Day 43 - Moab to Grand Junction, CO

Today was a really good day.  But it wasn't all great.  We hit a bit of a wall in Utah.  I had been to Moab before, but hadn't been to Arches National Park.  The park is just a few miles out of town, and I was pretty pumped to see it, especially the Utah trademark Delicate Arch.  We hit the park mid-morning and to be honest, the general family gas tank was feeling at least half empty.  A fairly easy day yesterday hadn't made up for maybe 50 miles of hiking over the last week, all the heat and several early mornings.  

It was sunny and hot early, and Arches doesn't provide shade.  We weren't all seeing eye to eye on what to do and the mood was pretty quiet.  You know those times - no tragedies or melt downs, but certainly not riding the fun wave we have been on for many Big Trip days.  A little tense.  If we have a good family characteristic, however, is communication (six weeks in the car together will do that for you) so we figured it out.  A couple short hikes.  Saw some arches.  Drove a bit.  Hit the visitors center.  Went to get milk shakes.  This 'not great' morning will never register on anyone's list of major problems of course.  Yeah, I'm bummed we didn't get up close and personal with Delicate Arch, but yeah, if there was ever a lucky guy's problem, that is it.  Good reason to make a return trip as soon as we can.

We hit the road mid-day to Grand Junction, taking the back roads suggested by three different folks, winding our way along the Colorado River.  If you ever get the chance to drive Utah 128 north out of Moab, take it.  The Colorado River has made some substantially beautiful damage over the years.  Once in Grand Junction, we cleaned up and headed out to see some good friends that we had not seen in years.  A warmly open home, a home cooked meal, kids enjoying a nice pool, a good Gin and Tonic and a few hours of catching up does wonders to make everything right with the world. Thank you, Dave and Karin, for a fantastic evening!

We are smiling and off to bed, ready to hit I-70 and greet the Rockies tomorrow.  A big night on the agenda - city stuff!  Thanks for reading, hope you are well.  Smile.

- Jim

The girls doing their part at Balanced Rock, Arches N.P.

Artsy picture.  North Window, Arches N.P.  

Artsy Pic #2.  The Three Gossips, Arches N.P.

The girls at Turret Arch.

Day 42 - Cortez, CO to Moab, UT

During Big Trip planning, we had lined up a stop in Cortez.  It was initially just a good place to stop between Zion and Moab.  I was a little ashamed as a National Park buff to find out that Mesa Verde was right outside Cortez and to find out how much I didn't know about the place.

Mesa Verde National Park is home to over 600 cliff dwellings from 600-1200 AD when Ancient Pueblo people lived all over the area.  We got to the park early and basically stayed all day.  We took two long Ranger guided tours of amazingly preserved cliff dwellings (Cliff Palace and Balcony House) and then struck out on our own during the afternoon to self-guide around the Spruce Tree House and capped it off with a 3-ish mile mountain goat hike out to an old petroglyph site.  Amazing!  The canyons, the stone engineering, the knowledge of the Rangers, and seeing, touching and walking around the real places where people lived off the land for hundreds of years, and did so 700 years ago.  Complete gem.

We were shot (another repeat of 90° temps and 7,000+ elevation), so we hopped in the car and blasted up to Moab.  I had a little hope of trying to see slick rock like I had many years ago, but dinner and a dip in the pool ended the day.  We will be up and at it again for another National Park right outside our front door.

- Jim 

The start of our first tour, looking down on Cliff Palace.

Up close and personal at Cliff Palace.

The tours were full of ladders, climbs, crawls and other kinds of scrambling.

This was the tallest of the ladders - over 30 feet!

MK's skinny butt had no problem with the narrow crawl spaces...

After climbing and crawling, we checked out Balcony House.

Spruce Tree House looking good after 700+ years.  The original brick, wood and mortar!

Day 41 - Springdale, UT to Cortez, CO

Ah, Day #41.  We shall call you 'pull back a bit on the reins' day.  We had about 6 hours of driving in front of us after several days of long, hot hiking.  Our eye was on possible on Lake Powell adventures, but as we dug in to planning, we couldn't find a good something to do that wouldn't take a bunch of the day, so we decided to hit the road and get on to Colorado so we could get a few must-do domestic things and just have a little more relaxed day.  

The only stop was at Four Corners.  If ever there was a made up tourist stop, this confluence of four states in one spot is it.  $5 per person allows you down a dirt road so you can stand in line in the 100° heat with 50 other people and take your picture by a plaque in the cement.  Checked the box on that one and we headed to Cortez.

Cortez is a solid little town.  Found a nice hotel, had a FANTASTIC dinner at Loungin' Lizard and then back to the room for an early start tomorrow.

So that's a short and unexciting blog post, eh?  How about we take this opportunity to play a quick bonus round of 'Things we brought along on the trip that have really kicked butt!' 

Thing #1 - The National Park Annual Pass. $80 and you can get into TWO THOUSAND Federally managed properties including all the National Parks.  This deal should be illegal, because it feels like you;re stealing.

Thing #2 - Contigo Stainless Steel water bottles.  Fill with ice, then with water. haul around in 100° heat, and if you don't drink it all, 18 hours later, it's still filled with ice and water. I think they bring them in from another planet.  

Thing #3 - Kooltron 12V cooler.  We weren't looking forward to messing around with ice all summer so we took a flier on this cooler that plugs into your car and can also plug into the wall in the hotel at night  It's never missed a beat and after about 7 weeks of hot summer travelling, we have purchased 2 bags of ice. Winner.

OK, that's enough random for tonight.  On to another National Park tomorrow.  Cheers.

- Jim

It has been certified by The Department of the Interior that we were in four states at once.

You're in four states at once.  That will be $20.  Still smiling!

Day 40 - Zion National Park

It's hot in Utah!  Yeah yeah, I know...dry heat.  For the meteorological dorks amongst you, during our hikes today, the temps peaked at 98° and the dew point was 32°.  That's dry.  Like, take your backpack off and your shirt is soaked but 10 minutes later, it's dry.  

Our hotel for two nights is another super nice Holiday Inn and Suites.  It's in Springdale, Utah which is less than a mile from Zion NP.  All the architecture in the city has that mountain lodge look, including our hotel.  The pool is outside behind the hotel and mountains from the Zion Canyon were the backdrop to the pool.  Completely looks like a fake Hollywood backdrop.  As beautiful as the Midwest is, you rarely get that 'whoa' experience you get in Utah.

We got to the park mid-morning and did the Watchman's trail, named after one of the many peaks in the Zion Canyon.  This place is a desert, in elevation, surrounded by classic National Park-style peaks, cliffs and valleys.  A damn hot hike in direct sun, passing cactus, lizards, etc.  Very cool and the kids were complete champs.  I think we are 'there' as far as being in hiking shape - we did 3+ miles with several hundred feet of climbs, over 7500 feet in elevation, sun, over 90° temps and zero whining.  Awesome.

We had lunch and then...met up with friends!  We've been very tough to pin down on this trip, but our Utah crew (Cindy, Mary Ann and their families) moved around plans on a holiday weekend in order to meet up with us.  We hiked another couple of hours with them, went out for a great dinner and then came back to the hotel so all the kids could swim and the grown ups could sit around and catch up.  The girls really loved having some similar age kids to run around with and it was so nice to catch up with friends that we haven't seen for years.  Thanks for you time and the care package.  We may, um, have already broken into the cookies... :-)

Funny note to end the blog - our Wisconsin accents stuck out today for some reason.  An international traveler asked us for directions to the pool and after we answered, they asked if we were Dutch.  Ha!

We're hitting some new states tomorrow.  Have a good start to the week!

- Jim

Afternoon moon over the Zion peaks, view from our hotel in Springdale.

The Canyon at Zion N.P.

The view from our hike on Watchman's Trail.  It's a beautiful and tough place.

Lots of lizards. 

Just one more of Zion Canyon.  

Day 39 - Grand Canyon NP to Springdale, UT

Two days in a row, I was up at 4:45 to see the sunrise at the Grand Canyon.  Day #2 was considerably more challenging because I had to poke the beasts in an attempt to get the whole crew down there.  There was kicking and screaming, but we got there and were able to get settled in before the sun came up.  Unlike yesterday, there were some interesting clouds, so the show had a little more drama.  Unlike the crystal clear morning yesterday, however, there was no 'bam' sunrise moment. Life's like a box of chocolates, eh?  I loved it, Kim loved it, the girls were a little 'meh', but I KNOW that they will be sitting around with their girlfriends when they are in their 20's reminiscing about the romantic sunrise they saw years ago at the Grand Canyon...

Since we were up, we took advantage of the time and packed up and hit the road.  The day's drive was really diverse - skirting the east side of the South Rim, through a long stretch of Painted Desert, a bunch of Southern Utah's red beauty between Bryce and Zion, and finishing the trip into Springdale via the Zion Canyon and a 1+ mile tunnel.  It's the anti-South Dakota!

Stop #1 for the day was an off the beaten path Dinosaur Tracks tip we got from a road warrior friend and client back home (thanks, CC!).  As directed, we watched for the turn off of Arizona 89 which directed us to turn towards Tuba City (?!).  Then we turned down a dirt road and followed the hand painted signs that were leaned up against the fence posts into a gravel parking area with a few old pick up trucks and jewelry stands.  The second we arrived, we were greeted as warmly as we have ever been by John, our local Navajo guide.  John was decked out in his Bob Marley shirt and rainbow ganja cap, and said he would guide us around the site.

We took about a 30 minute walk around the land just off the road and John showed us 150 million year old fossil raptor tracks, bird tracks, a huge T-Rex track, petrified dinosaur eggs, fossilized claws, jellyfish, kelp, and so much more.  There was no official Ranger or park (John alluded to this being land in a bit of limbo between federally protected, Navajo reservation and other bureaucracy which keeps them from doing more digging or developing), but despite any formality, he was super knowledgeable and gave a great tour. For the same bureaucratic reasons, it didn't appear they could 'charge', but we had no problems with a 'donation/gratuity' and bought a little jewelry as well.  We headed out shaking our heads a little but with a big smile.  Great stop!

Stop #2 was unplanned.  Soon after the last stop, we drove by a sign pointing out Horseshoe Bend.  This was mentioned to me at some point as a tip, but I had lost sight of it literally until we drove by.  It is an upstream feature of the Colorado River above the Grand Canyon.  We spun around to check it out.  It was about 100°, so we grabbed some water and hiked up and then down a monster sand dune hill, down to the edge of the Bend.  The Ranger we passed on the way down was encouraging everyone to be careful (along with the warning signs describing how you can fall to your death...), so we heeded all that as we approached the edge.  It is a very high canyon where the river does a 180° bend and the water is a crazy blue/green color.  Very dramatic and VERY treacherous to get to the edge, so much so that I didn't get the picture I wanted due to the pucker factor being too great.  Nonetheless, great quick stop, very beautiful.

We then headed north and got to Bryce Canyon National Park mid-afternoon.  Bryce had been on the top of Kim's list ever since first seeing pictures of the canyon when we were researching the trip.  It is a great Big Trip National Park since you can get a great flavor for what it has to offer in just a few hours.  We checked in with a Ranger for hike suggestions and they pointed us to the 3ish-mile Sunrise Point/Queens Garden/Navajo/Wall Street loop.  This took us down the canyon about 300 feet, wound us through the endless hoodoos and back up to the rim via Wall Street.  Bryce is a 10 out of 10 on the WOW factor.  Hard to describe, but where the Grand Canyon is  breathtaking and immense, Bryce is much more intimately dramatic.  You are right there in the rocks, seeing formations everywhere.  And the Wall Street ending had us thinking we were in an Indiana Jones adventure.  Stunning, a complete can't miss if you are ever anywhere close by.

After Bryce we headed to Springdale, Utah.  This city is less than a mile outside of Zion National Park and will be our home for the next two nights.  Looking forward to seeing more of Utah National Park awesomeness tomorrow!

- Jim

Horseshoe Bend near Page, AZ.

The girls and our guide John next to a fossilized T-Rex footprint, near Tuba City, AZ.

Bryce Canyon N.P.

Bryce Canyon N.P.

Nifty Bryce hoodoos including Thor's Hammer.

More Bryce.

Climbing up Wall Street at Bryce Canyon N.P.

Day 38 - Grand Canyon National Park

Another one of the 'Big Dogs' today!  Last night was a late one, so we didn't get to bed until about 11:00.  This did not lend itself to watching the sunrise 6 hours later, so when I got up at 4:45, it was just me.  

I got to Yavapai Point just before 5:00.  Maybe a dozen others in the area, spread out to watch things happen.  It wasn't set up to be a photographic wonder since there were no clouds to make the light interesting, but as things slowly brightened, the Canyon revealed itself layer by layer.  I clicked a few pictures here and there, but to be honest, it ended up being much more about some amazing serenity, peace and watching something grand.  There was a nifty crescendo of light for about a minute before the sun finally broke over the horizon.  It was like a laser at first, it rose quickly and the Canyon was flooded in white.  Again, no dramatic reds, just a straight on sunrise, but it was something else.  20 years from now, I will be sitting somewhere, remember it, and smile.

Back to the cabin and I actually fell asleep for an hour before we were all up and at it for the day.  And here the blog gets a little dull.  We hiked.  And hiked.  And hiked.  Over 10 miles by the end of the day.  We went down and back in the canyon 3 miles on Bright Angel Trail (hello, 7,700 feet of elevation - anyone who has gone rim to rim now has my utmost respect), then the Rim Trail for miles, trying to soak in as many views as we could.  We saw California Condors up close, a couple of Elk, but mainly just jaw dropping views around every corner.

And that brings me to now.  In a little earlier than usual, but I am going to try hard to get the girls up for one more sunrise tomorrow before we go - one of those things that you loved doing, but loved it so much you want to immediately share it with those you care about.

More tomorrow when we will be Utah bound.

- Jim  

Sunrise, South Rim, Grand Canyon.  Shooting this canyon is currently beyond me, especially on a cloudless day.  It was a moving sunrise, though.

Grand Canyon, South Rim, Hopi Point.  Eleventy Billion people have taken better pics, but I had to post one, right?

One rest point on Bright Angel Trail.  It kicked out butts at points, but I still see smiles!

Bright Angel Trail from across the canyon.  We started at the top of the rim in the middle, and you can sort of see the trail going to the far right, them across left, then right to the middle, then switchbacks, then to the bottom left.  The down was awesome.  The up was a little harder...

A banker can have bumper stickers, right?  The collection is growing...

Day 37 - Holbrook AZ to Grand Canyon National Park

Coming to you, delayed, due to some very spotty internet and honestly so much to do and see in the days leading up to and immediately following the Grand Canyon...

We took off from Holbrook (where?!) relatively early and went right into Petrified Forest National Park.  For whatever reason, I incorrectly had this stop in my head not as a National Park, but rather a cheezy Wisconsin Dells sort of thing.  Knowing the Universal National Park Law (if it's a NP, then it's awesome), I got much more excited, and it didn't disappoint.  It was a particularly good stop for this busy day, since it is a compact and focused park which we were able to fully absorb in a few hours.

So...petrified trees.  Super cool for everyone, including me, the science geek.  Ancient trees, swamp land, volcanoes, chemical reactions, few hundred million years and BAM!  Trees that are really rocks basically made of gems growing out of the ground everywhere you look.  Toss in some Badlands-style mesas and you have a nifty stop.  Completely worth a few hours if you're ever close.

Science geek stop #2 was two hours down the road - Meteor Crater.  

SIDE NOTE - we hit the 10,000 mile point on the way to the crater.  Cool.  The BigTripMobile hasn't missed a beat (knock on petrified wood).

Meteor Crater, unlike Petrified Forest, isn't a National Park.  It's privately owned, and the first thing I saw driving there was that they have the most cheese-ball logo ever.  That made me think we would have a side show sort of thing, but they actually did a good job.  Museum and visitors/learning center that was very informative, a nice building, informed staff and great viewing areas.  It s like many large natural formations in that it's hard to get a good handle on the true scope.  It's a damn big hole, and it really looked fresh, like it was made just a few hundred years ago.  A little pricey, not as nifty as the Petrified Forest in my opinion, but a cool stop nonetheless.  And another great opportunity to chat about science and let the girls practice their eye rolls!

After the crater, it was getting late, so we hit a Safeway in Flagstaff to stock up on provisions and got to Grand Canyon NP after dark.  We are staying in the Yavapai Lodge complex, just a stones throw from the South Rim.  It's pretty odd to be right by the Grand Canyon but having to wait 12 hours for first light to actually see it.  I dragged the girls out before bed for a short while to look at stars.  This is a VERY dark community Add in elevation and a crystal clear night, and wow.  I have seen the backbone of the Milky Way before but never, never, never anything remotely close to the clarity that we saw tonight.  I wish everyone was a little more rested so we could have soaked it in more, but stunning nonetheless.

A full day in the Canyon tomorrow.  Cheers!

- Jim

Road warriors.

Petrified trees are cool.  This one is how they lay naturally, but reminded me of a nice art installation in some city park somewhere.  Petrified Forest National Park, near Holbrook, AZ.

Petrified Tree, sliced up by nature.  Cool.

Hard to capture in pics, but some were like jewels.

Blue Mesa Trail, Petrified Forest NP.  One of those 'like you're on another planet' areas.

Meteor Crater.  I think I'm going to need a wider lens.

Day 36 - Las Vegas, NV to Holbrook, AZ

FYI, one of us just asked the other one for the 1,000th time: 'Hey, what city are we in?' Funny.  We have largely lost track of cities and days of the week.

Today's blog and pictures won't be nearly as awesome as yesterday because, well, yesterday was Vegas.  And actually a good part of today was Vegas, but it was pretty low key.  We slept in a bit, had a little breakfast, lounged in our awesome room, did a little gift shopping, grabbed a bite for lunch and hit the road mid-day.  

Stop #1 was Hoover Dam.  The ex-Engineer in me has really been looking forward to this stop and from a pure 'wow' factor, it's a winner.  Scope, size, history and importance on many facets.  Great stuff.  The new bypass bridge is really equally as incredible.  We only had a short time to soak it in, didn't have time for the tours, but if we are ever back from a longer Vegas-area trip, we will certainly devote a day to more in-depth touring and some Lake Mead time as well.  Vegas summer temps were back as well, low 100's by mid-day.

We then had a long haul to get to our next Arizona evening stop.  We had planned on Stop #2 being Meteor Crater, but because we lounged in Vegas, we missed their cutoff time.  No worries, we're hunkered down in a low-key place in Holbrook, Arizona (where?!?) and we will be up and at it tomorrow AM to hit the Crater and some other good geological wonderment.  Cheers to a Happy Wednesday, kids!

- Jim

Hoover Dam.  It's real big. 

View of the spillway below and the new Mike O'Callaghan–Pat Tillman Memorial Hoover bypass bridge.

Day 35 - Moreno Valley, CA to Las Vegas, NV

Vegas, Baby.

After a couple of wash out rainy days, we were pumped to go hit the desert.  The remnants of Hurricane Delores followed us all the way to Vegas, however, just dwindling to a mist as we pulled into town.  The good news was that it was in the mid-80's.  Walkable temps, in Vegas, in July.  Good deal, we will take it.

Side note - we have obviously been doing A LOT of stuff and staying in hotels daily, but despite appearances, we have been running on a strict budget that we developed and saved for over the last six years.  The Vegas stay was one spot where we consciously tossed the budget out the door.  Actually, we stayed in some more 'modest' lodging the days before and after to balance things out and to fulfill a wish of the girls and stay at a suite on The Strip.  We had them do the research earlier in the year and after a lot of internet ooh's and ah's, they chose The Venetian.

Kim had been to Vegas once and I had been a handful of times, but neither of us has stayed at that specific hotel.  It is very nice.  The room was a true suite, killer view from the 24th floor, TV in the bathroom, remote control that operated the window shades.  Basically all the regular comforts of home, right?  It was really great and provided endless squeals and laughs for the girls.  Mission accomplished.

After checking out the room, we hit the strip.  Bellagio water show.  Visited Paris, Aria, Treasure Island, Caesars and more.  Saw lots of semi-creepy and full-out creepy street performers.  Discussed what the billboard promoting 'Ladies delivered to your hotel in 20 minutes or less' meant.  Singing gondola ride and shopping in the Venetian.  Real Vegas buffet at the Mirage which was all you could eat AND unlimited wine and beer (insert Jim making Homer Simpson noises here...).  We ran out of steam about 11:30, got back to the room, and Kim and I both went to blow $20 at the slots.  And hey, I won enough to pay for dinner and our rides!  Insert your 'Parent of the Year' comments here - keeping our kids up until midnight and high-fiving about gambling winnings.  In all seriousness, like a lot of the trip, we're about exposure and it really did fit the bill discussing fun, entertainment and some honest discussions about the not-so-pretty part of what goes along with a place like Vegas.

That's it.  Kim and I were surprised that we enjoyed it as much as we did, but everyone had an amazing time.  And look at that, none of what we did stayed in far as you know ;-)

- Jim 

It is hard for me to describe in words how much I love this picture.

The lobby at The Venetian.  Swanky.

Our room at The Venetian.  Swanky.

View from the room.

The girls being serenaded by Salvatore in our gondola ride, The Venetian, Las Vegas.

Classic Vegas.  And it's my favorite looking hotel. Bellagio.

Always loved this old-school neon.

Day 34 - Chula Vista to Moreno Valley, CA.

When we arrived in Chula Vista, I checked the distance between here and home.  2,051 miles.  This is the farthest we will be from Stoughton.  We have about a month to go on The Big Trip, and we will now start winding our way back in a very indirect way.  I find myself being in a nice place inside my head - relaxed, in a groove, appreciative, busy, but with very few deadlines that cause normal daily pressure and stress.  Also, we are at a spot where we have done so much but there is still so much to do and see.  The end isn't yet on the horizon.  A true sweet spot.  They should all be sweet spots, but as most of us know, it's much easier said than done to live in the moment and enjoy every day.

Day #2 in Southern California and...MORE RAIN.  Do you know how many times San Diego has had over 1.0 inches of rain in a day in July?  Never.  Like, never, ever, since they started keeping weather records.  That was until yesterday.  They broke a record for us.  And guess what - it rained most of the day again today.  No worries, just some plans cut short, but that's going to happen on a trip this long.

Up and at it this morning and to the San Diego Zoo.  We're not generally big zoo people, but this is the grandpappy of zoo's, so we headed in and started working our way around.  A definite notch up on other zoo's.  But a couple hours in...the skies opened up.  Should have known when the animals started their 2 x 2 line ups, right?  Light rain turned to rain turned to heavy rain that didn't stop.  Drowned rats, we headed back to the car.  The rest of the day's activities were all planned outside, so for the second day in a row, we had a choice to make, and we chose Plan B.  We headed north to Moreno Valley and hunkered down.  The girls got some dance practice in, we caught up on laundry, caught up on blogging, sorted through a lot of general stuff that isn't fun but is part of being on the road this long.

Overall, a wash of a day, especially for such a great city as San Diego, but we are locked and loaded to hit the road tomorrow morning.  We will be heading to the desert and who knows where we will end up...but we may get the Rain Man suite and be up five hundy by midnight, baby!

Have a great Monday!

- Jim

MK doing her Koala impression.

Koalas are cute.

I completely identify with this Meerkat.

Day 33 - Long Beach to Chula Vista, CA

Hey, Southern California - you're beautiful, but man, your traffic sucks. Bad!

And the weather twists continue.  Both Seattle and San Francisco were sunny and warm when we visited.  Our day in LA?  Cloudy and rainy.  Rain in July made the news.  Really.  So, a little abbreviated day, but we got what we wanted.

Before we drove (crawled...) to LA, we spent some of the morning exploring out lodging for the night.  We stayed aboard the Queen Mary docked in Long Beach.  The old beauty has been restored largely to it's 1930's splendor.  Staterooms serve as your hotel room and the rest of the ship is a splendid throw back museum that you get to stroll around, tour and just basically absorb.  This kind of thing really trips my trigger - seeing things this old that were state of the art in their day and still rock it style-wise but are also 'wow' in the fact that they are nearing 100 years old and man, how did they make this thing go with technology like that?  

We slept in to a decent hour, grabbed some breakfast, did a little touring of the ship, watched a little Catalina Water Ski racing from the deck (it was was happening in the harbor by the ship) and then jumped in the car for another drive (ahem, multi-hour crawl...) to see some LA sights.

Stop #1 - Pink's Hot Dogs.  75+ year-old curbside hot dog stand.  Amazing food, and classic show biz - signed pics of all the stars that have eaten there on the walls.  Great stop.

Stop #2 - The Hollywood Walk of Fame.  Yeah, cheese-ball, but the girls were really wanting to hit that up.  We strolled for maybe a half mile and then...the rain began.  We stuck it out for a while but the rain kept on coming.

Stop #3 - the Hollywood Sign.  Yeah, cheese-ball again, but had to do it.  Got some pics and then...the rain picked up even more.   

It was then decision time.  Mid-afternoon, radar showing rain coming for hours, and all our plans were outside.  We chose Plan B and headed for San Diego to get a head start on tomorrow.  Pretty light on the pictures due to the rain.

- Jim

Hollywood - what's your dream?

The Queen Mary - it was a total gem!

One of the dozens of completely restored original areas you could tour on The Queen Mary.

Day 32 - Port Hueneme to Long Beach, CA

"If you are lucky enough to have lived in Paris as a young man, then wherever you go for the rest of your life, it stays with you, for Paris is a moveable feast." - Hemingway

Yosemite to Hearst Castle to Channel Islands N.P. to The Queen Mary.  In your blue books, write at least 10 pages comparing and contrasting these four locations...

We got up early on Day 32, at least earlier than we would have otherwise chosen, in order to make check in and boarding on the boat which would take us out to East Anacapa Island, the first and smallest of the islands that make up Channel Islands National Park. 200,000 people combined visit Channel Islands annually, spread across five different islands, (compared to 4 Million to Yosemite) so although it was a National Park, the 40 or so people on the boat with us was another world from the thousands we were with earlier in the week.

The boat ride out was supposed to be about an hour, but ended up longer because...DOLPHINS!  I have a thing for dolphins.  Smart critters.  I think the earth is in good hands if they take over for us, but that's a whole other blog subject.  Anyways, we stopped on the trip out on several occasions to watch them feed and when we would drive, they would do their dolphin thing, playing around the boat and putting on a show.  They were dozens of them feeding with seals, gulls and pelicans.  Watching them in their natural environment puts a stupid grin on my face.  Kim struck up a conversation with a deck hand on the boat.  She guessed that it's probably old hat seeing them, but he said that it never, ever gets old.  Cool.

We got to the island around 11:00 am.  It is basically a giant rock, 1/4 mile wide, 1 mile long, fairly flat surfaced, but it is all on top of 100+ foot cliff walls.  We didn't really dock, more like backed the boat up to a pier, held it steady in the swells and we all hopped off.  You then climb 160-ish steps up the cliff wall to the top.  It's less than 10 miles offshore from bustling Southern California civilization, but as the boat took off for the day and left us alone on the island, it felt a little like you should have been looking around for Ginger, Mary Ann and the Howell's.  I always was always a Mary Ann guy by the way, but that too is a subject for another blog.

Anacapa is a dry rock, lightly vegetated by low scrub plants, surrounded by amazing blue waters, crashing breakers and a few barking seals.  During 10 months of the year, you would just hear seals, wind and the crashing waves.  For two months of the year, however, this is the largest North American nesting and breeding ground for the Western Gull.  So we shared the day with an estimated 10,000 gulls, adults and nearly-fledged young ones.

We started with the guided hike around the island, lead by a smart National Park volunteer, hiking and stopping about a half-dozen times to hear about the history, plant and animal life, with a lot of focus on the gulls.

The Western Gull is the same variety that end up circling around our piers and landfills, but when you see them in their natural home raising their kids, they are fascinating and cool.  At the very same moment, they are loud and their guano (which was EVERYWHERE) heated up in the afternoon sun and gave the island a certain...distinctive aroma.

There was a great old lighthouse which we visited, we ate our self-packed lunch (Gulls on an island know how to be aggressive and try to take your food!), made another self-guided lap around the island and then took the boat back.  If Yosemite was the Rolling Stones at full volume in a stadium in front of 50,000 fans, then Channel Islands is a talented acoustic guitar player in a little bar around the corner that you watched with a few friends.  Not what we expected but a great experience not soon to be forgotten.

We hopped in the car and drove the Pacific Coast Highway, through Malibu, LA and arrived at Long Beach for the night to stay on the Queen Mary.  More on this completely awesome 'hotel' tomorrow, but suffice to say, it is amazing.  We had a nice casual dinner, walked around the ship for a little while and then collapsed in the room.

More ship wandering and So Cal fun on Day 33.  Cheers!

- Jim

East Anacapa Island, Channel Island National Park.  Subtle Beauty. 

Dolphins were showing off behind the boat on the way to the island.

Gulls and poo.  Poo and gulls.

Barren landscape, beautiful when you send some time with it.

One of the thousands of fledgling gulls.  Camouflaged compared to their more familiar black and white parents.

The gulls know what they are talking about.

The view off the far end of the island, called Inspiration Point.  The rest of the Channel Islands are off in the distance.

The ladies on Inspiration Point.

Day 31 - Mariposa to Port Hueneme, CA

(Editors Note...bad internet for a day and a half in Yosemite puts our fair blog a little ways behind in publishing, but we are soldering on and will play catch up soon!)

Today was a heavy travel day with a spectacular mid-day stop at Hearst Castle to break up the driving.

The start to finish contrast of today's drive is worthy of a quick mention on its own.  We started in a hot valley southwest of Yosemite.  Rugged, isolated, still elevated and crawling with hiker-types.  A cool rustic, western town.  The drive then took us over some moderate mountain passes, then into huge, wide, rolling terrain and then into mid-California flat land that was thick with all kinds of agriculture.  Cattle, vines for raisins, countless wine vineyards, fruit trees, what looked like nut trees, tomatoes, etc.  This state is nothing if not huge and diverse.

The other two noteworthy things are the extreme dry and crazy gas prices.  The drought, all data aside, it extremely obvious on a large scale.  We have driven nearly the entire length of the state, coast and inlands, and EVERYWHERE it is brown, creeks are gone, and lakes and reservoirs are down or completely dry.  El Nino to the rescue?  The other thing is the crazy So. Cal gas market.  They are their own little island in so many ways, but gas went from $3.25 to as high as $4.99 within a couple hour drive and we hear there are $5.00 prices coming up in LA.  I filled up under $4.00 this evening - let's hope we can coast thru So Cal and get to Arizona...

OK, enough of that stuff.  In between the long drive we stopped at Hearst Castle.  Got lots of history related to the unimaginably wealthy William Randolph Hearst and took the Grand Rooms tour, followed by a long self-guided walk around the grounds.  Dude was rich, built himself quite a house, and had a pretty decent collection of art to boot.  It was another setting that isn't easily described, but a for-sure stop if you are ever in the area.

We fought Santa Barbara traffic to get to Port Hueneme for the night, had our first In-N-Out Burger experience.  Solid.  Actually a real good burger.  At the risk of pissing off some really passionate people, however, I think it was built up just a little too much for us.  I sort of expected angels, rainbows and unicorns :-)

On a boat tomorrow to do a little offshore exploring.  I hope you have a good Friday and upcoming weekend.

- Jim

My ladies outside the front door at Hearst Castle, San Simeon, CA.

Out back of the castle.  

Have a seat on the cherub davenport and Mr. Hearst will be along momentarily.

Ready for us all to sit down and have 'vittles!

No caption necessary.

Nice pool, Mr. Hearst.

Rosebuds  Get it?

Ended the day with a stroll along the Pacific.  Yes, they are really still getting along.

Day 30 - Yosemite National Park

"They should have sent a poet." - Dr. Ellie Arroway

The phrase 'Pictures don't do it justice' had to have been said first by someone looking over Glacier Point in Yosemite National park.  We spent all of Day 30 hiking in Yosemite, getting up early and going hard until arriving back at our home base in Mariposa for an 8:00 pizza dinner and then bed.  We concentrated on the Valley area - El Capitan, Bridalveil Fall (which was really just a trickle of water - 4 years of no rain will do that I guess), Tunnel View, Valley View, exploring  the Village area, hiking under the Royal Arches and various other trails, and ending the day with a drive up to Glacier Point (we started the 4-mile/3,200' climb, made it about a 1/3rd of the way and thought the car was a better idea...).

If you haven't been to Yosemite, and specifically if you haven't been up to Glacier Point, I suggest you try to do it before you die.  Speaking for myself, it was my favorite Big Trip stop so far and the most beautiful and majestic thing I have ever seen.

- Jim

Half Dome from Glacier Point, Yosemite N.P.

A wider view of The Valley below Half Dome from Glacier Point.

Yosemite Valley from Tunnel View.  This is shooting fish in a photographic barrel.

El Capitan.

The girls at Glacier Point.

MK on top of the world.

Day 29 - Minden NV to Mariposa, CA

So, we're generally not roller coaster people.  I like them well enough, although I don't seek them out.  And the girls just aren't fans.  So, when Google Maps guided us from Minden to Mariposa via California Hwy 108 and 49, we didn't realize that it was going to be our own little thrill ride.  I did a double take when I saw the 26% grade warning sign.  It was all that and more.

We were going to blast thru and get to our hotel in hopes of maybe sampling Yosemite for a little while in the afternoon, but there is no blasting thru the Sonora Pass and the 10,000 or so switchbacks that we drove on.  We gave into pace and instead stopped at a bunch of turnouts and scenic vista points along the way, getting to our lodging in Mariposa at dinner time.  A nice dinner across the street from our hotel, a little ice cream and swimming for the girls, and some relatively early bed times so we can get up and at it tomorrow.  I want to see Yosemite!  Cheers.

- Jim

Photo courtesy of's website.  I couldn't take a picture of that sign because my hands were gripping the wheel so hard...

Not the highest pass I have ever been on, but the hairiest ride getting there.  

Donnell Lake from Donell Vista, Stanilaus National Forest, California.

Donnell Lake from Donell Vista, Stanilaus National Forest, California.

Donell Vista, Stanilaus National Forest, California.

Cute little hotel.  G'night.

Day 28 - Berkeley CA to Minden NV

Sometimes, when I type the blog header with the date and the city names, I think it sounds a little like I am starting a Captains Log for a ship that is lost at sea.  Day 28...rations are running low and the crew is starting to look at me strangely.  If we don't see signs of land soon, I fear all may be lost...

Everything on the USS Big Trip is sailing along fine, however. Today was some travel and some sight seeing, all on the way to spending two days in this little National Park just southwest of here starting tomorrow.

One minor aside to the smooth sailing - you will see a picture below of a little tree-related issue we had back home with the storms that have been blowing thru Southern Wisconsin.  This doesn't speak to bad luck, because you can't travel for this long without some hiccups.  What it speaks to is the blessings we have with the folks we have surrounding us on this trip and in our lives in general.  One of our super neighbors watching over our place spotted and let us know first thing this morning (thanks, TS!).  My super lumberjack Father swung into action and sliced and diced things into order before noon.  These folks as well as other friends, family and neighbors - all managing our mail, being ready to help and then those super star co-workers dealing with our crap while we are out playing.  We have said thanks before we left, we will say it again when we return, but I don't think everyone really knows how much we appreciate the support we are getting. Lucky, lucky, lucky. 

We had not planned on stopping in California's capital city, but Kim started thinking that one State Fair should be on our All-American trip, and the California version in Sacramento was the only one where the date and place would work.  So we stopped.

Believe it or not, this State Fair was like none other - it was hot, everything was expensive, it had a big midway full of carnies trying to talk you into playing games and endless trailers selling junk food.  Oh, you say that sounds like your State Fair as well?  We did really enjoy ourselves, but it was what it was as far as a fair goes.  It was good to be able to get the girls some traditional summer fun and complete junk food.  And I got some meat on a stick which is always a good thing! (For the detail oriented, it was a battered and deep fried pork chop on a stick.  And yes, it was really good.)

We left the fair and headed from Sacramento (Elevation 30 feet) up, up, up to Lake Tahoe (6,300 feet) in just a couple hours.   Remember Crater Lake a couple days ago?  Play it again, Sam.  The same endless variation on the color blue, the same drama, the same beauty.  We caught two bad weather days in Crater Lake, but our swing through Tahoe was Bluebird perfect.  On a beauty scale of 1 - 10, I would still put Crater Lake at a 9.5 and Tahoe in the high-8's, but man, great, beautiful stuff.  Different settings of course, as well.  Crater was beauty in pristine isolation and preservation.  Tahoe is beauty surrounded by amenity, recreation, wealth, etc.  Two different kinds of cool.  I would vote Crater in a beauty duel, but where Spokane was the place Kim and I thought we might be able to move to and be happy, Tahoe has a future romantic escape written all over it.  Good job, Tahoe - Rawr!

On to Minden, Nevada (state number 18 for those of you keeping track at home) for the night and then on to a National Park I have yet to visit.  Cheers!

Emerald Bay, Lake Tahoe, CA.

Boycott the Selfie Stick!  Instead, talk to another human and ask them to take your picture.  You'll get a picture, and you'll get to interact with another human.  Win/Win!

Emerald Bay, Lake Tahoe, CA.

California State Fair, Sacramento CA.

Don't mess with MK when she has a deep fried mac and cheese stuffed bacon cheeseburger!

A little storm damage back at home.  Thanks to our house watchers and Grandpa Craig for the damage control. Free firewood available...

Day 27 - San Francisco, CA

It was your normal summer San Francisco day - mid-70's, sunny, light breeze...wait, what?!?

That's right, kids, the Big Trip positive weather karma continues on in full force.  Over the last week, we have had warm and sunny days in both Seattle and San Francisco.  There should be a Sharknado Tsumami Flash Flood-icane in our future at some point to make up for overall good weather.  For now, however, we will thank the weather gods and be thankful.

Kim and I really love San Francisco.  Such a tourist friendly town to the both of us.  Something to do around every corner, and on such an amazing day, it was really nice to just get to one section of town and explore walk without a strict agenda and without the need to get in the car and put on miles.

We decided to park close to the Fisherman's Wharf area and walk for most of the day.  We hit that area, Pier 39 (just three seals), lunched on chowder bread bowls at Boudin, took a cable car to the top of Hyde, walked to Chinatown, freaked MK out with the head-on ducks in the Chinese market windows, walked all the way back via Lombard Street, had ice cream at Ghirardelli Square and walked around some more.  Whew.  About 9 miles of walking should about have evened out the food intake, right?   We took a quick car ride over the the Painted Ladies as well since we had never seen them. Beautiful homes, but the poor people that live in those houses can't ever walk around in their underwear without having the drapes pulled. 

That's about it.  We really like this town and as with so many other stops on the trip, we just scratched the surface, but we got a great flavor of the place.  We will be back.  Good job, San Francisco!  We really love you.

A little break in the southerly travel tomorrow as we go inland Cali for a day.  Cheers to a good Monday.

Christmas card potential right there.

It's a long wait for a cable car on a sunny summer weekend, but worth it!

Lombard Street, San Francisco, CA.  We walked up it instead of driving down it.

The Painted Ladies.  Light wasn't great and a couple were, but I think you get the picture.  Uncle Jesse was no where to be found.

A beautiful day by the bay.

Day 26 - Klamath to Berkeley, CA

Good Morning from the Bay Area!

Up and blogging relatively early from another lovely Holiday Inn Express and Suites in sunny Berkeley, CA.  Today is about San Francisco.  Kim and I have visited on several occasions and it is one of our favorite cities.  We are super excited to show the girls the city. 

Yesterday was largely a travel day, trying to get to the Bay Area so we could settle in for a full San Francisco day.  In our travels, though, it was largely about one thing - Redwoods!

We took off from Klamath mid-morning after sleeping in a bit and hit the road south.

Side note - we took Hwy 101 basically all day.  Legendary road, probably 2nd only to Route 66 for me when it comes to American Roads.  With its pretty non-stop winding through Redwoods in the No. Cal stretch, its an 'active driving experience'.  Also, when the family has some strong motion sickness tendencies, it can be a challenge.  All heads were up and focused on the road and scenery for most of the day and we tackled it without problem.

The first stop was at Fern Valley in Humboldt County, CA. This is part of a larger group of Redwood National Parks.  Even though we were all about Redwoods, the hotel staff gave us this tip, and what a tip!  I had never heard about this place, but it has been added to the long list of things I would highly recommend if you are in the area.

To get to Fern Valley, do the following: Take 101 South of Klamath, CA.  Exit and wind around the Scenic Parkway, then exit on Davison Road.  But it's really a road in 'quotes' - more like a 10 MPH, barely two-cars wide dirt path that winds, climbs and dives through old growth Redwoods.  Take Davison FOR 4 MILES until you hit Gold Bluff Beach Road.  But that's really not a road either, more of a bouncy gravel path that takes you along the Pacific Ocean for ANOTHER 4 MILES, including crossing a small creek (when you enter the park, the Ranger eyeballs your car and tells you that it looks like you have enough ground clearance to make it across the creek.  You don't cross it on a little bridge, you CROSS IT in your car...) and then you arrive at the parking area with about a dozen other dirty cars in it.

A short quarter-mile hike gets you to the small valley.  They filmed part of Jurassic Park here - the parts that they wanted to feel immediately pre-historic.  I was looking around every step for a crafty little Velociraptor to poke its head out and try to snatch my children.  The canyon is narrow with 50+ foot high nearly vertical walls completely covered with ferns and mosses.  Unbelievable, and a total highlight.  Thanks for the tip, Holiday Inn front desk lady!

Back in the car, back through the jungle safari ride to a paved roads and on to the Avenue of the Giants. This well known road is right off 101.  30 miles of gorgeous Redwoods, winding roads and lots of places to stop and hike.  We took one particularly nice stroll around Pepperwood, CA and then hit a gift shop near Redcrest.  As with so many other Big Trip stops, we could have spent days here, but after soaking in the amazingness of the trees, we continued the trek southward.

Our final destination was getting as close to San Fran as possible for today, but since we were so close, we made a swing through lovely Santa Rosa to see Kim's Aunt and Uncle Linda and Jack.  They met us with hugs and opened their lovely home to us.  And we got...wait for it...A HOME COOKED MEAL!  Such a strange feeling to have being in someone's home feel so foreign.  A month in hotels an restaurants will do that to you.  A great dinner on the grill, some long catch-up conversations and a walk around their mountain-surrounded neighborhood got us to about 9:00, so back in the car and another hour got us here.  Thank you so much, Linda and Jack, for the hospitality.  Great to see you.  Keep tapping ;-). 

We're off to be tourists.  Have a great last day of your weekend.  It is Sunday, right?  I seem to have lost track...

Fern Valley, Humboldt County, CA

Fern Valley, Humboldt County, CA

The Girls in the Ferns.

Caution!  Dangerous Marysaurus's in the area...

Redwoods are tall.

Under the Redwoods were fields of clover.

Tree hugger.

Redwoods are tall.

Day 25 - Crater Lake N.P. to Klamath, CA

Greetings from Northern California.  Among the area's other endearing qualities is a solid 4G data connection, so we are back blogging and making up for a lost day.  Can't say that I hated the down day with limited connection to the outside world.

When your intrepid travelers last blogged, we had finshed up a great Wednesday in Portland.  We jumped in the car and continued our trek south.  Initial plans were to get to Crater Lake National Park ASAP, but we found out that Kim's Aunt and Uncle, Joanne and George, were camping in Oregon just a little ways off our original route, so we took the non-Interstate route through the Oregon Cascade Mountains to meet up with them.

Interesting stop #1 on the way was lunch at the Timberline Lodge at the base of Mt. Hood.  The lodge is at 6000' and the summit behind it is over 11,000', so it is an unbelievable sight.  Snow in July, so much so that a youth skiing camp was going on.  Hard core young skiers were everywhere, obviously an odd sight for summer vacation.  We had a buffet lunch that was out of this world, looked around some at the amazing lodge.  The lodge is so cool that, 1)It's a National Monument all on its own and, 2) It was used for some of the filming of The Shining.  We took some pictures and hopped back in the car. 

Next stop was Redmond where we met up with George and Joanne.  Nice little pit stop to see some great relatives from Kim's family, including meeting her cousin Jon's wife, Lisa, for the first time. We had some ice cream at a nice little shop in Redmond, caught up with a nice chat and once again continued on south.  Great to see you all!

We got a tip from George and Joanne to stop by the lava fields just south of Bend, Oregon which are part of the Newberry National Volcanic Monument.  It was right on our way, so we made a brief stop, and wow!  One of those pieces of landscape that made you feel like you were immediately transported to another planet.  The field was geologically new, about 7,000 years old, but looks like it happened almost yesterday.  Big fields of open black rock, just a few plants growing here and there.  Very cool.

We finished the ride to Crater Lake N.P., arriving just around sundown. We only had time to take a quick ride to one scenic overlook. (Jim's grabs his thesaurus...breathtaking, see also - stunning, awe inspiring, amazing, magnificent, heart-stopping, overwhelming).  You can insert any superlative you want.  It's just unbelievable.  Rain started, though, so we headed to our cute little National Park cabin for the night.  As with Yellowstone, it wasn't AAA accommodations, but certainly nice, and all you really need for a good night's sleep.

And here's an aside I don't think I had mentioned.  We have obviously been sharing things pretty publicly on our trip.  We figured if you were going to put it out there for family and friends, why not tell the world for fun.  One of the things we did was to have some cheapo business cards made that have our Facebook and blog page on them.  We chat up just about anyone who asks what we are up to, and if they seem at all interested in the trip, we flip them a card.  The folks next door to us in the cabin last night were perfect examples - two super nice couples from the East Coast that were on a trip that largely followed ours for a week or so.  They got cards and I think they followed the Facebook page. We're normally pretty open folks, but one of the many things we are learning is how much more enjoyable a day is when you are in the frame of mind to be open to everyone around you.  Yeah, yeah - its hokey stuff, but it's true.  So, hey to the folks that were next door to us at Crater Lake!  You seemed cool. Hope I didn't snore too loud.

This morning I set the alarm for 5:00 and headed out alone with my camera to try and catch some sunrise pics.  Another quick aside - the rim road around Crate Lake is absolutely hair-raising, even for those without any hair.  You know the kind of road - about two feet of shoulder and then 500' of drop, nary a guard rail in sight.  Anyways, I twisted my way to a lookout point when light was just hitting.  No dramatic sunrise, but fog was rolling in.  Me, by myself, with my camera, isolated 1000' about the most beautiful lake on earth with no human within miles, watching fog roll up and over the rim of an ancient volcano caldera.  It's burned in my brain forever.

I went to get the girls up and about, we packed up and started up to the highest lookout point.  The lake is about 6,200' in elevation and after driving up to a high turnoff, we hiked up to the fire lookout point at over 8,000'.  We had just a few minutes of good viewing, then really heavy fog rolled in, and then rain started.  After checking weather, we saw a long morning of rain ahead of us, so we decided to get our Zepplin on and started Going to California.  Crater Lake National Park, it was a short visit, but you are among the most beautiful things I have ever seen.

A decent ride through west-central Oregon and into Northern California.  When you hit Hwy 101, you know it's California - ocean views, surf, huge rocks coming up through the water and Redwoods.  We stopped at the first beach we saw, took off our shoes and walked in the surf for a little bit before heading to our hotel.

And that's a long blog post.  Thanks for reading.  Off to walk around really big trees and head for the Bay Area tomorrow.  Cheers, have a good start to your weekend!

Phantom Ship Overlook, Crater Lake N.P.  Yes, it's really that blue.

I couldn't get this one to do what I wanted.  Clouds were spilling over the rims, sun was rising, other clouds floating by Wizard Island in the middle of the lake in the distance.  Guess you had to be there.

The view from Watchman's Fire Lookout, Crate Lake N.P. just before the rain came.

Timberline Lodge, Oregon.  It's a stunner!

The girls in front of Mt. Hood.

The girls at Lava Field, Newberry National Volcanic Monument, Oregon,

Hitting the beach just across the California border.