CC Day 11 – San Francisco Fog & Our Anniversary

We spent day 11 of our trip sightseeing in San Francisco, staying over for a second night. Until this stop we haven’t spent more than one night in any hotel. We finally got a break from loading and unloading the car for a day! Soooo…..let me share something with you about San Francisco in the summer. I am assuming this will be new information for all of you, because not a single person warned us of what we would encounter here in the foggy city.

Apparently Mark Twain once said, “The coldest winter I ever spent was the summer I spent in San Francisco.” I learned this while on our open top motorized cable car tour, shivering beneath fleece blankets. Why is it cold in San Francisco in the summer, you ask. The friendly, native San Franciscan sitting next to me says it’s because of the fog that rolls in off the water coupled with the ocean winds. So if you ever want to know what the Golden Gate Bridge looks like in person, I am probably not the person to ask. The fog was so thick we could only see about 1/3 of the bridge at any given time, even when we were standing on it.

The good news is that the further east you travel from the coast, sometimes a mere 500 ft or so, the sunnier and warmer the weather becomes. If you ever come to San Francisco in the summer, dress like you would in New England – in layers! And when I say layers, I mean a tank top, then a t-shirt, then a long sleeve tee and then a heavy sweatshirt. Chances are you will need them all as the temperature can vary from place to place by 20 degrees, maybe more!

Being in a city as populated as San Francisco was quite a culture shock after a week in the mid-west. People, people everywhere! On our trip we have seen towns whose populations are smaller than our church’s membership (the lowest population was 10 in the town of Emblem, WY) and neighbors were three, five, ten or more miles apart. Yet in San Francisco, as in any major city, people literally live stacked upon one another. According to our tour guide, in San Fran’s Chinatown, about 12,000 people live within the 30 blocks. American lifestyles are so varied.

I found the streets of San Francisco the most interesting part of the city. Some hills were so steep, I was convinced that before our car reached the top, we would simply roll backwards, front end over rear end, all the way back to the bottom. Anyone living and walking in this city must be in great shape!

Doug and I celebrated our 17th anniversary on Saturday by having dinner (with the kids, of course) at Lori’s, a 50’s themed diner in Ghirardelli Square. No, this wasn’t your traditional anniversary date but I think fish ‘n chips and chili cheese fries suits our marriage well. For dessert we all shared a Ghirardelli sundae. Then we went to the hotel and warmed our chilled bones in the hot tub!

Remember, if you are holding information…like, oh I don’t know, in June San Francisco is blanketed in fog reminiscent of a Stephen King movie…if you are holding information like that about any of the other places we are headed, please share!!! I would hate to get to Sequoia National Forest and find out the trees only look big after a swig from Alice’s “Drink Me” bottle.

CC Day 9&10 – Nevada, Tahoe & Baseball

Thursday we drove from Idaho to Lake Tahoe. The drive through what they call the “high desert” in Nevada was interesting. The drive was smooth, fast and easy thought the scenery was a little boring. We arrived at Lake Tahoe, which is a lake that rests – like a bowl of soup – inside a ring of mountains on the California/Nevada border, just in time to see the sunset. What a beautiful view!

We had dinner at Chili’s and found a Trader Joes’s which made us all feel a little closer to home even though we are thousands of miles away!

On Friday we drove down from the mountains to San Francisco. We decided to go into the city to do some shopping for the evening. As we were headed in, I asked Doug if we could check if the Giants were playing at home this weekend. I said it could be my anniversary present (which is today 6/26) but he just rolled his eyes. Really? What guy out there wouldn’t be thrilled that his wife asked to see a ballgame for their anniversary?!

Anyway, part of his reluctance was because we had checked the Red Sox schedule months and months ago and they weren’t going to be in any of the towns we were in on our trip. He didn’t want to pay to see just anyone. As we drove by AT&T Park, we saw all the fans lining the streets and Jacquelyn pointed out how many of them were dressed in Red Sox gear. I didn’t think much of that; Red Sox fans are everywhere. But there were more and more Boston caps, Ortiz jerseys, Red Sox sweatshirts. Finally we asked someone and sure enough, due to some scheduling changes with the LA Dodgers, the Red Sox were playing the Giants, right here in San Francisco!!!

Some would call that destiny – it felt like it to me! I even had on my hot pink Red Sox cap and Doug was wearing the team sweatshirt by brother gave him. Our plans changed quickly – how can you fight destinyJ 🙂 – and we bought four tickets on the top level just behind home plate. You don’t want to know what we paid…or rather I don’t want to tell you! But it was worth it. Our view was absolutely amazing. As Christina put it, “I like this because it’s like an aerial view.” The ballpark sits right on the edge of San Francisco Bay and from our seats we could see the water, sail boats and sky just over the bleachers and right field. 

I love baseball! I love baseball games! One of my favorite moments in life is walking from the dark tunnels of the concourse up the ramp or stairs and out onto the wide open, sunlit or lamp lit, green field. At that moment, a feeling something like freedom and expectant hope washes over me. There is nothing else quite like it. Even after a night of rooting for our team on someone else’s soil, watching a star player leave the game hurt, leaving 13 men on base and losing the game while down one, with two outs and the bases loaded (for the 3rd time) could dampen this girl’s spirits. Nearly 12 hours later and I am still riding the high. Doug said it best when he told the girls, “We can go home now. Mom’s vacation is complete.”

Well, we aren’t quite intending to come home yet, but I am feeling pretty great!

CC Day 8 – Yellowstone Part II

I have decided that Yellowstone is nature’s Disney World. The park is so large (3472 sq miles) that it has been divided into numerous smaller areas, such as Tower Roosevelt and Mammoth Hot Springs, just as Disney (only 40 sq miles) divides its parks into regions like Fantasy Land, Frontier Land, etc. Each area contains themed lodging, dining and gift shops while boasting multiple attractions that people travel to and from throughout the day. Yellowstone and Disney both require tremendous amounts of walking and some waiting, resulting in exhilarated yet exhausted children and adults. Both parks are meticulously maintained (with one exception – more on that later) and beautiful in their own regard – a feast for the eyes, ears, mind and heart.

 You nature enthusiasts out there probably think I have lost my mind so here are some important differences: First and most obviously, Yellowstone features spectacles of nature, not the creativity of man, engendering awe, solemnity, wonder and even humility. Also, while at Disney one may wait for the Spectra Magic Parade but at Yellowstone people stake out a seat in front of Old Faithful an hour in advance of nature’s performance. (That’s what we did! Doug even ran to get us lunch and we all picnicked around the geyser as we waited.)  Transportation at America’s first national park is up to you (unless you sign up for a guided tour) and, due to its vastness, this means lots and lots of driving. Most drives offer beautiful views, which often include wild life, such as buffalo, moose, elk and more. But this is no Animal Kingdom. You’re in their territory, now; no fences between you and that Grizzly Bear so be careful! The facilities at Yellowstone are appropriately rustic but well maintained. I  believe they offer too few bathrooms; and while the restrooms at information centers and gift shops are clean, the bathroom huts at attraction sites are really just glorified – and unclean – outhouses. This is my only complaint 🙂

 As many of you know, Disney World is one of my very favorite places. I laugh at myself as I admit that, because I am typically averse to commercialization and the like. My love for Disney is a mystery, even to me (except that it really may be the happiest place on earth!). NOW I have two favorite parks – man-made and God-made. I feel my life has reached what others might call a “zen-like” balance. Aaahhhh.

 Yesterday we finished up at Yellowstone by visiting the geyser basin, home to hundreds of geysers, colorful hot springs and bubbling mud holes. To describe them in writing would be futile. I have included an aerial picture of the Grand Prismatic Spring. (Just in case you are wondering, we didn’t take it!) The long, thin, tan colored line to the left of the colorful water,  is the boardwalk we walked along. This is just one of the many amazing natural wonders we witnessed. If a trip to Yellowstone is out of the question for you, I recommend a Google image search so you can see more!

On the way to our hotel in Pocotello, Idaho we drove through Grand Teton National Park, ate pizza in Jackson Hole and watched the sunset over the Idaho countryside. One really interesting fact about the land out here is how elevated everything is; even in the valleys we are a mile higher that those of you back home in CT. Just imagine what the mountains would look like from sea level!

CC Day 7 – Yellowstone Part I

Today we visited the eastern and northern portions of Yellowstone National Park. We drove in through the eastern entrance over a 9,000 ft mountain pass. When we reached the top, the temperature was around 45 degrees and there was so much snow it looked like late March or early April in CT. Even under a gray and misty sky, the views were stunning – white capped mountains on every side and waterfalls from the melting snow rushing down the cliff sides and underneath the roads.  

First, we stopped at the mudpots, which are basically small ponds of boiling water; the acid in the water turns the surrounding rock into clay which bubbles, steams and even rumbles and growls in some places. We walked along wooden boardwalks which protect people, like us, from being scalded by the hot, sloppy, gray mud. The only part we didn’t like was the smell – sulfur! Think hardboiled eggs, gone bad, times 1,000. Then multiply that by, oh, I don’t know, a million. OH! I can’t forget this: there were sections of the parking lot in that area blocked off because the asphalt had either been blown out or sunk in because of the geothermal processes going on there. There were just these holes left there in the parking lot, with steam coming out of them. I read about this and posted it on FB before we left. I can hardly believe it really happens!

Next we drove onto the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone, an amazing two level waterfall. While there we met Dick Maher, of Maher Paint, from Avon, CT. He stopped to talk to us because he saw our CT plates. It was fun to see people from back home. As we continued our drive we saw more falls, amazing landscapes, rivers, streams, creeks and marshes. and even some Elk and Buffalo. Doug really wants to see a Bull Moose. I mean he really wants to see one! Maybe tomorrow. Christina, however, is glad to watch any cute ground animal, like a chipmunk or squirrel – but she is ever on the lookout for the tiny Pika. Of course she had to choose to search for one of the smallest animals in the park. 🙂

I convinced the family to see the exhibit about Yellowstone’s supervolcano. Fascinating? Yes. Comforting? No. At one point Jacquelyn said to me, “Why did you think it would be a good idea to come learn about this?” Oh, well. Not much we can do about it now, right?  Then we had lunch at the Roosevelt Lodge, which included drinking from mason jars and eating Roosevelt’s home made baked beans.   

Our final stop in the park was the Mammoth Hot Springs, my favorite part of the day. Here, magma pushes hot water up to the earth’s surface and, through a variety of chemical reactions (I won’t bore you with the details, but if you’re interested, google it!), the water solidifies when it is exposed to the air. Certain microorganisms, called thermophiles, thrive in the acidic water and color it blue, orange and yellow. (My inner geek is really shining through now!) The entire process results in pools of water atop terrace like formations, which then overflow into more and more terraces below. Over the years, if water stops flowing in an area, the terraces turn grayish white. But then, undoubtedly, the water will begin to flow somewhere else, creating new, colorful pools of water and terraces. Some terraces are shallow and wide, some are deep and stout like staircases. There were other formations too, though, like simple falls and even a big, orange mound (20 ft. tall maybe) that is growing so quickly it is making its way into the road. 

I was amazed by just how close we could get to the springs or terraces. Again, we travelled along boardwalks that stretched directly over and around the hot, colorful, sulfuric water. The entire area is plastered with signs warning people to stay ON the boardwalk and paved roads because the earth’s crust is so thin in those areas that one might just fall through to, well, who knows what? Some hot, boiling, sulfuric water, I guess – similar to what happened to the parking lot we saw earlier. 

I got to talk to my mom tonight and then we had a great dinner at Rosie’s in Montana. It’s also nearly a full moon. Aaaaaah. I know it was a long post but there was sooooooo much to tell. 🙂

CC Day 6-Big Horn Mountains

Today we drove through the Big Horn Mountains. I am a little embarrassed to admit it, but when I saw them – the massive snowcapped mountains, rising over 13,000 feet behind the yellow, barren Wyoming hills – my eyes filled with tears. I was overwhelmed with the emotion of seeing something I thought I may never see, something I have dreamed of seeing all my life, something many people never have the opportunity to see. The imposing mountains also reminded me of my smallness. I guess I would call it a trembling awe. The landscape of New England is deceptively quaint, manageble, even tame. But out here everything is BIG and wild and unpredictable. The endless sky. The expansive landscape. The storms. The buffalo. In the controlled suburbs of Connecticut, one might forget her place in the world. Out here, though, the landscape sends a lonesome, humbling message: You, my friend, are not in control.

The highest point of the mountain pass is 9666 ft. When we arrived there, we all got out of the car in our shorts and flip flops to play in the snow! 

Playing in the snow at 9666 ft

Driving down the mountain, we followed the Ten Sleep Creek through a canyon of red and gold colored rocks, rushing waters and tall pines. Images, that before today, I had only seen in photos or on tv. At the base of the mountain, we had ice cream in the town of Ten Sleep (population 300) in a little store called Dirty Sally’s. I asked our ice cream lady how the town got its name and she said the Indians named the town Ten Sleep because  it took “ten sleeps” (or overnights) to travel there from the town of Casper.

Tonight we are at the base of Yellowstone…basically a supervolcano. Now if that doesn’t make a girl feel small, nothing will! Just a few days before our vacation I was reading chapter 38 in the book of Job. How appropriate it is today: “The earth takes shape like clay under a seal, its features stand out like those of a garment.” v. 14. I’m gushing God, but can a person come out here and do otherwise?!

CC Day 5-Mt. Rushmore, Black Hills, Devil’s Tower by Christina

Hi everyone this is Christina is blogging today! Yesterday we went to Mt. Rushmore and it was amazing to see the scratches on their faces from where they were carving. When we looked up through a cave you could see George Washington face through a crack. But you can only see it so much or eventually it loses its excitement.

When we were on our way to Devil’s Tower, we saw buffalo flooding the streets. They were everywhere. It was like you were in buffalo land. None were the same; there were babies and parents. Some were nice and some were mean, but the only thing you kept thinking was “What if? What if? What if?” After we finally got through the buffalo at one mile per hour, we finally got to Devil’s Tower.

Devil’s Tower looked like it was climbing its way to the sky. It’s a 1,000 feet tall and looks like a giant bear scratched the sides of it. Scientists believe that its leftover magma from a volcano core. When we were hiking around the tower we finally saw some people, a dad and his daughter. And of course as dad is he asks them to take a picture of our family. So we started talking with them and the girl was very nice. Her name was Kirsten and she’s going into 5th grade just like me. She seemed very nice and I hope we get to meet up with them again on their cross country road trip because we are going to alot of the same places.

Once we finally we got on our way to the hotel, there was a thunder and lightning storm. You could see the sunset through the thunderstorm. The sky was flaming bright orange and looked like it was on fire burning the land.

It was a great day and I miss you all.

CC Day 4 – The Prairie and The Badlands

The prairie was a completely new experience for this lifelong New Englander. Though I had never been there, a love for the prairie settled in my heart years ago when I first read the Little House series by Laura Ingalls Wilder. If not for her books, I wouldn’t have known that the prairie isn’t really flat but a series of low, rolling, green and gold hills. Nor would I have been prepared for the giant dome of sky and the inescapable sunshine. For those of you who have never been, the prairie (in June anyway) is an awful lot like being at the ocean: hot under the big, blue sky and bright sun with a constant warm blowing breeze. The land is flat and covered in low growing grass and one feels that just as she reaches the top of the next hill, there she will find the ocean. But instead she sees only more hills, more grass, more sky.  There are waves, not of blue and white, but of green and gold, and instead of the smell of salt air, one breathes in the dry scent of prairie grass and earth. Yet it is quiet. No surf pounding against the shore. Just gentle, sweet rustling. What a beautiful, free place!

I imagine that prolonged time on the prairie can get rather monotonous and when the Ingalls arrived here there were no trees, no barns, no silos – just grass and sky. I can hardly imagine it! My family endured several stops to satisfy my Little House affections. We visited Walnut Grove, Plum Creek, Silver Lake (sort of) and two museums. We rode on a covered wagon, made corn cob dolls (I made one too), went in a sod hous and two actual houses Laura lived in and wrote about. It was wonderful!

After that we drove on to the badlands. What a difference! We left the rustic but relatable stories of family life on the prairie and walked into the surreal, dreamlike rock formations of the badlands. I have experienced nothing like it before and I am not sure I will again. This is one of those rare occasions where I am at a loss for words. So today you get to see our first picture! We are limited by Doug’s wireless access account as to how many pictures we can upload. This means most of our pics have to be uploaded via hotel internet access and we just haven’t had time. Enjoy this one to the fullest…not sure how long it will be before I upload the next one!

We ended the day by racing a storm to our hotel. The lightning was an awesome sight because out here you can see the storms miles and miles away. We were driving west into the setting sun and the sky behind us and to our south was almost black. The result was a giant double rainbow rising from the farms up into the dark clouds. The combination and seeming paradox of such beauty and ferocity at once reminded of our God: mighty, beautiful, strong, compassionate…simply awe inspiring.

Well, we’re off again. Hope you can feel my cyber hug!

Cross Country Day 2 & 3 – By Jacquelyn

    Hi Everyone! It’s Jacquelyn. On Day 2 of our journey we passed by Niagara Falls one last time and then headed for the border. Once back in America we stopped at McDonalds for breakfast and drove through NY, PA, and OH until reaching Cedar Point resort around 4 PM.

     We decided to eat dinner at TGIF as our park passes were good from 5 until closing.  The first ride we went on once entering the park was TOP THRILL DRAGSTER.  Christina and my mom waited while my dad and I experienced a 420 ft. drop from the front row. It was definately worth the wait for me, although Christina disagreed. The rest of the night made up for it though, as she rode the carousel, a roller coaster, and some other rides as well.

     After the park we returned to the hotel and took a walk on the beach. The sand was incredibly soft and felt great to walk on after a night at the amusement park. Next, we had plans to go swimming but when we looked in the outdoor pool and hot tub we quickly decided to head inside because the surface was covered with dead insects.  Christina and my mom spent some time in the indoor pool while dad and I grabbed ice cream to bring back to the room for everyone – a delicious ending to the day:)

     Day 3 was fairly uneventful, but we did drive through a total of 7 states. After stopping for dinner in Walnut Grove, we watched the sunset across the Minnesota sky. A remnant of the sun’s rays could be seen on the horizon until 10:45 or so, causing the horizon to look like one beautiful rainbow. We checked into our hotel in South Dakota around 11:30 central time and quickly fell asleep.

Cross Country Update

I went to bed last night without telling you that Doug is related to the first person to go over Niagara Falls! Her name was Annie Edson Taylor and she went over Niagara Falls in a barrell in 1901. And yes, she survived!!! She tested it out  by sending her cat over first. The cat didn’t make it, but she wasn’t easily discouraged. Annie tenaciously added a little extra padding and, apparently thinking it was sufficient, climbed in and “took the plunge”. She survived with only a few bumps and bruises. Her photos and story are all over Niagara. We found one plaque on the Journey Behind the Falls tour and I took a photo of Doug, Jacquelyn and Christina with their famous ancestor. Photos will be coming soon.

Today we spent the day at Cedar Point Amusement Park. I am going to let Jacquelyn blog about it tomorrow (she’s sleeping now). I am sure she will have many more interesting things to say than I. Back and neck troubles have grounded this roller coaster enthusiast. Now my joy at amusement parks must come by living vicariously through others. I have grown to love watching people as they wait to go up a big coaster. The range of emotions is fascinating, from white knuckles to laughing to crying to taking deep breaths to making the sign of the cross. Wow….this is pathetic. Read more tomorrow and hear it from someone who did more than watch! HUGS!

Cross Country Day 1

All day I have been thinking about what clever things I can write to you about the first day of our family’s cross country road trip. Yet here I am with one thing to say: I am exhausted. Completely, totally, bone-deep exhausted. I am not complaining, but just telling the honest truth. Planning for this trip has taken over a year, although most of the credit for that goes to my husband, Doug. The last 2 months, however, have been a life lived at maximum capacity for all of us. Who knew how difficult it would be to prepare four lives for a 32 day road trip? Not me.

Exhausted or not, the train (actually, our 2000 Toyota Avalon) left today – packed full of, well, whatever we could fit,really. We drove 7 hours and 400 some-odd miles to Niagara Falls, Ontario, Canada. After checking into our hotel – which is, of course, under construction and, unless you want to pay $20/day plus tip for valet parking, you must park across the street and wheel/carry all your luggage the long way around the construction zone – we walked down the big hill to the falls. And oh are they amazing! Doug and I were here 17 years ago, when I was pregnant with Jacquelyn, but the girls have never seen the falls before. What a treat to watch their eyes widen as they ran up to the fence and leaned over the edge to get a better view. For about $50.00, we took a walk behind the waterfall. To do this we took an elevator down several stories into the earth until we reached waterfall level. Then we walked through various tunnels to experience different aspects of the waterfall. The first one took us out onto a deck of sorts, just below and to the right of horseshoe falls. We were so close to the cascading water that they passed out ponchos in the elevator to keep us dry – and yes, everyone put them on..together…in the crowded elevator. The next two tunnel took us to different viewing portals which were about 8 feet tall by 8 feet wide, and through it we could see the waterfall from the inside. Raging, white water so thick you could see nothing else. Pretty awesome!

The wildest part for me was the noise. As we walked through the tunnels, there was no escaping the reality that we were underneath millions upon millions of gallons of water fiercly eroding the very earth we were walking through. In fact, at one of the portals the front edge of the wall had lost about a foot of stone and there was loose rock in the tunnel. Yeah. I give myself a gold medal for not having a panic attack.

Well, that was the highlight of our day for sure. Oh, and we did get to see the Niagara Falls rainbow which happens when the sun shines on the mist over horseshoe falls! We then walked back up the hill (the smartest of you saw that coming) to have dinner and go for a swim. (I took a nap, Doug and the kids swam.) Only to walk back down the hill at 9:30 to see the falls illuminated in a rainbow of color and walk back up one last time. The colors were pretty but you are right, Mom, it’s not the same as colored water!

Now it is time for bed. Love and miss you all. Nichole

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