Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Road Trip 2012: The Long Long Road

After Oceanside, we made the quick 40 minute jaunt to Mission Viejo, home to some of Katie's family. We stayed at the home of her grandparents, and were immediately put to work to help prep dinner. A big family dinner was on the schedule, and Aunt Cindy and Uncle Darrin and their posse were due to arrive within the hour. I learned how to cut a watermelon, and I'm very proud.

Dinner was a fun affair- I wheedled out the story of how Katie's parents met, and there was chocolate cake. Aunt Cindy reminded me of Katie's mom Lynn so very very much.

But the next morning it was out of the warm embrace of family and into the wretched grasp of LA Traffic. And thus begins the Long Long Road to San Francisco.

We passed LA in the middle of the day, so we weren't subjected to the legendary Los Angeles rush hour. But we still hit plenty of traffic! They stop very very suddenly in Los Angeles. You have less than five seconds warning before 70 mph turns to 0 mph. Thank goodness for well-functioning brakes!

But even with all of the shenanigans of the other drivers, it was pretty fun to drive past all of the signs for places you usually only see in the movies.

We even saw the Matterhorn, but it was by too quickly for us to get a picture.

After about two hours of crawling we broke through and were able to continue on our merry way (needless to say, I was driving). We stopped for lunch at a little Italian place in Agoura Hills, and once again found ourselves at the mercy of very loud bunches of recently-freed teenagers. Sadly, we are pretty sure we acted exactly the same way at that age. Which really wasn't that long ago. *shudder*

From there on out, we wound our way on and off of the Pacific Coast Highway- and interestingly, in and out of radio stations. One of our Rules of the Road is that she who drives calls the music. As I was driving, I had on country radio. Maybe California just has too many stations, or something, but every so often it would just completely switch stations and an Alan Jackson song would suddenly be rap. No classical, no fun Mexican polka music; rap every single time. But when we did have country, it came in crystal clear.

We kept driving for hours upon hours. We passed the Google guy several times, which we found highly amusing, but our backs definitely started to complain. We finally stopped at a gas station at dusk and filled up on snacks so we wouldn't have to stop for dinner. At this point, I deemed us far enough out of crazy drivers to let Katie take over, as 7 hours of driving in one day was quite enough for me, thank you. You see, I am a benevolent dictator. I ease up on my rulings when it suits me.

One might perhaps wonder at why we didn't just pull over for the night and make San Francisco in the morning. Because we had a very exciting thing waiting for us: a snazzy hotel right in the heart of the city! Seriously, it was on 4th and Market Street. Walking distance to the Wharf and pretty much everything else our little city hearts could desire. And the bed was sooooo comfy! No offense to Motel 6, but the Mosser has got you beat.

We hit town just before 10pm, and went right to sleep so we could get up first thing in the morning. The adventures in San Francisco to come shortly!

Monday, June 11, 2012

Road Trip 2012: Sunny Southern California, Part I

It's Monday. Chances are, we get home on Wednesday. What??? For some reason, unless I'm thinking of it directly like that, I feel right now like I have more time than I did a week ago when were were traveling to Arizona. Who knows.

Back to your regularly scheduled programming.

At Lake Havasu City the night before

We were up reasonably early in Lake Havasu City (apparently pronounced "HAA-vaa-su" rather than "ha-VA-su" as we had been doing), grabbed breakfast at Dennys (now cruelly without their chocolate peanut butter menu items), and hit the road. The morning started out looking like most mornings have:

But after not too long, started to look like this!

And then this happened:

Oh, yes. California at last. Not that we hadn't utterly enjoyed our time in the Southwest- that was kind of the point of the road trip. But how can you have a road trip without hitting California?? As an added bonus, California meant four straight days of not having to pay for a hotel: our first night was spent in Oceanside with my family, the second in Mission Viejo with Katie's family, and the third and fourth in a hotel my mother procured for us in the heart of downtown San Francisco.

But first we had to get there. It wasn't a horribly long drive to Oceanside- maybe five hours? We hit town around the dinner hour. But we did have some unexpected adventures along the way. The more enjoyable of them came about as we stopped for gas. We were desperately low, and pulled off the highway when we saw a gas station in Chiriaco, CA. I vaguely noted a sign for a museum, but was more focused on the impending water bottles for purchase. But then we came around a bend and saw a barbed wire fence, with a field full of tanks stretching out behind them. And I do mean tanks:


The George Patton Memorial Museum of Chiriaco, California! Thus located because of the Desert Training Camp he used to prepare soldiers for the desert fighting to drive the Nazis out of North Africa in World War II. I announced to Katie that we had to stop there, assuming the entrance fee was $20 or less. A quick search on my phone yielded up the entry fee: a suggested donation of $5. Sold!

We restocked on gas and vittles, then trundled across the road to the museum. Out front, they had the "West Coast Vietnam Memorial," what looked to be an unofficial monument to the locals who were lost. A little further down, they also had one for local 9/11 victims and those lost in the ensuing battles.

Inside the museum, there was a 26 minute video on Patton's career, and memorabilia galore. I learned quite a few things that were new to me. To start, I didn't realize that significant fighting had even occurred in Northern Africa. Bad history major! *slaps own hand*

As it turns out, the day we visited was also the anniversary of D-Day. Aren't we clever? While Patton was not part of the invading force on D-Day, that same force was not able to break out of Normandy. Fresh off of his victories in Africa, Patton and his troops were called up a month after D-Day, and successfully pushed the Allied forces into the rest of France and then on into Germany. Later in the war, he was also called up to help end and win the Battle of the Bulge.

And then, of course, we had to go look at the tanks!

Duck tank

Soviet fire-fighting tank... with giant spikes at the front

Back to the road, where we ran into the bane of Katie's existence: California drivers. The quality of language in the car plummeted through the floor boards and started burrowing to China almost immediately. Though we have lightened up on the rule now that we are in Northern California, once we hit Oceanside I banned her from driving for the rest of California, and she happily accepted. (Apparently this story has spread like wildfire among all sides of her family.)

Speaking of which, Oceanside!

My beloved Oceanside. I get here every chance I get. We drove straight to the harbor, ate dinner at the little Italian place there- new to me, and quite good- and then bounced over to the beach. I ran straight into the water. Katie chose not to follow, assuming quite correctly that the water would be very cold.

Usually, I stay a few miles to the left of the harbor (my dad is probably gasping in shock and pain right now- is it south?), so I had never explored the beach to the right (north?) of it. We wandered along it, dodging an untold number of groups of teenagers (we suspected, and later had confirmed, that school had gotten out that very day). We passed many seagulls, and this batch of Seussical palm trees:

We hung around a bit longer and enjoyed the sunset, then wound our way to our resting spot of the night: Tim's. I can never get a solid answer from anyone, Google included, on what exactly I call my mother's cousins, but whatever they are, he is one of them.

Tim and his wife Denise were truly superb hosts. On top of having a gorgeous home and a very fluffy dog, upon our arrival, Tim reparked my car (parking and I don't get along), then made us both a bowl of ice cream, with nuts and banana on the top. I can't figure out why, but it was hands down the tastiest banana of my life. The four of us hung about in their living room for about an hour, chatting on a whole host of things. I remained carefully neutral about my plans for DC in the fall- I could tell from the number of books written by Glen Beck and/or on Reagan to glean that we probably fall on different sides of the political spectrum. Which just goes to show you that we all need to stop demonizing the "other side" as being horrible people, because they were wonderful people!  Katie and I each got our own room, and the password to the Wifi, and retired to bed.

The next morning, each of us were independently awakened by a knock at our door. Venturing a cautious bedhead out into the hallway, we were greeted by a tray of freshly made breakfast: scrambled eggs, toast, and a sectioned orange. The bearer of such treats? None other than Tim and Denise's 17 year old son Morgan, who the previous night had been entirely taciturn and typically 17. Of course, that may have been because introductions were made while he was neck deep in a video game, and not inclined to be distracted by a couple of wandering vagrants.

We enjoyed the afternoon at their pool, and then Morgan again impressed with a spread of Trader Joe's finest- chips, salsa, and hummus; Ritz and brie (a surprisingly good combination); organic soda; fine chocolate. All plated and displayed very snazzily. Apparently that's his thing: he loves to prepare and display food. I think he will go far in life. Our final hours were spent watching the first two episodes of The Walking Dead, which Denise had sold us on the night before. She made us cookies, and Morgan made us popcorn, and all four of us settled in for the zombie goodness. Denise is clearly used to feeding large packs of teenage boys- the cookies and popcorn just kept coming! Katie and I did our level best, but we barely made a dent.

At 4pm, we hit the road to go to see Katie's grandparents in Mission Viejo.

I feel that this post has gone on quite long enough, so I'll leave Katie's family and The Long, Long Drive to San Francisco for the next one. Ciao ciao, and parents, I will see you soon!

Crew team coming in for the evening

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Road Trip 2012: Grand Canyon

Several years ago, I read a passage in a book about the Grand Canyon. I can't remember the exact phrasing, or even where I read it, but it said something to the effect of "Everyone needs to go to the Grand Canyon. It is the one thing in life that will meet or exceed your expectations, no matter how high they are."

From that point on, I became obsessed with getting there as soon as possible. I managed it sophomore year of college, when I convinced my parents to make the 5+ hour drive from Mariners Spring Training twice in one day. And the book really was right. 

This time around, I knew what to expect, but that doesn't mean it wasn't still absolutely gorgeous! And Katie had never been, so I got to vicariously experience it again for the first time through her reactions. 

We took the Desert View Drive along the South Rim, stopping pretty much every time there was a scenic view with parking, and singing along to Josh Groban and Bon Jovi in between.

Almost as intense as the views was the wind that day.  Our hair at this particular location should give you a vague idea.

Keeping it relatively controlled for the picture
Going head on

Challenging the wind
 It didn't help with the near-vertigo of being so close to such sharp drops to have huge gusts of wind that felt like they could easily take you over the edge. But I like to think it added to the drama of Katie's first visit. Dramatic vista, dramatic weather.

 Once our visit concluded, it was off to California! Katie did some poking around and discovered a little desert oddity: Lake Havasu City, home of the original London Bridge. We have no idea how this little town got the bridge (I suspect some eccentric billionaire), but it was intriguing enough that we made it our home for the night, just miles from the California border. We did our drive over the London Bridge at dusk, so there aren't any decent pictures to speak of, but if you are ever out that way, it's worth a look. They have it going over water, with old fashioned street lights and everything.Very cute.

Saturday, June 9, 2012

Road Trip 2012: Entering Red Rock Country

 When we first arrived in Flagstaff, AZ, the plan was to spend a day frolicking around the Arches National Park in Utah before commencing with our Arizona-based activities. Unfortunately, that turned out to be significantly further away that we expected, so we had to nix Utah from the travel plans.

Instead, we spent our full day in Flagstaff exploring the Red Rock country over in Sedona. The Oak Creek highway is a 15-mile stretch of scenic highway that winds up (to? through? Not entirely certain where it ends) Sedona, with some truly stunning red rock formations. Conveniently, Montezuma's Castle, another site we wanted to see, was just beyond it.

First up was Montezuma's Well, a natural spring of some sort. We'd actually intended to skip it, but took a wrong turning on our way to the Castle, and figured Why Not?

I was particularly enamored with this tree, and Katie humored me

Our first cliff dwelling!
 We knew that Montezuma's Castle would be a cliff dwelling, but had no idea that we would get a preview at the Well! I took an archaeology class last fall that featured several cliff dwellings, so I geeked out a bit and pretended I knew what I was talking about.

The Well itself
We didn't linger overlong, as the heat was a bit overpowering. The altitude kept us very dehydrated, despite our best efforts, for our entire stay in Arizona. Moving on to the Castle. It is one of the largest and best preserved cliff dwellings in the area, over 1000 years old and last occupied something like 700 years ago. It is not a castle, nor does it have any connection to the fabled Montezuma. The settlers who discovered it assumed that something so impressive was built as a castle for the great leader, and thus it got its name.

Despite another rattlesnake sign warning us to stay on the trail, the only wildlife we encountered were some funny little lizards that did pushups and turned in circles on their beds like dogs. We weren't able to get a good picture, but they were quite the animated little fellows. 

For our return trip through Oak Creek, we stopped at several pull-outs for less reflection-y pictures. Despite rising and falling some 3000 feet while severely overloaded, Candy pulled through and got us home in one piece.

Once back in Flagstaff, with its normal rocks, we wandered around the Historic Train District for dinner and some light shopping, and stole more free wifi from the surrounding hotels (when we checked in and tried to buy internet, we were informed that the Motel 6 internet was down, but prompted to scrounge some wifi off of a neighboring hotel. Worked like a charm). Up next: the Grand Canyon!!