A Few Thoughts While Sitting on My “Porch” in Missoula, MT

 

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Noel’s Front Porch (Missoula, MT KOA)

 

It’s not exactly a porch. I am actually sitting on my former camping chair (Henna stole it from me just before we left town) just in front of my car and facing the campground road. Across from me are two adorable little girls helping their dad/grandpa take down the tent. Every few minutes someone walks by and we wave hello to each other. Just now another family walks by with a puppy and the two girls go nuts. Did I mention that I already skimmed the “Missoulian?” It was delivered to my tent sometime before I woke around seven. Although a bit transient, this is really a nice little town.

 

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Northwest Highway/ U.S. 12 along the Lochsa River in Idaho

 

So if you take Northwest Highway (which we take several times a day when we are not camping across America) and go through Park Ridge and then Des Plains and then choose Rand Road and then keep going through Wisconsin you will, after a few days, eventually reach us. And maybe, just maybe, Corey and Henna will be awake.

 

 

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Taos and Santa Fe: Pueblos, Earthships, and Motels

 

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One of the more whimsical Earthships located just outside Taos, NM

 

After a sandy morning we left Great Sand Dune National Park and then had a killer breakfast in Alamosa. Refreshed we drove south to Taos where, just outside the city limits, we stopped to tour an Earthship. No, we were not smoking any Colorado weed. Earthships, unlike Starships, are very much real. First conceptualized by architect Michael Reynolds in the early 1970s, Earthships utilize recycled materials such as tires as well as solar panels and water filtrations systems to create completely off the grid homes. Rain water, for example, is funneled from the roof into a system that uses the resource multiple times. Much of the living space is also below ground which helps regulate the temperature. The model we were allowed to tour was comfortable, cool, and had a very hip southwest feel. It is hard to pin down exactly how much one of these cost but a quick google search found a 1900 square foot home selling for half a million and a much smaller Earthship priced under $200,000.

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Taos was a bit too crowded for our tastes. And overbooked. Regrouping we opted to “plan ahead” which meant that I called a motel in Santa Fe that the three of us stayed at over a decade ago. They only had a few rooms available so we “made reservations.” Knowing then that we had a place to stay we decided to check out the Taos Pueblo where we lingered a bit before taking the very dramatic 70 mile drive south.

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Ruins of the original church built by the Spaniards in 1619 but then destroyed during the Spanish Revolt of 1680. Later rebuilt it was destroyed once more by the United States Army in 1847 which at the time was at war with Mexico.

In Santa Fe we showered, went to bed at a reasonable time, and then spent a wonderful day wandering one of America’s oldest city. At night we chilled in the Plaza and listened to some great music by The Battle of Santiago who describe themselves as a “Canadian Afro-Cuban post rock band.” They had us dancing in our lawn chairs.

 

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Hard to take a bad picture in Santa Fe

 

So now we are rested and one week into our trip. Tomorrow we will be…. I don’t know. And it feels good to say that.

 

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Henna at our temporary home, the Garret Desert Inn in Santa Fe

 

 

From Springfield to KC

 

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Henna begins the hike up Monks Mound in Cahokia Mounds (just north of St. Louis on Interstate 55). The Cahokia settlement was a pre-Columbian city estimated, in the 13th century, to be larger than then London. As of 2017, admission is free.

 

It’s raining south of Kansas City. Yesterday, not too far from here, we met a couple outside a gas station. They saw our plates and wanted to talk about the Cubs. He, a friendly fellow dressed in overalls, told us several stories about him and his relatives catching the Cubs nearly a decade ago when they played the Royals in inter-league play. His pick up truck had a Cubs border around the license plate. And he also has a signed Ron Santo rookie card. Nice people.

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Born outside Cork, Ireland in 1837, Marry Harris “Mother” Jones endured the Civil War, the Chicago Fire, and the death of her husband and four children to yellow fever. A champion of miner rights she was once called the “most dangerous woman in America.” She died in 1930 and was buried along side many of the victims of a late 19th century labor strike/massacre.

Near the end of our conversation, with dark clouds forming above, a crazy looking man with a Scooby Doo inflection in his voice (like the cranky caretaker when he pretends to be a ghost) asked us which way the clouds were heading. The man then kind of chortled when I said had no idea and then, kind of like a prophecy, he warned the fourth may be ruined. I guess maybe he was right.

I have to admit I was a little skeptical when Corey first broached her “no plan” idea for this summer. But yesterday, with no commitments in our future, we stopped several times at places we might have otherwise driven by. And thank you Tom, the Bird Man of Edison Park, for recommending we check out the Mother Jones Monument and Cahokia Mounds. The latter was truly awesome and should be considered on par to Mesa Verde.

 

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What to do when your local high school closes? How about repurposing the building as one giant, permanent flea market. That’s what they did in Livingston, Illinois and it makes for a pretty cool stop.

 

The rain here does not seem willing to move on. But we are. Will catch you up when we get there (wherever that may be).

 

#takingitasitcomes

Yep, our taking it as it comes summer road trip as officially begun. We know one thing, well actually two things for certain. One, we are heading west to the mountains, and two Henna has decided it will be through Kansas.  Yes, Kansas.  After that, anything goes. We will make it up Day by day, with probably the weather guiding us as it looks like it is pretty hot everywhere but the coast.  Yesterday we got a cleansing send off as we pushed through an awesome rain storm, which ended with the most amazing double rainbow.  That’s always a positive sign.  Corey

Galveston, Texas

Seawall Blvd. wraps along the Gulf side of Galveston. On one side is water, a sliver of sand at low tide, and the rocks which make up a tentative barrier against the sea. All the hotels are on the other side and in between are four lanes of highway. There are precious few ways to safely cross the street so we ended up driving across the street. As far as beach towns go we were not that impressed. The next morning though we found the quaint downtown and the quiet state park where we spent most of the day hanging out at the beach. Sometimes it takes a little while to get to know a place.

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Hanging out at Galveston State Park. Campsites on the beach as well as on the bay are available.

First founded as a “pirate kingdom” in the early 19th century, Galveston evolved into a very important and rich port city that was then nearly wiped out by a hurricane in 1900. The worst natural disaster in U.S. history, somewhere between 6,000-8,000 people were killed. Galveston was rebuilt and fortified in part by an influx of immigrants including approximately 10,000 Eastern European Jews. Over the past few decades Galveston has experienced many hurricanes with Ike the most recent uninvited guest.

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Sacred Heart Church, Galveston

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The Star Drug Store first opened in 1906 and has survived several hurricanes and one fire. A counter top place with a few tables, they serve excellent food as well as classic fountain drinks. Hennacornoelidays approved.

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Pleasure Pier is one of several piers jutting into the gulf.

 

Greetings from Abbeville, LA

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Avery Island: home of Tabasco sauce and the Jungle Gardens

Greetings from Abbeville, LA where we just celebrated New Year’s Eve in a very comfortable and relaxing rental. It was a bit touch and go to begin with as our GPS first delivered us to the wrong house. We stumbled about looking for a key before Corey went into the backyard and fun a whole mess of bullet casings. Time to go. The next place looked promising (and was in fact the right home) but we were a bit confused by the police cruiser parked out back. I wondered if 1) I stumbled into a crime scene and 2) if I had a good alibi. Again I could not find the key so I knocked on the door. Nothing. Then I tried to turn the knob and was surprised when the door opened. Now I wondered if maybe there was a napping police officer inside. Trying my best not to get shot, I yelled “tourist from Chicago! Just looking for the home I rented!” Complete silence and I thought about stepping into the house before I heard a dog barking from inside. I ran back to the car and cursed all home rentals. Eventually the mystery was solved (the rental was actually toward the rear of the property). Later we met the our two hosts and found them to be incredibly kind and spirited. He probably would have shot to wound not kill me.

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Jungle Gardens include many Asian plants and artifacts including this thousand year old Buddha.

Abbeville, by the way, is the home base for Steen’s Pure Cane Syrup which is supposedly a staple of southern cooking. A Steen’s recipe book was placed in our kitchen. Flipping through I came to a chapter titled, “Why Pure Cane Syrup Is Necessary In The Diet.” From this chapter I read, “Most mothers are natural worriers about whether they are providing the proper diet for their offspring. Their worries could be put to rest, however, with a daily serving of pure cane syrup…” It goes on to describe how children in Southern Louisiana often snack after school on “syrup sandwiches.” And, of course, “for countless healthy individuals, ‘syrup sopping,’ is the only kind of desert worth mentioning” which consists of “pouring a good quantity of syrup into your plate after the meal is finished and sopping it up with hot, crusty French bread.”  There was a bottle of the stuff in our kitchen so I drizzled a bit on some bread. Not bad. Not bad at all.

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New Years Eve was also the last night of Hanukah. Over the last week we lit candles at Christmas Eve dinner, hotels in southern Illinois and Mississippi and, of course, the Big Easy.

Playing the Blues on the Red Highway

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Where ice and earth meet

Last night was a rough one for Hennacornoelidays. Maybe only equal to that time we camped in a hurricane. Trying my best to fall asleep I imagined a road trip leaving from my house that only went through areas that voted for Hillary. I did not get very far.

The simple truth is that some of the areas we love the most agree with us the least on almost everything. And that is OK. I like people. I like talking politics. And religion. Sometimes this works out well, sometimes not so much. But what to make of the sign on Highway 20 near Chadron, Nebraska that features a snake with President Obama’s head? Or the nice older man camping with his adult daughter near that sign who warned me about black helicopters? The day he did was the same day the Supreme Court paved the way for same sex marriage. Beneath my feet I felt the rural and urban pieces of earth pulling apart.

I love my neighbors. All of them. Some of them have Trump lawn signs. I hope I am wrong and you are right. Other neighbors are devastated right now and this feels a lot different than when Bush was elected/re-elected. My good friend Tom, The Birdman of Edison Park, posted on Facebook what I think is the best way to get through the next four years. Get organized.

As for my other neighbors, Iowa, Wisconsin, Indiana, and Missouri. You should have known better, but I forgive you. I also forgive the fine citizens of Alaska, Wyoming, Montana, North Carolina, Georgia, Ohio, and Pennsylvania. Think it might take me a little while though to forgive Florida due to them being a repeat offender and all. And I honestly did not expect any different from the Dakotas, Alabama, Tennessee, South Carolina, Louisiana, Utah, Idaho, or Mississippi. They are what they are and in time I will forgive them too. Now where can I get a bumper sticker saying, “Don’t blame me, I voted for her?”

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Sometimes the road gives and sometimes the road takes

 

Backbone State Park, Iowa

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Corey and Henna gazing out from the CCC built boat house at Backbone State Park

A couple of days before a possible teachers strike and immediately following one of the most nauseating presidential stories of all time (thanks a million Trump, you smug creep you), we headed to the foothills of Iowa’s “Little Switzerland.” Founded in 1919, Backbone State Park is named for a massive rocky ridge that extends over the very pretty Maquoketa River. A scant 400 million years ago this rock lay below a tropical sea which explains the marine fossils that litter the area. The park spills over a large area and although relatively well marked, it is definitely missing a visitor’s center. So we mostly stumbled around before finding a small cave which only Henna was brave enough to explore.

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Water, sun, and changing leaves; who could ask for more in October

We camped at South Lake where late at night we heard two owls calling to each other. Our loop (in the 30s) backed into a nice stand of trees with a trail that ran parallel to the water. What we enjoyed most though was stepping back into our camping roles. Back home life moves fast but out in the country, with no real plan and nothing we had to do, it felt right to sit back and watch the trees color themselves silly. Best time of our mini-road trip was playing Frisbee right before packing up the tent with a slow breeze blowing the leaves down like rain. The morning fire was still smoking and in that moment I honestly did not care if we went on strike, who the next president might be, or if the Cubs made the World Series. OK, I lied about not caring if the Cubs made the World Series. But it still felt mighty good to be back on the road.

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Backbone State Park is about 4 ½ hours from Chicago. Driving from the east, we recommend taking the very scenic Route 3 from Dubuque. Besides South Lake there are a few other campgrounds both in the State Park as well as the surrounding area.

We Camped in Seward and Had A Few Laughs

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Our campsite in Seward, Alaska

Seward, Alaska is one of the easiest towns to camp in with a couple hundred or so campsites stretched out along the waterfront. You pay for the sites like you would a parking spot; just punch in your site number at a kiosk then swipe a credit card. The place was quite busy the three nights we camped there and the campground was overflowing with the usual coastal Alaskan sorts (lots of Europeans, retired folks in RVs, large families from Anchorage, etc.) as well as a rough looking group of people camped just a few sites away from us. The leader of that last group was a very disheveled, mostly toothless woman somewhere between the age of thirty and ninety (honestly there was no way to tell her age) who talked at a volume louder than most people can yell. Oh, and she sounded exactly like Dale from King of The Hill.

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Seward, Alaska sometime after midnight in mid-July

There also were a trio of squatters who set up their tents just a few feet from ours and well within our campsite boundary. They had appeared in the short time we spent at the beach making dinner. Upon our return they sheepishly explained that they could not find anywhere else to camp and asked nicely if they could stay. We decided they could and even invited them to our fire which they declined. Instead all three disappeared into the larger of their two tents.

Less than thirty minutes later a European couple approached us and asked if we knew where they might be able to camp. We did and through a series of intricate maneuvers made possible due to us having talked to a large friendly family earlier in the day, they ended up camping next to us. Actually they ended up sleeping in their large SUV because they did not have a tent. And then Henna, who was whittling, cut her finger. Not a lot of blood, but she looked quite faint and kept repeating “I’m sorry” while madly gripping her finger. The cleaner bathroom (running water and soap) was a few blocks away and that is where we went to dress her wound. All this tired us out and, despite the bright sun, the loud toothless woman, and our giggling neighbors (who later we learned were stoned out of their minds), we decided to go to bed.

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Eric and Mara with the three of us hiking in Kenai Fjord National Park (Seward, Alaska)

But then a beat up Subaru slowly drove past our campsite before circling back with the driver honking his horn several times. It was our friends Eric and Mara, two backpackers from Holland, whom we had previously met in Juneau. They did not have a car the last time I saw them so I asked them if they had stolen this one. They had not but they did need a place to stay. So I asked the European couple who were about to retire inside their SUV if Eric and Mara could set up a tent and they of course said yes. We then re-lit the fire and cracked open a few beers.

A couple of days later Eric and Mara joined us on a fjord tour. This tour was arraigned months ago as part of an article that I wrote for Splash Magazine. It was a very fun, but also very rocky experience. So rocky, in fact, that many of the passengers became sick with the crew quickly whisking people to the lower, calmer deck the moment their face changed color. The seat directly next to me was like a magnet for the sea sick as each person who sat there had to leave at some point or another.

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The captain was only a bit older than the crew members. Over and over again she would say things like, “wow, we have already seen three bald eagles, a Beluga, and two sea lions.” And then a little while later she would repeat that same line with two more animals included. I am not sure exactly why she doubted our recall abilities, but the voyage felt a whole lot like a very intricate memory game.

Her first mate was a friendly bearded kid named Simon who appeared more Gilligan than hipster. Toward the end of the tour a rogue wave surprised everyone on board. A garbage can fell to the ground and the television monitors flickered. The boat came to a complete halt and it seemed like maybe the ship was seriously hurt. Corey was especially concerned so I tried to reassure her by pointing out that Simon did not look the least bit concerned. And with that Eric leaned over and very deliberately said, “Ah, but Simon has seen some shit.”

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And so have we. It would be impossible not to after traveling over 10,000 miles in a giant circle. And really, when it comes right down to it, what better reason is there to travel than to see a whole bunch of cool shit. I am just happy to have been able to experience it all with my two best friends. I also am very thankful to all of you who have checked in on us throughout the summer. We hope you enjoyed hearing about our adventures as much as we enjoyed sharing them. Like Corey says, however, there can be no road trip without a home to return to. And that is where we are now, happy to be with our friends and family. But it’s always fun to look back at where we have been.

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Victoria Bug Zoo

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Praying Mantis (contrary to public opinion, Praying Mantis are actually secular)

 

Think you know your bugs? Quick quiz, which of the following are actually bugs: spiders, grass hoppers, beetles, or mosquitoes? The answer… none of the above. Bugs are actually an order of insects and include tens of thousands of little buggers but not many of the insects most commonly thought of as bugs. Semantics aside, insects really do get a bum rap. Yes, they can spread diseases around like zika. But they also are an essential food source for birds and a huge aid in farming. However underappreciated they may be elsewhere, they are quite celebrated at the Victoria Bug Zoo which houses over forty species of insects from around the world. All the insects are located in one large room with a couple of guides available to answer your questions. They are also plenty of opportunities to have a more intimate experience with the insects as the guides are not shy about taking them out of their cages. Who doesn’t want a giant tarantula crawling up your arm? Well, I mean besides Corey.

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One of the many Leaf Hoppers found at the Bug Zoo

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A Rose Hair Tarantula at rest in Noel’s hand

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The Victoria Bug Zoo is located at 631 Courtney Street in beautiful Victoria, B.C. For more information, go here.