Happy Thanksgiving

Hey, Big Trip Friends!

We hope this finds you happy and safe during a long holiday weekend.  I'm writing because it's holiday decoration weekend for the McNulty clan.  I am not sure if we mentioned it in any Trip blogs, but we focused all of our souvenir shopping this summer on  collecting ornaments for an eventual Big Trip Christmas tree.  That tree went up today and I couldn't help but share.  It was quite a trip down memory lane for the family.

A pic is below of the tree - probably somewhat hard to make things out (although it's really high res...click on it and see if you can recognize any stops?), but there's a lifetime of memories that we were lucky enough to gather during 10 short weeks this year.  Lucky, lucky, lucky.

I hope that all is well with you and that the upcoming holiday month finds you with those you care about as much as is possible.  If all works out right, I'll put a blog post out there around year end showing off a Big Trip book.

Peace.

- Jim

Big Trip Tree!

The Final Post - Day 62 - Springfield, IL to Home

Henceforth I ask not good-fortune, I myself am good-fortune,
Henceforth I whimper no more, postpone no more, need nothing,
Done with indoor complaints, libraries, querulous criticisms,
Strong and content I travel the open road.
  - Walt Whitman, Song of the Open Road

This will be a long post.

We made it, and we did it.  Safe and without any major incidents, we traveled around the country for close to 10 weeks (62 days doesn't count our 5-ish day non-blogging travels in mid-June...).

Today we woke up in Springfield, Illinois in the Route 66 Hotel and Conference Center.  It is a much-renovated older place that is the first ever Holiday Inn on Route 66 plus many additions.  The place is FULL FULL FULL of stuff - memorabilia related to Route 66 and Middle-Americana. Decent hotel - not a knock out, but honestly we were a little nervous going in on what we would find.  Given that we came in late after the Drive In movie and then were up early to head home, it suited us fine.

Once on the road, we needed chow, so one final Big Trip stop at Charlie Parkers Diner. This was our last 'friendly tip' (thanks Midthuns!) and it was a good one, including being our final Diners, Drive Ins and Dives rated joint.  Packed to the gills with people on a Sunday morning, their motto is 'Eat it and Beat it' and they're not kidding.  Cheap prices, great food, huge quantities and they got you out in a hurry.  A single pancake is 16" wide.  Oy!  Nice job, Charlie Parkers!

And then a three hour drive home.  Happy.  Sad.  Reflective.  All of a sudden busy with things to do.  It will be a strange transition, but here we are.  It feels like the get-together we had before we left was a year ago. People from my workplace have retired, new employees have come aboard, friends have had babies, we have new neighbors.  It was a long vacation.

OK, here's the part of the blog post that will sound like an acceptance speech at the Academy Awards.  We would like to recognize and thank the following people:

- My employer, Oak Bank, and all of my associates that work there.  It's a special place that would say 'yes' to a 10-week vacation request and a special group that would support me for 10 weeks while I was gone.  Best job ever.
- Kim's employer, Adesys.  All that I said above goes for her as well.  We are amazingly fortunate.
- The family and friends that kept an eye on our home and stuff while we were gone.  It was a risk to tell the world that we were gone, but people are generally pretty cool.  Ha-ha to the negative nellies who commented on our news story and guaranteed that we would get our stuff stolen.  Special thanks to Grandma Marge & Grandpa Craig for weeding through all the mail and downed trees :-)
- Folks who we were able to meet up with (and regrets to those who's paths we couldn't cross) while we were on the road.  So great to see you all.  Friendly faces and home cooked food came to us just when we needed them. 
- New 'friends' who we met and followed virtually, who took/are taking similar or much longer trips than us.  There are travelling folks everywhere, most are much more adventurous than us and they form a fascinating fabric of people around the country.  
- Everyone who sent us tips and thoughts online - thank you!  We were sincerely overwhelmed.  We couldn't do half of what we wanted and could only try maybe 1% of the tips we got.  We had to thank folks so many times and not take their advice, simply due to time.  We heard and read everything that everyone sent to us.

And now, some facts and figures from the trip:

- We drove 15,528 miles.  Congrats to MK's friend Mallory who won the 'Guess the Mileage' contest - she was within 120 miles!  She won herself a Graceland Pink Cadillac snow globe for her prize!
- We went thru 711 gallons of gas and averaged 49.2 miles per hour.
- We stayed in hotels 62 nights.  The majority were in IHG (Holiday Inn and related) hotels.  They treated us right.  They have a very solid and VERY consistent breakfast at their hotels.  We don't ever want to see it again :-)
- We visited 27 states.
- We had UNBELIEVABLY good luck with the weather.  In almost ten weeks of travelling, we got rained on four days.  Four!  And two of those were in LA and San Diego where it basically never rains in July.  The other two days were Boston and Crater Lake National Park.                                   - We wanted to log one million steps on Kim's FitBit.  We only made it to 932,315.

And now the mushy stuff.  It's hard for me to get my hands around how well everything went and how we all got along.  During countless talks, Kim and I discussed how when really good planning meets really good luck you get, well, The Big Trip. No doubt we had our moments, but the smiles, laughs, amazing discussions and good times so far outweigh the tough times as to make them a footnote.  We wondered if we would feel closer as a family when we were done and we confirmed that we do, far past our expectations.  We wondered if we would have inside jokes and, man, did that work out well.  My leg is shaking, I have a question, I hate this elevator, goo-goo-poo-poo, wack-jack/wack-jack.  I guess you had to be there.  

The trip was educational well beyond what I thought, and I thought it would be pretty educational. Such a great opportunity to learn about this giant, diverse, fascinating, amazing, frustrating, flawed, limited and limitless country.  Hey, you know that line about history repeating itself?  It does.  I saw lessons from 600 years ago repeat again in the Revolutionary War,  The Civil War, the 60's and today on the news.  The trip also confirmed the Pollyanna in me.  People are, by and large, very good.  Don't let the few bad ones get you down.  Smile, ask questions.  Someone will be there to help. 

And then, in the end, I just completely love my family.  Maggie and MK are the niftiest little folks that I could imagine.  And my wife.  She is the best person I know and a rock that you could only dream of building a family around.  Such a complete treasure to spend so much time with them.  We will truly remember it forever.

If you get the chance, take a long trip.  If you can, take those that you care about with you.

Cheers, all.  Thanks for all the reading, keep in touch, peace.

- Jim

Home

Our last night's lodging.

We tagged a sign in the hotel, because we're rebels and we're dangerous!

Yup.

Holiday Inn pancake machine.  We will be OK if we never see one of these again :-)

The very last stop before home, breakfast at Charlie Parker's Cafe.

Riding off into the sunset.

Day 61 - Henderson, KY to Springfield, IL

Ah, Big Trip Karma.  It has visited on many occasions and Day 61 was another one of those days.  Our last full day of the Trip was surrounded by great folks and us being really lucky.

The last day was spent at Ellis Park, a horse racing track in Henderson, Kentucky.  For those keeping track at home, yes, that does make fast cars, alcohol and gambling all within a two day span.  Horse racing in Kentucky was one of those items that Kim and I have wanted to try once, and it was a great day.  We chose Ellis because of the location, but also the timing.  There is only one track open to live racing in Kentucky at any one time, so you have to plan accordingly.

When we arrived, we had absolutely no idea what we were doing, having never been to a track before.  Like we have so many time on the Trip, we went up to the friendliest looking stranger we could find, let them know what we are up to, and asked if they can help.  We found Courtney, a track employee, under a hospitality tent and she did her thing, telling us about the park, the horses, racing, betting, etc.  She was a COMPLETE sweetheart!  Courtney then told our Big Trip story to the track's General Manager, Mike, another great guy (and a Midwest transplant).  Mike took us under his wing for the day and showed us a fantastic time.  

We bet a few bucks on our first race and the girls won!  We bet a few other times and...well...it was exciting.  Neither Kim nor I are big gamblers, so after that we spent the day exploring and enjoying the hospitality.  Mike got us up to the sky box area so we could see some races from way up and we had a really nice lunch.  From there we went down to the track and watched a few more races.  Towards the end of our stay, Mike asked if we would like to go into the winners circle and have a picture taken with that race's winning horse and jockey.  You bet we took him up on that!  Pictures below.  The track pics, by the way, were taken by Kurtis Coady of Coady Photography.  Serious pro horse photographer and a great guy - printed us out some beautiful prints of his shots as we waited, and we were on our way.

THANK YOU to everyone at the track.  It was a really, really fun day and we appreciate your hospitality more than you know.  It was a fantastic way to close out our last day.

We were then in the car heading to Springfield, IL for our last hotel stay at the Route 66 Hotel.  We also just had time to get to the Route 66 Drive In Theater.  It's the first and oldest outdoor on old Route 66 - seemed fitting given the nature of the trip.  We saw 'Pixels' - it won't win any Oscars, but good summer fun.  More than seeing a movie, it gave us an excuse to all be squished together in the back of the car, eating popcorn and spending some nice slow time together on our last night.  

Lots of pics below.  More on the final hotel stay, our drive home and a trip recap in the final blog post coming soon.  

- Jim

Fast horses.  I dig photographic motion blur.

Good lookin' pony.

Future jockeys?

'Call to Post' and other trumpet fun.

Good looking fillies, right?

Photo courtesy Kurtis Coady of Coady Photography.  Us, with our host Mike and winning jockey Jesus Castanon.  He's a big deal, won the Preakness in 2011 and has won over 2,000 races!

Winner circle photos, including us sneaking in with the Owner's group and the horse.  Love the name...

Drive-in movies rule.


Day 60 - Mammoth Cave to Henderson, KY

This is a trip focusing on Americana, and what could be more American than fast cars and alcohol, right?  We hit 'em both as we spent the day winding our way around the back roads of Northern Kentucky.

First stop, the GM Assembly Plant in Bowling Green, better known as the home of the Chevrolet Corvette.  My earliest memory as a kid was helping my Dad set the timing in our '67 Corvette as we got ready to go drag racing, so the car and the brand is sort of genetically hard wired in me.  It was a great hour-ish tour around the plant, nice small group and lots of very up-close time right along the assembly line.  90+% of the folks were complete car nerds, so we stuck out a little from the crowd, but I don't think anyone could help but be impressed with this kind of facility.  Great compare/contrast with the Boeing Factory tour in Washington, too.  Cameras, phones or anything else electronic were strictly banned, however, so no pics from the inside :-(

BONUS - at the end of the tour, the guy driving the completed cars off the end of the assembly line asked MK if she wanted to start a car coming off the line for the very first time.  She stepped right up into the drivers seat and fired it up, making her the first person ever to start that particular car.  Got a little certificate and everything.  Very cool.  It's in the genes, man!  If the dude getting the red 2016 convertible with the five-spoke wheels is reading this, a freckled little kid from Stoughton started your car first.  We made a quick stop at the nearby Museum as well, checked out a few cars and hit the gift shop before heading out.

Stop #2 - Loretto, Kentucky and tour at the Makers Mark Distillery.  Lord knows that I don't need any encouragement when it comes to Bourbon consumption, but I got it anyways.  Nothing like a tour of a historic and charming facility to build some additional brand loyalty.

Like the GM plant, this tour was a little over an hour and took you from start to finish. This was about as low-tech as you could get, however.  It's a decent capacity distiller with about 250,000 barrels working, but there is a TON of hand work in their processes - 100+ year-old vats for fermenting, hand printed labels, hand-dipping for the signature wax capping, etc.  Super cool to see so many manual processes still in full swing in 2015.  Cool Chiluly installation in one of the aging rooms (he's a fan), nice tasting after the tour, super gift shop and Kim and I even got to hand-dip a few bottles that we took home with us.  And finally, the grounds and buildings could not have been more beautiful.  I don't have anything else on the Bourbon Trail to compare it to, but it was a great stop that I would recommend in a second.

We wound our way to Henderson where we are in for the night and where we will take in one more 'sin' before heading to our last night's stay.  Everywhere we look it is appearing more and more like home.

Have a good weekend.

- Jim

The signature red wax cap in process.  Every bottle done by hand.

The girls learning about distilling by the 100+ year-old vats.  I will be checking their room for stills...

Bourbon tasting?  Yes, please.  Mag and MK watched patiently.

Great details everywhere on the buildings and grounds.

Where Corvettes are born.

Where Corvettes are born.

Crossed flags and bowties everywhere.

Crossed flags and bowties everywhere.

Day 59 - Mammoth Cave NP

Today I'm tired.  I blame Perseid.  Meteor showers, at least for me, often end up being more build up than payoff.  When you are in a National Park, in the middle of nowhere, with a new Moon, no clouds, 70 degree temps and a meteor shower on deck, however, you forget about past disappointments and set the alarm clock for Midnight so you can lay out in the grass.  I did it by myself.  It was wonderful.  I was clocking one about every 50 seconds for close to an hour.  Good stuff, not soon to be forgotten.

I came back to sleep but we still got up early to be ready for an 8:30 cave tour.  We had two lined up total - the first one was the most classic at Mammoth Cave, the Historic Tour. We had done a couple of caves as a family and our discussions quickly lead to how all of them have been different.  Mammoth immediately lived up to its name.  It's huge.  Many stairs, many caverns, all ginormous.  Our guide was particularly fascinating - he was a 5th generation guide in the cave going all the way back to his great-great Grandfather who was a slave guide for the then-owner of the property.  His family had lived on property close to the caves for generations until the Feds took it for park land via eminent domain.  He had passion and smarts and seemed to love his job.  Cave trip #2 in the afternoon took us through more dramatic areas including the well known Frozen Niagara.

From an ooh and aah standpoint, we had been to caves with more dramatic formations.  This thing is just a beast, however - 400+ miles of caverns and more being discovered each year.  Impressive for it's pure size and ever-evolving nature.

We are staying on the grounds in a very quaint (read - old, small, sort of run down but cheap and convenient) cabin right by the park action, so we ate close by, did some more hiking and are going to head to bed early for another early rise tomorrow.  Just a couple more spots left to hit and all are 'All American'.  The finish line is just around the corner.  Tonight is our 60th night in a hotel. We are happy and still sincerely having a ton of fun, but we will be ready to be home.

And oh yeah - my pictures stink today.  I had planned on taking the photo cave tour where I could take my decent equipment down but that tour sold out on me.  No flash in near-dark conditions, so just a couple fairly not great shots below. 

- Jim

Looking up into the 'Curtain Room' section of the Frozen Niagara section of Mammoth Cave.  Some of our other cave experiences have been more intricate, ornate, colorful, etc., but non have been so huge.  Nothing in this picture to give scale, but the formations totaled 70 feet high.

'Frozen Niagara'.

'Frozen Niagara'

Day 58 - Nashville, TN to Mammoth Cave National Park

Maggie said 'y'all' recently.  Not in a copying our Southern hosts sort of way, but more like in an 'it slipped into a regular sentence' sort of way.  We have been down here for a while now, time to keep heading north...

We have been in a groove for close to a week where we do a long drive, get into a town, see some of it in the evening, see some more the next morning and then repeat that cycle again.  Today was the last of these sort of days, seeing some more of Nashville in the morning before we travel to our last National Park.

Kim and I were discussing how Nashville probably generated as many tips as any place from friendly folks following along.  Seems like this will have to be on our re-visit list when we have more time.  If you have time to see one major sight in Nashville, however, (especially on a trip focused on absorbing as much Americana as possible), it seemed to us that the Grand Ole Opry was the obvious stop.  

Timing and money didn't lend itself to an actual evening show, so we signed up for their Backstage Tour.  Between the four of us, we came in with a waaaaay below average knowledge of Country music, so it was much more 'educational' than us coming as fans.  There were many times when the tour guide and other folks on the tour were dropping names and exchanging knowing nods about people who were recognized on the walls and dressing rooms.  We just looked at each other, smiled and kept our mouths shut so no one would say 'You don't know who Trace Adkins is?!?!'.  We now know what 'THE CIRCLE' is, we have some idea of Roy Acuff's place in Country lore, and we know it's a big deal when you get asked to be a part of The Opry.  We actually didn't know that people got asked to be a part of the thing, or that there was a thing to be a part of!  Overall, we certainly have a better appreciation for another puzzle piece in the great jigsaw of American music and pop culture.  Cool tour. 

After the Opry, we had time for one more quick stop, and we wanted a treat, so we took a tip and swung by the Nashville Goo Goo Clusters.  I had heard of but never tried one of these candy deals.  Hey, it was really good.  Didn't blow my mind, but a nice way to try one more quick bite of Nashville.

Then, off to our last NP, Mammoth Cave.  It was about a 90 minute drive from Nashville.  A topic of discussion on the way there was how anything less than 2-3 hours is now not really a 'drive' to us.  We are hardened road warriors.

The cave tours are scheduled for tomorrow, but we did some nice hiking around the park after dinner.  It's a gem.  Rolling modest hills, leafy green oaks, fireflies and a few other summer bugs.  Yes, we are starting to get close to home.

- Jim

We're Country.  Who knew.

Backstage at The Opry.  This was the Marty Stuart dressing room.  I don't know who he is, but I liked his style.

This is a mural painted by Archie Campbell.  It's a beauty.  I didn't know who he was until they said he was on Hee Haw.  I know me some Hee Haw.  You met another and *pffft* you was gone...

On stage.  In a weird way the house reminded me a lot of Radio City.  Compare/contrast.

'The Circle'.  It's apparently a big deal.  It has it's own hashtag and Country singers get all teary when they get to sing on it.  I get it.  Cool.

Day 57 - Memphis to Nashville, TN

I really like Memphis.  It is nice and fun.

We hit Graceland early because, well, when you have Graceland on the agenda, you need to get on it.  Kim and I had done Graceland with some of the kin folk a while ago, but it was a first for the girls.  The house is the same but the tour seemed better - a little more organized, pretty 2015-tech with iPads that guided you (the iPad tour was voiced, of course, but none other than Uncle Jesse [Full House, not Duke Boys]) throughout a nice, complete tour.  It sounds cliche', but man, I can't ever get me enough Jungle Room.  Mission accomplished in that we had a great time, the tour was great and the girls get that he was kind of a big deal.  It's Elvis week, by the way.  38 years after his death, there are still countless fan clubs all over the world sending in huge gifts of remembrance.  They were displayed everywhere.  And note on the pictures - idiot me forgot a memory card for my camera so the Graceland pics are iPhone.  :-(

After Graceland we hit a Checkers for a cheap lunch and then hustled to a bucket list item for me, Sun Studio.  All Elvis is good Elvis to me, but I have had a soft spot for Blue Moon of Kentucky and the rest of his early Sun Sessions, plus of course loving the Man in Black as well.  THIS TOUR DID NOT DISAPPOINT!  The place just reeks of history and is so well done.  A great end-cap to a Trip that has had its fair share of American music history.  Super, super highly suggested if you get the chance.  And holy cow, our tour guide!  The talented and lovely Lahna Deering is right up there with the super geeky Mesa Verde archaeologist guy for most-awesome tour guide of the Trip.  And no offense to archaeologist guy, but Lahna was waaaaaaay better looking.  You're awesome, Lahna - great to see someone with such passion for what they do.  If you hit the Madison area, we'll get the word out.

We hit the road after Sun and took the relatively easy drive to Nashville.  And what do you do when you hit Nashville?  Well, if you don't have any clean clothes and your hotel doesn't have facilities, you hit a Laundromat.  Kudos to The Soap Opry Laundromat, nice place.  Yay to not having to do any more laundry on the road!

Our hotel is right downtown Nashville, we checked in, walked around a little (thngs were nice, safe and hopping), had a bite at the local Hard Rock and turned in for the night.  Some more Nashville tomorrow.  Have a good day, y'all

- Jim.

Elvis's grave.  It's Elvis week, commemorating the anniversary of his death, so tons of fans send or leave things everywhere.

Elvis's grave.  It's Elvis week, commemorating the anniversary of his death, so tons of fans send or leave things everywhere.

The pool room, Graceland.  MY EYES!

The Jungle Room.  Crappy iPhone picture...grrr - always carry a backup memory card :-(

How about you go fetch me a peanut butter and banana sammich.

The legendary Sun Studio.  Great tour!

Lahna the Sun Studio tour guide blinked.  It doesn't take away from her awesome TourGuideNess. 

Day 56 - New Orleans, LA to Memphis, TN

Today we took a hard left turn and started heading North (shudder).  Yup, our general direction from here on out is towards home, but still a bunch of nifty stops to be had along the way during our last week.

Although we had another 5+ hour drive today, it was smooth sailing all the way to Memphis and we pulled into town mid-afternoon.  

Memphis was one of those cities where the hotel was actually a 'stop' on the trip - we chose The Peabody downtown.  What a classic!  There's a long and interesting history behind the property and it stands the test of time as an old beauty.  If you aren't familiar already, the property has a decades-long tradition of having a group of ducks march from their rooftop home, ride down the elevator and waddle into a fountain in the lobby every morning.  They hang out in the fountain all day and then they then run the parade the other direction in the evening.  We were in the lobby at 5:00 to watch the evening performance.  You know, it's cool.  It's ducks and kids and pomp and ceremony.  One of those things that would be way more corny if it weren't so steeped in tradition.  And the hotel rides the duck wave through every inch of its brand.  Like, a gold duck seal keeps the end of the toilet paper roll fastened down for you. Quack.

We headed out for dinner and of course needed to try the Memphis barbecue scene.  Many choices, but after getting some local tips, we settled on Central BBQ.  We are no experts, but the McNulty family is in agreement that this was some damn fine food, perhaps the best of our trip.  Simple, delicious meats, sauces, sides.  Finished it up with a little peanut butter pie.  We rolled out with smiles on our faces.

The location of the restaurant was also perfect for us to quickly shift gears and visit the National Civil Rights Museum at the Lorraine Motel.  The museum was closed, apparently hosting an evening event, but there were still some great outside exhibits and information walking through the location's significance.  Similar to other sights we have seen on the Trip, you can read, watch video, see pictures, but when you actually stand and look at the spot where Dr, King was shot, and you see the window where the shot came from, it puts historical events into a realistic perspective that just changes how you view things.  Wish we could have seen more, but the walk and conversation on the way back to the hotel with the girls was a good one.

More Memphis and other Tennessee tomorrow. 

- Jim

The Peabody.  A classic.

The lobby fountain where the ducks hang.

There was a huge crowd close to the ducks, so we went up to watch from the balcony overlooking the lobby.  The young lady in her red boots was the honorary duckmaster.

The Lorraine Motel, home of the National Civil Rights Museum.

A wreath is placed on the spot where Dr. King was shot as he stood outside his room.  Cars and other hotel details are preserved as they were April 4, 1968.

Day 55 - Houston, TX to New Orleans, LA

If there was ever a whirlwind 'just get a flavor' of New Orleans visit, this was it!  Austin to New Orleans is a haul on a good day, and we hit a few traffic snarls on our way.  Still, we got there by mid-afternoon and were able to get checked into our place and hit the town. 

A little aside on our hotel - it was our first fairly negative stay.  We booked a place right in the French Quarter to get as much flavor as we could, paid up for a balcony with a view and...the place was being completely renovated.  All torn up, no balcony rooms available, workers everywhere including starting their work at 8:00 am.  I don't begrudge a hotel for upgrading, but they took our reservation for a room that they had to know wasn't going to be available and didn't mention any renovations when making the reservation.  Boo.  They gave us an adjustment on the rate and were friendly about it, but in the end it wasn't the money, it was the quality of stay.  Overall just a tiny hiccup, a true first world problem and actually amazing that we haven't had more issues to this point.  But still, pfft.

We walked Bourbon Street early in hopes of showing the girls the deal without getting them too much, um, adult exposure.  Pretty successful and just a few semi-awkward boobie-related novelties in the windows and gift shops.  After that stroll, we went up and down some of the more family friendly parts of the French Quarter - lots of cute shops.  One highlight for me was a little hole-in-the-wall photography store, A Gallery for Fine Photography. Walked in, first couple of pictures were pretty meh, walked around the corner to the second room and WOW!  Holy moly, filled with countless originals from some of the pioneers of photography.  If it's your deal, then go there.  It's the real thing.   

By the time we were done walking the French Quarter, it was dinner time.  We chose Nola, one of Emeril's joints.  Great stuff, classy place.  We skipped dessert, however, so we could head down to Cafe du Monde for some beignets and coffee.  Who knew deep fried chunks of dough covered in powdered sugar could be so magical.  

As we strolled back towards out hotel, we had to cross Bourbon Street again, and of course it was getting later.  We passed by one establishment where you could see a young man dancing for the patrons in that establishment.  MK declared that as soon as she sees a man dancing in his underwear, she knows it's time to go back to the hotel.  That's my girl.  I hope that philosophy sticks with her through college and beyond.

We're taking a sharp left turn and another long day due north tomorrow.  Less than a week left before we're home.

- Jim

Bourbon Street, NOLA.

Dinner time!

Cafe du Monde.

French Quarter.

BIG TRIP CONTEST! - Guess the Mileage

Hey, Kids!

We're truckin' thru Mississippi with less than a week before we get home.  I'm bored in the passenger seat, so it's contest time!

If you want to play the game, simply comment on this blog page or our Facebook page with what you guess the final total mileage will be that we travelled on The Big Trip when we pull in our driveway at home. It's Price is Right scoring - closest without going over.   There's a few places you can sort of get some info in the blog posts, but it'll pretty much be a guessing game. 

That's it. Whomever is closest will get the McNulty Family's lifelong admiration along with the admiration of our 1,300 other followers and, if we can get to it, maybe we'll send you a little something from our trip. 

Have fun, New Orleans blog update tonight. :-) 

- Jim

Day 54 - Austin to Houston, TX

Houston, we're not having any problems.  But we're still movin' pretty slow.  And that's OK.

We slept in a bit after a somewhat later bat-watching and ice cream night last night, but got on the road before check out and hit Houston mid-day.  We are staying at the Hotel Indigo at the Galleria.  The Galleria is a ginormous swank-ola mall right next door.  They have valet, limos hanging around and some really gussey'd up people shopping.  And a million other regular folks doing the weekend shopping deal.

As always, we had many choices.  Given the laid-back recharging Texas vibe (and the close by mall...) the girls had some retail therapy in their sights.  Not that I am not up to some shopping now and again, but I wasn't feeling as strong about it as the girls, so we decided to divide and conquer.

The girls did the mall thing.  They thoroughly checked out the Galleria, not looking for anything too specific, but found some great back-to-school needs (yes, we are climbing out of denial about having to soon be back in reality).

I had initial thoughts about hitting the signature Houston Space Center but after looking at timing and traffic, it looked like I would have pretty limited time, so I changed course and headed to the museum area near the University of St. Thomas.  The girls are champs with art, but I really love some time to myself in a gallery to recharge.  I found a complete score in this area, hitting the Menil Collection, Rothko Chapel and Houston Center for Photography.  I won't ramble on, suffice to say that in about 3 hours I saw some completely amazing, world-class and inspiring stuff.  Click on the blue word links above for more.  If you are an art lover and ever in Houston, Menil is a complete can't miss. 

I met up with the girls and we headed out to dinner.  Schedules didn't allow us to hit a good barbecue place in Austin yesterday and although common perceptions are that Houston is a distant 2nd place for BBQ, I did some digging and we hit upon Roegels Barbecue Company.  It's making some local waves recently and it hit the spot!  Nice smoke ring on the brisket, good ribs and some solid pulled pork for Kim.  The meat sweats kicked in, so Jim was happy.

Down for the night fairly early so we can hit the road tomorrow.  We will be bidding adieu to Texas and heading due east for some bayou fun.  Hope your weekend is going well!

- Jim

Don't get too used to Palm Trees, BigTripMobile...

The Houston Galleria mall has...an ice skating rink.  Of course it does.  In addition to a Cadillac and Tesla showroom, etc.

The girls found this book while shopping.  We've got our copyright attorneys working on a lawsuit ;-)

My Menil, Rothko and photographic stops were very no-picture oriented, which I am completely cool with. Great stops, tho, so I had to post something to jog my memory. 


Day 53 - Austin, TX

So...you know those times that you are on a two and a half month vacation, and you have to audition for a dance team but you're 1,200 miles from your dance studio, but you can submit a video audition, but you can't really dance well enough on hotel carpeting or in the parking lot to record your audition tape?  Yeah, I hate it when that happens.  So what's a kid supposed to do?  You use the power of the internet along with Big Trip Karma to find yourself a place to dance, that's what!  Bam, once again we got lucky.  

Last week we looked out on the schedule for a day that would have some free time. We hit on Austin as our first choice.  We then searched for a studio that looked like a winner, and our first choice was Dance Xplosion.  Kim sent an email, told them about the Trip and our situation and asked if they would have a studio to spare for an hour.  A little back and forth and we had ourselves a plan on our first try!  When we arrived, we met the husband-half of the studio owner duo, Adam Frishman.  SUPER nice guy, great staff on hand and a really nice space to let the girls do their thing.  They did, and on the way out, we had another great chat with folks in the studio, including some good tips for upcoming days and some fun comparing Wisconsin and Texas talk, y'all. We couldn't be more thankful for the help, Adam and Co.  If you ever need something dance related in Austin, look them up!

Back to the hotel late morning and there was another errand on the agenda - OIL CHANGE!  Yeah, we're at oil change #2 on the trip.  We found a really nice GM dealer near the hotel (thanks for the free oil changes, GM!) and they did the change plus a thorough once-over.  All appeared to be fine with the BigTripMobile , I was on my way.  The girls took the opportunity to hit the awesome pool one more time while I was out, so smiles all around when I returned.

In the afternoon, we decided to first hit the LBJ Library.  It was well reviewed and, honestly, air conditioned.  We weren't sure what to expect in a Presidential Library, but it was a really pleasant surprise.  Lots of history, memorabilia, personal connections and a great context to learn about Executive Branch and historical stuff.  And a bonus, in their 'other' exhibit area, they had a really nice Beatles exhibit.  Can't ever get me enough Fab Four. Great stop and the girls might have even enjoyed learning a thing or two.

We were then off to downtown Austin.  We parked in the famed 6th Street area.  We grabbed a bite in a newer gastropub sort of joint (good stuff) and then strolled 6th Street.  Pretty cool, but also pretty rough around the edges from a family-oriented standpoint.  And it was early.  I can only imagine how interesting it gets late and when SXSW is in town.

As the sun was getting lower, we went down by the river and staked a spot on the Congress Avenue Bridge in hopes of seeing the famous bats.  The normally trusty TripAdvisor app had been telling us that we might be in for a disappointingly lame showing of bats. Those people were wrong, wrong, wrong.  In a nutshell, the underside of this large, long bridge is the perfect habitat for an estimated 1.5 million bats.  And just before sunset, they all take off in flight, heading out for the night to go hunt for bugs.  It is absolutely unbelievable.  They start flying and before you know it, there is a stream of thousands and thousands of them flying right below you, heading off over the horizon in a non-stop stream of bats.  And it goes and goes and goes.  We stopped looking at our watch after more than 20 minutes of a non-stop bat parade.  If I would have had to guess, I would have said there had to be many millions - it was just one of those things that you have to see to grasp.  5 stars of fun.

We then drove Amy's Ice Creams (a local favorite) for a pre-bedtime snack and hit the hotel for the night.  Austin is one of those classic Big Trip cities where we missed 99.9% of what it had to offer, but we got a good taste for what makes it a great city.  Good job, ATX!

Off to another Texas star tomorrow.  Cheers!

- Jim

Bats.  Lots and lots of bats.  This is 1/250th of a second showing one very small portion of the stream of bats that took off for over 20 minutes straight.  The angle is looking down over the edge of the Congress Avenue Bridge in Austin, TX with the water below.  The colorful areas are people in kayaks watching from below.  They most assuredly are getting bat-shat upon.

Adam and Dance Xplosion.  THANK YOU for opening your doors to the girls.  

Beatles Exhibit fun at the LBJ Presidential Library.

LBJ's Oval Office recreated in the Library.  Very detail oriented, very cool.

The 'Library' part of the LBJ Library.  Tens of thousands of documents, pictures, notes and files, all open to the public.  Because it's ours.  Just like the National Parks.

Day 52 - Dallas to Austin, TX

Greetings from Austin!  How about you indulge me one more time by letting me say it's SUPER FRIGGIN' HOT in Texas.  OK, with that out of the way, I can predict that this will be a pretty brief blog post.  As I mentioned yesterday, the pace is tending towards laid back for much of our Texas time.  It's a combination of hot, some pretty long days over the last week and the accumulation of all the weeks on the road.

We tried to hit the food truck scene yesterday but we were too late, so we decided to get all packed up in the morning and head out towards Austin, but stop in downtown Dallas right at 11:00 am when all of the trucks arrived and opened up.  Good call.  There were about a dozen trucks lined up in the Klyde Warren Park area and we did what you do - a little of this, a little of that, a bunch of sharing of each others chow.  The Dead Elvis slider at The Butchers Son (PB, Nutella and Bacon on a brioche roll) was a particular favorite.  High five to food trucks.

It was an uneventful drive to Austin, arriving late afternoon.  As I mentioned earlier, we have been leaning towards some recharging time.  We had the option to head out and explore...however the hotel we are staying in is a nice new place with a great outdoor pool and they were having  a complimentary 'managers reception' with nice heavy appetizers and free booze.  Yeah, we stuck around, ate and drank for free and hit the pool.  Completely unadventurous and completely great.    

Probably some better reading tomorrow.  Thanks for reading the boring stuff!  Take care.

- Jim

Kids in a hotel pool.

Nifty food trucks in Big D.

The Dead Elvis slider.


Day 51 - Wichita Falls to Dallas, TX

You remember all that talk about dry heat last week?  Yeaaaaaah.  That's over with. 105° in Dallas, and lots of humidity.  We woke up those sweat glands and gave them a workout!  

We got into Dallas mid-day and made our way to our must-do spot - the JFK 6th Floor Museum.   It did not disappoint.  The museum involved one of those audio contraptions where you had a personalized iPod sort of deal with headphones that told you information as you moved around the 6th floor.  Sometimes those can be annoying to me, but other than it being crowded, this one hit the mark.  It did a great job of laying the groundwork for Kennedy's background, upbringing, election, the climate of the country, his Presidency and then a lot of detail of the day - the assassination, aftermath, legacy, all the conspiracy theories, etc.  Standing at the window on the 6th floor and watching traffic come around the Elm Street corner is a little eerie to say the least.  

After the museum tour, we went down into Dealey Plaza, I took a short video standing on the exact spot where Zapruder stood, took a group pic where the motorcade drove, stood on the grassy knoll, etc.  All pretty touristy, but certainly a good stop and fascinating that you are still able to be on the actual ground.  Highly recommended if you are there and interested.

After that stop, we tried to hit the food truck scene which is supposedly taking off in Dallas like so many places around the country.  They all closed up at 3:00, however - probably because in the afternoon it is as hot as the surface of the sun outside.  So we sweated a bunch and found an alternative dinner spot.  Seeing that Kim and I are in the running for Parents of the Year, we took the kids to a decidedly PG-13 place called Dicks Last Resort.  It's sort of along the lines of Ed Debevyks (the servers all have schtick grumpy attitudes) with a little bachelorette party attitude as well.  Everyone gets a customized paper hat that the server makes for you.  Given the PG-13 vibe (and seeing we were cool pretty cool with the attitude thing) our server made one up for MK explaining that she farts sprinkles and fairy dust and that Mag was still waiting for the boobie fairy to arrive.  Borderline inappropriate, but of course both observations that are also true.  The staff did a good job of making it fun but several notches below the really 'fun' hats that some of the all-adult tables had across the restaurant.  Overall a pretty good time for a backup choice :-)

We sweated another 10 lbs off walking back to the car and decided that the pool at the hotel was a really good idea.  We swam and chilled for the rest of the evening.  Certainly could have ventured out to see some more sights, but it looks like our Texas may continue to have a more laid back pace.  We're not quite headed back home but it's coming up soon, it's hot and we're a little tired.  Still great family time and moving forward, y'all.

More hot Texas fun tomorrow.

- Jim

The 6th Floor of the Texas Book Depository.  During the tour, you get to stand at the window next to the actual Oswald window.

The 'X' on the road is where the fatal shot hit President Kennedy.

The Grassy Knoll.

Day 50 - Roswell, NM to Wichita Falls, TX

Today's blogging is starting live from the passenger seat of the BigTripMobile, cruising at 75 MPH in North-Central Texas.  A welcome spot of solid 4G connectivity for US Cellular - yay!  And you know what - this state is FREAKIN' HUGE, which has lead to another long day (450+ miles) to get a decent ways into Texas.  We found a few fun things along the way to break up the miles. 

This morning we finished up the space-related activities by working our way through Roswell, New Mexico. The town has, of course, continued to capitalize on being the Alien Visitation Capital of the World, all stemming from a fun 1947 incident that went viral before viral was cool. Everything in town has little green men around it, including the McDonald's and the phone book.  Good job sticking with a theme for 70 years, Roswell!

The main stop before heading out of town was the International UFO Museum and Research Center. Located right on Main Street, this place is the definition of kitsch.  It's not huge, but it's pretty big, and it's quite a thing to take a sketchy 1947 UFO sighting and make a whole museum out of it.  And they did it well!  Killer gift shop, too.  Great stop, put a smile on our faces, and checked a box on a good piece of Americana. I believe.

Americana stops #2 and #3 were in Amarillo, Texas.  Lunch was the first Amarillo stop, and we chose the Big Texan Steak Ranch Truck Stop.  We found this place on a list of the best truck stops in America.  It has a definite tourist trap vibe, but solid cheap food and lot's of folks in cowboy hats saying 'y'all'.  They also had a classic food challenge consisting of a 72oz steak and a few sides - eat it in an hour and it's free.  They put people trying the challenge on a stage in the middle of the restaurant along with a big digital countdown clock so you can see them suffering.  We saw two people start the challenge towards the end of our meal, but we left well before they finished.  There are a couple of sensitive stomachs in the family; it's understandably not possible to enjoy eating around people attempting something that involves nearby up-chucking buckets.  Overall - very good stop!

We then moseyed a few miles down the road to the current location of The Cadillac Ranch.  This awesome art installation is something most of you have probably seen pictures of at some point.  It has more history than I initially knew, so worth a Google search if you are interested.  We got our graffiti on and put a few personal tags on the cars.  One more great Americana stop checked off the list.

On to Wichita Falls for the night.  We'll get some laundry done and then several days in the heart of Texas.  G'night, y'all.

- Jim

Cadillac Ranch, Amarillo, TX.  Fun!

Roswell, NM.  Fun!

Our previous suspicions about MK being from another planet were confirmed.

Big Texan Steak Ranch, Amarillo, TX.

Day 49 - Santa Fe to Roswell, NM

Wake up, it's space day!  That was the phrase used to rouse the children this morning.  What 13 and 10 year old wouldn't bite on that, right?

It was a fairly long travel day (a total of about 400 miles) with one very fun stop at the Very Large Array outside of Socorro, New Mexico.  Science club alumni nerds of the world unite!  This place is, of course, a gigantic radio telescope facility located directly in the middle of nowhere, on purpose.  27 total dishes in a 9 x 3 array, each one is 82' across and weighs 230 tons.

Their website had told us all along that the only guided tours were held on Saturdays, so we thought that we would be doing the self-guided thing.  It was a nice little surprise when we arrived at 1:00 and there was a guided tour starting at...1:00!  Big Trip karma strikes again.  We jumped aboard and a super-braniac VLA employee gave us background, answered a bunch of questions, brought us to meet the Astrophysics guy running the show and led us around the rest of the support facility before giving us access to get up close and personal with one of the dishes.  I could yammer on much more but suffice to say, it was cool.   Jodie Foster was unfortunately no where to be found, other than narrating an overview video.

Several more hours in the car landed us in Roswell.  No alien sightings yet, but we are hopeful for tomorrow!

- Jim

I liked the whole tech/flower juxtaposition.  

The dishes move based on the needs of the folks using the facility.   Today they were in their widest array, spread out over many miles - you can see them towards the bottom of the frame heading off into the distance.  Didn't make for great pictures but really gave a feeling of the enormous size of the facility.  

Fun 'family portrait'.


Day 48 - Santa Fe, NM

As I think I have mentioned a few times in past blogs, we have tried really hard to not duplicate themes during The Big Trip - if we can have one good experience of a certain type, we would do that and then move on to the next thing.  Museums are one of those themes where we could have seen one in most cities, but we could have easily gotten 'museum-ed out'.  We chose carefully and today, Santa Fe was museum/art day.  Yay!

At the risk of getting too artsy-fartsy on you, I have always enjoyed and appreciated a good gallery or museum.  And since I took up photography a few years ago, the entire artistic process has really taken over as a passion.  The chance to see a lot of quality and discuss with my family got me all jacked up.  There was certainly a chance for a let down, but Santa Fe delivered big time!

If you have been to Santa Fe, you know that there is a dense downtown area where much of the artistic community is centered.  We got into town fairly early, parked the car and didn't have to leave all day.  I was initially a little worried that we might not be able to fill the day, but we could have easily spent another day here.  We were very fortunate that there was an Art Fair going on, so in addition to the normal huge supply of galleries, the Plaza was packed with exhibitors, similar to Madison's Art Fair on the Square.  We spent a long time visiting these vendors and then hit the galleries surrounding the Plaza.  Good stuff all over, and I took the time to meet one particular landscape photographer with his own beautiful gallery and picked his brain for a good long time.

We took a tip (thanks, Joel!) and hit La Plazuela for lunch.  Authentic old school New Mexican chow in a beautiful old hotel with loads of southwestern charm.  Great, great food!  And I might have had a margarita.  Or two.

After lunch we walked over to Canyon Road.  This is a half mile road packed with galleries of all kinds.  Over 100 shops!  And the quality - Oy!  Everywhere you looked, just great work, and the shops were staffed with great people, all who really knew their stuff.  We spent so much time talking with people that we probably stopped at only a dozen shops.  If only to dig into this one street, this city is worth another visit.

We had to leave Canyon Road sooner than we would have wanted to make it to the Georgia O'Keefe Museum before its 5:00 closing time.  This stop was on our list from day #1 of the trip since Kim and I are big fans.  Like the rest of the city, it didn't disappoint.  It is a modest museum, but had a nice cross section of work, time and background material.  The photographer in me was also thrilled that they had just brought in some new photo work from her husband Alfred Stieglitz who was a master curator and photographer in his on own right.  All this plus a short bio movie and some great discussion with the girls made this a winner.  The Sun Prairie girl did good.

So, our culture tank was filled, and that's a good thing.  Like I said above, I can have a tendency to get a little frou-frou about this sort of stuff, but there's really no way you can have too much beauty in your life.  Today was a good day to see some great work.  Also, I took just a handful of pictures, largely because I don't like to shoot others people's work, but also since it was a day to absorb vs. document.

Tomorrow we will log some serious miles and turn our heads to the skies.  Small steps, Ellie...

- Jim

San Miguel Mission, the oldest church in the US.

The girls doing a little art appreciation.

Testify, Sister!  You can replace 'painting' with 'photography' and still have a bunch of truthiness.

In this town full of amazing art, our otherwise lovely hotel has made some...um...interesting choices for their walls.  This giant painting hangs over the breakfast area.  


Day 47 - Golden, CO to Santa Fe, NM

Let's open up a restaurant in Santa Fe,
Sunny Santa Fe would be....nice.

When you have all summer to check some things off your bucket list, you have the wonderful option of looking all over the country for the best place to do those things.  Today's agenda included a bunch of driving to get to Santa Fe, but on our way, we went zip-lining.  This was a first for our family, and we wanted to do it right, so when we were planning the trip, we looked at countless articles and travel sights for a great spot.  Captain Zipine in Salida, Colorado consistently got top reviews nationwide, so that was our choice.

We got into Salida mid-day after a several hour drive in and around the now-familiar Rocky Mountain area.  Time was running a little short for us to make be our 1:00 start and we needed some lunch, quick.  I hate to say it, but I need to fess up - we couldn't find a decent fast alternative, so we stopped at a...McDonalds.  We made it most of June and all of July without breaking Big Trip Rule #1 (don't eat anywhere on the trip that you can eat at home), but we figured we had done pretty well to this point. Please forgive us... :-)  

Our actual starting point was a short drive outside of town, up a local highway and then down a dirt road for a bit to their visitor center.  After signing the queen-mother of all legal waivers, we jumped in a van with a dozen other folks and rode another off-road mile to the start.  Our guides, the cousin-combo of Preston and Myrissa, were amazing.  They were super seasoned, fit, fun, good lookin' kids that made things really fun as well as professional and safe.   I was really looking forward to this as was Maggie.  MK had warmed up over the recent weeks and Kim...well, had a little anxiety about it but was charging forward.

We did 6 runs total, all over an amazing (and deep...) canyon right on the Arkansas River.  Everyone performed like a champ and Kim won the award for the most convincing screaming!  It was a GREAT day - hats off to Preston and Myrissa for a super time.  Good luck in LA you crazy kids.  Look us up if you are ever shooting films in Madison.

We then packed up and drove another long stretch over our last Colorado mountain pass and on into New Mexico.  We arrived early evening, had a little dinner and are getting ready for a great day soaking in the city tomorrow.

Enjoy your Sunday!

- Jim

We were flanked by storms as we drove between two ranges in Southern Colorado heading to Santa Fe.  We pulled off west of the Sand Dunes National Park to shoot this little scene. Amazing light.

Ready to zip-line!

Little MK, big canyon.

Mag coming in with a big smile.

With our super guides, Myrissa and Preston.

Tomorrow's theme song (PG-13 lyrics) :-)



Day 45/46 - Denver/Boulder/Golden, CO

Howdy!  It's my first cheater multi-day combo-blog.  Seemed appropriate since we have spent the last two days cruising all around the general greater-Denver area.  Also, the professional photo guy that I am, I forgot a memory card yesterday, so I only had my phone and pics were pretty limited.  Duh. It was OK having a one-day breather from the camera, sort of permission to not worry about documenting stuff.

Thursday was a city day.  We wanted to get a bunch of urbanish walking in, but we got a later start since we were up late the previous night at our show.  We walked to Voodoo Doughnuts for a mid-morning snack (good stuff....but Pip's Original in Portland is still leader in the clubhouse for Doughnut Champ of The Big Trip), then we hoofed around the surrounding lovely Capitol Hill neighborhood, saw the awesome Cathedral Basilica play its Noon bells, checked out the State Capitol, Civic Center Park, tried to do the Molly Brown Museum but got impatient at the wait and then headed back to our car so we could drive to Boulder.  

I really love Boulder.  As a younger lad, I spent a bunch of vacation time in and around the area, but had not been there in many years.  It was what I remembered, still a Madison-West sort of vibe, but maybe a bit more mature now and not quite as edgy as it was 15-20 years ago.  There has to be a big shed somewhere where they lock up all of the out of shape un-beautiful people, because everyone we saw was rocking the yoga pants and looked great.  We walked Pearl Street for quite a while, people watching and window shopping.  One highlight was Farfel's Farm, a pet supply and rescue store.  MK had been jonesing for a dog fix and the owners there were awesome, talking to us about their operation and sharing a bunch of their hounds for a while (thanks, Jeff!).  Next was an amazing dinner at Pasta Jay's (thanks for the tip, MAG!  Get the Jumbo Shells if you ever go).  The final stop was Chatauqua Park for a short hike at the foot of the Flatirons.  The girls were starting to get a little weary, so we didn't dig too deep into the park, but I wanted them to see a little of a place I really love.  Back to the hotel in downtown Denver so the girls could get some dance practice in and I headed out for my first run in probably a month.  It wasn't fast, but man, it was nice to get out.  Urban running is cool now and again.  I went straight out and back about 3.5 miles down 15th and 16th streets.  It was hip. hopping and happening - clubs, outdoor diners, cool housing, shops, shows, etc.  Back to the room and the girls wanted ice cream, so across the street to a local shop, a little more walking around and back to the room.  To collapse.  Whew.

Friday was a day to have some good Rocky Mountain alpine fun.  We drove out of Denver to Winter Park.  Fun drive up to this great ski community.  We had circled the Alpine Slide really early in our trip planning as something we wanted to do and hey, we did it.  It was completely fun and awesome...until I came around a corner about half-way down the mountain and met a few young kids who had decided to stop on the track.  If you have ever been on an alpine slide, you know there are signs about every ten inches that say 'DON'T STOP!'.  If you do stop, some 200 pound bald guy might run into you and take the top layers of skin off a few spots on his leg and elbow as he tries to not kill you.  Wasn't all that bad, but the 2nd half of the run was at about 2 MPH, so not the thrill we were looking for.  No worries, good story and a few good ski lift rides around the hills.  And the Winter Park area is just beautiful.

And then on to our last stop of the day.  We were going to go up to Estes Park, but it was going to be a long drive there and back, so we took a tip from a friend who's family is also in the area (thanks, Wendy - we didn't make it to the top, but it was great!) and headed to the Guenella Pass Trailhead to hike around Mt. Bierstadt.  It's a 14'er, and although we only made it just over 12,000 ft due to rain and running out of daylight (and I don't think our clan would have made it to the top as a group even if it was dry and light...), it was a great hike above the tree line.  Even though we didn't get all the way up, a 4-ish mile hike between 11-12,000 ft isn't anything to sneeze at!  Also, I LOVE ALPINE SCENERY.  We have seen so much beauty on this trip, but the Rockies are just something special.

And that brings us to tonight, horses hitched up for the night in lovely Golden.  A little more Colorado fun tomorrow and then some long miles south.  Have a great start to your weekend!

- Jim

At the foot of Mt. Bierstadt, Front Range, Rocky Mountains.  Beauty at 12,000 feet.

Our hike in the Rockies.  The peak in the background is Mt. Bierstadt, jut over 14,000 feet, we made it to 12,100.

Had to cross a cute little stream.

Hearty Alpine wildflowers EVERYWHERE!

Lift to the top for the Alpine Slide, Winter Park, CO.

 

Cool Altitude app!


Day 44 - Grand Junction to Denver, CO

It's not every day you go looking for souvenirs celebrating a headless chicken, but as we headed out of Grand Junction, that's what we found ourselves doing.  We had learned a little about Mike the Headless Chicken yesterday (Click here for more: Mike) and of course had to try to dig in for a little more.  Mike hailed from Fruita, CO, so we headed over late morning.  We were able to find the iron statue, but it appears as though if you aren't in town for the Mike the Headless Chicken Festival in May, you won't find much else to commemorate him.  understandable.  We're better people for discovering what we did, however.  Mike was quite a chicken.

Our plan was to be leisurely and sight-see our way over the mountains to Denver during the day in order to make an 8:00 show that we had tickets for.  We ended up finding out that Maggie had socially networked us into a great VIP opportunity at the show, however (GREAT job, Mag - you can keep your phone for now) so we had to put the pedal to the metal to get to town several hours ahead of schedule. For those of you that have done I-70 over Loveland Pass, you know that it isn't the best road to try and go fast, but we slid into town in time to make our appointment.

The show was the Move, Live on Tour show starring Derek and Julianne Hough.  I'm not a Dancing With the Stars guy, so I didn't know much about them, but I guess they're a big deal?  The real reason we were going, however, is that one of the dancers in the show is Haley Fitzgerald, a Stoughton native.  Our girls were just starting to dance when Haley was in town and she was always a superstar at the same studio where they dance.  Since The Big Trip was crossing paths, we had purchased tickets and then the VIP opportunity came to us last minute.

We got the chance to meet and say hi to Derek and Julianne got a nice picture below.  The show that followed was just amazing.  The dance quality was out of this world and basically it was just really good entertainment.  Our girls don't generally need much motivation to dance, but they are now officially out of their minds after the show.  It was fun to look over and see their faces just locked into the dance.  Overall, just a great time.  The only downside is we couldn't coordinate getting to see Haley in person.  Funny that we got to see the 'stars' but not the person we were most excited to catch.  If you're reading, Haley, thanks for the hook up and for the great show.  It's so motivating to the girls to see someone from home that started in our same studio become such a pro.  We all watched you more than the Houghs!

We're in the Denver area for the next couple days, so more Rocky Mountain adventure tomorrow.  Cheers!

- Jim

So I guess these two are a big deal.  If they weren't before, they are now since they are part of The Big Trip.  I happened to notice that Julianne is really good looking.  That may be why I look dopier than usual.

We found the Mike the Headless Chicken statue in Fruita, CO. 

Got to shoot a little dance at Move Live on Tour.

Great show, Stoughton native Haley is far right.

The dance styles were all over the board.