Thursday, July 2, 2009

Day 3: June 21, 2009

“The wind blows where it wishes and you hear the sound of it, but do not know where it comes from or where it is going; as is everyone who is born of the spirit…” John 3:8 (one of my new favorite bible verses thanks to Jenna Leppert)

A day of racing against the clock. So we are up and at em around 7:30 am and there is a lot to do and see today. The car ride thus far has been absolutely incredible, but I think we are starting to get the LA itch. We were going to stretch out the road trip over a 4 day period, but we’ve just decided to make it to Hermosa by tonight. We are on the road again and traveling about an hour to the Grand Canyon. We breeze through the entrance (thanks National Park Weekend!) and make our way toward our first stop, Yaki Point. If you’ve never been to the Canyon, you drive about 3 miles into the park on a 2 lane road surrounded by trees at about 30 miles an hour. Then, you turn a corner and suddenly the most incredible view of the canyon hits you smack in the face. They should really put up caution signs because I about ran off the road staring at it. We pulled over at a viewing area, snapped some pics and took it all in. Kristen and I were both speechless. We stood there for what seemed like several minutes in complete silence (probably the longest amount of elapsed time that we had gone without saying something to one another since leaving Memphis.) The only words spoken after that were pretty much OH…MY…GA…, SERIOUSLY?, or DO YOU SEE THAT? Absolutely magnificent. Describing what we saw is even harder than The Painted Desert description. I would say the pictures say it all, but they don’t. So you have to go see it for yourself, then we can talk about it.

After walking a little over a mile down a road that we thought was accessed only by a tour bus (we thought we were being so sneaky), we made it to Yaki Point. Kristen almost got attacked by a hawk with the wing span of literally 8 ft. She screamed. I laughed. We then learned from one of the tour bus drivers that anyone is allowed down the path, so decided to follow the rules and get on the tour bus. From there, we decided to hike Bright Angel Trail, the steepest trail in the park. So you know how yesterday I blogged about not planning anything and just going with the flow on all of our plans… well use that advice on all travel except when hiking the Grand Canyon. For anyone who plans to do this, bring sunscreen, more than one bottle of water, and some form of food for the trip. Also, commit several hours to leisurely walk the extremely rigorous hills. Oh yeah, and remember: getting down is always easier than getting back up. Make it easy on yourself and learn from our mistakes. We thought we were making a smart decision by only hiking 3 of the 9 miles to the bottom of the Canyon. As we slowly made our way down the trail, we saw some pretty interesting things: A 70 year old Chinese woman hiking in long sleeves, a cane, and white gloves, a man carrying a 32 liter jug of water down the trail in camo pants, and an off-duty park ranger similar to Emile Hirsch in “Into the Wild” who informed us that we had only traveled ¾ of a mile in a one hour time period. As we chatted with the ranger, we watched someone below us get airlifted by helicopter because of a heat stroke. This image did not sit well with Kristen or me. We convinced ourselves that we both had the early symptoms of a heat stroke and panicked. After walking a little further and realizing we only had half of a bottle of water left, we thought it would be a mature decision to make our way back to the top. We felt that we had gone far enough on the trail to not have to feel guilty if we told someone “we hiked the Grand Canyon.” And that’s what we did… just not the entire thing. My sister Lyndsey and a friend of hers hiked the entire trail down and then back up again in one day (16 miles). There is definitely a sign that warns you not to do that at the very beginning of the trail. She is a machine. Still, the parts of the trails that we did see were pretty incredible. A must before you die.

(Part of the trail we hiked)

“So remove grief and anger from your heart and put away pain from your body, because childhood and the prime of life are fleeting…” Ecclesiastes 11:10

From there we attempted to bike a trail but to a higher point in the canyon for some more photos, but Kristen had a flat tire. So things weren’t going our way as much today. We absorbed the views a little longer and got back on the road. Our next plan of action was Kristen’s goal: to make it in 4 hours to see the Joshua Trees and windmills along I-10 before sunset. We hit the road around 1:30 pm. We were on track to make it happen and before we knew it, crossing into CALIFORNIA!!!! It crept up on us pretty quick and suddenly we were crossing the Colorado River. (See video above. We are such losers. We know. Excuse our singing.)

Although there was desert all around us, this drive was pretty in awesome. I never pictured a desert to be so beautiful and mountainous. Up until this point, we were only seeing the landscape at a distance, but now we were weaving in, out and around all of these crazy rocky mountains. Playlist of the hour: Kings of Leon, Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Bruce Springsteen, My Morning Jacket, MGMT, and Jonas Brothers (duh.) There wasn’t a dull moment, until we a slight bump in the road in the middle of the Mojave Desert. We were about 50 miles outside of Joshua Tree, California, on a 2 lane highway and we got stuck behind a truck hauling some huge construction piece. It was moving at less than 20 miles an hour and was taking up 2 lanes. Because police were helping with the tow process, there was no way around it. The sun was definitely setting at a faster pace than our car was moving. Kristen attempted to blow past the law and risk it all to make it in time before sunset, but I was there to bring her brain back down to earth. We even tried to find an alternate route on the Garmin, but her only solution was an “unpaved road” that was literally a dirt road that shot out into the middle of the desert with no end in sight. No thank you. We had some good laughs sitting through this one, but eventually the road block pulled over. I don’t think I have seen a car pulling as much weight as mine move that fast before. We had to be quick to make it to Joshua Tree in time for at least one picture.

(the truck we got stuck behind)

(Colorado River)

For some reason, the Joshua Tree experience was something that had been built up the entire trip and I was so excited to actually see one. (Probably because I had absolutely not even the slightest idea what a Joshua Tree looked like.) But once again, we reigned supreme and made it happen. The mountains in the distance were making it a little more difficult to get sunlight, but there was just enough to snap some photos of the tiny little town infested with these awkward looking trees.

Next stop was about 45 minutes down the interstate where giant windmills covered acres and acres of land. (I know I keep repeating myself when I say “It was one of the most incredible things I have ever seen,” but it seriously is. And I think that’s because I’m realizing how little I have actually seen in my life.) It was so windy along this part of I-10 I thought for sure our car was going to tump over. But there were all different kinds of windmills, all strategically places in perfect rows all over the land around us. Pretty cool stuff. We could have turned around and driven back through it and we still probably wouldn’t have been able to see every one of them. By the end of the windmill adventure, night was creeping in and we were getting closer to Hermosa Beach.

The rumors are true. Traffic sucks in Los Angeles. There is no exaggerating the fact that it is always rush hour. We hit bumper to bumper traffic at about 10:30 on a Sunday night. Pretty humorous. Kristen’s blood pressure was a little higher than normal due to the fact that she couldn’t see out of any of the back windows, had 2 bikes on the back of the car, and passing cars were flying by us on a 6 lane interstate at no less than 75 miles an hour. Luckily, we survived the interstate and drove immediately down to the Hermosa Pier. We jumped out of the car, realized that a piece of chocolate from our Special K cereal had melted on my seat at some point during our desert drive, said screw it, and ran down the beach to the ocean. We had made it.

(melted Special K)

We then went to Willie’s, who was waiting up for our arrival. He even put a little flashlight out on the address number on the side of his house so we wouldn’t miss it:) He gave us a quick tour of the house, all designed by his former love, Sally. Her own paintings and trinkets from all of their travels from around the world fill the rustic, somewhat native themed home. Kristen and a slept in twin beds in the guest room just for the night. Then we will move out to the guest house. Can’t keep my eyes open… Welcome to our new home.

(Edward's booty vs. the woman in front of us in the Grand Canyon bus line.)

Day 3: Complete.

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Day 2: June 20, 2009

7:49 am Central time
6:49 am Mountain Time

“You have brains in your head and feet in your shoes
You can steer yourself any direction you choose.
You’re on your own and you know what you know
And you are the one who’ll decide where you go.” –Dr. Seuss

Before I begin this blog, let me first apologize to Jay Williams, who was left out of the previous blog due to a mental state caused only by sleep deprivation. Without his wisdom and guidance, we would not have had the most important and interesting part of our trip to Texas, the Big Texan Steak Ranch. Thanks Jay.

And we are off again. Traveling down I-40 where the speed limit is 75 (never seen that one before) listening to “Crash” by Dave Matthews Band. We just changed time zones and crossed into New Mexico. Now headed to Santa Fe and the Turquoise Trail. I like the views in New Mexico a lot more than Texas. Beautiful horizon lines. I really have no idea what we are looking at, but God knew what he was doing when he made this state. Now that I am thinking about it… Where the heck do all the people live? All I am seeing is miles and miles of land. There is literally no one but the drivers on the road and I love it. It rained this morning leaving Amarillo. I turned on the rear windshield wipers after Kristen asked if I had any… there is a bike rack on the back of the car. Perfect.

(10:03 am) We decided to take the scenic route off of I-40 down Highway 3. We saw some sort of life form there and beautiful hillside travel. We turned on The Beatles “Here Comes the Sun” in hopes that the weather would stop being so stubborn. No luck, as we cut over to Highway 25 through the Pecos National Historic Park. The view here was beautiful with a low fog covering the mountain tops. There are these strange little dark green bush-tree-type plants everywhere here. There are so many of them, I looked out into the distance and yelled, “LOOK AT ALL THOSE COWS!” They were just bushes. This weather is making us a little sluggish, so I decided to bust out my Skinner Boys Band cd. It was Kristen’s first time hearing the boys and we jammed out. I seriously love this cd! If you haven’t heard em, go to So stinkin’ talented. Everytime I hear em it makes me think of my friends back home... and this is a good thing. Gotta make a coffee and gas stop, then onward to the Turquoise Trail for some real photo opts. FYI: There are no gas stations in New Mexico. Last one we saw was about 100 miles back on I-40. We are wandering around Sante Fe right now because my Garmin is lying to us about the location of the nearest gas stations. It’s a cute, quaint little town. All of the buildings are the adobe style. It’s raining so I can’t do much with pictures. I didn’t know it even rained in New Mexico… isn’t this a desert?! (We later learn that it is monsoon season in New Mexico).

(The bushes I thought were cows)

Well, we finally found a gas station and Kristen realized that my driver’s side door is not locking. Exactly what we need since the entire back of my car is filled with everything from lap tops to a flat screen. It was probably like that last night at the hotel and we didn’t even know it. We don’t have much phone service, so we are pressing onward to the Turquoise Trail. We missed the exit for highway 14 and had to turn around, and thank goodness we did. The Turquoise Trail was our first look at some real photo opts. The 2 lane highway was gorgeous and we took some great pictures in each of the tiny little towns along the trail. Madrid was my favorite because it is a tiny artsy strip with gift shops, galleries, and caf├ęs. We were total tourists along this route and I think we mastered the art of taking pictures out the window of a moving vehicle. We stopped at every scenic view and took stupid pictures, like us jumping up in the air or doing cheerleading poses (my favorite). We quickly learned that Kristen is incapable of jumping off of the ground. Literally. She doesn’t know how to jump up. Not even an inch. I have pictures to prove it. She set a goal today that she will be able to jump by Christmas.

(The Turquoise Trail)

(Kristen's attempt to jump vs. my attempt to jump. You decide the winner.)

(Some images from the town of Madrid)

Once we got back on 40 and rolled into Albuquerque, we decided to face the fact that we had to detour to fix my car lock. Road side assistance was absolutely no help and actually suggested that we call 411 to find a locksmith. Isn’t that what we pay a monthly fee for you to do Mrs. Roadside Assister? As the lovely woman on the other line tried to convince us there was no Ford dealership in Albuquerque, I happened to spot one at the exact same time. We turned on the southern accent and flirted a little with Tyler, our young, married Ford service attendant originally from Michigan. He found the part we needed to fix the lock and got the only service parts worker to replace the piece within an hour & a half. We walked the streets of Albuquerque and found the nearest Subway for some grub. My baby got fixed for the small fee of $247. The most expensive lunch I have ever had.

Question of the hour: When was the last time you did something for the first time?

The sun finally made its way out for us today, reaching the perfect temperature of 75 degrees at its highest. Just in time, as we reached the coolest, most beautiful place I have ever seen: the Painted Desert and Petrified Forest National Park (check back tomorrow to see if that statement stands true after seeing the Grand Canyon.)We knew had donesomething right, we we rolled up to the entrance of the Forest and learned that it was National Park Weekend. This momentous weekend allowed free entry into any National Park in the country. I honestly don’t even know what to say about this place because words don’t do it justice. Pictures can’t even capture half of the beauty and emotional power of such a magnificent piece of nature. No exaggeration. We laughed about how excited we got the first time we saw a mountain back in New Mexico. We were even frantically grabbing the camera just to get a picture of cattle in a flat field. And now we come to something as extraordinary as this.

(Blue Desert? I think that's what it was called...a portion of the Painted Desert)

(The original route 66 locations. Original light posts that lined the highway)

(Pretty sure your not supposed to do things like this to the wood)

(Petrified wood)

We made our way through the 28 mile national forest. 7 miles of Painted Desert and the rest is Petrified Forest. By the time we hit the Crystal Trail, it was sunset. One of the most extraordinary things I have ever seen. The temperature was perfect, a slight breeze, and gorgeous views in every direction. The Forest hours are 7:00 am to 7:00 pm and the sun started to set about 7:05. Even though we probably were not supposed to still be in the park, we couldn’t miss the opportunity to see such an incredible sunset. I swear we were the only people in the entire park. We looked back and it was just me, Kristen, and my car in the parking lot. It was completely silent and completely perfect. It was a very emotional experience actually. Standing in the middle of that place makes you realize how tiny you really are in comparison to the capabilities of God. I can’t even wrap my brain around the idea of what I am looking at. If the only place you have seen the Painted Desert or Petrified Forest is in a 7th grade social studies book, you need to make the trip out here. You. Will. Not. Be. Disappointed.

(Me and Kristen's shadows)

(Sunset at the Petrified Forest)

Kristen and I were so amped up after seeing the Desert and Forest, we decided to drive a little longer into the night and spend the night in Williams, Arizona. At dinner we chatted with our server and told him we were from Tennessee. He responded, “Where is that?” I can only assume he was joking…? We laughed and said “Straight over to the right. In the south.” His response: “Oh! The racist state.” After 17 hours in the car today, that statement was a little too much to process. I don’t know about you but I think that our license plates would look awesome with “Tennessee. The Racist State” on them. And I guess UT would consider changing its mascot to the Racists? It’s said that people are so narrow minded. To me, being judgemental about someone you don’t know, or in this case, a place you don’t know ANYTHING about, is just as bad as being racist toward someone.

Lesson of the Day: In travel, when in doubt, DO IT!

One thing that I am really glad we did on this trip was not plan anything. We were open to all ideas and flexible about everything that we did. That is one reason why Kristen and I get along so well. We are both always willing to step outside of our comfort zone and try new things. This entire trip has just been about us shrugging our shoulders and saying, “Why not?” There have been numerous instances on the road where we were unsure about where we were going or what we were going to see. We’ve got nothing but time on our side. If we wanted to do something we did it, completely unsure about what the outcome would be. It’s situations like that that make life fun.

(10:21 pm Pacific time) Currently, I am riding down 1-40 with the sunroof open looking at the most stars I have ever seen. It is a perfectly clear night, about 70 degrees. Although, Meredith if you are reading, the number of stars I am seeing right now might be pretty close to how many we saw the week before I left, in the middle of a cotton field, on the back of a stolen gator. But the sky is just so much bigger here. It’s incredible. There is not a single light on the road in front of us or in the black abyss to the left and right. Just us, the road, Paramore, and Edward Cullen (the action figure not the real one), of course.

(Edward & Gwin)

(Edward hanging up on Ashley)

Day 2: Complete.