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!

Monday, March 19, 2012


It took a few hours of jackassing things around (notably bikes and surfboard) but the Jersey Cruiser was pointed towards Jersey by 11 am today. We should start a pool as to how many times I'll have to stop to readjust bikes and the surfboard. So far it's been once.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Don't let it end like this. Tell them I said something.

"Don't let it end like this. Tell them I said something." These were supposedly the last words of famed Mexican Revolution General Pancho Villa. As tonight is my last in San Francisco (I won't say ever because my mom always says never say never and I assume the same applies to ever) I was hoping to write a blog entry that would sum up my experience here, reflect on some of the important milestones I've passed and maybe even impart some wisdom from my time as a Californian, dude. However, I was so busy wrapping up loose ends at work, attending and presenting at the NAI Region 9 Workshop in Yosemite this weekend and trying to pack up all my stuff that I just haven't had the time for such reflection. So this is how the last Rear Window entry from San Francisco ends, not with anything profound but just a couple of random memories that came to mind as I was packing and visiting with friends today. In no particular order, here are just a few of my favorite memories.

-The excitement of moving to San Francisco and getting an apartment with Sarah Kaufman and Nate Rogers.
-The Giants winning the World Series and meeting Tim Lincecum the following week. By the way, Drew and I carried the orange lights onto Alcatraz that lit up the lighthouse during the Series.
-Seeing Barry Bonds break the home run record at AT&T Park with Adam.
-Getting my first public speaking experiences at Alcatraz.
-Delivering programs with Drew, especially on my last day.
-Hearing Cheriena sing House of the Rising Sun at Carmen's.
-Hiking Half Dome with Angie.
-Best roommates Zack, Allie and Brendan.
-Crab fishing with Tara.
-Trail running in the Presidio.
-Moon rises and sunsets at Alcatraz.
-And finally, since I will be heading to Reno tomorrow on my trip east, here is a short video highlight from my 2010 visit there when I met the world famous Reno Stephanie. 

Well, wow, I guess that was more than a few but thank you everyone for all the great times! I am looking forward to  the new adventures ahead. I will do my best to keep you all posted with a "photo of the day" as I make my trip east as Rear Window will become Rear View Window for the next two weeks.

P.S. This was the first Rear Window post that had nothing to do with looking out the window. I did have a lot of other great ideas that I never got around to writing up but I'll save them for another time.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

A plan of action

Well, about six weeks ago I claimed to haver resumed blogging but, oh my goodness, I didn't even write one blog entry in all of February! I have a really good excuse though...I was busy. This time not with school work but with planning the next phase of my life. After weeks of exploring different options, gathering information and agonizing over decisions, I've got a plan of action. It looks something like this:

Step 1. Quit your job.
Step 2. Drive across the country.
Step 3. Start new job.
Step 4. Repeat steps 1-3.

Some of you may recognize this as a similar plan to the one carried out in 2006. This time, sadly, I don't know when or if I'll ever return to live in San Francisco. I will, however, fulfilll my dream to be a National Park Service ranger by spending the summer at Cape Hatteras National Seashore. It will also give me an opportunity to achieve another dream I've had since moving to San Francisco: wearing shorts in the summer. I think this is the last time I can remember wearing shorts!

Moving to California...September 2003. Note the bike-laden Sentra.
I've applied to some Ph.D. programs and will likely apply to some winter seasonal park ranger jobs as well so I don't know where I'll be in six months but I'm looking forward to the adventure! As I prepare to leave San Francisco I leave you with this parting shot taken as I put the finishing touches on my thesis.

The sun finally sets on my thesis

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Just when I thought I was out...

It’s the much anticipated return of Rear Window! During the last few months I was too busy finishing my master’s thesis to devote time to any creative outlets that involved more sitting in front of a computer. On Monday, the final, final draft was printed, bound, signed and placed in the library at Stephen F. Austin State University. Whew!

It was a longer journey than I had anticipated. When I started in the fall of 2008, I thought I’d finish in the spring of 2010. Things didn’t exactly work out that way so there I was in November of 2011 just weeks away from my last hurdle before graduating, the thesis defense. Or so I thought. It turns out that after your thesis defense there are always edits and rewrites that need to be done before the final printing. So the final work was not due until January 10th, then that was pushed back to January 23rd, then it was suggested that I submit an article to Legacy magazine based on my thesis research, then a journal article should be written, then consider going on for the Ph.D. I kept thinking I was done only to learn of a new project and/or more work. I felt a little like Michael Corleone in Godfather III.

All that work though brings a lot of good news and new opportunities so here’s the big announcement for 2012. I’m thinking really hard about going on for my Ph.D. I've pretty much decided I'll do it but whenever there is a big life decision to make one should always turn to the philosophical teachings of Seinfeld and/or The Simpsons. In the case of more graduate school, it’s The Simpsons who offer advice.

So while I take these insights under consideration I’ll be back here with my weekly observations of things I see out the window. I’ve got some backlogged stories to get started. See you next week!

Thursday, November 3, 2011

On Hiatus

Well, you might have noticed (or not) that I haven't posted anything in a about a month. I've been too busy working on my thesis to find time to do any more writing so my creative outlet has been moved down the priority list. I announce today that Rear Window is officially on hiatus until January 2012 when I will have time to share with you many more exciting stories witnessed from my window including the ghost ship, the woman who steals playground equipment and the "naked ladies" who died across the street. Don't worry it's all G rated. See you soon! Thanks for reading!

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Aboard Balclutha

As promised, I finally paid the Balclutha a visit last week. You may remember the Balclutha from such blog posts as  My ship has come in! and A pox on this house!? It was a brilliant sunny day when I arrived just in time for the 2:15 pm ranger tour. It was led by a volunteer who was very charming and knowledgeable. We heard all about the hardships of life aboard during the age of sail. Although I admit that while rocking gently at the pier on a warm sunny day made it a little more difficult to imagine. A group of 5th graders were participating in an overnight program that puts them to work so they can experience the life of a sailor firsthand. It seemed really neat! Here's a short photographic tour of my experience.

Land Ho!

At the beginning of a voyage sometimes they'd keep a pig in here...for awhile

Captain's quarters

Captain's bathroom

Sacks of grain...Balclutha's career included the second "gold rush"...grain.

As well as hauling Salmon from Alaska and canned fruit from the Cannery on Fisherman's Wharf

Two SF icons. There was no mention of stocking up on Ghirardelli chocolate before long voyages.

Two more SF icons

Commercial shipping: then and now

Ranger Al even made an appearance
If you get the chance definitely pay a visit to San Francisco Maritime National Historical Park because the other ships were also really interesting and the exhibits and tours are very well done!

Thursday, September 22, 2011

A pox on this house!?

Last week I reported that I would pay a visit to San Francisco Maritime National Historical Park to explore the historic ship Balclutha. Tours of the Balclutha are offered by your friendly National Park Service Rangers at 2:15 pm each day. Unfortunately, this was not a convenient time for me this week so the Balclutha will have to wait yet another week. So, I share with you a different story.

I got home from work a few weeks ago and I was delighted to see the stairwell light had been replaced. I could actually see the front door and get my key in without the usual routine of balancing my bike on my shoulder while feeling around for the door knob, cursing all the while. Unfortunately, in the morning I saw that there was some “collateral damage” to the light bulb replacement.

A nice new light fixture, but what's missing here? 
The barn swallows, the longest tenured residents of Stilwell Road were unceremoniously evicted with the one fell swoop of a heavy-handed government worker. But they didn’t merely discard the nest. They put it in the box the new light fixture had come in and left it on the landing…as a warning to other barn swallows? To give the kids downstairs an item for show & tell? To offer a sort of coffin for the unborn baby birds?

Nest with eggs inside the cardboard box
Most likely they set it down and forgot about it but that mistake could cost the rest of us. According to Webster’s, (Encyclopedia of Superstitions, that is) it is very bad mojo indeed to mess with a swallow nest. It is said to be good luck to see a swallow flying in the air and bad luck to hurt a swallow or damage its nest. Doing so can cause your cows to give bloody milk or cause your hens to lay no eggs. It is good luck if a swallow nests at your house because it protects everyone inside. However, it is bad luck if a swallow builds a nest at your house and then leaves it unexpectedly. This means the house will be destroyed by fire!

Now I don’t consider myself an especially superstitious person but in the last two weeks a swallow nest was damaged, I read a book called The Big Burn, about the largest wildfire in US history and noticed that this was the state of the smoke detectors in our house.

Sitting on the kitchen table with no batteries
So I took two very important steps to avert the curse. One, I put the swallow nest back in its place. Two, I put the smoke detectors back in theirs. Now, if I can just see one more swallow fly by my window this season it just might bring me some of that good luck back. Anybody know any other things you can put in your house for good luck?

That's better

Friday, September 16, 2011

My ship has come in!

On August 5th, during our adventures in Alaska, I saw the Celebrity Millenium cruise ship from the window of our hotel room in Seward, AK.

What I actually was photographing was the container ship beside it being loaded with coal. We learned later it carries 700 train cars worth! Nevertheless, I made a note in my journal of the cruise ship’s name and a mental note to be on the lookout for it coming to port in San Francisco.

As always, I’ve kept one eye out the window and casually noted the name of any cruise ships that entered the bay. None was the Millenium, in fact, none was even a Celebrity ship. Like the wife of a 19th century whaler, I started to wonder if my ship would ever come in. On Wednesday, the wait finally ended! I was lucky enough to be at the window when the Millenium finally cruised back into town.

A slow reaction time prevented a better photo so you'll have to take my word for it that it is the same ship. In any case, it appears the Millenium has finished the Alaska season as it is next heading to San Diego and then south through the Panama Canal to Miami for Caribbean tours all winter. This summer, it’s been a pretty a common occurrence to see tourists sail out the Golden Gate, up to Alaska and back. However, long before anyone made the journey for vacation, hundreds of men crammed onto Alaska-bound ships to make a living. One such ship was the flag ship of the San Francisco Maritime National Historical Park at Hyde Street Pier, the Balclutha.

This ship first entered San Francisco Bay in 1887 after a 140 day maiden voyage from Cardiff, Wales. They brought coal, unloaded it, loaded a cargo of wheat and went back ‘round the horn to Wales. One round trip per year. Later, she was purchased by the Alaska Packers Association and renamed the Star of Alaska. Up to 200 men would make the journey north to work the summer in a salmon cannery in Chignik Bay, Alaska.

By September the ship would be loaded with a cargo of canned salmon and the men would return to the San Francisco Bay with tall tales of the adventures they had. Someone should’ve made a TV show about it! The Star of Alaska made the trip every year until 1930 when they realized there were salmon right here in California. Actually, I don’t know why the ship went out of service then but it was eventually restored and the name was changed back to the Balclutha. I’ve gone past it several times a week for the majority of the 8 years I’ve lived in San Francisco but I’ve never been taken the tour. This week, I’ll finally do it and let you know what I find out!

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Rear Window premieres!...again

Alfred Hitchcock’s Rear Window premiered at the Rivoli Theatre in New York City on August 4, 1954. So, before August was out I held my own Rear Window screening party at the living room theater of Stilwell Road. The 1954 premiere was a benefit for the American-Korean Foundation, an aide organization formed at the end of the Korean War and was attended by more than 2,000 United Nations officials, entertainers and social leaders.

Grace Kelly at the premiere
The 2011 viewing was attended by more than 7 tree-hugging hippies, film buffs and park rangers and benefited no one in particular. The world premiere at the Rivoli Theatre was shown on an enormous slightly rounded screen that gave the audience the illusion of peripheral vision. The effect must have been especially effective for a movie filmed largely through the eyes of one character. We watched on a 24 inch Sanyo but had the benefit of something more rare and enjoyable than a large screen, Elana's Blackberry Cake, but I digress. The New York Times published mostly favorable reviews of Rear Window following the premiere.

They described Hitchcock as “the old thrill-billy” whose film is “morbidly entertaining” and exposes us to the “boorish but fascinating pastime of peeking into other people’s homes – a thing that New York apartment dwellers have a slight disposition to do.” Can anyone in NYC tell me if New Yorkers still have a disposition to do such a thing? 

Despite being listed #22 on IMDB’s top 250 movies of all time, today’s audience gave more of a mixed review. Some thought it was a little slow, especially by today’s standards, some enjoyed the building of the suspense and the girls all enjoyed discussing Grace Kelly’s dresses. One moviegoer expressed surprise…not by the ending of the movie but that he liked it at all. “I thought it was going to be another one of Eric’s weird movies but I was surprised. I actually liked it” said park ranger Matt Eng. So I’d say the first ever Rear Window viewing party was a smashing success. 

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Imitation is the Highest Form of Flattery

Our living room looks out towards Lobos Creek and the houses of the Richmond/Seacliff neighborhoods beyond. Most everyone knows Robin Williams is the most famous of Seacliff residents. Escape from Alcatraz Triathlon organizers even use his house as a reference point to explain the bike route. But there used to be an equally famous resident of the same neighborhood, Ansel Adams. I remember watching a documentary about him once that talked about how he lived out on the edge of town overlooking sand dunes and the ocean. So I decided to figure out exactly where his house was. It took only a quick google search to discover the house and a quick look out the living room window to discover I could see his house from my own! 

OK, so you have to know where to train your eagle eye but there it is.

Closer look
What's more is that young Ansel loved exploring some of the same areas I do. As a boy he spent hours collecting bugs along Lobos Creek and exploring the rocky coastline from Baker Beach to Land’s End. It was here that Adams first developed his love of nature. While he may lament the fact that today people are confined to the boardwalk trail along Lobos Creek (it is our drinking water after all), I’m sure he would be happy to know that his childhood playgrounds are protected as National Park lands included in the Golden Gate National Recreation Area. As such I too love exploring these lands with minimal change since Adams’ day. Exploring Land’s End was an almost daily post-work ritual when I first moved here. I even made my family climb along the rocky trail when they first came to visit.

Land's End

I don’t know if Ansel Adams ever made his family do the same but it’s possible since he lived in the house from the time he was an infant in 1903 until he was 60 years old in 1962. My apartment building was built in 1953 so I wonder if those early occupants knew they were looking out at Ansel Adams’ house.

This summer I have also enjoyed exploring and photographing some of the same national parks Adams famously photographed. And so to pay homage to my neighbor I’d like to try and play a little game called Adams or Knackmuhs? All you need to do is look at the photos below and decide which was taken by Ansel Adams and which was taken by Eric Knackmuhs...Keep in mind, I didn't say it'd be difficult.

1. Saguaro National Park

Photo A

Photo B

2. Nevada Highways

Photo A

Photo B

3. Mt. McKinley - Denali National Park

Photo A

Photo B

And of course,
4. Yosemite National Park.

Photo A

Photo B

Photo C

Photo D

Photo E

Photo F

Thanks for playing!