Marilyn Campbell

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Journey Reflections

With a determination to do "all the things I ever wanted to do before I die", I set off on a solitary vision quest to see my country by car. I highly recommend the experience. 
Tuesday, August 23, 2005
The affirmation I chose to express the purpose of my new adventure -
Life is not a journey to the grave with the intention of arriving safely in a pretty and well-preserved body, but rather to skid in broadside, thoroughly used up, totally worn out and loudly proclaiming...
Let it be so.

Thursday, August 25, 2005
I have been confronted with obstacles in my path for weeks and, as much as I wanted to get started on my adventure, I was forced to make progress at a snail's pace.  Just when I finally thought the delays were behind me, now a hurricane is brewing that will travel along the driving path I had chosen.  At least now I'm reassured the delays are not of my own making.  Ah well, there is nothing to do but believe that "everything happens for a reason" and everything will be easier if I just "go with the flow."  Yeah, I know, not very original thoughts for the day, but I can't think of a better way to express the truth.

Friday, August 26, 2005
Being a free spirit means being willing to break away from every attachment and leave everything behind on a moment's notice.  Considering how much stuff I have packed in my car, I clearly have not quite achieved that level of freedom. I'm working on it but just not ready to give up the mini-coffee pot or my bag of shoes!
Saturday, August 27, 2005
Listen to your usually gives you better advice than your brain.  When you're tired, go to bed.  When you're hungry, eat.  When you're feeling tense because a hurricane is prodding your ass, get out of its way.

Sunday, August 28, 2005

I stopped in a Wendy’s for a sandwich and heard a good thought for the day – not original, but a heck of a delivery.  It was very busy inside, steamy hot and damp outside, and a teenage girl had been given the wrong order.  She never even tried to be polite, just demanded the manager’s attention and went right for the f-word.  She may have been trying to impress her friends with how powerful she was over the mighty fast-food chain workers, but the manager had obviously read his Bible. In a very soft, calm voice he said, “Ma’am, I’ll take care of that right away, but there is no need for cussin.’  We are all human beings, just tryin’ to get by, and we need to respect one another.”  She was still grumbling obscenities as she and her posse headed out the door, but everyone else in the place had a smile on their face. 

In this fast-everything world, sometimes it’s worthwhile NOT to use the drive-thru.

Monday, August 29, 2005

Katrina’s outer edges were dumping constant rain in Kentucky all night, but only the hurricane itself would have stopped me from seeing 2 things in the Bowling Green area – the National Corvette Museum and Mammoth Cave National Park.  The Museum was super classy, as I would expect it to be.  Even got to see the one and only 1963 Stingray split-tail with the split rear window (yes, I am a big fan of all Vettes).  Most interesting to me was the moment when tears unexpectedly filled my eyes and found myself standing in front of the shrine to Zora Duntov, who is credited as the “patron saint” of the Vette (see my Daily Reflection for comment).  Bought a raffle ticket for a 2006 Red Corvette, which I think would be the perfect vehicle to continue this trip in.  Figure when they call me next Sunday to tell me I won, I’ll return to Bowling Green and tour the assembly plant.

From classy to classless - the Mammoth Park was beautiful but the road to get there should be called Tacky Street, USA!  How awful that the residents are trying so shamelessly to make a buck from the tourists that the result is a really bad hillbilly joke.  But then I learned that the “Cave Wars of Kentucky” have been going on for decades and has become part of its history and remembered that what makes something memorable is the Good, the Bad AND the Ugly.  I took a 2-hour, ranger-guided tour deep down into a part of the cave system that is the largest in the world (I didn’t know that).  I loved it, but it is definitely not a hike for the out-of-shape, faint-hearted, or anyone with any sort of phobia whatsoever.  I can’t help but wonder how the State of Kentucky hasn’t collapsed with all those gigantic underground holes.


In the Corvette Museum, the designer, Zora Duntov’s ashes were in a golden box along with a champagne bottle & 2 glasses, a photo of him and his wife, and the outfit he wore when test-driving his babies.  He lived to be nearly 90 and is a true testament to the thought I launched my journey with – he clearly lived his entire life taking risks and at the end, I have no doubt he went out shouting, “Wow, what a ride!”


And since that thought was already stated, I had another today that I’d like to share.  While on the Mammoth Cave tour, the Park Ranger mentioned the story of Floyd Collins who was trapped and died in the cave in the 1925. The journalist who wrote about the caver’s tragic end won a Pulitzer Prize, the ballad written about it was the first record that sold a million copies, films and even a musical was produced in the 90’s.  We Americans have always loved stories of our daring pioneers, but I can’t help but think that we are also a bit too fascinated with the morbid ones.


Tuesday, August 30, 2005


I have gotten several calls and emails about people experiencing all sorts of stressful situations in their lives right now.  Barometric pressure is more to blame than the position of the stars.  All I can say to anyone is this:  No matter what is happening to you personally, turn on the television, take a moment to absorb the reality of the devastation and death that Katrina has left in its wake and compare your problem to that.  PERSPECTIVE can reduce a mountain to a molehill.


Wednesday, August 31, 2005

Ohmigoodness – I was strapped into the passenger seat of Richard Petty’s #43 Nascar car as it tore around the Indy 500 oval at a speed that pulled my face skin back the way it used to look in my drag-racing days!  I gotta say it…WOW! What a ride.  Some months ago I jumped out of an airplane and free fell 10,000 feet before the chute opened and I have to say the race car ride ranked right up there with that experience on the thrills & chills scale! The only down side was the 3 hour wait in the pit lane in the scorching sun (I got badly burned and got a heat headache) – had to wait for the track to dry first then one of the first cars out blew a tire so the track had to be cleaned.  But the people in line stayed in good humor and we all shared info and stories so that by the time our turn came, we all cheered each other on.  I am very happy to say there were a lot of women in line including two who were a LOT older than me – very encouraging to see that I’m not the only “wild and crazy” broad in the country!  Also, “strangely,” my new camera quit working so another woman’s daughter took pictures for me and will email them to me.  Nice way to make a new on-line friend.

It was late in the day when I headed north through Illinois but I had a strong feeling about getting to Wisconsin before stopping.  Those truckers I met last night convinced me I’m going to like it.

I lived in Chicago for a year and have been through Illinois many times so I don’t feel like I missed anything.  Mostly it was just miles and miles of farmland and one really pretty sunset.  Almost forgot, I also bypassed Michigan for the same reason.

Budgetary note – I just paid $3.28/gallon for mid-grade gas, which I know for a fact did not cost that station one penny more than it did yesterday when it was $2.67 – can we say price-gouging?


Thursday, September 1, 2005

It was wonderful to get out of the car in Beloit, Wisconsin last night and feel cool, dry air.  This morning I discovered lots more that made this a lovely little town.  I started with the Angel Museum – home of over 12,000 unique angel figurines.  The collection was started by Joyce Berg but has been added to by many including Oprah Winfrey.  Then I explored the historic Beloit College campus, including their Anthropology and Art Museums.  Most interesting was the perfectly preserved Effigy Mounds, which could have been built 10,000 years ago. The literature states that no one is positive what they represented but I had a strong vision while standing next to a very large one.  I saw a very primitive group who used the mound as their family sleeping area.  It was surrounded by some sort of plants and refuse, which seemed to keep their predators or enemies away.  This could be why most of them had nothing inside them.   Half the buildings in town have historical significance.  Just about every house is worth a second look. The history of the town was the real surprise to me tho – if you read my thought yesterday, you’ll see why.  Turns out this quaint little place was founded over a hundred years ago by an agent for a New Hampshire company who moved the company and a whole town of people to the river here – precisely what someone should do for the refugees of Katrina now! As I continue seeking the spirit of America, I may just have found its soul today.  I am definitely infatuated, so…. more Wisconsin tomorrow.


Listening to the radio as I drove through Indiana and Illinois yesterday I heard a lot of tragic stories about the havoc Katrina has wreaked.  Having experienced several hurricanes personally, I really could empathize and be tremendously grateful that I never had anything that awful result.  But I also heard wonderful items about people offering their time, money and energy to help immediately.  The best I heard came out of Idaho Falls, where one neighborhood of families is offering to open up their homes to families who lost everything – feed them, clothe them, get them jobs, put the kids in school, etc.  They can’t promise they’ll recreate Bourbon Street but they are willing to give total strangers a fresh start.  I couldn’t help but think about how much unpopulated country I am going to be traveling through in the next weeks.  Surely some businesses that were in the devastated areas could relocate themselves and a town full of people to someplace new.  After all, isn’t pioneering at the base of the spirit of America?


Friday, September 2, 2005

A severe headache and sick stomach, plus a few phone calls received right when I should have taken an exit, stopped me from doing more site-seeing in WI, but the sense that I really liked that state continued through the all-day drive.  (I have no doubt the 3 hours standing in the sun with no water followed by the brain-spinning ride was to blame since that’s when the migraine symptoms started, but it was soooooo worth it!)


Minnesota may have a lot to offer but I had no sense that I needed to stop anywhere, not even for a souvenir (despite the physical discomfort and a horrendous traffic jam in Minneapolis/St. Paul).  I just felt like I needed to get to North Dakota before stopping, and this trip is all about following my nose, so…  The only thing I can say about MN is that it was pleasant enough and by the time I was leaving the state I did see a few of its 1000 lakes – in Florida we would call them puddles, swales or just marsh, but then we have an Ocean on one side, a Gulf on the other and a giant swamp in between so we’re a bit biased regarding how much water it takes to be called an actual “body” of water.


As I’m traveling from place to place, I can’t help but think about the phrase, “Don’t talk to strangers.”  Certainly, it is good advice to children, whose “bad-guy” radar might not be very well developed, but as an adult, I would miss so much if I practiced such an anti-social policy.  I especially love it when someone makes an offhand comment that turns out to be exactly the message I needed to hear at that moment.  Some strangers really are angels in human form.


Saturday, September 3, 2005

I woke up in Fargo, ND this morning.  The movie must have turned it into a town because it was packed with people last night but I couldn’t figure out why.  The sign on entering the state said “Legendary North Dakota” – which I thought was a very cool adjective for the state to have chosen.  Then I saw that their license plates stated “Discover the Spirit.”  As this is my mission, I was pretty pleased to read those words. Also surprised that in ND the speed limit is 75 mph – probably some of that cowboy spirit still hanging around.  Next stop, Jamestown, ND, known as Buffalo City.  This is the home of the Buffalo Museum (very interesting) and White Cloud, the sacred white buffalo born 9 years ago.  She lives on an open preserve with several hundred other buffalo.  Next to it is a frontier village, recreated by donations of things from North Dakotans and others.  I thought it might have been just a tourist trap but it was filled with authentic furnishings and manned by very helpful, devoted volunteers – worth stopping for sure.  Jamestown is the birthplace of Louis L’Amour so they have one old building devoted to him and his work.  In talking with the volunteer there I learned they were asking for signatures to get his picture on a postage stamp.  She mentioned they wanted to do a website but didn’t know how to go about it.  AHA.  I had the info they needed since I just learned how.  Then I went into the old schoolroom and while talking to the “teacher” met a romance reader.  Unfortunately, none of the buffalo came out from their hiding places, so I guess there was nothing White Cloud had to say to me personally.  Also unfortunately, the rest of the day was not so wonderful.  Taking the highway between Bismarck ND and Pierre SD was not my brightest idea.  Very desolate for almost 6 hours.  Just miles and miles of sunflower fields, which was a happy sight at first but I may never enjoy them again.  I did, however, pass through Red River Valley, cross the Continental Divide, drove through the country where Dances with Wolves was filmed, and saw the most unusual, magnificent sunset ever. (Hopefully I will soon figure out how to get my photos onto this site page so you can see it too.)  I was so relieved to arrive in the town of Pierre, I considered staying just to unwind, but I’m too anxious to get to my next stop.

There are no towers or satellite connections anywhere around here so I won’t be posting this for a while.  Hopefully near Mt. Rushmore I’ll be able to make a cell phone call at least.


I have reached the part of the country where most of the attractions have to do with Native Americans, Cowboys, Lewis & Clark trails and the Pioneering Spirit that built this country…which brings me back to Thursday’s thought.  My heart goes out to all the families who are suffering because of Katrina but I am also terribly saddened by the stories of humans using this catastrophe to take advantage of others, from the rapists and looters and shooters to the gas station owners.  I am sorry that it is requiring martial law to bring aid to the good people who need it.  There is an old saying about giving a man food and he’ll eat for a day, but teach him how to fish/farm and he’ll be able to support himself for life.  It certainly made a difference during the Depression.  I am truly hoping the government remembers that lesson and, after helping the refugees survive, helps them get a fresh start somewhere new.  There are vast open spaces out here just waiting for new towns to spring up out of hope.


Sunday, September 4, 2005

Pierre turned out to be a very nice small town, tho based on the amount of road construction going on, I don’t think it will be staying that small for long.  As a “big city” dweller who has moved about 25 times in my adult life, I find it interesting to note how the residents of these places take a lot of pride in their hometown – not hurray for the football team kind of pride, but honest appreciation of where and how they live.

Back on the interstate again, I had to make some choices about which billboards I would let entice me off the road, or I’d never make Mount Rushmore by evening.  My first stop was in Murdo, mainly because they advertised an old-style diner and gas station and my car and I were both hungry.  What a delightful surprise I got.  The diner was set up great, I had an old-fashioned meat loaf meal for $5, but I went thru its back door to the Pioneer Auto Show and Prairie Town.  It was amazing!  In 1954 Dick Geisler started the museum to show off a few of his collections and his children run the facility today.  There are over 250 collectible autos, trucks, farm vehicles and bikes – The General Lee from Dukes of Hazzard, a variety of movie cars, Elvis’s Harley, and one of Petty’s crashed #43’s – do we see a theme starting here or what!  Also had a collection of turn of the century items like penny arcade machines.  One told me my fortune – “the winds of change are at my back, let them push me toward my fate, a previous source of adversity will become my greatest strength.”  Sounds perfect to me. The place also has a huge exhibition of rocks donated by another collector.  Etc. etc. Really worth stopping!  And talk about the entrepreneurial spirit of an American – he took a chance that people might want to see his collections someday, even in the middle of the Badlands.


The Badlands and Grasslands were naturally beautiful but I kept feeling an overwhelming sadness for the Lakota and Sioux Indians and the herds of buffalo.  Did you know the Lakota called this area “The heart of all that is.”  Interesting correlation, this area is now actually the geographic center of the United States.


Cars definitely seem to be one of the themes of this trip, which is only right considering how much we Americans love our cars.  But the first purpose is still to seek out the spirit of America.  Mr. Geisler was a good example of making something out of nothing in a nowhere place but I was even more amazed when I followed the signs to Wall Drug.  That story is so relevant to today’s current events, I am telling it in my Daily Reflection instead of here.


You’d think my senses would have been overflowing by this point but I arrived in Keystone, SD with time to see the evening lighting ceremony of Mount Rushmore.  Oh my, did I cry.  It is such a profound testimony to the spirit of America, I’m not sure I will see or hear anything to rival it.  A beautifully delivered historical account and film was concluded by the calling on stage of any present or former armed services members or family members who have lost someone to a conflict, for the lowering of the flag.  More tears flowed all around as the speaker talked about the various national cemeteries in the area, who all were buried nearby, and how, recently, a 21 year old Native American Indian was just buried there after being killed in Iraq.  He was a descendant of another Indian buried there – Crazy Horse.  And now I’m crying again as I type this.


Unfortunately, no one will read this for a few days because there is no remote internet connection, nor is there a tower anywhere around for cell phones to connect with.  In fact, I can’t even make a long distance call from my room.  But a really sweet woman named Carrie, who is the manager here, called my children from her line to let them know where I was.


Can’t offer a new thought this morning, mainly because I can’t stop thinking about all the uninhabited area I drove through yesterday.  What an enormous, magnificent, varied country we live in.  I am so lucky to have this opportunity to see it the way the explorers and pioneers did, one mile at a time…although I am quite happy that I’m doing it at 70 mph in an air-conditioned car instead of a covered wagon! 


Monday, September 5, 2005

Woke up, looked outside my window and saw pine covered hills and a big field where a flock of wild turkey were breakfasting.  Headed off to see Mount Rushmore in the daytime to take some pics, then north to Hill City to see the Black Hills Museum of Natural History and saw the 2nd most intact T-Rex (Stan) dinosaur.  Then south again to the Crazy Horse Monument.  I was so overwhelmed with emotion that I stayed long after I had seen everything.  It’s hard to say what was more impressive, the tragedy of Crazy Horse and his people and how masses have rallied to do something in their memory, or the inspirational, ongoing tale of the sculptor, Korczak, and his family.  I bought the DVD so that I could share it with my family and friends.  Once again I was learning about a family who believed in themselves and this unique country we live in, who believe opportunities can be created out of thin air (or rock) and, especially, who did not want handouts or a free deal.  Korczak turned down offers of $10 million from the government twice because he so strongly believed it was important that this monument be constructed the way he and the Native Tribal Chiefs/Elders saw it and also that it be paid for only by people who were interested in it and not every taxpayer in the country.  And it is working, albeit very slowly.  My spiritual attachment to this area is so strong, I find myself crying at the smallest thing.  It’s beautiful here, but I don’t think I could live here because of the sadness I feel.


Drove further south to Hot Springs (by the way these places aren’t even big enough to be called towns – we have strip malls in Florida that are bigger!).  I visited the Mammoth Site – talk about something I never ever thought I’d see in my lifetime – an actual paleontological dig site, covered by a huge airport hangar type of building to protect it and allow tourists to oversee.  Awesome, amazing, don’t know what else to say – I saw mammoth and other prehistoric skeletons still embedded in the rock, plus several reconstructed beasts, even the work area where the scientists do their tedious work of cleaning, cataloguing, etc.  They allow volunteers to help during the dig time – I might just have to sign up for that someday when I come back around here.


Ended the day with a very peaceful chat with Carrie – we sat outside in front of the motel at the foot of the enormous, beautiful Black Hills, and talked about all sorts of things.  Once again, I found myself talking to a very spiritual, proud American, who had overcome an incredible list of difficulties (a lot of people would not have managed, believe me), but here she was, around my age, running a motel and managing properties while also going for her SECOND college degree.  God, I’m loving this journey. Thank you.


What a fitting holiday to relate the story of Wall Drug, SD, a place I visited yesterday.  Back in 1931, the depression era, Dorothy & Ted Hustead with son Billy, moved to the poverty stricken town of Wall.  Ted was a pharmacist who had received a small inheritance and wanted to open a drug store in a midwest town with a Catholic church in it.  The family prayed on it and decided to take a chance on Wall, tho everyone thought they were crazy.  No one had any money in those days so they had no business for a long time, but one day Dorothy thought about all those open air roadsters driving by on the dusty road headed west and convinced her husband to let her put out a sign on the road offering “Free Ice Water.”  Before long people stopped by for more than water and the Husteads were not only supporting themselves but a staff of 8 waitresses.   Their hokey billboards became famous around the world and, many signs still remain even after the beautification laws were enacted.  Today an entire town of over 800 people are either employed by the Wall Drug enterprise or one of the other businesses that exist because of the block long drug store.  And believe me, there is NOTHING for miles on either end. Talk about having faith, taking a risk, the entrepreneurial spirit personified!  I spoke to 2 clerks about convincing the Husteads to open another water stop on that highway I took between Bismarck and Pierre and bringing up some of the evacuees to live and work there.  They promised to pass it on.

Before I went to sleep last night I heard on the news that several states were sending buses and planes to pick up evacuees and relocate them.  That is a wonderful effort.  Now, let’s see some corporations jump in and get those people new jobs!


Tuesday, September 6, 2005

Another day filled with ohmigoodness stuff.  Stopped in Deadwood, SD, just because it wasn’t possible to pass on by without a chance to get a sense of the old west.  Spent a good hour in the Adams Museum where I saw lots of original Wild Bill Hickock, Calamity Jane, etc. memorabilia – very well put together too. But then I walked the streets which have the old buildings with signs that alert the tourist that Hickock was shot in this saloon and his killer was captured in that one. I had lunch in Miss Kitty’s (the original Miss Kitty was actually Chinese and they have maintained the ethnic quality), but every single building, including Miss Kitty’s, had been turned into a casino, mostly slots – it was more depressing than fun, so I went off to see more countryside and animals that I’d only seen previously in the zoo. 


Then came the highlight of this day – I went to Devil’s Tower in N.E. Wyoming – you know, the huge stone monolith of Close Encounters fame.  I didn’t know that it was the very first national monument – so proclaimed by Teddy Roosevelt in 1906.  I also didn’t know much about him and his contributions until coming out here.  He knew the tower was considered sacred by the Native Indians and respected that.  It was magnificent!  I walked the 1.3 mile trail around the base and was amazed every inch of the way (and a little out of breath – it’s nearly a mile high elevation and the temperatures are still in the 90’s here).  Saw lots of prayer bundles and ribbons tied to the trees.  Halfway around I felt the presence of my Indian spirit guide Running Bear (he was my father), and sat down on a rock to listen.  The serenity of the woods and the sheer natural power of that gigantic rock was an otherworldly experience.  I saw myself as an Indian child walking with a group of others, including Running Bear and a young man named Crying Wolf, who was teasing me like a big brother but who would later be my mate.  We were all making some sort of pilgrimage there.  This could be why I have been crying so much in this area, but seeing this vision and being in this place suddenly relieved me of all the sadness. The sense I got was that they were very pleased that this place was being so well respected by all the visitors.


Today I borrow from lines I heard in the movie about the Crazy Horse monument yesterday, spoken by the sculptor Korczak - the most important thing in life is to never forget your dreams. It doesn’t matter how long it takes to achieve them, so long as you keep making progress of some kind.  He passed away without seeing the completion of the project he began, but his wife and 7 of his 10 children carry on the work (along with an army of workers and volunteers now), thus his dream stays alive and has infected thousands of others.  Also, words spoken by Olympic medalist, Lakota native, Billy Mills strongly affected me.  We should all strive to be like Crazy Horse and Korczak - spiritual beings living the human experience.


Wednesday, September 7, 2005

Miracle upon miracle…oh what wondrous creations God has wrought.  I had a whole day of viewing Mother Nature’s magnificent accomplishments.  Between the human pioneering spirit in previous days and the awesome power of God, my brain is really ready for a download to make more room on its disk!  It took me about 6 hours to drive about 150 miles across Wyoming.  I took the “scenic” route as recommended by the AAA guide book and multiple billboards and, oh my, am I glad I did.  It took me through the Big Horn National Forest – scary switchback trails along the edge of mountain cliffs, monstrous evergreens, gigantic rock formations and one incredible canyon and waterfall.  Every turn around a bend gave me another jaw-dropping eyeful…which was a problem because I was driving on a pretty narrow road with hairpin turns.  Talk about white-knuckle driving!  It was physical stress that made me stop when I saw a building on the side of the road and was stunned to find myself at Shell Falls.  All along the road there are signs to let you know what sort of rock the wall is made of and how old it is, i.e. 2.5 billion or 100 million years, etc. I’ve seen enough western movies to be able to visualize the pioneers making their way along these trails when they were only wide enough for a horse! Simply amazing.  Also, I’m tickled to say I passed a cowboy on horseback herding sheep, a group of deer frolicking in a field of grass, mountain goats climbing jagged rocks, prairie dogs poking their heads out of holes in the ground, long-horned cattle (and every other kind I think), wild horses, (did I mention I saw a herd of buffalo yesterday?).  Whew, I am overwhelmed with the beauty of it all.


You would think I’d had enough by the time I finally stopped in Cody, Wyoming, BUT I had arrived at the town founded by none other than Buffalo Bill Cody.  The AAA book said the Cody Historical Center is the Smithsonian of the west.  That was no exaggeration.  5 buildings of nature, geology, wild wild west, cowboy and prairie Indian history and heritage, art and sculpture, gardens – when I got there it was 4 hours before closing and I spent all 4 hours exploring the place.  Holy cow, I had no idea what all Buffalo Bill had really accomplished.  Didyaknow he was a Mason and was awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor?  And an elevated one at that.  I recommend every American should visit here, or at least read about this man and his family.  To finish out a great day, I had dinner sitting at the famous mahogany bar in the Hotel Irma, which was his daughter’s namesake. It was packed with tourists but the authenticity of the place had been beautifully preserved.  Very neat indeed.

Still traveling in and out of areas with no cell or internet service so I’m not sure when anyone will read this.


Thursday, September 8, 2005

Okay, so every day can’t be a winner, but today was rather disappointing because of my own expectations.  The drive to Yellowstone Park was through more majestic forest country – the Buffalo Bill National Forest and the Shoshone.  I couldn’t wait to see why Yellowstone was more famous than those.  Obviously, the famous park must have seen better days.  Fires have devastated a great portion of the area, leaving the trees burned and bare (it looked like a petrified forest) and must have caused some landslides because the eastern road in was only about 8 feet of gravel next to the cliff and we visitors were guided in by a “pilot” car…which started out feeling like an adventure, but that wore off as we crawled along at about 10 mph for a really, really long time.  Old Faithful blew its nose almost on schedule and the rest of the geysers and hot, steaming lakes were a must-see natural phenomenon, which, by the way, I understood a lot better because of all the geologically educational days I’ve had lately.  From what I learned yesterday, the fires are a natural part of the life cycle in a forest and I did see lots of baby pine trees amongst the ashes. Unfortunately the occasional whiff of fresh pine scent wasn’t enough to overcome the charred wood smell.  There were a number of signs warning visitors about the wild animals, like bears, moose and mountain lions, but all I saw was a herd of buffalo that caused a whole line of cars to wrecklessly slam on the brakes to get a picture.  The drive out of the park took several more excruciatingly slow hours of white knuckle driving, but then I still had a couple hours to get to Butte, which apparently is one of the few places in Montana that has motels and restaurants.  Camping is pretty big out here under the Big Sky and I think I know why – the motel prices are the highest I’ve seen this whole trip!  Wanna make a business investment – build a motel somewhere in Montana besides Butte. 


I have now been asked the same question so many times, I gave it more thought.  “Aren’t I afraid of traveling by myself?” My answer is always, no, I use both common sense and my intuition to keep myself safe.  It has occurred to me though, that the physical dangers are not the only thing some people might fear.  Traveling alone has its benefits and drawbacks, but I believe there is no better way to get to know yourself.  I’m comfortable with myself and my own thoughts (most of the time) but I know quite a few people who might be afraid of what they would discover about themselves if they had so much time alone.  To them I can only say, try it, you might surprise yourself.


Friday, September 9, 2005

Every once in a while, it’s great to be proven wrong! I didn’t think there was any reason for me to do more than sleep in Butte, Montana. When I got out of high school and worked at the Univ. of Pittsburgh Biology Dept, they had a summer research camp here.  That’s the only reason I even heard of it.  I hereby apologize to all the past and present Butte-ians.  I had no idea that Butte was once the 2nd largest city in the West, next to San Francisco, or that it is known worldwide as the richest hill in the world because of its minerals or that this was the base of the war of the Copper Kings, Clarke & Daly, or that Butte is the U.S. city with the 2nd most registered historical sites and landmarks …New Orleans was the 1st, so the Katrina disaster may have an odd impact on Montana.  Anyway, I visited the Montana Tech mineral museum (had my hands on a 400 pound smoky quartz crystal unearthed here) and watched real seismologists working in their lab (there was an earthquake here in the 1950’s), then toured the World Mining Museum and reconstructed mining town, looked over the current open mine pit operation, gave a bow to the statue of the Virgin Mary high up on the mountain above the town, and got a guided tour through the Copper King Clarke’s mansion.  Another incredible American pioneering spirit story – look it up, it’s fascinating stuff – for instance, Clarke started with nothing, took a risk on buying 4 dying mines, studied geology and found copper in dem dere holes, right at the time homes were getting electricity and indoor plumbing, and pretty soon his investment was bringing him $17 MILLION a month in the early 1900’s.  Right place at the right time? Maybe, but he combined a gambler’s spirit with intelligence and made a fortune. His mansion had every invention Edison and any other inventor could think up, and Clarke founded a little town in Nevada now known as Las Vegas.  Yep, it was another mouth-gaping day for moi!

The town’s slogan is “Butte is my town.  I really like it.”  I cracked up the first time I saw it on a poster when I got here.  I mean really, could it get any more mediocre?  But ya know what?  It fits just fine.

And if that wasn’t interesting enough, I met another woman (my age) who works here at this motel, whose 7 children insisted they all move here from Boca Raton, Florida!  Her son just got back from a year in Baghdad and is now being sent to Louisiana.  My son-in-law is being sent to Germany next week. We commiserated over the miseries of menopause and discussed current events.  The people I’m meeting are an unexpected bonus on this journey.


Side note for those who know how undomestic I am – I actually enjoyed being able to do laundry tonight after 2 sweaty weeks on the road. Yes, I may have spent a lot more on the room than budgeted but it was worth it just for the in-house laundromat, grounded internet line and adorable coffee house next door…where I met more gracious residents.


According to the road signs, I crossed the Continental Divide 4 times so far (it’s obviously a rather jagged line), so I know I’ve seen more than half the country and, ya know what, Dorothy?  So far, there really ain’t no place like home.


Saturday, September 10, 2005

Woke up to a weather report calling for 5 inches of snow in the Butte area by afternoon, which was enough to convince me to get as far west as possible before sundown.  I made it to a town/truck stop just west of Spokane, Washington, but got to listen to a good talk radio station along the way, which got me comparing demographic cultures I’ve observed so far on my journey.  I’ve noticed that every state has its own style of commercials.  For instance, the screaming-at-the-masses kind stopped just north of Florida, to be replaced for a few states by an insertion of God/Jesus/Bible or country music lines into everything, then they just got calm and practical with no frills.   Anti-drug commercials are telling also – in North Dakota, the main problem is inhalants, in Montana it’s meth (however, apparently Missoula, MT is a virtual hub of drug dealers and users of drugs of every sort - who woulda thunk it?).  On the other hand they have a pretty advanced rehab program to take care of the problem.  The good news is there are a lot of job opportunities in all these states - every other commercial is touting the benefits offered - and it doesn’t sound like there’s enough people to fill them. Now if someone could just organize those employers with the hurricane evacuee lists…  In every state I’ve met good-humored, contented women in my age group (possibly because they’ve finally found somewhere cold enough to counter the hot flashes), but throughout 1000’s of miles of traveling, every young woman (under 25) whom I’ve encountered is sullen, sourpussed and chronically bored…and these are girls who are working in various customer service positions.  I’ve made it a challenge to get them to smile, but in some cases, nothing I say brings even a tiny grin.  I suppose it could be that they think they’re being held back in their quiet little towns.  If so, nothing will fix that except spending time in a big city.  Only then will they understand why their mothers are so happy to be in Smalltown, U.S.A.  Aah, the mystical cycles of life.


I’ve been thinking a lot about how much I’m learning on this trip. It feels like I’m in an alternative type of college and every day is a different crash course.  But I’ve also heard a lot of evidence lately pointing to this being a valid education.  Perfect example is that Louis L’Amour, the most prolific author in America, only got through the 3rd grade – the rest of his education came from being a merchant marine touring the world.  And I know other people who have 8 years of college and never quite figured out what to do with it.


Sunday, September 11, 2005

Something woke me up a little after 1 a.m., but everything around the motel, including my car, was fine and quiet.  I woke up again at 5, rarin’ to go.  70 miles east of Seattle, on the only east-west interstate, I was stopped by barricades.  A massive rockslide had occurred a little after 1 a.m., at least 3, maybe 9 people were dead, and it would take the rest of the day to clear it up.  (Later reports said it could be weeks because of how precarious the mountainside is now.)  I stopped in the diner nearest to the blockade, listened to the truckers share reports and got advice on how best to proceed to Seattle.  (And met a couple more interesting mature women and another sullen teenage girl)  Well, once again, I learned that I was in a state that didn’t have a lot of options.  The Cascade Mountains only have 3 passes thru to Seattle and the main one was now closed.  So I tried the second choice as advised.  It required going about 100 miles backward and north on a 2 lane road in the mountains, but, what else did I have to do today.  Then there was an accident or something on that path and I had to turn around again and head for the 3rd route which required going further back east to catch that route.  Then I got on the wrong ramp and ended up in the wrong direction… see the picture…..I finally gave up and went even further backward to catch a route south to Oregon then west to Portland.  I actually filled up the gas tank twice in the same little town in Washington!  I couldn’t help but think of what an incredibly weird quirk of fate had those cars on that narrow pass that late at night at precisely the time the wall of rock broke loose.  Of course, I carried that thought a step further and had to realize how strange it was for me personally to have been so close to such a disaster.  In the big picture of space and time, those few hours between the landslide and when I, who live on the other side of the country, would have been traveling along that pass are equivalent to no more than a nanosecond.  Remember that old saying about, when it’s your time to go….  Well, this day wasn’t my time, so I’m not going to complain about the long hours driving without getting very far. Instead, I’m sending a prayer out to the families who’ve lost loved ones today and gratitude that it’s not my children crying over me.  In closing, I’ll just borrow some words from Scarlett: Tomorrow is another day.  And of course, Seattle is still there if I wake up full of energy again.


Today, 9/11, seems to be the appropriate day for the message I’ve been getting.  I’ve been hearing very disturbing whispers in the trees and rumbles in the rocks, and hints of confirmations of that are being verbalized by people I’m meeting, or just eavesdropping on, across the country.  Most people are sincerely upset by the devastation Katrina caused and really want to help, or at least do no harm.  But there are those, extreme, right wing political and religious groups who are quietly waiting in their dark corners and private rooms for an opening to start hissing about God’s Will and Retribution, opinions that could have very dire circumstances, maybe worse than what I saw happen in the sixties.  We can’t let that happen – we need to pray, send white light, have positive thoughts, say and do positive things every chance we get, so that the snakes will never get the opening they’re waiting for.  As with 9-11, this disaster can have some positive outcomes – we will be more conscious of the homeless and uneducated population in this country, the government can resurrect the kind of plans that worked to end the depression – worthwhile work programs, not just handouts, and best of all, a whole lot of people who were so downtrodden they never thought they could rise out of the depths of despair are being given a chance to start all new, with no past to shadow their futures.  Spread the positive thoughts only, please.


Monday, September 12, 2005

One of the best lines (and best-delivered) in a favorite movie of mine was: “Ya gotta learn to laugh!” (John Travolta as Archangel Michael).  Today I had to laugh to keep from choking on irony.  I woke up determined that I was not going to be able to go forward until I went backward…to Seattle.  It just felt necessary. So, off I went, north from Portland back into the State of Washington.  This time I made it to Seattle.  As soon as I went over the rise and saw the CITY on the Sound I felt a trickle of excitement.  Apparently you can take the girl out of the City but you can’t take the City out of the girl. Oh, you’ve heard that before? Yeah, well, until that moment I had no idea how very much I’d missed being in a big city. I have loved all the beautiful country I’ve seen, but I know I haven’t seen anywhere I’d like to live for any length of time. (I really really like being able to use a cell phone.) I liked the look and feel of Seattle (of course, I got there on a day when it wasn’t raining!) and, because they don’t seem to care for signage there, I got lost on the way in AND on the way out, which gave me a chance to really see the whole city (please note for purposes of perspective here, compared to Miami or New York, Seattle is practically microscopic).  Anyway, got to go up the 500 feet in the Space Needle (over 40 years old and still beautiful).  BUT the World Museum of Science Fiction (which is what I really wanted to see there) and every other museum and attraction are closed on Mondays after Labor Day.  So all I could do was pay homage to the God of Coffee (Starbuck’s for you non-caffeine addicts) and head back to Portland.  On the way back, however, my car turned off the expressway all by itself and I ended up in Olympia (the capitol).  What a beautiful little town.  So clean and neat and the people I met were very cordial (and I didn’t even meet any politicians).  Although no one knew why the museum was spelled Capital instead of Capitol.  It’s practically perfect in my mind – bigger than a small town but smaller than a city, but as a seat of government it has jobs aplenty and an airport and is close enough to a big city if the urge for cultural entertainment hits.  And very important for me – it’s on the water!  I even picked up info on active adult communities just in case it wins my lottery at the end of this journey.  So for me, there was a valid reason to go backward before going forward…it just wasn’t for the reason I thought it was.


A television commercial I saw last night caught my attention so well I stopped typing to find out what it was selling.  Turned out it was from the United Methodist Church and their message could have been written to me personally – “FIND YOUR PATH, THEN SHARE THE JOURNEY.”  Thanks for letting me share mine with you.


Tuesday, September 13, 2005

On a map of the U.S., the distance between Portland and San Francisco doesn’t seem all that great…and there is a major interstate that I could speed along.  But how could I make that trip without going through the Redwood Forest?  Despite all the mountains and forests and parks I’ve seen so far, I was overwhelmed with awe.  I only made it to Eureka, CA after 9 hours of driving, but what magnificent views.  At one point, there was a wall of Redwoods to my left and the ocean to my right.  A beam of sunlight cut a swath through the mist across the road before me. I had to pull over as soon as there was space just to stare 360 degrees!  And the scent of the air, oh my – I can barely describe it because I’ve never smelled anything quite like it – but those of you who know me will understand when I say it was better than the aroma of chocolate that fills Hershey, PA.  There was a hint of something close to pine, but not, mixed with pure clean oxygen, and saltwater mist.  Unbelievably heady.  By the time I got to Eureka I was too stiff to keep driving, but then I found out that this little town has all sorts of wonders in and around it, including some of those gigantic sequoia trees that are so huge a car can be driven through it.  I read that they can have a diameter (not circumference mind you) of 40 feet! So, I guess that’s why I had to stop for the night and rest up for my last day of new experiences for a few weeks.  After tomorrow, I will be visiting all my relatives throughout the State of California before moving on.


Sometimes before we move forward, we should look, or even go, backward and make sure we didn’t miss something important in our haste.


Wednesday, September 14, 2005

A funny coincidence occurred last night.  I was exhausted when I finally got into my motel room and just wanted to veg in front of the television. Jeopardy was on and the question to the second answer I heard was “What is Eureka?”  I love that sort of confirmation that I’m not alone.  So rather than take off first thing in the morning, I explored Eureka.  It is a quaint, 1880’s Victorian town on the water with some wonderfully maintained original architecture from the days of the lumber barons … and a large contingency of homeless people and a St. Vincent de Paul’s Mission who cares for them…sort of.  With everything going on right now with evacuees, it seemed all the more poignant. See my daily reflections for further observations.

I’d also like to note that I had breakfast in an old saloon on the waterfront – it was the best meal I’ve had since I left Palm Beach County.  Apparently, all the other states I’ve driven through believe that bacon fat and lard make up a major food group and that every meal requires some of it floating on your plate.  If nothing else, the clean, lean, tasteful meal announced that I had finally reached California.  Another comparative analysis that I can’t resist making has to do with country music.  I have now driven about 6000 miles and am very aware that country music is clearly the hands-down favorite in all the states I’ve been through – if there’s 1 radio station, it plays country, if there are 10 stations, 7 play country, 1 plays gospel, 1 is news/talk radio and 1 plays classic rock or oldies.  Fortunately I brought plenty of my own cd’s.  I purposefully tried to listen to the preferred music several times but I haven’t changed my mind about it.  I just don’t understand the appeal of a song in which some woman got beaten up/cheated on, etc. by some drunken man, but she knows he really loves her so she doesn’t leave.

Next comparison – gasoline prices remained around $3.50 for premium and $3.28 for  mid-grade in every state, with very few exceptions, until I reached Oregon, where the prices are the same as when I left Palm Beach – around $2.69 for hi-test.  As soon as I crossed into California, the price went back up so I know it was just Oregon.  Could it be that it is a state of non-greedy gas station owners?  Or is it just that the legalized marijuana makes people slower to catch on to what the rest of the country is doing?  It’s a pretty state; I may have to go back someday.

Back on the road - Highway 101 from Eureka southward has a 31-mile section called Avenue of the Giants.  What I saw yesterday was nothing compared to what I experienced today!  Yes, I drove through a tree trunk, although it was just part of a tourist stop.  It took me hours to do that 31 miles because I had to keep stopping to get out of the car just to stand next to those giants.  The scent and silence were simply amazing.  Someone once wrote that this must be what the gateway to heaven is like – a perfect comment in my mind.  Even at the rest stops and gift shops, there was a quiet reverence among the visitors, including children.  As I left the park there was a sign that said “Don’t forget the magic.”  I don’t see how it would be possible to forget it. 

Then I was back on the freeway and soon found myself in bumper-to-bumper traffic in San Rafael, a sure sign that San Francisco was not far away.  I got to my brother’s in Mill Valley in time for dinner, and probably just in time, too.  My body and my senses are all screaming for a long break.


Every day is an opportunity to start over.  Even if all you do is formulate a plan to change your situation, it’s a step toward a new beginning.  If it is a beneficial plan, the universe will acknowledge your intention and give you the support you need.


Thursday, September 15, 2005

Because of two off-key things I heard yesterday, I feel the need to add them to my thoughts.  I’ve listened to numerous reports about what is happening to and for the hurricane victims and evacuees.  Some are positive, some are disturbing, some are “same old, same old” from my own experiences with hurricanes in Florida over the past several decades.  The first sour note was on the radio – the governor of Oregon was complaining that his state’s people, both government and civilians, had devoted a tremendous amount of time, energy and expense to creating a haven for evacuees to come there, only to be told by FEMA and other organizations, that no one was coming.  Surely there are a few families who would like to get out of the Astrodome even if it means venturing to the Northwest Territory!  Then I was checking into the motel in Eureka and heard the front desk person vehemently refusing to take in any of the local homeless for the night for any amount of money.  Apparently they were expecting a cold snap there and the local mission was trying to find shelter for their street people.  I had to question the clerk about what I’d heard and was informed that they had taken these people in several times and every time the rooms were stripped bare and trashed by morning.  They simply couldn’t afford to be kind any more.  I didn’t know what to say or even think about that.  I’m just glad I’m not the one who had to make that decision.


Tuesday, September 20, 2005

Well, I did say I needed a long break!  To me, it seems as tho only a day has passed, but friends and family have made sure I’m aware that I’ve spent a whole week “vegging” and it’s time to get back on track!  I’ve visited briefly with my brother, nephew and one cousin, slept, walked, eaten well, walked and slept some more.  Mill Valley is a marvelously convenient and pretty suburb of San Francisco, with a lot of things within walking distance and lots more, like the Golden Gate Bridge, within a half hour’s drive. By today, I was finally ready to cross that big bridge (which, by the way, I will never comprehend why it’s painted salmon instead of some shade of gold—I mean, really, how hard would that be?).  Although we’ve had a week of hot, sunny weather, today was more normal for SF – chilly and foggy.  I’ve been here several times, but never tried driving through the city myself.  However, this journey is all about doing things I’ve never done before, so off I went, with city map in hand, to seek out some places I had not previously visited.  Again I encountered the September reconstruction of several sites, but got to visit the Japanese Tea Garden, where I bowed to a 1200+ year old bronze Buddha and had tea and cookies in a pagoda, then toured the Botanical Gardens.  Both were beautiful and serene and only the damp, chilly weather kept me from dallying.  Then, just because I was so close, I paid the mandatory tourist visit to Fisherman’s Wharf.

FYI – based on newspapers and television out here, I’d be very surprised if Arnold is re-elected Governor. 


The only decisions you should make when you’re tired or hungry is to rest or eat.  As Arnold says, “I’ll be back” to deep thoughts next week.


Tuesday, October 4, 2005

After nearly 3 weeks of visiting family in California, I’m back on the road again!  I have been to Los Angeles several times in the past and always had a good time.  I’m sure there is still some tourist attraction I haven’t already seen, but my “nose” was pointing east, not south, and that’s worked pretty well for me so far on this trip.  I can always go back to LA when one of my books is made  into a movie!  Although I have traveled up and down the CA coast before, I never saw any of the rest of the state.  Of course I knew a great deal of our food comes from the farms and orchards there but I guess I hadn’t correlated that with most of CA being as sparsely populated as some of the other states I’ve been through.  There are really some very desolate, very poor areas in the Golden State.

So, after my vacation from vacationing, this morning I kicked off the second half of my journey by heading for the one place in the United States guaranteed to wake up the dead - Las Vegas, Nevada.  Actually, I lived there in 1972 – a time when there were only 2 television stations, one of which played westerns around the clock (there were 3 until one started doing editorials against organized crime and suddenly that station was blown up one night while we lived there).  Also at that time there were only a handful of flashy hotels on the strip, all of which were in such competition with each other, it was possible to go from place to place getting free meals and drinks and seeing free shows.  I didn’t recognize anything about the city of Las Vegas today.  I stayed at the Luxor – a black, pyramid-shaped hotel with a light beam shooting out of the top like a great diamond (the only way this hotel could be found at night as it is surrounded by enormous hotels.  Being such an Egypt-ophile, I loved the décor which was carried out through the whole hotel including the sleeping rooms.  I was delighted that my bellhop was an old-timer who remembered what the strip was like 35 years ago and put everything into perspective for me, such as, the hotel I was in used to be the old Hacienda Village trailer park.  I don’t enjoy gambling but I donated $20 to a roulette table just to get in the spirit of things.


Wednesday, October 5, 2005

The ultra-dry air plus the oxygen being pumped into my room (didja know they do that on purpose?) kept me from sleeping well but I was up and running early.  For 8 straight hours I walked from hotel to hotel, up and down connecting stairways and overhead walkways (things that were new to me), toured the interiors of wild and wonderful structures like New York New York, where I simply had to ride the crazy roller coaster that runs around the outside of the buildings (I know, I’m a coaster junkie, but that one is really really exciting).  I visited the castle in medieval times and the Eiffel Tower in Paris, where I lunched on a perfect shrimp and scallop crepe at the sidewalk café while watching the fab fountain show in front of the Bellagio across the street.  The best part of the day, however, was my visit to the Mirage, a hotel where two of my favorite characters, Steve and Falcon, spent a chapter in “Topaz Dreams.”  I had done research to get the details because it was built well after I lived there.  I was really tickled to see the white tiger in the entry foyer and the aquarium behind the registration desk.  I also toured a newer addition – the Siegfried and Roy Secret Garden and Dolphin habitat.  Those guys have donated so much money and time to saving endangered animals and helping children around the world! God bless them both.  My feet and legs ran out of strength so I had to skip several of the hotels I had wanted to see (it would have taken another entire day to see everything), but I still had enough energy to sit through a show (as one simply MUST in that town).  I was able to get in to see the newest Cirque du Soleil extravaganza, “KA” for which the MGM Grand built a special 1700+ seat theater.  WOW and OMIGOD.  I was blown away by the total experience of the production.  And that’s hard to say in Vegas, where absolutely everything is geared to escapism.  I was also overwhelmed at the math – 1700 seats X an average of $125 per seat X 2 performances per day X so many hotels ….you get the point.  There’s so much money legitimately pouring into that town every day, they don’t need to bend the laws any more.  Maybe we should consider asking some of the hotel owners to help the U.S. Government balance its budget!  In fact, if we could set up an advisory board of the Las Vegas powerhouses with Disney, Gates, Trump and Stewart, we could probably solve world hunger.  But that probably wouldn’t be motivational enough for any of them.  Ah well, I can dream can’t I?


Thursday, October 6, 2005

I have to admit, I loved my day+ in Vegas.  But then, I absolutely love Disney World also.  Perhaps there’s something wrong with me, but I am extremely happy in totally over-the-top artificial playgrounds!  Entertain me, entertain me, exhaust me with thrills, chills and amazing feats of architecture and engineering.   What could I do as a follow-up to Vegas?  Well, that was an easy one – off to see the Grand Canyon next.  From Vegas to the most famous big hole in the ground, there’s a very slow but exciting half hour around and over the Hoover Dam (they do security checks of cars now), then it’s a rather uninteresting 4 hour drive mostly through high desert country.  The national park around the Canyon is nothing much to see, especially compared to the incredible forests and parks I’ve been through so far on this trip, but when I finally got to the Canyon, I could certainly understand the reason for all the hooplah.  I’m sure it would be even better by helicopter or the donkey ride to the bottom.  Also, I was on the South Rim and I understand the North Rim is even more impressive because of the Colorado River views.  I walked for a little while along the rim, took lots of pictures, then headed back to the highway within a half hour.  It was almost 3 more hours before I got to Flagstaff and checked into a motel for 2 nights.  Flagstaff wasn’t much to look at, even the area they call the historic district seemed rather old and tired, but I am really looking forward to tomorrow’s daytrip.  For as long as I can remember, I’ve been wanting to go to Sedona, Arizona, a town reported to be very high with psychic energy, mainly because of it being built on top of one of the largest quartz crystal deposits in North America.


Friday, October 7, 2005

Yesterday’s trip to the Grand Canyon was easily topped by today’s 28-mile trip to Sedona through Coconino National Forest, particularly the Oak Creek Canyon portion.  Every mile was awesome with lots of visual surprises.  Unlike the barren rocks of the Grand Canyon, Oak Creek Canyon is completely filled with ponderosa pine and other trees.  Local Native American Indians had a craft exhibit/market set up at the park information site with a portion of their profits going to maintain the forest.  The hardest part was only buying a few things.  All the native women were anxious to talk about their goods and the meanings of the various totems, stones and other materials used.  Along the way there, I had a very strange encounter and asked one of the older women about it.  As I was driving, I saw a movement in the woods ahead to my right.  I thought I saw a big lumberjack, flannel shirt, axe and all, stepping out from the trees.  I blinked and “he” turned out to be a very large (about 8 feet high at least) female elk.  She stopped at the edge of the road and watched me pass, in a human-like way.  She was a truly gorgeous, elegant creature.  In my rear view mirror I saw her watch me a few more seconds then casually cross the road.  I was immediately relieved that she hadn’t stepped out in front of my car.  Although I wasn’t speeding, I was driving fast enough that it would have been a terrible accident for both of us.  The woman wasn’t surprised that the elk had originally appeared as something else – she said it was an image that was sure to catch my attention (that was true).  As to the elk, she said it is their rutting season so they are all quite bold, but when a person sees one it generally means that something is going on with his or her family (again definitely true in my case), but whether good or bad is individual.  When she sees an elk, she has a good day, but to her daughter it’s a warning of a bad day.  I looked it up later in my “Animal Speak” book: it states that seeing a female elk alone at any time, let alone in rutting season, is very unusual because they are communal, so seeing one like that suggests that I’m not interacting enough with the opposite sex.  How funny is that!

The forest suddenly ended and a “painted desert” began with rock formations in all sorts of shapes and shades of reds, pinks and browns.  All the geology lessons I got during my northern journey came back to me. I kept stopping to take pictures, despite knowing I could never capture the sights I was passing.  As usual, I intended to buy postcards to back up my photography. 

Sedona itself is surrounded by these magnificent rocks and mountains but I was disappointed in the town.  The instant I hit the town limits, all the natural beauty was forgotten by a main street of shops and vendors.  Their goods ranged from tacky souvenirs to lovely arts and crafts (all very expensive but not more beautiful than what I had just seen in Coconino) but I couldn’t feel any of that energy I had been expecting.  It was almost like the commercialism and wealth of the residents was negating it or perhaps I simply had too high expectations.  Then again, if I had felt that special something, I may have wanted to stay there and I’m pretty sure now that I’m supposed to go back to Florida.

Upon my return to Flagstaff I had time to see one more point of interest – the Lowell Observatory.  8,000 feet up the mountain I went and was well rewarded.  The observatory was first built by Percival Lowell, a man of means (Lowell, Massachusetts was established by his family) who had traveled around the country and world for years, with no particular goal but a fascination with astronomy.  A belief that there was intelligent life on Mars led him to purchase the first big telescope to be installed in the western U.S. in 1894.  It is still there and functional over a hundred years later.  In fact, there are 3 separate observatory domes on the hill overlooking Flagstaff, one of which was used to discover the planet Pluto!  The tedious, manual process of doing that was mind-boggling compared to the technology available today. I had no idea the name, Pluto, which was entered into a contest by an English schoolgirl, was chosen because it was a mythological god whose name began with the observatory founder’s initials, PL.  The tour and museum were extremely informative and educational but the drive back down the mountain was a bit terrifying.  No guardrails and only about 12 inches of dirt on the side of the very narrow road that separated me from a sheer drop down thousands of feet of mountain.  I don’t think I took a deep breath the entire time.  I keep thinking how glad I am that I made this trip now because in a few more years my eyesight, reflexes or health might not be up to it!

And speaking of health  – I am having a horrible time with these heights – extreme difficulty breathing (even when I’m not driving down a donkey path), headaches, nausea, nosebleeds, bloating, etc.  I had the same problem last year in Colorado where I was as high as 13,000 feet at times.  Of course I researched altitude sickness and found I had all the symptoms and if I stayed at that elevation for 3 or 4 days, I’d get used to it.  No thank you.  I’m heading for lower country starting tomorrow.


Saturday, October 8, 2005

I found out the annual hot air balloon festival was being held in Albuquerque, New Mexico this weekend so I headed there.  It was an all day drive, partly because of all the road construction I encountered.  We have jokes in Florida about road construction never ending, but I can tell you from personal experience now, that it is going on in every state I’ve been to.  It just gets more aggravating near bigger cities, or if you’re trying to travel during rush hours, which I don’t do.  Just before reaching Albuquerque, I saw a sign directing me toward the National Petroglyph Monument, so I followed that trail first.  Really neat!  More mountain climbing, this time on foot, was involved, but definitely worth it.  The area had once been volcanic and lava rock is all over the hillside above Albuquerque.  Ancient Indians (dating as far back as 3000 years) carved figures and symbols into these rocks – whether the artwork was symbolic or just graffiti is really anyone’s guess, but it was still very cool to touch them.  I had no problem picking up primitive energy all over that mountain.  Fortunately the whole area is now under protection.

I then drove all around Albuquerque, searching for the new Hot Air Balloon Museum.  I like the city – it was clean and felt optimistic and I could tell it offers a variety of cultural experiences.  But even though I had an address and directions off the web site, I could not find the street.  The town was swelling over with people and traffic and the motels had doubled their rates, all because of a festival that I couldn’t find.  I have previously seen the site of hot air balloons rising in the dawn, so I took the hint and headed further west to Moriarty before stopping. 


Sunday, October 9, 2005

I woke up very excited this morning because of my destination.  As an author of futuristic romance/science fiction and a major fan of Star Trek, Star Wars and all other such tv and movies, I was about to visit the most famous site in the world with regard to alien encounters – ROSWELL, New Mexico!  I didn’t care if nothing was there to see; I just had to be able to say I was there. 

Along the way I stopped at a Rest Area and saw a sign that made me laugh – “Watch Out For Rattlesnakes” – which of course I had to photograph for my album.  Of course I really was nervous using the “environmentally friendly” toilet after that.  Unfortunately, I couldn’t pull over to take a pic of the sign posted a mile down the highway – “Eden Valley” – yes, that really was the name of the town but I missed the photo op!

But speaking of creepy crawly things, in Arizona there were warnings about scorpions and in New Mexico there’s the rattlesnakes. I didn’t encounter any of either. What there are no warnings about are the flies! They are just normal sized houseflies, but they are swarming everywhere in this state.  The motel rooms come with fly swatters because the problem is so bad.  Every time I opened my car door some flew in.  Really yucky but at least they are very slow moving so I had no trouble ridding my rooms of the pests before going to sleep.

To my pleasure, the UFO Museum and Research Center in Roswell was really well done – definitely worth the long drive south into the desert to get there (believe me, there is absolutely nothing along the way).  Interestingly, I met a couple from Maine who had left their home about the same time I left Florida and had been touring the United States in their car since then … and we both ended up in Roswell at the same minute. Made me think of “Close Encounters of a Third Kind.”  There’s a U.S.Map there where visitors are encouraged to stick a pin in their hometown.  There are so many visitors they have to clear the map once a month.  By the way, Florida was extremely well represented this month!  I was tempted to walk around questioning all the other people to see how many of us had been drawn there at the same time but there was an odd sense of silent reverence among the surprisingly large group of visitors and I toned down my curiosity.  The artifacts, original and replicated “evidence” and sizable library were very impressive.  There were hands-on exhibits showing recorded alien encounters around the world and a collection of artwork that ranged from funky to beautiful.  Another area focused on Goddard and the nuclear bomb research and testing that went on in that area that may have been at the root of the alien’s interest during those years.  The crash took place in 1947 and I was born the next year.  Coincidence?  I think not.

I had not expected Roswell to be such a large bustling town.  The UFO interest is clearly part of it but it is also the home of the New Mexico Military Institute – a Pueblo styled academy along the Main Street.  I considered it a bonus that the town was filled with young college men in uniform! (aw c’mon, I’m old, not dead).

As I have done before, I used the AAA tour book to determine if there was anywhere along my intended route that would be of interest.  I was very surprised by what I found in Clovis, New Mexico, a miniscule town on the edge of the Texas border.  I’ll tell you about it tomorrow.


Monday, October 10, 2005

What a wonderful day!  I feel as though I should be typing in all caps.  My most favorite things in the world are (in no particular order) cars, roller coasters, travel, rock’n’roll music, movies…well actually the list does go on for a while.  But the point is, I am traveling, I have been to several great car museums and ridden on the Indy 500 Speedway, I was on one of the craziest roller coasters I’ve ever experienced in Las Vegas, and so I guess I was overdue for a rock’n’roll day. 

Clovis, New Mexico is the home of the Norman Petty Recording Studio.  For those of you too young to remember the Norman Petty Trio or Jimmy Gilmore and the Fireballs, you probably heard some of their hits, like “Sugar Shack” and “Bottle of Wine.”  But surely you have heard of Buddy Holly and all his hits with both the Crickets and the Roses – “Peggy Sue” and “It’s So Easy” for instance.  This studio was where a great number of really old “oldies” were created and recorded, and the whole place is exactly the way it looked in the 50’s.  The walls are covered with 45 rpm hit records.  It is still a functioning studio – fyi, Leanne Rimes 1st album, “Blue,” was done there when she was 11 – but it is not generally open to the public.  I made an appointment with custodians, Kenneth and Shirley Beard, to be given a tour of the studio.  Oh my goodness, it was so fantastic! I had chills most of the time but when I sat in the same chair Norman and Buddy had sat in while working on a new record, I felt as though I was sitting in one of their laps (seemed like Norman and he was really happy to accommodate a fan).  Everything was still the same as when they were all there – the microphone, speakers, musical instruments, even all the furnishings and accessories in the apartment in the back of the studio where they took their breaks, was the original stuff (the proof is in old photos).  Because I was alone, as opposed to their regular visitors who arrive on tour buses (mostly from England, where Buddy Holly is a bigger icon than in the U.S.), Mr. and Mrs. Beard were able to share lots and lots of trivia and memories.  They also had done a lot of traveling in the past, U.S. and abroad, like to Egypt, so we shared some on-the-road stories as well.  To say the least, I was in rock’n’roll heaven…and then it got even better.  David Bigham, an original member of the Roses and the Petty house band, dropped by to say hello!  (Thank you Mr. Beard)  Needless to say, I was in awe.  Unfortunately, I was almost paralyzed with excitement – I got his autograph but I barely asked him a coherent question, and worst of all, I never took a single picture of anything or anyone. In fact, my brain never got back on track until I was well on my way down the highway and then I was furious with myself.  But I did come away with lots and lots of keepsakes and a memory that would have made this whole trip worthwhile if nothing else had happened.

By the way, the real Peggy Sue, the inspiration of the song, who was a member of the Crickets and married to the group’s drummer, Jerry Allison, is still around and doing radio and talk shows, etc.  Now THAT is inspirational.

The rest of the day I was driving through some nasty thunderstorms so I only got as far as Elk City, Oklahoma, but I didn’t care in the least.


Tuesday, October 11, 2005

Elk City seemed like a nice town, small, but spread out quite a bit.  I paid a visit to their Old Town Restoration project, which includes the National Route 66 Museum.  There are a lot of museums and historic landmarks along the old route but this one claims to be the National one.  For those who don’t know, Route 66 was the first national highway that crossed the country – actually it only went from Chicago to LA but that was still a big deal back in 1928.  Then it was made famous by a television show in which Roger Maharis and Martin Milner drove the Route in a 1958 (or was it a ’57) Corvette – I remember all us adolescent girls chittering over which guy we would date if we had the chance – but, more important, that tv show was the beginning of my love of the road and old Corvettes!  So obviously I had to take a stroll down this particular memory lane.  It was short but fun.

Also, I met another couple who were traveling around the country, seeing the states they’d never visited before.  Despite the ridiculous cost of gasoline, there are quite a few of us doing this nationwide journey.  Some sort of senior citizen vision quest? Or a sense that the countryside may be changing forever one day soon?  Or maybe we’re all just a bit afraid that in a few more years we won’t be able to make such a physically exhausting trip.  So far though, I’m the only one I’ve met doing it on my own.

Speaking of gasoline, the Texas panhandle (Amarillo) and Oklahoma have the cheapest gas so far, back down under $3.00 for the first time since Katrina, but I expect it’s only because these are oil states.  I’ll have to see how it goes as I continue eastward.

By the way, the housefly problem continues in OK and Arkansas.

Another thing I noticed in this area – lots of State Troopers hiding behind trees and under bridges and overpasses – I’ve barely seen one in each of the other states I’ve been through.  And believe me, they went after anyone going a few miles over the limit (which is 70 here).  Lucky for me, I woke up with a sense of anxiety and pulled a few tarot cards.  The message I got was very clear – watch out for police and legal problems – and I know better than to ignore a double warning like that, so I set my cruise control on 70 the whole way.

Another note, the AAA guide book stated that Arkansas refers to itself as the state where the west begins.  I saw differently heading in from the east.  Little Rock is where the west ended and the east began – the city, the horrible traffic, the less friendly people even the smell was different almost instantly – I was definitely back in the east.  And speaking of trucks – good grief, but there are a gazillion of them all of a sudden, lines and lines in every direction. I don’t remember ever seeing so many on any highway before.

I had another loud message along the way from Willow, my Indian maiden guide.  I followed her to a trading post at a Cheyenne Indian Reservation, where I had to buy a flute made by a Sioux Indian named One Feather and an instruction book.  Guess I have to learn how to play it now.

So far, I’ve been in the oldest city, the biggest cave, speed around the fastest track(I don’t know that for sure but it fits in here), stood at the foot of the highest mountain in the continental U.S. and beside the grandest canyon, rode one of the craziest roller coasters, and now today I have driven by…(drum roll here)…the largest cross in the western hemisphere.  The only thing I really found more odd than the need to construct such a thing next to a freeway, was that this most significant Christian symbol was being guarded by metal sculpted gryphons.  Go figure.

I got to Russellville, AR by evening, without any tickets or arrests, but was stunned by traffic and people and a dozen motels that were all full.  It turned out that they had some sort of nuclear power plan failure and the town was hosting lots of repair people.  Another bad headache and sheer exhaustion made me not care about a possible meltdown.  It’s also a college town, Arkansas Tech and apparently, a lot of the motels act as dorms.  After a lot of calls, and help from a nice front desk person, I found a room.  Of course, it had flies in it, but I figured if they were still alive, the radioactivity couldn’t be that high.


Wednesday, October 12, 2005

Every night, I lay down in a strange bed and think I’ve seen enough and every morning I wake up to wonder what I’ll discover today.  The answer came the instant I looked at the map and realized I would be in Memphis, TN by early afternoon.  I’ve been through other parts of the state but somehow missed Memphis and, what true rock’n’roll fan could pass through that city without visiting the King’s home, Graceland?!  The guide book said to figure on 3 hours and I can tell you that was a minimum required to see everything on the property.  Of course, I had to do it all – the guided tour through the main house and outer buildings, the car museum, the airplanes, the personal/family stuff museum… even the restaurants had memorabilia worth pausing over.  I loved the fact that they sold Elvis’s favorite foods like peanut butter and banana sandwiches and Mountain Valley Spring bottled water.  Tears filled my eyes when I saw the white and gold outfit he wore on stage when I saw him perform in Vegas and I couldn’t stop the tears from trickling out at the mausoleum.  Elvis Presley was the crowned King of Rock’n’Roll, but he was also a true American Patriot and a good man.  His addiction and death was tragic but understandable when one considers his upbringing, personality and the pressures his fame placed on him. On the other hand, Buddy Holly’s death was pure tragedy without any justification.  Graceland has all the aspects of a tourist attraction and national monument combined.  Even someone who never saw him on the Ed Sullivan show would have to be impressed and emotionally moved.

Unfortunately for me, my headache just kept getting worse because of all the mold/mildew, room deodorizers, bug spray, whatever.  I got turned around coming out of Graceland and took a wrong exit and had to backtrack…again, and still wasn’t going where I had planned.  My intention had been to head for Gatlinburg, in hopes of seeing some autumn leaves.  Instead, I am on the highway to Tupelo, Mississippi, Elvis’s birthplace.  Apparently my car needed to complete the pilgrimage.


Thursday, October 13, 2005

I must confess, I didn’t go all the way to Elvis’s birthplace.  The traffic was heavy and the amount of antihistamine I took to eradicate my constant sinus headache left me a bit groggy this morning.  It turned out to be a good decision because just outside of Birmingham, Alabama, 4 of those tractor trailers I mentioned the other day (2 of these were transporting prefab houses) had a major accident in an intersection by the interchange I needed to get on. One of the down sides of traveling is not knowing the secondary route to get somewhere when the primary one is blocked.  I only got as far as Montgomery, AL today, but at least I’m getting closer to home, which is where I need to be again.


Friday, October 14, 2005

The drive from Montgomery, Alabama to Destin (panhandle), Florida didn’t look very long on the map but it took me 6 hours!  Most of the time was spent going 25 or stopped completely in one small town after another, but that was the only way to get where I wanted to go.  I have heard some great things about Destin from different people, so I figured the long trip would be worth it.  Simply put, it wasn’t.  The part of the Panhandle I saw today is an awkward combination of beautiful beaches, little spots of congested shopping strips and condos, very poor neighborhoods, and stretches of nothingness.  If I was going to retire to a Gulf Coast area, I would much prefer Sarasota.  At least it’s an easy place to navigate to and from civilization. 


Saturday, October 15, 2005

Today was the official LAST DAY of my journey.  I say that because, starting tomorrow, I am truly heading back to Palm Beach County to begin the next stage of my life.  I spent this day traveling from Panama City to my friends’ home in Mt. Dora, Florida – another incredibly long trip (Florida is just sooooo long!) but at least a good portion of it was on interstate highways.  Mt. Dora is a charming little town with a lot of great restaurants and antique/craft shops, plus a beautiful lake, complete with a lighthouse, long nature walks and, of course, alligators.  I was really happy to see my friends and even got to do a little dancing before exhaustion overtook me.


So, that’s it for this adventure.  I didn’t find anywhere I wanted to live in more than Palm Beach County.  No, I didn’t make it to New England this time, but I already know I wouldn’t want to live there.  I just want to immerse myself in all the history and I can do that next fall.  It’s probably going to take me a while to get reoriented and settled in one place again, but once I do, I really have some great material for a new book!


Monday, October 24, 2005

I thought I had made my last journey entry last week, but I hadn’t counted on God’s great sense of humor.  This trip began with my trying to get away from Hurricane Katrina and avoiding another Stormy September (Florida got hit with 4 last year, 2 of which had their eyes move directly over my daughter’s house where I was staying then and am again).  Well, despite the fact that it is very rare to have hurricanes in late October, Wilma arrived this morning, and at almost 3 times the strength expected. Oddly enough, the eye went over the house again.  What an incredible experience a hurricane is.  The damage to her house was not too bad, but the clean up and repairs will still take a while, as will getting back power, water and television.  At least she and I and the pets are just fine and we have enough water and food to be self-sufficient for about a week, which is necessary because of the moat surrounding her property.  Unfortunately, because my son-in-law has been deployed overseas, my daughter and I had to do all the preparations, including putting up those dang storm shutters and tomorrow we’ll take them down…again.  Talk about coming full circle! 

I feel the need to mention one more thought here – throughout the journey I continued to have the sense I was being rushed (instead of being away 6 months I was gone just a bit over 2) and now I understand why.  My daughter needed me to be here for this storm as well as to assist with the preparations she is now making for at least a 3-month visit to Germany, where her husband is, very fortunately, stationed at a hospital there rather than in a “hot zone” as had been expected.  So, I will be house-, dog- and cat-sitting, as well as overseeing the numerous repairs to the house and property for an extended period of time. Had I not left when I did, who knows when I would have been as carefree about making my journey! 

As I always say, everything happens for a reason.

October 4, 2015

I had an unfilled hour this afternoon and something prodded me to read this journal from 10 years ago. WHAT A GREAT, ADVENTUROUS, SURPRISING, REWARDING TRIP I HAD!!! My world has changed so drastically since then, I wanted to make a few decade-later-notes.

 First, I was correct about the timing of the trip. There was never again such a free-spirited time after that fall—for instance, there were several long-distance moves primarily connected with daughter Joie's high-impact life changes. And I was also right about my aging being a serious deterrent—not only do I NOT feel as comfortable driving or traveling alone, my body would never stand for that many continuous hours in a car. So I am truly grateful that I had the time, the opportunity and the courage to do it while I could.  More proof that following my instincts rather than strict logic usually works out for the best…it's definitely more fun!

One of my "thoughts" turned out to be downright ironic. On October 15, 2005, I noted that there was no place I'd visited where I wanted to live more than Palm Beach County, and even though I had yet to visit New England, I KNEW I didn't want to live there. Well, for quite a number of years after the big journey, Joie and I ended up living in San Antonio, Texas and after she earned her Master's degree, we had a nearly 2-year stay on Miami Beach while she applied to universities to work on a PhD. Although she received several nice offers, we both agreed that Univ. of Massachusetts-Amherst was the hands-down winner. So here we are, living in New England after all. The big surprise is that we die-hard, big city Floridian gals love the small town/country area and the changing seasons...even winter has its positive aspects. And we, who had always chosen to live in NEW houses or apartments, have settled into a 50-year old house with four acres of property, all of which immediately became a long-term renovation project (hilariously detailed in our Rural Renovation Diary

It will definitely be interesting to reread all of this in another five years.