In 1967 my father bought a Pontiac Catalina and a dingy old travel trailer and took his girlfriend, my brother and me on a road trip. Over the next 8 weeks we drove 13,498 miles, visited 51 parks, and saw wonders like geysers, redwoods, grizzlies, and the Summer of Love in San Francisco. The trip made an indelible impression, cementing my appreciation for the natural world and the American landscape. This summer Pamela and I hope to repeat the experience for our family.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Dave: Little Bighorn Battlefield Trading Post

We stop at aCrow Indian Reservation trading post for dinner. What a lucky decision. We eat out on the porch, with an incredible view of the rolling hills and grasslands. The soundtrack is Indian chanting, not some banal rock and roll. The food is excellent, just about the best fry bread we've had.

And, most interesting of all is the eavesdropping. A young man sits by himself at a table next to us working on his laptop. I glance over his shoulder and see he is checking Facebook and Gmail. The name on his facebook account is Dennis Bear Won't Run.

Soon another older man sits down nearby and they start talking about reservation politics. Dennis is evidently a first year law student, trying to determine what sort of law he wants to practice. As he says, there are many areas to choose from in reservation life.

The older man may have been a lawyer too. He was certainly very sophisticated in his analysis of reservation politics and economic issues. He talked knowledgably of issues such as foreclosures on the res, lobbying Congress to get particular concessions, and discussing issues with the Secretary of State.

It was fascinating to listen to them.

Dave: Farewell to Laura

When my mother Laura died, my brother Bruce and I could not decide on what to do with her cremated remains.

Laura had said she didn't want to be buried in her home town of Bishopville, SC. My first thought was to scatter her ashes over the hillside opposite where we grew up in Pittsburgh. Our side of the street was a row of modest suburban houses, but it always gave us great joy over the years to look across the street to the hills, woods and meadows of the beautiful farm there.

Then I went back to Pittsburgh and discovered the farm had been turned into some sort of industrial site. I didn't think Laura would get much eternal peace looking out at the Jersey barricades.

Bruce decided to bury half of Laura's ashes at his vacation property in Mendocino County. From what I understand, this is a very Japanese decision. First of all, the Japanese have an interest in cremated remains. They venerate larger pieces of bone that survive the cremation process, doling out the fragments to family members. They also have a great reverence for ancestors, so it makes sense to them to put someone to rest at a place where the family visit frequently.

As an American, I had a somewhat different attitude. To me it seemed strange to place Laura in a place that she had never even visited.

But what should I do with her?

She wouldn't want to be composted, like I do.

Laura always had a great interest in Native Americans, particularly the plains Indians. In fact, in her younger days she had many strong interests like this. She was one of the more widely read than most people I have ever known.

People who met her in her later life might be surprised by this. They probably perceived her as an extremely grouchy old lady with no known interests except cats and television. I could not argue with them about that. But she was a different person when she was younger.

Laura had her faults, but part of her was strong, proud, and fiercely independent. I chose to honor that side of her personality. That's why I thought scattering her ashes over a site where the plains Indians once lived would be an appropriate gesture. The lives they lived always epitomized courage and independence.

I had wanted to scatter the ashes at Wind Cave National Park. I knew there were some areas there that are excellent examples of native prairie vegetation. Unfortunately, our trip to Badlands NP took up all all our time yesterday. So Wind Cave was out. As we drove through the Dakotas and Montana today, I was scouting for an appropriate location.

The fallback was Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monmument.

It's a beautiful spot, a sweeping vista of gently rolling plains and hills with mountains in the far distance. We walked up to the hill where Custer made his last stand, learned about the battle, then walked down a coulee, as they say here, until no one else was near. Meadowlarks were singing, which I took to be a good omen. I scattered Laura's ashes over the edge of that coulee while saying a few words about the proud, strong Laura that I remembered.

I think she would have taken ironic pleasure from knowing that her ashes were scattered here at the Little Big Horn.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Dave: Is This the Best America Can Do?

We stopped in Deadwood, SD for breakfast. Once upon a time Deadwood was probably an interesting western town. It still has some interesting architecture. But in 1989 they let in gambling. Now the old western town has been completely assimilated by casinos. As best we could tell there is no real town left. At the tourist office Pamela asked if there was a market. The answer: No.

We tramped around for a while looking for a place to eat breakfast. Many of the casinos have breakfast buffets, but we didn't want to go into a casino. Finally we gave in and stopped at a deserted cafe in Miss Kitty's Saloon for a wretched breakfast. The coffee I brewed in the coffee valet at our room at the Bavarian lodge was better than Miss Kitty's.

We always hear our political leaders saying casinos are economically valuable. I wonder if anyone has really studied the demographics. Maybe they provide a short-term economic boost, but almost everyone I see in these smaller casinos is old. Families are rare. (Vegas is a different story.) Many of the people I see in casinos are obese too. Some look (and act) like they won't live out the year. How can this clientele provide a long term benefit?

We raced out of Deadwood the instant we finished breakfast.

Towns like Deadwood make me embarassed to be an American.


Tuesday, July 13th

7:45 Leave Bavarian Inn in Custer. Long travel day ahead.

9:00 Stopped in Deadwood for breakfast. Thoroughly disgusting--breakfast and Deadwood.

10:30 Stopped in Spearfish, SD to mail home a box full of dried chilies.

10:45 Stopped at Safeway in Spearfish for picnic supplies. Also picked up coffee at Starbucks (integrated with Safeway) so we could wash the taste of Deadwood from our mouths.

12:50 Enter North Dakota! One more to go! (Dave still needs Alaska for his life list)

1:02 Sign in Bowman, ND--Muddy Road ahead. consider alternative route. Ominous.

1:30 Stopped for road construction (yes, it was muddy) and had a nice chat with woman holding stop sign. She's a local rancher who ranches 300 cows on 14 sections. A section has 660 acres for 9,240 acres. She told us how they're eeking by. Have a good crop of hay this year so things will be easier. Gave us a good snap-shot of a rancher's life in North Dakota.

2:00 Welcome to Montana

2:45 Stopped in Miles City for gas and squirt.

5:45 Arrived at Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument. Watched movie about battle and walked to memorial.

6:45 Walked down to Coulee to distribute Laura's ashes.

7:15 At recommendation of woman in Visitor Center, stopped for dinner at Custer Battlefield Trading Post. Experienced one of those memorable travel moments when you stumble upon another world. Made up for Deadwood.

Dave: Ups and Downs in South Dakota

The Bavarian Lodge offers a continental breakfast, but it’s a little bizarre. Sausage, cheese, and rolls. Perhaps that’s a German continental breakfast. The price was right (free), and I urged the girls to absorb some calories.

Lark had said she wanted to see the Badlands, so we decided to take a day trip out there, while still trying to be at Jewel Cave National Monument by 4:00 for a cave tour we had scheduled.

We should have studied the map more closely. It took us 2 hours to get to the Badlands. We only had time for a couple scenic overlooks, a stop at the visitor’s center (for the patch, of course), and then a drive through the park to see the weirdly sculpted hillsides.

Then we headed east again. First we stopped at Wall Drug, but again we had no time, so we got our buffalo burgers to go. By this time everyone was hungry and annoyed and we were all snapping at one another.

Finally we made it to Jewel Cave, where we took a ranger led “lantern tour.” Everyone carries old-fashioned kerosene lamps.

It was a great tour. Only 20 people could come. There was a gang of young folks, recent graduates of Cal Poly San Luis Obispo, who we really enjoyed, especially one guy, John, who we all took to calling "John the dragon slayer" because he went first once down a dark passageway and declared it was safe for everyone after he had killed the dragon.

For much of the tour we had to “duck walk,” which was great fun for Lark and Linden. Not so pleasant for Pamela and myself with our aging joints.

The cave itself was a mass of strangely shaped rocks. The walls were almost all covered with crystals (jewels, that is). At one point we had to let ourselves down a trap-door like hole into the darkness, although John the dragonslayer stayed to light our way. We had to pick paths through jagged footing. At another point we had to squeeze through a tight spot called Fat Man’s Dismay. In many narrow places, the wind blew hard up the cave. On days when there is low atmospheric pressure, the cave exhales like that. When there's high pressure outside, the cave inhales.

The lanterns were cool too. They were dim, so if you walked into a big room with a lantern, it would barely cast any light. However, by the time the others joined you the whole room would light up and you could see all the strange colors and shapes around you.

All in all it was a great little trip and mostly outweighed the frustrations of earlier in the day.

Ranger Joe, our guide, said this may be one of the last tours offered in caves in this area. The white nose bat fungus, which we know well back east, is spreading across the U.S. The park service is closing caves to prevent the spread of the fungus. Within a few weeks they may close Jewel and Wind Caves. So it could be a long time before anyone takes that tour again.

A couple wildlife notes: Driving through Custer State Park we saw a bison right beside the road. It was HUGE.

We also saw a small animal (maybe a mink? Or a muskrat?) carrying a fish almost its own size. The mink was on the road, struggling with his fish. Fortunately the traffic stopped for him to let him safely cross the road. Of course, it wasn’t so safe for the fish.


Sunday, July 11

10:45 Leave Kalinski home after enjoying their wonderful hospitality.

11:00 Leave Niwot after stocking up on ice, picnic supplies, and taking a photo of Dave standing under an "Old Town Niwot" sign.

12:00 Curtains of rain sweep over distant plains as we drive toward Wyoming.

12:28 Enter Wyoming.

1:00 Rolling lunch, including homemade cookies from the Kalinskis. Thank you!

1:57 Driving along parallel to a freight train. Dave gestures for the engineer to blow his horn and he obliges.

2:15 Buffalo roaming.

3:30 Antelope playing

4:02 Enter South Dakota.

4:47 See Crazy Horse memorial but do not stop. Pushing on for Mt. Rushmore

5:20 Stop at Mt Rushmore. See the big guys just before a rainstorm sweeps in and blocks them from our view. Get the obligatory patch.

7:30 Check into the Bavarian Lodge in Custer, SD. Bailed out on the idea of camping during this stay. Too much driving. Not enough time. Then when we saw rain in the area, that clinched it.

8:30 Ate dinner at the Bavarian Lodge. Pretty so so. No one except Pamela has much enthusiasm for German food.

Dave: Time Lapse Vacation

We pulled out of Niwot, CO, my old home, after taking a picture of me standing under an “Old Town Niwot” banner just outside aswanky French restaurant.

When I lived here 31 years ago, Niwot was a punch line. Almost no one had ever heard of it, and, if they had, they knew it was a sleepy little community plunked down in the middle of cornfields with a couple antique stores that woke up on the weekend. Now it’s an upscale little town. The cornfields are long gone, as are most buildable lots.

I shared a house with Jim and, though he lives in the same house, it’s barely recognizable. Only one familiar roofline remains. The rest has been enclosed in a fanciful home of towers, arches, and odd angles. Jim used to be a builder. Now he's an architect. I think architects always have to make a statement with their own home.

It was fun spending time with Jim and Kim. The kids got along well too. They were always racing somewhere together. We enjoyed hearing Quinn walk around the house playing the sousaphone and seeing Lark try to play Jim’s long dormant accordion.

I felt a little sorry to be leaving, although some of that was just the pleasure of being in a real home rather than living out of the back of a minivan.

Hopefully it won’t be 28 years before we see the Kalinski’s again. As we left, we said “Your nursing home or mine?”

Linden: Tea Leaves and Herbal Infusion

The overpowering smell of mint fills your nostrils as you step into the peppermint room.

We are in the factory for Celestial Seasonings Tea. It is just outside of Boulder on Sleepytime Lane. We are getting a tour of the factory.

For the last 15 minutes different smells have bewildered our noses. Chamomile, green tea, lemon grass, clove.

We start the tour with a ticket that is actually a package of tea--to be precise, Black Cherry Berry herbal infusion. We learn that real tea always includes tea leaves. Everything else is an herbal infusion. But that sounds bad so they call it tea.

We learn that Sleepytime is the best selling tea Celestial Seasonings makes. Another thing we learn is that the factory can make up to one million packages of tea a day during the busy season, during the cold months from October to April. And, we learn that if they left the door of the peppermint room open, you could smell the mint two miles away.

It was a beautiful factory, and it was the best smelling factory I've ever been in.

Lark: How Can You Keep on Moving Unless You Migrate Too?

Telluride is a ghost town. In disguise. From the outside it appears to be a very hip, cool town. I was very intrigued I admit. As we walked around and peered in the shops it proved more and more that it was empty and unpromising. Telluride might be different in the winter, framed in ski mountains but on that rainy Thursday it was dissatisfactory.

Boulder was a different story. It was teeming of life and music. It looked as if we spent too much time there we would run out of things to do but otherwise it was quite lovely. I particularly enjoyed strolling along the Pearl Street Mall and listening to the various street musicians. There were nice vintage shops and sweet shops. I don't think I want to go to school there (we looked at the campus which was very nice) but I enjoyed boulder a lot and the people we met and saw there.

There has been an odd sensation that has been going on inside of me since this trip began. At the beginning it was faint but now it is more and more persistent. When I was littler I HATED, HAAAAATED riding in the car. Now I'm beginning to like it. I like to keep moving. Really. I have begun to not like stopping, while those things are beautiful and all for some reason I just like to keep moving. I am always antsy but seem calmer when we are in the car. It is a new feeling but I don't seem to mind it much. All I know is that the 40 minute to and from school will be a cinch when we get back.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Dave: The high dive vacation

Coming into Boulder Linden says, “I knew we were doing a lot on this vacation, but there’s even more. It seems like we should be done.”

Lark adds, “It’s like when we jumped off the high dive at Mt. Gretna. It seems like you should be hitting water, but instead you keep falling.”

Sunday, July 11, 2010


Friday, July 9th (Jack's Birthday)

8:35 Breakfasted at Salida Cafe while sitting beside Arkansas River. Very pleasant.

10:10 Checked out of Silver Ridge Lodge Motel

10:25 Ice and bread stop

11:11 Pass through Buena Vista, CO. Looked for Social Club--didn't see one but saw lots of rafters.

11:30 Stopped at Point of Interest along Arkansas River. Read about stage coach to mining town of Leadville. Saw lots of white water below.

11:45 Driving up Arkansas River valley. Passing hillsides where snow fell yesterday.

12:00 Drove into Leadville, Co. 10,250 ft elevation. Would have gone through mining museum but interest level was below the $22 fee.

12:30 Lark bought clothes at Leadville thrift shop.

1:20 Stopped at pull-out after Fremont Pass. Ate leftover steak and cheese. Afterwards had a cherry pit spitting contest, trying to send the pits to the river a couple hundred feet below. Dave won but doubt if he made it to the river.

3:53 Stopped in Nederland to ride the carousel. Pamela rode a big moose and Linden rode an ostrich. Then walked over to Blue Owl Ice Cream and Used Books. Linden got 3 more books to read.

5:05 Entered Boulder.

Pamela: Salida Stop

When Dave and I were last in Salida, Colorado, we were checking it out as a possible place to settle. We had read about it in Outside magizine as one of the 10 up and coming towns to live in. We were driving across country at the time and decided it worth a detour to see what was so up and coming about it. After a quick drive through we decided that it still had a long way to come and continued on our way.

Eighteen years later we discovered that Salida had made it's own journey. After our afternoon in Telluride we thought that Salida might be a good stopping point for the evening. We got a room at a very friendly motel and headed out to Amica, a wood-fired pizza and brew pub we found on Chowhound. Showing up on Chowhound told us that Salida had indeed come a long way.

Yes, Salida had grown considerably, but in a good way. The town was vibrant and full of interesting shops. People were strolling in the Old Town. Many cars were topped with bikes and kayaks. As the gateway to the Arkansas Headwaters Recreation Area, Salida was in a key position to capture the area's many hip young adventurers.

However, what impressed me more was the friendliness the town inspired. From the motel owner to the baker. At Amica we were told the wait (at 8:00 on a Thursday evening) would be about 25 minutes but that we were welcome to sit at the community table if we wanted to eat sooner. We settled in with another family. In the course of our dinner Lark had noticed a Peace Love Ukulele shirt one of the kids at the table was wearing. This spurred a conversation about a range on topics including ukulele artist Jake Shimabukuro, backpacking in the area, Jewel Cave and Crazy Horse in South Dakota. All in all a very enjoyable evening.

The next morning we headed to the other Chowhound recommendation for breakfast, The Salida Cafe on the banks of the Arkansas River. Another great recommendation. We ate delicious peach pie and breakfast burritos out on the patio while the rushing Arkansas River glittered in the morning sun. Again people were friendly and accommodating, especially Nate, the Salida Cafe barrista. Hey to Nate.

Salida proved Outside magazine right and is certainly a wonderful stop when driving through southwestern Colorado. I still think Northampton was the right choice for us but I'd gladly go back to Salida anytime I'm out west.