Saturday, June 07, 2008

On the Road - the long-lost cousin's surprise visit

On the third morning of our trip, using Google Maps, a road atlas, a pen, and several napkins, we revamped our route and decided to, instead of heading south to I-10, take the route every sensible person takes when going out West and get on I-40 in Knoxville. (Eventually, I'm going to write a post, with diagrams, of the many routes we've PLANNED and the ones we've actually taken.) With this route, we'd pass through Nashville and Memphis (and therefore Graceland) and, I realized from the map, Sparta, Tennessee.
It is a funny coincidence that I grew up in Sparta, NJ, and my dad's family is from Sparta, TN. From what I understand, most of the family is there, and the family I know is a small branch that moved to New Jersey. (Like how my mom's family is all in France, and we are just the small long-lost American cousins.)
I called my parents and asked them, "Should I stop in Sparta?" I didn't know if it would be rude to just drop in on people who have never met me with less than a day's notice.
My parents said, of course we should stop in, and my dad called my grandfather and several hours of phone tag ensued, as we drove from Bristol (where the giant guitar was) to Knoxville to Sparta.
But finally we made it there.
Apparently, Sparta is the county seat.
And finally, the family:
Next stop: Memphis!

Wednesday, June 04, 2008

One Week on the Road

I am blogging from the Pacific Time Zone!!!!! Already!!!!!

At about 10:20 PM, the local time (but 11:20 PM, the Mountain Time we were used to) I woke up in the car and saw, aside from the sky and an unbelievable number of stars surrounding us (like walls of stars, not just a ceiling of stars), a big beige shape looming before us, to the right of the highway. What the hell is that!? I thought. It didn't look like something natural, but it was too tall to be was rock. Big rocks. "We're in Arizona," Marie told me. I woke up just in time. We stopped at the Painted Cliffs (so that's what those big rocks were!) Welcome Center. There was no Welcome to Arizona sign; only a sign warning us of "Poisonous Snakes and Insects." Great! (When we got to New Mexico, the very friendly sign in the welcome center only told us "NON POTABLE WATER" was available. Welcome to the desert, there isn't a gas station or convenience store for miles...and we're not going to give you any drinking water either!)
We're staying at a seedy (but cheap) motel on Route 66 in Holbrook. Tomorrow we drive back east to Petrified Forest National Park, where I hope to break down and finally buy an annual park pass instead of paying all these stupid fees. If I had planned ahead, I would have gotten it at Shenandoah, but oh well, what's an extra $15? By the end of this trip, I will probably have gotten my $80 worth out of that pass...and it will be good through next June!
Anyway, since it's been a week, I wanted to list some things.
In just a week, we've managed to visit all four time zones of the United States. We've been to twelve states. We've seen the Appalachian, Ozark, and Rocky Mountains. (From Santa Fe, we could see the Sangre de Cristo Mountains, which according to Wikipedia are part of the Rocky Mountains. I did not know the Rocky Mountains went that far, but when we were driving to Santa Fe I thought, "Hey, those look like the mountains on the beer cans!" Yes, that is what clued me in that those were the Rocky Mountains...I recognized them from beer cans.) We've crossed the Delaware, Mississippi, and Rio Grande Rivers. (The Rio Grande was another, "Hey! That's famous!" Totally unromantic; we passed it in the area surrounding Albuquerque near a strip mall where we were going to a Verizon store to get my phone replaced.)
We've already had our first car mishap; a spring broke and the passenger seat was stuck too close to the dashboard for a passenger to actually sit in it. A nice mechanic in Santa Fe fixed it for us in no time, at a ridiculously low price. What a nice man!
Oh, duh, we've driven on the famous Route 66, too!
We've seen Graceland and other cultural/historical sites. We've seen art, nature, culture, history, and the bizarre (Foamhenge, the Cadillac Ranch.) We didn't get to eat alligator or rattlesnake or turtle, but we've had chili verde in Santa Fe (as well as the city's best margaritas...which are made with lemon juice????), barbecue and catfish and grits and hush puppies and fried green tomatoes and fried dill pickles in the deep south, steak and "mountain oysters" (yes we did) in Texas, various beers from small local breweries (plus wine from the Ozarks...who knew Arkansas had wine country?), as well as various weird sodas you can't find in NJ, like Peach Nehi (blech) and Cheerwine (better.)
The soundtrack to the trip has been my iPod, mostly, and sometimes the radio. We've been putting it on shuffle, but mostly listening to the same CDs over and over again. There are thousands of songs on that iPod, but we keep listening to the same two Beirut albums. And also Interpol, Blonde Redhead, Janis Joplin, and Bob Dylan.
Tomorrow we're going to Petrified Forest National Park and seeing the Painted Desert when it's actually light out, and then driving to the Grand Canyon. We are less than 200 miles away. I can't believe it. And we have more than three weeks until we need to be home.
The plan changes every day. Soon I'll blog about all the different routes we've planned...and what we've actually taken.
Right now, we're going to, after the Grand Canyon, make some kind of detour or bum around in Sedona or something (we thought about going to Yuma, just because we want to cross into Mexico, but now we're not sure....we might not be able to take my car, blah blah blah, as long as we get to go to several states + Canada, we don't really NEED to go to Mexico). The point of this is that we want to go to Las Vegas and spend two nights there--NOT on Friday or Saturday (it's too expensive.) So our plan is - tomorrow Petrified Forest, arrive at Grand Canyon. Thursday, Grand Canyon, drive somewhere else. Friday and Saturday ????? Something fun. Sunday-Tuesday morning - LAS VEGAS!!!!!!! (This will be the first place on the trip we're going to that I've actually been to before.) Tuesday - drive from Las Vegas to San Francisco. This is the plan now. We might change our mind if it seems better to go to Los Angeles,I dunno. But the plan now is:
San Francisco and head north along the Pacific Coast
Redwood National Park
Head north to Portland, OR
Hang out in Portland - go to the big bookstore, the rose garden, and drink beer
Drive east from Portland (possible crossing into Washington just to say we've been to another state)
The plan gets fuzzy here. Originally it was to go to Missoula, Montana, and also drive north to Glacier National Park. I have had an inexplicable desire to go there ever since I learned of its existence. Then we were going to head east to Mount Rushmore, then through Minnesota and Wisconsin and the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, down through the part that looks like a mitten to Flint, MI, crossing into Ontario. Why? Because we want to avoid Chicago and Detroit (TRAFFIC.) Then our last stop planned is Niagara Falls...and then home to Jersey.

BUT then I realized we were going really close to Yellowstone. It's four or six hours (I forget) out of our way. Not that much. But I think I've heard that it sucks to go there during the busy season. (Well, if I have the park pass and we have time, who cares.) So we might do that, too, OR go there instead of Glacier. We'll see.

Santa Fe was like New Jersey, it was so crowded and full of strip malls where you can't find anything because there are strip mall villages of strip malls within strip malls, and they have a Best Buy AND a Circuit City; Wal-mart AND Target' Borders AND Barnes and Noble; an Alltel store, a Sprint store, an AT&T store, and TWO Verizon stores. Well, other than that Santa Fe was nothing like New Jersey. But after driving for days on peaceful desert roads (as peaceful as going 75mph legally can get), the traffic was really annoying. This has made us, I think, dream of the emptiness and also the not-desert-ness of Glacier National Park over Yellowstone. But if we have time, we'll probably go to Yellowstone because it's freaking Yellowstone.

I need to go to bed so I have energy for PETRIFIED FOREST!!!!! Goodnight.