Wednesday, October 30, 2013

America: Red Rocks

Previous sections of our drive: South, Prairies, Mountains. Utah doesn't feel like the home stretch, it feels more like another planet. I really feel that Utahans are being too modest about their state; they need some Texan-style pride. This place is one National Geo photo after another, considering that, please excuse my instagrams.

5:54 PM Utah border: Destination -  the red arch in the picture. Because it's in the picture. I've seen this thing on license plates for years, it's time to see it in the rock.

10:12 AM Arches National Park, Utah: Looks like a toy or set backdrop.

4:32 PM Arch, Arches National Park: It took a little over an hour to reach the arch from the road. It wasn't quite a tourist march because the trail wasn't exactly marked, just large slopes of rock to walk over and shallow canyons to weave through. But the steep bowl at the top had tons of people perched precariously kind of like eggs on a countertop.

4:46 PM Arches, Utah: We tried not to look down as we climbed along the edge of the bowl with our expert climber's grip and over to the chimneys across the cliff.

11:11 AM Make a wish, Utah: Mie is unperturbed by the bus load of tourists that just blocked her view, because she has extra-sensory skills.

2:12 PM Moab: I couldn't go to Moab without doing some climbing, so we bouldered instead. It was really easy, but pretty high up

2:13 PM Moab: Note the height.

7:02 PM Overlooking Moab: Rainbows. This place is one jaw dropping moment after the other. There's something kind of relaxed about this city too. The hostel had some characters as they always do. The manager or concierge was the friendliest guy, full of advice and stories, a big happy grin. One not so small distraction though, he had a gruesome gouge where his right eye once was. It was red and hollow and so hard not to look at. I had to focus like a surgeon on what he was saying.

8:14 PM Moab: Our two mile hike put the fear of starvation in us, so we ate more than advisable at the Mexican restaurant with the rain moving in behind us. This took Mie so long to eat, I went for a walk and came back and she was still working. So much respect!

I stopped at the climbing store to add a little to my stash, still not equipped for a full mission by myself. But almost.

11:02 AM Monolith/Moai, HWY 24, Utah: On recommendation from the eyeless man, we skipped the I70 and took off through the center of the state on 24 & 12. Canyonlands veered off to the left, where Aron Ralston had to cut off his arm.

3:22 AM HWY 12, Utah:  A storm rolled in as we entered into the Indian Res. Being in the lowlands; I started to get nervous. We were following along beside a river that was already red with runoff. As we wound around a corner on the 12, we hit a patch of road with at least a 15 foot-wide flow across it. We waited for a while, building up stupid courage. One car plunged through it unscathed. It appeared pretty shallow. Though, I've heard that even two inches of flood water can wash a car away. But it was cross or drive a hundred miles back, so I clinched the steering wheel and plowed ahead. The road dropped off on the other side, so that was menacing as I tried to keep a grip on the wheel. We high tailed it after that, and fortunately started ascending again. Just then the radio beeped with a flood warning... laugh, you dont say?

4:21 PM Grand Staircase HWY 12, Utah: Just driving along and then suddenly we are on a sliver of a plateau with canyons on either side as far as the eye can see, no big deal.

5:23 PM Escalante, Utah: We ate at what looked like the only open joint in a 100 mile radius. It was empty when a guy with a big belt buckle seated us, but it started to fill up with people from who knows where. Then a band appeared and an old cowboy started playing Johnny Cash of course. I was the only person clapping, so he asked me what I wanted to hear, I suggested Hank Williams Sr, an ode to my cowboy grandpa, whom I really miss. We got a concert of Hank and Cash for the rest of the night, really felt like I was on the range.

11:03 AM Bryce Canyon National Park, Utah: We got used to the isolation and cowboy lifestyle in Escalante, back with the buses of tourists and the fees.

Superb tourist fashion

The volume of formations blew my mind, like each one is a tiny castle.

7:35 PM Paria Outpost, Utah: We found this cowboy outpost in the middle of nowhere and when I say that, I mean nowhere. It was awesome, the canyons, dust, tumbleweeds and sunset stretched on forever.

We booked up in this super inexpensive, very quaint, very clean little cabin for the night and then went up to the ranch to talk to the cowhands, who lead trail rides out into the canyons. That's on my list when we come back.  Utah is unbelievable.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

America: Mountains

Traveling cross country (south and tornado alley.) We have found the end of the prairie by way of Denver. The talk in Denver was that in the old days prairie people migrated west, crossed the plains, found the Goliath Rockies rising to the skies, said f-that and plopped down with the tents and carts.

My best friend from high school lives there with her boyfriend and is working on a fat degree.

12:23 PM Denver, Colorado: Me n Red. She showed us around Denver, we had cocktails and tasty coffees, posh lunches, raided a local bookstore and music shop, where Mie and I bought Radiohead and Revolver to relieve us from Blurred Lines on every station in the forty-eight. We stayed up late talking and singing and listening to 90s hip-hop, just like old times.

10:34 PM Buck's Palace, Denver: Buckley Napoleon is happy, noted by his tongue hanging out.

2:12 PM Irving, Colorado: The rock climbing gym, excellently marked routes, almost twice as high as Rockreation but missing that je ne sais quoi. Maybe it's the smell of feet. Was the Colorado gym too clean?

2:03 PM Rock Jam, Colorado: For the Arrested Development fans.

12:10 PM Echo Lake, Colorado: The real rocks, aka Rockies! Trying my hand at Ansel Adams, his photos are everywhere I look, printed and in the leaf.

1:32 PM Mount Evans, Colorado: The highest paved road in the country at 14,100 feet!

3:32 PM Goliath  Peak, Colorado: Encountered this crazed tourist, who hijacked the car and made me drive all over the Rockies in search of wild goats, yelling, "Show me the GOAT!" Eventually, I began to share her enthusiasm and finally my passion for wild goats and sheep created a common bond that led us to continue traveling together to this day.

Someone else understands about the goats and sheep.

Botanical prowess
3:40 PM Summit Lake, Mount Evans: Pretending that we are the first explorers to ever climb this far up into the Rockies, wearing only a sweater and poncho.

3:43 PM Chicago Lakes, Mount Evans: It's been so long since we've seen any vegetation or animal life. We are beginning to question our sanity. Can't go...on... much... longer.

3:21 PM Summit Lake, Colorado: Slightly under dressed for this kind of fun. I guess somewhere in our minds it was still muggy Louisiana, not any more.

Monday, October 28, 2013

America: Prairies

Crossing America. We've reached the midway point. Catch the south in this post.

8:45 PM Outside Dallas, Texas: Some BBQ that I want for lunch every day.
I have the strong suspicion that Dallas freeways are the worst in the country. I've driven in a bunch of cities, but I never fail to miss exits here.We were miles outside the city and still the ramps were these huge disorienting clover leaves with only a few cars on them.

9:12 AM Backpacking hostel, Dallas, Texas: What do people do in Texas? Watch Cowboys football all of the time. No, not really? Yes. Really. Maybe. I'm kidding. We were in Texas less than an hour when we walked into a room full of people watching a Cowboys football game. A guy asked me who I was rooting for, and I said, "well, you know I don't really watch football."

He said, "That's what pretentious people from Los Angeles say. When you know they watch it. Everyone watches it."

At that time an Australian guy walked by wearing a shirt with a big Australian flag on the front. I liked it, but to all of the haters who say Americans are the only ones who wear their flag with pride while in other countries, you're wrong.

In the morning, I struck up a conversation with an older sailor who was newly off of a Kibbutz in Israel. He wanted to convince me to start harvesting wild herbs from city lots and even showed me a website to guide me in the pursuit. As we were leaving he shook my hand and said awkwardly, "May you find G-d," then mumbled, "sorry I have to say that."

2:42 PM Moore, Oklahoma: Site of the massive EF5 tornado in May. We literally got off the freeway and this is what we saw, didn't even drive a block. This was once a residential neighborhood. Very sad and very shocking to see first hand.

Most of the houses were abandoned, some were being rebuilt. This stretch of Oklahoma has got to be the most banged up area in the country, the heart of Tornado Alley. Bascially they are hit with major tornadoes every other year, and in 1999 another EF5 with the fastest wind speeds ever recorded (318 mph.) You wonder why people still live here, but I suppose you cannot underestimate the meaning of home.

The tornado this spring caused more casualties than any other this year. There were still signs and donation depots all along the main road. What's crazy, the El Reno tornadoes hit just a little over a week later and only about 30 miles west. Some of the world's best stormchasers were killed in the widest cyclone ever recorded (2.6 miles.) I imagine it just looked like a huge thunderstorm, you couldn't even tell it was spinning.

Striping away the humanity, there is something about tornadoes that is terrible and fascinating at the same time, like rogue waves and swollen waterfalls. I'm not saying I'd be a storm chaser, but I can see why people do.

6:46 PM Kansas Prairies: Miles and miles of Milo. The grain feed for animals

9:03 AM Mentor, Kansas: Catching up with my good buddy Hugo, who I haven't seen since he was a puppy back in Virginia. Corgis are the best.

Gorbet the cat, suspicious at first.

I just woke up, no one told me that my hair was all messed up. Hugo is ashamed to have his photo taken with me. Come on, don't be like that. Catching up with David; I practically lived at their house when I was a teenager. His daughter was my best friend. He and his wife were like my second parents.

10:02 AM Downtown Mentor, Kansas: Random things that happen when you are on the road. Going on Kansas access cable, checking my teeth for bagel.

Catching up with one of the wolfpaks. Remembering the family trip to New Orleans, the one in which David knocked me into the trash can. So good to see old friends.

The Denver folks were giving the prairie a lashing. I imagine it's difficult for young people or any people to live there long term. But we'd never seen this part of the country. I had painted a picture in my head from the Wizard of Oz, what I read of Grapes of Wrath and storm chaser clips from youtube. But actually being in the Breadbasket has been enlightening.

Prairies last forever.

Friday, October 25, 2013

America: Southland

I've been back for a few weeks from the major cross country trip that I took with my good friend (Mie.) We managed to hear some fierce ghost stories, see some great friends, and unbelievable scenery. We were very lucky to be able to take this voyage. Here's my attempts at capturing a slice of it through Instagram.

6:30 AM Driveway, Virginia: Cleaned the snakes, mice, spiders and mildew out of the car. Only about 3000 miles until our destination.

10 AM Asheville, North Carolina: I've been in the melting pot of Los Angeles for a while now; diversity of people is an afterthought. Maybe that's what struck me most about Asheville. I've always heard about how wonderfully progressive and forward thinking the city is, and maybe it is, but man it was homogeneous.

3:12 PM Ocoee River, NC/Tennessee border: Some Olympic signs pointed us to the river, so we checked it out. Feeling like a spider on a shower curtain. There was a bridge right over a stretch of churning rapids. We could see white water rafting crews setting off way up river, so we got a closeup as they navigated the rapids. I was mesmerized by the looks on their faces, some terror, some pure elation. I was snapping away, which led to capturing this crew and their major wipe out.

4:34 PM Bellefonte Nuclear Generating Station, Alabama: I cannot get behind nuclear power. Even after hours of discussion and attempted persuasion. I get it, you get a lot of bang for your buck. But the bang is practically infinite when there's a fallout. I have a hard time believing, with all of the inspired minds in the world, that clean energy on a massive scale is impossible. More than innovation, I have a feeling big money is the road block.

A little i102fly on the side of the road. I want to build a crazy flying machine.

7:05 PM Huntsville, Alabama: Cicadas everywhere. They were so loud when we pulled into a residential street that it drowned out our stereo CD Cicada Sounds Vol. 1.

11:12 AM Crystal Caves: Alabama: Had no idea that Alabama had caves, much less these magical sets. The tour was nice and relaxed too. They turned the lights out and for a minute we were praying this was not Deliverance Pt 2. We were able to walk back at our own leisure, enjoying the caves in solitude, definitely the way to go.

The entrance they say is the largest natural cave opening in the US, so batman has these gates to keep vandals out at night.

The Bayou, Mississippi: This is where the alligator comes out of the water and takes your camera. The sun sets on the swamps. I've listened to too much CCR, I love the bayou and the Creole slice of life.We passed through Pascagoula, Mississippi.

Biloxi, Miss: We drove through the gulf cities and saw many concrete slabs where houses used to be. I think this line on the building is where the water was.

8:54 PM Lake Pontchartrain, LA: This isolated mammoth storm descended on us as we were crossing the long bridge into New Orleans. Only blurry red lights all around us. I just kept having irrational visions of the water rising from either side, so I stayed in the middle lane, like that would help.

10:21 AM New Orleans, Louisiana: Garden District. The prettiest city in the US.

11:38 AM Lafayette Cemetery, New Orleans: Old but not that old ~ some graves from 1960s & 70s

1:21 PM / St Louis Cemetery No1, New Orleans: The statute where acidic Peter Fonda confesses all of his mother issues in Easy Rider. They had to film illegally, because the Catholic church forbids (or forbid, don't know if they still do) filming in their cemeteries. Movies with New Orleans cemeteries always used Protestant ones like Lafayette. This one was especially creepy because it is much older and holds the supposed tomb of a voodoo witch that is all marked up with ritualistic xes. I'm superstitious so I didn't take any photos.

6: 52 PM French Quarter, New Orleans: This is supposed to be the most haunted house in the US. A sadistic society lady brutally tortured her servants until one found a way of burning down the house. Looks like real estate office now. Spook factor is low, but I don't think I'd go inside. Fun .. or weird fact: Nicholas Cage owned it and just recently sold it. What do you want with this place, Cage?

8:05 PM Garden District, Louisiana: A haunted guest house, formerly an orphanage in the 1860s when orphanages were called Asylums.

8:15 PM Garden District, Louisiana: I was taking some slow exposures of the hallway when one of the managers walked by. He asked what I was doing, so I explained that I was a paranormal investigator. See any orbs? Anyway he told everyone in the hotel and later that night I had a line of people giving me testimonies. One woman said she had a demon chasing her, but she locked it in her old trailer. I didn't sleep at all that night.

6:23 PM Shreveport, Louisiana: I was disappointed by the food in New Orleans. I think I was trying too hard to find the best Cajun possible and kept striking out. Anyway, we were redeemed in the last Louisiana town before Texas. Two huge plates of oyster (for Mie), frog legs, blackened catfish, and étouffée. My last meal might be here.