Sunday, June 14, 2009
First thing's first, Chris added a few pictures from meeting up with Gramps (AKA Rev, AKA Joseph, AKA Joe), as well as some from Papa's actual birthday with his brother Gerry. We added links here as well as in the older posts.
Yesterday we took a trip up to Belleville to visit the Casson family, who are longtime friends of Papa (AKA Gene), and all of Chris' mom's family. Deb's mom and Jerry Casson were great friends, and raised their kids together for a few decades. The Cassons are a loud, fun-loving bunch, and it's always a great time to hang out with them. This shindig was at Rick's house (Rick being one of Jerry and Dave's many children who made it to the party), and we got the grand tour including the bar they'd installed downstairs, the lake in the middle of their little community, and the winery owned and operated by the guy who built the neighborhood.
The Winery was fun, and really any place that hands out free tasty alcohol can't be all bad. The make wines with awesome names like Old Hippie, Smart Ass Chardonay, The Doctor's Zin, and Hope (which is a Riesling in a cobalt blue bottle with a pink breast cancer awareness label, donating the proceeds to the local Susan G Comen foundation). We ended up with two bottles of Hope, and figure that by including it with the bottle of Brut champagne they gave us at the House on the Rock, we'll have enough to share with the 8 folks at the house some evening.
The birthday cake was tasty, and the candles (yes, there were really 80 of them) were successfully extinguished. Everyone brought some food product so we had a big buffet of chicken, brats, porkiness, all sorts of potato salads/coleslaws/sides, and of course you can't have a big family get together in the mid-west without an assortment of American beers. Deb had spent the last few weeks scanning old pictures of Papa as a kid, attending various weddings, family portraits, etc and Kim put together a great slideshow of pictures for everyone to enjoy. It went over very well and everyone was gathered around the TV to watch and see what trouble Gene had gotten into growing up.
Kim of course gravitated towards the pool (since she's a particularly awesome swim instructor) and towards baby Olivia (since she's an early childhood education guru [Also, she says "And the baby's so cute!"]), so naturally she sought to combine the two. In an impromptu swim-lesson, after obtaining parental consent of course, she danced around the pool with Olivia and they blew bubbles at each other. This baby took to the water perfectly, and Kim's hopeful that early exposure to swimming before Olivia has a chance to develop an (irrational) fear of the water and resistance to swim lessons makes her the safer and more confident swimmer just like she's seen in other babies who started swimming early.
As I'm writing this, we're off to Flora to visit Synda who is Deb's cousin. There's a lot of family all over the Illinois area so while we're back here, we're making the most of our proximity to catch up with everyone we can. More updates and pictures to follow!
PS - The spiderweb pictures at the end of the album don't really have anything to do with the birthday, but my dad pointed them out, and I thought they were cool.
Friday, June 12, 2009
Yesterday, we drove the 3 hours up to Bloomington, IL, for a delightful day spent with Jim's father and his brother John and John's wife, Cindy. We all had lunch, and then dinner, together, before heading back down to Waterloo. It was a lovely day spent with family. Funny little anecdote on the way back-- apparently, a lot of cops in Illinois drive unmarked cars, and unlike in Arizona, they're not white Crown Vics. Deb was anxious to get back to her folks' house, so she was being a liiiiiiiitle bit lead-footed. We were going around 80 in a 65 zone. An unmarked cop pulled up alongside us, glared at Deb, and pointed at his speedometer. We were pretty lucky that he was feeling generous! Needless to say, we slowed to about 70 for the rest of the drive home.
Today, Gene's brother Gerry and his wife Sherrill are here visiting for Gene's 80th birthday, which is today. Over the weekend, we'll be going to a big barbecue bash being held by the Cassons, who are longtime friends of the Boyd family.
We're having a great time, but Aimee admits that she's pretty homesick and is looking forward to being with her kitties again next week. Chris is glad that his allergies have only kicked in once so far, though he's pretty miserable right now.
Time for us to stop being rude guests and go socialize. More blogging later!
Wednesday, June 10, 2009
The trip was long and boring between the house on the rock and the alamo lot in St Louis, but was uneventful. Returning the car in and of itself wasn't bad but we have more crap to haul around than any two people ever should, which has to all be transferred to the Budget car rental place. We pretended that we had a flight leaving the airport, and the Alamo people happily took us over - where we walked 3 feet and got on the budget shuttle. It covered more distance than needed, but got us there without having to lug bags too far...
Which gets us to the Budget lot. The new plan is for Chris to rent the car in his name,and add Deb as a second driver. This way, all the bags can be thrown in at once, and we can haul all 6 of us around (Chris, Aimee, Deb, Jim, Kim and Ricky) without a problem. The snag here is that Chris didnt know what all the details were when Deb set up the reservation, so he made his best guesses. The only thing that's really different from our rental is the milage limitation, but the 1,050 miles should be sufficient.
Chris had finally gotten used to the big ol' Durango, but this van is a friggin' BEAST. He says "I miss being able to see when I could merge." We're thinking that letting Deb drive sounds like a better and better idea, since Chris has 2,000+ miles under his belt within the last week.
We're currently at the STL airport cellphone lot, and will be picking everyone up in the next hour. More updates after we make it to Papa and Grandma Norma's house!
Our package included 30 minute massages for each of us, which we were more than happy to indulge in after being on the road for so long. It was Chris' first professional massage, and he definitely enjoyed it!
As for the House on the Rock attraction itself, well, this place is awesome! We both really wish that we'd had more time to look at it. Our massages were done a little after 4, and we got to the attraction 7 miles away around 4:30. There are three tours to see everything. Tour 1 is fairly short, and Tours 2 and 3 are much longer. We were told that the last tour starts at 5 for any given tour, so that meant we had to go through Tour 1 fairly quickly to make it to Tour 2 before 5, and then spend the last hour before they closed in Tour 2. We didn't get to see Tour 3, sadly, and we spent less time in 1 and 2 than we would have liked.
The House was the brainchild of Alex Jordan, an architect, artist and collector who began the House in the 40's as a retreat. By the 60's, enough people were coming out of their way to see the House that he decided to open it to the public and give up on the whole retreat idea. He charged admission so that he could keep building it and making it more and more interesting.
Tour 1 included the Infinity Room, which is what people talk about when they talk about the House. It juts out over a cliff around 85 feet up from the ground, and the docent told us it's counter-weighted by a massive amount of concrete under the main house. There are a bunch of pictures of it in the album, including this one.
By far, though, our favorite part was the Japanese Garden. As cool as all the collections are, this is what we'd spend our money on building.
We have to post a shorter blog today, because we've got a long drive ahead of us to St. Louis, so we're going to stop here. Check out all of the pictures in the album; we think you won't be disappointed!!
Next update will be with the Cronenberg family!
Tuesday, June 9, 2009
We're about an hour and a half outside of Minneapolis, filling up the ginormous tank on the Durango with E-85. Awesome that we get to use it, since it's better for the environment and way cheaper.
More blogging after House on the Rock!
Monday, June 8, 2009
As Aimee posted earlier from the theater, Up was pretty darn cute, though Chris thought the ratio of sad to happy and fun was a little too much toward the sad side of things (Aimee cried). You know how Disney loves to kill/maim/separate/poke with a stick/etc some important character so as to make you love/hate/feel for/root for/etc another? Same thing, just with a heavier hand than usual.
The mall was just ridiculous, and gigantic. Go through the pictures here. Most of them relate to the fact that there's a friggin' amusement park in the middle of the mall, but there's also stores for everything you've ever heard of. Nothing all that exciting to report - pretty much we wandered around the mall for a few hours, and outside of scale and selection, it was not all that special.
Tomorrow we're going to be at The House On The Rock, which looks to be an interesting place with a museum, a tour, and crazy Frank Lloyd Wright eske architecture. I'm sure I'll take lots more pictures there. More updates tomorrow!
Today was a pretty easy day of driving, and we're going to go see Up! in about an hour, so that should be fun. Not sure how many pictures we'll have to share, but we'll put together a day-in-review post after the movie and mall exploration is done. Bye, everyone!
Wall's only real claim to fame is Wall Drug, which has its beginnings in the 30's. The short version of their history is, the Husteads bought a drugstore, and it did pretty crappily, unsurprisingly, thanks to the Depression. They were close to closing when they hit on a great idea to attract business to the off-the-beaten-path little town: they advertised free ice water for hundreds and hundreds of miles in all directions. Those signs are still around these days.
Their campaign worked like a charm and Wall Drug is an actual attraction now. It's not a drugstore anymore; it's a mall. The thing is HUGE! There are several different gift shops, with products ranging from South Dakota attractions (Mt Rushmore, Badlands, etc) to Wild West memorabilia to a Black Hills Gold shop to a rock, mineral and gem shop, and so much more. Of course, there's also a ton of kitsch. Wouldn't want it any other way. Besides the shops, there are a couple of places to eat and an ice cream shop. There are also a few funny attractions, like this and this and this. They still offer free ice water and 5 cent coffee, too. More pics in the roadtrip album for Day 5 - Wall Drug!
After leaving Wall, we took the scenic loop through the Badlands. The Badlands are interesting. Most of western South Dakota is gentle rolling hills--some of which are known as the Black Hills, because they're so densely covered in trees that they look black from a distance--and then, out of nowhere, BAM! This landscape smacks you in the face. Looks like parts of Arizona, huh? I think that they called it "Bad Lands" when it was first discovered because it was so different from the very-suitable-for-farming hills. More pictures of the Badlands can be found in the roadtrip album for Day 5 - Badlands.
From leaving the Badlands, we headed east, to traverse basically the entire state of South Dakota. We hit some decently heavy rain for a short stretch, then drove through mostly overcast skies with a few sprinkles here and there. We also left the higher elevations during this leg. At the highest, in eastern Wyoming, we were at 9,000 feet. Now, in eastern South Dakota, we're at about 1,400 or so.
By five-ish, we were itching to be in our hotel in Sioux Falls, and were still 50 miles out or so. Of course, this is when the skies decided to open up completely and drop several million gallons of water all at once. The rest of the drive was in a tremendous downpour, much to Aimee's dismay. Chris kept his cool (good thing he was the one driving), and we made it ok, after a bunch of white-knuckling by Aimee.
Comfort Suites are nice, and ironically, way cheaper than the Rodeway Inn we stayed at in Rapid City. Of course, Rapid City is also the nearest city of a decent size to Mt. Rushmore, so we are sure that has something to do with the price difference. But we both heaved a sigh of relief when we got here and found this lovely place waiting for us.
Today we have a short drive-- it's only about 3 1/2 hours from here to the Mall of America in Bloomington, MN. We're going to have a nice, relaxing day! More updates later. Don't forget to check out the roadtrip photo albums!
Saturday, June 6, 2009
We left the Lodge, and went to the base of the tower to walk around it and take some pictures - Frank and plenty of other folks regularly climb it, and then look down from the peak to see the Lodge, the folks around the base, and the four states you can see from there (South Dakota, North Dakota, Wyoming, and Montana) - but we opted out of climbing the 600 feet monolith. Besides, there's a voluntary moratorium on climbing during June for the six local Native American tribes (Cheyenne, Lakota, Kiowa, Crow, Shoshone and Arapaho) to use it for religious purposes. That's the real reason we didn't climb... yeah...
To give you an idea of scale, here's Aimee sitting on a piece that fell off a few hundred years ago. See where it might fit up on the side?
We wrapped up there, and moseyed over to the next national park - Jewel Cave. There was a slight problem along the way - the deer in this part of the country are.. uppity. One might think that a giant silver SUV hurtling towards you at 70 miles an hour might be a good thing to try to avoid. But no one ever accused deer of overthinking things like that. Chris had what he described as his "first real use of anti-lock brakes" also including swerving, correcting, panting, and then breathing a huge sigh of relief that we didn't roll over. We probably missed that deer by 6 inches if that. Since we were 30 miles from BFE, Wyoming, no one was behind us on the 2-lane highway to rear-end us, or cause problems as we skidded into the rumble strips, corrected back into and through our lane, and then back into it again before resuming our cruise. We thankfully made it to Jewel Cave without further incident. Surprisingly enough, we don't have any pictures of this part of our adventure.
It's the second longest cave system in the world and they offer all sorts of various tours. We took the shortest one, the 20 minute lecture that takes place a 30 second elevator ride and 250 feet below the visitor's center. Aimee's claustrophobia didn't really make this a fun experience - in her words "I hated it." Chris thought it was pretty interesting, but probably would have enjoyed a longer tour where you actually went and saw things more than just the one room where they talked about the cave formation.
They had an interesting thing out front that they use to clear the folks who want to go on the most strenuous tour. It's an example of how tight the space get in some parts of the cave. The space Chris is crawling through there is 8.5" by 24" which taught him an important lesson - his rib cage is about 8.4999" when he squeezes everything in as much as he can. Not exactly comfortable, so Chris won't be going spelunking in Jewel Cave any time soon. He did make it though, so he was very proud.
After wrapping up at Jewel Cave, we drove towards Mount Rushmore, which is only about half an hour away from Jewel Cave. On the way to Rushmore was the site where they're carving a 350 foot tall version of Crazy Horse, and we pulled up toward it to check it out. Arriving at the gate, we saw that they were charging $27 a car to go look, so we opted out, particularly since all that's carved is part of the face, and the hole under his arm. We turned around and got back on route for Rushmore.
Right as we started the drive up to the monument, which is about 1000 feet above the highway, a storm rolled in, complete with pounding rain and thick fog a la the aforementioned Devils Tower. Feeling a little miserable and more than a little concerned about being able to see anything, we parked in a parking garage (nice to be able to keep the car dry) and went up to the plaza. We had lunch and hung around in the gift shop for a while, and when we looked up again, the sun was shining and we could see the faces now! Woo! The only bummer was that since it had been raining, the faces all looked like they'd been crying. Since we can't control the weather (yet!) we have to take what nature gives us.
Not wanted to tempt mother nature any more, we drove through a little more rain on the way to Rapid City, found a hotel, and hunkered down for the night. The wifi only works in their lobby and the bar/casino downstairs, but that means that we got to use the two-for-one drink coupons we gave us at checkin while writing the blog. Yes, we're nerds and brought a laptop into the bar.
That just about does it for the day, so we'll have to catch up with everyone tomorrow!
PS - The pictures are updated in the album!
Friday, June 5, 2009
Two quick things about the pics in this blog entry - First, y'all should know that the pictures in the albums at http://www.aimeeandchris.com/roadtrip/ are not really converted properly from the raw versions, since Photoshop takes forever to do it the right way and the laptop hates doing it. Some of them are broken in some very interesting ways, but once home Chris will try to fix everything and convert them properly, one-by-one, to get a better version of the album up and running.
Second, for this entry, they're uploading slowly (gee, I can't imagine having slow upload speeds on a satellite connection, can you, Dad?), so
When we last saw our heroes.. err, I mean... Where did we save our last update? Oh yeah, day two!
We got up around 6 am, had a pretty tasty continental breakfast at the Comfort Inn (yay for those waffle makers where you pour in the batter and flip over), and went to work on the car problem. Alamo has a Idaho Falls location, so that was handy. We were the first customer of the day, and after looking up our file and seeing the notes from calling roadside assistance the night before, the Alamo counter girl said she could exchange it.
Here's the fun part - even though we were returning a defective vehicle, and had agreed in Boise to pre-pay for them to fill the tank upon return in St Louis (which is actually cheaper than doing it yourself... go figure), they wouldn't take this car for the exchange without a full tank. That agreement gets us one tank at the agreed upon rate, not two, says the girl at the counter.
Grumbling all the way to the gas station we passed on our way to Alamo the first time, we put in a tank, and now we're driving a Dodge Durango. Yes, we went from a somewhat sporty little Chevy Cobalt to a seating-for-seven Durango. Not quite sure how that worked out. Aimee thinks that they needed it to go back to the east coast so they upgraded us for free. In any case, we have a much larger, more comfortable car, but sadly also one that gets 2/3 of the gas mileage of the prior. So far we're averaging around 20 miles to the gallon, to the Cobalt's 31. :(
The Durango is pretty nice all around, but it too has a few fun... let's call them "quirks." The computer thinks that it needs an oil change, and reminds us of it every time we turn it on. We also had a fiasco with the overhead lights being on constantly, until Chris finally discovered a setting near the headlights to turn them off. Luckily, there was no in-the-dark driving, which is about the only time the cabin lights being on would be an issue.
Speaking of light and dark, holy guacamole! We both forgot that the further north you are, the longer the sun is out in the summertime. It doesn't get dark in these necks of the woods 'til well after 9 pm, and the hotel clerk in Idaho Falls said it'd be even crazier in a few weeks, with it not getting totally dark until a little before 11 pm!
We took off out of Idaho Falls around 9 or thereabouts, and made it to the Grand Tetons somewhere around 11 or so. There's no way we can put into words how amazing those mountains and the surrounding glacial lakes are. You're driving along in western Wyoming, you round the bend of a tree-lined road and WHOOOOOOOOA NELLY! All of a sudden, you're gazing at mind-blowingly tall, snow-covered mountains!
After stopping in the GT visitors' center for a while (and checking out their awesome model of the range), we decided to both do a little hiking and do a little comfortable seated sight-seeing, so we drove to Jenny Lake (this is from the west side, looking east, so you can't see the mountains here. It's pretty nice anyway though... ), which is one of the glacial lakes near the base of the GTs. Besides being a gorgeous alpine lake, the thing that stands out about Jenny Lake, and really all the water near the Grand Tetons, is that it's glacial water that's amazingly cold and amazingly clear. You can actually see to the bottom of the lake straight through the water, it's so clear. Once there, we bought a round trip ride on a boat that takes you from the road side of Jenny Lake (the east side of the lake) to the mountain side (the west side). One surprisingly quick boat ride later, we got to the other side and hiked around a mile or so to get to a gorgeous place called Hidden Falls.
Now, we know that Aimee is from the east coast and has had some limited experience with a bazillion gallons of running water gushing down a mountainside, but it's been a long time. And we know that Chris is a born and raised desert rat. Suffice it to say, we were both in awe and just a little bit overwhelmed by Hidden Falls. Aimee's favorite part was the pale, sea-glass green color the crystal-clear water takes on as it cascades over the rocks. Chris' favorite part was that the entire hike was full of awesome surprises around every bend-- interesting plants, animals and running water to see at every step of the way. On the other hand, his least favorite part is the ever-so-flattering raccoon mask sunburn he acquired thanks to hiking with his sunglasses on, and no sunscreen on his face. Part of the lack of sunscreen on his face is because evidently, Idaho doesn't believe in sunscreen. Seriously. It wasn't available in the Albertson's that we found.
After hanging around the GTs for a couple of hours, we drove on to Yellowstone, although we stopped every few miles to take more pictures of the breathtaking landscape. At one point, we saw a herd of deer on the side of the road, so of course, we needed to snap a few shots of them. Yellowstone in general, and Old Faithful specifically, is a gorgeous place. We had some more battles with road construction, but made it to our gorgeous hotel and it was awesome. It was pretty rustic (hence the lack of internets), but since you could see, hear, and sometimes smell Old Faithful outside the window, it was a good trade off.
We didn't get to see everything that we wanted in Yellowstone the first evening, so we got up early and hiked around then. Everything there is beautiful and Chris took lots of pictures, which are all up on the album. Aimee wasn't totally sure that the 6:00 AM, 50-degree, two-mile hike to the Morning Glory pool would be worth it, but Chris managed to convince her, and she was really glad they went. There are lots of other cool geysers and thermal features along the way too! The only real disappointment is the fact that we didn't see much wildlife. There were a few deer on the side of the road, but until we were leaving and saw a few bison, that was it.
The drive to Devils Tower was pretty uneventful, and we made it just in time for dinner, which was very tasty. This B&B is literally in the shadow of the tower, and Frank runs climbing expeditions up it several times a week, or even sometimes several a day. The room we're in has housed the governor and first lady of Wyoming, and has an AWESOME view out the window of the Tower. We'll explore the park in the morning (assuming the current storm bearing down on us doesn't rain on our parade) and
Thursday, June 4, 2009
Wednesday, June 3, 2009
At 3:00 AM, the alarm goes off. We leave the house by 4:00, head to Arizona Shuttle, get to the Phoenix airport (somewhat delayed due to the nasty accident on I-10 from earlier in that morning), fly to Vegas, fly to Boise, rent our car*, drive out of town, keep heading east through middle-of-nowhere Idaho including the area around Crater of the Moon NM*, through some pretty gnarly construction*, into Idaho Falls, where we find a hotel and dinner.
Story number one - The car.
First thing you need to know about the Alamo counter at the BOI airport... ...there isn't one. You have to ask the Budget people where the hell Alamo is, and she politely points you to a courtesy phone to use to call them for a ride to their location.
Second thing is that when they send the van to pick you up along with the other customers, you'll be dropped off and one employee will try to process all 7 of you. By himself. Including inspecting the car for dents, dings, scratches, etc. You'll get the car, but it may take a while.
Third thing. Chevy Cobalts are crap. I'm trying to find nice things to say about the car, but so far my positive things are limited to the stereo having an MP3 jack, and the odometer computer giving you instant MPG numbers. Most of my complaints are nitpicky, but they add up - The doors don't feel right when you close them, the armrest in the middle either hits you or gets in the way, the A-frame obstructs your vision, the Service Air Bag warning comes on three times during five hours of driving through Idaho - you know, little things like that.
Fourth, which really is To Be Continued at this point. The guy I talked to on the phone says that the local Alamo will replace this car with another at no cost and with no hassle. I plan on making sure that's the case, and at ever-increasing volume as needed. We'll report back on how that goes in the morning.
Story number two - gnarly construction.
In BFE Idaho, we were stopped on the highway for about half an hour, "traffic" backing up (all 12 cars), and made to wait for some mystical go-ahead. When we got it, it was in the form of this car leading us through one of the more thoroughly destroyed construction sites I'd ever seen. No pictures of it unfortunately, but basically we had to follow that car because they were actively scooping, mining, and apparently blasting the road right next to us. The confusing part is that this is the only highway connecting this part of Idaho, and cutting it into pieces doesn't seem very friendly. Also, there wasn't a flow coming out as we waited, so i think both ends were just waiting for backhoes or cranes or whatever else to finish breaking the road so we could very slowly follow the awesomely marked car.
Story number three - Moon Crater NM.
If we'd had more time to stop here, I would have loved to. There are some pics here of the strange combination of areas that they have in Idaho. It changes from rolling green hills to pointy black lava rock from one side of the road to the other.
There's more to share, but it will have to come later. We went past a mountain where the local high school paints their year on boulders, the first nuclear power plant, as well as what is apparently a pretty active archaeological site, all without the time to really investigate like we should have. Hopefully the next legs will give more time for exploration. For now, I'm going to bed, since I've been up for about 21 hours now. More to come!
We've not won any millions yet, but also haven't lost any, so I guess that's something...
Heading off to the shuttle, which takes us to the first plane, which takes us to vegas and the second plane, which takes us to boise and the rental car.
Is there a roadtrip equivalent of "break a leg?"