Where Were We Wednesdays (#2)

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Last week, I introduced Where Were We Wednesdays. Each week I’ll post a new photo from some place we’ve visited on our journey. Guess where we were, and you could receive a little trinket we’ve found on our travels. This week’s prize is authentic Mardi Gras beads from a parade in New Roads, LA!

Here’s this week’s photo.

Where Were We?

Rules/Hints/Etc.

Enter by posting in the “Comments” section. Guess as many times as you wish. Winner chosen at random from all correct answers. It might help to look back at our Itinerary or our Facebook albums. This particular picture was from early in our trip, up north.

Last Week’s Winner(s)

The first photo was taken at Ancient Bristlecone Forest in the Eastern Sierras. Jack guessed correctly and wins a postcard! My mom guessed correctly on Facebook so she’ll get a postcard, too. And so will my brother, because he was the first to enter. When you make the game, you can choose a lot of winners. Thanks for playing!

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The Restless Ones

Invariably, when telling new people about this trip, someone always asks, “what do your parents think?”

“They’re thrilled,” I say.

You see, they did the same thing.

In 1974, just a few years into their marriage, my New Jersey-born-and-bred parents boxed up their apartment, quit their jobs and packed a VW bus. Knowing they didn’t want to settle in a big city and feeling the pull of the great open West, they set out on a journey to see the country and find somewhere new to call home.

Slides document their trip. In the darkened room, the bright bulb of the projector makes dust motes flash like tiny satellites and the old carousel whirrs and clicks. Each photo is a story they tell together, filling in details, complementing each other. The day they woke with the camper surrounded by a herd of cows. The campsite by the river with a little laundry and lending library. The meadow where they first saw bear grass.

They were a decade younger than Patrick & I are now. Their pictures look so much like the kinds of photos we’re taking. And my parents – my beautiful mom, long hair parted in the middle, smiling up from a book, my handsome bearded dad, grinning as he holds a just-caught fish – look just like the kind of people we’d be friends with. In a way, this trip lets me get to know them better. Or, imagine their lives before me better, at least.

In Travels with Charley, John Steinbeck theorizes the urge to explore and seek out new places is genetic. “The pioneers, the immigrants who peopled the continent, were the restless ones in Europe. The steady rooted ones stayed home and are still there,” he writes. “But every one of us….are descended from the restless ones, the wayward ones who were not content to stay at home. Wouldn’t it be unusual if we had not inherited this tendency?”

I’m grateful to my restless parents. Parents who passed down, perhaps, an itch to see the country. Who said, “GO!” when I told them about this adventure. Who showed me that working hard and having a good career are important, but not the only important things. If Patrick and I ever have kids, I’m glad this trip will be part of our family narrative. And I hope I pass down curious, restless DNA. I can think of no better legacy.

Monteverde, Costa Rica (one week ago)

Howling winds, part of Tropical Storm Arlene, whipped down the streets in Santa Elena, a little touristy town perched in the mountains in Costa Rica. Clouds of fog and rain thrashed around like ghosts. “Not a good day to go to the Reserve,” said the man at the cafe where we stopped for coffee. “You won’t see anything.” The cold gusts blew us into the hotel to pout.

We’d planned to visit Monteverde Reserve, a park protecting a swath of cloud forest and home to the Resplendent Quetzal, a flamboyantly plumaged bird which was number one on my “hope to see” list for this trip. Early afternoon the storm seemed to lighten; though it was still blustery we donned our rain gear and hailed a cab. By 2pm we were on a muddy trail plastered with fallen leaves. The forest looked beaten. Broken limbs littered the undergrowth and the wind tossed the trees as if it wanted to bring them all down. Drips and drops were all around us but there were hardly any other noises. We saw few smallish birds, a huge tree fern, a fungus.

Then my eyes focused on a striking green bird – could it be? We watched as the bird flew for a few yards and perched on a mossy, plant-covered branch. I immediately thought, quetzal!, but wasn’t completely sure. We ran into a guide who confirmed it was female quetzal, and told us she’d seen the male farther back on the trail. We retraced our steps and spotted him a few minutes later, his long tail unmistakable. Later we heard this was the first time they’d been seen in three months! We watched until a blast of wind sent the pair flying out of sight deeper in the forest. (Pic is through the binos…not the best photo but proof we saw him.)

Resplendent Quetzal
On the long, wet walk back to our simple hotel we saw a watercolor-perfect sunset. The day was capped off by a fantastic meal at Trio, a little cafe with the freshest, most imaginative dishes we’ve sampled yet, then a shower that was tolerably warm but ten degrees shy of “hot”.
Monteverde Costa Rica,

Incredibly satisfied with our day, we crawled into bed, drifting off to sleep with the raucous sounds of the bar next door filtering into our dreams.

Vacation from Vacation

The Minnie is parked, her water lines winterized, her fridge emptied, her heater turned off for the season. Like migrating birds we have flown south and will be in Costa Rica until February 1st.

Our inaugural test Winnebago outing was on NYE just a year ago. Now we send our thanks and gratefulness out into the ether, and wish you all the most merry of New Years! May 2012 bring your biggest, most audacious dreams within reach.

Statistics & Lessons from Four Months on the Road

We’ve now been on the road for four months, long enough that our former lives are just a hazy memory. We’re in our Winnebago Groove.

Random Statistics

  • Miles driven by Patrick: 10,000ish
  • Miles driven by Aimee:  Look! Was that a squirrel?
  • Miles hiked: 367
  • States/Provinces: 14
  • National Parks/Monuments Explored: 26
  • Scenic Byways Traveled: 22  (yes, we really have a list of all the Scenic Byways we’ve driven) Continue reading

Mining for Opals

We went opal mining a few days ago. The description for Rockhound State Park, just outside of Deming, New Mexico, noted quartz, agate and even opals are found in the hills surrounding the campground, and visitors are encouraged to haul away the stones. I like opals. We needed a place to camp in southwest NM. Perfect!

Now, I have no idea how to mine for opals, nor even what a raw opal looks like. Continue reading

Five Weekends in October

October, as all our months on the road, has passed too quickly. It is my favorite month – bringing the crisp chill of autumn mornings, dry scent of oak leaves, pumpkin everything, sweater weather. Our travels took us over more than 1,500 miles of roadways this month, from slickrock to snow to desert sand. I’m continually amazed at the vast differences in climate and topography, how the scenery across the West is constantly changing.

October 1: Sunrise at Bryce Canyon National Park, Utah.

October 9: Double Arch, Arches National Park, Utah.

October 16: Highway 550 just south of Silverton, Colorado. You could almost warm yourself by the glow of the aspens in the late afternoon sun.

October 23: The Grand Canyon, Arizona. We hiked five miles and 3,000 feet in elevation down into the canyon, but didn't get all the way to the Colorado River.

October 30: Saguaro, Prickly Pear and Teddy Bear Cholla near Tucson, Arizona.

Sandstone and Slot Canyons

Having lived my whole life either on the West Coast or in Minnesota, I’m familiar with scenery painted in greens, blues and browns — pine-filled mountains, lakes, meadows rimmed with leafy trees. Utah was a contrast to all of that. Created with a completely different palette of deep red and terra-cotta, the steep-walled canyons, graceful arches and arid desert were impressively beautiful in a way I’d never experienced before. We spent two and a half weeks exploring all five of Utah’s National Parks and part of the Grand Staircase area, doing some of the best hikes of the trip and discovering a burgeoning new love for canyoneering.

Continue reading

Yosemite & the Eastern Sierra

A full week of throbbing music, dust storms, midnight bike rides and art exploration at Burning Man made returning to the regular world feel a bit dull. So little neon, few enormous sculptures, no steam punk octopus cars shooting flames. The only obvious antidote to all that human-powered stimulation was to immerse ourselves again in the much more humbling beauty of nature. So, after a quick stop in Eagle Point to deep-clean the Minnie and a whirlwind tour through the Bay Area visiting friends, we set off to Yosemite and the majestic Eastern Sierra. Continue reading

Dusting Off: Burning Man in Brief

We wake at four a.m. to the trill of the alarm and slowly drive out past the sleeping campers who shared our site the night before. In the dark, we bump down the forest service road, headlights throwing shadows into the pine trees. We ease onto the highway, hurried, excited; our destination is just a hundred miles away. The stars fade. Pink ribbons wind across the eastern horizon as morning breaks over the high desert. Usually a desolate stretch of road, we join a kind of caravan with old RVs, a heavily loaded U-Haul trailer and a white-painted school pus piled with a jumble of bikes.  We’re all going to Burning Man, the annual gathering in the Black Rock Desert of Nevada that defies description. It’s an enormous art project. A weeklong party. A celebration of human creativity, community and ingenuity. A dance. A memorial. A test of survival skills. Yes, all of that. Continue reading