Back to California

 

A map of my 2018 swing around the USA.

Green dots indicate destinations that are part of the National Parks system. Red dots indicate cities I visited for family reasons.

It’s great to be back to the land of In-n-Out Burger, though I haven’t had one yet. From Pasadena to Pasadena, my Swing Around the USA took 38 days and 37 nights. If you count San Rafael to San Rafael, I will have been away from home 48 days and 47 nights. For the purposes of this blog, here are some statistics from the Pasadena to Pasadena loop:

The number of miles driven: 8733
The number of gallons of gas burned: 475
The cost of 475 gallons of gas: $1421
The cheapest gas was in Texas at 2.39/gallon.
The most expensive gas was in Blythe, California at 3.89/gallon
The average amount spent on campgrounds: $16/night
The number of animals I saw as roadkill: 3 beaver, 1 snake, 1 deer, and 6 armadillos —I got the impression that armadillos move slowly — plus countless opossums, raccoons, and squirrels.
I saw only 1 bear. He/she was alive.
The amount spent on propane: $6.95
The number of cans of iced Arizona Green Tea I drank: 15
The average amount spent on food per day: $16

My last set of tours included the ancient American native sites in Arizona. There are a lot of them. I only saw the National Monuments of Wupatki, Walnut Canyon, and Montezuma’s Castle.

American Indians in the Four Corners region

American Indians in the Four Corners region

The Wupatki lived north of today’s Flagstaff, elevation 7000 feet, surrounded by volcanos.

Here is a rendering of what archaeologists think the place looked like 900 years ago.

Their civilization was nearly wiped out when the Sunset Crater volcano erupted. The volcano is its own national monument (i.e. another stamp on my National Parks Passport).

The photo above is of some of the hills still covered in cinders.

Within the city limits of Flagstaff, I arrived at a narrow, deep gorge called Walnut Canyon, where from as far back as a thousand years ago people lived in caves.

My final stop was Montezuma’s Castle.

I remember seeing it when my parents took my two brothers and me on a road trip to Santa Fe in 1964. My family was allowed to walk around the ancient ruins, which have since been closed off to the public because they were being worn away. The park built a model of a cross section showing what the castle might have looked like.

Annie was allowed on the quarter-mile path to see the castle. Fortunately, the path was shaded with sequoia trees. It was 100 degrees out and I had more desert to drive through to get back to Pasadena. When my family drove to Santa Fe back in 1964, we followed Route 66. There are many remains of the old route along today’s Interstate 40. I wanted to spend my last night in Quartzsite, Arizona, which I had heard about. But I couldn’t reach it before dark. Instead, I watched my last desert sunrise from a Rest Stop.

My final drive through the desert the next morning was lovely.

The entomologists at the Smithsonian would envy Ramsey’s bug collection. There are bug splats from 28 states. Now I get the challenge of washing them off.

 

 

 

 

Indian Territory

Back to having fun. Near Santa Fe, New Mexico, I came to Pecos National Historic Site, where stands the foundations of a pueblo and a Spanish church built in 1690. Underneath those structures, and in surrounding excavations, archaeologists have unearthed evidence of people living in this key geographic area for over 9000 years — hence the site’s preservation by the National Parks and why Santa Fe grew up near by.

With my brain packed with the area’s history, I drove on to the charming Santa Fe itself. I’ve been there before, but it’s amazing how different the experience is driving to a place knowing its historical and geographical significance versus arriving by train or plane.

I walked around the plaza looking for a coffee shop (my jewelry box is already stuffed with silver jewelry, so shopping was of no interest) and settled for a cookies and cream ice cream cone. Annie was allowed in the shop. She’s great at meeting people for me. While slurping, I chatted with the couple sitting next to me. They were also from the San Francisco Bay Area.

There was still enough time to head south again to Albuquerque to see the Petroglyph National Monument. The Visitor Center is in the center of the park, but not within walking distance of the petroglyphs. Since it was still too hot to leave Annie in the car, I decided to check into the nearby High Desert RV Park and tour the old Route 66. I would return to the trails when it cooled. Then some dark clouds arrived and suddenly it was pouring rain out.

I realized I loved my dog more than I loved petroglyphs. I will return to see the petroglyphs when I’m dogless.

Next was a second badlands National Park known by the Spanish word El Malpais. The park is basically a huge sea of lava (3.5 million years old) surrounded by sandstone cliffs (150 million years old). I drove down one side then the other, which took about two hours.

Gorgeous.

Then I backtracked ten miles to see the Indian Pueblo called Sky City. As its name implies, it sits on top of a bluff. The drive up to the pueblo was worth the trip, but the museum was worthless. To see the actual pueblo, I needed to pay a large fee and leave Annie in a strange kennel for a couple hours. I contented myself with viewing the pueblo via a YouTube video.

Thank goodness the site is being preserved for history sake. The Sky City Casino helps pay the renovation bills. What counts is what was.

Heading back west again, and only 30 minutes down the road from the east side of El Malpais, and across the Continental Divide,

I reached El Morro National Monument. I loved this place. The rock “headland” creates a gate on the south side of the centuries-old east-west trail.

It also serves as a landmark for a water pool that collects at the base of the cliff.

The pool has been the drinking fountain for travelers since forever. It is 150 miles from any other water source. Indians left petroglyphs on the wall of the cliff by the pool. The Spanish explorers signed their names with the message, “passed by here.” So did the pioneers. Dates range from 1607 through the 1800s.

The National Park ranger gave me a guide that explained the history behind each inscription. For example, two pioneer sisters who signed their names continued on through the Mohave, survived a bloody Indian raid, and ended up settling in Fresno, California. One of the Spanish explorers, General Don Diego de Vargas “was here” in 1692.

You’ve got to see this place for yourself.

Moving on, I ate lunch in the Zuni Village. Roasted corn. Yum.

Crossing into Arizona, I spent the afternoon driving the 28 miles north to south through Petrified National Forest.

First the Painted Desert.

Then the petrified logs. My photos don’t do justice to any of this. The colors and the expansive vistas must be experienced in person.

I’m going to visit more ancient pueblos tomorrow. I’ve been on the road for 40 days. I’m ready to head home.

Scorpions, Spikes, Black Flies, and a Dead Phone

Scorpions from National Parks Exhibit. The one in Annie’s bowl was a medium sized one.

The Texas Panhandle gets my Least Favorite Part of the Trip Award. I woke up overlooking Greenbelt Lake. That bit was lovely. Then I realized my phone was dead. No amount of plugging it in to various sockets and using different cords helped. Not a glint of life. There went my GPS, my phone, my Google, my camp-site-finding app (AllStays), and the photos for the previous three days (now posted, so you know this story had a happy ending).

I packed up and drove the 300 feet to the little Marina. The man running the general store/marina/license office/bait shop welcomed me with his friendly Texas drawl. After a brief conversation about the raccoon I scared from under my van when Annie and I opened the door to get out first thing that morning, I asked if he had Internet access. (Since my phone wasn’t working then, I can’t show you what he or the low-tech shop looked like.) The closest thing he had was a Yellow Pages book for Amarillo (closest city) from 2006. I was not surprised there were no listings for Apple or T-Mobile.

Good news, as I reached the outskirts of Amarillo, I found a visitor center that had enough Internet access to let me send emails to my kids not to worry that I was out of touch. But not enough access to allow me to use a search engine to find an Apple Store. The lady at the Tourist Desk found the T-Mobile office in Amarillo. Thankfully, the young woman at T-Mobile was able to jump-start my phone because the nearest Apple Store, my son informed me, was in Albuquerque.

Re-armed with my iPhone’s most valuable tools, I drove to the next National Monument on my map, Alibates Flint Quarry NM , which is right by a National Recreation Area, Lake Meredith (where, theoretically, I could have camped).

All my photos of these parks are on my Fuji camera because my iPhone was still charging. I’m glad the National Parks are preserving this quarry where the American natives have been mining a unique and high quality flint for arrows, scrapers, knives, and drills for 9,000-plus years. And they offer a short trail. But go there without a dog or children and when it isn’t 98 degrees out.

Sprinkled along the path are these horrible Sputnik-like stickers. Annie yelped in pain when a giant one (four times the size of this one from another park) punctured her paw and caused a lot of bleeding. I got one in my hand trying to get the dozens off her. The spikes are hard to pull out. Soon we were both bleeding and I hobbled back to the van and high-tailed it out of there.

We skipped looking at the lake.

I made it as far west as Santa Rosa, New Mexico, where I found a nice State Park overlooking Santa Rosa Lake, which is actually a reservoir.

It was a beautiful place, but the black flies and ants prevented us from sitting outside. There were rattle snake warnings everywhere. We ran into none of those, but somehow a scorpion found its way into my van. It drowned itself in Annie’s water bowl, which is where I found it. I didn’t think to take a photo before throwing the water and scorpion out the door of the van. Needless to say, I kept a sharp lookout when I walked anywhere from then on.

Good news is that the campground provided electricity needed for the air conditioner since it was still horribly hot. Bad news is that the shower was cold.

We are heading toward Pecos National Park near Sante Fe hoping the higher elevation will provide cooler air and fewer creepy animals.

Rambling Westward

When I last wrote, I was camped by the J. Percy Priest Lake in Tennessee. Not long after posting, the sky turned orange and I was able to capture this magnificent sunset on the lake. Some of you have already saw it on Facebook.

The following day I drove to Memphis to stay with my good friends Shelly and Kevin.

Besides letting me do my laundry and enjoy their very nice shower, they gave me a tour of Memphis and took me to their favorite barbecue place. Who woulda thunk that barbecue spaghetti is absolutely delicious. (I forgot to take my camera with me, but I grabbed these shots on my way out of town the next day.) I was able to see the tail end of one of the famous ducks at the Peabody Hotel as he was getting onto the elevator.

We walked around the Bass Pro Shop so I could see the four live alligators.

We also saw the studio where Elvis made his first million-copies record.

Heading to Little Rock, Arkansas, to visit Little Rock Central High School National Historic Site, I took the M bridge over the mighty Mississippi.

(“Mississippi” is as much fun to type out with my thumbs as it is to spell out loud.)

Little Rock is as much about celebrating the 42nd President (streets, parks and government centers are all named after Clinton) as it is about honoring the civil rights movement and desegregation. The exhibit transported me to my senior year at Pasadena High School.

Continuing through central Arkansas, I reached Hot Springs National Park early enough to obtain a campsite in their campground.

Once I had the ticket attached to the post, I was free to drive away and into the town of Hot Springs ten minutes away. The whole tourist street is one block long. I could walk up the “Row” with Annie in tow.

Neither of us were able to enjoy the baths, but strolling up the Magnolia tree-lined street was delightful.

The old bath houses that have been preserved as the National Park line the east side of the street. Commercial store fronts and restaurants line the west side.

This is the fountain where people can still fill up their water jugs with mineral water.

There is also a drive to the top of a hill.

Crossing into Oklahoma, I made it to Chickasaw National Recreation Area. Plenty of camping spots were available near its Lake of the Arbuckles for the night.

It was actually better to be slightly away from the children screaming in the lake, but close enough for Annie and me to take a nice walk the next morning.

It took only a couple hours to drive through the park. The main point of interest is the Bromide Pavilion. (Forgot to take a photo using my iPhone.) Once upon a time, in the early 1900s, trains brought health seekers to enjoy these mineral-rich waters. According to the ranger, the park had more visitors during those days than Yellowstone.

There was also a great nature center.

While in the town of Sulphur, where the park is, I was able to find a mechanic to check Ramsey’s fluids before facing the deserty stretch ahead of me through New Mexico and Arizona. SHE found everything in order and told me where to fill up on propane, which I also needed to do.

Thank goodness, because the tiny towns I have been driving through today would not have had what I needed. I’ve crossed onto Texas, where I plan to visit the Alibates Flint Quarries National Monument near Amarillo.

Needing a place to stay on the way, I used my trusty app, AllStays, to find the only camping place around, Lake GreenBelt. It is another reservoir. It took me several dead end roads to find the Marina, where for $5, I purchased a license to park Ramsey “anywhere I liked.” So here I am perched atop a little mound overlooking the lake. I’ve had my cheese and tomato quesadilla and an ice cream that I also purchased at the marina store. I can’t post this blog entry until tomorrow because I only have one bar of cell service, which won’t download my photos.

Back to rambling.

Smokies

Turns out for me that Florence wasn’t hard to outrun. However, I don’t think my cousins Robin and Marta, who live on the Outer Banks, are going to be so lucky.

Aiming for something between Maryland and the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, I was turned away from campgrounds near to water. Dixie Caverns had a spot. It was rainy and getting dark so I took it.

I forfeited my discounted ticket to see the stalactites and stalagmites the next morning so I could keep heading west. For most of my trip to Tennessee, the sun shone on gorgeous green countryside.

It did start to rain as I entered the park around 4:00. The good news is that I was able to have a campsite IN the National Park. That was a treat.

There was a lending library in the park office that had a Philippa Gregory book, the White Queen, so I was set for a good night of reading while the rain pitter-patted on Ramsey’s roof. Annie and I were very cozy. I’d bought some steel trout at Walmart. I hoped one of the many black bears in the park didn’t smell me cooking it.

Getting up bright and early, I drove to the top of Newfound Gap, the highest part of the ridge, the dividing line between Tennessee and North Carolina, and a crossing of the Appalachian Trail.

It is no trouble understanding why the Indians named the mountains after their blue smoke-like haze. The rangers said the park might have to close this weekend because of Florence. I was heading out through the Townsend Gate by 1:00pm.

Now on my way to Memphis, I’m in a terrific campsite by the J. Percy Priest Lake at Poole Knob Campground. It is managed by the Army Corps of Engineers. With my Sr. Pass discount, the fee for my POSH lakeside site is only $13.

I’m crossing my fingers for all those folks still on the Atlantic Coast.

A Truly Henry Knox Day

My last day on The Trail was a very exciting one. I started with Monument No. 18 on Main Street (Route 20) across the street from the Northborough Library. Katrina Ireland (left above), the librarian, advertised a “Celebration” that brought 15 to 20 mommies and their children to hear me sing/tell my ballad about Henry and his Train of Artillery.

More exciting, as I was explaining who the hero of the tale was, in walked the man himself (right above). Don’t tell the children that sometimes this Henry Knox thinks he’s Archer O’Reilly III, Secretary of the Massachusetts Society of the Cincinnati.

So, after the children and I finished the last chorus and the children yelled “kaboom” as loudly as they could, Henry Knox talked about himself for awhile. He told the kids how his wife’s family were Tories and left Boston with the rest of the British, never to see their daughter again. He explained how some of the cannon had fallen into the ice-covered rivers and had to be fished out during the dead of winter.

Here is the Northborough monument in front of the Town Office and a Minuteman statue.

I wish all of my library visits could be so festive. I continued down the Old Boston Post Road (Route 20) to the next town, Marlborough. It is a POSH town and their large modernized library has none of the coziness of the smaller libraries.

The director accepted my book graciously but with no recognition of what it was about. I don’t think she knew about her town’s marker even though it has been very well kept.

Monument No.19 guards the entrance to the village three blocks farther down the road.

Southborough Library was much more enthusiastic.

I already had a soft spot for the town because it is home to St Mark’s Preparatory school, which my son Jon attended.

The cute library on Main Street is kitty-corner from Monument No.20.

Moving on in spite of it being 98 degrees out, I found Monument No.21 on Main Street by Framingham’s Town Common, not today’s Framingham center.

The Memorial Library next to it is now the Framingham History Center. I gave them some of my bookmarks and they gave me a brochure on, would you believe, the Henry Knox Trail.

I learned something I didn’t know before. From Framingham on, Knox was told “to disappear.” The roads close to Boston were heavily guarded by British soldiers. That explains why Knox didn’t leave detailed records about his route through this part of Massachusetts. Historians have pieced together the puzzle by looking at such things as tavern records.

The route veers from Route 20 at Wayland, which is the one town with two monuments, sort of. The Old Post Road probably crossed the Sudbury River at what is now called the Old Stone Bridge.

You can see the decaying bridge from today’s bridge. Thank goodness I had tried to find it online back at home or I would never have known where to look. Heading east over today’s bridge on Potter Street at the town line, you see the old bridge to your left (north). Then you come to a street called Old Stone Bridge Rd. Turning left onto that road, you backtrack toward the old bridge, driving through homes. The old bridge is blocked with mounds of dirt, rubbish, and weeds, but you can see two stone pillars marking the entrance. On top of the right pillar is a stone sign that says, “Knox Trail Fort Ticonderoga to Cambridge.” That’s it! To the left is a granite stone that looks like the top of a monument, but it is buried.

The second monument, No.23, is your standard variety. It stands on the SW corner of Route 27 and Route 126. There was absolutely no where to park, so I had to be content with a photo from my car window. I couldn’t place my book on top of the monument to prove it was my photo.

Taking a left off Route 26 onto Route 126, you reach the charming Wayland Library.

Unfortunately, Pam McCuen, The Director of Youth Services, was out to lunch. We had previously had a great chat on the phone and I was looking forward to meeting her and telling her about the old bridge marker. But another librarian enthusiastically received the book so I could hurry back outside where I had left Annie tied to a tree. It was simply too hot to leave her in the van.

Back on Route 20, I drove to Weston’s town center. Monument No. 24 stands across from the fire station. The town takes good care of it. Their newish library is several blocks away.

Then I reached Waltham, home of Monument No.25, which stands with a monument to George Washington on a grungy corner across from a Walgreens. It looks like someone tried to rip off the brass plaque.

The library is a few blocks farther down Main Street (still Route 20), but it was closed. Their air conditioning system had broken down. A woman there said it was the hottest summer she remembered in the 40 years she lived in Waltham.

As I sat in Waltham’ McDonald’s parking lot eating a Quarter Pounder, it suddenly got windy and began to rain. The temperature dropped 20 degrees. I only had two more monuments to go, so I pushed on.

Watertown‘s beautiful main library, where I donated a book, is on Route 20. The stone is in front of another old library that was shut down about ten years ago. Monument No. 26 gets the Most Neglected Monument Award. It leans sadly to the side, is partially buried, and its library is all covered in vines.

Last but not least, I reached Cambridge. Massachusetts Monument No.27 stands on the edge of the Cambridge Commons facing toward the center of the green. When you pass it on Garden Street, you see a blank back of a stone, unlike all the other stones that face the street. It is in good shape. No flowers or flags, but upright and clean.

The library is three busy blocks and a tunnel away on Broadway. It’s huge and intimidating. I couldn’t find a place to park and it was getting late. Since I knew I was returning to Cambridge the next day to meet a friend for lunch, I decided to do my donating the following day when I was on foot. Ramsey, Annie, and I spent the night at my college friend Jill’s in Stoneham just north of Cambridge.

I took the subway into Cambridge the next day, a signed book in hand. I worried about approaching the Public Library. I feared rightly they wouldn’t accept a donation from just anyone. Sure enough, when I asked the man at the information desk if Julie Roache, the Youth Services Director, was available, he said, “We have a procedure for accepting donated books. You need to go online and download a form. Have you done that?” He said that in a not so nice way.

With a spunk I didn’t know I had, I replied, “Sir. I’ve driven here from California. I’ve been following the Henry Knox Trail speaking at many of the libraries along the way. I just want to give you a book. Isn’t there someone I can leave it with? You can throw it away for all I care if your library is too big and important.”

“Well, why don’t you talk to Admin,” he said, and gave me directions how to find the Administration Office on the second floor.

Melanie at Admin was delightful. “I’m here from California,” I repeated to her. “I want to donate this book about the Henry Knox Trail. Do you know what that is”

She smiled sheepishly and shook her head.

“That’s why I wrote the book.” I explained and showed her some of the photos I had taken. “You have the final monument here on your commons where Knox delivered the guns to Washington. I’ve visited 57 monuments [40 in New York and 27 in Massachusetts] and nearly as many libraries. I’m tired. I don’t want to be told I need to download a form.”

Melanie cheerfully said to leave the book with her. “We like books about local events. Have a safe trip back and thanks.”

Now, back to rambling.

Brookfield to Shrewsbury

Today we have a tie for The Charming Old Library Award. Check out Brookfield’s Merrick Library and its neighbor, Spencer’s Richard Sugden Library, both built in the late 1800s when it was cool to be a philanthropist. The librarians were excited to get a copy of Henry and well aware of the history.

Merrick Library in Brookfield.

Merrick Library from upstairs looking down.

Merrick Library at the south end of Brookfield Common.

Richard Sugden Library in Spencer.

Richard Sugden Library interior.

Brenda Mettterville, who has been the librarian at Merrick for over 20 yrs, showed me some old photos of the celebration in 1927 in Brookfield for the placement of the Henry Knox Trail monuments as part of the 150th anniversary of the Revolution. Monument No. 13 for the trail is at the other end of Brookfield’s Common. It overlooks Route 9, once the Boston Post Road, that connects all the towns I visited today.

In fact, if you are only looking for monuments (and not libraries, too), all you need to do is stay on that road. Monument No.14 is right around the corner from Spencer’s Richard Sugden Library. It also looks out over Route 9, like a little soldier.

The next town is Leicester. Monument No.15 is right out in front of the Leicester Public Library. The library is closed for construction so I will send them their book when I get home. Meanwhile, the monument is neglected and surrounded by weeds.

Next was Worcester, a big city. By noon, it was 94 degrees out. It was hard to find cool places to park the van so I could leave Annie in it long enough to run into the libraries and take photos of stones. Monument No. 16 is part of the front walkway of the courthouse and gets the Hardest To Find Award for today. Main Street splits in that area with a tunnel in between the split. One-way streets make the area even harder to navigate.

The modern Worcester Public Library is relatively easy to find. It is gigantic and so is the parking lot. I worried about how hot the van would get by the time I walked the length of the lot to the library, paid for parking, and found Cynthia Bermudez, the Coordinator of Youth Services, whom I’d been communicating with. When I learned she was busy, I let the assistant librarian have the book, told her that the information and links to the videos were on the HenrysBigKaboom.com website and fled to get back to Annie.

From there (2:30pm) I drove to Whole Foods Market in Shrewsbury to buy a healthy salad for lunch. Shrewsbury is the next town over from Worcester and home of Monument No.17, which stands across the street from the Shrewsbury Public Library. I pulled down all the shades in the van and turned the fan on high. Then I dashed to the monument, took my photos, dashed across to the library, easily found the Youth Services Director, Sonia, nearly threw the book at her and made it back to the van before it got too hot. Actually, I had a nice, though quick, chat with Sonia.

Pooped and sweaty, I headed to the nearest camping place, Sutton Falls, about a 30-minute drive. The trip through the countryside was calming after my tangle with the city of Worcester. As you can see from the pix, the campground is nice and friendly. Annie and I are still trying to chill.

Tomorrow, starting at 9:30am, I bring out the ukulele for the children of Northborough. Tomorrow is borough day. I also visit Marlborough, and Southborough as well as Framingham and Wayland. Wayland has two monuments.

As I’ve mentioned, I visited the monuments in New York, and the first 7 monuments in Massachusetts last June. Here is the map for this trip.

Massachusett Monuments for the Henry Knox Trail from West Springfield to Cambridge.

Massachusett Monuments for the Henry Knox Trail from West Springfield to Cambridge.