Friday, December 16, 2016

Headed East

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The last few days of the road trip have been endless amounts of driving it feels like, but along the way we have gotten to see some pieces of the country that I doubt many people get to see at all. The first ¾ of our trip was barely any time on the road but the last quarter of our trip has been spent with lots of hours spent in the car.

Before the trip had started we had talked about some of the things that we thought we might want to do and one of those things was go to the Cosmosphere in Hutchinson, Kansas. The main feature in the museum that initially attracted us to it was that it’s the home to THE Apollo 13 command module. So the night before we went we watched the Apollo 13 movie with Tom Hanks and woke up bright and early before driving into town to walk through the doors just after opening.

Apollo 13
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Once you walked into the museum you got the idea that there was much more to the museum than just the fact that it had Apollo 13 so to get some more information we went to the front desk. By the time we walked away to start our venture we got the full package of the museum, a rocket show, a weather movie, a planetarium show and a simulator ride. Needless to say we were pretty excited. We started the day walking through the museum and quickly realized that we were going to be short on time throughout the day. As we walked through each exhibit starting with rockets in World War II we had to leave throughout the exhibits for each of our other presentations we had planned. By the time we made it to the Apollo Missions we ended up deciding to skip the planetarium and the simulator ride. Luckily we got to see not only the real Apollo 13 module but we got to see the Mercury 1 capsule that was recovered in the ocean, a real lunar module simulator NASA had used and the Gemini 10 without feeling rushed to do other things. I could never write anything that would describe the amount of information we happened to read while we were in the museum. By the time we left they locked the doors behind us and we still didn’t get to finish all the plans we had intended for the day.

After feeling a little bit of pressure to start heading east we spent most of the next day driving. One of the great things about the part of going across the country by car is the ability to drive back roads and along the way you get to see things that I am sure most people don’t. We drove into a town called
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Ralston, Oklahoma. Plenty of the towns that we drove by were obviously at one point a boom town but now in 2016 it was apparent that many of the locals had come and gone. Ralston’s main street had a few buildings in use but one side had large, old store fronts that hadn’t seen customers in years. Joe hopped out to grab some photos while I wrote a postcard and he came back asking if we should eat some lunch in one of the two cafés on Main Street. We walked into Roger and Cindy’s, Ralston Café to plenty of the locals looking at us. We were greeted with friendly faces and smiles and once we had ordered our food, Cindy- the store owner and cook, came over to us and offered to take us into one of the old buildings just down the road. After she told us some of the history of the town (including the bridge we drove over coming into town was the one in the opening scene in the movie “Twister”) Cindy, her daughter and a friend of theirs, plus Joe and myself walked down the road to the old theater building. We walked in to see a small but very cool old theater with all the seats and curtains all left the way they were years ago. A hidden treasure that obviously only the locals know about that we were lucky enough to enjoy.

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We stopped in Tulsa and eventually made our way across the state line into Arkansas. Which marked Joe’s 49th state (only Hawaii is left) so we took a picture to commemorate before driving into a town called Lincoln to stop at the library. We opened the car door and the whole town was playing Christmas music. Needless to say it was very festive! We drove a little farther into the Northwest Corner of Arkansas and spent the night.

The next morning we drove into a town called “Eureka Springs” in hope to see the famous chapel near the town and possibly get some Christmas shopping done. Unfortunately the chapel was closed for a wedding but we did end up enjoying the very cute town. We walked through the shops and bought a couple of things but for the most part just enjoyed the atmosphere and Christmas spirit in the air. We left early afternoon to get another few hours on the road.
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The next day was spent driving towards Kentucky. We drove through Missouri and crossed over the Ohio River to see the Mississippi river just on the other side of a small strip of land. We stopped for lunch in the park and as we were pulling in I saw the sign that said “Cairo, Illinois”. I looked at Joe and asked if we were in Illinois and we looked on the map and were both pleasantly surprised to see that we were! That strip of land we were on was Illinois which lies between the Ohio and Mississippi confluence. A bonus state neither of us were expecting to go to!

We made our way to Lexington where we were going to stay with some friends of ours from the horse world. Trav and Kat let us enjoy a shower, their warm home, Greek food and a comfortable bed. Plus the next day we went to pick out a Christmas tree and help decorate it, which was such a nice treat since it’s been multiple years since I got to decorate anything for Christmas. Kat made a great dinner and once again we got to enjoy wonderful company.

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We said our goodbyes the next day and after just a couple days of a regular bed, a couch and good food we were ready to get to Massachusetts. So with only two possible places on the agenda we planned to hopefully try to get the MA the next day. We drove north to Cleveland, Ohio to the home where the movie “A Christmas Story” was filmed. I was beyond excited, the movie holds a special place in my heart as it’s played on the TV in the background of every Christmas I can remember. We took the tour into the house and learned the history of the home and the movie. Originally the movie was a bust but after being picked to play 24 hours on public TV (because there was no royalties) soon made the movie into a Christmas classic, 15 years after it was made.

We couldn’t totally decide if we wanted to try to drive through the night to try to get to MA or get a camp spot and try to see Niagara Falls so we hit the road to see if we could at least attempt to find a camp area. After not much luck and the roads not being plowed we kept on driving. We stopped at a rest stop to eat some dinner when I was approached by a snow plow driver who quickly informed us to keep on driving as a big lake effect snow storm was on its way. The decision to keep on going was obviously made for us and we drove throughout the night to arrive at Joe’s dad’s house at 4:00 in the morning. The moment we put our heads on the pillows we were out and did our best to sleep in this morning.
A Christmas Story House
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Though we are here before our deadline we are already enjoying the couch and everything else being in a house has to offer. Especially with the sub 0 temperatures outside. The few extra days gives us a chance to clean everything up a little bit in the car before I fly out to Boise on Tuesday.

Joe looked at me today and said “our road trip is over”! In a way it’s true but what is more accurate is that only the first part of our trip is over. After two months and five days on the road we are taking a bit of a break here in New England for the holidays. I will fly back to Boise for eight days to enjoy my family and on my way back I will bring all the ice climbing gear with me. With that we plan to spend the second half of our trip ice climbing around New England and hopefully ice climbing along the way back to Boise at some point. Neither of us are sure how long we will be here but we’re looking forward to a change of pace!

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

New Mexico to the Plains

Unfortunately we do have a bit of a deadline to the first part of the road trip looming not too far away just around December 18th. If you’ve been following our path at all, we haven’t really gone in that direction whatsoever. The main reason for that is the fact that we’ve been trying to climb as much as we possibly can.

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We stopped in a library in Deming, New Mexico and that night we headed to what we hoped to be our next climbing destination in Truth or Consequences. We woke up in the morning to all the windows completely frozen and we looked at each other, raised our white flag and came to the conclusion that there won’t be much climbing for the rest of the trip, if any.

Switching perspectives to driving from climbing, we looked for classic stops along the roads including historical markers, National Parks and a lot of museums.

With that in mind we looked at the map and headed to White Sands National Monument. On our way
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we crossed through White Sands Missile Range where they had tested the first atomic bomb. When we arrived into the park we watched the informational video and drove out to the dunes. They’re so white, that if the sun is shining you can’t look directly at them. So we pulled out our sunglasses and walked all around the dunes. The sand was so fine you could easily walk around with no shoes. Joe was able to get some great photography even though there wasn’t much of a sunset. We just so happened to be there on a very quiet day, no wind and barely any people.

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That night we stayed near a lake that other people on the internet called “Poop Lake”. Not seeing where the name came from, we arrived to the lake completely still and the twilight on the horizon to be a magnificent orange and blue. That morning we had come to the conclusion that we wouldn’t be able to climb much more but our spirits were filled after a good day of a new place and great photography.

The Grave of HAM
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We headed to Alamogordo, New Mexico to the New Mexico Museum of Space History. We weren’t really sure what to expect but arrived to only a couple other cars in the parking lot and walked into the lobby to pay our entry fee. We quickly ended up paying for a day at the museum and a live show about the constellations in a planetarium. Not only was it completely worth it but it took us the entire day walking around the museum learning about the rockets themselves, seeing bits and pieces of the control panel that flew in Apollo 11, 13 and other missions and about HAM, the first successful monkey to fly into orbit and be safely returned (who happens to be buried on the sight as well).  Then to top off a very successful day, while leaving town we got our cheapest gas to date- $1.75!

Carlsbad Cavern National Park was our next destination. Neither Joe nor I had been there and hadn’t read much about it. We arrived at the visitors center and we were both thinking that we would have to pay for a tour to be able to go into the cave but were quickly informed that it’s a self-guided tour for about 90% of the cave. So we showed our park pass and walked out to the entrance of the cave. There was almost no one there, which was ideal as it kept the cave quiet enough to hear the dripping of the
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water in its immense size. We entered the mouth of the cave where you pass through a bunch of seats. In the summer you can watch the thousands of Brazilian Free Tailed Bats fly out of the cave at dusk, sadly they had gone south for the winter. It took our eyes a solid 20 minutes to fully adjust to the darkness of the cave. There is artificial lighting throughout so you can see all the features. When you enter the natural entrance you walk down for a mile until eventually you’re over 700ft underground, which then you enter a vast open space called the “Big Room”. 3,800 ft. long and 600ft wide it is one of the largest and oldest cave systems in the northern hemisphere. I personally have never seen anything like it, huge stalagmites and stalactites covered the cave floor and ceilings. Some joined to create vast columns and others formed fine draperies to create a world that is hard to imagine unless you are surrounded by it. Joe took some photos of the features and honestly you can’t really get an idea of how huge or delicate the cave itself is unless you are there to see it for yourself.

We left the cave just before dark and found an unfortunate camp spot on top of a hill where we were hammered by rain and wind for the entire night. We woke up to the weather relentlessly hammering the car so we quickly packed up and headed to our next museum.

White Sands National Monument
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New Mexico is well known for cactuses, deserts and aliens. So with that we headed north to Roswell. We arrived to the town where I expected to see more cheesy alien signs and memorabilia but was quickly disappointed with a pretty normal looking town. We arrived to the International UFO and Research Center to be greeted by a grumpy and unlikeable front desk woman. If you aren’t aware of the incident in Roswell, you can read it  HERE. Since there isn’t actual evidence of an alien crash itself the entire museum is mostly reading. Newspaper clippings, affidavits and descriptions of a few photos covered multiple cubicles of walls. We walked through and read the gist of the crash. We were slightly disappointed, both hoping for some cheesy tin foil hats when we entered the building and a real replica of a space ship you could walk around. I think we got our hopes a little high before we even entered the museum.

We were headed straight into the heart of the dustbowl next so Joe had downloaded “The Dust Bowl” by Ken Burns. We watched the first 2 hour part of the movie that night in a great camp spot. In the middle of the country there are plenty of towns trying to get travelers to spot through and one of the ways they do that is by building a park with bathrooms, free water and free RV hookups with outlets. Very convenient for movie watching!

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When we crossed over the border into Texas it marked the 18th state I’ve been to! We drove along open fields through the panhandle before we made a quick stop at a wildlife reserve to watch prairie dogs and rabbits run around freely with few fears. They were so fat from being on a wildlife reserve I am not sure a hawk could pick them up!

We drove to Amarillo, Texas where we arrived at the Cadillac Ranch just after the sun had set. We walked into a farmer’s field with a herd of cows just past all of the cars. The cars all smelled of fresh paint and after looking a little closer it looked as if there was inches of paint that had been layered on each car from years of creativity caked on.

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The next morning we drove to the panhandle of Oklahoma. Oklahoma would mark Joe’s 48th state. After getting a photo to commemorate we headed to Boise City, OK. Not to be mistaken with the Boise in Idaho- it’s pronounced like “voice” but with a B. Boise City is said to be the center of the dust bowl so we had to check it out after watching our Dust Bowl documentary. We stopped at the Cimarron Heritage Center that ended up being a museum of everything. It started in an old home that somewhat sort of looked like someone was living in it but then connected to a large room filled with items in a bunch of different exhibits. From local history, to WWII, dinosaurs, Native Americans, dentistry, fashion and cowboys. Sadly the Dust Bowl exhibit was the least put together as it was under construction. We moseyed our way outside to check out an old home from the Dust Bowl and a schoolhouse from the same time next door. We finished it with a giant garage filled with tractors restored to working order from the 20s, 30s, 40s and 50s.

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We drove east through the Oklahoma panhandle, and stopped at a few homes along the way that were abandoned and looked to be straight out of the dust bowl. The land around the homes was just as intriguing. I, coming from a place surrounded by mountains and loving to spend so much time there I have never seen a place so flat. For miles and miles we drove along an ocean of crops and grass. We quickly crossed the border into Kansas, marking my 20 th state! The old homes dwindled as we rolled into our next park for a place to camp.

This park didn’t have RV hookups or plug-ins but it did have every piece of playground equipment that has ever been deemed too dangerous for most playgrounds throughout the US. I would be lying if I said we didn’t play on teeter-totters, merry-go-rounds and other sorts of fun playground toys from when I was a kid. As the light fell over the horizon all around the park Christmas lights were lit and different Christmas scenes lit up to create a whole Christmas show. As we ate dinner cars drove
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through the loop slowly to enjoy the lights, as did Joe and I.

Another cold night and waking up to 20 degrees this morning has really secured the likely-hood of no more climbing, but as our trip takes a bit of a turn to more sightseeing than climbing it’s not necessarily a bad way to finally start making our way east. Staying off interstates and out of big cities were enjoying the museums and other quirky things along the way!