Friday, July 31, 2009

Final Thoughts

I know it has been several weeks since our last blog entry from our trip. You would be surprised at how much there is to do when you return home from being gone close to a month. We have had time to gather ourselves and reflect on the trip and here is our final thoughts, note and observations from our trip across the United States.

  • Miles and Money: Our total trip from start to finish covered 7355 miles. Our most expensive gas was $2.89 (California which was no surprise to us) and our cheapest gas was $2.29 in Adel, Iowa. We averaged about 19.4 miles per gallon in the Suburban which I thought was pretty good considering it carried everything we needed for the trip. Our trip was surprisingly inexpensive because we came in way under the budget. (If you really curious about our totals, e-mail and I can will send the totals)
  • KOA: We have always used them whether camping with our trailer or using one of their camping cabins. They are always clean, they have a swimming pool and they always close to the freeway. Sometimes you get a clunker (KOAs in Bend, Oregon and Springfield, Illinois come to mind) but for the most part you meet the friendliest locals at your local KOA.
  • Cracker Barrel: Nothing and I mean nothing beats a cheap breakfast at Cracker Barrel. They have great comfort food for lunch and dinner and they are also close to the freeway. I am glad I got my girls hooked on the Barrel. Currently planning my next trip to Cracker Barrel.
  • Best Pre-trip purchases: We made two purchases before we left on the trip that became invaluable. One, we brought a huge United States road map from Costco. Left in the front seat and even with the GPS, the road map was invaluable. It was nice to see an overview of where we were going and where we were headed the next day. Second, we brought a Coleman Thermoelectric Cooler that had a plug for the car and a plug for a regular outlet. Best benefit; it kept everything cold on the trip while the car was running and the in the camping cabins. (Yes, the KOA camping cabins have electrical outlets.) Second best benefit: we did not have to purchase ice EVER.
  • Rest Stops: The rest stop in every state (except for California) is worth the 10 minute stop. Free state maps and brochures of places to visit plus friendly people who do a good job talking up their state. I hope state budget cuts don’t affect these local institutions.
  • Best Souvenir: Without a doubt, the single best souvenir was the granite rock pieces from Crazy Horse,
  • License plates – We traveled through seventeen states and we were fortunate to see license plates from 49 states. (Vermont was the unlucky state.) We saw Alaska in Pennsylvania and saw Hawaii in New Mexico. We also saw plates several Canadian provinces put like all Canadians; they are hard to tell apart.
  • Best Food – We had many hi-lights throughout our trip but here are the big winners. Zip’s Café and Skyline Chili in Cincinnati, Ohio. Marlowe’s BBQ in Memphis, Tennessee and Teclocate Café and Harry’s Roadhouse in Santa Fe, New Mexico. Awesome regional cooking that the locals frequent. These are the places you want to visit when you are from out of town.
  • Best Free Roadside Places: Cadillac Ranch in Amarillo, Texas. The Corn Palace, Mitchell, South Dakota and Jungle Jim’s Cincinnati, Ohio.
  • Places to Visit Next Time: On a trip across the United States, there are always things you come upon that you did not plan on visiting. On our next trip (I have no idea when that will be) we plan to see the following places:
    1. Dollywood Theme Park and the Grand Olde Opry in Tennessee. We drove by both of them but we did not have time to stop.
    2. Amish Country. It didn’t even occur to us that we would be so close in Pennsylvania, Ohio, Illinois and Indiana. This will be a must the next time we are on the east coast.
    3. Meteor Crash site. There is a meteor crash site in Eastern Arizona off of and I-40 and I tried my best to talk my wife into a side trip. Maybe next time.
    4. Field of Dreams, Northern Iowa. If you are a baseball fan like me this is a must. I might just drive there, spend some time and turn around and come home. Sort of like a holy shrine for baseball fans.
    5. Shiloh Battlefield, Tennessee. This has personal meaning to Kim since her great, great grandfather served in the union army during the Civil War. He was wounded in this battle but survived and spent his post years in the Mid-west. We have his army picture displayed in our house.
  • Our Favorite Places: Our family voted and here were our all time favorite places on the trip. I loved Graceland and Gettysburg. Kim loved Santa Fe and visiting family in Pennsylvania. Both of my girls voted for Santa Fe, New Mexico. Seems Santa Fe was the overall winner.

Our trip across the United States was everything we hoped it would be. The memories we made on this trip I hope will last a lifetime. I can’t wait to get back out on the road and visit more of this great nation.

Lastly, I don’t consider myself an expert but if you have any questions about driving across the United States, e-mail and I would share what knowledge I have.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Santa Fe, New Mexico and Home

Our last destination was to re-visit with family in Santa Fe, New Mexico. Traveling south from Denver, we had a little extra time so we took a detour to Taos. The road off of Interstate 80 was a mountain 2 lane road and getting stuck behind a slow moving vehicle is murder on time. The drive was beautiful, especially the drive around Eagle Landing Lake. We were making great time until there was a pretty severe auto accident on the 2 lane highway into Taos, so we drove around it (barely squeezing the Suburban around the smashed auto in the other lane) and we were stopped on the highway for about 45 minutes to let police and emergency personnel response to the accident. Needless the say we had very little time in Taos, enough to drive by Kit Carson house, have a great lunch at a place called LuLu's and head to Santa Fe. Kim was not happy about leaving a city where there was so much great artwork, pottery and such without getting a look.

We made it to Santa Fe later that afternoon after driving through a severe thunderstorm and lightning storm. We tried unsuccessfully to photograph the lightning but only got shots of the landscape.

We spent the evening with my cousins Rudy and Alicia telling them about our adventures on our trip. They were really interested about our time in Cincinnati because they lived in Wilmington and the towns were only about 1 hour away.

The next morning we headed out to Bandiler National Monument. It is an old pueblo Indian ruin where the Indians lived in the caves in the mountains with petrogylphs and the remains of a Kiva. (A Kiva is an underground structure the Indians used for religious ceremonies) The hi-light was the climb to a Indian dwelling higher up on the mountain. It required you to climb 4 different ladders (a total of 145 steps) and Keegan, Rudy and I were the only ones to attempt it. The view was spectacular and the cave sort of reminded me of a place that old west bank robbers would use to hide as the local sheriff and posse were chasing them.

My cousins were nice enough to take us to 2 more of Guy's Diners, Drive-ins and Dives. We eat at Tecolate Cafe for Breakfast (unbelievable Huevos Rancheos and the Blue Corn Pancakes Kim had were also unbelievable.) We eat burgers for dinner at Bert's Burger Bowl. The Buffalo Burger I had huge. It was the size of my paper plate and it took everything in my power to put it away.

We turned in early because we were all ready to head home. The girls were missing the dogs, Kim was missing her bed and we were all tired of living out of the car for last 4 weeks. We decided to power out our drive home and go from Santa Fe to Wildomar (a little over 12 hours).
We agot up early (another 5:00am start) and pulled into our driveway at 5:57pm. No bad when you through in a stop for breakfast, a couple of bathroom breaks and we even pick up an hour when we crossed into Arizona.

Tomorrow, I will have a wrap-up of different things about the trip. All the unique things, we saw, did and heard on our trip.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Parker, Colorado

This was one of the few mornings the girls were up and ready to travel. We were off the visit our friends the Imbriano's and their girls Lauren (Keegan's age) and Emily (born the same day as Violet). We left South Dakota early and drove into Wyoming and south on Interstate 25. We made great time arriving in Parker (a suburb south of Denver) and the girls bounded out of the car only to been seen later that night for fireworks. While the kids played Kim and I were able to spend time with Mike and Christine and catch up. Mike is one of my closest friends; we known each other since our days at Mater Dei. Mike and his wife used to live by us when they relocated from Northern Cali to Southern Cali and the moved back to the OC for a while before a job transfer took him and his family out to Colorado. We spent most of day catching up on family and friends and we waited out a severe thunderstorm hoping it would clear so we could fire off fireworks. Fireworks are legal in Colorado and we brought a whole mess of firework from South Dakota that reminded Kim and I of our youth. Fireworks are no longer legal in Southern California but to see the excitement in my eyes as I lit ground flowers, snakes, smoke bombs, fountains and other assorted fireworks it was a blast. My girls loved the firework display and even got into the act as we passed out sparklers and watched them wave them around in the dark. This was definitely one of the hi-lights for the girls.
The next day we spent hanging out at a local water park and my girls thought it was the best place in the world. Who would have thought riding on a blue water slide was going to bring so much entertainment?
Not much else to speak of except it was great to see Mike and Christine and their kids. His son Brendan was an absolute riot and we now know that he lives for apple pie. Mike, thanks again for letting my kids, play in your basement and keep your daughters entertained.
My offer to help you work on your unfinished basement is still open. Let me know when you need me.

We are off to Santa Fe to re-visit my cousins Rudy and Alicia. We only have a few more days left on this family adventure. I can't believe this is almost over.

Sunday, July 5, 2009

Hot Springs, South Dakota

We got off to another early start as we left Omaha and traveled to South Dakota. We headed north until we hit Interstate 90 in Sioux Falls and then we turned left and headed west to Rapid City. After a quick breakfast at Cracker Barrel (our last time on this trip) we headed west to Rapid City. We were told that before we hit Mt. Rushmore we needed to stop at 2 places along Interstate 90. We needed to see the Corn Palace in Mitchell and we needed to see Wall Drugs in Wall. The Corn Palace in Mitchell is a multi-purpose building that the city of Mitchell uses and they decorate the outside of the building with light and dark colored corn cobs, and wheat grasses. This year’s theme was Travel destinations within the United States. The kids were excited to recognize several destinations we have already been to. They have been decorating this Palace since 1897. Each year they have a different theme and my thought was do you run out of ideas after hundred and twelve years?
We didn’t stay long because we still needed to cover the rest of South Dakota and we wanted to see Wall Drug. You can’t miss the billboards along the Interstate and Wall Drug is a South Dakota institution. It is basically a HUGE tourist trap selling all things western, kitschy, and anything with the name Wall Drugs on it. It was ridiculously crowded and Kim and I were disappointed at the hokeyiness of it. They have tons of activities for the kids to do (of course, it always cost money) but we really felt it was a waste of time. We sampled the free ice water (which has a story to it) but we decided to get out of Wall quickly and get to Mt. Rushmore. (Side Note: we found a great coffee place that sold locally grown coffee in one pot servings. We bought 5 servings and every single one has been outrageously good.)
Mt. Rushmore is located near Rapid City, South Dakota. The ENTIRE area around Mt. Rushmore is one BIG tourist trap. Western theme dinner shows, reptile exhibits, and bear petting zoos (think Lion Country Safari with bears). We hit Mt. Rushmore late in the day, the crowd was smaller, and no heat and it was easy to get in and out of the parking structure. It is impressive from the viewing platform and the Presidential trail that runs by the base of the mountain takes you as close as possible to the President’s faces. (Make sure you take the trail from the left side first because that side goes down stairs versus the other way which has to cover the trail going upstairs). Make sure you see the sculptor (Borglum was his last name) finished marble product in his studio. The envisioned final piece had Washington’s jacket, Lincoln’s collar and part of Jefferson’s jacket as part of the grand scheme. The faces were completed and the federal government had to stop funding the project because the United States had entered WWII.
The real hi-light of this part of the trip was our trip to Crazy Horse Memorial. Utterly spectacular and awe inspiring are the words to describe this memorial. The memorial is privately funding and it is years from being completed but it is a tribute to the Native American people in this area. The facility is large so plan on several hours to see everything. There is a large Native American collection of artifacts, pictures, paintings and sorts and take time to see the sculptor (Korchak was his first name) log cabin (he built it himself). He has his original marble statue of Crazy Horse and you can also purchase some granite rocks from the mountain to take home. (We currently have two pieces of granite in our car and Kim knows exactly where in the backyard to place them.)
We did spend some time at Wind Cave National park and the cave tour was okay. Our earlier trip to Dixie Caverns in Virginia was much, much better. But our hi-light was seeing a herd of buffalo longing on the grasslands outside the park entrance. First off, buffalo smell horrible and they are not the most attractive animal but they are impressive up close and to see the animal in its natural setting reminds me that we as a country can correct mistakes from the past.
Our next stop is Denver, Colorado to visit our good friends Mike and Christine Imbriano. They have two girls the same age as our girls so our girls are excited to get to play with friends their own age.
Oh yeah, one final thought. Fireworks are legal in South Dakota so we bought some and Mike and I can’t wait to fire them off in Colorado, to ring in 4th of July.

Friday, July 3, 2009

Springfield, Ill and Omaha, NE

Our trip to Springfield did not allow us to meet the T.V. Simpson’s but we did visit Abraham Lincoln’s museum and historical home. Before I get to the hi-lights, let me cover the low lights. First off, Springfield is a somewhat dreary town and everything in downtown closes at 3:00pm. We had our first mediocre meal and I wont even cover the details because it was not noteworthy, and our KOA was definitely on the below average variety. (They proudly displayed the Presidential Award for 2004, yeah that is right. Not since 2004 did they get an award. There is no wondering by me as to why it has been so long.) Luckily we were only there for one night and I think as a whole we were ready to get out of Springfield. But we all enjoyed the Lincoln Museum and his historical home. The museum is truly a multi-media experience, probably the best we have seen on our trip. They show two movies about Lincoln and both movies are very well done and both reminded me of what you would see if Disney was in charge of making films on Lincoln. I mean that in a positive way; the movies hit all of your senses and it’s hard to put into words what they do. Since this is the 200 year anniversary of his birth, the museum brought out some special items which the public had never seen. The hi-light for me was one of only three stove top hats Lincoln wore. It actually had his finger marks on the brim from where he used to grab it to tip his cap when people approached him. The girls were more interested in his historical home where he and his wife Mary started their family, his political career and where he lost his first son to typhoid fever. The girls were surprised that they had no indoor plumbing, (although Mary had a wooden commode in her room that adjoined Lincoln and there was a three seat outhouse in the back. Talk about pooping in style.) and that Mary Lincoln cooked on a big black wood burning stove or over the hearth in the fireplace.

We left Springfield early yesterday morning to drive to Omaha, Nebraska. We drove across Iowa and saw more corn fields than I want to remember or could. I wanted to see the “Field of Dreams” field used in the movie but it was way off the beaten path of Interstate 80. We did find the hometown of Nile Kinnick and Bob Feller. Nile Kinnich played pro football in the late 1930’s into the 1940’s and was elected to the Pro football Hall of Fame in the 1950’s. Bob Feller was one of the greatest right handed pitchers ever who played for the Cleveland Indians. Feller gave up some of his prime years to serve in WW2 but still finish his career in the top ten in wins, ERA, shutouts and strikeouts. Okay so what Mark did not say is that we were on a mission to wine taste when we found the little town of Adel, which is where these two sports heroes were from. Mark has stopped at every rest stop in the beginning of each state to get maps and other paper pamphlets on the state. When I went in I found the one on wineries. Two were close to I80, so we thought we would break our 8 hour trip by taking a look. The one in Adel was closed only on the weekend, but the nice lady who answered the phone said they were having a meeting right then and we could stop by if we wanted, seeing as how we would not be able to make it back. We declined the invite. The second one we could not find. So no tasting for us!!

We arrived in Omaha, Nebraska early afternoon; checked into our KOA and have to say, this was the BEST KOA we stayed at on this trip. The outstanding KOAs separate themselves from the other KOAs but their customer service and how they treat my kids. My kids loved all of the FREE activities available at this KOA. Mini golf, and badminton, and the fact that they made fresh pizza and would delivered to our cabin site was all an added bonus. Needless the say the kids DID NOT want to leave the KOA that night so the minor league baseball game we had planned to attend was canceled and we enjoyed a great evening of family fun. As for Kim, the KOA was right near an outlet mall, and since she was just about at her wits end, shopping was in order. Plus since at the wonderful Springfield KOA she was crapped on by a bird, a new shirt was much needed!!!!! So she left for an hour and only $100.00 later came back with a smile on her face. We had another long trip to South Dakota the next day so, it was early to bed.

South Dakota next….Corn Palace, Wall Drug and Mt. Rushmore to name of view of the upcoming topics.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Cincinnati, Ohio

I do have a couple of comments about D.C. True the weather was horrid, high 90s and terrible humidity but there was a couple of hi-lights for me. One, the Native American Museum was impressive and we only spent time on the top floors. They remodeled the American History Museum and while the section on America at War was fantastic the section on Pop Culture was lacking severely. They have not completed construction so I will chalk it up as not quite ready for prime time. The monuments are always awesome and the Lincoln, Vietnam and Korea Memorials are impressive; I’ve come to the realization that the newly developed WW II memorial is lacking something but I don’t know what. As a good friend told me, the memorial looks like it was designed by a committee and I agree. I did learn a few new things about the Lincoln and WW2 memorial, so e-mail me and I will fill you in on the details. One last note; I love mass transit. Taking the metro into and out of DC I felt like an insider with special information about how to get around the city. Lastly, we found a great brewery in town, Capitol City Brewing and the food and beer were definitely noteworthy.

We left the comfort of Pennsylvania and traveled to Cincinnati, Ohio. We are staying with a very good friend of mine from the old CAM DATA days, Tim Smith. Tim and I are old I.T. mates and we traded war stories about our travels around the United States. To say that our stay was incredible is an understatement. First, Tim, his wife Penny and daughter Tyler are incredibly gracious hosts. Kim has developed a kinship with Tim’s wife Penny and Kim was slightly disappointed Penny and Tyler were not in town. Second, the food was fantastic. We experienced the best of what Cincy has to offer. We ate hamburgers at Zips Café (the best burgers we have had on this road trip), had Cincinnati chili at Skyline. (Kim and the girls are now converts. Cincinnati chili is unique and you have to experience it. We all agree 4-way is the best.) We ate at Izzy’s an old school Jewish Deli and their potato pancakes was a nice surprise for Kim and lastly had some of the best ice cream. Who knew Cincinnati is known for its great food? Third, we visited the Museum Center in downtown Cincinnati and it was by far the best set of museums we have visited on this trip. The kids had a blast at the children’s museum and they also enjoyed the Natural History Museum. Kim really enjoyed the Cincinnati History Museum and learned a great deal about women’s role during WW2. Lastly, Tim gave us a tour of all the great villages, townships and the city itself and he feel we got a view of the city from and extreme insider. We spent our evenings in Tim’s backyard, enjoying some great company, great cigars, and even better spirits while we watched the sun set, the lightning bugs dodge the little brown bats!

Thank you again Tim for taking time off work to spend with us!! Penny, Kim will see you and Tyler next time. Oh and Tim the Bourbon trail sounds great to me! Let’s pick a date and I will fly out to meet you.

Next stop, Springfield, Ill and honest, rail-splitting Abe. You know, the dude from the penny.


Monday, June 29, 2009

Camp Hill, Pa (Kim's Version)

Since we were with my family in Pennsylvania it is my turn to blog again. First some back history. When I was young my mom use to make the trip out to PA every summer so that she could visit with her brother and we could be close with their six children. It was the best time of my, my sister’s and my cousins’ life. We have such fond memories of our times together and especially of my grandmother who for the most part made the trips possible with some extra funding.

We arrived at Tim’s house at about 1:00 and that is when the reminiscing began. We both agreed that John and Sheree were the instigators and constantly got us in trouble. But both of us participated in each adventure because of the poking and prodding and sissy calling by our older sibling and cousin. J Tim spoiled us and the girls with his wonderful cooking, French toast, sweet potato fries, and homemade choc. Chip cookie ice cream sandwiches. Needless to say the girls were in heaven. Much different than chicken nuggets and Mac and Cheese that Mom makes.

The next morning we struck out for Gettysburg. Now I know that Mark said his version, here is mine. Mark was practically giddy with excitement when arriving. He bought the film and picture package (don’t remember how to spell that c…word). Before going into the film Mark was distracted by the gun collection on the wall. He was admiring it when a lady was asking questions about them. He proceeded to give her a full run down of the guns and their advantages and disadvantages. I watched with pride over his knowledge, until ten minutes passed and the kids were driving me crazy so I dragged him away. (Mark should retire back there and become a guide!!!) We watched the movie and then headed up stairs for the giant circular picture. It was pretty amazing, but when the audio started all three girls jumped with a start at the cannon fire. I thought for sure Keegan was going to fall to the ground as if she was shot to go along with the dramatization. We headed for the museum next. I think we lost Mark after the first couple of rooms. The girls although interested could not move as slowly as dad. By the time we were done looking at all the sights, we had plenty of time to look in the gift shop and at all the other exhibits before Mark appeared out of the museum. He probably could have spent another three hours there, but the girls were hard to keep contained and we decided to head back to Tim’s instead of take the 2 hour driving tour. (Mark did that on Sat. alone and with enough time to truly enjoy himself.)

When we arrived back at Tim’s my cousin Rachel and her boys were there. At first shy around their new cousins they all sat properly. Ten minutes later they were all up in Tim’s tree talking and playing, not to mention starting an amazing three day game of hide and seek. It was so fun to see, it must have been how mom felt when she brought us out as little girls.

Thursday we headed to Washington DC for a great day and a half of walking and touring. Mark will give the detail on that!! Although for all you wives out there, check the weather. Husbands do not care if it is 100 degrees and 95% humidity, they will walk all monuments without melting.

Friday we arrived at around 4:00 in the afternoon. My cousin Gab had arrived with her two kids about an hour earlier. So now we had four adults and six kids in my cousin Tim’s house with one bathroom. This brought back more memories of childhood. The game of hide and go seek had started up again and the children were off!! We talked for awhile before packing children and food up for a trip to John’s house. The whole family was convening over there for a pot luck and fun.

John has a great house in the woods. The kids proceeded to get out of the car and start exploring. Keegan was a bit shocked that the boys wanted to swim in the little creek. Did I say shocked I meant appalled. I told her that it was clean and she would not die. Such a city girl, if it is not the ocean or a pool she did not know what to do. It took her exactly 10 minutes to finally change into at least her swim suit bottoms and flip flops, so that they might go exploring with cousin John up the creek bed. Again waves of fantastic memories kept hitting me as if I were a sandy beach in the pacific. The rest of the adults convened in the kitchen of course to talk and get reacquainted. John’s girlfriend Laura is quite amazing and speaks four languages and survived raising three girls and a boy. So I guess I will survive my two girls!! Jody and her boys arrived shortly and Dan was the last to arrive around 10 o’clock after his shift at work. All in all we had 11 adults and 6 children at the dinner. The kids roasted marshmallows, rode on quads. (Mark and I drove a quad for the first time!! There were trails that led deep into the woods. We had a blast!) There was a bonfire, which Mark manned, a band of relatives playing guitars, base, drums and singing in microphones and to top it off John, Jody’s oldest brought fireworks!! I will leave out the part where John lights them with a propane torch. We had so much fun it was hard to leave at 10:30, but Violet was just about asleep in my lap.

The next day we recovered with a “quiet” morning of hide and seek and coffee while Mark headed to Gettysburg again. The visit was topped off with another visit with my Uncle Bob (who served in Germany the same time Elvis was there. He had great stories for Mark) and dinner with Gab and Jody’s family. I can not wait to visit again!! When, I do not know, but it definitely will not be 10 years!

Off to Ohio to visit and stay with a good friends of Mark's, Tim Smith.