Trip Summary Calendar - Where we went and when

July 03, 2004

A quiet day in Austin, TX

So again I've been remiss in blog updates. Don't fret - we're still here! :-)

We stayed two days longer in Houston for an in-depth tour at NASA's Johnson Space Center. Everyone told me their regular tour was pretty bad, and from what I could tell they were right. But they also have a fancier tour called the "Level 9" tour (silly name) that lasted five hours and took us right inside some great facilities. We saw the GIANT swimming pool where the astronauts train (it's so large that it holds full-size mock-ups of the space station and space shuttle!), a massive vacuum chamber, mission control center while they were preparing for a spacewalk, etc. Photos to follow.

We left Houston on Tuesday morning, and arrived in Austin mid-afternoon. This gave us enough time to relax a bit, then go see Erin Jaimes live in concert on 6th Street. Who is Erin Jaimes you ask? Well she's actually Erin Weinberg, childhood family friend and now a regular blues singer here in Austin. And pretty good too!

The other highlight of our visit thus far was watching 1.5 million bats fly out from under a bridge. Really! In the 1980's Austin built a bridge, and without intending it the underside of the bridge was a perfect spot for bats. And they moved in fast. At sunset each night they all fly out together in search of bugs; it's a crazy, very fun sight.

We've also toured the state capitol, the Lyndon Johnson museum/library, and taken a duck tour.

Tomorrow's the Fourth of July and we're still figuring out what to do; we have at least two decent options. It'll surely involve fireworks! We're planning to leave Wednesday morning for parts unknown. So stay tuned.

Posted by Mitch at 12:37 PM | Comments (0)

July 06, 2004

Wrapping up Austin

We're on our last full day in Austin, and have planned our next three stops. Tomorrow we're staying in Fort Stockton, TX for just one night; it's just a halfway point between here and our next real destination, Roswell, NM. That's right, the home of UFOs and aliens! We're sure to see some fun/weird stuff there. We'll be there for four nights. Then we're headed to Santa Fe for a week in the Santa Fe/Albuquerque area. After that we'll likely head west to the Grand Canyon.

We had a very interesting and unique day yesterday. We drove about two hours north to Waco. Our first stop was the Dr. Pepper Museum, home to my favorite drink. They have a very nice little museum, in the building that held the bottling plant for the first part of the 20th century. They recently excavated the original 27' artesian well that provided the water at the time, and the museum has many artifacts of the original manufacturing process. We had some soda and ice cream, and bought some cute souvenirs. And three cases of original-recipe Dr. Pepper with cane sugar instead of corn syrup. Mmmmm.

We then tracked down the site of a very depressing event, the former location of the Branch Davidian cult compound outside Waco that burned in 1993 killing nearly 80 people. It is by no means a major tourist attraction, but some tourists do seek it out. The site continues to function as a meeting place for the group's surviving members and is also a memorial to the events. The memorial portion gently takes the side of the conspiracy theorists who look at the event as a US attack on a religious organization, but it isn't overdone. We chatted a while with the site's caretaker, Ron, who albeit a bit odd himself was very nice and quite honest about how he thought David Koresh was a bit nutty. (Ron also made sure we knew he was a Messianic Jew, not a Branch Davidian.) The site was smaller than I'd expected, easily visible from the main road in this very rural area. Much of the foundation remains and is well marked, but with a lack of cleanliness that makes it look like more of an amateur archaeological site than anything you'd see at a regular museum. A burned-out bus remains on the site. Many trees have been planted as part of the memorial, one for each person killed in the fire. Plaques also memorialize the four law enforcement (BATF) men killed in the original attempt to arrest David Koresh, as well as the people killed in the Oklahoma City Bombing. (Tim McVeigh said he bombed the Murrah building in Oklahoma City as retaliation for the fire here in Waco, something the remaining Branch Davidians didn't like at all.) I wouldn't plan a trip to Texas just to see this site, but was a very interesting part of our day.

A mere 40 minutes away was Crawford, Texas, the "Texas White House" to our current president. We couldn't resist a visit. It's a very small town (population 705). They take full advantage in being the current hometown of the Bush's - every little store sells t-shirts, hats, etc. We had lunch at what is supposedly their favorite restaurant (nothing fancy). We drove to their ranch, which is not marked but not that hard to find. All we saw were some secret service trucks and a big gate. We also had a little fun at their expense, and placed our Kerry bumper sticker in the window for the ride out of town...

We're still behind on photos but those of yesterday will eventually be posted.

Posted by Mitch at 04:33 PM | Comments (1)

July 11, 2004

Hello from Roswell, NM!

Hello from the land of UFOs and aliens. We have not (yet) been abducted. We did, however, tour the "International UFO museum and research center" on Friday. It's an odd little place. They take their UFO research seriously (with a dose of humor), and did a good job putting together a museum - on a shoestring budget. There's too much info for the space they have, and it isn't particularly well organized for the first-time tourist. But it was well worth the visit, if just to see why Roswell is so famous as a UFO center. When we post our Roswell photos you can see for yourself.

The whole town has some fun with the "alien" reputation. Near the museum are at least four "UFO memorabilia" stores, selling a wide variety of t-shirts, hats, inflatable aliens, etc. All with a fine sense of humor. We had lunch at the Crashsite Cafe. Several streetlights are shaped like "alien heads."

After lunch we went to the Roswell Art Museum, which is a fine museum for a small town. Included within the museum is the Robert Goddard Museum, dedicated to the inventor of the Rocket. Goddard was born in Worcester, MA and attended/taught at my alma mater, Clark University. After launching his first few small rockets in Auburn, he got the attention of Charles Lindbergh who arranged major financing and brought him to Roswell to continue his rocket experiments. The museum has more artifacts than I'd imagined existed, including several of Goddard's rockets, tools, and a recreation of his rocket workshop. Very impressive! Elsewhere in the museum are several more traditional exhibits, several Wyeth paintings, a Georgia O'Keeffe, and some very nice old furniture.

Roswell as a whole is a small, somewhat impoverished desert city. There doesn't seem to be an industry focus. Nothing about it is awful, but we haven't seen very much beautiful either.

Saturday we drove about two hours south to Carlsbad Caverns National Park. The attraction is of course the caverns, the largest in North America. WOW! We walked for about 90 minutes underground (and 750 feet down) before we found ourselves at the "big room," a huge underground cavern apparently the size of 14 football fields. The walk around the "room" is 1.25 miles, which we did. This was quite a sight. Stay tuned for photos.

It's Sunday morning now. Today will mostly be an errand day; laundry and so-forth.

Monday we're driving up to Santa Fe. Tuesday we're meeting Heather's parents in Albuquerque. This is Mitch's friend Heather, not the Heather from Raleigh who has known Alysa for several years. We're in the Santa Fe/Albuquerque area for a week, then headed further west towards the Grand Canyon. We need to do some Grand Canyon research to figure out where to stay; if anyone has any suggestions, please let us know!

Posted by Mitch at 12:34 PM | Comments (0)

July 14, 2004

Hello from Santa Fe!

We arrived in Santa Fe, NM on Monday, after a long and hilly drive from Roswell. We're now 7200 feet above sea level, and the views are beautiful here.

Yesterday we met up with Heather's parents, who live in nearby Albuquerque. (that's Heather Sims, not Heather Felter.) We went to the Museum Hill area, and toured the International Folk Art Museum and a Native American museum. Both were very unique and impressive. We also went to a great garden store, and they gave us some suggestions of things to do in the area.

We have reasonably good internet access here - free WiFi at the campground. The signal is weak in the trailer but works well enough. Amazing how high-tech some campgrounds are!

Our plans for the rest of our stay include the Georgia O'Keeffe museum and the Los Alamos labs/Bradbury Science Museum. We also hope to visit Albuquerque and go to a folk art festival this coming weekend. Then we're headed west towards the Grand Canyon.

Posted by Mitch at 01:45 PM | Comments (0)

Bonnaroo photos (finally!)

After a month (!!!) I finally have the Bonnaroo photos sorted and commented. I took about 1100 photos this weekend, and they've been narrowed down to 345 and organized by day.

A brief recap... Bonnaroo was a weekend-long music festival in mid-June about an hour southeast of Nashville, TN. The event was attended by 90,000+ fans, and is expected to be the highest grossing music event of the year. You may want to read our earlier entries here and here. The photos tell most of the story but I'll include some additional info here. For those who haven't seen my moe.down photos (sorry, they're offline now) I'm much more interested in images of the crowd than the performers. You'll find some on-stage photos here but not too many.

A mild note of caution - when you get 90,000 people onto a farm for a weekend, you can expect some people to wear and do some strange things you wouldn't normally see out in the real world. Some images fall into the strong PG-13 category.

If you were at Bonnaroo, especially if we met or are in one of these photos, drop me a note to say Hi.

The 49 Thursday photos tell of our lengthy trip from Nashville to Bonnaroo. While only an hour away, the trip took twelve hours, mostly in a very long line of cars.

The 82 Friday photos begin to explore the site, the people (with their fun hats!), and the music. Included are photos of Ani DiFranco, Bob Dylan, and Dave Matthews on stage.

The 92 Saturday photos start with a brief visit to the outside world, some odd religious freaks, further explore the unique crowd at the festival, and some photos and aftermath of heavy rain. Also, photos of Steve Winwood.

The 122 Sunday photos include a thorough tour of the campgrounds, lots of mud, and our late-night departure. Here you'll see photos of Antigone Rising, moe., Guster, and David Byrne.

One funny story not told in the photos is the security check on the way in. Click the "continue reading" link below for that one.

They're very cautious of security, so all vehicles are checked. Among the prohibited items are pets. I'm guessing they don't want dogs running loose, but they were quite vocal that pets were not welcome. For those not following our story, we're traveling cross-country in an RV (truck and trailer) with our two cats, Simon and Zoe. They're very much indoor cats so we had no worries of them getting lost. But we were warned in no uncertain terms that if you had pets, you'd be turned away. Ok, but how much would they check, or even care?

So after eleven hours of towing the trailer we're near the security check. We notice a security person is going inside each RV. So we develop a foolproof plan - hide the cats under the bed. Ok, it's not that cruel. The queen-size bed in the trailer is built on a platform, and a hole provides access to storage underneath. It's the cats favorite place, and they're under there half the time anyway. Alysa places a laundry hamper in front of the hole, keeping the cats inside. She hides the litter box in the shower. We're ready to go. I suspect all they really care about is that we're not hiding people without tickets in the trailer.

We arrive at the security check, and one person requests to go into the trailer and I go with him. We're a little nervous about the litter box being a giveaway, so I come up with a small idea to keep things simple - I tell him we only have one working 12V (battery) light, far away from the shower and bedroom. He has a flashlight (many trailers have no battery lights so he isn't alarmed), and really starts to go through the place - nearly every drawer and cabinet is opened. He asks if we have any guns, which of course we don't. Then he asks if we have any dogs - twice! Yikes, they're serious about this pet stuff. He quickly opens the shower curtain but apparently didn't realize the large plastic box in the shower was a litter box. Phew. He makes his way to the bedroom. I'm still a little nervous (the cat food is in a cabinet by the bed) but suspect all will be ok.

He shines the flashlight briefly across the bed, and asks me to move the comforter out of the way. Ok. OH NO!!!! There, in the far corner of the bed, is ZOE!!! Just sitting there pretty, having somehow found her way out from under the bed. I VERY quickly move the comforter - to cover her up. Oh my. He looks again, sees nothing, and the security check was over. My heart is racing though. Thank goodness I'd said the lights were out; if on, she would have been plainly visible. Phew phew phew. So we were finally through security, and the cats had a great time listening to music and looking out the windows at all the odd people.

Posted by Mitch at 01:52 PM | Comments (4)

July 18, 2004

Photos from Monteagle, TN and Montgomery, AL

We have some new photos online, despite still being far behind.

The first set are five photos from our one night stop in Monteagle, TN. There's not much interesting here. We stopped in Monteagle after our evening departure from Bonnaroo, and stayed just long enough to shower and get a good night's sleep.

The next set are 49 photos from Montgomery, Alabama. You might want to read our Montgomery blog entry if you haven't already, to get some more background. You'll find photos of the Rosa Parks museum, the Alabama State Capitol, Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr.'s church, and The First White House of the Confederacy.

I've started organizing our photos from New Orleans so hopefully they'll be online within a few days.

Posted by Mitch at 11:38 PM | Comments (0)

Santa Fe recap

We're off to...Gallup?

Time has run out for us in Santa Fe, but we've had a great time here - it's just plain beautiful. Tomorrow (Monday) we're off to one night in Gallup, NM - just a stopover point to Sedona, AZ where we'll be for three nights. Then it's up to the Grand Canyon for a week or so. After the Grand Canyon we'll gamble our lives away in Vegas.

Here's a quick recap of our time in Santa Fe...

Monday: Arrived. Tuesday: Met Heather's parents at a museum. See prior entry for more info.

Wednesday: Walked through downtown Santa Fe, which is mostly shopping, galleries, museums, and food. It's a VERY nice downtown. Great southwestern architecture.

Thursday: Toured the Georgia O'Keeffe museum. To be honest, we were unimpressed. The museum doesn't have any of her well known work (at least it wasn't on display), and it's also quite small. For dinner we went to an Indian (as in the asian subcontinent, not native American) restaurant attached to a gas station - really! Very good food too.

Friday: This was our big scenery day. We took a 200 mile drive through the Jemez Mountains, to the west of Santa Fe. Wow, what a place! Our first stop was the San Ildefonso Pueblo, a small Indian village. They have a nice view, and a variety of houses and buildings. Some residents run pottery shops out of their houses. Next up was the Bandalier National Monument, site of an ancient Indian pueblo abandoned in the 1500's. Much of the site is still there, and is tremendously interesting. Many of them lived in tiny caves on the edge of a cliff. We walked through the area, which was just wild. We then drove along Route 4 through the mountains, stopping every so often to admire the view. I'll try to get the photos online soon - amazing!

Saturday: Took a quick trip to Albuquerque, where we wandered through "Old Town," the early part of the city and currently filled with many little shops. Also went to the Rattlesnake Museum - really!

Sunday: Attempted to go to the Bradbury Science Museum, which is the public part of the famous Los Alamos Labs (where the first atomic bomb was created). You may have read in the news that much of the organization was shut down because of a security problem (some missing hard drives containing secret data of some sort). Turns out that shutdown included the museum, so we were shut out. Instead we went to the nearby Los Alamos Historical Museum, which sounds like a yawn but was very interesting especially due to their place in history. They had many artifacts and tidbits from the Manhattan Project era, and some very interesting items from throughout their history.

Posted by Mitch at 11:42 PM | Comments (1)

July 22, 2004

Quick note from Sedona

Just a really quick note from Sedona... This is our last night here, and I'm writing this from the truck in a gas station parking lot! The campground had zero cell signal, so I've been taking the laptop into town now and then for internet access. Not sure what things will be like at the Grand Canyon, where we're headed tomorrow.

If we have some sort of internet access I'll write more soon. Else, we'll write from Las Vegas!

Posted by Mitch at 11:23 PM | Comments (1)

July 25, 2004

Grand Canyon adventures

Greetings from the Grand Canyon. We're staying at an RV park just a mile from the canyon park entrance, which has turned out to be very convenient. From the park we have reasonable internet access and walking distance from the few restaurants and shops in the local area. Cell phone service does not exist here so we've had to re-learn how to use payphones.

We arrived here Friday afternoon, after our short stay in Sedona. Sedona is beautiful, a cute little town surrounded by oddly shaped red mountains. It's very touristy, with a town center of souvenir stores and many choices of jeep tours and timeshare offers. We took a great jeep tour of the Sedona backcountry area. This was on an extended-length jeep with 36" tires. You know those ads where they drive the nice SUV's over boulders to show off? That's really what we did. A bumpy ride, but lots of fun.

The ride into and out of Sedona was filled with elevation changes. Down on the way in, up on the way out. On the way in we went south on 89A from Flagstaff, which turned out to be a very windy, mountain road. Lovely scenery, but not meant for big RVs. We made it fine though. We took a different route on the way out which was more straightforward.

After settling in here Friday, we made a quick trip into the canyon park to see the Grand Canyon for ourselves. It's big! We knew that of course, just amazing to see firsthand. We partially walked a nice paved path at sunset, then headed back to the trailer for the night.

Saturday we met up with my friend Tony, his girlfriend Naima, and her son Sylas. (Look folks - you made the blog!) We had a good breakfast at a local restaurant, watched some funny things on the computer (including the infamous "Wizard of Oz with Pez dispensers" film from college), and they headed home when a thunderstorm approached. Alysa and I ran a few errands, had dinner, and saw an IMAX movie about the Grand Canyon.

Today we were hoping to take a guided van tour of the Canyon area, but the tour guide that was recommended to us is very hard to reach. We will do some more walking around there today, and find some other tour for another day. We're also thinking of taking a helicopter tour, to see everything from the air.

Posted by Mitch at 09:06 AM | Comments (0)