Saturday, September 17, 2011

Rolling Sabbatical Postscript

Let me start by saying I am extremely thankful for the circumstances that have allowed me to indulge in this long time daydream of a long road trip.  And to MJ for tolerating my absence.  I am lucky without doubt.  Thanks to Aaron for prepping the car and consulting through the mechanical bumps in the road.

So, 8132 miles were covered in 27 days.  Twenty driving days actually.

The mechanical bumps are inevitable with a 40-year-old car.  Let's see. Failed fuel pump, which Aaron had covered with a spare stored behind the seat beneath the back deck.  Mal-aligned front end had the new tires on the front scrubbed off by half way through the trip. New alignment and new front tires in San Francisco solved that.  The radiator boiled the coolant away in 107 degree Mohave Desert heat.  Slowing the pace and distance from the desert solved that.  There was (is still) the unexplained phenomenon of low oil pressure on start up from time to time.  Fortunately, turning off and back on seems to fix it until it happens again. Got the brakes hot in Ouray resulting in a tow to the flatlands of Montrose to test and assure proper function.  All-in-all, not so bad.

When he was small, after going to a movie, Aaron invariably asked me "What was your favorite part?"  OK - here goes.

Favorite New Place:   The Sedona-Flagstaff area.  Will definitely explore in the future.

Favorite Place I'd Been Before:  Rocky Mountain National Park

Favorite Highway:  Whichever one I was on at any given moment, with some preference for those in our great Southwest.

Best Feast:  The bacon-themed feast at Joe and Cheryl's in Duluth - all the usual suspects attending.

Most Meaningful Quote:  "Yaarrr!" - Sherean, Vanessa, and friends.

Most Uncontrollable Laughter:  Time spent with Mary..

Best Restaurant Food:  Seared Ahi Tuna with Roasted Pineapple Glaze - Fitch Restaurant - Salida, CO

Best Bar Stool:  In the corner at Ed's Cantina in Estes Park.

Worst Night:  The night in the ER in St. Louis

As nuts as it may seem to many of you, my favorite part overall was driving.  I truly enjoy it.  It is a beautiful country, and it cannot be appreciated from the air.  Nice people everywhere.  New experiences almost every moment.  Truly a great time.

Thanks for your interest in the road trip.  I hope you've enjoyed the small part I've been able to share.


Thursday, September 15, 2011


A bit over twelve hours today from Nashville.  It was pretty much rockin' down the highway - no pictures tonight.

This weekend, I'll write a wrap-up of the 8000 miles in 27 days.  Thanks to everyone for their interest.


Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Winding It Up

I knew the last couple of days of the sabbatical would be long ones crossing either familiar territory from Colorado to Florida via the Midwest, or unfamiliar (and most likely not so interesting) territory across Texas and the south.  The Midwest route obviously won.

There was rain at my early departure from Lincoln.  I chose to go south around the bridge closures mostly because there were a couple of interesting things I wanted to check out in that direction.  The weather gave me a couple hours break just as I arrived at those places and then resumed relentless and heavy rain the rest of the day.  No further stopping except for gas and food and no pictures in the rain, though I would love to have captured some of the light show in the sky as I approached Nashville a couple of hours ago.

The first stop today was to check out Whiskey Run Creek winery.  It was founded by the father of one of my long-time and dear friends.  The wines are very well regarded in the area and the winery is a multi-purpose facility for the town of Brownville, NE.  Sadly, the founder has passed away, and the winery is for sale.  Check it out online at  If anyone has had that dream...... drop me a line.

Next stop..... Goff, KS.  Yep, another town that no one would notice if it had not apparently been founded by some ancestor. This one has a bit more to offer that the spot in the Mojave Desert I shared in a previous post.

Perhaps you'll have to take my word for it that the water tower says Goff.  They also have public buildings.  

They also had three gentlemen on a corner and a guy in a red pickup who seemed to cast a suspicious eye toward the stranger idling a Mercedes around, occasionally stopping in the middle of a street to leap out of the car and snap some pictures.  Mr. Red Pickup so much so that he started to follow me around about a half block behind moving as I moved, stopping when I stopped.

My business complete, I thought it best to leave.

The remainder of the day was basically highways and rain.  At this point is is nearly midnight after 15 hours driving in the rain.  I can't keep my eyes open.  Tomorrow is the the final day.  I'll post a little something about it when I get home and do a recap over the weekend.


Tuesday, September 13, 2011

You Can't Get There From Here

The morning dawned.  Doesn't it always.  Its just that it is a grand thing in the mountains.  To the east from Highway 36 just west of Estes.

And to the West looking back as I'm headed out town on Hwy 34.

I've always been sad to leave Estes and the mountains.  Stuck around long enough to get coffee at Kind Coffee.  And some treats to take home for the dogs.

The drive east on I80 is a long one.  I80 in Nebraska is not known for constantly changing scenery.  This is an area where there is NOT something cool around every corner.  There are not actually many of what I'd call corners. I stopped at the border of Colorado and Nebraska to capture the general landscape of Western Nebraska.  You can just add corn and get an idea of Eastern Nebraska. Comments relevant to the I80 transit only.  It might be hugely cool elsewhere.  But, it may say something about me that I do like to look at the corn.  There is just an awful lot of it.

I stopped for lunch in a small town called I don't remember what.  Felt like a BLT and in a flashback to childhood, also a glass of milk.  It was, of course, whole milk, like direct from the cow, I swear.  Been doing the skim thing so long I had forgotten just how THICK whole milk tastes, if thick can be a taste.  And the place served up one size, humongous.  Took me awhile to finish it, but I have my monthly quota of dairy fat.  The BLT was quite good and hit the spot.  People were nice so I recommend the....

Red Rooster Cafe wherever it is in the town I don't remember the name of.  Saw something totally unexpected in that town.  Those curious can send me a note and we'll chat.

To the purpose of being in NE.  Got together with my fellow speaker geek Curt In Lincoln.  A great guy and some sort of genius in the realm of speaker design.  Also got to tour the company he works for, Duncan Aviation.  Duncan is a firm that repairs and refurbs corporate sized jets.  From the frame out including finish and avionics.  There were planes from France, Egypt, Asia and elsewhere in the hangers.  Curt is an avionics, specifically autopilot, expert.  Showed me the lab in which the cores of gyroscopes are rebalanced and tested.  Pretty cool stuff.  Dinner and Curt's company were just great.

Which leads me now to the punch line.  Tomorrow, I was going to shoot southeast and snag I29 south to I70 as the quickest way to FL.  Oops, forgot the flood of the millenia on the Missouri River in June and now you literally can't get there from here.  No bridges and I29 closed.

Alternative plans underway, and I am glad I built in that extra day.

Monday, September 12, 2011


Interesting that Colorado would be my last stop in "the West".  I've been going to Colorado for about 25 years - sometimes several times a year and I love it every time.  Last night I stayed in at the Simple Hostel in Salida.  Highly recommended.  John, the proprietor is very accommodating.  Not a traditional hotel.

Salida is a very special town.  People are welcoming, culture is amazing for a small town, and the view is, well, great.  The town is in a wide valley where the Arkansas stops flowing southward, and turns east.  It is situated in a low spot, so to speak, and has an amazing microclimate that defies reason for a town at 7080 ft. Even though it is in the mountains, it is a very moderate climate with a decent growing season for vegetables.  Cattle also graze throughout the valley.  White water rafting and other adventures sports are big business there as well. 

Left Salida early, as I had some work to complete in Denver.  This is to the west from the north end of town. Two of those peaks are Antero and Shivano -  fourteeners. 

The drive to Denver took me through Fairplay - the inspiration for the TV show South Park.  Did not stop.

Next stop, Estes Park.  Rocky Mountain National Park is one place I go to renew.   Over the years, I have been all over the park doing some great hiking.

This picture shows many miles of continental divide - East Slope.  To the East, water flows to the Platte then Missouri Rivers.  To the West, the Colorado River originates in the Northwest corner of RMNP.

With every visit to this place comes some contemplation.  The flat-topped mountain below is called Flattop.  I guess there was not someone convenient to name it after.  Fourteen years ago, Aaron and I made a trek up Flattop to scatter some of my brother Steve's ashes.  Steve charged Dad with dividing his ashes among his friends and charged his friends with leaving them somewhere meaningful to each of them.  This was the meaningful spot for me.  Our intent was to leave the ashes at the divide such that some may flow East and some West.  The usual afternoon lightening arrived way early that day and when it started to crack all around us we said "Hope you like it here Steve!" dumped him just at the bottom edge of the snowfield in the pictures and fled down the mountain.  He would have appreciated that.  His motto was "Life is not a spectator sport", and indeed it is not - but neither is life a sport that requires tempting fate in mountain lightening.  In the spirit of Steve's motto, a couple of years later, Aaron and I traversed the divide over Flattop, visiting Steve on the way over.  A long, long hike, but one of those things that make a father and son a father and son.

Next stop is Lincoln, NE. Why?  Well, not because it is there, but I will fill you in tomorrow.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Last Stop? Not so fast.

US 550, the highway from Durango to Ouray is about as mountain highway as highways get.  The destination was Salida, CO.  Made it, but not without some care.  The mountains north of Durango are something to behold, and they just get better as you approach Ouray.  The mountains were in the clouds and the road often misty.  

After quite a bit of climbing and crossing the Molnas pass, we arrive in Silverton.  The town was a mining town and staging area for equipment and supplies for the surrounding mines, mostly silver.  Great breakfast to be had, by the way, at the Brown Bear Cafe.  Then, back on the road.

The final pass above Ouray is called Red Mountain Pass after the iron laden mountain next to the pass.  Approaching the pass, I shot this one.  Is there any wonder I love Colorado?

In any event, the decent from the pass to Ouray is an 8% grade, with lots of twists and turns at 10mph, meaning, lots of chances to use the brakes.  By the time I hit Ouray, the brakes were so soft, that I decided to have the car taken down the mountain to Montrose on a flatbed.  I felt testing the brakes on the downhill was not a smart move.  Montrose, however, is billiard table flat.  After having reached Montrose the brakes had cooled and were functioning normally.  I did quite a lot of driving in town to see how things went.  After consulting with Aaron, I determined to proceed to Salida.. Made it fine, no further brake problems.

It was about dark on arrival, so I was not able to get good pictures.  I'll include some in tomorrow's blog.

So far, the 40-year-old Dieter has offered a fuel pump failure - thanks to Aaron I had a spare on board.  Then, there was the strange loss of oil pressure, which, sadly seems to just happen from time to time.  Shut it off, wait a couple of minutes and restart.  Pressure good, back on the road.  Has probably happened 7-8 times.  We are stumped.  The radiator boiled over climbing out of the Mojave desert in 107 degree heat, and now the brake thing.

It has been an adventure.  Tomorrow, off to Estes Park, where I will enjoy the food and people at Ed's Cantina.

Last Stop - Ouray

Parked.  Having some chicken salad and a slightly too sweet ale at the Ouray Brewery.  Not much else to do.  I had the good fortune of having my brakes go all squishy (technical language for suspected master cylinder failure) while traveling 20mph here in town rather than flying down a mountain. 
Ouray is quite scenic and quite worth the trip.  After lunch I'll have the car towed to Montrose where there are mechanics.  Really need professional brake bleeding equipment.   Should be an easy fix if parts for a 40-year-old Mercedes can be found.
I guess it is a sign???

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Trains and Automobiles Anyway....

The drive from Cortez to Durango is so short and it was raining a bit so the journey was not committed to digital permanence.  When I arrived, there was much activity at the rail station as there always is.  The Durango&Silverton narrow gauge trains are a mini-industry here - lots of fairly high priced tickets sold every day.  I did not indulge as I will drive through Silverton tomorrow.  I have included a few photos lest anyone forget the huffing, hissing sounds, the feel of the ground moving and the slightly acrid smell of the smoke mixed with steam.  There really is nothing like a steam locomotive.

I settled at the General Palmer hotel - a very nice old hotel built by the guy who started the Denver and Santa Fe RR.  Dieter had a place of honor out front - actually a place of hopefully better security. 

Cool old hotel isn't it?

I may be appearing on TV - Durango's promotional channel that covers local businesses, etc. for cable TV.  I was enjoying dinner and sipping wine at a place called Ore House.  Highly recommended BTW.  Despite my undeniable charm (I was reading a book at the bar - OK if you must know a book by Alan Watts.)  So, though I was captured on film , rather, digital media no doubt, I do expect that fame will continue to elude me.

Today, for the first time on the trip, I began to feels as though it is time to wind it down.  Not the appeal of work I assure you.

It is just time.

Tomorrow, I am off to one of my favorite towns, Salida, CO, where people are uncommonly friendly, the pace of life is manageable, and the three fourteener's across the valley keep the spirit inspired.

Friday, September 9, 2011

Bluff, UT to Cortez, CO

Last night I dined at a steakhouse that was about the only option in Bluff.   A pistol in a case in the front counter with a sign "I ain't gonna be calling 911."  You get the idea.  Food - not Zagat rated.  So, stopped at a coffee/ice cream shop that seemed out of place and was for sale.  Had a chocolate shake for my real dinner.  Back to the hotel, fairly modern, just in time for the power to go out.

All this encouraged an early departure.  Had a chance to watch a nice sunrise on a cloudy morning.

Once the sun was up, I found myself in the most desolate surroundings in Navaho country.  The landscape was dotted with oil wells, which, judging from the number of pickups on the road very early, provides some substantial employment.  The landscape was both barren and lovely.

On to Mesa Verde National Park.  The cliff dwellings are at about 8000 feet, and one must wonder what the heck people were doing there.  There is a lot unknown, which makes it all the more fascinating.

I hiked a trail out to Petroglyph Point, where, guess what, the dwelling inhabitants left petroglyphs.   The hiking was fairly strenuous, moving along the cliff face, lots of up and down.  Some tight squeezes, which had me thankful that I have remained fairly slim.

Of course, no one really knows what the petroglyphs mean, but they are thought to represent the journey of the inhabitants from the point they emerged from the earth to their arrival on the mesas.  This is a sample.

So, it was a day with more time spent hiking than driving - which was a nice change.

Tomorrow, a short drive to Durango.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Cool Things Around Every Corner

Yes, this is a road trip through the West, so there will be lots of shots - in the West.  An excellent motoring day in that there were no scares with the car.  Everything went extraordinarily well.

The day started as it was getting light in Sedona.  Some regrets about focusing on the road trip aspects as I'd surely like to do some hiking here.  It will wait for a future trip - I am certain there will be future time spent in Sedona.

Northbound from Flagstaff on the way to the Grand Canyon.  More vastness of the West.  The lands along the highway were sparsely populated and travelled.  This is the day's picture with the car looking back toward Flagstaff.  The Flagstaff-Sedona area impressed me.  Will be back.

Nothing can prepare one for a first look at the Grand Canyon.  Grand does not cut it as a description.  Superfantacular perhaps. Ginormous.  Strangely, most of the conversations I heard around me there were in German, Chinese, French, or other languages.  An easy majority.

There are a few fires in progress in the canyon or around it, so photos are hazy.  A repeat of a perspective on the landmark that is familiar to most, perhaps because this view is so spectacular.  Could stare at it all day.

All of the visitors to the Park did not seem to disturb this resident.

Turn to the Northeast.  Headed now to Monument Valley Navaho Tribal Park, which covers part of Utah and Arizona.  Beautiful red sandstone formations.  Throughout Northeast Arizona and Southeast Utah, I have found something around each bend that was great.  Will have to pick up a book on the geology of the region.

Passing now through Mexican Hat, UT.  Amazing geology.  The red and white alternating striations you see in this picture appeared to be sedimentary layers folded in some sort of uplift into these patterns.  In the bluff further away, you can see the same layers remaining horizontal.  Again, research to do.

Ended up in Bluff, UT tonight.  Will go on in the morning to Mesa Verde.

I'm loving this sabbatical.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Of Boiling Radiators and the Wide, Wide, West

Got a reasonably early start from China Lake. The driving was initially fraught with concern over plunging oil pressures, so I had one eye on the road and the other on the gauges.  There is not much between China Lake and Goffs, CA.  Not much but desert heat that got worse as the day went on.  So the gauges message was not about oil pressure, on which more later.

It was almost four hours to Goffs.  Not much there.   It has a historic restored schoolhouse, which was closed when I was there.  It also has a general store, closed some time ago, and in disrepair, even relative to the condition depicted in internet pictures.  I had hoped to capture "Goffs General Store" which was emblazoned on the second story facade.  Not to be.  Here it is today.

No residents were to be seen, though some live there, or nearby I think. 

On the West edge of town, there is a railroad switch with a sign that says West Goffs.  I'd have taken a picture, but it seemed a bit silly because I could run the length of town in about a minute.  There is no Welcome to Goffs sign, an oversight of the Chamber of Commerce no doubt.

At the West edge, I did take a shot of the view to the north, which is a about the same in any direction.

The remainder of the day's driving was quite slow, because on the climb east out of the valley of the Colorado, it was 107 degrees and miles of climbing.  Having been in Stuttgart, Deiter's designers had no concept of the conditions in the American west.  I was fortunate enough to be near a truck stop when the gauges started rising rapidly and the coolant began to spew.  No damage.  An hour wait, some new anti-freeze and on the road again.  I made a couple of other stops after long climbs to allow things to cool

The wait was worth it.  End point today was Sedona, AZ.  Words can't begin.... so...

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Uncommon Challenges

This has been a challenging day involving a car with low oil pressure and a computer that will not download any more.

Will focus on those problems and post more tomorrow.

I did want to post two pics that show the beauty of Yosemite followed by two that attempt to capture the vastness of the Owens Valley to the East of Yosemite.

Monday, September 5, 2011

Resting on the Russian River

Today was Labor Day - and no travel of any kind was undertaken.  We spent the day hanging out at the Russian River with Sherean, Vanessa, and their wonderful circle of friends.  So I'll share just a couple of pics.

The weekend had a pirate theme and while there was no actual looting and pillaging, there were good intentions.  Here Sherean and some of her friends give a good "Yaaaaarrrr".

After the sun was high enough to warm the air a bit, our merry gang set sail.  I can tell you the locals were suitably fearful and locked up their sheep.

While it appears here that the Reverend Joe is preaching to the wayward, he is actually gathering orders for take out.

Bottom line..... Sherean is as lucky to have these folks as friends as they are to have her.

Tomorrow, on the road at 5AM - hoping to make China Lake by 6.

Wine Country

The trip east from the redwoods and fog of Monte Rio in the Russian River to the vineyards and sunshine of the Alexander Valley wine country was a study in contrasts.  Both ecosystems, and economic geography.  The area of Monte Rio I suspect is pretty dependent on tourism.  Just a few miles east in Guerneville, one enters the Russian River wine region and density of vineyards and contrasts of wealth increase as you drive into the Dry Creek and Alexander Valleys, two major areas of the Sonoma Valley.  Top was up while still early in the Alexander Valley.  Top came down shortly after.

Lunch was at Willie's in Healdsburg and was delish.  I becoming spoiled by California eateries.  Healdsburg exists, apparently, to support the big industry, wine, and its accompanying oenotourism.  There is a downtown square that is vibrant and full of higher end shops and restaurants.  Not generally where I see myself shopping.

We made several stops at wineries and bought a couple of bottles - not much room in the car - nor, I suspect, will conditions be right in the car for the wine to travel well through the deserts ahead this week.

Last evening, in the neighboring town of Duncan Mills, there was much fun listening to the Fargo Brothers, a blues/rock rock band.  While some pictures were taken, I won't be publishing any in the name of good taste ;-) and because I fear my companions.  Many thanks to Sherean, Vanessa, and their many fine friends for the hospitality of the last few days.

There is no plan for the day today.  Repack the car for the eleven remaining days of the rolling sabbatical.  Check things out well because the heat of the next couple of days will be extreme.  The route tomorrow takes us to SFO, where I drop off MJ, then just me through Yosemite, then south, through the hot and dry Owens River valley.  Once a garden, now a wasteland due to the unrelenting water ravenousness of LA in the last century.  Next couple of days will be the toughest challenge for my 40-year-old wheels.  Wish me luck.

Sunday, September 4, 2011

The Day Started Out Foggy

Foggy in a weather sense.  I was ready to go before most of El Granada.  North to the Russian River via the Jewel that is San Francisco.  Foggy in the City by the Bay though.  Even so, the Golden Gate is quite a sight.  Much more fun to walk across than drive, but today was a drive.

North along Hwy 1 leads through many little towns full of character and characters who like oysters.  Enough oysters to make an industry.  We had brunch at Rocker Oysterfellers.  As most California food, really tasty.  Thats MJ with the hat and our friend Jenny. 

Further North on the Sonoma County coast.  Could watch for hours, but if I did that at every stop, this would be a one year sabbatical.

Final destination was Monte Rio, a little town on the Russian River where we will just sit for a couple of days..... sitting interspersed with some winery exploration.  Russian River is known for its Chardonnay and MJ is known for her love of Chardonnay.

Monte Rio is mosty an intersection... with inns and small businesses scattered through the redwoods.  Cool, foggy, just plain relaxing.