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Road Trip photos: June 19-21

Somehow, I let almost three months pass since I last uploaded and organized a batch of my cross-country road trip photos, so this weekend I went through and processed some more.

There are three days’ worth of pictures here, although Saturday and Sunday June 19 and 20 are underrepresented photo-wise: It was a weekend just packed with greatness, hanging out with friends and just enjoying the west coast and the experience of being someplace totally new to me, but so much of that joy was just in the company and the moments, and not the sort of thing that gets captured through a camera lens. So the few images from those days almost serve as memory-triggers more than anything else.

Take this one, for instance:

The Donut Man

You see The Donut Man on Rt. 66 in Glendora, California.

I get thrown back to a day that began with a gorgeous drive up the coast from San Diego; several hours group-geeking at Frank and Son, where I found a flashback-inducing Imperious Leader action figure; a late lunch at Q Noodle House and a drive to The Donut Man for some fresh-strawberry-filled donuts. (Our original plans had called for introducing me to shaved snow at Class 302, but of course the day’s first batch was gone when we got there.)  A spontaneous trip to a nearby comic shop, and then an evening of more hanging out and visiting new friends and nerding out.

I left for the drive back to San Diego late the next morning, and after a brief nap, I spent the afternoon and evening swimming with my host friends and having an absolutely fantastic dinner and some wine out on their front patio as night fell. Again, it was just a terrific, warm-the-soul sort of day, and yet the only pictures you’ll find are the ones I snapped just after supper – the last sunset of spring:

Last sunset of spring 2010.

On Monday, June 21, Jenn and Kelsey made their own (much quicker) trip across the U.S.A., and after they caught up on a bit of sleep, the three of us spent several hours in the afternoon at Balboa Park and a few that evening at Seaport Village. The whole day’s worth of photos is here.

Here’s the moon over the Coronado Bridge:

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October 24, 2010 Posted by | Food and Drink, geek, photos, Travel, Weblogs, writing | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Road trip photos: June 17

I crossed most of New Mexico and Arizona on Thursday, June 17, going from Tucumcari in the northeast all the way down to west of Phoenix.

Just west of the Arizona/New Mexico border. Click the photo to see the day's set.

I remember this as a day the road surprised me a few times.

First, despite the fact that I’d planned my route in advance and knew this was going to be a long haul – 630+ miles, give or take – I was unprepared for the vastness of the land and the idea that I could spend so much time and cover so much highway and still have only covered ground in two states. I mean, I’ve spent years doing the Ohio-to-Florida route, so time on the road wasn’t a new thing to me – but going 640 miles south from Canton, you cover territory in five states and get damn close to number six. Even earlier this year, I did roughly the same distance when I drove to Rhode Island for PAX East.

This just felt like a much longer drive through much more alien territory. Don’t get me wrong: I loved it, but man, the scale of everything and the distance between populated places was almost overwhelming at times.

I remember being somewhat startled by Interstate 40’s dramatic descent into Albuquerque, because from the east, you climb into the hills so gradually you hardly notice, and then BAM! things open up and the city is far below and the desert is just spread out to the horizon.

Near Flagstaff, several hours later, more mountains and another surprise juxtaposition: this one the sight of distant snow even as the sun baked my windshield three days shy of the first day of summer.

And then the drive south to Phoenix, which covered all three of Arizona’s geographical zones, starting on the Colorado Plateau, down through the Transition Zone, and finally into the Basin and Range. Pine forests and saguaro cactus and canyons and valleys and mountain range after mountain range. Despite being pretty well exhausted by this point in the day, I really enjoyed this stretch of highway.

Check out the day’s worth of photos here.

July 26, 2010 Posted by | photos, Travel | , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Road trip photos: June 16

Wednesday, June 16 took me from western Arkansas all the way across Oklahoma and the Texas panhandle into New Mexico.

2010-06-16 Storm over Oklahoma

Click to see the entire June 16 set: OK, TX and NM

It was just a day of wonder all around, really, as the landscape slowly shifted with the miles and took on forms I had never seen outside photographs, and the pictures in this set from that day are some of my favorites from the road.

By pure chance, not far into Texas just off I-40, I found myself across the street from the real-life inspiration for the body shop in Disney/Pixar’s Cars

2010-06-16 Conoco Tower Station, Shamrock TX

– and later, I took probably an hour’s detour into Amarillo to visit what’s left of the Air Force Base where my dad did his basic training.

2010-06-16 Old Amarillo Air Force Base 4

When I got to Tucumcari, New Mexico late that afternoon, I really felt kind of surrounded by the spirit of the whole trip. I’m in a KOA campground some 1,400 miles from home, sitting on a picnic table alone and watching a storm roll away to the east, this warm wind gusting and pushing the clouds off while the setting sun turns everything gold –

2010-06-16 Clouds over Tucumcari Mountain 1

– and I’m looking at this utterly unfamiliar and gorgeous horizon, and I cannot believe I’m here, and I’m trying so hard to share this amazement and awe because I want everyone to have a moment or two like this.

Even now, almost a month later, I can smell that air and feel those gusts and, if I really let myself go, I can feel an echo of that thrill.

July 13, 2010 Posted by | Family history, geek, photos, Travel | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Road trip photos: June 15

Photos from day two of my cross-country drive. June 15 began with a morning run from the campground to Six Flags and back, and ended in Arkansas.

2010-06-15 Crescent Hotel balcony view 1

View from the Crescent Hotel in Eureka Springs. Click the photo for the entire June 15 set.

July 8, 2010 Posted by | geek, Ohio, photos, Travel | , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Road trip photos: June 14

Click to see the dozen photos from June 14.

Three weeks ago today, I got up just before 4 a.m. and left on my 15-day odyssey to San Diego and back. I’ve set up a Flickr page to host the pictures I took along the way, sorted by date. (Note: There are a lot, so I’m not processing them all at once. One day at at time.) Aside from being the beginning of the trip, June 14 was largely uneventful – here’s the blog post from that day – though it did include an unplanned detour into Brazil (Indiana) for bread to make sandwiches.

July 5, 2010 Posted by | geek, Ohio, photos, Travel | , , , , | Leave a comment

Familiar ground: The drive home

Five thousand, four hundred forty-nine-point-nine miles later, I’m home, and sitting at my own desk again, looking out the window at trees and houses and a particular color of morning that’s practically part of my DNA.

Yesterday’s drive home began at 4:50 a.m., after packing up camp by the glow of my battery-powered lamp/flashlight and taking a shower. (I was pleased to remember from my first stop at this campground that to get the hot water running, you have to turn the dial in the opposite direction from what the labeling would seem to indicate. Two weeks ago, this was a lesson learned while I waited 10 minutes for the shower to warm up, when a simple shift of the dial was all that was needed for almost instant-hot water.)

When I pulled onto Interstate 44 eastbound, sunup was still a ways off, and this was the first “dark” highway driving I’d done since day one. It wouldn’t last long, but as I sipped my Circle K coffee and ate my morning breakfast bar, for a moment it felt like one of our straight-through overnight drives to or from Florida.

The sky slowly brightened as I passed St. Louis and crossed the Mississippi River into Illinois. I listened to Morning Edition for awhile, and then another This American Life podcast.

When I reached Indiana right around 8 a.m., the Time Gods of Traveling Westward took back the last hour they’d loaned me, and though I was sad to see it go, it at least meant that I’d be hitting Indianapolis at 10 a.m. rather than during the morning rush hour.

Two Star Wars Celebrations have earned Indianapolis a special place in my heart, so while seeing the downtown skyline this trip struck nostalgic chords both times through, I was thrown a bit by the sight of Lucas Oil Stadium, which replaced the RCA Dome and actually occupies the former spot of the hotel where Jim and I stayed to cover Celebration III. I get that the new building is a throwback fieldhouse-style architecture, but there’s something odd about the way it looks against the skyline: Because it’s a gigantic structure but isn’t built to look like a massive stadium, it seem out of proportion with the rest of the city, like someone took a one-quarter-scale model and placed it in a one-tenth-scale skyline. I’m sure I’d get used to it if I saw it regularly, but it was jarring this time around.

The remaining five hours home were filled with some radio listening, a phone conversation with my brother Nick, and reflections on this two-week odyssey and settling back into work and life at home. My mom met me at the rental car agency in Canton, where we unloaded Serenity – in all seriousness, this Versa was an excellent car for this trip, and I will miss her and hope she’s treated to an oil change and a good bath to remove 5,400-plus miles worth of bug goo from her front bumper and side mirrors – and not long after, I was back in my own driveway and Kelsey and Jenn were coming out the front door, and one of our cats escaped into the bushes, and things were just the way they should be.

There remain a lot of small moments and other things from the trip that I’ve been saving in note form, and I took more than 300 pictures, and all of these will take some complete narrative shape eventually, although this is my last dedicated vacation blog post for now.

Many sincere thanks yet again to the several new friends I met for the first time in real life, and in particular to the fantastic people who helped me along and shared their homes and company and friendship: Kirk Demarais, Jim Rafferty, Ramona Nash, George Krstic, Jenny Williams, and Jonathan Liu and their families are all just plain super-nice and generous people and the universe is a better place for their presence in it.

I’ve been inspired and refreshed and energized in many ways, and while I’m almost overwhelmed right now with things I need and want to accomplish, this trip was absolutely worth the time and effort and planning and budgeting in every way, and I’m so glad I did it.

My parents, Pam & Jeff Caldwell, get their own thank-you for all their support and for coming all the way to San Diego to cheer Kelsey on and share a few great days together in southern California. And my brother Adam never hesitates to keep an eye on the house and our pets while we’re gone, which, since he’s got a super-busy family and home of his own, is greatly appreciated.

And to my wife Jenn and daughter Kelsey, who supported me in this whole effort in every way and never stopped encouraging me even if you thought I was a little bit off my rocker; you also never failed to understand why I did it and how much it meant to me: You two are always my home, wherever we are.

And it’s good to be home.

June 30, 2010 Posted by | geek, Ohio, Travel, Weblogs, writing | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

One more from the road.

Monday, June 28, 7 p.m.:

Around 6 p.m., I pulled into the campground for my last night on the road. Same place, in fact, where I stopped two weeks earlier for the first night of my journey. (A night when a 50% chance of thunderstorms had me sleeping in my car rather than risk having to pack up a wet tent in the morning. Of course, it didn’t rain a drop that night.)

It’s humid, but the day is cooling nicely, and the sun is already behind the trees. The insects and birds are noisier (in a good, summery way) than they were my first time through, and I am digging the cicada song from the trees. No rain in the forecast, either.

Today’s drive pushed 12 hours total, since I took a long lunch break to rest and write. The eastern part of Kansas passed quickly, marked by passage through Topeka and near Lawrence, and with the aid of a few podcasts, and then the twists and turns and traffic and cityscape of Kansas City kept things interesting – so much so that I failed to notice when I had passed into Missouri.

Once I got through the metro area, though, I realized that something was missing. I had passed large portions of this trip without radio or podcast company, finding myself kept more than alert by the changing surroundings and new roads. Here in western Missouri, though, even though it had been 10 years since I’d driven this highway and it should have felt “new,” I wasn’t drawn into the environment; wasn’t exploring it with my eyes; wasn’t soaking it all in – and I couldn’t figure out why.

Then it hit me: It was too familiar. The woods at the roadside were the same leafy, deciduous variety (at least in appearance) as those in Ohio. the hills rolled similarly, and the horizons were closer, and even the biggest corn and soybean fields felt cozy in comparison to their sprawling brothers further west.

Yes, there differences, especially in things like the massive bluffs along the eastern bank of the Missouri River, but for the most part, the scenery along the Interstate could have been any number of places I’ve driven in Ohio.

I did have one remaining “untraveled” stretch of road to enjoy, exiting at Warrenton and heading down Missouri 47 and then 100 before hooking up again with I-44, which I drove on the westbound leg. While I spent too much of this winding, two-lane drive staring at the back end of an RV towing a car, I did get to traverse the Missouri River over a long, narrow, steel-girdered bridge that I would love to have photographed were it not for the lines of steady traffic in both directions.

And there’s this fun little geographical quirk of my route today, too: I crossed the Missouri River TWICE today, from one bank to the other and then back again – so yes, here at the campground, I’m on the same side of the river as I was in Kansas City – but I WON’T be crossing it again on the way home.

I find myself thinking of other little things I hope not to forget: The sight of a little snake wriggling its way across a sizzling blacktop southwest of Timpas, Colorado; the way that it felt when I was in western Kansas and I realized the Iowa plates on my rental car didn’t seem quite as out-of-place anymore; the head-high flight of a yellow crop duster looping and diving over the fields in a buttery-sun morning.

And, of course, every single day of this trip came with just bucketloads of awesome, one after the other after the other, and now, I’m sitting here watching the setting sun bathe bluffs and trees in green and baked-bread gold, and the campground smells like wood smoke and bug spray and summer vacation, and I can hear a train rumbling past somewhere and I’m going to wrap this up and walk around and drink it in until I’m tired and it gets dark enough to crawl into my tent.

Here’s the last sunset:

Tuesday, June 29, 3:50 a.m.

This is the earliest I’ve gotten up during the entire trip, but I know I’ve got to give back one more hour today, and I went to bed well before full dark last night.

It’s been a long time since I’ve ready Travels with Charley, but I seem to remember that towards the end, Steinbeck wrote something to the effect of having a realization that though he was on the road, his journey had ended and he was now simply on his way home.

I get that feeling this morning, and while I don’t want to take this last leg for granted or find it slipping past unnoticed, I’m ready to be home again. There’s a lot in my head yet about what this trip has meant to me, but now’s not the time to write it. I’ve got a few hundred more miles to go.

June 29, 2010 Posted by | geek, Travel, Weblogs | , , , , , | Leave a comment

More Kansas, more geek stuff

I’m about 6 hours into what’s going to be an 11-plus-hour driving day, so I’m allowing myself a long, shady lunch here along I-70 just west of Topeka, at a rest stop with a great breeze, nice-smelling trees, and free wi-fi that reaches this very pleasant corner of the picnic area.

I also wanted to make sure I shared some things that weren’t in yesterday’s post, which I kind of rushed because it was late and I needed to get some sleep.

First, for my fellow Star Wars fans, feast your eyes on this:

My Kansas host and friend Jonathan Liu did this from an illustration in The Empire Strikes Back Sketchbook while we sat at his kitchen table talking. It took him all of about 15 minutes. 20, tops. I’ve seen Jonathan’s work on GeekDad and elsewhere, of course, but to see him in action, this thing coming to life on the screen while we sat there and chatted, was just mind-blowing.

So, yeah, WAY COOL.

I also owe Jonathan for two recommendations of “This American Life” episodes. The first, “House on Loon Lake,” came up when we were talking about abandoned cars and empty towns along the highways. I had actually passed a place where an old house had lost a wall, and the interior cabinets and appliances and some furniture were all visible from the road. In Arizona, I’d see clusters of three or four cars, usually from the 40s or 50s by their look, just sitting out in the desert, with no buildings or paths or anything else nearby.

Given my fascination with the bits and pieces of the past that survive and what they mean to people and the stories they carry, I LOVED this episode, which begins with a couple kids exploring a dilapidated house and wondering about who had left it behind.

I was reminded about some of the long-shuttered attractions on the Old Route 66, which runs right alongside long stretches of I-40 – a crumbled stone building with “MOUNTAIN LIONS” painted on a wall comes to mind.

Jonathan had recommended the other episode, “Road Trip,” on my day of departure two weeks ago, but I didn’t listen to it until this morning.

Both kept me company for the long stretch of I-70 across Kansas, which wasn’t nearly as grueling as I remember it from the trip Jenn & Kelsey & I took to Colorado. It’s actually been a really nice drive.

Time to have a sandwich and get back on the highway. See you south of St. Louis.

June 28, 2010 Posted by | geek, science fiction, Travel | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Two-lanes and far horizons and small towns

I’ll admit I had some reservations about the Raton KOA campground when I arrived in town yesterday(Saturday the 26th) around 5:30 p.m. While I did check reviews and look at satellite and street view locations of all three KOA sites I’ve visited on this trip, you still really never know what to make of a place until  you’re there, you know? So I knew coming in that this one was a little different in that it’s in Raton itself, tucked into a pocket of the town close to hotels and stores and restaurants and parks and neighborhoods. Maybe it’s because there were people in town for the two-day rodeo which ended last night, but there’s definitely more of an air of the “on-the-road-stopover” to this campground as opposed to a “we’re going camping” feel.

Still, they did have an ice cream social – which, sadly, I missed – and I did get to finish the day with this sunset:

It was still warm when I fell asleep on top of my sleeping bag around 10 p.m., but I woke up about 45 minutes later to some gusty weather shaking the tent. It kept me up for a little while, but it also cooled things down nicely so I was able to comfortably settle into my sleeping bag, and I woke up this morning just before six feeling really refreshed.

I also want to note that I’ve been very pleased with the choice to bring my brothers’ old sleeping mat from their Boy Scout days: It’s only about a  half-inch thick, but it’s a nice, dense foam and has provided a surprisingly nice cushion for its weight and flexibility.

After an all-you-can-eat-pancakes-for-three-bucks breakfast, I headed north on I-25 around 9 a.m. It didn’t take long to climb into the neighboring hills, and even less time to realize that I’d soon be putting the hills of the West behind me. I stopped in Trinidad, Colorado for this shot –

– and then started a few hours of mostly two-lane driving through southeastern Colorado on Route 350.

I was unprepared for the beauty and emptiness of the region. I passed even fewer cars here than I had in the Arizona deserts, and several times, I stopped to take pictures without even worrying about traffic, because mine was the only car on the road for miles. Consider this cow I encountered in the Comanche Grasslands:

Yes, you’re seeing correctly: The adult is on the OUTSIDE of the fence.

I passed through several towns which, though marked with signs, were little more than remnants, and hints of long-gone farms.

It really is beautiful country, though.

A railroad runs alongside Colorado 350 for a ways, with a variety of small trestles and culverts and concrete pipes running beneath it. At one point, one of these was a small but fairly elaborate yellow brick construct, with a neatly-mortared archway, and I wish I’d stopped to take a picture because it stood out from the rest.

I spent the afternoon and evening in western Kansas in the company of awesomely creative GeekDad writer, gamer and Etch-A-Sketch artist extraordinaire Jonathan Liu and his family, wrapping up the night with Carcassonne and The Isle of Dr. Necreaux.

June 27, 2010 Posted by | Games, geek, Travel | , , , , , | Leave a comment

I DID make that left turn at Albuquerque.

I’m in Raton, New Mexico, and it’s a gorgeous, breezy evening, and though it may rain sometime in the next hour or two, it’s supposed to clear up overnight, so I’m hopeful for a night in the tent. I also have the shortest drive of the trip scheduled tomorrow – just over 4 hours – so even if the tent gets wet, I can sleep in a bit and stick around and let it dry out.

Today’s journey began with about 40 miles of Arizona Route 89 , and the northern half of it was as incredibly beautiful as the southern half (between yesterday and today I pretty much drove the whole thing except for the part through Prescott itself),  though without the 25 mile-per-hour mountain switchbacks into Yarnell that were fun to drive but made it all but impossible to really enjoy the views.

Then I did Flagstaff to Albuquerque on I-40, which I did on the way west, and I think having just traveled it made this stretch seem to go on forever. Easily the longest, toughest part of the drive.

I tried to break it up with a quick spur-of-the-moment detour to Meteor Crater, but the $15 admission price tag meant all you’re going to see from me is this view from its parking lot:

For all I know, Meteor Crater is a truly stunning experience and totally worth that fifteen bucks, but to get my money’s worth out of the climb to the rim and the museum and exhibits and bells and whistles would have taken more time than I wanted to spend on a day when I was already looking at almost 11 hours on the road.

I also considered breaking up the monotony by stopping to stand on a corner in Winslow, but then I found out on the radio that it’s already been a cheesy tourist thing for awhile. No kidding. According to the radio ads, you can even get your photo with the girl in the flatbed Ford.

I did see the Fight Obesity Ride guy heading east on I-40, and eventually I crossed into New Mexico and had to give back one of those hours I picked up on the way to California.

Fortunately, reaching Albuquerque meant traveling a new road – I-25 (so, yes, I turned left!) northbound, and I was surprised at how the landscape changed again. More green entered the picture, dotting and then covering the hills, although the mountains kept their distinctive western shapes.

At one point, I was treated to a storm off to the west of the highway, on a broad flat plain between me and a distant mountain range. What made it cool was seeing lightning strikes that were actually in front of those hills. Most times, back home the horizon is much closer, so even close-range lightning strikes are behind just about everything you can see. Seeing the bolts link the ground and the clouds in the middle distance rather than in the background was awfully neat.

I was listening to a Retroist podcast about The Dark Crystal during this stretch, and the wide grasslands that opened up to the east , coupled with the hills that still ran alongside to the west, somehow fit the moment.

I got into Raton about 5:30 p.m. during a light rain and bought myself a K-Bob’s steak sandwich for supper, since it had been a really long day of driving and I could feel a hunger headache coming on.

Now I’m going to post this and reward myself with some arcade time – the game room here actually has a working Side Arms – Hyper Dyne, which Aaron and my brothers and I used to LOVE playing at Aladdin’s Castle in the mall (sadly, the Pole Position game has sound but no picture) – and maybe even some ice cream after that. Here’s the view from my campsite:

June 26, 2010 Posted by | Games, geek, Travel, video games | , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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