Friday, November 28, 2014

Heading Home

November 28 (Day 39 and beyond)



As we turn back to South Texas on Sunday morning, I have to say my expectations for this trip have been met and exceeded in so many ways.  It has been a lifelong dream to ”see the USA in my Chevrolet…” (you have to be of a certain age to know what that’s about!), and the places we have visited have been remarkable each in their own way.  The destinations, however, have not been entirely what this trip was about.  Indeed, it was the in-between spaces…the journey…that made this trip so special.

And so it is with life.  Life is lived in the spaces between the big events.  The highs and lows—just like the desert valleys and mountain tops we’ve seen driving over 5000 miles in these past 7 weeks—are what make a life.   MB and I marked wanted to mark our retirements with this sort of once-in-a-lifetime cross country trip, and we feel fortunate to have seen that dream come true.  We feel blessed and ready for the rest of the journey!

Finally, I’ve tried to make this blog about the remarkable places we have been and the amazing things we have seen.  I’ve avoided a blog of “selfies” because I didn’t want our experience documented as a “Flat Stanley” trip.  But, as this journey comes to an end, here are a few final photos of the places we’ve been…and some of the very special folks who were along for the journey.
Mike with his uncle and aunt, Joe and Clara Briones...and his cousin, Erik,,,in Santa Fe

Rio Grande Gorge

A grand day at the Grand Canyon!

Nothing like good times with old friends, Mark and Carol, in Palm Springs...
...and friends both old and new:  Stan, James, Trey, and Michael in Palm Springs

Happy to have found a rare place in the shade in Palm Springs

With Stephanie and our Whidbey friends, David and Ervin
Mike and Stephanie take over the Seattle Pike Place Market

Another sticky situation I found myself in...

...and then this happened.  No subsequent arrest, though...

On the Oregon Coast

Lewis, Clark, and Briones
In Vail, Einstein remains seemingly unconvinced by Mike's argument.

Let it snow!
And now...May God bring us safely home!

--Scott and Michael, November 28, 2014

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Gratitude

Thanksgiving--Thursday, November 27 (Day 38)

Although we are supposed to count our blessings everyday, I'm even more mindful of the many blessings I have in my life on Thanksgiving every year.  I'm sure many others feel that way, too.

My heart is especially gratitude-filled this year...for family (Adam--I am missing you greatly today!), for health (yowza!), for dear friends, for a wonderful career, and for this trip.

The turkey and dressing are ready to go in the oven...the green bean casserole will be soon...and MB will be making his famous mashed potatoes, as requested by the grandkids.  Life is good, God is great, and bellies will soon be full.  Happy Thanksgiving to all!

The colors of Fall in Napa Valley, CA...November 2014


Tomorrow:  Headed Home




Wednesday, November 26, 2014

And finally...Vail!

Sunday and Monday, November 23-24 (Days 34 and 35)

The drive from Grand Junction to Vail came with the possibility of some extreme driving conditions (well, extreme for South Texans), and the forecasts were right.  Snow had fallen along the route, enough to dust the red-rock mesas with snow to look like huge slices of red velvet cake covered with confectioner’s sugar. 


The fallen snow became much deeper as we drove east, and began falling heavily just west of Eagle County and Vail.  By the time we arrived at Vail late on Sunday, a thick blanket covered the entire Streamside property, and we were happy to have arrived safely.  Our home for the next several days provided just what we needed:  a beautiful view of the landscape outside, and a fireplace to keep us warm since the temperatures outside hovered near 10 degrees!



Monday was a driving day to pick up Natalie and the girls in Denver.  The drive over was intense, to say the least.  A winter storm warning was in effect, and Vail and Loveland passes were snow and ice-packed.  Large rigs with tire chains were driving very cautiously and the big snow plows did their best to clear I-70.  I’d never driven in these conditions before—very heavy falling snow becoming foglike, at times.  A wet, slushy covering over the sheet of ice topped the roadway—“We are not in Corpus Christi anymore,” I thought to myself.  All were driving carefully and courteously, and just past Idaho Springs, the snow stopped and the clouds broke for a beautiful drive into Denver.


Of course, we had to turn around and drive back into it a couple of hours later, but this time with the girls excited about all they were seeing with the snow and mountains.  It really looked like a Christmas card!




And so, here we are!  We will settle in for these days of relaxation in the mountains of Colorado, and I will post to this blog twice more-- on Thanksgiving Day, and a final post for this trip on Friday.  After that, we begin the long trek home after nearly seven weeks on the road.  We have many stories to tell and very much to be thankful for.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Oregon to Colorado

Wednesday, November 19 (Day 30)

Drive Day—Columbia Gorge, Western Oregon, and on to Boise

Leaving Portland to travel east, we learned what winter is all about!  Icy rain pelted us along our drive through the Columbia River Gorge.  I was not familiar with this area at all, and was surprised at how wide the river is…and how strongly the winds howled through the gorge!  Temperatures dipped into the 20s as the gale-force winds created whitecaps on the river.

Columbia River Gorge from I-84...Brrrr!

Despite being a little white-knuckled as I drove, I was in awe of what we were seeing.  The scenery was dramatic, with mountains, then cliffs, then the other-worldly look of the windswept hills near The Dalles, Oregon.  It was there we captured this photo of what cold can look like in the Northwest!


The Dalles, Oregon

Idaho's version of Oz

After the long drive through the Eastern Oregon plains, we arrived again at the mountains at Pendleton, and saw many beautiful scenes as we made our way into Idaho.  The recent snows had left a beautiful impression along the way.  Not far from the Idaho border, we saw this concrete plant near a small town—I remarked to MB that it looked like we had arrived in Oz!


We crossed the Snake River into Idaho after sunset and were glad to be safely in Boise, where eight inches of snow earlier in the week remained on the streets thanks to the 18-degree temperatures.

Thursday, November 20 (Day 31)

Boise

Boise is a surprising city in many ways.  Traffic was busy and downtown was hopping on Thursday night, where we made our way to a delicious dinner at Fork, a block or so away from their capitol building.  The food was fresh and tasty, and we were in need of a good meal after our long day of errands.
Huskey says, "Hey!"

Being on the road for so many weeks, we needed a day to catch up on “to-dos,” including a trip to Scrubby’s Laundromat and an oil change for our faithful chariot.  Unfortunately, the windshield sprayer motor went kaput, and not at a good time as we anticipated snow and ice in Colorado.  We discovered that Boise folks are quick to help and ready to talk.  We got to know Rafael, the manager at Einstein’s Oilery…an unnamed Good Samaritan at the radiator shop who took off from his project to help us lowlanders with our situation...and Dean, the friendly owner of Huskey’s Auto Electric, whose friend greets patrons at the door…



Friday, November 21 (Day 32)

Drive Day—Southern Idaho and Salt Lake City

Early Friday morning, we were on the road again (after yet another Senior Fit Omelet at Denny’s!) to Salt Lake City.  Southeastern Idaho is a remote and desolate landscape, and a climate inversion had trapped a haze over the area much like what we experienced in California.  This made the drive a bit difficult as the bright sunlight was intensified in the haze.  This cleared as we turned south on I-84 toward Salt Lake City.

Utah is such a beautiful state, and seeing the expanse of the Great Salt Lake emerge on the landscape to the west of the interstate is quite a sight.  As we drove, we talked about what the first settlers there must have thought about such a strange and beautiful place.

Salt Lake City was truly a stopover for us on our way to Vail, so after settling into our hotel, we followed our normal course of action—find food.  Since it was a Friday night, we first settled on a hip happy hour bar downtown, Whiskey Street, as our warmup for dinner.  We made our way down Main Street to Eva, with its eclectic mixture of small plates and “baker’s pies,” which were, in fact, pizzas with interesting combinations of local ingredients.  Mine:  the vegan pie, with butternut squash, arugula, dried cranberries, spicy red onion, and a few other ingredients I forget—delicious!  At the other end of the food spectrum, MB ordered the “pig threeway,” a pie with—you guessed it—ham, Italian sausage, and some other variation of pork.  Oink!  He said his, too, was outstanding.

Saturday, November 22 (Day 33)

Eastern Utah and Grand Junction

The drive from Salt Lake City took us south on I-15, then west on I-70 to Grand Junction.  I had no idea what the scenery would be in eastern Utah—breathtaking!



Outside Salina, we saw mountains with strata of dark red rocks…


…then the amazing Salt Wash…


…and the Devil’s Canyon.



While it was cold and sometimes a bit rainy outside, the clouds provided for some terrific lighting for photographs.  Descending into the lower elevations west of the Colorado border, the sight of huge rock formations, mesas, and mountains was almost overwhelming.  MB pegged it when he said it felt like we were in an IMAX movie!



In Grand Junction, we picked up a few provisions at the liquor store and the local WalMart, in preparation for a week in Vail.  Last spring at the Corpus Christi Symphony “Pops in the Park” event, I was the sole bidder on a silent auction item for a week at the Marriott Streamside Condominiums in Vail at Thanksgiving.  That, in fact, became somewhat of the “anchor” for this long trip, and we have looked forward to spending an entire week in such a beautiful and relaxing location.  MB’s daughter and children will come for the week—the grandkids’ first time in the mountains or snow!


Grand Junction has a very cool downtown, though surprisingly not many folks were out and about on a Saturday night.  The length of their main drag is similar to Chaparral Street in Corpus Christi, it appeared, and the configuration of the street had been altered for a more pedestrian friendly atmosphere.  Beautiful Christmas lights were displayed and several restaurants offered interesting menus, from French to locally-grown organic fare.  We opted for the latter at CafĂ© Sol, where we decided the 15-vegetable minestrone was some of the best food we had eaten in our month-plus on the road.

Next:  The road to Vail


Friday, November 21, 2014

Seattle, Portland (Part II), and the Incredible Oregon Coast

Sunday, November 16 – Tuesday, November 18 (Days 27-29)




Sunday was "Seattle Day" for us.  After a quick trip back on the ferry and a check-in at our hotel, we made our way to the Pike’s Place Market on the waterfront via the light rail system.  Crowds took advantage of the sunny skies to enjoy an afternoon in the market and adjoining shops…







...we saw interesting examples of self-expression...









...along with examples of those who just cannot follow the rules!










Our day ended with an amazing dinner at Palisade, overlooking Elliot Bay Marina and downtown Seattle on a cloudless night…thanks, Stephanie, for the perfect ending to a truly perfect weekend!


After taking Stephanie to the SeaTac airport, we left Monday morning for two days in Portland.  The weather had greatly improved upon our return, and after resting at the hotel for a while, we took a ride into the Pearl District for dinner at ¡Oba!  What a meal!  I usually think it is silly for folks to take photos of their food, but I was so enthusiastic about the enchiladas de calabaza that I couldn’t resist!


Facebook friends suggested that I try to recreate the recipe, but the flavors and spices were so complex and layered, I think that would be impossible!  I’ll just have to let this delicious fare remain a very pleasant memory!

On Tuesday, we drove out to the Oregon Coast and enjoyed the views from Tillamook to Seaside—unlike anything we had ever seen!  The temperatures in the mountains were in the upper 20s, but moderated to the 50s as we approached the coastline.  Driving north, we saw many amazing scenes, both high and low.  This had been another “bucket list” item for me—seeing the Pacific coastline from the cliffs of Oregon. 

We have been fortunate throughout this trip to have so many amazing photo opportunities, and our very best shots have been taken with iPhones rather than our more sophisticated camera.  Typically, we have been in just the right place at the right time, with great lighting and vibrant colors.  The photos I've posted here on the blog have not been filtered or enhanced, and most were taken with the phone.  

Some of the best pictures we have taken were shot north of Garibaldi on the coastline on Tuesday.  The cloudy skies filtered the sunlight, and the reflection on the ocean made the water appear like quicksilver as it approached the shore.  I was afraid we wouldn't be able to adequately capture the beauty we were seeing, but the iPhone proved itself up to the task!  Treasured photos, for sure!




We even managed to rouse a slithery friend that we discovered underfoot as we took our photos of the shoreline!


Portland is known for its food scene, with fresh, local ingredients.  Our good friend, Gail, was coincidentally in the Portland area for work while we were there, so we enjoyed dinner together at Decarli in Beaverton, one of the highest rated eateries in the Portland area.  I needed a glossary to understand what some of the lesser-known ingredients were; nonetheless, the meal was delicious!

These last few days represent the northernmost points of our long journey.  Now, we turn back east as we head toward Colorado for Thanksgiving.  Next:  the long drive to Boise…then Salt Lake City, Grand Junction, and a snowy (hopefully!) Thanksgiving in Vail.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Portland (Part I) and Whidbey Island

Wednesday, November 12 – Saturday, November 15 (Days 23-26)

MB’s daughter, Stephanie, joined us in Napa Valley.  The drive from Northern California across Oregon was beautiful, but long and exhausting.  By the time we arrived in Portland on Wednesday night, winds were howling at nearly 40 mph through the Columbia Gorge and forecasters predicted ice and snow for the next morning.  We were not looking forward to our drive to Seattle in those conditions the following day!

When we rose on Thursday morning, the temperatures were hovering at freezing, but not quite cold enough for the expected ice to form.  We watched early morning television as all the school closings were announced and I thought back to those tough decisions when I was superintendent.  Do we open?  Do we close for the day?  You have to make those calls very early in the morning on bad weather days in order to set all the operational changes in motion.  You rely on the best guesses of the weather forecasters who are doing as well as they can with the information they have.  And about half the time, you make the right call.

Unfortunately, those poor guys in the Portland area ended up in the wrong half.  The really bad weather never came, and all those kids (and their parents) got the day off (“Mall Day!”).  We did, however, run into some snow (no ice) on I-5 just across the Columbia River in Washington.  Then, just as we arrived near Olympia, the skies cleared and beautiful Mount Rainier showed itself to our east!  For the rest of our time in the Seattle area, the weather was clear, sunny, and beautiful—but chilly!

We arrived at the Mukilteo-Clinton ferry for our trip to Whidbey Island at around 4 p.m.  The ride over was beautiful, with the setting sun casting the snowy peak of Mount Baker in an orange hue behind us.  We took advantage of the comfortable, warm ride in the upstairs deck and enjoyed the striking scenery.

Whidbey Island is over 60 miles long, with Clinton at the southern point and Deception Pass on the north.  We stayed with friends, David and Ervin, who live in Coupeville near the center of the island.  The views from their home were breathtaking, looking east to Mount Baker and the mainland.

They were gracious and hospitable hosts for our three nights there--such terrific friends!  We enjoyed much relaxing conversation and great food at Front Street Grill

Christopher’s on Whidbey, and a delightful restaurant called Ciao, where I enjoyed what may have been the best pizza I have ever eaten:  a delicious vegetarian pie, sans cheese.  The sauce was fresh and delicious, and we enjoyed visiting with the chef as we relaxed with wine and tunes from a jazz trio.





Stephanie stayed at a quaint bed and breakfast, the Blue Goose Inn.  She enjoyed the antique furnishings and hospitality of her hosts.

David took us on a tour of the island on Friday, made all the more enjoyable by the clear, sunny skies (although temperatures topped out in the low 40s). The views across the Strait of Juan de Fuca and along the shore were magnificent…













…as were the grounds of the Fort Ebey State Park…




…and the historic Captain Whidbey Inn.




Wildlife is abundant on Whidbey, and we saw many deer and even eagles soaring overhead on Friday afternoon!  Late Saturday night as David drove us home, we saw a snowy owl perched on the powerline, and we engaged him in a staring contest.

Early Sunday morning after breakfast back at Front Street Grill, we said our goodbyes to a very peaceful Whidbey Island...



We loved visiting this very special island, and made some very special memories here.  We look forward to our next trip, David and Ervin!