Californication

Californication

It’s been about seven weeks since we left The Golden State, but I honestly started feeling the pangs of leaving immediately after crossing the state line.  I’m pretty sure that it’s not the traffic congestion, high gas prices, outrageous camping fees, the gangster neighborhood we did our laundry in or the constant thought of earthquakes that left my heart back there.  It could be the fact that in only a matter of hours I could find myself hiking through the forest, strolling along the beach, gallivanting around the city or exploring in the desert. Or maybe I simply felt spoiled by having affordable, local and organic produce at my disposal, a farmer’s market in every community, and a Trader Joe’s on virtually every corner.

We spent more time in California than we have in any other state in our 17 months on the road and are all in agreement that a return visit is absolutely necessary.  Factoring in winter weather conditions and our job at the tree lot (see Bri’s post), made for the unfortunate but necessary decision to bypass the mountains this time around.  We came in from the north in Humboldt county and basically hugged the coastline down to San Diego.  Here’s what we experienced in just two short months…

Redwood National Park

I love trees, all trees!  I remember spending many days as a kid in a tree fort,  My dream home is a log cabin (on wheels of course),  My very first crush was The Lorax!

Giant Redwoods
Giant Redwoods

The Redwoods are amongst the oldest and tallest living things in the world and to stand alongside these ancient giants one can’t help but feel the majesty of their beauty.  We spent an entire day in the Prairie Creek State Park area exploring the forest.  We stood inside the trunk of one of the gigantic elders, located the remnants of yet another giant which at one time housed an entire family, and hiked a foggy, misty trail which resembled something from one of the  “Jurassic Park” movies.

Where's Mom?
Where’s Mom?

A couple of days later we took a drive along the infamous “Avenue of the Giants”,  a 31 mile stretch of road nestled between these towering beauties.  Half expecting this to be a tourist trap, we planned on driving straight through….until we discovered the groves.  Founder’s Tree Grove was our favorite. A half mile nature trail, complete with an informational guide, provided for a very educational walk along the plush forest floor, abundant of uprooted and fallen trees.

Founder's Grove
Founder’s Tree Grove

I personally felt very much alive in the coastal redwood forest and found it difficult to leave….that is, until I discovered that we were also in Big Foot country.

He aint so Big!
He aint so Big!

Sacramento

We ended up spending a day here because we were graciously offered an awesome opportunity by Birkenstock for the kids to participate in the making of their own pair of Arizona sandals.  This experience, thanks to Anne, our contact at Birkenstock, and the owners of Birkenstock Midtown Sacramento, provided for a hands on lesson in what it takes to run a successful retail business with the added bonus of walking away with a custom-made quality product.  Even Daisy was given VIP treatment as California is truly a dog-friendly state. 

Arizona Birkenstocks
Arizona Birkenstocks
Birkenstock VIP
Birkenstock VIP

The second half of the day was spent in Old Sacramento, a historic landmark along the Sacramento River set within the time of The California Gold Rush and The Transcontinental Railroad.  We explored this quaint little district rather quickly along the docks, over the railroad tracks and through the alleys.

Old Sacramento
Old Sacramento

San Francisco

Having only one day to explore the city we took advantage of the public transportation system (minus the cable cars as the line was excruciatingly long) and covered many miles on foot.  Our first stop was the Golden Gate Bridge. Aside from being one of the most popular Facebook profile picture settings, the Bridge Pavilion houses various exhibits on its history and construction.  Mercy’s assignment for that day was to find out why this bright orange wonder is named The Golden Gate Bridge. It didn’t take her long to find her answer and I am betting that unless you are either a Californian or a geography buff, you wouldn’t know that it is named after the Golden Gate Strait which is the entrance from the San Francisco Bay to the Pacific Ocean.  We braved the gusty winds and the three busloads of tourists ahead of us and walked out onto the bridge to feel its grandeur.  It truly is a technical masterpiece!

Golden Gate Bridge
Golden Gate Bridge

Haight Ashbury.  I’ve been wanting to get back there for 20+ years.  Unfortunately, the kids weren’t as hippy happy as I was to hang out in thrift store, iconic rock star heaven for any length of time.  We hit a local market, a few hip shops and a record store and called it good.

Hanging in the Haight
Hanging in the Haight

Fisherman’s Wharf.  We donned our tourist caps for this colorful waterfront community and spent a few hours popping in and out of various shops alongside spectating interesting street performances.  We made our way to the infamous pier 39 where we all decided on a restaurant as we had been looking forward to a fresh seafood meal for a while. Looking back, I find it quite humorous that we all ordered New England clam chowder and Maine lobster bisque.

Being in San Fran during the Christmas season provided for some interesting holiday entertainment amongst a few of the homeless characters.  Here is Bri’s spot on impression of a jolly street panhandler we encountered and grew very fond of…

Suffice it to say, this performance is sure to become a part of the Dunn family Christmas tradition!

Pacific Coast Highway

One of the most scenic drives in the country,  the PCH actually extends from the southern tip of Baja California to the top of the Olympic peninsula….roughly 2500 miles.  We knowingly ventured along portions of this highway while in Washington and again in Oregon, not realizing that it was just a preview of what would take our breath away when we hit the infamous route 1 along the central coast from Monterey to LA.

Pacific Coast Highway
Pacific Coast Highway

We were hesitant at first to take the 5th wheel along the hairy, twisty, turny, cliffy, misty, and at times foggy stretch of this highway. But, seeing as our max speed would only be around 25 mph, we figured we’d have enough time to jump ship if we got too close to the jagged edge.  So, we went for it.  And what a trip it was! Mountains to the left, ocean to the right, cyclists up ahead, idiotic, convertible sports car speeders passing you from behind.  All part of the experience I’m told!

The plan was to spend a couple of days exploring and hiking in the Big Sur region.  The only problem with that was that we didn’t plan.  We never really do plan. This time though, it was a holiday weekend (New Year’s) and that is when everyone else plans.  So, we were out of luck and couldn’t get into a campground.  I must confess that situations seem to work out for us as I feel we truly benefited from not being able to get into the campground. Instead, we pulled off on the side of the road just as the sun went down and set up camp for the night .  In the morning we awoke to this! 

PCH near Big Sur
PCH near Big Sur

You can’t get an unobstructed view like that  from a campground, even if you pay for it….which we didn’t!.

Heading further South that morning with our destination in mind and feeling totally sight satiated, we hadn’t planned on any more stops.  That is, until we noticed groups of people congregating along the pull-offs….and I’ll be damned if I’m missing anything!  So, I insisted Bri pull off at one and I believe everyone is thanking me that we did.  Otherwise, we never would have witnessed the unbelievably large colony of northern elephant seals covering the shoreline.  What an incredible sight and our timing couldn’t have been more perfect.  The female harems had just arrived and had given birth to the cutest shiny black pups!

Seal Pup
Seal Pup

Ventura

Said to be one of America’s most livable communities, Ventura has lots to offer.  Miles of surf-friendly beaches, neighboring mountains, and scenic bike paths combined with a mild year-round climate make for some healthy and happy residents.  The city also prides itself on supporting local businesses and promoting economic, social and environmental sustainability.  No wonder Bri and I both have placed Ventura at the top of our list for future,  part-time residency!

Trying to decide on the perfect place to hang out for a few days wasn’t easy.  One thing we discovered early on in this state was that we had to be prepared to pay higher camping fees.  Beach front with electric and water at an affordable rate was going to be a challenge…so we thought.  After making Bri drive up and down route 1 and pull in and out of tight areas we found Hobson Beach campground where we settled in amidst a mecca of care-free and friendly recreational surfers.  The price was attractive, the view spectacular, and the vibe sunny.  It was definitely one of the harder places to leave.  For me, exercising on the beach every morning and watching the sunset over the Pacific every evening is paradise.

Beachside living
Beachside living
Ventura Sunset
Ventura Sunset

Hollywood

Hollywood Baby!
Hollywood Baby!

Much fun was had by all four of us in the famous LA district which is nicely detailed in River’s post.   I will add that if it wasn’t for the hospitality of a dear friend who also played tour guide for the week, we would never have had the opportunity to experience as much as we did during the time we were there.  Aside from the studio tours, activities on Hollywood Blvd and our adult night out on The Sunset Strip (where Bri and I were hoping to bump into some rock stars…..instead we got Ron Jeremy),  I thoroughly enjoyed my morning hikes in Runyon canyon with Daisy where the view never got old. The drive through Laurel Canyon up to Mullholland Drive was also a highlight for me as I was envisioning a time when the bohemian neighborhood was alive with some of my favorite iconic rock legends, like Jim Morrison.

Runyon Canyon Lookout
Runyon Canyon Lookout
Sunset Blvd. fun
Sunset Blvd. fun

San Diego

We were all eager to get to San Diego for a few reasons.  First being, we had decided mid-way through working at the tree lot that this would be the place we would splurge, for the first time, and spend an entire week in a resort, complete with all the amenities.  In doing my research, I chose the one boasting of its central location, super sites, spa facilities and superior customer service.  Upon our arrival (after getting lost due to the lack of signage pointing us in the right direction), we soon discovered that the central location was nestled between the busy freeway and the active railroad tracks, the super site required our neighbor to move his vehicle in order for us to back our rig in, the spa facilities consisted of a two person hot tub in the pool area where we could barely carry on a conversation due to the noise level of the traffic, and the superior customer service was more than lacking.  I should have been clued in at the time I made the reservation when after I declared my budget wouldn’t allow for the weekly fee, the representative actually asked me what my budget would allow and gave me a pretty sweet discount.  Nonetheless, we decided to stay as we had a pretty busy agenda planned and we didn’t want to deal with the hassle of picking up and moving.

A visit to The San Diego Zoo and a whale watch excursion were two more reasons for our stay in the area.  The zoo had been on our list since the planning stages of the trip and it surely did live up to all of our expectations.  Our day spent there is nicely detailed in Mercy’s post.    As for the whale watch, we got lucky on two levels. Groupon happened to have a half-off deal for the 3 hour cruise and our timing couldn’t have been more perfect. It was migration season for the gray whales and they were passing through from Alaska on their way south to Baja which made for many sightings on our tour.  Such beautiful creatures they are.

Big Whale
Big Whale

Bri and I had our own motives for hanging in San Diego and that would be to re-live some memories from our first trip where we spent a large chunk of time living in and around the parks and beaches.  Surprisingly, we didn’t really notice any major changes.  It seems it is still a very popular hangout for those living out of their vehicles.  We actually found ourselves trying to locate a couple of characters we befriended there back in 1992 and then realized that one guy would be well into his 90s by now.  Hey you never know….once you’ve gotten a taste for the nomadic lifestyle, it’s hard to leave it! 

We hit the farmer’s market in Ocean Beach, took a drive through Mission Beach and enjoyed a local brew in Pacific Beach.  My favorite….Dog Beach!

Pacific Beach Alehouse
Pacific Beach Alehouse
Dog Beach
Dog Beach

Joshua Tree National Park

The trees, the trees, the Joshua Trees, I’ve never before seen trees like these!

The only thing any of us knew about this National Park was that it was home to these very unique looking trees that U2 had titled one of their albums….and that it was in the California desert.  The rest remained sort of a mystery to us and I refrained from researching anything but the campgrounds before our arrival so as to make it somewhat of a surprise.

The name Joshua Tree was reportedly given by a group of Mormons in the mid-nineteenth century as the trees’ form reminded them of a Biblical story in which Joshua reaches his hands up to the sky.  I guess this was before Dr. Seuss’ time.

Joshua Trees
Joshua Trees

Two deserts come together in this park, each with its own ecosystem. The Colorado, being at the lower elevation and occupying the eastern end of the park, is generally ten to fifteen degrees warmer and also where we chose to camp at Cottonwood Springs.  Unbeknownst to us, this was not where we were going to find the trees.  Their special habitat is located in the  Mojave, which is higher up in the western part of the park and about fifty-five miles from Cottonwood Springs.  So, being that it was nearing sunset, we decided to wait until the next day to drive to the west end and explore.  We hung out in the campground listening to the desert sounds and witnessed a fearless and apparently very hungry coyote rummage through everyone’s camp-fire pit.

Not so coy coyote
Not so coy coyote

The drive was spectacular.  To see and feel the crossover of the ecosystems and the changes in scenery was very interesting.  In the same day, we went from an arid land abundant of beautiful Ocotilla and Cholla cactus to a cooler, moister climate plentifully bestrewed with the park’s namesake trees. 

I could never tire of looking at the trees.  Each one, individually unique in size and structure, tells a story of survival and resilience.  Of course  Bri tried to locate the famous one on the cover of U2s album “The Joshua Tree”,  but to no avail.  We did have a lot of fun re-creating that cover in total “Dunn” style…..which so proudly graces the front pages of this blog.

Joshua Tree
Joshua Tree

Of other interest throughout the park is the amazing geologic landscape.  Huge eroded boulders lying on top of one another and naturally formed dikes within the granite made for some fun climbs.

Joshua Rock?
Joshua Rock?

We managed to fit in two fairly strenuous hikes during our stay, one in each of the deserts.  Ryan Mountain in the Mojave, took us up over 5,000 feet to the summit where the views of mountains and valleys in the background were complimented by the Joshua Trees in the foreground.  It was cold and windy up top.

Ryan Mountain summit
Ryan Mountain summit

In The Colorado, we hiked Mastodon Peak.  3,000 feet up this hike required some basic rock climbing skills.  The views from here included mountains, jagged rock formations and The Salton Sea.  It was warm and sunny on top.

 Mastodon Peak hike
Mastodon Peak hike

Slab City

Where to start?  Known by its inhabitants as “The last free place”, it’s no city at all.  Formerly a military training base during World War II, the only remains are the slabs of the deconstructed buildings.  There is no electricity, no water, no sewer, or no trash removal.  It is simply off-grid living in the middle of the desert where, during the winter months, you will find the likes of many nomads including RVers, squatters, hobos, and train hoppers hanging their hats (or bandanas).  However, there are a handful of permanent residents who weather the 120-130 degree summer temps. and therefore retain the authority to impose the ethics and courtesies that all visitors are expected to follow.

Welcome to Slab City
Welcome to Slab City

Slab City is also home to a fairly well-known attraction and most likely how we discovered it…  Salvation Mountain.  Created solely by one man,  this 50 foot tall and 150 foot wide painted adobe clay structure has a recurring theme of “God is Love” and is Leonard Knight’s tribute to God and his gift to the world.  It is listed as an official “Folk Art of America”, draws hundreds of visitors daily and has been featured in the movie “Into The Wild”. 

Salvation Mountain
Salvation Mountain

Speaking for my family, I can say that none of us was deeply moved by the message.  That is not to say that Leonard’s passion and dedication is not worthy of admiration and appreciation and his Seuss-like art style thoroughly fun and enjoyable.

Adobe Art
Adobe Art

There were many interesting sights in Slab City and certainly no lack of interesting characters.  We kept busy during our stay and by the time we left we were somewhat familiar with the “neighborhoods” and “communities” and all the happenings.  There was a one-man radio station, and a Saturday night talent show.  There were Canadian clubs and singles clubs. There was art and there was junk-art. There was hip and there was hippy.   There was trash and there was trashy.  There was clean and there was dirty.  There was young and there was old.  

Slab City Art
Slab City Art
Slab City Junk Art
Slab City Junk Art

If we took anything away from this out of the ordinary boondocking experience, I would say that it’s the realization that everything is not as it appears on the surface.  Our trepidation upon our arrival was totally overcome by the time we pulled out four days later and we now know that desert life is crawling with creativity and irregularity….in the good sense.

Slab City living
Slab City living

I would say that California was the state that exposed us to a multitude of diverse experiences in such a short time.  My hopes are, that if the four of us don’t get back there together, the kids will make it a point to at least get out to Yosemite National Park someday.  As for Bri and I, we’re already California Dreaming about getting back there.  And this time you can bet that Wine Country won’t just be a drive through!

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Hanging In Hollywood

Hanging In Hollywood

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Hollywood. Where do I begin? Should I start with the fact that I didn’t see anyone famous that I would have liked to? Or something a bit less unfortunate like the fact that we got a tour of the Paramount Pictures and Warner Brothers studios? Or that I got a gold top Epiphone Les Paul at a store on Sunset Boulevard? Or, maybe I should just start at the beginning.
    I don’t think many people expect to see a truck with a Maine license plate pulling a thirty foot fifth wheel through the middle of Hollywood. We were going to stay with some friends who manage an apartment building in the Hollywood Hills. They said that they had a space next to the building where we could park the R.V. It took a little while but we eventually managed to get it backed into the said space.

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    One of the first things we did when we stayed there was get a tour of the Paramount Pictures studios. Now our friend knew someone who worked there and we were able to get a free, private tour. I don’t know about you, but in my book that fits under the “awesome” column. Now we don’t watch that much television, so I didn’t recognize many of the sets we got to go on. I did recognize the set for the Dr. Phil show. I have never seen the show but I have heard of it before. We saw Jane Lynch, but I don’t really know who she is because I don’t watch Glee. Mercy recognized her from a movie she likes. At the end we saw the bench where some of Forrest Gump was filmed.

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 A few days later we got a tour of Warner Brothers Studios. It wasn’t a private tour like the one at Paramount but was great nonetheless. We saw the set of Two and a Half Men. I’ve only seen the show once but I recognized it immediately. During another part of the tour there was a room with vehicles from a bunch of movies. Every Batmobile, the flying car from Harry Potter, and some others that I didn’t recognize. There was also a whole warehouse full of props that are still used. One that I recognized was One-Eyed Willie’s skeleton from The Goonies. We saw a prop that was used on the set of Pirates of the Caribbean. It was a lamp that was on the Black Pearl. We actually found out that our tour guide was an extra in the movie. Towards the end of the tour we stopped at a museum with the original costumes from countless movies and television shows. There were the costumes worn by actors from the Batman movies, the Harry Potter movies and many others. We also saw two of the cast members from The Big Bang Theory. But again, I don’t watch the show so I didn’t recognize them at all. My parents were excited to be on the set of Friends, another show that I have never seen.

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Warner Bros (27)Warner Bros (28)
    One night when we were walking down Hollywood Boulevard, we saw… drumroll please, Emma Stone and Russell Brand. Unfortunately it was only from a distance. I would have liked to see them up close… especially Emma Stone. They were at the premiere of Gangster Squad, but I’m not sure if Russell brand was in that movie so I don’t exactly know why he was there. Not that it really matters though. There was a guy standing behind us who kept trying to get Russell to wave to him, and when Russell didn’t, the guy yelled: “You sucked in Arthur!”

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    One of the last things we did while we were there was go to the Hollywood Wax Museum. They had wax figures of so many movie characters and celebrities. There was one of Johnny Depp, Orlando Bloom, Michael Jackson, Will Smith and Tommy Lee Jones from Men in Black, Davy Jones, Darth Vader, Yoda, even the aliens from Aliens Versus Predator. That’s just to name a few.

Hollywood Wax Museum (4)Hollywood Wax Museum (13)Hollywood Wax Museum (18)
    Later that night, we went to a music store and I bought a gold top Epiphone Les Paul. It was in great condition for a used guitar, and the price was $399. I was told that if it was brand new it would be have been $699. Apparently the store wanted to get rid of it so they lowered the price to $340 and offered a free case! Sold! I can even brag that I bought it on the Sunset Strip in Hollywood.

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    Well I can definitely say that it was one of my favorite places to stay. I would also like to thank our friends for letting us stay next to their apartment building and driving us around. I don’t say names in any of my blog posts but you guys know who you are. Don’t tell my parents, but I’m giving you bragging rights.  

My AFFs (Animal Friends Forever) at the San Diego Zoo!

My AFFs (Animal Friends Forever) at the San Diego Zoo!

When we first pulled into the parking lot of the San Diego Zoo, I could hardly wait to step out of the door of the truck. I have been waiting to come here since before we even left Maine.

After we went in and got our tickets, we headed to the zoo tour bus. We decided to go on the bus first because it covered 75% of the zoo and we would know where everything is. It was a double decker bus and we got to sit on top!

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When we got off the bus we made our way over to the “big cats.” On the way there, we passed an exhibit with TONS of monkeys in it.  My favorite ones are the Capuchins. They are the cutest monkeys you could ever imagine, and they were definitely the most entertaining! They would pick the bugs out of each others fur and eat it, and the way they eat is so human-like!

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I really liked the gorillas too. The troop leader is always a male and called a silverback. The silverback of the troop we saw was sleeping the whole time with his foot pressed against the glass. I felt kind of bad for all of the gorillas, because how would you like it if millions of people came to see you all day, everyday?

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My favorite animal there was the cheetah. It would just pace along the fence watching your every move. Did you know that every cheetah at the San Diego Zoo has a dog as a companion? Well, when we were there the cheetah we saw was paired with a husky mix. River explained to me that they do this so the cheetah is more calm around people. Sadly we didn’t see the dog, but the cheetah was absolutely amazing! The tiger was also one of my favorites, but it didn’t do much except sit on top of a rock and look down on everyone. I was half expecting it to lick it’s lips thinking we would all make a great meal, but it didn’t.

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There were also two different kinds of leopards, the black leopard and snow leopard. We saw the snow leopard, but not the black one because it was inside it’s little “house” the whole time. The snow leopard was not white it was grey, and had a tail that looked almost as dangerous as the claws. It was really long and very fat at the end.

After a while we finally got to the pandas. There was a mom and a cub. The baby was a lot more active than the mom. He would roll around, climb on stuff, and run around the pen. All the mom did was sit there, eat bamboo and watch her son.

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When you think of polar bears do you think of big, white bears? Well that’s basically true except the “big” part. They are not just big, they are HUGE! Did you know that full grown polar bears can get up to 10 feet?! I don’t know how big the one we saw was but it looked pretty close to 10 feet! The way they get their food is very interesting. They’ll wait outside of a seals breathing hole for hours until a seal comes up, then they will grab it. They must be so patient! If I tried to do that I’d be getting up within 5 minutes trying to find food elsewhere.

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On the way over to the elephants we passed more monkeys. This time there was an otter in the same exhibit as the monkeys. It was funny to see an otter and a monkey living together. Just like the Capuchins he was very entertaining, and happened to be my Dad’s favorite animal there. He was super cute especially when he would float on his back down the river, and catch the food the monkeys threw him.

Then we got to the elephants. There were about 3 of them and we were watching one of them eat hay. It’s really interesting how they use their trunks to take the food then put it in their mouth. The San Diego Zoo has 2 different types of elephants, the African and Asian. Two ways to tell them apart are the shape of their ears and their tusks. African elephants have bigger ears that are the shape of the continent of Africa and both males and females have tusks. Whereas Asian elephants have much smaller ears and only the males have tusks.

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After, we went over to the giraffes. There were a few adults and a few babies. They were all so cute and a lot bigger than I thought they would be. A giraffes neck can be 6 feet long and weigh 600 pounds! Imagine having a neck that tall weighing that much!

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I thought the oddest looking animal there were the rhinoceroses. They have a protective layer of skin on the outside which looked like a huge layer of fat, it was very weird. Well I can’t say the rhino is the oddest looking animal there was, because the camels came pretty close. One of them was very old and had a lopsided hump. Through my research I found out that his hump is like that because he is old and his activity level is low, therefore he uses all his stored energy (which is in his hump) causing it to droop. He also had spit coming out of his mouth. I mean literally hanging out of his mouth, it looked like toothpaste. YUCK! The reason camels do spit is to surprise, distract, or bother whatever the camel thinks is threatening it.

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I had such a good time at the San Diego Zoo and it is definitely on my list of places to come back to.

The Ups and Downs of Traveling

The Ups and Downs of Traveling

Astoria

It’s been one year since we’ve been on the road and so far we’ve been to 25 states. My favorite states we’ve been to so far are Colorado, because it was just so lush and green, and Texas, because…well, I just liked Texas. Now, my least favorite state was Alabama. (Sorry to all the people who live there.) The campground we were at was horrible, the capitol looked like it was completely abandoned, the area we were in was not a very pleasant area, and the skies were NOT so blue!  Some of my favorite attractions were Yellowstone, because the mountains, wildlife, and rivers combined were just breathtaking! Bryce Canyon, The hoodoos were so cool! Grand Canyon, it was just so massive and amazing! And, I liked Rocky Mountain for pretty much the same reason as Yellowstone, (they were a lot alike.) The cities I liked were Austin, because during SXSW it was so much fun (and I got a lot of free stuff.) Vegas, the shows we saw there were cool and the light are really colorful. Seattle, because the Pike Place Market, the EMP museum, and the Space Needle were all so awesome! New Orleans, because it was so alive, and I can’t wait ’till we go to all the cities in California!! Right now we’re in Sidney, Montana where there is next to nothing. Our parents are working the beet harvest so my mom is gone from 10:00 a.m. to 9:00 p.m., and my dad is gone from 5:00 p.m. to 9:00 p.m.! This is the only reason we’re in Sidney, and if my mom and dad weren’t working we would most definitely not be here!! On the bright side, there have been kids here the whole time for us to hang out with, while the parents are working, although they are leaving tomorrow. That’s what I don’t like about being on the road. Whenever I meet a friend either we always have to leave or they always have to leave. I also have to share a room with my brother which is not very fun because of the limited space, and he is always yelling at me to pick up my stuff. When the harvest is done we’re heading towards California to work at a Christmas tree lot for a while. I’m excited for that because I heard that my brother and I get to work too! 

Seattle Gum wall
Seattle Gum wall

 

 

Reflections

Reflections

River

We have been on the road for almost a year now. In trying to find the right word to describe it, I chose: interesting. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve been having the time of my life. I will admit though that parts of the trip are hard. Living in a small space with three other people can get very frustrating at times. Especially when I have to share a room with Mercy who RARELY picks up after herself! It drives me crazy! I also miss all of my friends and family back home, but it’s not like I’ll never see them again.
In spite of all the hardships, I am having a great time. We have seen and done so many things that some people unfortunately never will. I don’t think that I could just choose one part of the trip to be my favorite because it has all been so awesome. A few of the most memorable experiences were hiking in the Grand Canyon, seeing the Carlsbad Caverns, and watching a wolf chow on a dead elk in Yellowstone. It was not all woods, caves and canyons though. I also had a great time at Universal in Orlando, Florida. We also saw Smash Mouth in Tillamook, Oregon. Then there was BurntWoodsStock. See my mom’s post: “Summertime,” for more information on that. Yes, sometimes it is hard, and sometimes I am in a bad mood. But all the good things far outweigh those occasional less than fun times. If I was asked if I ever regret going on this trip, I would not hesitate for a second before giving you my answer. Which is: no.

Hangin’ with Smash Mouth guitarist Mike Krompass
Glacier National Park

Glacier National Park

Glacier National Park

Have you ever experienced the majesty of Glacier National Park in Montana? I have, but my plan for the first day we were there did NOT include throwing up outside the visitor center, the Ranger telling me to move into the grass, and spending the whole day sprawled across the back seat reminding my family every 5 minutes that I didn’t feel good. Besides all that, Glacier was amazing! The second day there we planned to do a hike, but the one we wanted to do was along the Going-to-the-Sun Road, which we already went on, so it would be the same view. (Not to mention it was really windy!) The Going-to-the-Sun Road is the most famous road in Glacier. It runs from the west to the east entrances. On that road we saw 2 mountain goats and 2 bighorn sheep.They were so cute!!!

Big Horns
Big Horns

So that day we just drove around the park and stopped to take pictures and admire the views. Scientists predict that all the glaciers will be gone by the year 2030. They are all melting faster than they normally would, because of Global Warming. One of the glaciers we saw was called Jackson Glacier, it was absolutely breathtaking!

Jackson Glacier
Jackson Glacier

There were also unbelievably clear lakes. My favorite was called Lake McDonald, which is the largest lake in Glacier. It was formed during the last ice age ten thousand years ago. Huge glaciers slowly pushed down the mountain taking rock, dirt and other debris with it, when the ice melted it became Lake McDonald.

Lake McDonald
Lake McDonald

The last day we were there we finally did a hike. It was called Avalanche trail because it leads to Avalanche Lake. The hike was 4.8 miles round trip and it was very cool. When we come off the trail we saw a big lake surrounded by mountains and one of the mountains had a massive waterfall flowing off of it. On our way back down, the people in front of us said there was a bear that had just crossed the trail 4 minutes ago. I guess we were too late because we didn’t see it.

Avalanche
Avalanche

On all 3 days we were there we went on the Going-to-the-Sun Road.  The weather there was nice, but I would’ve liked it a lot better if it wasn’t so windy. 

Going to the Sun
Going to the Sun
The Black Hills…”Native” vs.” American” History

The Black Hills…”Native” vs.” American” History

MOUNT RUSHMORE

Mt. Rushmore

VS.

Crazy Horse

CRAZY HORSE

                  OR

White Man vs. Red Man?

Power vs. Honor?

The Beach Boys vs. Steven Tyler?

The Black Hills of South Dakota behold many miles of impressive scenery and a wealth of wild west history.  It is also home to two majestic stone mountain carvings drawing millions of tourists annually to marvel at the beauty and perhaps embrace the history that so inspired these masterpieces. And although we don’t like to put ourselves in that “tourist” category (yes, we have totally become travel snobs), I will say that our initial reason for visiting the area was to do just that.

We decided to start at Mt. Rushmore, the monument that epitomizes what most Americans consider the ultimate memorial to the birth, growth, development and preservation of our country. Admission to the memorial is free, however they do get you with an $11 parking fee which was not covered by our National park pass. Apparently, federal funds weren’t used in the construction of the lot which is a concession operating under a contract between the National Park Service and The Mt. Rushmore society.  What???   That aside, the sight of the 60 foot heads of Washington, Jefferson, Roosevelt and Lincoln from The Grand View Terrace is well worth paying the parking fee.

We began our tour the same way we do at every National Park we visit.  We spent about 45 minutes in the visitor center, first checking out the exhibits followed by a viewing of the park movie detailing its history, culture, science and nature. Then we headed out to walk the 1/2 mile Presidential Trail loop, admiring the different viewpoints, waiting patiently for our turn at the prime photo spots and shooting a few takes for the  “On the Road with Mercy ” series.

This  is what we learned while we were there…

Gutzon Borglum was an incredibly talented sculptor.  It took 400 workers 14 years to complete. The conditions were at times very harsh but there were no deaths. They blasted with Dynamite.

This is what we did not learn while we were there…

The land on which Mt. Rushmore sits was wrongfully taken by our government from the Lakota Indian tribe .

Gutzon Borglum was at one time an active member of the KKK.

17 miles away sits Crazy Horse,  the memorial honoring the culture, tradition and living heritage of  North American Indians.  When finished (which most likely will not be in my lifetime) it will be the largest outdoor sculpture in the world.

Being the colossal size that it is, you can actually get a fairly decent view  from the road.  That being said, we had already planned on going in for a closer look  as for some reason or another Bri and I bypassed this one 20 years ago. Paying the $27  wasn’t  all that difficult to swallow once we were informed that every bit of the fee goes to the non-profit foundation which funds construction of the monument as well as various educational programs and scholarships. The fact that we were able to leave with a chunk of the granite blasted from the mountain was an added bonus.

Once you’re on what they refer to as their campus, you have access to the entire visitor complex which consists of  The Visitor Center, The Indian Museum of North America, The Native American Education and Cultural Center and Korczak’s Studio/Home. Again,we began by viewing the 20 minute orientation movie, “Dynamite and Dreams” which left us all just sitting in our seats trying to absorb the magnificent feat set out upon by one determined man whose motto was “Never Forget Your Dreams”.  We spent the next couple of hours on campus.

This is what we learned while we were there….

Korczak Ziolkowski was a gifted sculptor who worked briefly on Mt. Rushmore.  He was invited by  Lakota Chief Henry Standing Bear to carve a memorial celebrating the spirit of their Sioux Warrior Crazy Horse.

Ziolkowski accepted the invitation and singlehandedly took on the project first by constructing roads to the base, stairs to the 600 ft. summit and a cabin to live in. He declined two offers of  10 million dollars in federal funding. He married and had ten children. He worked on Crazy Horse until his death and left detailed plans to carry on his work. His wife Ruth, now in her 80s and 7 of their children are dedicated to continuing his dream. When completed, all four presidential heads will be able to fit inside Crazy Horse’s head.

Crazy Horse was an inspiration to Native American tribes. A legendary leader who wanted for his people to remain on their lands and live freely without having to seek out permission of the white man.  He was stabbed and killed by an American soldier while under a flag of truce.

This is what we didn’t learn while we were there…..

Hmmmmm…..nothing comes to mind.

We ended up extending our stay in The Black Hills region where we camped in an area held sacred to many Native American tribes. We experienced the land, the legends, the history and the culture of these indigenous people and I personally left with a spiritual connection.

However, there is one thing that does not sit well with me and perhaps the reason for me writing this post. From a moral standpoint, how was the US government able to   continuously violate treaties allowing the Indian tribes to keep their own land every time an opportunity for personal gain was revealed?  How ironic is it that the very culture of the indigenous people revolved around respecting and protecting  the land and today these reservations are some of the most run-down and impoverished  areas of our country.  I have seen this personally. This, my friends is American history and it is unfortunate that for centuries this feeling of entitlement may be the only thing that has “trickled down”.

As for the music reference, these “rock” stars  have their own style and perhaps each a different following…..  And, although there are no documented photos of Crazy Horse, I’m guessing he would be the one with the more eccentric wardrobe,  the flashier peace pipe and the more indiscriminate fan base.

Crazy Horse