As my road trip is nearing completing I am looking ahead at what things I want to do upon return. One of them, of course, is get more points and miles for use in the future. I saw the largest deal ever for the Chase IHG credit card (150,000 points after spending $3,000 in 3 months) and just had to have it. Since I hadn’t applied for cards during the pandemic, I am below the 5/24 limitation on Chase cards and thought I’d be a shoo-in. Unfortunately, I was mistaken.
I’m not sure what they mean by ‘too many requests for credit’ – I don’t really have that many. So I thought it might have something to do with the cards I have access to already. Many of them have credit limits of $10,000 or higher. So, I called their ‘reconsideration line’ and asked the representative to look at my account. After three minutes he asked if I would be willing to lower my credit limit on another card to get this one approved. Of course I said “YES!” enthusiastically and was approved minutes later.
I’m psyched to get this card partly because of the points but also because it has a deal where if you get four consecutive nights using points the fourth night is free! This works in various different ways but is always available. It could be very lucrative if used at particular properties. I hope to get to one of them!
Well, I’ve had my second crazy car thing happen during this road trip – good thing it’s almost over. I don’t want to have a totally beat up automobile to return to Brooklyn….
But let’s go back for a minute. I left Denver with the intention of visiting the World’s Largest Collect of the World’s Small Versions of the World’s Largest Objects. I read on their website that they were open by appointment only right now so I emailed and texted, only to receive the response that they won’t be open until August at the earliest! Shame! I was so looking forward to that but I guess the artist had to leave to make a living during the pandemic. So, I thought I’d still make my way through Kansas by trying to see unanticipated things, and I was pleasantly surprised.
The first place I stopped was Goodland, Kansas, for a giant reproduction of the Van Gogh painting, “3 Sunflowers in a vase.” It really was huge. I didn’t spend more than 10 minutes there to admire (it was super hot outside) but it was quite a feat for someone to create that on such a scale. You can check out the website for more info – there are apparently more things like this in the world.
After that I stopped off at Wilson, Kansas, a town founded by immigrants from the Czech Republic (when it was Czechoslovakia) decades ago. They are so enthused by their heritage that they paid to create a giant Czech Egg – the biggest in the world! It was really cool. I also got lunch at a local diner that had some awesome Czach foods (Bieroch, anyone?). Finally, I bought a regularly-sized Czech egg for myself – or rather, the owner of the store gave it to me because she couldn’t remember how to use the cash register!
Finally, I stopped off in Lucas, Kansas, the location of the museum I had intended to visit, because it is apparently an art-type town with many different exhibits strewn about. I stopped off at Bowl Plaza to use the restroom (so many amazing tiles in that toilet!) and the Garden of Eden, just to see it as I left. If I had more time I probably would have explored more but I wanted to make it to Kansas City the next day.
Speaking of which, on my way there I started hearing some weird rubbing sounds from the front of my car. About half way to KC I realized that part of my bumper protector (a piece of plastic/cloth that stops dirt from getting into the engine) was rubbing on the ground while I was driving. Obviously, this was not good, so I made an appointment the next morning to get it fixed at a local body shop (so local I could walk back to my hotel from there – how lucky!). It all got fixed while I visited the Arabia Steamboat Museum, a place dedicated to a recovered sunken steamboat from the Missouri River. Apparently there are about 300-400 of them underneath the water (or land, since the rivers route has been changed over the decades). It was a super cool museum and one of the folks who found the steamboat and the son of another were there to talk about their experience. Thew knew about and had met with the Vasa Museum folks (a Swedish ship that sunk to the bottom of the water in the 17th century and was recovered in the late 20th). There were SO many items they recovered from the boat – cutlery, clothing, shoes, dishes, even old pickles! Amazing.
And today I spend a few hours in St. Louis, checking out the awesome catenary (the mathematical term for the shape of the Gateway Arch). It is SO cool. Super tall. Super geometric. And there is a tram to get on top that is combination ferris wheel, cable car, and elevator. The pods are really small but luckily the doors have windows so you don’t get too claustrophobic (Or at least I didn’t). Even though they say you are supposed to buy tickets in advance they still had space when I arrived.
Denver is a great place, everyone. I know I’ve been there before a few times but I think I didn’t walk around enough.
I spent a lot of time hanging out with family and friends during my time there and we did some great things I hadn’t done before and I also had solo time to explore for a day. It has been great.
I stayed with family in a neighborhood about 20 minutes drive to the downtown area and it was wonderful. I had some great conversations with my cousins, played with the <5 year olds a whole bunch, and went out to various meals with them. While driving around on my own has been great I think I am looking forward to being a bit more sedentary again soon. This was a nice reminder that I can live that life just fine, too, while also exploring an area close to where I am.
Speaking of which, I spent a good amount of time in downtown Denver. I walked around the 16th Street Mall, explored the History Colorado Center for 3 hours (such a good museum), and walked along some river fronts near Union Station (where people were swimming in rivers my cousin said is somewhat polluted….). It was really cool to be in and near the station – there is a lot of history there with railroads going through it for decades. While it was a bit more decrepit for a while it has been amazingly redone and is still an active train station. There is also a hotel there that one day I want to go stay at (maybe when I have more money/time).
Food-wise, I went to Sam’s No.3 Downtown. I had some great pancakes and tried something my cousin-in-law suggested: green chili. It was a tasty, quick, diner meal. They didn’t have real maple syrup which aggravated me a bit, but it was still tasty and fluffy. For lunch I had some various bites at Union Station and ended with some amazing ice cream from a place called Milkbox. I thought it was funny that a ‘double’ school meant three actual scoops. A lot of ice cream was eaten 🙂
I also spent a day going on a hike with a friend from grad school and her husband. I’m glad it was a cloudy day because I forgot my sunscreen back at my cousin’s house. Oy. It was great to get out and go for a hike – we had some great conversation and I saw some great views of the Rockies from the plateau we were on. And there were horses on the trail! That was pretty cool (and I was able to not step on their poop piles….).
It was a great time and I’ll be glad to get back on the road for my last week.
I’ve been having too much fun to write recently. Oy, what a hardship on a road trip, right?
I spent three days in the Bay Area and they were great. Visiting old friends and meeting new ones is always a fun time in my book and fulfills one of my main goals of this summer: seeing people. So a bunch of my time was spent either catching up with folks or spending time with new friends. I am doing a lot better at reaching out to talk to people who I haven’t spoken to in a while and it’s truly invigorating. If you ever have the desire to do that, please listen to that little voice in your head urging you to. The fear of ‘what will they think if I reach out’ is a valid question but the most likely answer is ‘oh, hey, it’s great to hear from you!’
I also went to a few different places while there. I spent a but of time on University Ave near Stanford. I’d never been there before but it was quite nice. And the ice cream selection at Salt and Straw is incredible. I had a vegan mint chip ice cream that was amazing! I also spent 4.5 hours at the Exploratorium on the Embarcadero. But, let’s be honest: that’s unsurprising. And one of my hosts gave me a driving tour of downtown San Francisco. I learned about the four railroad tycoons who had massive houses at the top of Nob Hill. Very impressive. I also took a day to explore a bit of Oakland. There was a very interesting flea market. I went there on a Friday so it didn’t have as much stuff at it as on the weekend, but it was still quite enjoyable. I also checked out a second-growth redwood forest nearby for a bit of tree bathing – it was very nice and calm. And I capped it off by getting a beer at Temescal Brewing, a place a friend has some kind of vested interest in.
After San Francisco, I drove through Davis, CA on my way to the California State Railroad Museum. Davis was home to a friend and colleague of my mom’s who gave me a bit of a tour of the local farmer’s market, which turns out to be quite extensive. So many different options of farmer, some great prepared food stalls, and amazing baked goods. I had a mini chocolate babka – so tasty! I then spent a couple of hours exploring the trains and the history of CA railroads, a-la those four tycoons mentioned earlier. A lot of history and a lot of train cars. Unfortunately, most were closed for entry due to COVID protocols. But there was an amazing toy train exhibit that was so cool. I didn’t realize there were so many different sizes of model trains. I had some growing up that I think were size N but since I wasn’t paying attention then I can’t remember.
There were many hours of driving and a time zone crossing to get to Moab, Utah, where I have been the past two days. I decided to be here for longer than average in order to truly enjoy the local national parks: Arches and Canyonlands. They do not disappoint. I took the advice of TripAdvisor and the Washington Post and got the Arches at 7am so that I could make sure to get into parking lots and do some hikes before the massive heat of the day (it was already 84 degrees at that time). I spent 4.5 hours weaving around small roads, doing some small hikes around the arches, and taking in all the red rocks. It is amazing how geology unfolds in such a way to make these beautiful structures. I really wanted to go to a place called the Fiery Furnace, where there are shafts of red rocks that you climb through, but it required a permit or a guide and I had neither. Instead, I got to check out various other arches (Window, Delicate, Pine Tree, Landscape, etc. – they are all named). It was great.
I took a break mid-day to eat some food and get some air conditioning back in my hotel, then went to Canyonlands for an afternoon drive. A ranger told me there are fewer trails so I just drove from view point to view point. The park itself is mostly on top of the ridge line that overlooks the canyons so you can get an incredible view for miles around. There were remnants of earlier mining operations (like for uranium – who knew?) and some old roads that you can mountain bike on or take a 4×4 all terrain vehicle. Crazy stuff. I just enjoyed looking over the erosion caused by rivers over the eons. It was beautiful.
My next stop is Denver for a few days which should be full of seeing friends and family.
San Diego is cool, both in the sense that fun things happen there and that it has a lower temperature than Phoenix, AZ. BY A LOT. As I drove towards the city the temperature slowly dropped from the 115 degree heat of AZ to a nice 75 degrees in CA. I got out of the car and didn’t immediately get hit by a wave of intensity. It was much nicer.
I spent a day and a half in the city enjoying my time with a close friend who was an amazing tour guide. He showed me around a lot and made sure I had good food to eat and good experiences to write about. The day I arrived we caught up and immediately headed to Sunset Cliffs where, surprise surprise, you can watch the sunset from some cliffs. It was quite an amazing vista and so close to where he lives! We got some tasty Mexican food and sat on a bench overlooking the ocean. He lamented the fact that it wasn’t perfectly cloudless, so I wasn’t going to see the real sunset. I thought it was pretty f-ing spectacular anyway.
The next day we headed out to Point Loma, an awesome spot overlooking where Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo landed on his expedition to the western coastline of the New World. Of course, the area was not without inhabitants, but he is credited with the first European ‘discovery’ of the land. His name is everywhere – monuments, parks, schools, storefronts. Geeze. It was pretty cool to see the National Monument (free because of my National Parks pass!) and we hiked up a bit to the lighthouse and around to where there used to be a fort during World War II. Some folks go whale watching from the area there but we couldn’t see any. There was a great view of the naval station there and we saw a Destroyer be slowly moved from one side to the other. It was pretty cool.
After that we went to Balboa Park, an awesome central public space in San Diego filled with museums, walkways, trails, etc. Many things were not open but since we weren’t trying to be there for that long anyway it was fun to check out the cactus garden, rose garden, mini-train, and the cool architecture.
The last thing we did that day was a sunset kayaking trip on the coastline. There are seven caves in La Jolla that people have explored/used over the years and we went on a group tour of them. Mostly the trip involved some intense arm workout in a life jacket with some funny jokes from our tour guide. We did get to go into and out of one of the caves and learned that a second one was used for smuggling of various things during and after prohibition. It was a fun thing to do for someone passing through.
As always, it was a great time to explore and I’m glad I went. I think I’ll probably come back again as it’s a city I haven’t been to very much and it’s near LA, where I want to return to in the future.
One last thing: this morning I drove on the Pacific Coastal Highway on my way to San Francisco (where I am now). There were some wonderful vistas to behold but my favorite part was the Elephant Seal Rookery. There were about 25 of them molting and keeping warm together but also fighting and making the strangest noises. It was great.
Arizona is HOT. I mean, many people know that already, but I have experienced it firsthand with crazy temperatures. I’m not one to balk when it gets to the upper 80s; I can handle that. But once it gets to three digits I start being really concerned. So, when in my car driving from Tuscon to Phoenix it not only was over 100, but over 110… my lord. “It’s a dry heat” everyone says, but it’s still super duper Martian hot. I was not so into it. I still did stuff – but it was hard.
So, what did I do? Well, in Tucson, AZ I spent the morning at the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum, which had some amazing examples of the flora and fauna of the area. The saguaro (pronounced suh-wah-row) cacti are beautiful and big and some birds even cut out the insides of them to make nests. It was very cool. There was a part that had reptiles and larger mammals as well as some arachnids. I learned that while the black widow spider is venomous, it’s very chill and won’t bite you unless you really interrupt it’s actions. Good to know.
In the early afternoon I went to the Pima Air and Space Museum. I was lucky to get there when I did (1:30pm) because they closed at 3pm due to extreme temperatures (no kidding). Most of the museum is outside (SO many planes – 787, 747, fighter jets, helicopters, etc). It was truly amazing. I was surprised they had an ANA 787 – I wonder why that company gave it up. I would think they would want to be making money with it. I also got to touch some of these, which was pretty cool.
Then yesterday was my craziest day so far. I met up with a friend in the morning in Phoenix and we decided quickly to escape the 115 degree temperature (not a typo) for Sedona, a place that is usually 20 degrees cooler (read: still 95 degrees). We did a hike to the ‘birthing cave’, which when you look from it to the outside at a certain angles looks a bit what you might imagine when you were pushed out of the uterus…. It was a pretty good hike and we were happy to have some clouds blocking the sky to provide shade.
Those clouds came back with a vengeance later, though. We drove through a monsoon! Who knew Arizona (let alone any of the USA) had monsoons. We had to detour around our original route because a car crashed (and there is only ONE road from Sedona to Phoenix) and hit the monsoon head on. Luckily, my friend was driving (he is local) and so I could relax and watch the droplets on the car/ground. It was really cool to watch the lightning, too. I will always remember my Dad calling it a ‘sound and light show.’
But that wasn’t the craziest aspect of the evening. During the monsoon, a localized pressure system pushed over some power poles near my friend’s house. So, there was no power all night into this morning (and possibly still out now). Basically, everything in his fridge was ruined and we had to sleep somewhere else. Luckily, his parents put us up (which was great) and I shmoozed with them in the morning over breakfast waffles. It was great.
Then, the final thing before coming to San Diego (where the weather changed from 115 to 85 in maybe 45 minutes) was the Pacific Southwest Railway Museum. I saw a bunch of old and somewhat working trains along with a cool exhibit on train signals. I got to go into a model post office train as well as the head of the company’s train (so that we could see how we could live). It was pretty cool.
Great experiences were had and wondering items seen over the past two days. And my purchased paintings didn’t meant in the car! Yippe!
I have certainly been on the move a lot over the past few days. Texas is BIG so I’ve been doing a lot of driving each day, but I’ve been trying to do it in evening hours so I can be at my destination for the morning activities. It’s working out well so far (as I sit in Deming, NM in order to be that much closer to Tucson, AZ).
As mentioned in the previous post I spent most of July 5 driving to Houston. What is there to do in Houston, you ask? Why, the Space Center, of course! I spent about 4.5 hours there, exploring the various exhibits, looking at the artifacts of the space program (including a used Gemini capsule, the 747 that was used to test and transport space shuttles, and one of only two used Falcon Heavy rockets on display in the world). There were so many people there – I’m glad I got there on the earlier side. Oh, I also got to touch a 3.8 billion year old moon rock! So cool. My one criticism: they contrasted Earth and Mars in one exhibit by saying Earth does not have an elliptical orbit and Mars does, when in fact both do.
I spent the rest of the day drivintg to San Antonio. On route, I got a chance to experience Buc-ee’s in all it’s glory. I still am hesitant to agree that it is the #1 convenience store in the country because it’s more like a mini-Walmart with way better food.
In San Antonio I spent two hours visiting the Alamo, which I learned is spanish for Cottonwood. There was a lot of great historical explanations of what happened between Spain, Mexico, and the early United States. I reminisced about watching the Davy Crockett VHS my Dad bought us years prior. I took an audio tour that was totally worth the $9 price tag. And I was happy to have brought my umbrella because it rained on and off. Then I drove off towards New Mexico!
Today I visited both Carlsbad Caverns and White Sands National Parks. They are both amazing. Despite not having a reservation I was still able to buy a ticket at Carlsbad Caverns for a 9:30am entry. I went down the elevator and explored the ‘Big Room.’ It is MASSIVE. So many awesome stalactites, stalagmites, and other speleothems (look it up yourself). Totally worth the $0 I paid because my friends gave me their leftover National Park Pass (totally worth it and I would have paid had I not gotten one for free).
White Sands was also really cool. It is what is says it is: WHITE sand. Interestingly, since it’s made of gypsum, it doesn’t retain heat like the quartz of regular beach sand does. So, when I asked what type of footware to use of the ranger there, she told me barefoot is her preferred method! I spent some time walking around in the 90+ degree heat (drinking plenty of water) and then sledded down the sides of some of the dunes. It would have been more fun had I had more skill. But it was truly a beautiful marvel we have in this country.
I am writing this from hot, hot Texas! I spent about five hours driving today to get through the various swamps of Lousiana. Man, so much water everywhere and so many bridges. I-10 is basically a straight line from New Orleans into Texas. Take it some time.
Anyway, New Orleans was awesome! I spent so much time walking around and checking out stores, listening to random music on the sidewalks, and eating such good food. It was a bit rainy at times – apparently June/July are the worst weather months to visit because of that. But, it was still fun. Shoutout to all those who sent recommendations. Here is a little summary of what I did:
The flat tire has been dealt with and it didn’t even inconvenience me too much. I had AAA tow me to a local Toyota dealership and had a wonderful conversation with the driver and technician. I even convinced the technician to get a book called Grit to learn a bit more about persistence and growth mindset (he wants to finish his college degree at some point).
So they dropped me and my car off at the dealership and they fixed the issue. Unfortunately, a nail had somehow cut into the side of the tire so I had to replace it entirely, but according to them the rest of the wheels are in tip top shape and don’t need to be replaced. I am going to trust their judgement and move on with my day.
I did take Lyft to/from the Delta Flight Museum, though, which was quite fun. It was smaller than I had hoped, but I guess having a museum in an old hangar at an airport means it can’t be too big. They had some old planes to view, including an example crop duster which was the foundation of Delta before it was Delta back in the early 1900s. I got a chance to walk through a 767 and a 747 on site and viewed some of the tiny spaces they put flight attendants and pilots for rest on long flights.
While I was gone I got a call from a representative at the dealership who offered to buy my car as some sort of program. I thought about it but decided not to go through with it because I NEED THE CAR FOR THE ROAD TRIP. I guess that’s a bit on the nose, but it seems like a valid point.
Anyway, I look forward to a couple of fun days in New Orleans, despite some rain that will be making it a bit wet.
It had to happen sometime and I’m glad it happened when I was at an airport hotel in Atlanta: I got a flat tire. I’m not sure exactly what happened, but the hub cap is missing and the tire pressure light turned on while i was driving here yesterday. I didn’t know what it was until I looked it up this morning and lo and behold – flat. So, I await my AAA tow to the local Toyota dealership to fix it. It’s only annoying insomuch as I wanted to be at the Delta Flight Museum by now and I will have less time to spend there.
Yesterday was pretty spectacular, though. Instead of leaving Asheville to explore some local parks or go for a hike, I hung out and explored the city with a friend who happened to be in town! We went to the Western North Carolina Farmer’s Market, got a recommendation to have a drink at the Grove Park Inn, and then ate some lunch by the French Broad River at a cool taco spot. It was an awesome exploration day! Then, I took leave of her and drove to Atlanta. I will say that the drive was an interesting urban contrast to my drive through West Virginia. There was just so much more stuff – not necessarily tall buildings, but enough strip malls along the way to make me not feel like I was in the middle of nowhere, which has been helpful in this flat tire experience.
Anyway, I hope to get this sorted out so I can continue my visit to Atlanta because I need to leave tonight to head down to New Orleans!
Oh, and I will also be trying to share my odometer with you on a regular basis so you can see how far I’ve driven! I started the road trip with something like 116,000 miles on the car.