Trip Summary Calendar - Where we went and when

August 09, 2004

Revenge of the Blog (or Return of the Canyon)

Ok, so we've gone blogless for the past two weeks but we'll try to catch up quickly. We've been busy! Last we left our story, we'd just arrived at the Grand Canyon (Friday June 23) and met up with Tony on Saturday.

Sunday we took our first extended walk along the South Rim of the canyon. The entire "south rim" area, within the National Park, is a small thriving city. Included in the price of admission is free use of a great bus system which takes visitors between more than a dozen different viewing areas along a (rough guess) 12 mile stretch of the canyon. There's a grocery store, better than the store in town. Several hotels, restaurants, etc. It's really something.

So we took the Kaibab Trail Route (the "green line") to the bus line's eastern-most stop called "Yaki Point." We then walked about 2.5 miles along the rim back to Mather Point. Mather Point is the viewing area most people see as it's near a parking lot and the first view of the canyon as you drive into the park. The first part of our walk wasn't on a formal trail, but wasn't terribly rough terrain. The latter half was along the paved trail that lines most of the south rim park area. Along the way was an entry point to one of the trails into the canyon itself, where we watched people and mules rising from the depths after long hikes. Hiking into the canyon is a two-day project (one day in, one day out) so it wasn't in our plan for this trip.

We saw some of the varied wildlife of the canyon area. Walking along the rim we spotted a California Condor perched about 50 feet down the canyon wall. On a bus back to our truck we drove by a huge elk.

Our walk, bus rides, and many photo stops took us from mid-morning to late-afternoon. While beautiful, this was the hottest time of day and the least interesting light to view and photograph the incredibly three-dimensional canyon below. So the rest of our week was planned around the early and later parts of the day.

A little about the canyon itself, and our reaction to it. Having never seen the canyon, and only remembering photos of specific elements of it, I was expecting what most people think of as a canyon. A cliff straight down, a wide area below, and a cliff up the other side. Not even close. The Grand Canyon is a dazzlingly complex collection of mountains, valleys, plateaus, cliffs, and gentle slopes. The Colorado River below is only visible from a few spots along the south rim paths. Three-dimensionally complex is really the best way to describe it. One benefit of this complexity is the view changes rapidly as one walks along the rim. The same is true of the angle of the sun. You can stand in one place for a while, and suddenly you're looking at a different canyon.

Monday we get to the park bright and early. A professional photographer (paid by Kodak) met us and a few other folks at 6:30am for a walk along the rim at some points good for morning photography. He provided some basic instruction and ideas, but we were there for his knowledge of good spots. This was also a great excuse to get up and out early, and it was worthwhile. Our walk with him (and four or five others) took us to a part of the park we weren't near the day before. We started near Shrine of the Ages and walked slightly westward. The photographer left at about 7:30am, and we continued walking.

We walked past all the hotels to Lookout Studio, a small building right on the edge of the cliff, for a talk about California Condors at 9:30am. This was rather interesting, and right on cue the condors flew by. These are very large birds, and are slowly returning from the brink of extinction. A few years ago no California Condors remained in the wild, now a small number are thriving in the Canyon. By 11am we were getting hot, so we headed back to the trailer.

We came at around 6pm. Despite it being overcast (as it was nearly every late afternoon) we witnessed a partial rainbow and a nice sunset. Just before the 7:40pm sunset several features in the canyon turned a bright orange, leading to some great photos.

Tuesday we got very ambitious and went into the park before sunrise. We arrived just after 5am, and didn't venture far - just the popular Mather Point. Shockingly we weren't alone - by the 5:40am sunrise we were joined by about 50 others. We also witnessed another (more complete) rainbow, but behind us rather than over the canyon. We walked around some more, and Alysa became close friends with a squirrel - more on that when we post photos. By 7:15am we were done for the morning and headed back to the trailer.

Tuesday afternoon was our big adventure - a 3:00pm helicopter tour of the Canyon! We took a 45-minute ride, which was absolutely fantastic. If you're ever at the Canyon this is well worth the money. We videotaped nearly the whole ride.

Wednesday was our last day at the Canyon. We took the Hermit's Rest Route bus (the "red line") and stopped at most major points along the way. This allowed us to complete our tour of the South Rim. As mentioned before, moving along the rim is like visiting a new canyon and as we got further westward this was even more exaggerated. We finally saw the Colorado River from the rim (we'd seen it from the helicopter). We were done by noon, did some grocery shopping and went back to the trailer. We went for one last sunset that night, and bid the Grand Canyon a fond farewell.

Posted by Mitch at 12:29 AM | Comments (1)

Brief update - going to San Diego

This is just a quick update - more details will follow later. We're leaving Los Angeles tomorrow (Monday) morning for a short drive to San Diego. We'll be in San Diego five nights then we begin the long trek home.

We'll write more on our time in Las Vegas and Los Angeles very soon - so stay tuned!

Posted by Mitch at 12:32 AM | Comments (0)

August 16, 2004

Wil Wheaton is not Wesley Crusher

[This entry was actually written late the night of 7/30/04, but I held off posting it until now to keep things in order.]

So we're in Las Vegas, and it turns out there's a big Star Trek convention here (thanks Herb!). Those who have known me a while know I've been a Star Trek fan since I was a kid, watching reruns of the original Trek series, and even first-run shows of the animated Trek series. I've been to countless Star Trek conventions and have seen nearly all stars of the original and Next Generation. But it's been 10-15 years since my last convention. Even Alysa (not a fan, or even very familiar) was curious, so we went on Friday.

Read on if you're curious about Star Trek conventions.

Three big names speaking Friday were Brent Spiner (Data), George Takei (Sulu), and Marina Sirtis (Troi). I'd seen them all before. They had Sally Kellerman, which was unique; she's an actress well-known in her own right, best known as Hot Lips Houlihan in the MASH movie. She was in one Star Trek episode (the pilot that sold the series, opposite Gary Lockwood - more on him later). But the speaker I was most curious about was Wil Wheaton.

I was curious about Wil for a few reasons. One, he was one of the few Next Generation regulars I'd never seen (the only others are the two doctors). Two, he maintains a unique blog which I've run across more than once. But most of all is I was just curious. I hated his Star Trek character. I mean, really despised it. This wasn't his fault. He was 14 or 15 when the series started, but the writers kept churning out episodes where he saved the ship. This wore on me. He eventually left the show with dreams of a big movie career, which (as a viewer) was fine with me. Perhaps because he was so young I never ran across him at any conventions. (As an aside, Wil is also well known as one of the kids from Stand By Me.)

Fast-forward to today, and Wil is now 32. They had him in a room off to the side, I thought a bit strange, making me even more curious. We went just after George Takei. Wil didn't magically appear from behind stage; turns out he was just sitting in the crowd. He spent most of his time reading from his new book, "Just a Geek." This is an amazingly funny and touching story of (from what I know thus far) his time on Star Trek and eventual realization his acting career ended when he was no longer a child. Most actors from the original series went through a version of this, in that case being typecast as their Star Trek characters, unable to find work (or good pay) until the Star Trek movies came along. Wil's story was different though, with the career halt apparently tied to his age more than anything else.

For me, this turned out to be the perfect Star Trek convention experience. While the other actors portray everything as cheery, Wil's recounting is brutally honest. He's put that past behind him and apparently has no worries about burning any bridges (perhaps already burnt?). A young Star Trek fan might not want to hear this stuff but I'm long tired of the "What was your favorite episode?" Q&A. I couldn't get over how Wil Wheaton had transitioned in my mind from the annoying kid from the Enterprise to a real person, much more real than any of the other actors I've met.

We both enjoyed his talk so much that we decided to buy the book, standing in line a short while later in the dealers' room. We talked briefly about our RV trip, and about blogging software.

A little more on the convention, as a contrast to those of years ago. The other actors I saw were older, somewhat crabbier versions of themselves. Maybe she was trying to be funny but Marina Sirtis, especially, wasn't very nice to the fans. (The reason there likely won't be another Next Generation movie is apparently we in the audience didn't see the last one enough times...) George Takei started with the same 15 minute story of why he liked working on Star Trek; I could nearly recite it from memory and I imagine most of the audience thought the same. He did give a good pitch for his Japanese American Museum, which is trying to remind Americans of how American citizens of Japanese heritage (including himself as a child) were rounded up and kept in horrible "camps" during WWII. Both gently plugged their political views (which we agree with) and joked how this was dangerous in Las Vegas (making reference to Linda Rondstat's recent firing after making her views known on stage). Marina even sang a few bars of Desperado, which most people didn't get but I found very funny. (Linda dedicated that song to Michael Moore, which is what got her fired.) Brent Spiner was more frenetic than ever, and very funny. He's aged the most of those I saw. He's also the busiest, acting-wise, of the Next Generation cast (Patrick Stewart aside). He'll be in three episodes of Enterprise this year, playing the great-grandfather of Data's creator.

The dealers' room is completely different than those of old. Gone are the dozens of unique, funny Star Trek t-shirts. I don't know if that's due to stronger licensing or just lack of interest, but I think that's too bad - some of the shirts were really, really funny. Gone are comic books, which used to have a crossover interest to Star Trek fans. But now present in a big way are autograph tables. At least ten minor (and sometimes more than minor) actors with sometimes vague connections to Star Trek and science fiction were hawking autographed photos. The guy who played the Gorn in a single original series episode was quite a stretch as being "famous" - he wore a complete body costume (looked like an upright alligator), had no lines, and just swung a club fighting with Captain Kirk. We saw other actors who had portrayed bit parts. A surprise doing autograph signing (I think she's a great actress) is Suzie Plakson, known to Star Trek fans as Worf's girlfriend. She had her own series ("Love and War") and a recurring role in Mad About You. The oversized man who played "Jaws" in "Moonraker" was there. As was "Boomer" from "Battlestar Galactica." One odd duck was the actor who played Flash Gordon in the 1970's film - he was super-spiffy in suit and tie, slicked-back hair, looking like he was negotiating big business deals on his cell phone while selling photos. Odd.

I don't care much for autographs (especially paying for them) but I did get sucked into one. One of my favorite films is Stanley Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey. One of the two main actors, Gary Lockwood, was there. He played opposite Sally Kellerman in the original Star Trek episode mentioned above; almost sad how she was a headliner while he was trying to make a living signing autographs. Anyway, he was great in 2001, so I had to approach. Turned out he's a crabby old man now, not nice at all. But he was signing a beautiful still from 2001, that Kier Dullea (played Dave Bowman) had previously signed. I held my nose and gave him $40 for that one. I'll scan it in for the blog - if you're a 2001 fan, you'll see why I couldn't turn it down.

Posted by Mitch at 11:21 PM | Comments (0)

Melting in Las Vegas

We're still way behind on blog entries. My goal is to catch up by the time we get back home. It might happen. Maybe. This is one of two reports for Las Vegas, which I'm writing two weeks after the fact (not too bad, really.).

We left the Grand Canyon area for Las Vegas on Thursday, July 29, figuring a simple trip. We did arrive fine, but not after melting our way through the Arizona and Nevada desert. Much of our trip was in 110-degree searing heat, especially the latter half of the drive. The truck managed reasonably well, requiring a few stops to cool down but otherwise alright. We, on the other hand, were asking the question "Why on Earth would we chose to drive through the desert at the end of July???" The only interesting part of the trip was the drive over the Hoover Dam, not far from Las Vegas, and we were just barely conscious enough to enjoy it.

We stayed at an RV park right on the strip, behind Circus Circus. The park was a glorified parking lot, just what you want to stay on when in 110-degree heat. The cold water coming out of the shower head was warmer than the showers I usually take - everything was hot. But it was on the strip, which minimized the need to drive. Which turned out to be a very good thing.

We had a special visitor for the first part of our week in Vegas, my sister Debbie. Right in the midst of studying for her oral exam to get her Master's Degree (which she did pass - yeay!) she flew from Massachusetts to Vegas for the weekend. She took full advantage of her time. She and Alysa spent two very late nights out in the clubs. Not my thing, so I stayed in. But we had a great time together touring the many beautiful casinos in the area. Really, some are extraordinary.

Two things surprised me about Las Vegas. One was the huge number of people here on the strip. We were there for a week starting July 29, probably the hottest week of the year, and the streets and hotels were packed. Traffic was miserable. One night I took a trolley bus ride from one end of the strip to the other (perhaps two miles long). The trip took 90 minutes.

The other surprise was the sheer volume of excess. Las Vegas is in the desert. But everywhere there was water - lots and lots of it. Huge fountains, massive waterfalls, etc. They were beautiful, and I'm a huge fan of water features, but the amount of water that is needlessly evaporated into the air must be incredible. I'm sure the residents have strict rules on water use, but the hotels are obviously given carte blanche.

Our first full day in Vegas Alysa and I went to a Star Trek convention before meeting up with Debbie. I'll post a separate note on the convention. We met Debbie near the Mirage, where she spent her first of three nights (the other two nights were with us in the trailer - an interesting contrast!). We toured Madame Tussaud's Wax Museum - a very odd but slightly amusing experience.

We went through an upscale shopping mall attached to the Venetian. We had a nice dinner at an Italian restaurant - except that I found a bug in my gnocchi. Luckily it was just after I got the dish, and the little critter earned us free desserts. After dinner (or was it before?) we came across a nice art gallery selling signed Al Hirschfeld prints. Alysa and I like his work quite a bit, and saw one of a rabbi we liked quite a bit. We came back later in the week and actually bought it. I guess this makes us art collectors. (We also have a signed Keith Haring print.) I'll post a photo of the artwork when we do the photos. It should arrive at our house sometime after we get home.

The following two days (Saturday and Sunday) was mostly touring of fancy hotels and trying to stay as cool as possible. Which wasn't easy! Sunday afternoon we brought Debbie to the airport, and she took the redeye back to Boston.

Monday afternoon we ran into a major glitch. Our truck has been great to us this cross-country trip, but a snag was bound to occur. Whether it was bad gas, the hot air, or just bad luck it stalled near the hotel and wouldn't start up again. We had it towed (it BARELY fit on the rollback!). We had the fuel pump replaced, and it's been running alright since. Thankfully it didn't impact our trip much since we were on the strip and could get around alright without it.

Tuesday we had several things to do, including buying the print mentioned above and seeing George Carlin at night. George was funny, but a bit odd. Even in his hands, a 20 minute chat about suicide can only get so funny. But it was great to see him live. We also went to the "Star Trek Experience" - two virtual-reality rides/movies based on Star Trek at the Hilton. They also have a huge Star Trek "museum" of sorts - costumes and props from the TV shows. We had dinner at Quark's Bar, straight from Deep Space Nine. A Ferengi, a Borg, and a Klingon kept us entertained walking around in full character. (Ok, the Borg wasn't particularly entertaining but very effective.)

Our travel Tuesday was on the new Las Vegas Monorail, which connects many of the hotels along the strip. If you're ever in Vegas, be sure to stay at one of the hotels on its route and use it to get around. It's very fast, bypasses all the traffic, and is well worth the money.

Wednesday was an R&R and errand day, getting ourselves ready for driving again Thursday. We picked up the truck that afternoon. We had a great dinner though - the dinner buffet at the Bellagio. Mmmmm! I'm dangerous at buffets and hope I didn't send them into bankruptcy. Excellent food - prime rib, lamb, pasta, pizza, salads, vegetables, desserts, etc. Alysa says the fish was great too (I'm allergic so I stayed away). I'm glad we didn't discover this until our last day, as we would have been there for every meal and likely wouldn't fit into the trailer at night... We also did some gambling that night, all 25-cent slots. I did pretty well - broke even!

Thursday it was off to Los Angeles - stay tuned for that report.

Posted by Mitch at 11:21 PM | Comments (1)

Eastward Bound!

Skipping ahead to modern times for just a moment, we have indeed started the trip home. We're currently in Socorro, NM - about an hour south of Albuquerque. After Las Vegas (see the entries just posted) we spent a few days each in Los Angeles and San Diego. We'll post full details of those soon, I hope!

After San Diego we drove to Tucson, where we spent two nights. The only event of the visit was we were able to see my good friend Mona from Clark University days. This was the first we've seen each other since 1992 or so. We saw Mona twice, for dinner the night we arrived (Saturday) and again Sunday morning.

Today we drove from Tucson here to Socorro, roughly 400 miles. We weren't planning to drive quite this much but we found ourselves in a surprisingly cool day for the southwest, and took full advantage. We're just here one night, with the hope of getting to Amarillo, TX tomorrow and Oklahoma City on Wednesday.

Our plan remains to be in upstate NY for moe.down over Labor Day weekend, then heading home afterwards.

Stay tuned!

Posted by Mitch at 11:31 PM | Comments (0)

August 17, 2004

Amarillo, TX - home of the free 72 ounce steak

A quick Hello from Amarillo, TX. We had a nice drive earlier today from Socorro, NM, a total of 381 miles. There's very little to see other than hills and trees between Albuquerque and Amarillo. On the way into town we drove by the famous Cadillac Ranch, a farm with ten old Cadillacs pointed back-end-up out of the earth. An odd sight from the highway.

A local steak house offers a great service to tourists, many of whom use Amarillo as a brief stopover on there way somewhere else. All the hotels and RV parks have their menu, and if you'd like to eat there they'll come pick you up - in a white Cadillac limo with huge bull horns on the front. When the door opens, the limo moo's. Really! The big gimmick though is the "Free 72 ounce steak" advertised on many billboards coming into town. We couldn't read the small print at first, but the trick is you have to eat the whole 72 ounce steak in one hour for it to be free. Um, we didn't try. But we did have a very good meal, and enjoyed the free limo service.

We're here just one night. Tomorrow is the somewhat shorter drive (260 miles) to Oklahoma City where we'll spend at least two nights.

Posted by Mitch at 10:33 PM | Comments (0)

August 20, 2004

New Orleans photos

I've finally posted photos from New Orleans. You'll find 136 photos from our one-week stop mid-June. Take a look to see alligators, the French Quarter, a Mardis Gras museum, frogs, and a 30-second movie clip of a real New Orleans jazz band performing on a riverboat.

We're in Oklahoma City for a three-night respite from driving. Mapquest says we've already reached the halfway point from San Diego to Turin, NY so we thought we'd take a rest! Turin is our destination for Labor Day weekend, and we're making pretty good time.

Posted by Mitch at 05:57 AM | Comments (1)

August 23, 2004

Oklahoma, where the wind comes sweepin' down the plain...

We had a decent little visit in Oklahoma City. We gave ourselves a three night rest, and brought the truck to Chevy for some TLC and new spark plug wires.

Oklahoma City is a nice little city, but it was hard for us to determine a unique identify of the place. On one hand it's like a suburb of Texas, with quite a bit of western culture such as the Cowboy Museum (really!). On the other, many locals have a southern accent not present in Texas.

We stayed in a park just off the highway at the west end of town, a short drive to Wal-Mart, Cracker Barrel, and most other retail stores and restaurants known to mankind. Very convenient. Oklahoma City isn't exactly a tourist draw but there was more to do than we expected. Being more interested in R&R than touring we only did two notable things.

The first was a visit to the Oklahoma City National Memorial, an outdoor memorial and indoor museum of the domestic terrorist bombing of the Murrah Federal Building in 1995. Timothy McVeigh said he did this out of anger for what the government did (in his opinion) in Waco, TX a few years earlier. We visited the Waco site and memorial earlier in our trip, so for me this was an interesting bookend to that earlier visit. It's impossible to make comparisons, both to the events and the memorials, as they are so dramatically different.

The outdoor memorial is, in a way, a minimalist sculpture. The footprint of the building is now a very structured collection of glass-and-metal chairs, one for each of the 168 bombing victims. Along the road where the truck bomb exploded is now a long reflecting pool. At each end of the pool is a very tall black metal wall; one is labeled 9:01 and the other 9:03; the bomb exploded at 9:02 AM. Outside the walls is a metal fence with items placed by family members and the general public, similar to the fences near the WTC site if you've seen that. I won't bother explaining more of the outdoor area as we took many photos, hopefully to be posted soon.

Inside is a somewhat large, modern museum which I'll try to explain since photography was not allowed. The museum is housed in half of a building that existed prior to the bombing; the other half of the building continues to house the offices of a weekly newspaper. The building was damaged in the explosion but not destroyed.

The first floor on the museum tour (the third floor of the building) covers in great detail the timeline from early in the morning of April 19, 1995, to the time of the bombing, and through the rescue and recovery efforts. In one room visitors walk into a replica of the Oklahoma City Water Resources Board meeting room. A recording is heard of a hearing the morning of the bombing, which went quickly from an introduction of a dull water issue to a loud explosion to panic. This is a real audio recording, the only (as far as I know) one of the bombing itself.

The majority of the remainder of that floor is the story of the rescue and recovery, and stories of those injured and killed in the blast. There are cases each of shoes, watches, keys, and other items recovered from the site. Also included are details of McVeigh's and Nichols' arrests. It is all very well presented.

The second floor of the tour (also the second floor of the building) more generally covers terrorism and isn't specific to the Oklahoma City bombing. One very unique item is a section of floor made of pennies covered in polyurethane. A school collected pennies for the museum, which spread to other schools, and millions were collected. A small number make up this part of the floor. Another exhibit are "golden cranes," a collection of origami birds relating to a children's book.

This floor also has the most direct evidence of the bombing, a small room intentionally left undisturbed since the explosion. Concrete and ceiling tiles are everywhere, books from a closet line the floor, etc. The room is enclosed in glass.

The first floor of the building is strictly an entranceway and gift shop.

What I felt was missing from the museum was the "why," both of this bombing and terrorism in general. The exhibits barely mentioned McVeigh's claim of the Waco retaliation, and digs no further. A large room about terrorism in this country and abroad only describes events and perpetrators, without a broader context to help understand the deeper reasons why someone or some group would do such a thing. I think the "why" is a core part of the story, and here it is all but left untold.

On the whole this is a very impressive site and museum, well worth the visit if you're ever in the general area.

Our other visit was to a far less depressing location, the National Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum. A huge building, it's dedicated to, well, cowboys and western heritage. More than you've ever wanted to know about cowboy hats, saddles, and blue jeans. Really. A large section of the museum is western art, mostly paintings and sculpture, some of which was very nice. Another room covers western films and movie stars. In a massive room is an indoor recreation of a small western town, with several small buildings. Photos will come soon on this, too. While the topic wasn't 100% up our alley it was enjoyable; certainly not something we'd see in Massachusetts!

Posted by Mitch at 09:14 PM | Comments (0)

A note from Zoe

While I was writing the Oklahoma City entry, Zoe walked across the keyboard a few times. Zoe is one of our two cats enjoying the RV trip with us. I suppose we've been remiss in not allowing them to add their own take on our adventure, so here I include her comments:

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As you can see, she's having a great time but looking forward to the return home. She seems to have recovered from her close call with security at Bonnaroo.

Posted by Mitch at 09:21 PM | Comments (2)

August 29, 2004

St. Louis, Niagara Falls, and four months on the road

Tomorrow is August 30th, which marks four months since we left our house in Douglas, Massachusetts and began our merry cross-country journey. And only a week from then, on Labor Day, Monday, September 6th, 2004 - we arrive home.

Which means I should bring you up to date. We left Oklahoma City on Saturday the 21st, and expected a two-day drive to St. Louis. We hit nice weather the truck behaved marvelously, so we drove the full 521 miles and arrived in St. Louis that night. The RV park we found was right in the city, just over a mile from the famous arch. A glorified parking lot but fine for out needs. We stayed two nights.

On Sunday the 22nd we took a cab to a shopping area nearby the arch ("The Landing" if I recall correctly) and had a nice lunch. Most shopping was closed, so after lunch we walked to the Arch, which is really called the "Gateway Arch at the Jefferson National Expansion Memorial". We've never been to St. Louis, and knew very little about the Arch, but it's significantly larger than I'd imagined. It is 630 feet tall, and the same in width. They claim that's twice the height of the Statue of Liberty. And like the Statue of Liberty you can go up to the top to peer out smallish windows although the process and experience is quite different.

Each side of the Arch contains a "tram," a chain of eight very tiny cars each holding up to five people seated (and in my case, hunched over). You buy tickets in an underground lobby, are assigned to a scheduled ascent, and make your way up to the top. The ascent is four minutes, the descent three. At the top are several small windows on either side where you can view the city of St. Louis or the state of Illinois across the Mississippi river. There is room for 15-20 comfortably but they packed about 80 so we took some quick photos and took the tram ride down. Thus ended our tour of St. Louis. It looks like a nice city and may be worth a follow-up visit if we're in that part of the world again.

Monday morning we started the drive east again, but didn't get very far. We crossed southern Illinois then into Indiana, when I started to tire. We drove just east of Indiana to a small town called Greenfield where we found an absolutely beautiful RV park. We only stayed one night so we could continue our traveling.

After a good night's rest we started our drive early Tuesday morning, and made significant progress. We drove completely through Ohio and stopped for the night outside Erie, PA. We could have gone further but we were making such good time we didn't see the need. Suddenly we had a new problem - what to do with all our extra time? We aren't planning to go home until after moe.down Labor Day weekend. So we decided to head up to the Niagara Falls, NY area for a few days.

And that's where we are now, in Grand Island, NY (just outside Niagara Falls). We've been here since Wednesday afternoon.

After a day of working and staying at the campsite Thursday, we met up with Alysa's friend Michelle and her son Nicolas on Friday and headed north (or possibly west?) across the border into Canada. Michelle and Alysa are old hats at this, as they went to Buffalo State College nearby. But this was my first time on the Canada side of the Falls and only my second time into the country to our north. Our first stop was the Butterfly Conservatory which is really something. We walked into a massive room filled with plants, trees, and thousands of butterflies. I mean they're everywhere. And they weren't shy, having no problem landing on shoulders, heads, or my camera bag. It was hard not to instinctively swat at them as they flew by my eyes. But they all survived, and after taking many photos we left for the Falls.

The day was overcast and drizzly so not the best weather, but the Falls are impressive at any time. The Canadian view is what's usually on postcards as it's an unobstructed view of the largest of the falls. But in the end, I like the American side better. The Canadian side is little more than a sidewalk at the cliff's edge, with a street behind and endless stores, hotels, and at least one casino. The American side is a beautiful state park. At least on this day the mist from the main falls came straight to the closest Canadian areas, obscuring the view.

The trip to Canada meant something else interesting - our vacation now included trips across both our international borders. On August 13th we crossed the border near San Diego into Tijuana, Mexico (we haven't even written about that yet!). Exactly two weeks later we're over the border from the opposite end of our country.

The two border crossings were also quite different, although we did each differently. We walked across the border with Mexico. Going into Mexico there was zero security - nobody to even ask who we were or how long we're staying. Obviously the Mexican government isn't worried about Americans crashing their party. Coming back into the USA from Mexico was a moderately long line through a border control building, where we were prompted to show photo ID and answer a few basic questions.

We drove into Canada, and in both directions had to stop at border control which looks just like a toll booth. Each direction were the same questions by the person in the booth - how many people in the car, where do we live, and are we taking anything across. In neither case were we asked to show ID. While convenient for us I'm not sure how comfortable this makes me feel about our border security. We were in Michelle's minivan and it's possible they would have given more of a look if we were in our huge black truck. But all someone has to do to get across is look American, say you're American, and drive a minivan. Good or bad, you be the judge.

Yesterday was Saturday, the day we visited Buffalo. We started at the Albright-Knox Art Gallery, a truly excellent museum across from Buffalo State College. Their collection is really something, and well worth the trip. They have paintings and sculpture from the mid-19th century onward representing all the big names and periods, from French impressionism through American pop-art. Upstairs is a rotating exhibition currently showing a variety of very odd (but curiously interesting) modern art pieces of sculpture, video, and everything in between.

After the museum we had lunch at Pano's, an old favorite of Alysa's. They'd expanded since she was there but still had great food. We walked down Elmwood Avenue a bit and quite accidentally ran into a large arts festival that took over several blocks of this main road. What a lucky find! Once finished with our tour we drove by Alysa's old apartment and then to the Buffalo State campus where I got a tour of the student union building. After that, back to the trailer.

And today is Sunday. Alysa's friend Liz visited, along with Liz's daughter Katie. I did some work while they went to the campground's pool. We hadn't seen them since last summer, and Katie has sure grown (she'll be two in November).

Tomorrow we'd planned to drive to our next stop, Verona, NY. But we decided to hold off a day due to expected rain. We're in no rush and the only reason we're going to Verona is it's near Turin, NY - location of next weekend's moe.down music festival. So we'll head to Verona on Tuesday, likely a three hour drive. We'll leave there for Turin on Thursday or Friday for the start of the festival. That goes until Monday when we drive back to our hometown of Douglas, MA!

Posted by Mitch at 10:10 PM | Comments (0)