Monday, May 9, 2011

Return Trip - Day 7 Walpole, MA

Sunday morning we got an early start. We left by 7am and passed the halfway mark sometime around 11am. The weekend radio shows on NPR were being recycled so we listened to some old podcasts on my iPod. The trip through the farm lands of VA, WVA, MD and PA was very pleasant. We stopped to gas up in NJ at the Service Center at Exit 17W on the NJ-TPK. (they still have people pump your gas in Jersey, no self-service). Then we were shocked back to reality trying to cut across traffic to use the EZ pass lane on the GW Bridge. I had to gas up in NJ because I didn't want to buy gas in CN. The first station in CN on 95 was charging $4.45 per gallon. (I wonder if one day I'll look back on this and think, "only $4.45 a gallon")
Our last stop was to drop in on the Nobles in East Greenwhich. Mike had received great news that his latest scan showed he was totally "clean" and we wanted celebrate a little with him. He seems like the old Mike but we need to fatten him up a bit (Pam too).
We stopped for some groceries, then arrived home to a nice "Welcome Home" sign on our garage door from the Kobeys, unpacked the Jeep and quickly settled into our old lifestye. AAAHHH!

Return Trip - Day 6 PM Monticello, VA

Stopping at Monticello was really a great idea. This was well worth the little detour. We really got a lot out of this visit.
The actual house is located on top of a small hill ( a Monti Cello, next to Monti Alta). There are shuttle buses that take you from the visitor center up the hill for the tours. We arrived about 3 pm in time to sign up for the 3:20 tour.

The house is very well furnished with much of Jefferson's actual propery. The house is the original house and even some of the windows are original. In the entry way there are many arifacts from the explorations of Lewis and Clark whose expedition of northwest was sponsored by Jefferson. The rooms have many of Jefferson's books, scientific equipment and artwork that he accumulated over time. He was very interested in education. He read most of his father's books at an early age and taught himself to read and speak a number of languages. (He read Don Quixote in Spanish on his trip to France where he would replace Ben Franklin as ambassador)

Although he died in debt and much of his possessions were sold off to pay the debt, the Society has been able to recover a lot of what was originally in the house.

Jefferson was a very interesting man. He was a farmer, inventor, architect and statesman. He was also a bit of a contradiction. As the drafter of the Declaration of Independence, he penned "all men are created equal", yet he owned over 600 slaves during his lifetime. He was convinced that all the work done by his generation to establish the country would be lost if the slaves were ever freed. At his death, he freed 5 slave who had learned some trades on his plantation (like making nails). He paid to allow these 5 to remain in Virginia. Otherwise, freed slaves had to leave the state within 1 year of being freed. Sally Hemmings, with whom he is supposed to have had a number of children, was not freed. She stayed with Jefferson's daughter who finally freed her.
The Jefferson's are buried in a plot not far from the manor house.

This was a very enjoyable and informative side trip. It is always fun to learn more about our history and see how intelligent and complicated our Founding Fathers were.

Return Trip - Day 6 AM Elon, NC

Despite our long days driving, we were not in the mood to have a 14 hour day behind the wheel. So, we had looked at a map to see what we could hit on the way home and break the trip into 2 days. We always enjoy visiting the Civil War Battlefields and there are still a number we have not yet experienced. But, we decided to stop at Monticello, Thomas Jefferson's home.
The road to Monticello, in Charlottesville, VA went right through Greensboro, NC. Our friend, Hillary Noble, is graduating from Elon University, near Greensborro, so we texted to see if she was available for breakfast. We met Hillary at a local restaurant on campus where the owner seemed to know everyone in the place. We had our usual breakfast supplemented with grits, biscuit and gravy. We were short one biscuit, but Hillary promised to send me one.
Hill gave us the executive, 5 minute tour of campus. What a beautiful place. It is a small school of about 5000 students. The architecture of the campus is uniform with all the buildings constructed with red brick and white trim. The landscape is an actual arboritum, so there are beautiful trees everywhere.
This was a nice little detour and it was great seeing Hillary.

Return Trip - Day 5 Charlotte, NC

We got a fairly early start from the hotel in Bessemer, passed through Birmingham, headed out of Alabama, cut across Georgia, clipped a bit of South Carolina and arrived in Charlotte by the end of the day.
Although we had just a had a nice visit with Curt and Terry in Sedona, we free loaded off of them for another night at their home in Weddington, outside Charlotte. Curt had texted Judy to ask what we wanted when we got there. Judy replied, "belly dancers and a massage.", but all we got was a warm reception and a great meal.
We always enjoy Curt and Terry. We sat around the dinner table for a while, had a couple glasses of wine and Curt and I solved (or caused) all the world's problems.
We look forward to our next visit with them. Maybe they'll come back to Sedona for some more adventures next year.

Friday, May 6, 2011

Return Trip - Day 4 PM Bessemer, AL

We left New Orleans about 2pm and headed northeast towards Birmingham AL. We were stopping in Bessemer which is between Tuscaloosa and Birmingham. Tuscaloosa was an area most hit by the recent tornadoes. Although we did not see any major damage, the remnants of the tornadoes can be seen everywhere. There were large swaths of trees blown down along the highway. One could see a patch of torn up trees a few hundred yards long, then no damage as if the tornado touched down and then took off. There were many trees uprooted and limbs broken off and many of the highway signs were blown over. Ironically, the weather is gorgeous now.

We met a couple of scruffy characters in the elevator and they told us they had come up from Gulf Shores to help cook for and feed the emergency workers. On TV there is a constant scroll with tips about donating, volunteering, insurance problems, how to report gouging and more useful information. There are many utility trucks other heavy duty trucks, like cranes, in the area to help with the recovery.

If anyone is interested, they can send a donation to the Red Cross or to the United Way Tornado Disaster Fund, PO Box 320189, Birmingham, AL 35232. Or check out for other ways to help out.

Return Trip - Day 4 AM New Orleans, LA

Today, we were spending a little time in New Orleans. On the way, one of the idiot lights on the dash came on. I could not get it to go off, so Judy suggested I call Mike B at his station. I got my Godson, Tim, on the phone. He had me go through a number of on/off sequences to try to get a diagnostic code, but nothing worked. He didn't think it was a major problem but reminded me that it was difficult to diagnose an electical problem over the phone from 1000 miles away. I agreed with him and started up the Jeep and headed out of the parking lot. Before I reached the highway I looked down and noticed the light was off. It was a miracle. Maybe Tim should be nominated for sainthood.

Our first stop was the WW II Museum. This museum was founded by the late, great historian Stephen Ambrose. He wrote a number of terrific books including many about WWII and specially D-Day. We wanted to visit this museum in preparation of our trip to France this June with Mike and Pam. Then, coincidentally, we had great news after we pulled into the museum parking lot. Pam texted us that Mike had passed his latest scan with flying colors, an A+ grade. What great news.
The museum was very interesting. It was loaded with equipment, paraphernalia and photos. Here's one of a cafe in Ste Mere Eglise, a focal point of a lot of the action and a town we will visit this summer.

One of the reasons for the success of the invasion was the amount of deception and mis-information put out by the allies to confuse the German command. The allies created fake camps, fake fleets and even fake parachutists to throw off the Germans.
Here's a photo of the smallest invader.

There is very good 4-D video of the whole war covering the Pacific and Europe. It was a 45 minute multi-media presentation that one could see, hear, feel and smell. Really well done.
Our next stop was the French Quarter. The only thing Judy wanted to do was have a coffee and beignet. The Cafe du Monde is one of the famous spots for beignets in New Orleans, so we hit it. It is right along the river across the street from Jackson Square.

We ordered cafe (I had hot chocolate) and beignets and enjoyed the sights.
We walked through Jackson Square

Got up close and personal with "Old Hickory"

Then strolled through the neighborhood to take in the sights, sounds and smells

We both felt that we could spend more time in New Orleans and plan on coming back for a few days in the future.

Return Trip - Day 3 Baton Rouge, LA

Day 3 was a travel day for the team. We crossed Texas to Baton Rouge LA. We wanted to give ourselves a little time in San Antonio and then get within shouting distance of New Orleans, so Baton Rouge seemed like a good spot. After the tour of the Alamo we had about a 7 hr drive.

Texas is huge. We have now crossed the state on 3 different interstates, I-10, 20 and 40. It always reminds me of the story of the two Texans bragging about the size of their ranches. One says, "it took me all day to drive my pickup across my ranch." The other replies, "Yup, I know what you mean. I used to have a truck like that."

At one point I had to pay $4.10 for gas. I would have thought that gas in Texas would be cheaper but it has been the most expensive. Most places along the highway are about $3.90. Imagine looking for a low price of $3.90. We saw lots of ranches, a huge dairy farm, tons of tumbleweed and one dead armadillo. Other than that, it was a lot of audio books, ipod and satelite radio. Luckily, the Navy SEALS got OBL so that bumped the Royal Wedding stories off the radio.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Return Trip - Day 2 San Antonio, TX

We got a relavtively early start from El Paso as we headed for our next stop, San Antonio. It would be another long day of driving plus we would lose another hour to a time zone change. There are 2 time zones in Texas and we had to stop for gas 3 times to cross the state. I had been to San Antonio once before but wanted to bring Judy there to check out the Riverwalk and the Alamo. The Alamo is one of the places like Little Big Horn in that there were no survivors to tell the real story so we have to rely on legend. I prefer the legend. Travis really did draw a line in the sand with his sword. We arrived at our hotel in downtown San Antonio while there was still some light so we walked over the see the Alamo. They've done a good job maintaining the Alamo with only donations. It takes up about a whole city block and there are beautiful walkways meandering throughout the fortress.
Then we walked along the RiverWalk.

We stopped in a Crab Shack where I could watch the 2nd half of the C's loss to the Heat. Bummer. But the food was good (Red Snapper with Crab Stuffing) and the atmosphere was fun.
Here's an abbreviated video of the "shack"

We went back the next morning to tour the Alamo. There was a pretty good video along with a ton of artifacts from both the Texan and Mexican armies. There was a Bowie knife from that old "Knife Fighter" (imagine that) Jim Bowie along with Davy Crockett's musket that was given to Fess Parker who gave it to the Daughters of Texas for the Alamo display.

I loved it and I was surprised that Judy did too.

Return Trip - Day 1 El Paso, TX

We set out from Sedona about 9am. First, I had to stop at the UPS store to drop off a couple boxes that we are shipping home then go back and pick up Judy. We didn't have enough room in the Jeep for the boxes, all our stuff and Judy at the same time.

We were heading for El Paso, TX on the southern route and I planned on taking I-10 all the way via Phoenix, Tucson, Las Cruces, then El Paso. But, our GPS had us taking the backroads across the Southeast of AZ so we stuck with that route. This route took us through little towns like Strawberry and Pine along the edge of the Mogollon (pronounced Muggy-own) Rim. It was a very pleasant ride and we skipped the boredoom of the highway.

The route took us by Roosevelt Lake and we crossed the Roosevelt Lake Bridge.

Also, we passed through the Tonto National Forest which was more like a desert. The landscape in southern AZ is so much different than other parts of the state. We saw a sign for "cliff dwellings", so we took a slight detour to see them. Double click on the photo then click again to see the enlarged view. You can make out some people in the ruin to give you an idea of the size of the dwellings.

We didn't hike to see them up close as we still had a long way to go. But we did stop for a picnic of PB&J sandwiches and checked out the cactus plants that were in full bloom.

After getting on I-10 somewhere in southwest New Mexico, we only had about 150 miles left to get to El Paso where we would lose an hour due to the time zone change. It was a long day in the saddle.