Those National Park Days: Grand Teton + Yellowstone

IMG_0997IMG_0995Day 44.

Miles Driven: 310.

We woke to a beautiful morning and drove the last 45 minutes into Grand Teton National Park. What a beautiful park! Green prairie grass of Jackson Hole valley juts up to snow caped IMG_0989peaks. French explorers named the range “Les Trois Tetons” or The Three Breasts, the tallest being the Grand Teton. Glaciers and snowmelt created many lakes that are now used recreationally for canoeing and swimming. The mountains and lakes are named for backcountry explorers and trappers that worked in this area. We cooked a wonderful breakfast on the shores of Jenny Lake. We walked around a bit, visited the info center a bit, and marveled at the spectacular scenery a lot!

_MG_1306In the afternoon, we drove a short distance north into America’s first National Park: Yellowstone. Signed into law in 1872 by President Ulysses S. Grant, Yellowstone is one of _MG_1331the most active geothermal points on the planet. “What is geothermal?” you may ask. Well, let me tell you. Yellowstone National Park is a volcano, like the Hawaiian Volcanoes, that sits in the middle of a tectonic plate. However, we do not see the typical cone and cauldron. Here, the crust of the earth is very thin, maybe seven miles deep, compared to 20-miles everywhere else. A pocket of magma (molten rock) sits below the crust and heats up any water pockets that flow below the surface creating geysers, hot springs, and mud pots. Beyond the thermal activity, Yellowstone has a very busy ecosystem too. The entire park is busy with birds, bison, bears, and wolves.

_MG_1330_MG_1325My good friend Joel had worked in Yellowstone for several summers and gave us the ins and outs on what to see and where to stay. Somehow, we got a last minute reservation at Canyonlands Campground. We were so relived that we did get a reservation because once at the park, every campsite was FULL!

_MG_1320From the start, we started seeing animals. A bison walked right in front of our car. As dusk began to set in, we made our way to Hayden Valley, and so did everyone else. Park visitors would gather on little knolls lining the valley with their binoculars, telephoto lenses, and spotting scopes on tripods to watch the animals. There was lots of activity during our stay. I heard that earlier in the week, a bison had died which was drawing the bears and wolves into the valley. I saw the wolves feeding and some bears playing just a football field away. So cool!

I spy two bears and a bison!

I spy two bears and a bison!

For dinner, we bought some bison meat at the Yellowstone grocery store and cooked the burgers on our campstove. The grass-fed meat was rich and lean and oh so tasty.

Day 45.

The campsite was so quiet in the morning. Even the birds slept in. We cooked breakfast, packed the car, and took off for the upper, middle, and lower geyser basins. Once in the geyser basin, we began seeing plumes of steam rising up between the trees. Our first stop _MG_1350was at the Grand Prismatic Pool. WOW! This pool was gorgeous and the colors ranged from bright blue to deep brown. What is unique about these pools, is that heat-loving, microbacterias thrive in these waters. At the center of the pool, the water is over 200 degrees and noting lives there letting the clear water reflect the blue sky. But, as the water laps over the edge of the pool and cools, the colors change to green, then orange, then brown. The national park had build boardwalks around the pools letting us get close and smell the sulfur escaping.

IMG_1009IMG_1010We continued to the lower geyser basin to see the iconic Old Faithful Geyser! We had a little time to explore the visitor’s center before we joined all the other guests around the vent and waited. Old Faithful has a sense of humor and would spurt out a little water and steam, just enough to excite the crowd, before going quiet for a bit. Then, woosh! Old Faithful stood up to its name and shot up 150 feet into the air, right on schedule. The crowd cheered and that’s all.

_MG_1367_MG_1358We explored the historic Old Faithful Inn and marveled at the towering main lobby that was made entirely in the log cabin style.

After lunch, we made our way back towards our campground with stops at various other geysers and paint pots. I also enjoyed the sulphur caldron! Hot and acidic, this boiling pool of mud has a pH of 1.3 and could melt the skin off IMG_1016your finger! And smelled oh, so “wonderful” (not really). Plus, a huge bison almost joined us on the boardwalk by the mud volcano.

We drove through Hayden Valley again to try and spot more wildlife. I think I got a picture of a grizzly bear. At sunset, we paid a visit to Yellowstone’s Grand Canyon which sure lives up to its name. The golden sunlight light up the yellow sandstone and made the whole canyon glow.

IMG_1025IMG_1023Day 46.

We woke up at 6:00 to get an early start because we still had a lot to see and a long drive ahead of us.

_MG_1395We drove past more geysers to the Mammoth Hot Springs that spew up over two tons of calcium carbonate creating travertine terraces. The beautiful white cliffs look like a giant wedding cake that is slowly growing. The calcium carbonate flows just quickly enough to build the travertine around trees.

We ate our breakfast outside the historic Fort Yellowstone and admired the beautiful buildings before heading out. We crossed the 45th parallel (half way between the equator and the north pole) and the Montana boarder before we even left the park through the north entrance. What a great idea our national parks are. They truly are “for the benefit and enjoyment of the people.”

Total Miles: 9,500

A Day With Mr. Lincoln + Sensational South Dakota

IMG_0961IMG_0943Day 41.

Miles Driven: 365

We spent most of the day in the Illinois state capital: Springfield. (Did you know that Springfield is the most common town name in the USA?) This town is also known for being President Abraham Lincoln’s hometown. Born in Kentucky, Lincoln’s father moved his family to Indiana after losing all his land because of faulty property titles. The family then moved to Illinois after the death of Lincoln’s mother. As a young man, Lincoln helped sail goods down river to New Orleans. It was here that he first witnessed slavery and he walked back home to Illinois.

IMG_3548Back in Illinois, Lincoln owned a general store and ran for General Assembly. Though he lost, he was post master while teaching himself law and ultimately becoming a lawyer. He ran again and was elected to the state legislature. Once becoming a lawyer, he moved to Springfield where he met his future wife, Mary Todd.

Here in Springfield, he became a very successful lawyer. With strong opinions about slavery and creating a modern America, he ran for senator but lost. In 1860, following many speeches, Lincoln was nominated by the Republican Party to run for president. And the rest is history.

Springfield was always considered his home because he lived, worked, and had four sons in this home over 17 years. After leaving to be president in Washington D.C. he never returned to Springfield. But, his home has become a landmark ever since he stepped into the political limelight. Now, the National Park Service has preserved the four blocks surrounding Lincoln’s Springfield home including over 30 buildings that are being restored to their 1800s glory.

IMG_0952IMG_0954We really enjoyed visiting his home and seeing the living history characters wander the streets and acting like Lincoln and Mary. It was amazing how intelligent Lincoln was. He was an inventor, great orator, and seemed like an all around nice guy. On the house tour, we were not allowed to touch any of the original furnishings but it was great to be in the rooms where he developed much of his political stances. However, when we climbed the stairs we were told these were the original handrails and to use them just as Lincoln did.

We drove past the capitol later and enjoyed a picnic lunch before heading out on the next stretch towards the west coast. We crossed back across the Mississippi River and stopped for the night in Des Moines, IA.

IMG_0969Day 42.

Miles Driven: 667

We drove and drove and drove for, yes, 667 miles across through more cornfields, across the Missouri River and into South Dakota. The second we crossed the Missouri, the landscaped changed from crop fields to prairie. We learned that prairie is a unique kind of landscape. It is too dry to sustain trees but not dry enough to be called a desert. Just grass as far as the eye can see.

IMG_0960IMG_0964IMG_0974Our straight shot across south South Dakota was long and our game to keep us awake was to count all of the billboards for Wall Drug. Wall Drug is a unique shopping mall and is one of the most popular tourist attractions in South Dakota. You can find and eat just about everything in this store. So, how many billboards did we see? 81 while driving west on I-90.

_MG_1277From Wall, we drove just half an hour to the west entrance of the Badlands National Park. Both the Lakota and French explorers named the area “Bad Lands” or “Land that is bad to cross” which describes the eroded buttes, pinnacles, and spires that sink down from the prairie. Upon entering the park we were greeted by a herd of big horn sheep. We drove down to the base of the pinnacles and cooked dinner at a picnic area. At sunset, the landscape seemed to become more and more desolate. We felt like we were on the moon. It was so quiet and our only company were the bugs. Eventually, the emptiness turned to creepiness and we were consumed by bugs. We quickly jumped in the car, hot rice still in our cook pot, and sped off to our campsite in Rapid City.


IMG_0985Day 43.

Miles Driven: 522

Rapid City sits at the base of the Black Hills State Park. We set off into the Black Hills to see one of the most incredible National Memorials: Mount Rushmore.

IMG_0973My first impression of the monument was that it would just be a tourist trap, but the exhibit was so interesting! We did not realize how much skill was put into the creation of the four faces in the mountain. In 1927, the governor of South Dakota commissioned sculptor Gutzon Borglum to create a great monument of the west, such as a sculpture of Lewis and Clark out of the pinnacles of the Black Hills. Borglum suggested using the granite face of Mount Rushmore to carve a memorial of national importance. He chose the faces of the presidents who helped progress the American dream. George Washington for birthing the nation, Thomas Jefferson for the Declaration of Independence and the Louisiana Purchase, Abe Lincoln for perusing equality and preserving the union, and Teddy Roosevelt for guiding the nation through economic expansion, constructing the Panama Canal, and creating the National Park Service.

_MG_1281_MG_1283I was so amazed by how the faces were created. The sculptor, Borglum, had initially planned on using a chisel to carve the faces but quickly switched to controlled dynamite. The workers would hang on lines that dangled over the cliff face, drill carefully calculated holes and fit the small charges of dynamite, blast at lunch, and repeat again in the afternoon. They could easily make an eye or lip in a day. They would then burnish the stone to make it smooth. Over 12 years, they created the four faces that is now Mount Rushmore and would have continued to add more detail had finances not been diverted to WWII.IMG_0982

Seeing Mount Rushmore almost felt like a little conclusion to our Grand Adventure (not quite because we still have a few more stops) because we were able to see a great monument to many of the presidents we have and had visited during our trips. It was a heart warming memorial that made me feel proud!

IMG_0986We spent the afternoon continuing our drive west through the Black Hills, into Wyoming, and over the Rockies. We wound our way through passes and valleys. It was a beautiful drive even through a huge truck kicked up a rock and put a big chip in our windshield. Gah! We drove till dark and found a room in a little inn just outside of Grand Teton. So excited for tomorrow!

Total Miles: 9,190

The road trip continues to the Caribbean (no, our car can’t travel on water) – pt. 2

Day 22

Our side trip to visit my aunt in St. Thomas continues. Rita works as a ship agent between the US Virgin Islands and the cruise ships and she arranged with her work for us to join one of the cruise trip land excursions. We took a catamaran over to Buck Island for a bit of snorkeling. We saw tons of turtles, sting rays, and tropical fish. The rays are my favorite! They look like photo 31they are flying through the water and their underside are silky smooth!

The catamaran also stopped at Honeymoon Bay on Water island where we enjoyed the beach, water, and free pain killer drinks.

Dinner was at a Dominican Republic restaurant where I enjoyed a fish filet cooked in coconut milk. Yum!

Day 23

During the high season, St. Thomas will host up to 20 cruise ships a week. This morning, Rita surprised us with a tour of the cruise ships at port that day. We were excited to board Royal Caribbean’s Oasis of the Seas as day guests and enjoy all of the cruise ship amenities. We ate at the buffet and swam in the pools. The Oasis has a beautiful central courtyard called Central Park which has plant and tree lined paths with little cafes. So cute!

photo 51photo 41photoAs we left the Oasis, Rita told us we were also allowed to board the Carnival Sunshine, so off we went! Mom and Rita rode the waterslides while I soaked up some sun and caught up on some reading while watching the final minutes of the USA vs. Belgium soccer game. 1-2. Oh well, now that USA is out I’ll root for Germany!

photo 1This was such a neat day. We got to talk with many of the employees and see some of the behind the scenes workings of the cruise ships. Mom thought it was very surreal to be on a cruise, but not really.

photoDay 24

Another cruise ship excursion we had the opportunity to join in on was a tour of Blackbeard’s Castle, the stone tower overlooking Charlotte Amalie harbor. Our guide gave a very energetic tale of Blackbeard’s life as he terrorized the Caribbean with his many pistols and burning beard. He also had a gruesome demise after a battle with the British Royal Navy. Yarrr!

We did a bit of shopping at Charlotte Amalie’s old warehouse district. Once used to store things for trade, they have been converted into neat shops. Lunch was at one of our favorite restaurants: Gladys’. This restaurant is known for their local Caribbean cuisine. I enjoyed jerk chicken with sweet potato, plantains, and rice. This was so good!

photo 2photo 3In the afternoon, we went to the villa. Rita’s good friend is the grounds keeper at a villa on St. Thomas’ Skyline drive. When the owners or any vacation renters are not using the villa, we get to enjoy the beautiful infinity pool. It has a view of Charlotte Amalie and Megan’s 4

Day 25

The last day. We packed the suitcase and headed off for one more beach. Coki beach is photo 5just a few minutes from Rita’s and is one of the best free beaches. No rocks, calm water, and the fish swim circles around you. We enjoyed some local patties, chicken and beef in a deep fried puff pastry. I had the best smoothie. The fruit was so sweet and fresh it tasted like candy.

As the afternoon came we had to leave paradise. I hate leaving family. I always cry. I hope it won’t be so long until we visit again.

Flight Miles (back to the continent): 1108

The road trip continues to the Caribbean (no, our car can’t travel on water) – pt. 1

photo 12Day 19

We are taking a slight detour from the road trip…

Flight Miles: 1108

Up very early this morning to fly to one of America’s beautiful tropical islands in the Caribbean: the U.S. Virgin Islands. We flew with Spirit air, America’s only budget airline. No snacks, no water, just the flight, but that’s okay because we were going to the Caribbean!

The U.S Virgin Islands are located 40 miles east of Puerto Rico and consist of three islands: St. Thomas, St. John, and St. Croix. These rocky islands were discovered by Christopher Columbus and are covered with lush vegetation and trees with beautiful red flowers. These islands are known for some of the most beautiful, sandy beaches in the world. The roads are narrow, winding, and steep and every car has some sort of body damage. Plus, everyone drives on the left side of the road because the Virgin Islands were once Spanish, then British, then Dutch colonies.

The flight took us from Orlando to Ft. Lauderdale and over Key West. The water changed from deep blue to a clear turquoise as it touched the islands. My Tante (aunt) Rita picked

Rita and Mom

Mom and Rita

us up from the airport. She moved to the Virgin Islands about six years ago. Leaving her life in San Francisco, she was in search of a low stress lifestyle in a warm climate, and I believe she found it. She now works as a shipping agent and liaison between the islands and the many cruise ships that dock there. She is really enjoying this job because she gets to meet and work with many interesting people along with reaping the benefits of some cruise ship amenities. Her job includes helping customs agents bring in new crew members for the ships, transporting crew members to appointments they might have on the island, and assisting stranded passengers. She even gets to eat lunch in the crew dining room!

our friend Iggy

our friend Iggy

We enjoyed some appetizers and drinks at Blackbeard’s Castle and swam in the pool there. I enjoyed the island’s drink, a pain killer: rum with pineapple, orange, and coconut cream. Blackbeard’s Castle is one of two stone towers, over looking the capital of Charlotte Amalie, that acted as lookouts for potential threats. They say that Blackbeard the pirate, himself, used this tower while escaping the British!

For dinner, we drove through the winding streets to the north side of the island and ate grilled cat fish at Fish Tales, a restaurant in Red Hook that over looks the marina and has a view of St. John.

Then, off to Rita’s cute apartment with a killer view of St. John! The weather is warm, but the sea breeze helps you sleep.

Day 20

photo 32In the morning, we went to the grocery store for provisions and made tacos for lunch. In the afternoon, we visited the Ritz Carton Hotel’s property, to explore the beautiful hotel and also use their public beach. Beautiful white sand in a quiet cove. The water was warm and calm. Paradise.

Dinner was at the other tower overlooking Charlotte Amalie. Bluebeard’s Castle served wonderful happy hour tapa plates and drinks!

Day 21

In the morning, we took the car ferry over to St. John. The drive around the island took us past Trunk Bay. The view is astounding! So many shades of blue 52

Our stop was at Cinnamon Bay, just one beach over and free to use. A tree lined beach with a few waves. Across the street from Cinnamon Bay are the ruins of a sugar cane photo 11plantation. It is always interesting to wander among the ruins and watch how time and the weather have transformed them. They are now covered in greenery but you can still see the original smoke stack and boilers. Some of the stones used for the walls are actually huge pieces of brain coral and you can see the unique patterns created by cutting through the petrified coral.

We also visited the very calm Maho Bay. The water was so flat and warm, I felt like I was in a bath tub!

photo 21On the way to the ferry, we did a bit of shopping at Mongoose Junction, a fun shopping area that has the most beautiful architecture. The buildings seem to have been there forever and are covered with different plants. It’s as if the buildings sprouted up in the middle of a jungle. I found a very cute dress at one of the shops and learned that the designer lives on St. Croix. Very cool!

On the way off the ferry, we noticed a car with a SLO bumper sticker. How cool?! Well, he kept driving in the same direction as us towards Rita’s apartment. He stopped just a few blocks from Rita’s place so we pulled up and asked him about the sticker. Turned out, he was from my home town! It’s a small world after all!

The Big Easy, La Nouvelle-Orléans, aka. New Orelans

Laissez les bon temps rouler! (“Lay-say le bon tom roo-lay”)

“Let the good times roll!”

LouisianaDay 11

Miles Driven: 544

Packed and ready to go by 9:30, we took off from San Antonio and started the long drive to New Orleans! The time between San Antonio and Houston was passed with episodes from a great podcast: Stuff You Missed in History Class. I have been trying to find episodes related to our destinations, so in anticipation of our future stop in Alabama, we learned about Rosa Parks and the Freedom Riders. Lunch stop at Cracker Barrel.

Houston, TX looked a lot like Los Angeles, but once through, the scenery changed dramatically. We were closer to the water now. As we neared the Mississippi River, bayou and swamps began to settle along the I-10. On this drive, we saw beautiful birds, an armadillo, and even a small alligator along the side of the road, lurking in the water’s edge.

We drove through a strong thunder storm and discovered a small leak into the car causing a puddle of water to form at the passenger’s feet, so now, I ride with a plastic container at my feet, just in case. 🙂

Day 12

Miles Driven: 117

_MG_1134New Orleans and Louisiana were established as a French Colony and named for King Louis XIV. The United States bought the territory in 1802 through the Louisiana Purchase. Now, many different people live in New Orleans including the ancestrally French Creole, English, and slaves brought from Senegal, Africa. This morning, we drove about 45 minutes photo 1to Laura: A Creole Plantation. This plantation was restored just after Hurricane Katrina hit and was a fantastic tour. We learned about the French General who received a land grant from Thomas Jefferson after the Revolution. The plantations along the Mississippi River grow sugar cane because of the moist sandy earth. The plantation did very well, even through the civil war and was run by generations of female presidents (plantation owners).

The plantation homes are usually lifted above the earth to avoid flood damage. Brick below and local cedar construction above because cedar is bug resistant. The Creole, French speaking, homes are painted in bright colors, yellow walls with green trim, while the English speaking homes are painted white.

On the way back to New Orleans, we walked around the outside of the beautiful Oak Alley Plantation. This elegant plantation is framed by rows of Live Oak trees that are covered with dripping Spanish Moss.

_MG_1149Once in the city, we took the St. Charles Street Car into the French Quarter and made our way to Cafe du Monde for beignets and cafe au lait. They were covered in powdered sugar. Yum!

photo 2photo 3

We walked and walked through the photo 4French Quarter, dined at The Gumbo Shop and enjoyed jambalaya. Our final stop of the day was at a jazz club recommend to us by the podcast Stuff You Missed in History Class. The Spotted Cat hosted people of all ages and always had a local band playing. It was very fun!

Day 13

Miles Driven: 99

After breakfast, we headed to the Garden District and enjoyed driving past some of the beautiful, gigantic homes in that area. Finally we stopped at Lafayette Cemetery No. 1 to explore the interesting above ground tombs. These tombs are a tradition brought over from France but are also ideal to prevent the cemetery from sinking deeper into the soft soil and for keeping families together. Very creepy and very cool.

_MG_1154_MG_1160_MG_1183Our excursion for this morning was a trip with Dr. Wagner’s Honey Island Swamp Tour. This tour was excellent. Our group was small, the guide knowledgeable, and the weather perfect for active alligators and wild pigs. We saw so many animals in a very interesting landscape.

_MG_1175_MG_1185photo 5On the drive back to New Orleans we stopped at a recommended local seafood joint, Peck’s, and enjoyed boiled cajun crawfish and shrimp and sweet tea. Yum!

As we pulled into our hotel, I noticed a stream of liquid coming out of the engine. Not good when on a road trip. Off we went to find a mechanic only to discover a puncture in one of the radiator hoses. Luckily it was an easy fix.

We took a little tour through some of the neighborhoods in New Orleans that had been most affected by the levee breech during Hurricane Katrina. In some areas, so much work has been done to restore the damages, while other neighborhoods are left abandoned.

Day 14

We packed the car and hurried into the French Quarter for a final few sights. We visited the Louisiana State Museum where they had and excellent exhibit on the Hurricane and it’s after effects. Final jambalaya lunch at The Gumbo Shop and grabbed some pecan pralines for the road.

Next stop, Alabama!

Total Miles: 3,413

The Long Drive: Texas

photo 1Day 7

Miles Driven: 637

Texas surpassed my expectations for the better. So, I was expecting to see tumble weeds, long stretches of dusty fields, and cacti. But no, after leaving Colorado and New Mexico, the rolling plains with cacti turned to rolling green hills of “Hill Country” that looked like Paso Robles. Everyone has been very friendly and they are all proud to be Texans.

photo 3Near the town of Amarillo, we turned onto Route 66 and found the Cadillac Ranch. This art sculpture of ten Cadillacs buried half-way was commissioned by a wealthy land owner and designed by artists from San Francisco. They encourage the visitors to add to their art by spray painting on the Cadillacs.

photo 2photo 2

On the drive, what seemed like rain drops started hitting the windshield. Yet, the sky was blue and it was not rain, it was the splattering of a swarm of bugs!

Day 8

Miles Driven: 239

photo 4We stayed the night at a road side motel and finished the final drive to Fredericksburg, TX. We met mom’s old ballroom dance partner from 25 years ago. It was fun to meet Frank and his wife Nancy. This town was established by a German community and we enjoyed eating at some of the German inspired restaurants. We window shopped and talked.

photo 3Dinner was at a great restaurant. Otto’s just opened last year and they really push towards farm to table seasonal cooking. We enjoyed a roast duck with duck fat fried potatoes and a peach glaze (peaches are just now ripe. Fredericksburg is even having a peach festival this weekend). For dessert, a new take on black forest cake; a flowerless chocolate cake with a cherry drizzle. Excellent meal. The chef even came to ask us how everything was and we saw him picking herbs from the garden out front.

We spent the night at the KOA campground in Fredericksburg.  A very windy night!

Day 9

Miles Driven:162


5 emblems represent the 5 governments that ruled over Texas.

In the morning, we packed and left right away because it was still so windy. We enjoyed breakfast at the Lyndon B. Johnson Historic Park (his birth place) and then made our way to the Capital: Austin. Austin’s slogan is “Keep Austin Weird” and as I see it, take Portland, OR and add cowboys and you have Austin. The Capitol was a classic building with wings and rotunda, and it did a good job at explaining Texas’s history and the evolution of the flag.

From there, we had lunch at the funky Shady Grove on Restaurant Row where we had our first taste of TexMex. Yummy chicken tacos and Fritos pie. We then visited the flagship Whole Foods Market where I always have fun wandering the aisles and picking out some local made foods and chocolate. I can’t wait to try them.

Last stop was an area called SoCo, or South Congress. This street is lined with fun boutiques and local restaurants, cafes, and ice cream. We had some coffee at Jo’s and Mexican Vanilla ice cream at Amy’s. Then we peeked in the flagship Tom’s Shoe’s cafe and I drooled over the shabby-chique decor. Totally painting a wall in my house like the one in their bathroom.

photo 5Final stop was in Allen’s Boots, where aisle upon aisle was filled with every type of cowboy boot you can imagine. Quite overwhelming!

We made the drive to our campsite in San Antonio and met some very “interesting” people who were camping next to us. Also, it was so hot and humid, I barely slept. Ah well.

Day 10

In San Antonio today, the downtown was bursting with fans of the Spurs, San Antonio’s Basketball team who are the NBA champions of 2014. They had a big boat parade down the River Walk. We got to explore the river walk before the festivities started and enjoyed the cool breeze along the water while eating at Casa Rio. I enjoyed Chilli con Carne, a San Antonio original.

_MG_1118 _MG_1130


We poked our head into and ultimately took a nap in the lobby of the Menger Hotel. This hotel is one of the most famous in San Antonio and has played host to many presidents and socialites. Along with guests, this hotel also houses 32 happy haunts from a murdered maid who is seen still cleaning up the Victorian wing to President Theodore Roosevelt who is often sitting in the bar having a drink and trying to recruit soldiers. It is such a beautiful hotel!

Next was the Alamo, the battle ground that began the Texas Revolution and secession from Mexico ultimately allowing California and many other states to join the union and make the US a cross continental super power. I was surprised to learn that Davy Crocket fought and died at the battle of the Alamo.

_MG_1128Now back at the campsite, we enjoyed some sausages made in Colorado. Still humid, but there is a nice breeze and the lightning bugs are out.

Total Miles: 2,653

Rocky Mountain “Hi” – Colorado

photo 4Day 5

Miles Driven: 435

While driving the I-70 from Moab into Colorado, we paid tribute with mom’s old John Denver tapes. “Country Road, photo 3Take Me Home” played as we wound our way across rolling hills and into the jagged peaks of the Rockies. The scenery was reminiscent of the drive through the Austrian Alps; flat valley floor jutting into the snowy peaks of the Alps. The mountain sides varied in shades of green as aspen trees mixed with pine and spruce.

We stopped at Vail ski resort for a German lunch. Again, I felt like I was in Germany once more with the architecture of the timber buildings and cobblestone streets.

_MG_1089We visited one of my old classmates from Cal Poly. Mic was snatched up by one of the largest architecture firms in the US and relocated to Denver, CO. He is just loving the lifestyle in Denver. We also drove by the Denver Art Museum. This new art museum was designed by Architect Daniel Libeskind (he also designed the Jewish Museum in Berlin). The museum features a huge cantilever that reaches over the street below. I remember learning in my engineering class that they had to have extra structural testing done to prove the cantilever would hold even if some sort of accident occurred.

Day 6

IMG_3459We are spending the day with my cousin Emi and her husband Eric. They have been remodeling/updating their new home in Colorado Springs over the past year and they are _MG_1111creating a very cute and cozy home for themselves.

We spent the day exploring Colorado Springs. The Cadet Chapel at the Air Force Academy was a very cool building to visit. It was designed by firm SOM as wings taking flight. Once inside, the beautiful stained glass changes color as it rises towards the sky. Below the Christian chapel are chapels/temples for Catholic, Jewish, and Buddhist worshipers.


Next, we went to downtown Colorado City and wandered the farmers market before photo 1eating lunch at 2 South Food and Wine Bar where I enjoyed a pork chop with a rosemary-apple glaze and a potato casserole as a side. It was wonderful.

After wandering through the shops, visiting the original Rocky Mountain Chocolate Factory, and driving through The Garden of the Gods, we were exhausted.

Early night tonight before the start of a long drive into Texas.

Total miles: 1,615

Arches National Park

photoRoad Trip USA Day 4:

Miles Driven: 62

Arches National Park was absolutely stunning. The iron and calcium rich sedimentary soil forms layers of bright red and orange soil. Through the constant erosion of wind and rain, natural arches and pillars rise up from the Earth. The amazing thing is, the arches will never look the same day after day due to the harsh climate of the Colorado Plateau. Colorado means “colored red” in Spanish referring to the red sandstone of the region that is swept away into the Colorado river.

As we drove through the park, we would try and guess the names of some of the rock formations. We spotted one rock that was not named on our map and we like to call it The Love Birds or The Two Amigos.


We drove out to the Devil’s Garden and walked through the tall and narrow fin rocks out to the Landscape Arch. This arch stretches across a wide opening; amazing how it stays up.

_MG_1065 _MG_1064

After a picnic lunch we made our way to Delicate Arch, the wonder featured on many of Utah’s signs and license plates. Driving through the park, each view was constantly changing. The diverse colors were fantastic. The red stone against the rich blue sky with the bright green foliage below.IMG_3453

photo 2We were greeted with an afternoon thunderstorm and watched as the rocks turned a deeper burnt umber color.

Back at Canyonlands Campground in Moab, we made dinner early and cleaned up the car after the ice chest leaked on our mattress. Our first mishap! Good luck we are staying at a campsite with electricity and a laundromat! Car camping is fun because we get to meet so many interesting people. Just walking to the bathroom, we hear IMG_3450snippets of everyone’s own adventures. Our meals have been very creative and interesting. We are always trying to clean out our ice chest and everything has turned out quite tasty thus far!

Our campsite neighbor is a fellow from Luxemburg who was tired of his bank job and had enough money to travel the world. He had spent three months in South America and is now one month into his three months in North America. We shared some advice on different National Parks. Next stop for him, two months in Australia and New Zealand, then Asia, Africa, and maybe back to Europe.

Total Miles: 1,180


That canyon really is Grand!

Day 3photo 2

Miles Driven: 293

We were so tired from the early morning of packing yesterday morning and the late night stroll of the Las Vegas strip last night that we slept in this morning and picked up a few things at a store before really hitting the road around noon.

_MG_0980First stop, the Hoover Dam!  It is considered one of the engineering wonders of the world by controlling the flood waters of the Colorado River and generating energy for Las Vegas and the LA basin.

Once at the Grand Canyon, we set up our “camp” at the Mather’s campground. Only $18 a night. Quite a deal! Our site is tucked away in a quiet corner of the campground. We were greeted by two mule deer strolling through the campsite munching on leaves. We too had some dinner on our little camp stove and had fun organizing our car for optimum storage and sleeping. All of our belongings can fit into the front two seats leaving us plenty of room in the back for sleeping. The couch mattress is quite comfortable.

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We headed to the Grand Canyon rim to enjoy a beautiful sunset and watch the changing colors. A woman there said to her family: “It looks like someone sculpted it.” and she right, God did. Such an amazing wonder in our small world.

photo 4“O Lord, how manifold are thy works! In wisdom has thou made them all: The Earth is full of thy Riches.” -Psalm 104/24

“Father Almighty, wonderful Lord, Wondrous Creator, be ever adored; Wonders of nature sing praises to You, Wonder of wonders- I may praise too!”

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Miles Driven: 381

We woke up to birds chirping and a view of the pine and juniper trees surrounding our camp. After breakfast, we headed to the Grand Canyon’s newly built South Rim Visitor’s center. Their bus system was also quite impressive and quickly brought us to the historic district of the park. The historic El Tovar Hotel was filled with heavy wood panels and hunting trophies and had one of the best views overlooking the canyon. What a view for the visitors staying there.

_MG_1021On the way out of the park, we stopped at Desert View point and enjoyed one of the best views down the canyon. We could see the curving Colorado River and the rise and fall of small canyons and mesas. The Desert View Watchtower was designed by lady architect Mary Colter and is remnant of the Native American architecture of the area and blends into the landscape.

photo 1The drive from the Grand Canyon to Moab, UT was long but full of changing scenery. We listened to music and books on tape to pass the time. I also read an article out of the AAA tour book on the many tribes who live in the south west. We made a pit-stop at Four Corners, the cross section between Utah, Arizona, New Mexico, and Colorado. This tourist attraction is situated in Navajo land and we got to browse crafts created by the local people.

Tomorrow, Arches National Park!

Total Miles: 1,118

A New Adventure

Ciao regazzi!

The Orange Penguin is back in the blogosphere and this time on a new adventure with a great companion, my mom.

It’s time for a change in life. We packed up our little home in California and are on the move to job opportunities and new adventures in a “little” big city: Portland, OR. But, on the way we are taking a two month side trip across the USA to places we have never seen before. We will be hitting all four corners of the US: the south west to Florida to New England to Oregon with many stops in-between!

photo 1Day 1.

Miles Driven: 444

The day started out early as we frantically packed the final necessities of our home and placed them in storage. After shoving everything for our trip into our car, we were on the road by 11am.

This road trip is a bit unique for us. We have never been on such a long trip and traveled so far. We tried to break up the itinerary into driving days that do not last more than six hours and then have full days in between to explore and rest. We will be doing a combination of staying with friends and family, staying in B&Bs, and car camping! We fit the mattress from our old pull-out couch into the back of our Honda CR-V and created something that will be quite comfortable I hope. (photos to come later)

photo 1   Our first day’s drive took us through California’s San Joaquin Valley. It was interesting to see the variety of items being reaped from the soils of this valley.  From oil to almonds, it all grows here!

Lunch was in Bakersfield, per the suggestion of mom’s co-worker Ant, at Moo Creamery where we had delicious burgers and locally made salted caramel ice cream.

The drive continued through the Mojave Desert. It’s fun traveling with a smart phone these photo 2days because we can answer some of life’s questions, like what is the difference between a yucca plant and a joshua tree? can I eat it? or what is the difference between a waxing and waning moon? The answers: the joshua tree is actually of the genius yucca and no, you can’t eat them, but you can eat the roots of its sister yucca plants. The moon was waxing which means that it is becoming a full moon. You can tell the difference by the direction in which the moon is full and because it was visible in the evening sky.

We made it to our first stop, Las Vegas, and wandered the strip a bit before hitting the sack. It was fun to see the Bellagio and the Venitian casinos because they brought back memories of my time living in Italy. I was quite impressed how the designers were able to capture the feel of the the real towns of Bellagio and Venice. Architecture, like these casinos, are something that we are trained not to do in Architecture school, but it would be fun none-the-less to design.

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A dopo. (till later)