Thursday, April 5, 2012

The end of the trail

If you follow my mom's blog, Autumn of Ginny, you might be familiar with the Knackmuhs challenge to visit all 50 states and my parents' recent trip to West Virginia in pursuit of this noble goal. Well, I too, went to West Virginia last week on my trip east. 

One of the nicer state welcome signs
I had a great visit at West Virginia University in Morgantown even though it was spring break and thus resembled a ghost town more than a bustling college town. I rode my bike on one of the many "rail trails", bike paths that were once rail tracks, checked out the bike and running stores and met with Professor Dave Smaldone. Just about 12 miles out of town is Cooper's Rock State Forest, a popular hiking, climbing and mountain biking destination.
View from the lookout at Cooper's Rock State Forest
From Morgantown it was on to New Jersey where I experienced one of the great disappointments of the trip. No welcome sign! The only sign I saw as I entered from Pennsylvania on Route 78 was "Delaware River". Needless to say I was outraged! But then again maybe you are NOT welcome in New Jersey and that is why there is no welcome sign. I tried to make up for it by stopping at a rest stop but no sign there either. In desperation, I snapped this photo as I rolled up to a toll on the NJ Turnpike.

Cue the Sopranos theme song
After a day relaxing and repacking at home I was on my way to Catonsville, MD to visit the Leon-Liermans. 

If they had bubble machines back then I'm sure Norman Rockwell would have painted this scene.
Trent and I went for a great run, somehow stretching a 5 mile jog around the neighborhood into a 70 minute odyssey through the nearby trails. Holly is a master chef and cooked some spicy peanut Thai noodles for dinner. Tre, even though he was under the weather, brought out his "A" game to entertain his house guest. After visiting the Leon-Lierman household I was eager to get to my new house at Cape Hatteras. I was the first of my roommates to arrive so I had my choice of bedrooms. I picked the one that faces the back woods so I would have a view out the rear window of course! So far all I've seen is these friendly bunny rabbits.

 Now that I've got a window again I'll try to stay true to my roots and blog about the interesting things I see from that vantage point. However, I hope to not be stuck inside this summer as I often was during the past year so I'll also move beyond my regular programming to include other adventures. It's going to be a good summer!

Sunday, April 1, 2012

The final stats are in

I made it to Cape Hatteras today. Stay tuned for details and some highlights from the last days of my trip. For now, here are the final stats:

14 days
5,007 miles
19 states
12 national parks
11 patches
2 oceans
1 driver

And here's the first of many lighthouse photos.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Once in a lifetime...

Let's see we've got a few days to catch up on here so let's jump right in...On Monday I made a tactical strike into Indiana to visit IU since I've applied to a PhD program there. On my way back to Kentucky to continue my sightseeing I passed through the town of French Lick, hometown of Boston Celtics legend, Larry Bird. Now you know I've never had anything good to say about Boston sports so this one is for you my Boston friends! Don't expect this to ever, ever happen again!

If you need a frame of reference check out this clip from the video NBA Superstars that I grew up watching over and over.

On Tuesday I was back in Kentucky and took the Jim Beam tour. I thought the most interesting part (besides the tasting at the end) was the trees on the property.

If you look closely you'll see they are black. It's from a fungus that tends to grow when fermentation is going on nearby, something about alcohol vapor helping it grow. Black trees like these would often give away the location of stills to Revenue Agents during Prohibition. Speaking of trees, can anyone identify the ones in the photo below? I've seen them all over the Southeast from Mississippi to West Virginia.

Ok that's all for now. Visiting West Virginia University tomorrow then on to Jersey!

Sunday, March 25, 2012

A matter of life and death

Today was another full day to say the least. I visited spots where some famous Americans were born, lived, and died. In the morning I visited the Lorraine Motel in Memphis where Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated.

He was staying in room 306 and was shot on the balcony just outside the front door where the wreath is hanging. It was quite an experience to see the spot I had first read about as a third-grader working on my famous Americans project. From there I went across town to 1408 Rayner Street, one time hideout of infamous bank robber and kidnapper George "Machine Gun" Kelly.

He was arrested here on September 26, 1933 and just 17 days later on October 12, 1933 he arrived at the Federal Penitentiary in Leavenworth, KS to begin serving a life sentence. That's right, in just over two weeks he was arrested, tried, convicted, sentenced, and incarcerated! He would die at Leavenworth (after a 17 year "vacation" to Alcatraz) on his 59th birthday. While this house is where Kelly left the free world for good, my next stop was where "The King" entered the world.

The birthplace of Elvis Aaron Presley in Tupelo, MS. He only lived in this house until he was three years old but lived in Tupelo until age 13. It was an interesting place and they do a good job telling the story of his childhood and the way it influenced his music and character throughout his life.

Finally, no cross country trip could be complete without a Lewis & Clark site. Just before sunset I made it up the Natchez Trace to the place where Meriweather Lewis died and was buried. Most sources say he was on the way from New Orleans to Washington D.C. to publish his journals. Most historians also call his death a suicide but some say it was murder. In any case, there is a nice memorial to remember him and some new exhibits are being installed.

I finished the day by driving into Kentucky, my last of the lower 48 to visit! I just need to go to Hawaii and then I'll have visited them all!

Saturday, March 24, 2012


Yesterday started in Albuquerque, NM with a pleasant surprise: hot air balloons, just like in tourism advertisements.

I took that as a good omen as I set out to achieve something akin to a childhood dream or one might even call it a pilgrimage. My first destination of the day was Fort Sumner and the grave of William H. Bonney. I traveled not on horseback with a six shooter but in the Jersey Cruiser with my Kindle playing the audio book To Hell on a Fast Horse: Billy the Kid, Pat Garrett, and the Epic Chase to Justice in the Old West by Mark Lee Gardner. The book opens with these lines:

You can feel the ghosts as you speed down the long, lonely roads of eastern New Mexico. The land is little changed, except for endless strands of wire fence and an occasional traffic sign. Out in the distance, they are there: Billy the Kid and the Regulators, Charlie Bowdre, Tom Folliard, and Pat Garrett. The days may be gone when blood flowed freely along the Pecos and Rio Bonito, but the music of the fandango, and Billy’s dancing, and the lovers’ kisses – all difficult to conjure – are still there. They are in the wind, the moonlight, in the cacophony of coyotes, and in the silence before the first rays of sunlight spill over the horizon.

After about 3 hours at the end of a two lane road cutting between inconspicuous farms and ranches you finally come to it. 

I was pleased to learn and to see that the legend and the Hollywood ending are (somewhat) true. Do you know the meaning of the word pals? Young Guns: 

Today was also a pilgrimage of sorts. I passed through Fort Smith, AR which is also featured in quite a few Hollywood movies, notably the 2010 re-make of True Grit. But the thing I wanted to see was the wayside sign pictured below for the simple reason that it has a QR code on it (bottom right) that links to an orientation video about the park. I wrote about this in my thesis as a way parks can improve non-personal interpretive services where staffing is low and/or operating hours are limited and cell phone reception is good. So, there it is! Another dream fulfilled.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Instructions to start the day

I stayed at the KOA campground in Flagstaff last night, suffering through a cold night before getting to enjoy a hot shower to start the day. I did not expect to find this sign in the shower. Is that a problem here? Is this a running gag at KOA campgrounds? Perhaps it's real message is to not pee in the shower and by using this message it highlights how disgusting it is to use the shower as a toilet (it's all pipes!) Or maybe being a social media society they figure it's funny enough to get that KOA logo going viral.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Fail to plan, plan to fail

When you fail to plan, you plan to fail. This is especially true when traveling during the "off-season". While the lack of crowds means you don't have to worry about making reservations, getting stuck in traffic or waiting in line there are also reduced operating hours for many attractions and roads, parks and campgrounds can be closed. One could safely assume that after the adventures my mom and I had in Italy these lessons would be well known by now but you know what happens when you assume...

First, the road to Bodie State Historical Site was closed. This was no surprise though as that tends to happen after snowfalls so I had planned for this contingency and continued on to Devil's Postpile National Monument as an alternative stop on the scenic byway that is route 395.

This I did not anticipate. No matter though, the main activity for the day (besides driving and looking for Bigfoot at Mono Lake, more on that later) was visiting Manzanar National Historic Site. Manzanar, known as a War Relocation Center is where more than 10,000 Japanese Americans were imprisoned during World War II. It is a place that encourages you to think and remember that this happened. In light of recent NYPD surveillance of Muslim Americans I think it is an especially important place to see and talk about.

If I were a photographer or artist I'd call this "Shadow of Racism". It's the small cemetery at Manzanar. The monument's inscription says "Soul Consoling Tower".
Now, because the other sites were closed I thought I'd have a great chance at making it to Death Valley and setting up camp before night fall...and I did. I made it to Stovepipe Wells and the campground was full! You see California is a crazy place. In one day's drive you go to places that are closed because of winter weather conditions and places that are packed with crowds because of the 80 degree days of cloudless sunshine. March is not the off-season at Death Valley. So I decided to continue on to Furnace Creek, which was, of course, closed.

Apparently this campground was closed last month
Luckily, there are two other campgrounds within a mile so I finally settled in for the night and enjoyed the night sky on a moonless night! Today the lessons of yesterday were not well remembered. I had a great morning in Death Valley, enjoyed the drive to Arizona and then tried to squeeze in some national park action before sundown. Unfortunately, when Walnut Canyon says they are open 9am - 5pm they mean it. It's not just the Visitor's Center that closes but the whole park!

The road into Walnut Canyon National Monument
Tonight I am at a KOA campground off the highway in Flagstaff carefully planning every detail of tomorrow's adventure. God willing in less than 48 hours I will be able to update you on how it all went. Finally, I promised nothing more than a photo of the day during this trip so don't be surprised if this is the last time I ramble at length. Thanks for reading! See you further on up the road!