June 29, 2010

Day 15: UT to South Lake Tahoe, CA (500 miles, 9.5 hours)

With only five or six tiny towns to speak of, Nevada's Highway 50 lives up to its title of "The Loneliest Road in the US". When I last traveled it back in 2003, I did not have the same appreciation for the shades of tan, gray green, pink, and umber that I developed out east (where colors- especially bright greens!- are a lot more intense). This time I was totally in love with the scenery and happy to be back to the colors I associate with summer.

Perfectly straight streches across desert flats punctuated with exciting, winding stints through the craggy Toiyabe, Diamond, Ruby, and Sierra Nevada mountains made for an ideal day of driving. A small detour on a dirt road took us to the graveyard of one of Nevada's mining ghost towns. We were welcomed to my grandparents' place near Lake Tahoe with many hugs, a hearty dinner, and wine. I can't imagine a better homecoming!

June 25, 2010

Day 14: CO to UT via Escalante Pueblo and Arches (350 miles, 6 hours)

After a satisfying breakfast at a local greasy spoon in Cortez, we headed north out of town skirting the Canyons of the Ancients. Near Dolores and the Anasazi Heritage Center we visited the Escalante Pueblo, an archaeological site inhabited around 1200 AD situated at the top of a hill overlooking the Dolores River.

From there we continued on into Utah, where we took in the fantastic scenery of Arches National Park.

With towns and lodging becoming increasingly scarce, we took a chance on The Rancher Motel in Delta, Utah. For better or for worse, our room's ambiance was reminiscent of what would happen if Design*Sponge's Living In section ever featured Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas (below). The flowers out front were nice and cheery, though.

June 21, 2010

Day 13: Colby, KS to Cortez, CO (550 miles, 11 hours)

With not a trace of rain to be found, we made good time through the remainder of Kansas. As we headed south and west the terrain became significantly flatter and more arid, first with wheat replacing corn and soybeans, then wheat giving way to range land (above). All through Kansas I was impressed by the ruggedly beautiful and somewhat untamed feel of the landscape. I snagged a few stray stems of wheat to make a small nosegay (below).

In Colorado things got decidedly drier and more desert-like.  As we approached the beautiful Sangre de Cristo mountains, we were greeted with a very large forest fire just to the north (below). We pressed on and were very happy and proud when Buck the Subaru made it over a 10,500 foot pass, surrounded by breathtaking alpine views (tragically not captured on film).

When we arrived in Cortez, CO, I was very happy to see that the motel I had picked out (based on the friendly phone-manners of the inn keeper) displayed a terrifically gaudy, but well maintained, sign (below). I consider this type of signage to be indicative of good lodgings, and luckily this incident supported my theory.

June 18, 2010

Day 12: Grinnell, IA to Colby, KS (600 miles, 11 hours)

I have a reputation for referring to both weather and driving as "terrifying", especially when they occur at the same time. But I think this day's travel merited the label. Blinding downpours, thunderstorms, and tornado warnings through Kansas made for the longest-feeling day yet. This image barely captures the feel of the storm, which at times was characterized by an eerie green glow that I've only seen once before, when a tornado touched down just near Grinnell.

June 17, 2010

Day 11: Flowers in the Jewel of the Prairie

The first time I went to Iowa for college, the lay of the land and towns seemed so strange and foreign that I felt like I should be using foreign currency. But it didn't take long for me to fall totally in love with it. When I was greeted with a "Welcome Home" at the local coffee shop this trip, it felt wonderful and totally natural.

Our day in Grinnell was jam-packed with visiting friends and places from our college years. We had a breakfast featuring acorn-fed Berkshire sausage at the home of one of the most outstandingly talented, fun, and kind families I know, lunch at the Phoenix with our friend/former advisor/professor, and a picnic dinner in a park overlooking the cornfields. Other highlights included a visit to the demonstration prairie gardens, firefly catching, and cloud-gazing.

Day 10: Twin Cities to Grinnell, IA (275 miles, 5 hours)

Rainy roads made for a bit of a longer trip than usual, but all in all we had a nice ride down to Grinnell, Iowa, Jewel of the Prairie and home to our alma mater. We arrived in time for a delicious, home-grilled, back-porch dinner with our good friends (and generous hosts), followed by the obligatory and totally awesome Dairy Barn ice cream, conveniently located just a few blocks away.

June 14, 2010

Days 8 and 9: Flowers in the Twin Cities

We spent the weekend enjoying excellent food, wine, and company in St. Paul. We headed over the other side of the Twin Cities to enjoy the beautiful flowers and art of  Minneapolis Sculpture Garden.

Day 7: Chicago to Twin Cities (450 miles, 8 hours)

After stopping at a neighborhood Austrian bakery for a (fantastically yummy) poppy seed crown, we headed north and west towards Minnesota. Previously I have only traveled in rather flat areas of Wisconsin, so I was surprised and impressed by the beautiful rolling hills and pretty farmsteads on this route. The Mouse House Cheese Haus (and other roadside cheese curd merchants), also added a nice touch.

We arrived in St. Paul at a very reasonable hour and settled in for a nice visit with Ben's family at their cozy and beautiful home.

June 12, 2010

Day 6: Flowers in the Windy City

Although we found parking on our arrival in Chicago, morning revealed that we lacked the proper parking permit to avoid a ticket. Feeling sixty dollars poorer, we spent the day walking about enjoying the magnificent architecture and other free attractions of the city. We got more than our money's worth at the Lincoln Park Conservatory, where we saw Crib of Venus Orchids (Anguloa ruckeri, above), Caterpillar Plant (Spathicarpa sagittifolia, below), Copper Leaf (Acalypha wilksiana 'Kaleakala', below left), Tricolor Hawaiian Ti Plant (Cordyline fruticosa 'Tricolor', below right), King Orchids (Brassia rex, bottom left), Striped Inch Plant (Callisia elegans, bottom right), and Fishtail Fern (Microsorum punctatum 'Grandiceps', bottom).
The Chicago Cultural Center, with it's ornate railings, expansive mosaics, and huge Tiffany glass dome,  was also breathtaking (below).