Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Day 16: Hump Day!

Today's Distance: 467 miles
Total Distance: about 5227 miles
Today's Destinations: Valdosta, GA

We are officially more than halfway through our trip.  I remarked yesterday that if our month-long trip were one enormous week, the 16th was Wednesday.  Hence the title.

Made it to Georgia a day behind schedule, but we made it nonetheless.  We stayed the night at the home of an old friend of ours who has a 5-year-old daughter.  Staying at a house with a kid is very different from staying at a house without children.  For example, we played duck-duck-goose, she showed me all her toys, and then we all drew and colored until dinner.  She also made a blanket fort, using the legs of people sitting at the sofa as roof support.

I didn't really take pictures until this happened.

This was part of a rousing game of "throw a sheet on Justin's head," which he didn't mind because seriously, this girl is so cute.

Off to NC today - it's a 7+ hour drive so we have to get going pretty soon.

Sunday, June 28, 2015

Day 15: This is where I fell in love with you.

Today's Distance: about 300 miles
Total Distance: about 4760 miles
Today's Destinations: Belhaven College, Cups Espresso Cafe, Jackson, MS; Pensacola, FL

Due to a complete lack of attention to our itinerary, we find ourselves a day behind schedule as Day 15 closes.  We'll just stay a day behind until maybe upstate New York, or possibly after.  There's a bit of wiggle room still in the schedule.

The most remarkable part of today was touring our old campus of Belhaven - seeing what's changed and what looks the same.  Not much has changed really - one of the buildings was rebuilt after a flood or a fire or something like that a few years ago, but it looks exactly the same.  They're building a new residence hall, the kind that actually might be worth living in (basically campus apartments). And a few sections  of the Bowl have inexplicably collapsed in what looks like a spontaneous mudslide.

It wasn't super hot, but it was humid, which quickly made us feel pretty sticky and tired.  We realized that we used to do a lot of walking - probably a couple miles every day.

We went past the Student Center, where we first met; the fountain and the rocking chairs at Fitzhugh where we spent the first few hours talking and getting to know each other; the bench where we would sit when we took walks at night; the dorms where we would hang out (mostly Justin coming over to mine, because the boys' dorm lobbies were awful until they built a new cool one more recently); we drove past the duplex where I lived off campus for a year and a half and where we would say good-bye to each other every night; we didn't go all the way out, but we passed the turnoff for the Reservoir, where Justin asked me to marry him.

This is where our story started.

It's strange how our familiarity with Jackson came back slowly.  This is the way to Kroger, this is the road to the good Walmart, that was where we went to church, there is the exit we don't take even though it says "Belhaven College." Walking around campus was strange . . .  it was, in a way, like a ghost town since it was summer break - and yet it's not really deserted so it was more like we were the ghosts walking through a place that somehow managed to move on without us.

I decided to go to Belhaven because they offered me the best scholarship, the campus was small and pretty, and because I had a good feeling about the place after the dance auditions.  I never expected this to be the place that would stretch me to the brink, challenging my limits physically, emotionally, and spiritually.  I couldn't have imagined that I would form relationships that would shape me as a person, making closer friendships than I'd ever had before - one in particular.

My memories of Belhaven are mostly happy ones, and sometimes I wonder if that would have been the case if I had never met Justin, if we'd never started dating.  Would I have ever left my dorm room outside meals and classes?  Would I have found the church that ended up, perhaps, saving my faith by starting me on the path of making it truly my own? How different might my days at Belhaven, and all the days that have come after, been without this man who entered my life so suddenly, nearly ten years ago?  And where would we have been now, if we hadn't had Belhaven to be together - if we'd remained long-distance friends or worse, pined away for each other from 2000 miles away?  How superficially mature might our relationship have remained, had we not gotten to see each other at our best and at our worst, on this tiny little college?

This is where I fell in love with you.  More than anything, that's what I'll remember about this place.

Day 14: Going Back

Today's Distance: 196 miles
Total Distance: 4462 miles
Today's Destinations: New Orleans Museum of Art in City Park; Jackson, MS

Seems like whenever we stay at someone's house overnight I forget to blog!  Yesterday we went to the New Orleans City Park because we heard it was really cool.  What we didn't know is that it's also really big!  REALLY really big!  We kind of drove around aimlessly trying to find the sculpture gardens, but instead we found something even cooler: The New Orleans Museum of Art!

This museum, like the park in which it stands, is huge.  Three stories and I don't even know how many galleries per floor.  It mostly had paintings by European and American artists, ranging from medieval to modern, but there were also some sculptures, especially in their collections of African, Native American, and Oceanic tribes.  There were also several items in collections from 1800s revival periods (Gothic, Renaissance, Rococo, and Classical revivals, that is).  They also had some Indian, Chinese, and Japanese art and sculpture.

We wandered around in there for I think a couple hours, but it got colder each time we went up a floor, and I had dressed four outdoor New Orleans weather so I was pretty frozen by the time we got to the third floor.  My favorite galleries were the Dutch and Flemish Renaissance one (no Peter Paul Reubens or Rembrandt but several similar artists) and the early modern art one (a few Picassos, a Kandinsky, some Monets and a Manet, among others).  There were also a few big 19th-century portraits that were almost like photorealism - the way they captured light and dimension, the sharpness or fineness or whatever of the brush strokes, were really remarkable.  Oh, and there was a gallery for five Louisiana artists, as I understood it.  One of them had lost hist brother in 9/11 - he had been a fireman.  Anyway, he created these portraits of a ghostly white World Trade Center floating in a blue background, each one showing the buildings from a different angle.  They were sort of wispy and translucent, giving this impression of existing in another dimension or being partly material and partly ethereal.  They were very beautiful but also very sad.

We ate lunch on the road (leftovers from Aunt Cindi's) and started the drive to Jackson.  I keep fiddling with the settings on our GPS and I had it set yesterday to the most fuel-efficient setting, so instead of taking I-55 all the way up, we went on a state highway that runs parallel to it, which included taking a causeway over Lake Ponchartrain.

Lake Ponchartrain is like a miniature ocean.  Okay, maybe it's not that big when compared to other large bodies of water that are also not oceans, but that causeway was like 20-something miles long and while you're on it, you can't see anything but water.  It was really cool.  Taking the alternate highway also made for a really beautiful scenic drive past lots of Southern country homes.  It took a little longer, but we had a lot of time to kill so it wasn't a big deal.

Jackson, MS, is where Justin and I went to college (Belhaven University), where we started dating, and where we got engaged.  We both loved it there and have many great memories so it's really nostalgic for us being back.  We're staying with one of my former dance professors and her husband, and I spent a lot of yesterday hearing about how the dance department has expanded, how it has changed, and how it's stayed the same.  Today we're going to walk around the campus a little bit for old time's sake, but we also need to run some errands (like getting the oil changed in the car).  I wish we could stay longer, but at the same time, it is summer so school isn't in session and anyway, most of the people we knew are no longer in town.  You know what they say about going back - you can never really go back.  But it's nice to visit once in a while.

Friday, June 26, 2015

Days 12-13: Good Food, Good Fun, and Some Reflections on Slightly Deeper Stuff

Today's Distance: About 430 miles
Total Distance: about 4266 miles
Today's Destinations: New Orleans, Louisiana

So yesterday we ended up not going to Dallas after all.  It was disappointing not to see the friends we were hoping to connect with, but at the same time, we were pretty tired and it was just so good to spend some time with family.  Justin's aunt treated us to a movie - Tomorrowland, which we enjoyed. Not the most original or thoroughly developed storyline, perhaps, and a bit overtly preachy toward the end, but I think it was a relevant movie, especially for youth (which is the target audience, after all).

--- Tangent follows ---
Basically, the premise is that we live in a time when everybody is focusing on all the problems in the world - and there are a lot of them! - but in all the talk and analysis and debate, it can start to feel as if nobody is actually doing anything to make it better, or that everyone has given up.  There's a point toward the beginning of the film when the main character is at school, and all her classes are talking about scary stuff - war and poverty and climate change and whatnot - and in her English class, her teacher is talking about dystopia (mentioning Brave New World, Fahrenheit 451, and 1984 specifically), saying that these fantasies are becoming all too real, and the girl raises her hand and asks, "Can we fix it?" The teachers is dumbfounded and can't think of a reply before the bell rings.

Can we fix it?  If you read Huxley and Orwell, the answer is pretty much "no, you're screwed."  And while I understand the importance of stories like that, as highlighting the seriousness of the hold society can dig itself into, the sorts of moral and/or social disasters we can create for ourselves and then have to live with, when it comes to a real world application I think "can we fix it?" is the question we should really be asking.  And then answering.  And then actually doing something about it.

So yeah, I liked Tomorrowland.

--- Back to the blog ---

So it was great to have a day of rest, and we loved spending more time with Justin's family and especially his aunt.  It felt like a home away from home for a couple days.

Today we got a fairly early start and headed toward New Orleans.  It was a long drive - pretty, but long.  We hit traffic when we got close to Baton Rouge and traveled about 10 miles an hour for a good two hours before things picked up again.  Oh, and we finally had a real, good, Southern rainstorm (only two flashes of lightning that we could see though).  I wish I'd taken a picture out the windshield for my friends back home, because you just haven't experienced rain until you've experienced a Southern storm.  The rain falls in torrents, and you can barely see out your car no matter how fast your wipers are going.  Traffic slows down considerably and all you hear is the shower overhead.  We stopped in Beaumont for lunch (we can now say we've been to Whataburger) in what we thought was a lapse in the storm, but by the time we got out it was pouring again.  I'd forgotten what it was like to slosh through a puddle of warm rainwater.  You don't experience that in the North, not even in the summer.  It's a pretty weird feeling.

Anyway.  You know you're in New Orleans when you see Spanish moss and swampland.  I started singing "The Swamps of Home" from Once Upon a Mattress in my head as we drove across a long, low bridge that just goes over several miles of swamp.  Who decided it was a good idea to build a city here?  French people, that's who.  A city on a swamp that receives annual doses of hurricane and was almost wiped out during Katrina.  Who decides it's a good idea to stay here?  The people who call it home, I guess.  That's the thing about home - sometimes it chooses you rather than the reverse.  It's not always the place that is safest or smartest or most logical to live in.  It's just the place where you belong, and for a lot of people, that's New Orleans.  So year after year, they batten down the hatches and endure the storms.  Nearly 10 years after Katrina, they continue day after day to pick up the pieces and rebuild.  That's what you do when you love something.  I never understood that about New Orleans until today, I think.

We met some friends and their kids (two adorable little boys) for dinner at this great restaurant in Metairie (a suburb) called Copeland's.  Reason #1 to love this place: free valet parking.  Reason #2: friendliest and happiest staff probably ever.  The valet people talked to us about their trip, and our server was so friendly.  We would have had a great time even if the food had only been okay.  Reason #3 to love Copelands: GREAT food.  I had crab-stuffed shrimp, which (if you love seafood) is even more amazing than it sounds.  Reason #4 to love Copelands: it is not expensive!  Moses Lake people, think Michael's on the Lake food (better, really) at Michael's Bistro prices.  It was $40 with a generous tip and a $5 donation, which brings me to Reaons #5: once a year they collect a donation to help cancer patients in the immediate area.  And for every $5 you give, they give you a $10 gift certificate to any Copeland's restaurant.  We probably won't get a chance to return, but it's a great cause so why not?

So anyway, I'm glad that such a long day turned into such a great night!  We also finished Going Postal - two thumbs up! I need to read more Terry Pratchett - and started reading Agatha Christie's The Clocks.  I read this last year  back-to-back with about ten other Poirot mysteries so I have a foggy idea of how the story turns out.  Justin has only started reading Agatha Christie though so I'm reading it to him, trying to appropriate my best British accents (haven't gotten to Poirot's entrance yet but my French accent is very bad).  I'm not sure whether he likes that or not but it's almost involuntary when I read British novels, just as I can't help reading To Kill a Mockingbird with a Southern drawl.

I had an iced pecan mocha at the restaurant and completely finished it before realizing that caffeine at this hour was a bad idea.  Sigh . . .

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Day 11: Home Is Where the Family Is

Today's Distance: 236 miles
Total Distance: 3836 miles
Today's Destinations: The Alamo; Aunt Cindi's

We let ourselves sleep in this morning because we've been driving long hours the past couple days and got pretty tired.  I bit the bullet and started buying those bottled Frappucino drinks because you can find them in gas stations and that gives me a good enough jolt of caffeine to keep me going.  But anyway, we knew we only had about a four-hour drive, so we didn't even get out of the hotel until close to 10 this morning.

The streets here are Crockett and Bonham, in case you can't read it

We had a short drive to the Alamo.  If you've never been there, it may surprise you to find that the Alamo is tucked right in the middle of downtown San Antonio, with modern commercial buildings all around it.  You'd have no idea you were even getting close to a historic site except that the streets and many of the businesses bear names like Crockett, Bowie, etc.

Then there it is, this crumbly old wall that once was the only thing separating about 200 volunteer freedom fighters from 6500 professional Mexican troops. It reminded me a little of Rome, where you can see 2000+ year old buildings and ruins just sitting around like it's no big deal.

Admission to the Alamo is free.  There are donation boxes everywhere, and you can buy a commemorative photo from them (we didn't), and you can buy stuff at the gift shop (we did).  We paid $7 to park for two hours and I paid $12 for souvenirs (a Christmas ornament and a postcard), and that was it.  So it's a pretty cheap way to experience a famous piece of history if you're in the area.

Instead of paying for a photo we tried to take our own.  Again, we failed.

There are rules, though, which you can read as you enter.  Certain buildings don't allow photography, you must remove your hat inside the shrine, and there is a dress code which includes no "offensive" clothing.  They don't get super-specific about what constitutes offense.  Considering that the Confederate flag still flies at the South Carolina capitol after 9 people were murdered by a white supremist, I imagine it's yoga pants.

Anyway.  I learned a lot about the history of the Alamo, which, as a history teacher, was very helpful to me.  Also, the courtyard inside the wall is beautiful - just beautifully landscaped so that you actually kind of forget that you're in the middle of a busy metropolitan area.  The street noise is muffled, the trees provide shade and some relief from the heat (not from the humidity though), and there's a sense of peace throughout.

It is a little freaky - sobering, I guess - to think about people giving their lives for the ground you're standing on, about them dying right under your feet, even if it is almost 200 years ago.  I've never been to a battlefield before, although we would like to go to Gettysburg later on in this trip.  More than anything, it makes me sad.  Sad that this was the cost of freedom - that it still is.  Sad that even today, we can't seem to solve problems peacefully a lot of the time.  Sad that the nation-state which fought so hard for freedom from oppression later fought just as hard for the freedom to oppress others.

the iconic Shrine, which has been partially restored (most of the roof has been rebuilt)

On that note - one black man fought in the battle of the Alamo.  His name was John.  He is listed on the wall of the defenders, the Heroes of the Alamo - equal to those he fought beside, yet not equal.  He has no last name, and unlike the others, no place of origin is listed for him - nothing but "a black freedman" as his description.  He fought alongside everyone else, yet he had neither family nor state to call his own.  That, too, makes me sad.

All in all, the Alamo is a neat place.  If you get a chance, go in the gift shop and check out the model of the Battle of the Alamo.  It was the one thing Justin remembered seeing in his childhood, and I wish they'd allowed photography in there because I wanted to take a picture of grown-up Justin looking down at all the little figures.  The forts I made as a kid with Lincoln logs suddenly seemed way less awesome, looking at that.

It's like this, but like twice as big and with plants and tiny soldiers and horses all over it!  There's even pieces of cottonballs to depict smoke!

So like I said, it was a four-hour drive after that to Justin's aunt's house, a beautiful ranch in the country not far from College Station.  When I say "beautiful," I mean "Justin and I want a house exactly like this someday."  Between the time Justin was last here, and now, they've completely renovated it, and it seriously belongs in Better Homes & Gardens or on HGTV or something.  Everything looks up-to-date and high-end but it also has a warmth and coziness that makes one feel immediately at home.

Our original plan was to go to Dallas tomorrow for a day trip, but we may end up just staying here as we're having a hard time coordinating with our friends.  We don't mind that at all.

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Day 10: Forces of Nature

Today's Distance: 510 miles
Total Distance: 3600 miles
Today's Destinations:  UFO Museum, Roswell, NM; San Antonio, TX

Roswell was a late addition to our itinerary, as I mentioned yesterday, but it's more-or-less on the way to San Antonio from Santa Fe.  Main Street is pretty much a tourist trap, with several UFO-themed gift stores, alien-decorated restaurants, and even alien-eyed street lights.


The so-called International UFO Museum and Research Center mostly focuses, of course, on the events of July 1947 that some people still believe was an extraterrestrial landing the government hushed up (or rather, has failed miserably to hush up, or else why would there be a museum about it?).  It also documents other reports of alien abductions, UFO sightings, and things of that nature.  Interestingly, it also provides information about IFOs, or flying objects that have been identified as camera movement during time-lapse photography, eclipses, model aircraft, a hat thrown in the air, or even a hubcab thrown in the air.  These images look strikingly similar to the photographic evidence of UFOs thirty feet away.

UFA sighting (Unidentified Flying Apostrophe)

I'm not saying I absolutely believe there is no life on other planets.  I just think a society advanced enough to travel light years to another planet would probably be smart enough to avoid a collision in what is possibly the flattest area of the country I've ever seen; and that for all the claims of government threatening to kill people for speaking up about what they saw at Roswell, the museum exposing said government conspiracy appears to be perfectly undisturbed by the military facility roughly three blocks away.  They had some nice-looking models and things though.

a model of a saucer crashing into Roswell.  To be fair, there is a bit of a hill there.  

From there, it was a long drive to San Antonio, Texas.  During this time we saw a lot of storm clouds (which for a few moments had me wondering if New Mexico gets tornadoes).  We hadn't seen a drop of rain this whole trip, and the car was starting to look like it had driven through 3000 miles of country without a drop of rain.  So I was pretty excited when we finally did drive through a cloud burst, hoping the car would get wet enough to look at least a little cleaner.  Unfortunately, shortly after the cloud burst, we drove through Pecos, Texas, perhaps the dustiest and windiest piece of real estate I've ever encountered.  By then our car was sporting some lovely brown racing stripes.  I got hopeful once again when we parked at the hotel and it started raining; unfortunately, San Antonio rain is something like Moses Lake rain, in that it lasted about 30 seconds and then quit.  So now our car bears both stripes and polka-dots, which I think is a little flashy.

We changed time zones again, so although it's 8:30 Central Time, my brain and body have no idea what time it is apart from dinner time.  Therefore, I am now going to eat a gyro from Uncle Vinnie's Pizzeria, an "Italian" place that serves "Greek" food with a side of fries.  I don't care what it is though. I'm hungry.

Monday, June 22, 2015

Day 9: Land of Enchantment and Objects in Space

Today's Distance: over 574 miles (going by Google Maps, since I can never remember to check the odometer)
Total Distance: over 3000 miles
Today's Destinations: Georgia O'Keeffe Museum, Santa Fe, NM; Roswell, NM

Greetings from Roswell!  We had a really long day of driving today so we got into town too late to see anything but a few aliens. (You know, on fences and in front of businesses.)  Tomorrow we want to hit the museum before venturing into Texas and our next destination, the Alamo.

New Mexico looks pretty much like Arizona, although as you go east it gets more yellow and spotty.

 We got an early start and started listening to an audiobook we rented from Cracker Barrel: a British thriller called Girl on a Train.  We got through the first disc, but partway into the second, there was no audio (the CD was still playing, according to my CD player . . . just no noise).  We fiddled with it for some time before abandoning the book altogether.  Justin found the synopsis online and read it to me, and I felt like maybe we dodged a bullet.  Let's just say, the plot is not Agatha Christie - which isn't a problem, unless you read a lot of Agatha Christie (which we do).  On the plus side, I will say that it's well written for a debut novel, and that as much as I generally loathe the use of present tense in prose, it works in this particular book because of the way the narrative is structured and, I think, because of the personality of the protagonist.  I dunno.  Give it a try and tell me what you think.

So after that, we started reading aloud to each other again - this time, Terry Pratchett's Going Postal.  We've seen the movie (loved it) but each of us has only read one Pratchett novel (well, I've read one; Justin's read a book he coauthored with Neil Gaiman) so we decided to give it a go.  We're now 150 pages in and loving it.  Sharp, dry humor characteristic of Pratchett (Douglass Adams or even James Barrie are similar in this respect, if you're not familiar), and the story is engaging and fun even when  you already know the story, as we more or less do from the movie.

Nevertheless, we both got pretty sleepy during parts of the day - partly because the Super 8 we stayed at last night, although great in most respects, had very hard beds (wonderful pillows though).  I think another reason for our lassitude [vocab word] was the monotony of the drive.  It was a long 300 miles from Flagstaff to Santa Fe, and during that time the ground all looked pretty much the same.

When we reached Santa Fe and got a look at the New Mexico licence plate up close, we noted that the state slogan is "land of enchantment."  I remarked that this may be a reference to the dullness of the drive putting us into a hypnotic state, but this may not be what they meant by it.

Santa Fe is a city wholly committed to embracing its roots.  Most of the buildings downtown are built in the adobe style - even ethnic restaurants.

I knew in advance that, since Arizona wisely does not use Daylight Savings Time, we would be jumping forward an hour when we reached New Mexico.  However, this thought escaped both of us today, until we reached the Georgia O'Keeffe Museum at approximately 4:20 thinking it was 3:20.  The museum closes at 5, leaving us a very little time to see as much as we could.  Fortunately, the people at the admission counter charge only half price when you get there late ($6 instead of the usual $12 - which is still cheaper than the Steinbeck museum), and since their computers weren't working properly, they ended up deciding to charge us the rate of one New Mexico resident ($8 for the both of us).  We thanked them, rushed to the end of the museum, and made our way forward.

The end part of the museum right now is all photographs, mostly taken of Georgia and mostly done by her husband.  If we hadn't been in a hurry I'd have taken more time with them, but I wanted to get to the paintings.  I've only recently become an O'Keeffe fan, when my mom and I took a painting class at the MAC and did a study, of sorts, of her giant red poppy (which, by the way, was not at this museum, as it is in the Metropolitan Museum of Art).

Georgia O'Keeffe is known mostly for painting flowers and bones, although she did many other things as well.  I like that she painted flowers and bones, and that she often painted them together, as they're things that don't seem to go together unless you really think about it.  She also liked painting small things (like flowers) on a really big scale, to examine them up close.

I love her flower paintings

one of my all-time favorites

One of my favorite paintings in the museum actually was of a part of a pelvis.  If you don't know what it is, it looks like a blue circle surrounded by curves of white, and the whole composition is a harmonious blend of shape and color.  Then you find out it's a pelvic bone, and you think it's weird.  But why does it have to be weird?  Pelvic bones are functional, in that they support a lot of important parts of the body.  But the form of the bones themselves is also beautiful, a fact I'd never considered until I looked at that painting.  Reflecting on this now, I'm reminded of the cancelled-too-soon TV show Firefly by Joss Whedon.  In the episode "Objects in Space," he attempted to demonstrate this very principle of existentialism by drawing attention to objects and exploring their existence as objects in and of themselves, divorced from their meaning (e.g. a ball is a toy you bounce, but it's also just a round object).  We often don't appreciate, as a character in the show said, "the substance of things.  Objects in space."  Art sometimes exists to remind us to see things, not just for what they can do, but for what they are in a completely different sense.

another pelvis, though I like the white and blue one better

Like I said, we had to move through the museum quickly, so I didn't get much time to reflect on what I saw.  O'Keeffe was more versatile as an artist than I had known before.  I knew her, as I said, for her paintings of flowers and skulls, and also her landscapes.  I didn't know that she also did some abstract art - abstractions of physical objects but also purely abstract art, art that doesn't represent anything in particular.  I also had no idea she sculpted.

these make me think of music - like violin scrolls and bass clefts

After leaving the museum, we continued on to Roswell, which was a late addition to our itinerary (partly added to break up the drive between Santa Fe and San Antonio).  The ground got a little greener, but also flatter, so it was a relief to finally make it to this little tourist trap.

Sunday, June 21, 2015

Day 8: Beyond Words

Today's Distance: keep forgetting to check before we leave the car
Total Distance: ditto
Today's Destinations: Grand Canyon; Flagstaff, AZ

I'm having a hard time thinking of what to write for today's post.  The immensity of what I saw left me speechless today.  The Grand Canyon . . . words can't describe it.  Pictures can't capture it.  The imagination itself can't fully comprehend it.

What surprised me about it first was the vegetation.  I'd always pictured the Grand Canyon as being this empty desolation, just soil and rock for miles, but in reality, it is teeming with life - all different kinds of life too.  It comprises multiple climates due to its enormous size, so each climate is home to its own unique plants and animals.  It truly amazes me how anything can grow in the desert (and I'm from the desert), yet in the words of Jeff Goldbm, "life finds a way."


The second thing that surprised me about the canyon is its complexity.  It's not this big, flat space at the bottom of these big, flat  cliffs.  It's a labyrinth of columns and mesas and pillars and plateaus and precipices.  Every angle in every viewpoint gives you something new to look at.

But of course, the most amazing thing of all is its size.  Its scale.  Its scope.  This is where words fail me.  Immense, enormous, huge, grand, gigantic, colossal, tremendous, massive, monstrous, vast. Those don't really cut it.

It's not just the height from the top of the canyon to the bottom, or the distance from the north rim to the south rim.  What impressed me the most is how extensive it is.  If you approach the canyon from the south, you can't see it from the road.  In fact, you can't see it from the visitor center.  This is largely because of the trees - again, something I didn't expect - obscuring any distant view. You have to walk or drive to a viewpoint before you can see anything.  But as you drive east along the desert road, suddenly the landscape opens up, and you can see into the distance, and it's right there!  And as we kept driving, it kept going!  Mile after mile, on and on, seemingly without end!  I thought our three hours driving around the southern rim had given me a good idea of the Grand Canyon's size, but seeing it extend along the Colorado River as we drove east just dumbfounded me.  How can something BE that big?  How is this even possible?

All in all, it was a pretty amazing way to spend Justin's birthday.

Justin's Birthday and Reflections on Traveling, Marriage, and Life

Today is Justin's birthday! We're going to see the Grand Canyon today, which we're really excited about.  I'm also a little scared, because while I love nature and the outdoors and cool geological features, I am not so good with heights or cliffs or ledges.  I'll let you know if I pass out at any point today.

Justin and I met over 9 years ago, so sometimes it feels like we've known each other forever. We did a lot of growing up at college and in the years after, so I've watched Justin mature emotionally and spiritually.  We've helped each other grow and we've been there for each other during some difficult times - my parents' divorce, his grandmother's failing health, the difficulties of school and work and life.

I was thinking about this yesterday in light of our road trip.  It's been a lot of fun so far, but it's also been really stressful.  We're doing things neither of us is comfortable doing in order for both of us to continue moving forward.  One example is driving.  Neither of us likes driving in traffic, and in the last few days we've yelled at cars, at the GPS, at Los Angeles, and at each other quite a bit.  But we've also helped each other, apologized to each other, and taken the wheel for each other when the other was too tired or frustrated (or scared!) to continue.  We do things we don't like because we love each other, and in doing those things, we become better people.  Soft-spoken, indecisive Justin becomes bolder and more confident; I, the fearful worrywart, become more courageous and willing to take risks.  And even though we have snapped at each other a few times, through it all it's really felt like Justin and me against the world (or at least against southern California), and that together we are accomplishing something neither of us could have attempted on our own.  We become something more than each of us is on our own.  I think that's what "becoming one" really means - we're two broken individuals who together make one pretty great person.

Justin and I are still in the beginning of our road trip and the beginning of our marriage.  The future looks a little scary, but it's also brimming with possibility and the promise of exciting new things.  We just have to hold on to each other and go forward the same way we've come this far - together.

Saturday, June 20, 2015

Day 7: Country Roads

Today's Distance: 361 miles
Total Distance: 2202 miles
Today's Destinations: Phoenix, AZ

Our goal today was just to get to Phoenix, where we are looking forward to meeting an old friend.  So other than stopping every two hours or so to stretch, walk around, and change drivers, we've just been plowing straight ahead on the road.  It's been great actually.

First of all, the difference between the California coast and California inland is stark.

California, near San Diego

further inland

It actually looks pretty similar to the Columbia Basin, with two differences: 1) the rock formations are not basalt.  I don't know what they are but they're really, really different.

2) I didn't see much, if any, cheat grass.  Cheat grass is not native to North America.  It is an invasive weed that threatens shrub-steppe habitats (sagebrush and other desert stuff).  Because it's so dry, the risk of wildfire is very high in a shrub-steppe environment; however, shrub-steppe habitats consist of plants with lots of dead space around them.  This space makes it more difficult for fires to spread, providing a little bit of natural fire resistance to the area.  Cheat grass grows everywhere, making an uninterrupted path for a fire to grow along.  You can learn more about this at the Columbia National Wildlife Refuge or onlin at http://www.ext.colostate.edu/pubs/natres/06310.html

Another cool thing about today is that I-8 gets really close to the Mexican border.  We could see what we believe to be a fence separating the two countries at the closest point.

When we crossed into Arizona, it felt like the temperature climbed immediately.  My car said it as 111 degrees Fahrenheit.  We cold feel the heat just by putting our hands up close to the windows or windshield (not even touching it).


I was pretty excited to see cacti.  I don't think I've ever seen cacti growing wild on the side of the road before; I didn't know they got so big!


If you didn't read it already, please check out Justin's lovely post about the beauty of being in the desert.  That's really how we felt today.  You might think that driving through 300 miles of desert would be the most mind-numbingly boring thing one could possibly do, but after three days of big cities and all the stress that goes along with them, it felt great to be on the open road again, able to talk and laugh and listen to music without constantly looking for the next turn or having to cross 5 lanes of heavy traffic or finding a place to park.  We could just be, and that was something we really needed at this point.

If you are feeling stressed by the busyness of life, I recommend taking a drive out of town.  Go someplace quiet where you can sit and relax, or just get in your car and drive and don't worry about where you're going (as long as you then drive back home).  It can be a really peaceful experience.