 60 degrees and misting slightly which kept up for 3 hours. When we got to Dodge City the wind was blowing and it hadn't warmed up.  Guess fall is here.

We stopped at the Boot Hill historical museum which was well worthwhile. The museum is located just below and includes the actual site of the Boot Hill cemetery which was so named because a number of the dead were buried with their boots on. There are a number of historical displays from the early history of the native Americans, their terrible treatment by the US when soldiers and settlers moved west. In order to force the native Americans to leave, the government invited anyone to come and shoot the buffalo which were essential for their existence. In a few years, millions of buffalo were slaughtered.

The first few years from 1872 were truly the "wild west" in Dodge City. There was no law enforcement and many people were killed with little reason and no consequence. It was a wild place with cowboys, gamblers, prostitutes and saloons. Wyatt Earp and Bat Masterson were real people who came in to impose law and order, often quite harshly.  By 1879 things had calmed down and people were settling down with their families.

As we left Dodge City, we passed a number of very large wind farms - good to see renewable energy being exploited. 

There is also considerable irrigation of fairly barren land using water from the Arkansas River which is still being disputed with Colorado. By 1907, Colorado was diverting so much water from the river that not much was getting to Kansas.

Using our "points", we had a free night at the EconoLodge in Junction City, so named for all the rail lines that pass through. Unfortunately, they ran just across the highway from our hotel and we heard the train whistles blowing regularly after 1:30 AM.

Day 34 route

Boot Hill cemetery

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Day 33 - Wednesday, Sept 30 - Los Alamos to La Junta, CO

Starting mileage:  8360  Starting time: 9:30 am

Ending mileage: 8634 Ending time: 4:30 pm
Travel mileage:  274 Travel time: 7:00 hours

It was such a relief to have cooler temperatures again, about 60 this morning.

The sheer cliffs at the edge of the mesa that Los Alamos are just spectacular. Much of the volcanic rock is soft and birds have dug nests into the side. On the way down we could see heavy smoke filling much of the valley north of Santa Fe - prescribed burns are being done to reduce the chance of large out of control fires.  4 years ago there was a huge fire on the mountains above Los Alamos which required the lab and most of the residences to be evacuated. The hills are just starting to come back with new growth.

We decided to take the route north through Taos which is on the plain above the Rio Grande. Although the river isn't large in this area, it has cut a gorge hundreds of feet deep - quite spectacular cut into an absolutely flat plain. We thought we would look around historic Taos but after 20 minutes inching along in traffic, decided to head out towards Colorado without stopping.

As we were turning off I-25 in Trinidad, CO, the sky was absolutely black in front of us with occasional lightening. All of a sudden we had zero visibility in gale force winds, torrential rain and heavy hail about the size of marbles. We quickly pulled onto the shoulder and stopped. The temperature dropped 30 degrees in less than 5 minutes, from 79 to 49. We were concerned that the hail might damage the windows but fortunately, it didn't - our windshield was very clean however. The storm only lasted about 10 minutes and then moved on.

On the road to La Junta, we saw 4 tarantulas crossing the road. We stopped and I tried to take a photo but it didn't turn out that well among the grass on the shoulder. I picked it up with a stick but it didn't wan't to be photographed and it jumped off. They are quite impressive to see. This is the mating season and the males are out looking for a good time.

We also saw a number of herds of antelope but didn't get close enough to take a photo. Ironically, one of the herds was right next to the NRA headquarters.

We are staying at an Econolodge in La Junta, CO - it is pretty basic but the price was right as we can use our "points" for a free stay tonight.

Day 33 route

Andy, Marguerite and Carmen in Los Alamos

Cliffs along the mesa

Furry friend

Day 32 - Tuesday, Sept 29 - Deming, NM to Los Alamos, NM

Starting mileage:  8016  Starting time: 9:30 am

Ending mileage: 8360  Ending time: 4:00 pm
Travel mileage:  344 Travel time: 6:30 hours

Today was mostly a traveling day to visit our friends Andy and Marguerite in Los Alamos. Andy was my roommate at Princeton and is now a research scientist at the Los Alamos Laboratory.

Our trip took us through Hatch, NM which claims to be the chili pepper capital of NM. It is a small town but everywhere there are red peppers drying on metal roofs and long strings of dried peppers hanging in front of shops. 

This is also where we crossed the Rio Grande although it isn't very "grand". Due to all the dams and water diversion upstream, it wasn't any bigger than the Esopus near our house, only about 100' across.

We made a short stop in Truth or Consequences, NM to see if there was anything interesting. It was renamed in 1950 after the radio show host Ralph Edwards said he would broadcast from the first town to rename itself - and the name has been kept since then. The town was originally named "Hot Springs" and still has historic resorts and spas from the late 1800s. There is a fountain that is said to shoot up hot water every 15 minutes but we didn't wait for it.

I-25 follows the Rio Grande valley all of the way up to Santa Fe. There are towns and green vegetation along both sides of the river although it quickly becomes brown past the watered areas.

Our first stop in Los Alamos was Rose Chocolatier, Marguerite's artisan chocolate shop which she opened a little over a year ago. Andy stopped by on his way back from the lab and gave us a short walking tour of the town.  The county historical museum is located in a building which was a private boarding school up until 1940 when the Manhattan Project was established here and it was taken over by the government for offices and meeting rooms.

Andy and Marguerite have a house on the edge of the mesa with quite a spectacular view of the canyons and the mountains in the distance towards Santa Fe. It is quite a steep drop from the edge of their property to the bottom of the canyon. We were here 4 years ago for their wedding which was held in their yard.

Day 32 route


Rio Grande valley near Albuquerque