It’s That Time Again: Wing’s World Hits The Road

If you’ve been following Wing’s World for at least a year, you know by now that Wing & Mate take to the road in February with the regularity of migrating swans–minus, of course, the awesome grace.* Also we’re heading east, not north, and also, swans have that life-or-death impulse behind their travels, while ours is more…let’s say … discretionary.

(*please, no Wingspan jokes)

OK, bad metaphor. But anyway, for you newbies, fair warning: Wing’s World is about to morph into a travel blog for the next several weeks.

The original draw for this trip is described in this earlier post; click here to read.

For now, I’m going to enjoy throwing out a few teasers from past trips, answering the question, “Why take seven weeks to drive across the country in the off-season?”

  1. Beautiful places at their least crowded. Like…

    Like Guess Where National Park

2. Beautiful places we’d never even heard of

The Source of the Missouri River, in Montana.

3. Faraway friends with ridiculously cute kids who are growing up way too fast.

NC Wildflower Walk!

4. Hidden cool spots of cities we didn’t even think we liked.

Watching an ambitious grafitti artist at work in Dallas

5. Ridiculously cute animals on the farms of family members.

Ben the Sheepherding Donkey in Vermont 

6. Deserts!

Arches National Park (duh)

7. Mountains!

Long’s Peak in Colorado

8. Desert mountains!

Anza-Borrego SP in California

9. Bike paths! (We are FOOLS for bike paths.)

…like this rails-to-trails path along the Illinois River Canal

10. and…let’s not forget FOOD.

It’s all about the BBQ. With hush puppies, slaw, and fried okra. Not pictured: sweet tea.

‘Scuse me, I just got very hungry for some reason. But I’ll see you from the road!

America’s National Parks: Big, Beautiful, and…Downright Un-American: Ever Wonder Why?

Hey, I’m back. Just spent a wonderful four days wandering with my besties from high school through Olympic National Park–which should be called Olympic National Parks, it contains so many different ecozones. From the giant cedars and spruces of the rain forest to the wild waves and fantastical drift logs of the Pacific beaches, from the azure shores of Crescent Lake to the glint of Blue Glacier shining across to Hurricane Ridge–all in four days!–we luxuriated in accessible diversity and diverse accessibility.

And I noticed something I’ve noticed many times before in national parks. We met lots of people–people of all colors speaking Dutch and Chinese and Hindi and English. Except the English speakers were not exactly ALL colors. We met very, very, very few Black folks. And that reminded me of this article I’d recently read on Al Jazeera America.com about just this topic. 

According to the article, my perceptions are sadly borne out by statistics:

According to a 2009 survey by the University of Wyoming and the National Park Service (NPS), whites accounted for 78 percent of the national parks’ visitors from 2008 to 2009; Hispanics, 9 percent; African-Americans, 7 percent; and Asian-Americans, 3 percent.

When compared with their share of the U.S. population, white park visitors are overrepresented by 14 percentage points, whereas African-Americans were underrepresented by 6 percentage points. Whites are overrepresented not only as visitors but also as park employees. According to a 2013 report by the nonprofit Partnership for Public Service, 80 percent of NPS employees were white. And the National Park Foundation’s 22-member board, whose mission is to support the NPS through fundraising, has only four minorities.

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The article goes on to emphasize that this issue isn’t simply one of Black folks not being particularly drawn to natural beauty. Ironically, the National Park Service itself appears to be contributing to African Americans’ feelings of unwelcome in our parks:

Last month we learned firsthand about the racist mistreatment of African-American park visitors during a scholarly event at Yosemite National Park in California. By inviting a diverse group of women to the park, we inadvertently carried out a study of racial profiling by park gate agents.

As part of our event, eight female academics — four of them white or Hispanic and four African-American — drove into the park. The organizers told participants not to pay the entrance fee and to inform gate agents that their fees were waived because they were visiting the research station.

The white and Hispanic drivers gave the agents the information as directed and were welcomed and waved through. The four African-American scholars entered the park at different times and entrances and gave the same information. In all four cases, the African-American professors were extensively questioned, made to fill out a superfluous form, which required extra and unnecessary effort and a check-in with the research center staff, and reluctantly let into the park.

One of the black professors was questioned about her college degrees, the title of her research project and her university affiliation and was asked to provide a faculty ID. The agents appeared incapable of imagining that a black woman could hold a Ph.D. and visit a research station for a scholarly event. (The Yosemite National Park Service has since opened an investigation into the incidents.)

I’m glad to see that Yosemite is investigating this incident. I hope the whole issue gets more attention. My recent re-affirmation of a lifelong love affair with our national parks reminds me: these parks belong to ALL of us. But until ALL of us go there, they won’t be truly national.

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Care to weigh in with your own experience? I’d love to hear.

 

Road Trip V, Days 24-28, Celo, NC to Dallas: The Coolness of Discovering State Parks You’ve Never Heard Of

The real joy of road trips is discovery. The Mate and I travel with camping gear and all our various outdoor layers–a sort of mini, mobile REI–so that even if the weather discourages us from camping, it can’t keep us off the hiking trails or bike paths.

In the past few days we were lucky enough to discover two cool “green spots” in places where our expectations of scenery were low. (Face it, we’re hopeless west coast scenery snobs.) But here we were pleasantly surprised.
#1: Chickasaw State Park in southwest Tennessee. We were going to be pulling in late, plus it was our anniversary, so we sprung for a cabin. Not only was it cheap, the site was lovely.

Our cabin, seen from across the lake

Our cabin, seen from across the lake

There were only four miles of hiking trails, but for a quick stop, that was just the ticket, and we left feeling like we’d be happy to come back and camp.

Cypress knees are so cool!

Cypress knees are so cool!

Cute little old lodge we didn't stay at.

Cute little old lodge we didn’t stay at.

My western soul misses these eastern flowers--blunts, or Quaker Ladies.

My western soul misses these eastern flowers–blunts, or Quaker Ladies.

#2: Mount Magazine State Park in western Arkansas. This one had a little more hype, in that our giant atlas noted it as Arkansas’ highest point. We looked at photos on the web and figured, well, those are probably the three views they have up there, but let’s go take a look. Boy, were we impressed.

Beautiful bluffs in the clouds

Beautiful bluffs in the clouds

The view from our room--imagine it on a clear day!!

The view from our room–imagine it on a clear day!!

This time our weather luck deteriorated; it was 39 and raining when we got up there. Their cabins were pricey, so we opted for the lodge–much more than we usually spend, but very comparable to national park prices. And they’d captured that national park lodge New Deal-era architecture perfectly, with giant posts and beams. We felt both spoiled and right at home.

Highest poi? The Mate makes me laugh.

Highest poi? The Mate makes me laugh.

Moral of this story? Keep your eye on those green spots. Sometimes you don’t have to go far from the freeway to feel very far away.

Got your own special green spot? Some overlooked place that shouldn’t be? Please share.

OK, I’m Home–Now How Do I Hang Onto All Those Memories?

10,000 miles. 20 states (OK, 19 plus Puerto Rico). 60 close friends and family members. 23 local, state and national parks. 

We’re home. Time to caption & share the photos. That should do it for capturing memories, right?

For any normal person, maybe. But for capturing the full vibrancy of a past moment, I like to play “Best of.” It’s a game we started with our kids when they were small, and I think it rubbed off more on me than on them. Here’s how it works:

Best Hike of Trip: Nevada Falls in Yosemite (3/28). (I mean, really, how could anything in Yosemite NOT win Best Hike?) Eating an orange way too close to the edge with my son who’s about to disappear into Central America for 2 months…

Casey

Runner-up: El Yunque Peak, Puerto Rico (3/7) Getting drenched with The Mate on the way down…after all, it IS a rain forest…

Honorable Mention: Nevada Falls again (3/27). Yup, I went up twice in a row. Didn’t have enough time the first day.

Best Bike Path: Turtle Bay, Redding, California (3/29). An old favorite, not a new discovery, but nothing beats this wonderfully curvy path with its little roller-coaster section, wild bunnies, blooming redbuds…

Runner-up: Provo River, Utah (3/23). Exercising nervous tension before Carolina’s final NCAA game…

Honorable Mention: Bettendorf, Iowa (3/20). Who knew the Quad Cities were so into fitness?

Best Dinner: That little hamlet near Ceiba, Puerto Rico that served fish with sauteed onions and lime (3/6). Giant as-yet-uncaught fish patrolled the waters beneath the restaurant deck, probably scarfing the entrails of our dinner.

PR

Runner-up: a tie between Mama Dip’s Fried Chicken in Chapel Hill (3/14) (Mama Dip catered our wedding back in 1986!) and our friend Ben’s braised lamb shanks in Asheville, NC (3/1). Ben OWNS lamb.

Honorable Mention: fried pork and plantains, El Yunque (3/3 and 3/4). Good thing we got out of there; that diet would have killed us. But we would’ve died happy…

Best Lunch: Allen & Son’s BBQ with fixins (3/13). OOOF. No possible runner-up.
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Best Breakfast: El Yunque Inn’s creamy oatmeal with fresh mango (3/4). Since all our other breakfasts were cereal, that one kinda stands out…

And, lest you think with me and The Mate it’s all about exercise and food…well, it is. On road trips, we are rarely in Museum Mode. But we do branch out occasionally.

Best Cultural Experience: Bluegrass & Beer at Asheville’s French Broad Brewery (3/1). It’s the name of the river, silly, not some Parisian chick…

Runner-up: My own (first!) author reading at The Regulator Bookshop in my hometown, Durham, NC (3/11). 🙂
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Best Unexpected Find: Great Basin National Park, Nevada (3/25-6). Aspens. Quiet. Wild turkeys.

Runner-up: Rock Canyon, Provo, Utah (3/22). Whoa, those rock climbers are all so happy!

Honorable Mention: Tie between the Ceiba Country Inn, Puerto Rico (3/5-6)--all those dogs!--and the Indianapolis Museum of Art’s 100-acre sculpture woods (3/19). Is that a spaceship sinking in that lake?

Notice a pattern here? The bolded words are the real memories. The whole “contest” is just an excuse to push my brain to run through all those thousands of possibilities, reinforcing the synaptic connections of every single one of those 49 days. 

Oh, and the dates? That’s just my nerdiness. See, my grandma lived to be 103 and kept a razor-sharp memory till the end. Just in case I’ve inherited her longevity genes, I’m keeping my own brain in SHAPE.

So that’s how I remember good times. Do you have other tricks? Memorabilia? Rock collections? Or are you so glad to be home you just let it all go and move on to doing laundry?

 

Why Yosemite is Your Birthright

Road Trip IV, Days 47-49: Fish Camp, California to Medford, Oregon

Wait, where does Yosemite come into it? Just give me a sec.

First of all, Fish Camp (unfortunately the mental images the name conjures up don’t really fit) is the final outpost of private land approaching Yosemite from the south, and we stayed there for three nights with some friends, spending our days in the park.

Second of all, since Medford, OR is only a (long) day’s drive from home, you’d think I’d be writing about that right now. Home. The place we’ve not seen for 49 days. Not to mention our poor dog…although she probably doesn’t miss us one bit since she’s being spoiled rotten by our wonderful friends on the mainland. She may even be a little bummed to see us.

“Oh, you guys? The ones who make me sleep outside at night? Yeah, hi. Welcome home. When do you hit the road again?”

But that will have to wait for my next post, because I need to write about Yosemite.

 

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Have you been to Yosemite? Wonderful! Then you’ll know what I’m talking about. Have you not been yet? Give yourself this gift, sometime in your life: GO.

I believe there are three locales which every American should visit:
Washington, DC
The Grand Canyon
Yosemite

DC is pretty self-explanatory. It’s our Capitol, it contains the (arguably clogged) arteries of our unique-in-the-world form of government, and hell, we pay for the place, right? Every nook and cranny of DC, from the great and obvious Lincoln Memorial (I DARE you to read the Gettysburg Address out loud in front of that massive, sad figure and not choke up) to the innocent-looking curved facade of the Watergate Hotel, reeks with political history…the story of who we are.

OK, the ol’ history teacher’s getting a little fired up here. Down, girl.

But why do I list the Grand Canyon and Yosemite as American birthrights?

I’d like to say, “Just trust me on this.” But that’s too glib even for me. Both these parks are soul-stirring testaments to the power of geology, or the grace of God, or whichever mixture you prefer. Both stop you in your tracks on first view. Both will make you say, “I’ve seen it on calendars before, but I never thought…” and then either run out of words, or need to swallow to get some moisture back into your hanging-open mouth.

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Neither need be out of reach for any American, either physical or financially. Both can be appreciated, in exactly the way I’ve just described, from a motor vehicle (although of course I would not recommend that if you can manage more). Busses go there. Both are possible as day-trips, though again, if you can find a way to stay…you will want to.

Yes, both are in the West, therefore harder to get to for Easterners. Too bad. Y’all can get to DC more easily than the rest of us.

Crowded? Yes, they are–and will be more so if everyone takes my advice. I don’t care. When you are standing at the base of Yosemite Falls, looking up to where the water begins its barely-conceivable 1,500-foot drop, thinking of the glacier that cleaved and carved and polished that endless granite wall…you are, in that moment, entirely alone.

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If you can get to the Yosemite back country, or down in the canyon’s depths, on the Colorado River? You’ll never be the same.

But if you can’t–go anyway. If you’re an American, this is YOUR great gift. Give it to yourself. And remember to say thank you, and you’re welcome.

Folks who have been to these places, do you agree, or not? Would you add any other venues to my list of American Birthrights?

Counting the Sounds of Silence: How Low Can You Go?

Road Trip IV, Days 44-46: Great Basin National Park to Yosemite

Wait–Great Basin National Where, now?

I’ll give you a hint: you get there by driving what the atlas calls “America’s Loneliest Highway.”

Anyone? Anyone? Beuhler?

The answer is eastern Nevada. About the closest you can get to the middle of nowhere in the Lower 48. Except since the 1990s, there’s a something there: a national park. Where, as loyal citizens of Brown Sign Nation, The Mate and I HAD to go camp.

Needless to say, we did not have much company. First of all, it’s not most people’s first choice for Spring Break. Second of all…did I mention it’s in eastern Nevada?

So we were very happy. It’s not that we’re anti-social. We LOVE people. (Well, I do, anyway; The Mate is a bit more selective.) Just…not when we’re camping, ok? Let’s just say that the odds of ALL our fellow campers having the same noise standards for camping as we have are, well, low.

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On our first hike, we met two other people. The next morning: none. In a national park? That never happens. It made me feel all the more fortunate to be able to be out hiking around on a mountain in the middle of a desert in the middle of a work week in the middle of March.

And it gave me plenty of silence in which to think. At one point during the morning hike I started counting the sounds I could hear.

Footsteps.
Hiking poles.
Twittering birds.*
Wind.

Four sounds: that was it. Had we quit using our poles: three. Had we sat down: two. (It was a little too cold for sitting.)

(*I like birds, but not enough to have learned to distinguish their twitters.)

That got me wondering, when else have I ever had the chance to hear such few sounds? Well, the night before, in our tent, all I could hear was the creek we were camped next to. Nights can be quiet. But days?

It’s not that I generally USE silence all that well when I get it. You’d think someone raised in the Quaker tradition of silent Meeting for Worship would be better at it, but here’s what my brain was doing on that hike:

Am I hungry?
Song lyrics song lyrics song lyrics…**
What was I doing a week ago today?
Song lyrics…
Where are we staying tonight?
Song lyrics song lyrics…

(**these days those lyrics are ones I’ve written; still annoying)

But then I started thinking about the silence itself, and I realized that I was feeling more alive than I usually do. Not just happy (though I was), but ALIVE. Why?

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The simplicity of sound seemed to parallel the simplicity of the landscape. I don’t mean lack of diversity–I counted three kinds of pine along with fir, spruce and cedar, plus those amazing aspens. But all those trees were native, as was the sagebrush and the scruffy little wild rose bushes and the creek willows with skin like copper. Nothing had been introduced from outside. Everything belonged. The way Nature or God intended.

So I think that’s what silence does for me, even when it takes me awhile to use it well: it allows me to see what is “native” in my life, what is supposed to grow there. What belongs.

And you? What does silence do for you? Where do you find it–indoors, outdoors? In church, or the Church of the Great Outdoors? Do you need it in great chunks, or do small portions suffice?