Grand Teton

Arrived at Grand Teton National Park safely.  Attempted to upload the “Denver: Week Two” blog entry last night, but had wifi issues at my  hotel in the middle of Wyoming.  Go figure!  Will upload that post and the next one at some point in the next few days.  (Assuming I can find reliable wifi.  Otherwise, it may be posted in a week!) Until then, here’s a sneak peak:

Denver: Week One

Day Fifteen:  We walked to the South Pearl Farmer’s Market in the morning.  The Colorado markets are exponentially better than any markets we have in NY.  We walked, we sampled, we bought, we left.  We even purchased a cup of lemonade from young entrepreneurs on the edge of the market.

Afterwards, we went to brunch/lunch on Broadway at Moxie.  Quite delicious.  (Fair warning: There will be many good photos in this post, and likely the next post, too.)  After Jackie’s phone had an unfortunate swim and a new home in a bag of rice, we got ice cream at Sweet Action.  As always, such a nice treat.

We relaxed for a bit, then walked to get sandwiches to bring to Red Rocks.  Janice and I tailgated in the comfort of the air conditioned car.

For those who have never been to Denver, my best travel advice is to find a concert at Red Rocks Ampitheater and build a long weekend around the show.  It is most deserving of all of its accolades and any pictures simply do not do the venue any justice.  The acoustics alone are worth the trip!  Also, there isn’t a bad seat in the house.  

Janice and I saw the band Shovels & Rope open up for the Avett Brothers.  Both bands played sets that felt at home in Colorado.

Day Sixteen:  With Janice only having a few days in Colorado, we wanted to try to visit as many places on her wish list as possible.  We drove up to Boulder to have brunch with Jackie’s friend Hannah.  Snooze is by far my most favorite breakfast place in the entire world!  (Jealous much, Andrew?)  After breakfast, we wandered around Boulder for an hour or so.  When we headed back, I began the process of furniture building.  After all, I have to earn my keep.

After some sweat equity, we ordered sushi for take out, and perhaps got some ice cream to take in, as well.  After dinner, we ventured over to IKEA to get some additional storage solutions for Jackie’s home.  Any guesses as to what I did when we got back to her place?  (Furniture tally: II)

Day Seventeen:  Unfortunately, storms kept us from hiking in Rocky Mountain National Park.  Instead, we were able to have breakfast with Ali, then made our way up to the Butterfly Pavilion.  Janice was quite nervous about holding Rosie the tarantula, but got a pep talk from a three year old boy.  Despite the humid environment, we stayed over an hour in the butterfly habitat and snapped photos.

We then drove to Ft. Collins to visit some breweries.  I’m so glad that we stopped by New Belgium, as they have completely redesigned the entire front area and built a new part to the tasting room since I last visited two years ago.  The employee at the bar was also a guide who gave me a tour about five years ago.  We chatted for a minute, talked about the new Asheville brewery that we had just toured, and wished each other well.  The next stop was the Odell tour that I had booked months ago.  I was pleased to learn that they have become an employee owned brewery, too.  After our small sample, we headed for a happy hour mini-dinner at Ophelia’s near Coors Field in Denver.  As having a “gastrobrothel” label, the decor matches the colored past of this building.  The food was quite delicious.  There may have been a return visit to Sweet Action on the way home.  When we pulled up, the meter still had time.  It was meant to be.

Day Eighteen:  We had a much quieter day.  I walked to get coffee, and made some morning phone calls.  For lunch, we walked to Kaos pizza before Jackie and Janice had nail appointments.  (A drive to Cabella’s twenty miles north was my alternate afternoon activity.)  We met up with Kelsey for dinner and then stopped at High Point Creamery.  (Bananas & Honey ice cream!)

Day Nineteen:  Janice and I got her bags in order.  We had breakfast with Jackie at City O City, then made our way to DIA.  We checked her in, and hung out in the airport together for an hour or so, before I waved farewell to my excellent travel partner.

When I got back to Jackie’s, I rested. (After two and a half weeks of non-stop travel, I was exhausted!)  In the afternoon, her good friend from Wyoming paid a visit and helped with tasks beyond my current comfort level.  (Read: electrical wiring) Lady, his dog, kept us company.

Day Twenty:  The majority of the day was a perfect lazy day!  At night, we met up with Carrie and Kaye for dinner at a restaurant called Annette.  It is found in the Stanley Marketplace located on the site of the old Stapleton airport that existed as the main airport before DIA took that spot.  The building is quite interesting and has many unique shops and restaurants.  As always, I love spending time with Carrie and Kaye.

Day Twenty-One:  Jackie and I walked the mile to Einstein’s Bagels before I got ready to go on an adventure for the day.  I drove to Golden and placed some cards in the library.  Afterwards, I enjoyed watching the kayakers and tubers navigate the rapids in the river.  (Some didn’t do so well.)  I then drove to Red Rocks to meet up with Lauren and her family.  It is always so much fun to randomly see friends for a quick visit as our paths may cross on our separate adventures.  (Am I correct Leslie, Laurie, Rose, Theresa, and Anne Marie?)

On my way back, I stopped at Stranahan’s to sample a Snowflake edition whiskey.  These batches are only released once or twice a year, and people literally camp out to buy the two bottles that you are allowed to purchase.  As I’m in NY, paying for a sample was a much better ordeal for me than attempting a journey just for whiskey.  Later on, Jackie and I went to Finley’s for salmon fish & chips and Italian sausage mac & cheese.  Our evening concluded with a Target run for a bookshelf. (Furniture tally: IV, when you include the crib from a few days  earlier.)

Day Twenty-Two:  Uncle Geoff and Aunt Paula drove down this morning to join us for breakfast.  Afterwards, we explored the farmer’s market.  Paula and I each filled our $10 bag of produce.  When we got back, Geoff, Paula, and I caught up some more over another cup of coffee.  On the walk back, we admired the various houses along the streets.  (A separate blog entry will follow in the next days as I document other awesome homes in the coming days.)  It is always a special treat to spend time with them when I visit.  We even got to text with other family members who  are having a reunion in South Carolina.  (Hello, again!)

I am now writing this blog entry at Jackie’s.  My near future will hopefully include a haircut, a nap, some leftovers, and some random adventures.  Until next time…

Final Thoughts:  Traveling is a catalyst for personal growth and learning.  

Janice clearly became more comfortable with camping and road tripping on our way out here.  I am so proud of her for taking that risk!

For me, traveling has given me the perspective of how insignificant I am in the grand scheme of the planet.  Finding the time and financial resources to visit and explore will always be a top priority for me in my life.  These trips are not vacations in the traditional sense.  They are journeys that help shape who I am.  For those who have never been away from home for more than a week and have never bounced around from place to place, I simply encourage you to give it a try.  Your whole perspective on your world and your place in it will likely never be the same.

New Mexico and a quick return to Texas…

Day Twelve:  The campground must have been the home to local workers as numerous trucks began driving right past our campsite beginning around 2:30 in the morning and continued for the entire morning.  As I was awake, I decided to do some star gazing outside of the tent.  Sadly, the moon was bright enough to interfere with any great potential for star filled skies.  During my tour days, I can remember seeing the night sky when there was a new moon.  At any rate, the sky had more stars than what would be at home. 

When I got back to the tent, I decided that making some quick edits to the last blog post would be wise since we were on the campgrounds wifi.  That’s when I was under the impression that the post had been lost.  I spent two hours rewriting the post only to find out it was still there.  There are worse things to worry about, though.  As I obnoxiously say to some of my friends, that’s a first world problem. By the time I finished, it was time to get ready for the day.  I met a new friend who was near the campground showers, which were only fifty feet from our campsite.  He was kind enough to pose for a photo. 

We drove a little over an hour southbound back into Texas to visit Guadalupe Mountains National Park.  (Another new NP for me.)  After filling our water bottles and getting a map at the visitor’s center, we began our 5+ mile hike to Devil’s Hall.  The hike was a basic out and back trek.  The first part of the hike was on a traditional trail which gained some elevation.  The second part of the hike had us walking through a rocky wash and scrambling over rocks and boulders.   Luckily, I had two hiking poles.  We were both able to use one to help us remain steady.  At the end of the way in, we approached a natural staircase which led to the trail’s namesake.  We snapped several photos, ate a snack, and turned around to hike back down.

After the hike, we watched a short slide show about the park and ate lunch in the car.  We then drove about 45 minutes north towards Carlsbad Caverns National Park.  (Yet another new National Park for me!) 


(As you can see, we have been having fun with the time lapse feature on the iPhone.

When we arrived at Carlsbad Caverns, we showed our Park pass to get tickets for the self guided tour.   I wasn’t exactly sure how different the cave would be compared to Mammoth Caves.  Although there were some similarities, Carlsbad Caverns was much grander and jaw-dropping.  The beginning part of the hike was walking past the amphitheater where we planned on watching the bat flight in a few hours.  From there, we could see the natural opening to the cave.  Birds were flying all around and diving into the cave around this point.  Despite some very close calls, no cave swallows managed to successfully target us with their droppings.  The cave immediately required us to descend into it using the very many switchbacks.  The railings proved useful, as many parts were slippery.  Honestly, the cave seemed to never end as we made our way towards the 750 foot mark that we would eventually reach.  The photos below simply do not do any real justice to the magnificence of the caverns.  At some points, the size of the open space was equivalent to several Madison Square Gardens combined!  (No joke!)  Overall, it took us nearly two hours to hike to bottom and complete the mile loop around the Big Room portion of the cave.

By the time we reached the end, we had passed many people who were hiking back out.  They were clearly having a hard time breathing and functioning.  Therefore, we decided that waiting the 45 minutes for the elevator ride back to the top was the wisest course of action.  (Note:  the elevator was installed in the 1930’s and takes 58 seconds to return to the top.

Back in my car, we prepared our dinner.  I’m getting much better at making “car guacamole” with success, after having practiced the skill at Red Rocks two years ago.  The trick is to cut everything but the avocados earlier and keep the parts in separate bags.

Our National Park day concluded with us listening to a ranger speak about the Brazilian Freetailed bats who reside in the cave for several months of the year.  He spoke until the bats emerged in the hundreds of thousands.  There are no photos of the actual bat flight, as the electronics can have a negative effect on the bats.  (An armed police officer is there to make sure everyone complies.  Presumably, one will get shot if you dare to snap a photo.)

Day Thirteen
:  We woke up and broke down camp before making our way towards White Sands National Monument.  This won out over passing through Roswell, NM.  I’m so glad it did!  The hour or two we spent there was fascinating.  We drove along roads that were covered by the white sand, which is actually finely eroded gypsum.  We climbed the dunes and saw incredible views.  Janice met a spider friend who wanted to hang out in her shadow, while I met a lizard friend who was showing off his highly evolved sense of camouflage.

From there, we drove towards Santa Fe.  After a quick turnaround at the hotel, we went into town to explore and have dinner.

Day Fourteen
:  I made a few phone calls in the morning, then we headed back to town to explore some of the shops that were closed the night before.  (For those who go to Santa Fe, be sure to check out the Design Store.  It was my favorite several years ago, and still is today.) After getting a cup of coffee, we drove towards Taos.

Ever since I began researching alternative houses several years ago, I have been very aware of Earthships.  Eventually, I could see myself building one of these sustainable and eco-friendly homes. If you are not aware of these homes and how they are built, I highly recommend doing so!  We were able to tour the visitor center, which is a fully functioning Earthship.

We then crossed over an amazing gorge and had lunch in Taos, before driving the final leg towards Denver.  The trip had us driving through a rough storm that claimed many cars in the ditches.  Hopefully nobody got hurt.  We arrived safely in Denver and had dinner with Jackie.

Final Thoughts:  “Friends are the family you choose.”  The trip out west with Janice has been just great.  I am beyond excited to help Jackie in the next two weeks get her home prepared for her baby to arrive.  Life is about the people you care about.

Making our way westward…

Blogger’s Note: WordPress can be very fickle. As I was trying to make some minor changes to the post that I spent an hour and a half writing yesterday morning, the app kept crashing on me. Sadly, my entire post got deleted and can not be recovered. So instead of heading back to bed in the tent, I’ve decided to use this time at 3:43 in the morning to reconstruct the post that has vanished into oblivion.

Now it’s clear that the post wasn’t deleted, but somehow vanished for some time.  Two hours later, and I have rewritten the blog post from memory.  Should be interesting to see how much stayed the same and what changed!
Day Seven: We woke up and began making our way westward again. On my various road trips, Memphis is a city that I have always just passed through and never stopped at for an extended period of time. When I was planning this trip, a priority was to stay here.

We stopped at a BBQ joint for lunch. Fried pickles, hush puppies, and some pulled pork rounded out the meal. (Dinner was not needed later.)

We arrived in downtown Memphis and wandered about. The bars on Beale street had blues music pouring out of them, just as Nashville had country music. We opted to listen to a band playing in a park at the edge of all the bars. Memphis certainly had a grittier and more real feel than Nashville. (Neither was my scene.

After Beale Street, we stopped in the Gibson guitar factory to look at the guitars in the shop, before walking down towards the Mississippi River. As we returned to the car, we had fun playing “Walking in Memphis” on our phones.  
Day Eight: When I planned the trip, the National Civil Rights museum was the main reason to stay overnight in Memphis. I knew that I had wanted to spend a good amount of time here without feeling rushed. The museum is housed primarily in the converted Lorraine Motel where Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was killed in 1968 the day after giving his “Mountaintop” speech. The museum tells the story of Africans and African-Americans over the course of the history of the United States. The museum was one of the best narrative museums as the story unfolded with an excellent point of view coupled with artifacts that no text book could ever recreate. (More on this later.)

After the museum, we began making our way into Arkansas. We were originally planning on camping that night in Crater of Diamonds State Park, but the forecast showed severe thunderstorms in the area. As my father was struck by lightning as a teenager, I know not to mess around with Mother Nature. This change in plans allowed us to stop in Hot Springs National Park, giving Janice a bonus Park on her trip.

Hot Springs National Park has many features to it. Most visitors, including us, spend their time exploring the historical part of the part that preserves the bath houses and spas that were wildly popular in the early 1900’s. After spending a few hours walking around the Park and the town, we made our way to our hotel.
Day Nine: Our morning was a relaxing one that also involved getting laundry done. We then drove the hour or so towards Crater of Diamonds State Park.

With this being my third visit to the park, I’m getting better at the process of diamond hunting! The rains the night before created a muddy mess of the diamond field. There were parts that were like quick sand and it didn’t take long for us to get completely messy.
For those who are not familiar with the diamond hunting process, here is what our three or so hours in the field looked like:

-We filled a bucket of dirt into a ten gallon bucket, which we then lugged towards the wet-sifting station.
-I did the initial sort using the screen boxes with various sized openings.
-I used the finishing saruca to circulate and sort the rocks and pebbles by density.
-Janice then meticulously sifted through that material looking for diamonds. (Spoiler: We didn’t find one!)
-At the end of the day, we cleaned our gear and had an expert look through our finds. We collected jasper, calcite, quartz, and other various types of rocks and minerals.
Much like fishing, digging for diamonds is about the process, not the product. However, some people do get lucky. The woman who helped sorted our findings was the one who classified the 7+ karat brown diamond found in the park a few months ago.
We decided to skip camping here altogether as more storms were forecasted for the overnight hours again. We did make use of our campground to clean up so we didn’t have to ride the two hours to Mount Pleasant, Texas completely covered in mud.
Along the way, we stopped in Texarkana for tacos. Honestly, these were some of the best tacos that I have ever had.
Day Ten: After our Texas waffles, we continued along the road towards Waco, where Janice would get to visit the highlight of her road trip. Waco is home to Magnolia and the Silos, which are owned by the stars of HGTV’s “Fixer Upper.” I have only seen the show a few times, but was familiar enough with the show to know what was going on. I figured that it would be busy, but it was a complete mob scene. They have created some business here!
As Janice shopped, I spent my time strategically hiding some of my tiny cards. I figured that fans of the show may be more inclined to like tiny houses than the average person. (Janice was convinced that I would be arrested by the Waco Police who were making their rounds.
After shopping, we waited on line for cupcakes and baked goods from the recently opened bakery on site. Rumor had it that the bakery was amazing. It was. (I had a Peach Pie cupcake and Janice had the Lemon Lavendar cupcake. We may have also picked up some cookies for the road.)
We had lunch at one of the food trucks that are parked on the site. In fact, our food truck pick was actually a tiny house! We ordered crepes from them and were able to eat on the porch of the tiny house. The employees were all either Baylor students or high school students. When I mentioned my tiny house plans, a high schooler working there had shared her dream of building one, too. I shared a card with her. (Hello if you are reading this post!
We then made our way towards Austin. Our hotel was in the northern part of the city and was located within an outdoor mall area. The hotel had a center courtyard that created an oasis to hang out in. The whole place had a modern, but retro vibe. Overall, very cool. We swam for a bit before getting ready to head into the city.
As it was the 4th of July, I was very concerned about parking. I read that upwards of 100,000 people go to the fireworks concert that the city presents. As we pulled into town, we found free street parking with no issues. In fact, the city was empty! Perhaps the 100 degree temperatures kept some away until the concert would happen. We saw the Texas Statehouse, completed some liquid learning at the Library, had dinner, watched the largest colony of urban bats in America emerge for their nightly insect feast, listened to the symphony, and viewed the fireworks show with throngs of people. It was just the right amount of time to get a feel of Austin.
Day Eleven: After breakfast, I spent the morning writing the now lost blog entry that this one is replacing. We then went food shopping for our last camping stop.
Our day consisted mostly of driving. Eight hours on the road may seem like torture for some, but I honestly love these drives. The landscape changes right before your eyes, you can have good conversations with people, music keeps you company, audio books make you feel productive, and maps will never be the same when you remember what an area actually looks like.
When we arrived, we set up camp and prepared guacamole and turkey sandwiches. As we were driving all day, I knew actual cooking would be annoying.
Final Thoughts: The National Civil Rights Museum is a lesson in empathy. When I planned the visit, I was well versed in many of the basics of the Civil Rights movement, despite not having been born yet. One of my college professors who was quite influential to me recounted his involvement and frightening tales during his visits to the South. For many years as an ELA teacher, I would play the final speech that Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. gave in its entirety to my sixth grade students. When I entered the first room of the museum, I was reading one of the displays when a gentleman came up to me to let me know how I could access some on the stories on YouTube. As we were chatting, our conversation became more in depth. Before long, I was having a conversation about the current state of our country with a stranger. Although we both danced around specifics and avoided divulging our own political leanings, it was clear that we were on similar pages. What struck me at the moment, and in greater depth later on, was the realization that our conversation would have likely been extremely different on this very spot fifty years ago. Something tells me that Crayton, a sixtyish year old black man, and I, a thirty-six year old white man would not have been so open to discuss the challenges we are facing in such a civil and respectful manner. The museum reminded me that the events highlinghted there are not far from our current time, and many of the struggles are still there. My perspective as a white person will never grasp the importance of the Civil Rights movement as someone like Crayton who was alive during this time. Despite all of this, we were able to share ideas for six or seven minutes in the middle of a museum. Given more time, I suspect that we could have shared more wishes for hope for the future.  
Traveling has afforded me the ability to learn from others and force me out of my comfort zone. A museum like the one I visited, along with the interaction with Crayton will stay with me forever. Reflecting on the experience that day, it confirms my belief that dialogue is important. If I can speak with a stranger about racism, terrible things within American history, and oppressive forces, why shouldn’t this be happening more with those in my life?
The museum is preparing for the 50th anniversary of the death of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. next year. As countless more people visit this museum from now until then, I hope that they are as equally moved by what was presented.
As I was leaving, the last mural on the wall was the quote attributed to Gandhi and summed up what I was feeling.  It’s also my guiding mantra.
Be the change you want to see in the world.

Making our way westward…

Day Seven:  We headed west towards Memphis.  Having only passed the area on previous cross country treks, Memphis was a priority in terms of planning.  Janice and I had some BBQ for lunch, then headed to wander around Beale Street.  (We had some fun playing “Walking in Memphis” while wandering around.) There were many bars that had blues music pouring out, just as Nashville had country.  We listened to a band that was playing in a park.  Overall, Memphis felt a bit grittier and real.  (Still not my scene, though.) We stopped in the Gibson factory, then walked down by the Missippi River for a stroll in the heat, before heading to the hotel to call it a night.

Day Eight:  The National Civil Rights Museum was the main reason I wanted to stay overnight in Memphis.  The museum was developed around telling the story of Africans and African-Americans from the founding of our nation through today.  The museum is located at the Lorraine Motel where Dr. Martin Luther, Jr. was killed in 1968 the day following his “Mountaintop” speech.  

We spent several hours here.  As museums go, this was one of the best organized and crafted museums I have ever visited.  The story that unfolded, along with the historical perspective not offered in textbooks, was powerful.  More about this later.

After the museum visit, we should have made our way to Crater of Diamond State Park.  Unfortunately, they were forecasting severe storms for the area overnight.  We decided not to risk it, so we booked a hotel room in Hot Springs, which meant Janice got a bonus National Park added to her trip.

Hot Springs NP is a unique park as it is located right in the midst of a town.  Much of the park that people visit is a historical park preserving the hot baths and spas that were in their peak in the early 1900’s.  Afterwards, we wandered around the shops in town and ate at a pizza place with the slowest service ever.

Day Nine:  We had a relaxing morning that involved getting laundry done.  Afterwards, we drove the 1.25 hours to Crater of Diamonds State Park in Arkansas.

After the storms had passed, the fields were a muddy mess. 

We used our rented gear to dig up a bucket of dirt and lugged it over to the wet station.  This is what the next few hours consisted of:

-I did the first clean using the screen boxes and finishing saruca at the giant water trough. 

-Janice would then meticulously sort through the cleaned material looking for diamonds.  (Spoiler: We didn’t find any.)

-Repeat the process many times over.

After our fun, we cleaned up and had a worker sort through our finds.  We found jasper, calcite, quartz, and other rocks and minerals.  As you can see from the photos posted, people truly do stumble upon diamonds here.  The girl helping us confirmed the 7+ carat diamond found here a few months back.

With additional storms forecasted that night, we opted to skip this campground altogether and drove two hours to Mount Pleasant, Texas. Before arriving, we stopped for tacos in Texarkana on the road that divides Arkansas and Texas.  They were honestly some of the best tacos I have ever had!

Day Ten:  After a Texas waffle, we made our way towards Waco, where Janice would get to visit the Silos and Magnolia that she knows from the HGTV show “Fixer Upper.”  I was expecting it to be busy, but it was more crowded than I could ever have imagined.  I spent some time strategically hiding some of my tiny cards while Janice shopped.  (She was convinced I was going to be arrested by the Waco Police who were ever present.

Rumor had it that the cupcakes and baked goods at the recently opened bakery were delicious.  (They were.  I had the Peach Pie cupcake and a Janice had the Lemon Lavendar cupcake.  We still have cookies to try today as we drive towards New Mexico.

We both ate at one of the food trucks that surrounded the grass field on the site.  The truck that we got crepes from was actually a tiny house!  The students who worked there were either Baylor or high school students.  As I mentioned my tiny house aspirations, a high school student shared her dream of living in a tiny house, too.  I shared one of my cards with her.  (Hello if you are reading this!).  We naturally ate our meal on the porch of this tiny house.

We got coffee (from a shipping container coffee shop) and headed towards Austin.  Our hotel is located in the midst of a shopping mall, but you wouldn’t know it by the oasis created in its center courtyard.  The whole place has a  vibe.  We took a dip in the pool before heading to downtown Austin.

I was very concerned about parking as everything I read about the 4th of July in Austin screamed crowds.  We pulled in and found free street parking with ease.  We then wandered the empty and quiet streets.  (The 100 degree temperature may have contributed to this atmosphere.)  We saw the Statehouse, grabbed “liquid learning” at the Library, ate dinner, watched the largest urban bat colony leave home from under a bridge to search for dinner, listened to the symphony with tens of thousands of other people, and finished out with fireworks.  A quick visit to Austin was just right.

Final Thoughts:  Those who know me well know that I can carry the weight of the world on my shoulders.  The visit to the National Rights Museum was very moving.  As someone who will never know racism or discrimination from the perspective of someone who is black, the museum is a living example of empathy in action.  Discussions about race, racism, discrimination, intuitional oppression, harassment, profiling, and many other heavy topics are not something that come up in everyday casual conversations.  Some of you may be thinking what the hell am I even doing writing about this here.  The museum was a reminder that we as a free nation have the privilege to freely discuss tough ideas.  While in the museum, a gentleman who was about my parents’ age named Crayton struck up a conversation with me about the exhibits in the museum.  The conversation then shifted towards the world we live in today.  Despite dancing around some of the points we were trying to make without fully saying our political leanings, we both agreed that these are tough times.  Overall, these five or six minutes were peaceful and productive.  What struck me was the fact that a sixty year old black man discussing racism with a thirty six year old white man in Memphis was probably a very different situation fifty years ago.  If strangers can discuss tough topics with civility and empathy, why can’t we all?  When I was leaving the museum, the final mural on the wall summed up the morning and is my guiding mantra in life… 

On the road again…

Several months ago, I decided that another road trip would be a great use of my time away from school.  The winter and spring months were used to fill in the two weeks I would take to get out to Denver.  Trips like these on the horizon can get you through the monotony of certain days.  

Today begins day seven of the trip, and I haven’t posted once.  Figured I should start at some point.  Here’s where we’ve been so far…

Day One:  After a marathon day of cleaning and packing, I made my way to Janice’s so she could join me on this adventure.  We drove to Long Beach Island, New Jersey to visit with dear friends who just welcomed twin boys into their family several weeks ago.  I’m always impressed by those who can juggle life and manage to take care of babies, especially when you consider a three year old and two dogs are part of the family, too.  (There are times I can barely take care of myself!)  We enjoyed catching up and just hanging out.  It was the perfect way to start out the trip.

After dinner, we made our way to Atlantic City to spend the night.

Day Two:  We made our way towards the Washington, DC area early in the morning.  Having been to the Air & Space Museum out by Dulles, I knew Janice would enjoy the space artifacts.  A quick picnic lunch on the curb outside the museum, and we were ready for a short visit wandering around the massive building.

Once we departed, our final destination for the day was only a short distance away.  Shenandoah National Park’s Skyline Drive is simply beautiful.  One day I will hopefully return to see the park in greater depth, as the turn outs were our level of commitment that afternoon.

 When I first asked Janice if she wanted to join me on the trip out to Denver, I made it clear that camping would be a part of the trip.  As her camping experience is not quite developed, I wasn’t sure if it would be the tipping point to say no.  Several days later, Janice said she’d be up for the adventure.

We set up camp and cooked dinner.

Day Three:  The sounds of the birds in the morning at this campground is what led me to book the exact spot Debra and I camped in three years ago.  While Janice slept, I made coffee, listened to the birds, and made eye contact with the many deer who passed by the campsite.

After breaking down camp, we drove out of the park and made our way south towards Asheville, North Carolina.  The campground was located at the top of a mountain, which required driving up a steep unpaved road.  I have absolutely no idea how the massive RV’s make this trip!  After setting up camp, we drove into the city to explore and grab dinner.  Asheville has a very young and creative vibe.

Day Four:  We ventured out early to see the River Arts District before our tour of New Belgium.  I am continually amazed by creative people who manage to either make or supplement an income by selling their creations for others to enjoy.  One day I hope to do the same.

A tour of New Belgium was the driving force behind visiting Asheville.  Besides making some really unique and delicious beer, I am impressed by the company’s roots, its stewardship of the environment, and its business practices.  If you did not know, they became 100% employee owned in 2012 after there was speculation that the current owner would sell to a mega-corporation.  Every person seems so thrilled and excited to be working for New Belgium.  The beer tastes even better as a result.  The tour and the new brewery were impressive.

After the tour, we visited Wicked Weed’s Funkatorium to taste a sour beer.  Afterwards, we strolled around Asheville some more and grabbed a bite to eat.  (We may have picked up some take-out dessert, too.) Our evening consisted of laundry and waiting to watch the sunset from the campground.

Day Five:  After breaking down camp, we returned to Pennycup Coffee for some breakfast.  Locally roasted coffee always tastes better!  Janice and I then drove into Great Smoky Mountain NP to head towards the Clingman’s Dome observation tower.  We first stopped at a visitor center that had a farming museum, before driving to Clingman’s Dome.  I’m By the end of the day, my Fitbit says I climbed 51 flights of stairs.  That sums up the paved trail on the way to the top.

After leaving GSMNP, we listened to the audio tape of Wonder for a few hours.  During this time, I added a new state to my “States Visited” collection.  Kentucky was beautiful, especially the countryside as we took back roads for a great deal of the time heading towards Mammoth Caves NP.  (A new National Park for me, too!)  When we arrived in the park, we saw a sign that said “Road ends in water.”  As we turned the bend, the sign was accurate.  There was a small three car river ferry waiting to carry us across.  Janice and I both were beyond intrigued!  We then set up camp, cooked dinner, then called it a night.

Day Six:  We went underground today!  Our morning consisted of hiking four miles for four hours underground in interconnected caves.  Having been to many national parks, this was certainly one of the most unique experiences I have yet to have in a park.  Our guide was very knowledgeable.  I’ll let the pictures speak for themselves.

When we finally resurfaced, we made the decision to end our camping trip short as there were forecasted thunderstorms for several hours overnight and in the morning.  We cooked lunch, packed our gear, and drove towards Nashville to stay indoors.  After getting ready, we wandered around the streets of Nashville for a bit.  We grabbed some dinner, saw some love music, got coffee, then called it a night.  Truth be told, Nashville is not my favorite of places.  This was my third quick visit here, and the endless parade of party-goers is simply too much for me.

Final Thoughts:  I am glad I’m on the road again.  The sense of freedom and uncertainty has a calming effect on me.  I look forward to the next few weeks.