last year we were so fortunate to be able to experience so many of our public lands, parks and monuments. I decided to start collecting patches along the way as a way to remember the places we had seen.
I bought our first official patch at the padre island national seashore. the kind volunteer behind the counter at the gift shop explained to us how we could drive onto the beach and camp there. he also told us how the beach in texas is considered a highway, and if we chose to we could drive for miles on it. we were thrilled with the possibility.
it was there that I started thinking about this quilt. from every park, monument, forest or historical site that we stopped at with a visitor center, I bought a patch and added it to this quilt. it’s like a living memory, a work in progress. hand stitching the patches over fabric that is covering holes in the antique bedcover that is older than me.
when we were at yellowstone, it just happened to be the month of the 100 year anniversary of this amazing place. we were lucky enough to be caught in the middle of a herd of bison crossing the road; they were feet from our car, and I will never forget that feeling, the feeling that we were visiting their home. we were their guests. it was humbling. and it was my favorite day.
death valley was spectacular.
our year of travel took us from cleveland ohio to the eastern shore of texas,
to the peaks of alaska, and back around…
we stopped at badlands national park after visiting deadwood and sturgis.
we were not disappointed. even saw the elusive big horn ram.
this is one of our favorite campsites; a wildlife preserve in western nevada.
without the bureau of land management, the national forests, the department of antiquities, the national monuments or the national forests none of this would have been possible. we have so much left to see. and we saw so much.
it is vital that they stay funded, operating and protected.
our car = our freedom. without it we were trapped in a cycle of bad food choices, nothing to do that didn’t rely on the shuttle schedule and ultimately a scary health moment that led us to the decision to leave. isolation is one thing, but being hours away from medical care is a whole other ball of wax when you have a chronic illness.
good friends can be made everywhere you go. we met a handful of people that we will definitely stay in touch with. and then we met a few people who became close friends. being in the same situation; living, working, eating, playing together builds strong friendships. that was a positive. that was something we wouldn’t change.
alaska is just alaska. so on the bus ride (the torturous, five hour bus ride from anchorage to healy) I kept waiting. waiting for the “WOW!!” moment when alaska would knock my socks off. that never came. I mean, it was pretty and it had trees and mountains and more trees…but it wasn’t like, OH OK THIS IS AMAZING. it was just, *shrug* alaska.
I never saw a bear: in fact in the months we were there the total wildlife I saw amounted to three moose and a handful of sea gulls. seriously.
(ok I did get to see this, which was pretty freaking cool. the bus they used in the filming of into the wild which was an inspiration for coming here in the first place.)
we really just need each other. (I know, right?) but for real. life is about the people you choose to share it with. and then making that time the healthiest, happiest time possible.
today marks the day. the sixth month anniversary of loading up the car, waving goodbye to lake erie, cleveland, ohio…..and heading out on the great adventure.
we honestly had no idea what we were doing.
like, no clue.
I mean, sure we’d plotted out a general course…looked at a million blogs about how to do what we were doing, but, seriously.
not a clue.
so here’s a bit of what we’ve learned:
–you’re going to need half of what you think you’ll need.
–travel slow, and if you find a spot that looks good, stay there.
–always stop for the brown signs on the highway exits (they mean good things: national parks, state parks or really touristy fun stuff!)
–buy a national parks pass. just do it. the national parks are the best idea the US has ever had.
–if you find a spot you like, stay there! (btw: free camping is abundant, you just have to know how and where to look for it. we’ve spent a total of $16 on camping in 6 months, all of that in Texas.)
–adapting to your environment is key.
–travel bloggers on instagram are not showing you everything (like where do they poop?)
–you’re much tougher than you think.
–time is a social construct. (think about that one….I must ask at least once a week, “wait, what day is it?” because we don’t have to be anywhere, do anything, on anyone else’s time….weekdays or weekends don’t matter. it’s weird and takes time to get used to.)
–this country is huge, beautiful and is so vastly different if you just travel more than 300 miles outside of your comfort zone. if you don’t like where you are: move! there is so much out there to see and experience.
–people out there (away from the cities) are much nicer, kinder and more generous than you know.
–don’t wait. we’ve met so many women, couples in their retirement years who’ve said to us (all_of_them_have_said_this) “we should have done this at your age, good for you guys.”
where we go from here:
today we are in yakima, washington, on our way to a town north of seattle for the week. we are then boarding a plane friday for anchorage, alaska.
we’ll be working up there for the summer outside of denali national park.
I can say this: we are excited to be off the road for a while, but last night as we spent our last night in the car (fittingly in a walmart, just like our first night in new jersey) we were talking about how we are actually going to miss the freedom we’ve had, the autonomy, the rising with the sun, going to bed when it gets dark, and the general not-seeing-any-other-humans that has been so great. we’re going to have a bit of a time adjusting.
but it will also be nice to have showers and meals and a bed whenever we want.
my son needed a little break from the winter doldrums back in grey-skies-will spring-never-arrive-cleveland, so we sent him a ticket to fly into las vegas and planned a few days of camping and a visit to death valley national park.
now the name death valley conjures up a desolate, barren wasteland of nothingness. a mad max-like expanse of desert as far as the eyes can see, with nothing growing, just the occasional blowing dune, or skeleton of the tourist before you who didn’t bring enough water. (always bring enough water)
so, we were pleasantly surprised when we found that death valley had really more life than death. and just as many highs as lows.
one of the most spectacular highs being dante’s view.
I mean, come on.
from the top you could see 360 degrees for miles. and on the way up there (you climb a mile high over 13 miles of winding road) was so much green, and wildflowers…..no death anywhere.
and the sunset from there, well, it sure takes the mind off dreary cleveland weather.
there were lots of opportunities to climb things.
and climbed they both did.
this is called the artist’s palette: it’s mounds of colorful mineral-rocks left after volcanic activity. it basically looks like a melted ice-cream sundae.
the lowest point of the trip (get it,lowest) was badwater basin: literally the lowest place in the western hemisphere. we got there before 9am and it was already climbing above 90 degrees. it’s the craziest place I’ve ever been, will probably ever be. the smell in the air is like sulphur/salt; the “ground” crunches beneath you and the silence (once you get away from the other tourists) is deafening. you’re almost 300 feet below sea level, and surrounded by mountains that reach a mile into the sky that are topped with snow.
view from above:
there’s 250 square miles of the white stuff; looks like snow from up here, it’s basically table salt.
my favorite part was hiking through mosaic canyon. the boys left me to do their own climbing of the walls instead of just hiking the path, so I enjoyed the cool canyon walls and the silence all by myself.
even though it’s name is intimidating, and some of the days were hot and tough, I think we conquered death valley. it is now one of our top five national parks; it is park number 25(if you’re keeping track) that we’ve visited since december (including national monuments, not including national forests) *btw: national monuments, like white sands, are not “national parks” merely because it takes an act of congress to make it so. death valley didn’t become a national park until 1994; it had been a monument since the 30’s. your history lesson for the day :)
a long time ‘bucket list’ item was seeing the beauty that is white sands national monument. we headed into new mexico to make use of the warm-ish weather and avoid the rain that was pummeling the west (including parts of arizona and nevada, where we had been…) and so it seemed we were finally going to make it to the sands.
on our way there we passed another point of interest, the very large array which, like me, you’ve probably seen in movies like contact and maybe, like me, you’ve thought ‘wow, that looks amazing!’
well, it did not disappoint.
I mean. you just can’t get over how big these things are.
and they’re talking to space.
then we were on to white sands.
look how happy this little gal was running on that cool white stuff.
the cutest picnic areas I’ve ever seen.
we had a few days of nasty windstorm, but our stay here has been really great. every night we’re rewarded with sunsets that just take your breath away.
I think we’ll stay here a few more nights, and then, well, who knows…..
it’s been a while. updates are hard when the internet is spotty. it’s not that we haven’t had things to update!
we’ve been to many places since my last post:
we left the california area and headed back through nevada. but not without seeing some fabulous graffiti and abandoned things along the way.
stopping at the hoover dam for a quick tour (can you say breathtaking?) we decided to camp at lake mead for a few days.
we ventured in to las vegas, although avoiding the strip completely, we managed to stay in a casino/hotel, have a crappy buffet…
and adopt a rescue dog. who we named Lucky.
Lucky Scout Sparkles, to be more precise.
we’re pretty happy with her.
today we’re in sedona, arizona.
we’ve done a little zig-zag, avoiding rain and visiting some old friends. the scenery here is stunning, the internet is slow, but I’ve managed to crank this post out in a starbucks while listening to some ladies discuss energy healing.
we woke up to this taking place right outside our car window as we made coffee and stretched out our morning bodies:
I’m beginning to think that our new doggie friend isn’t the only lucky one.
driving across the country, the landscapes and landmarks fly by the window, and just like in life, you don’t really know what you’ve missed until you sit back and contemplate the memories (or in this case….scroll through iphoto)
also, just like in life, being on the road has it’s ups and downs as we’ve learned. every turn can bring something strange and wonderful.
on your way to the outermost part of civilization in the united states, where there are no rules, no zoning, no government….you first have to pass by Salvation Mountain. and learn about a human who just wanted to share his love with everyone through his art.
then we ventured through slab city, weird and wonderful as it is….
the previous day, on a long stretch of boring road, out of nowhere pops the most amazing sand dunes you’ve ever seen (well, you’ve never seen any!)
where did all that sand come from?
I mean, this is some Mad Max shit right here.
which led us to our current park(ing) spot…Joshua Tree. we’ve only explored a teeny little corner of it so far, but it is magnificent.
we had no idea how much time we would spend in texas, or, honestly, how much we’d enjoy that time. frankly, I was amazed at the beauty.
we’re now stuck so close to the far west border of the state, waiting out a car repair. we’re in a perfectly comfortable hotel (120 channels! free wifi! free breakfast!) and it’s nice just to do the things we used to; lie on the bed scrolling mindlessly through the internet while reality tv drones in the background.
but it’s also been a time of reflection.
on how far we’ve come; both literally (almost 4,000 miles) and figuratively.
although we’re not experts at any of this, I feel we’ve learned so much about what we need to live and be happy. and it all fits in the car.
our stay at Big Bend National Park was fabulous. it is a spectacular park, with everything from mountain peaks to wide expanses of desert. we hiked into a canyon one day, followed by a dip in the hot spring nestled right next to the Rio Grande river. every night the sky was the most beautiful show of colors as the sun set behind the ridge.
we hated leaving, but packed up a day earlier than planned due to very high winds. the next day a power line fell on the road about 1/4 mile from our campsite, sparking a wildfire that is still burning as I write this. I can’t help but wonder what it would have been like if we were still there.
we moved on to marfa, texas where we enjoyed some great food and met some fabulous people, including an inspiring couple who are riding their bikes through 23 states (towing their two dogs!) It was great talking to them about our mutual goals, what it’s like living on the road, and how it felt leaving the ‘old life’ and possessions behind.
wandering around west texas waiting for the winds to die down we came across several deserted ghost towns. kent was my favorite. it felt alive, although the houses were empty and filled with broken glass, and burnt sinks, the pipes all ripped out and paint peeling in shattered mosaics. creeping around some of the structures with only the sound of the highway, we felt like we were seeing something we shouldn’t be, and yet we couldn’t stop looking.
we had spent the previous night in a sleepy little texas coastal town called rockport.
waking up to the foggy ocean air, and seeing what we had missed coming in under darkness; the palm tree lined streets, the tiny carribean colored houses.
after a tiny terrible mishap involving one of us (not me) leaving the other (me) high and dry waiting outside of the walmart after she ran in to use the toilet….making her absolutely frantic and hysterically erupting into a crying fit…after THAT, we headed south to fulfill a bucket list goal of mine:
camp on a beach.
we followed the road as it led into the national park that is south padre island. were finally able to use our national parks pass (high five) and onward we went.
after speaking with a kindly gentleman at the visitors center and purchasing two patches and a postcard, we headed out to look at each camping choice and decide what would be best for us.
choosing our camping / sleeping site each night is a bit like the process the Goldilocks used to pick her bed, or maybe, as xander describes it, when I’m driving around a walmart lot, examining every nook and cranny before picking the perfect spot, like a dog choosing where to do his business. it’s very important you get it just right.
we headed first to the $8/night site which was basically an oblong loop with sites on either side of the loop; pretty much each spot taken by either a large rv or a medium rv, several old men in various stages of beer gut shirtless-ness…also multiple dogs. next.
the second site was on the opposite side of the island, which was much windier (hence, the hangout place for windsurfers), was $5/night and had a few rv’ers there, but I was immediately turned off by the wind and chill…..ok show me this free beach camping I’ve heard about.
on padre you can camp anywhere on the 60 miles (yes, sixty miles!) of beach south of the park visitor center for free. if your vehicle can get there, you’re welcome to it. the beach in texas is considered part of the state highway system, so your car is expected to obey the speed limit, etc, etc.
can you get there without 4WD, we wondered? they told us the first 5 or so miles are so well packed that any 2 wheel drive vehicle can make the drive.
determined, curious, we headed down to the literal end. of. the. road….and stopped to look it over. there was a surprising amount of what looked to me “soft sand” right near the beginning of the beach/road.
off to the our left side was a big white camper van with it’s window open. we walked over and asked the white haired woman in the passenger seat if they’d ever driven on the beach.
“yes, we have…we’ve gotten stuck a few times…but if you stay in the packed sand, you do fine…. we don’t have 4 wheel drive on this, does your car?”
“yeah we don’t either, that’s what makes me worried” I answered.
“Hal!” she yelled over her shoulder “these kids should be fine, don’t you think?” Hal, a frail white haired gentleman appeared from behind her, “they want to go on the beach.” she told him.
“oh, yes! you’ll be great…is that your car? do the seats fold down? that reminds me so much of the vehicle we had when we were in Bolivia just starting out! don’t you just love it?” Hal bubbled. obviously we had found two more kindred spirits. after an animated conversation regarding possessions, travel, and driving in the snow vs sand…we were given more direction and a huge boost of confidence, then we were off.
car in drive
steady, steady, steady
though the mushy part….don’t hesitate.
and we were there,
we were driving on the damn beach.
I waved a big thumbs up out the window to our new friends, and away we went.
we picked a spot laughingly close to the entrance to set up.
we also learned quickly how to put up a tent in the wind and sand
and then how to quickly take that fucker down.
there’s sand everywhere. but, we are sleeping on the beach, under the stars and within ear-reach of the waves. I watched the moon rise in the front windshield and then followed it as it set through the back window. and then enjoyed the magic of the first light casting pink and greys over the ocean.
hard days. days like yesterday, when we went to do laundry, find internet and get groceries and only accomplished two of the three. (the internet we found was so slow it was worthless for what I needed it for; mainly downloading new things for us to watch during the dark, cold hours between sunset and sleep; and to update my blog. hell, I couldn’t even get Facebook to load, or send photos to my phone via messages.)
hard days, but also learning to live without things, live like we (well, like I) used to live….no internet. today, for example we made a decision to not go to ‘town’, to stay at camp, even though we had not accomplished what we needed yesterday. staying put meant not spending money, but it also meant we had to learn to keep occupied. easy on warm days, not so easy on a chilly day.
I spent some of the day working on the old quilt (of my mom’s) that I’m patching. it was on her bed as a teenager in the fifties, and I’ve had it since my grandpa passed away in 1997. it’s been well loved, and is threadbare in many spots—holes right through in many others. I’m sewing patches on it with embroidery floss, using a blanket stitch. patches of all different sizes, in fabrics I’ve acquired through various means, mainly tiny prints, some from Japan, all very quaint. it’s more than a way to pass the time, it’s marking the days that I’m on this journey, it helps me focus on something other than the road going by, or the silence of the forest. it’s a great meditation, a purpose.
xander spent most of the day reading. we picked up some books (2 each at under .80/pc from goodwill) while our laundry was washing yesterday. after my fingers started turning numb (even in the wristwarmers I pulled from my jeannieknits stash… it is still. so. freaking. cold!) I crawled in the car, and under the blankets, and passed the rest of the afternoon reading as well.
I joked later we were living like Laura Ingalls Wilder.
I’m not sure x got the reference.
we also looked at the map (MAP!) of texas that we picked up at the welcome center and mapped out 2 possible routes through the state (see, internet, we don’t need you!) and are planning on heading out from here tuesday and head to the shores of the gulf…time for some sun and sand.