Road Trip Retro, 2018: Giving Those Noticing Muscles a Good Workout

As March draws to a close, this will be my last Road Trip Retro post for now–and hopefully, ever! This is the time of year when, in “normal” years, we’d have just gotten settled back into the home routine: me working at the bakery, The Mate clearing fallen branches around the property and getting the lawn mower in shape.

It’s not a “normal” year. But things are turning that way, even though I’ll never think of “normal” again. (The other day I went into a friend’s house for the first time in 14 months and felt like crying with joy.)

So let’s finish up with Road Trip VIII, shall we? That year, three years ago, I became aware that we had fallen into a pattern with our first couple of road weeks. So I determined to NOTICE stuff that I might have bypassed before. Starting with this amazing “We Can Do It!”” cloud in Tacoma.

Seemed like a good omen.

Passing out of Oregon into California on Rt. 199 (a fave), I captured this sign which we’ve always enjoyed:

Who doesn’t love some good sweet cron on a summer day?

Visiting our favorite Prairie Creek redwoods, I decided to highlight the less obvious parts of the forest.

“Don’t take my picture! I’m shy.”
Redwoods, shmedwoods. Look at me!

Visiting our wee cuzzies in Oakland, I tried to capture the sense of their neighborhood…

…and just up the road in Berkeley, this wonderful memorial to the Free Speech movement:

Dora, my bike, enjoying a lil’ break

Next up, SoCal. With our sons long graduated from college and my grandmother long since passed away, we visited a more obscure bit of coast, just the two of us…

Monaña de Oro State Park

…before heading into LA for the usual family & friends visits. Then, the Big Left Turn, and off into Arizona, where, for once, we rented a cabin near our favorite park-nobody-seems-to-have-heard-of, the Chiricahua National Monument.

2 years later, we came right back here and were treated to javelinas in our front yard!
I adore this place. Sunrise on sycamores is just frosting on the cake.
OK, I know- -I’m getting away from my “noticing the little things” theme…

In Albuquerque, I captured a piece of a “ho-hum hike” at the base of the Sandia range, right there in town…

New Mexicans are a little spoiled. But as a Washingtonian, I can relate.

…and finally remembered to give their spectacular cuisine its photographic due:

Green chile, blue corn…need I say more?

Speaking of noticing: we also finally decided to let Oklahoma show us its best stuff. Frequently terrible weather (blizzards, tornadoes) keeps us from crossing OK, but in 2018 we stayed in TWO different state park cabins, at either end of the state.

Boiling Springs State Park

Nothing breathtaking, but very pleasant (too cold for us to camp). And I got to see this porcupine asleep high in a cottonwood!

Yay for noticing muscles.

The eastern park, Lake o’ the Cherokees, featured 1930s-era cabins made by the WPA.

The lake itself…bleah. But awesome cabins!

Passing through Missouri (another rarity on our eastbound journeys), we stopped to recreate in some federal scenic river land. The name escapes me–but this beaver didn’t!

Well, HEY, cutie!

Cutting down through Tennessee, we treated ourselves to a date in Nashville.

Pause for a moment here to send lots of love to poor ol’ Nashville.

With our friends in the Blue Ridge of North Carolina, I tried to focus more on the background of the place–its rhododendron thickets…

(with Mate in foreground)

…though who can resist a mountain sunrise?

No muscles required here.

At the apex of our journey–my home stompin’ grounds of Durham and Chapel Hill, NC–I focused my camera on some of my personal NC icons:

Mom in her pickup (hauling horse trailer)
…my parents’ shoe collection (part of it)…
…Mom’s loom (the smaller one)–here w/ Son Two, aka Grandson Two…
Chapel Hill’s Tarheel fire truck (Go Heeeeeeeeeeeeels!)

…and, of course, the culmination of every annual NC pilgrimage, the ACC Men’s Basketball feast:

Allen & Sons BBQ, slaw, hushpuppies & fried okra. Again–no noticing muscles needed here. Dare you NOT to notice.

Heading north this time, we made a straight shot to our other cousins, in southern Vermont, where all the little things I might have noticed were immediately blanketed by snow.

Sorry, Red Rover! Be right there.
I felt OK sharing this photo because everyone’s so hidden under their hats. Whee!

Heading home through Kentucky: isn’t this the best bike path bridge ever?

Louisville Loop

Stopping for a bike ride in Topeka, KS, we pretty much stumbled onto this historic site: the school where Brown v. Board of Education began.

At least it’s a protected site, if not exactly promoted. Then again, we were there on a Sunday.

Heading for the Rockies, we took advantage of some friends’ spending a sabbatical in Colorado Springs.

Pike’s Peak sunrise from the kitchen window–are you kidding me? Gotta love the juxtaposition with the light pole.

A hike at Mesa Verde, where we had the trail to ourselves…

…the Mate couldn’t help but notice how much Gretchen likes standing at the edge of things.

Our annual get-together with Adventure Buddies (you know ’em well by now) Tom & Kate was near Page, AZ. Just noticing this piece of the map (so near to the Grand Canyon) was new to us.

The Mate auditioning to be a mushroom rock
Jabba the Rocks–off the beaten path, just hangin’ out…

One thing we did that I’m not real proud of: took a boat tour on Lake Powell to see Glen Canyon, or what’s left of it. What I mostly noticed? My conflicted feelings.

Uff. Something so wrong here.

Finally back in Washington, going for a walk as we waited in the ferry line, I kept the theme going, capturing the beauty of our Salish Sea environment…

No place like home.

…every tiny bit of it.

Ditto.

Thanks for riding with me through most of the past ten years! Tune in next time for something a little more current, ok? And be well.

Road Trip Retro, 2015: An Extra Helping of Blessings

If you read the previous post, you’ll know that RT 2014 came with extra drama. But the following year, as memory and these photos remind me, the sun SHONE on Red Rover and her occupants.

Our blessings started with a quick detour in southwestern Oregon’s Illinois River scenic area, which we’d driven past for years.

Ok, wow. Our bad. Some of these rocks were emerald-green with serpentine.

Sunny riverside or pitcher-plant-filled swamp, this place deserves the word “awesome.”

Next up: a precious visit with our now-toddling twin cuzzies in Oakland.

This lets our own kids off the hook, grandchildren-wise.

We then made our Big Left Turn a bit earlier than some years, skipping LA to head straight over the mountains and into Death Valley.

And summer!
These tamarisk trees are invasive…but their shade still feels pretty good!

Winter did catch back up with us in Albuquerque, but we took advantage of the snow to go for an extra-beautiful hike with our friend Beth in the Tent Rocks National Monument (one of our favorite spots when we lived for half a year in Santa Fe twelve years before).

Cool without snow. Even cooler with.
OK, maybe not THAT much snow.

Not many photos follow, so we must have zipped across the lower half of the country again…but then found ourselves once more in the Asheville area, soaking up the Blue Ridge. Since I grew up in NC, these mountains were my earliest benchmark of beauty.

Feelin’ the love.

Next up–the perennial apex of our trip: Durham, NC, my hometown. There, as always, we hung out on my folks’ little farm, which is slowly being donated to the adjacent Carolina Friends School, which they helped to found.

Baseball, shmaseball–let’s play fetch!

Since the place is undergoing these changes, I took some photos to document the delightfully messy present that was also my childhood.

My folks’ basement speaks volumes about their commitment to the athletic, outdoor life.

Remember those blessings I was talking about? In 2015, we were gifted with the opportunity not just to cheer for our beloved Tarheels on TV, but to attend a game in person.

The Heels promptly lost. At home. To DUKE. Some of you know how horribly terrible that is. Kind of the opposite of a blessing, in fact. Moving on…

Since I had published Book Two of my YA Flying Burgowski trilogy, Headwinds, at the end of 2014, this road trip featured another reading at Durham’s famous Regulator Bookshop. This time I enlisted my old middle school English teacher, Henry Walker, and a couple of current Friends School students, to do a dramatic reading with me!

Still going strong after 40+ years of teaching. Thanks, Henry. For everything.

Yet another blessing, as we headed home: discovering this amazing chunk of scenery in the Arkansas Ozarks.

I know, right? We’d never heard of it either.

So pretty–all that beautiful brown sandstone!

At least I think it’s sandstone. In my next life I wanna be a geologist.

We stayed in a state-run lodge as nice as anything you’d find in a national park.

I took the opportunity of the lodge’s high bluff to emulate my book’s flying-girl heroine.

On the way home, latitude I-40, we stopped to recreate near our favorite chunk of North Texas–but this time, instead of Palo Duro, we discovered its cousin, Caprock Canyon.

Every bit as cool, if a little smaller…
…but with its own bison herd!

As if all this scenery weren’t enough, we made time for a quick detour back to the Mother of All Gorge-ousness, the Grand Canyon. Only for a day hike–but I made the most of it.

7 and a 1/2 miles down to the Inner Gorge view…then 7 and a 1/2 miles back up the Bright Angel Trail.
Luckily there was a little scenery along the way.
Looking back down…wishing I could still be down there.

Near Page, AZ, The Mate and I took a slot canyon tour–not the overly-famous Antelope Canyon, but a smaller one.

It did the job nicely.
Photos absolutely obligatory here, for couples.

Blessing #…oh, I’ve lost track…was meeting Adventure Buddies Tom & Kate (by now you should remember them) outside of good ol’ Joshua Tree National Park for three days of desert togetherness.

Cue pun about how this place rocks.

We also drove down near Palm Desert to walk through a beautiful oasis there, traditional lands of the Agua Caliente Cahuilla Band of Indians.

So much better than another frickin’ golf course.

Driving home on the eastern side of the Sierras, we found public campgrounds still closed, but managed to squeeze into a small private one.

It did the job too.
Sunrise was a special blessing all its own.

Next along the way: Mono Lake. We only had a couple extra hours, but…it’s right there!

After passing by so quickly last trip, we got a little more up close and personal this time.

In northern California, near Susanville, we scored what is still one of our all-time favorite rail-trails. I mean–come on!

A river canyon AND our own dedicated bike tunnel? Stop it!

Next, a state park in middle Oregon, near Prineville, by the Deschutes River…

The campground was closed, but they had these cool rustic cabins. When snow flurried that night, we were grateful for the extra insulation!

Final night, before entering Washington? We camped in Oregon’s famous Columbia Gorge. A fitting reminder of what gorge-ousness exists in our very backyard.

OK, OK–next time we won’t just tack you on to the end of a multi-week road trip! You deserve your own.

Final lesson from this retrospective of 6 years ago? All road trips are gifts. But some gifts have more facets than others. 2015 was extra special that way. Leaving me extra grateful.

Road Trip Retro, 2014: Going Airborne (yep–Airborne)

Two weird facts about Road Trip IV:

  1. It involved airplanes.
  2. It involved a flying girl.

Wait–maybe those are the same thing?

Let me explain.

RT4 started out in what was becoming a familiar pattern: a beeline south toward our far-and-dear in Oregon, then California. Those dear ones include some very big redwoods.

Could not get enough of these examples of endurance.

This year was especially exciting because we got to meet our “placeholder grandchildren,” our wee twin cousins born in the summer of 2013.

Seven years later, I cannot do this anymore.

Then, to add to our joy, we arranged to meet both our sons for a night of camping in Big Sur. Son Two was about to graduate from college; Son One was a year past graduation.

Big Sur, showing what the fuss is all about.

Both of them, to our (somewhat surprised) delight, still seemed to enjoy hanging out with the old folks.

Didn’t hurt that I have a major thing for sycamore trees–the bigger, the better!

But my joy in these days was increased many fold by my own unfolding writing project. My first novel, The Flying Burgowski, was edging toward final publication. The story of one Jocelyn Burgowski, a northwestern island girl whose family life has melted down a bit, takes a flying leap into oh-so-possible fantasy when Joss discovers, on the evening of her 14th birthday, that those flying dreams she’s been having are NOT…JUST…DREAMS.

All that remained, after years of writing and revising, was one last round of edits before hitting the magic “publish” button. I well remember paging through the proof copy of The Flying Burgowski in our tent by flashlight.

The award came later. 🙂

Saying goodbye to our boys young men, we headed east across the deserts. Lack of photographic evidence from that part of the trip tells me we didn’t linger long. But we were with our friends in Dallas when I finished my editing, started my publishing process—and ordered a few dozen copies to meet me in North Carolina, where I had a date with a bookstore.

We did camp once on our way through Arkansas, but it was a pretty weird experience. We were the ONLY people in the campground.

Ummm…is this thing on?

But remember this blog’s heading–going airborne? Crossing Tennessee in a torrential rainstorm, lil’ Red Rover did NOT do that…but she did, suddenly and terrifyingly, start hydroplaning on an I-40 bridge over a swollen creek.

Bouncing off a guard rail, she ended up facing the oncoming traffic (mostly semi trucks)…but, thanks be to all the gods, upright, and safely on the shoulder. Thanks be also to the fact that none of those semis came sliding into us. After realizing we were still alive and finding that Red Rover still functioned, we turned around and drove, very slowly, with flashers, on three functional and one absolutely shredded tire, the 20 miles to the next town. In Cookville, an extremely nice mechanic took Lil’ Red in even though it was closing time. We bedded down at a motel feeling extremely lucky to be alive.

Not pictured: any of that.

But our accident put us in reach of the winter storm we’d been running ahead of. Next morning Red was fixed up, but the roads were now pure ice and snow. We drove the same speed as post-accident, trying to stay out of another one, and got as far as the NC mountains before calling it a day.

Next day, we attempted a hike on the Appalachian Trail.

Operative word: attempted.

We holed up with our friends near Asheville for a couple of days as winter storms continued in waves across the country. My folks in Durham were suffering under a second ice storm, with a third predicted the week of our arrival.

So The Mate and I did something we’d never done in our lives: bought plane tickets to use the very next day. Then we bought the Lonely Planet guide to Puerto Rico, drove to my folks’ house, said hello and see you soon, and left Red Rover parked at RDU as we took to the air.

Still the U.S.–so it counts as part of the road trip, right?
The Mate marveling at the fact that THIS waterfall was warm enough to sit in.
Beginning to see how this snowbird stuff might catch on.

After three gloriously warm days of plantains, fish, and pork, we flew back to my folks’ place in Durham, NC. There I launched my book at my old favorite bookstore, The Regulator—and launched Jocelyn Burgowski into the sky.

My VERY FIRST public reading. (Who needs a mic when you know everyone in the audience?)

Of course our NC time wasn’t all about my author-self. We spent time with my folks as always…

Trying out Dad’s E-trike. At a ripe young 83 (back then), he still commuted to his lab in this.

…and my dad treated me to an insider tour of the Duke Primate Center, which he co-founded.

Sifaka (not sure if I spelled that right)

And then of course there were our beloved Tarheels! Did they win the tournament in 2014? I have no memories of that (though you can bet The Mate does). But who cares, when there’s Allen & Sons BBQ with hushpuppies and fried okra?

The REAL reason for the entire trip.

Heading back west, we took a more southerly route with few stops. It was a rough winter. When we got to Arizona, though, we cut north into Utah, then Nevada, to explore a new national park: Great Basin.

At 7,500 feet, just out of the snow, the campground was mostly ours, again–but with better scenery than Arkansas.
Saw wild turkeys. Heard wind, and not much else.

We then had a date with Adventure Buddies Tom & Kate (remember them?) at Yosemite, but since it was March, of course Tioga Pass was still closed. So we had to go ALL the way south and loop around the bottom of the Sierras in order to drive north again. Still worth it.

I mean, c’mon…it’s YOSEMITE.

And Son Two—having just finished his final quarter at Santa Cruz (graduating early) met us there before wandering off to Central America.

Top of Nevada Falls.

A week later, back home on Lopez Island, The Flying Burgowski launched again–on, or rather from, home turf, with local students participating in a dramatic reading at our community library.

So I’ll let you be the judge: Was RT4 an abandonment of the sacred principles of Road Tripping…or just a sweet, lucky time, and who cares?

(Jocelyn Burgowski & I say, flying doesn’t always make things better–but sometimes, yes, it does.)

Road Trip Retro, 2013: Red Rover, Red Rover, Drive Us All Over

What with COVID and nearly 200,000 miles, Ol’ Red started her retirement this year, as a hand-me-down to Son One. But I thought she deserved top billing today, seeing as 2013 was her debut. (Also the debut of the Subaru Cross-trek. Who knew what trend-setters we were?)

Good girl, Red.

The only theme I can piece together from RT III is my own forgetfulness. Looking through the folder, all I notice is

a) I mistook, last post, in saying we’d explored the Everglades & the Keys in 2012. Nope–that was this trip, as you’ll see.

b) if I took any photos of our week in NC, they all seem to have disappeared

c) my memory gaps of that trip seem to equal the gaps in the photo history: go figure

But no point dwelling on my aging brain–let’s focus on what definitely DID happen, ok? Like kicking off the trip by meeting Adventure Buddies Tom & Kate in Sedona, AZ.

It snowed. But that just made everything more beautiful.

Sedona’s a bit “precious” from our point of view–too many art galleries, not enough federal park space. But what land is protected there is drop-dead gorgeous, and very (too?) accessible.

We’ll take it!

Further in the file, photos of friends in the Phoenix area prove we went through there, but next comes…Florida?! So maybe 2013 was another one of those years where we fled winter storms across the country as fast as possible, avoiding the temptations of scenery and recreation.

Not pictured: making mileage across (I’m guessing) I-20.

But in Florida we continued our exploration of its many, varied state parks, including this one boasting “Florida’s highest waterfall.”

Psych! Turns out the waterfall goes down into a sinkhole. So yes, technically, it’s 75 feet “high.”

Well played, Florida.

We did then visit the Everglades, biking a really cool, bird-and-gator-filled loop…

This picture was supposed to show Gretchen and the gator. Guess Ken was more interested in the gator.

I have kind of a thing for manatees, so we had to rent some kayaks and go find the big ol’ “sea cows.” Unfortunately the spot we chose was jammed with tour boats and snorkelers doing the same thing we were doing, while the poor manatees huddled in a roped-off area. I felt yucky about the whole thing.

Those dark blobs? Manatees. (Take my word for it. This ain’t NatGeo.)

After that, we visited friends on Key Largo. My favorite pic from that visit involved fish–stuffed with shrimp and baked en croute. One of our friends is an icthyologist, so he was in charge of making sure my dough depiction was accurate for grouper.

The “before” picture. After baking, it was less detailed but more delicious.

Another friend, in Northeast Florida, treated us to some wetland hikes that somewhat made up for degradation of the Everglades.

Gator AND turtle! Score!

Now comes the big gap: our week in NC. Maybe the Tarheels lost in the first round of the ACC that year and I was too bummed to take pictures?

But clearly it was another year of cold northern weather, ’cause we headed home at the fairly low latitude of I-40. First stop, the Blue Ridge, for some hikes in what my east-coast soul thinks of as a beautiful winter forest, and my west-coast Mate thinks of as “dead.”

Eastern mountains: Iiiiiiii….will always love yooooooo…

Remember Palo Duro from the last Road Trip? Crossing north Texas, we defaulted back there for a day hike.

Seriously, this place is way too pretty. I owe Texas all kinds of apologies.

Hints of spring.

One more stop along I-40, this time in Santa Rosa, NM: the Blue Hole. I was a bit skeptical, given the way it was pimped by billboards, but, well…

I mean…it’s an 80-foot deep jewel in the middle of the desert. But letting folks scuba dive in there kinda wrecks the magic.

Cutting up past Las Vegas, we totally skipped the city for the region’s best feature (for people like us): Red Rocks State Park.

Red. Rocks.

I’d say it’s one of America’s better-named parks.

Must. Climb!

We must have then headed north on the east side of the Sierras, ’cause this can’t be anywhere but Mono Lake.

Tufa: so weird, so wonderful.

Another recreational stop in CA–Burney Falls, near Mt. Lassen–yielded this wonderful waterfall. I love the way the water seems to sprout right out of the ferns.

Mesmerizing.

Finally, end of March: home to western Washington! The Skagit bulb fields make the perfect welcome-home bouquet.

Thanks, y’all. Good job, Red Rover.

Thanks for riding along. Here’s hoping that Road Trip IV doesn’t demonstrate further erosion of my memory channels!

Road Trip Retrospective: 2012 Was All About the Colors

Featured

Welcome back to NOT-Road Trip I, a wistful review of the past 10 years of criss-crossing this great continent in Feb-March. Looking back at photos from 2012 is like seeing broad stripes of color on a blanket.

BLUE and WHITE. We started in Yellowstone as a special Valentine’s Day gift to ourselves. Thanks to a kind of bus on skis, and our own snowshoes, we penetrated deep into a park otherwise closed to traffic…the human kind.

But plenty of the bison kind!

You can bet this has become one of our favorite photos of ourselves.

The Mate wondering where he put his hat & gloves.

BROWN and OLIVE. Needing some warmth, we headed straight down through Utah to Arizona.

Ahhhh….yes. We felt just like that flower.

One of the most accessible national parks is Petrified Forest–right off I-40. Since winter storms were threatening, we opted for the ease of a ride-through, and kept on our way.

What, you assumed “forest” meant vertical? Show some respect for your elders!

RED. After holing up in Albuquerque for a bit, we headed sadly for Texas, knowing that the Panhandle is one of the dullest parts of a state which guards its scenery pretty closely. But following our noses to a small green blob on our map, we discovered Palo Duro State Park–amazingly, the second-largest canyon in the US, and one that we nor anyone we knew had heard of.

We became huge fans.

WHITE and BLUE again (warm shades). Another brand-new discovery for us (though much better-known): Florida’s National Seashore, where we camped and rode our bikes, in awe of the ivory sand.

I used to think these kinds of photos were doctored.
This might even be whiter than ivory. More like snow, I think.

Having crossed the country at top speed, outrunning storms, we found ourselves with a full extra week in Florida, which we spent bopping from one gorgeous state park to another.

Can’t remember which one this is. We visited several springs, equally bewitching.

We did also ride our bikes through the Everglades and visited friends in the Keys, but frankly, I found the environmental degradation there more depressing than inspiring, so I won’t revisit those places here.

BROWN & GREEN (wet version). Okeefenokee! Need I say more?

We took a boat tour with a very knowledgable young park ranger.

Since Georgia’s wild places have such great names, we also joined some friends in paddling the Ogeechee River.

“And there’s something ’bout the Southland in the springtime…” –Indigo Girls

Back at my parents’ farm once more–don’t forget, dear readers, that NC in March is always the apex of our Road Trips–Son Two joined us again from college, for Tarheel basketball, great BBQ, and cuddles with Stevie, World’s Cutest Ass.

The goat’s pretty cute too, but she’s no Stevie.

SILVER. Unlike the previous year, winter weather precluded heading very far north, so we made the Big Left Turn and headed west through the middle of the country, taking one touristy, cultural stop–unusual for us.

…because the bike path through St. Louis SUCKED.
Up at the top of the Arch. The Mate refused to join me, and when the tiny elevator got briefly stuck, I understood his claustrophobia.

BROWN & BLACK. Astonishingly, while Flagstaff got a foot of snow, just north of there, we found Estes Park, Colorado, on the edge of Rocky Mountain N.P., nearly snow-free.

You would not believe how many rocks there look like Jabba the Hutt.

The “Black” comes from another new find (to us): Colorado’s Black Canyon of the Gunnison. It was too snowy to hike down, so we snowshoed along the rim.

Closest thing to Mordor I’ve seen in the States.

RED again. First, we camped in the lovely & accessible Colorado National Monument outside Grand Junction.

Another one of those, “Why haven’t we heard of this place?” places.

To this day, this remains our only sighting of desert bighorns–right across the road!

You guys aren’t even trying to act rare.

Of course the ultimate RED is found in Moab, UT, jumping-off spot for three major national parks.

This one names itself: Arches.

There, we began what has remained a tradition of joining our Adventure Buddies Tom & Kate for, well…

…adventure. (Canyonlands NP, where we actually took a jeep tour. The guide assured us this photo was a requirement.)

COLOR US HAPPY. Back home in Washington, we managed to meet both our sons on break from college, and celebrated with sushi at Fujiya, our favorite restaurant in the world.

So that’s Road Trip II–colorful, warm, and now folded in the closet of memory. Catch you next time for RT III–thanks for traveling with me!

NOT-Road Trip I: Let’s Get Ready To…Stay Right Here

Anyone who’s followed this blog for a calendar year will know that at this point in the calendar, Wing’s World morphs into a travel blog for 6-8 weeks. Since our kids left the nest, since I left teaching, since the Mate retired and we moved to Lopez Island, we have been leaving in mid-February to drive across the country to North Carolina, returning at the end of March in order for me to start a new season at Holly B’s Bakery.

[Why North Carolina in March? Read a quick primer here.]

This time last year, we were packing up Red Rover for Road Trip X. In any normal year, we’d be doing the same right now for RTXI. But you don’t need me to announce that this isn’t any normal year.

The Mate’s waiting for his second COVID shot. I’m waiting for my first. The country is waiting, period. And we’re not going anywhere. [Well, maybe a teensy, contact-free staycation. But our kind of Road Trip? Forget it.]

So I thought I’d take these next few blog posts to celebrate the joy of the past 10 years of road tripping–my way of keeping hope alive for the time when we can do this again. All of us–whatever our version of Road Trips may be.

Road Trip I: 2011

I hadn’t started blogging then, so this trip’s not recorded. Had it been, your reaction may have been, “Really? You’re trying to cram all THAT into one road trip?”

THAT = visiting out-of-the-way parks we’d never taken the time to explore, like Sunol, near the Bay Area…

This one oak pretty much sums up the place. Go and see for yourself!

…but also famous national parks we already knew and loved, like Joshua Tree

If you read the above explanation about North Carolina, you will know what team The Mate’s cheering for, listening to our satellite radio in our campsite!

THAT also = visiting family, like my grandmother in Santa Barbara–she turned 103 two months after this photo, and lived for another half a year

My Grandma Dede

Of course THAT includes daily doses of recreation, hiking or biking together. (In those days I was still running too, but The Mate had had to give up his beloved sport some years earlier). We quickly became aficionados of desert hiking, despite the need for frequent photography stops.

I mean–come on! (Saguaro National Park near Tucson)

Some of the special new corners of our country that we “discovered” became dear favorites, to which we’ve returned repeatedly, like the Chiricahua National Monument.

We’ll never EVER get tired of this place.

THAT also meant, of course, visiting our “far and dear,” folks who went and moved to places like Arizona & Texas. But, I reasoned, would they welcome us coming to stay with them in the middle of a work week? Shouldn’t we give ourselves some work while we visited, to keep us out of their hair?

And so, in two different cities, San Antonio and Dallas, I signed us up for 3-day stints with Habitat for Humanity.

San Antonio. We got to paint this one.

Our far & dear thought we were silly. “Next time, skip the volunteer work and spend more time with us!”

Midweek in February, there are no big group “builds,” we found–so we did a lot of this.

Turns out, for us, the idea of combining socializing with volunteering was cooler in concept than reality. Since then, we’ve kept the two separate.

We learned on Road Trip I to enjoy the incredible contrasts our big country has to offer–desert one week, swamps the next.

I love cypress knees.

We also folded some history into those off-the-beaten-track stops, like Birmingham.

Walking through this Civil Rights memorial in Birmingham was an extremely emotional experience.

In the Blue Ridge of North Carolina, more old friends. (You’ll notice I don’t include these photos because I don’t want to violate their privacy, but this one, at a distance, gives the idea.)

Still friends, for 40 years now

And when we finally got to Durham–my hometown, and Chapel Hill, where The Mate and I met–we celebrated what we had come for: family and Tarheel basketball. And Tarheel basketball family.

Son Two even skipped a few college classes that year to join us at his grandparents’ house.

I should clarify that. My parents are NOT Tarheel fans. They are nuts about other things, like animals and recreation, but NOT the Heels.

Dogs rule–and also horses, goats, chickens, and a llama–at my folks’ farm, Tierreich, which translates to “Kingdom of Animals.”

Here’s the basketball family–which I have come to think of as the Tribe.

Some of the faithful get too nervous during the games to sit down. (Not pictured: all the delicious Southern food that’s part of the ACC Tournament ritual.)

The one place both basketball and non-basketball family meet is the annual Wildflower Walk, a tradition The Mate started back when he used to fly back for the ACCs.

Trout lily!

After the tournament (The Mate surely remembers how the Heels did that year, but I don’t) Road Trip I took us north–way north: through DC, then up to Rhode Island. Why not? We’re not due home till end of March!

One of the best urban bike systems ever!

Then, Maine, where we spent half a sabbatical year in 2003.

Aw, Peaks we missed ya!

Finally, we made what I’ve come to think of as The Big Left Turn. Crossing the country at this latitude in March is no joke, so we traveled fast, sticking to interstates to beat the winter storms. This photo of a groundhog in upstate NY is the only one showing any kind of scenery; the rest was just “let’s try not to die when that semi going 85 hits that ice patch.”

No shadow! But still, sadly, winter.

So, to recap: Road Trip I established a bunch of patterns–new discoveries of small parks; pilgrimages to big ones; brief and longer reunions with family & friends; homage to history; bike paths & hiking trails as tools of exploration; deep infusion of family & basketball in NC; daring winter on our way home.

Patterns that never took: volunteer work. That had to find another place in our lives. (Don’t worry–it has.)

Next post: So this is how you Road Trip?

Road Trip IX, Days 11-16, Tucson to Central Texas: Why Have I Never Heard Of This Park Before?

Disclaimer: some of the pictures from this stretch of our trip come from parks that are very well known indeed. Like Saguaro National Park, whose two sections frame Tucson. We love Saguaro, but we have fallen into a rut the last few times through, opting to ride our bikes around the wonderful 8-mile loop of the eastern chunk of park. This time, we went west.

Now THIS is winter desert. Right?

But that glorious sunshine didn’t greet us till the second day. What did? THIS. 

Really, Tucson? Really?!

There’s a reason I have no pictures of Tucson’s sweet downtown, as we were too busy avoiding frozen puddles and hunkering down in coffee shops to sightsee.

But when it came to snowy cactus, my camera couldn’t get enough.

Ocotillo…which ought to be blooming this time of year!

I really need to stop clicking and start hiking.

Okay, okay…one more!

Also on the west side is the Desert Museum, one of the best put-together set of exhibits we’ve ever come across to interpret the desert environment.

Really cool sculpture there, tracing the evolution of animal life from protozoan on up.

It happens to include a zoo, made up of animals rescued from injury or abandonment.

Like Cruz the puma, who gave us the death-stare from three feet away (behind glass).

The greater Tucson area also includes a good network of bike paths, but the section we rode was more about exercise and visiting with an old friend, so no photos there either. Ditto on the tacos.

After three days of civil, though, we were eager to revisit one our favorite and least-known parks: Chiricahua National Monument.

Hoodoos in my happy place!

We’re pretty sure the only people who know about this park in Arizona’s extreme southeast corner are friends of ours we’ve raved to, or birders. Birders know the Chiricahuas, because they rear up to 10,000 feet, create their own riparian system in the desert, and act like an oasis for bird species you’d otherwise have to go to Mexico to spot.

The Mate and I aren’t birders, or we wouldn’t have been there in February. We’re hikers. And once again, having arrived just after a snowstorm, I couldn’t stop taking pictures of big rocks in snow.

Enough of these to make giant mushroom soup.

Different flavor of mushroom?

The Mate above Echo Canyon

Me in The Grotto

Or just big rocks.

Can’t…stop…taking…pics!!

Camping was cold: 28 degrees.

With faithful Red Rover in the background

We’ve slept through colder, though, and it was so worth it to be there at sunset…

G’night…

…and under starlight, and sunrise (even though my fingers were too chilled for photos by then).

Next stop: Las Cruces, NM, a town we’ve driven past multiple times. This time we met a friend there and, unusually for us, stayed in an artsy inn.

VERY artsy.

We also hiked, twice, in a section of another park we’ve never bothered to notice: Organ Mountains Desert Peaks National Monument.

Heading for Dripping Springs…which were actually dripping.

I kept thinking, “This is just as cool as the Pinnacles! Where has this park been all my life?” No condors, true, but…

This! (and the ruins of an old TB sanatorium. This place would heal me!)

There was also a cave, which came with intriguing stories from the 1700s about a murdered priest/hermit.

No disrespect, Father What-was-your-name.

Made of volcanic tuff…ancient, petrified ash.

Before heading out across the dismally flat and featureless West Texas plain, we hit one more park. Guadalupe Mountains National Park was first introduced to us via the mystery writer Nevada Barr, whose park ranger protagonist, Anna Pigeon, worked there in Barr’s first book. While hiking solo, I kept that book cover in mind: it featured a puma print. (Puma attacks have been in the news lately…)

But pretty soon the scenery seized hold of my attention.

Hey, wow–a madrona tree! Like a hello wave from the Pacific Northwest!

The Guadalupes are part of the same range as the hollowed-out mountain which we know as Carlsbad Caverns. They are an ancient reef of limestone, uplifted 6-8,000 feet and eroded from within by water.

You can see how much this stuff wants to be hollowed out.

I saw plenty of evidence of that geology on my speed-hike (racing sunset).

On the right: pure, smooth limestone–probably full of fossils. On the left, an aggregate of loose rock glued back together somehow. Oh, why aren’t I a geologist???

The real “prize” of that hike was this formation, Devil’s Hall:

Ever notice how the Devil gets all the cool stuff named after him?

But the whole hike was cool. We’ll definitely be back to the Guadalupes, hopefully to camp!

After spending the night in the town of Carlsbad, we put on our big-kid panties and headed out across West Texas.

Sighhhh.

Now THIS scenery we can all be forgiven for not knowing about.

While we’re on the topic, though, I’ll ask my annual Road Trip Question: does anyone have any special, little-known beauty spots of their own to tell about?

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.

1

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.

2

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.