We went on a long journey my sister, my mom, and I. Here is the transcript, in rough form, of that journey, noting that the photos are not my own:
Drove down from Boston to Shenandoah Park. Much of the trip was spent playing cars games, collecting state license plates, etc. Drove across the Washington Bridge to get past NYC. Got food on the road for lunch and dinner. Got down to Virginia late – winding night road into the Park, snowy all along Skyline Drive, eventually getting to Skyland. Very cold on arrival – gloves needed to take luggage to the cabin. The cabin was probably from the 50s, done in knotty pine, with a balcony to look onto the valley below.
In the morning we drove to the dining room of Skyland – named for our ancestor George Pollock – and got a hearty breakfast to start, unfortunately seated by the large, beautiful, and cold, picture windows. Drove along Skyline Drive for a bit, taking pictures at pull-outs and did a quick little jaunt (500 ft or so) along the Appalachian Trail at one of the overlooks. Exited the Park off Skyline around noon and began driving through backroad Virginia. Along the way, after a few hours, we stopped at Natural Bridge – a National Historic Landmark. It was once owned by Thomas Jefferson, and is still privately owned by Bible-thumpers. There were icicles, so we couldn’t walk directly under it, and the river still flows through the valley. We were glad of this, as we watched the giant icicles fall into the river below. A short stop became a long stop, and we again got on the road headed for Tennessee. Got dinner on the way at an unusual place with ginormous portions, apple muffins, and mediocre quality. After nightfall we drove through Pigeon Forge which is a hideous amalgamation of neon and tacky – a worse version of Vegas for the South. We figured out this is where Dollywood was, which explained some of it. We were staying at a Motel 6 in Gatlinburg, right near the entrance of the Great Smokey Mountains National Park World Heritage site.
Pigeon Forge at night
We got up and wandered down to Gatlinburg’s main strip where we found an odd English Tudor-esque area and a small bakery ‘The Donut Friar’, getting a half-dozen donuts for us each to have two. We then drove into the Park, stopping frequently at overlooks for pictures. Spring was just beginning to have sprung. The area is still largely old growth, which is unique for East of the Mississippi. Near the river we took a small guided hike of about .75 of a mile, and learned more in depth about the ecosystems such as pervious inhabitants, and endemic species (more in that forest than all of Western Europe). We drove on, after a short, muddy, hike of maybe .25 of a mile. We got to Cherokee, North Carolina, and stopped for gas. When we tried to turn on the car it wouldn’t start. The battery worked, and concerned Carolinians tried to help, but to no avail – we called AAA. An hour later a fellow with a flatbed drove us back to Tennessee – we had to go around the long way because the road through the Park doesn’t allow commercial vehicles. This took more than two hours, and we learned our driver was Charlie McCoy – descended of the WV feud. Apparently his first wife was even a Hatfield. After dropping of the car in Sevierville (pronounced ‘severe-vuhl’) he dropped us off back at our Motel in Gatlinburg – a thoroughly nice fellow. Ordered pizza late at night, delivered to the room.
Great Smokey Mountains
Got up and got a “taxi” to the Sevierville mechanic. In the car’s front seat was the driver, something of a good ol’ boy, in his front seat a friend, and in the trunk a girlfriend. We got the car back – it had needed a new starter – and hit the road towards Kentucky around noon-ish. In Knoxville we stopped at the Market Square – a pretty plaza in the heart of downtown, where we got lunch at Tomato Head – a restaurant admired by the local foodies for local ingredients, organic everything, and vegan options. It lived up to its reputation, by and large. We drove on into Kentucky, and shortly outside of Cave City, got a flat on the back right tire. One young man tried to help us, but the lugnuts were on too tight. AAA was called again – a tow truck was found with a flatbed that took us to the next town up, and again dropped off the car. This time the tow truck only had room for two. A friend of the driver was called, and an older fellow picked up the two stragglers, and further drove us to the Sleep Inn we were staying at in Cave City. That night we wandered over to a nearby Cracker Barrel for dinner.
Knoxville, Market Square
We woke up and called the same guy who’d driven us the night before to help us get to the car. The tire was fixed easily, and we drove off in the direction of Mammoth Cave. By now it was getting on in the morning, so when we arrived we hopped on the first available tour, which was also the easiest. Our group was small, with maybe 20 persons. Mammoth is very consistent in formation – lots of limestone and few features. On the way out, however, we did spy four of the local bats. We left in the early afternoon and got lunch at the Loveless Motel – a famous joint outside Nashville. Pressing on we were aiming to get to Hot Springs, and outside Little Rock it began raining hard, after a prolonged period of thunder storms since we’d crossed in Arkansas. A car swerved into us, and, overcompensating, the car fishtailed and crashed into the center barrier, and then was hit from behind. We got out, on the right embankment, and checked to make sure we weren’t seriously hurt. The airbags had deployed, the hood was up, the engine was smoking, the back bumper was off, the tires were wrecked – and it was raining hard. Three other cars, at least, were involved. A good Samaritan by the name of Tony helped us out. Police reports were filed, etc. Tony had a big van, so we loaded all of our stuff up and he drove us to a Holiday Inn near the airport. We got in late. We got food from the hotel restaurant, who had a bitchy attitude.
We mainly hung out at the Holiday Inn, making all the necessary phone calls to insurance, our witness Scott, and so forth. A rental car was found at Thrifty – a large black van – and we got food at Denny’s while doing laundry. That evening, due to insurance claims, we went to the emergency room to get checked out by a doctor, which took quite some time. Around 10 we got out of there, with prescriptions filled at Walgreens. Jess had a sprained clavicle as did Ross, Ross also had a chest contusion, mom had a concussion. Ice cream was had for dinner.
Clinton Library - Little Rock. Drove by it.
We got up and went to the lot where the car was being kept. A couple of items (including Jess’ sunglasses) had been left behind. More photos were taken for insurance. We began driving, a long day’s drive, to get to Austin, or thereabouts. First we went to Hot Springs, an unusual little Park, with a series of a few, maybe seven, bathhouses, and a little Victorian promenade. In all we didn’t spend much time there, and we were back on the road around one. We continued on driving until we got just north of Austin, around 9 at night, and found shelter at another Motel 6, unusually modern, from a nice woman who gave Jess and Ross a kid discount.
Hot Springs is not like other parks.
We drove down to San Antonio to see the Alamo. It was rather crowded, but entry was free – the shrine was small, and had an exhibit on period firearms. We had to stand in a Disney-esque line to enter. Commemorative photos were not purchased. On the way back to the car mom tripped and fell. We started driving again to get near Big Bend – more specifically to the ‘Best Western’ in Alpine, TX. (Quotations needed as they’d claimed to have seceded from the parent company.) On the way we stopped at a Mexican restaurant, and when we got in went nearby to Penny’s Diner – a local stop of the old fashioned variety.
We got up and out fairly early, driving down into Big Bend National Park. We took the Ross Maxwell Scenic Drive down to the store and visitor’s station, before backtracking and heading out of the park from Panther Junction to Persimmon Gap. The desert vistas and beautiful rock formations made for a grand, scenic drive with the usual overlooks, turnouts, and photographs. The drive out of the park and beyond was more stereotypically Texan – very flat – and further was plagued by bad roads. We got dinner at a Dairy Queen (by no means a first on this trip) at Fort Stockton with quite possibly the worst service of any restaurant, period. We drove on and hit New Mexico, pressing on to the Rodeway Inn, near Carlsbad Caverns to spend the night.
We got up and drove to Carlsbad, getting breakfast at a great little joint called the Pecos River Café – a local joint. We also got groceries (and a small cooler) at the local supermarket. We drove back across the state border to Texas and the Guadalupe Mountains National Park. We initially hiked the Nature Loop at McKittrick, a nice easy walk. We then moseyed down to the Visitor Center to get postcards before returning to Frijoles, where we hiked to Smith Springs. This took longer than expected, and we didn’t end up completing the 2.3 mile hike until nearly 7 before driving on to see El Capitan (the end of the Guadalupe Range) in the golden light. Spent the night in the same Rodeway Inn.
Slept in and checked out near noon. Drove the very short distance to Carlsbad and took the self-guided tour down, down, down 75 stories into the cave. The most marvelous cave any of us had ever seen – a living cave with gazillions of speleothems and features, clear pools, gypsum outcroppings, and the largest room in the Western Hemisphere. At the bottom of the cave is a little restaurant and gift shop – we had sandwiches. When done we took the elevator back (which went so fast our ears popped multiple times). So we drove on around 3 to Roswell, where we stopped for food at Rib Crib, before driving on into the night to Albuquerque.
We got up around 10, and Ross took care of the Arkansas report downtown. Around noon we went to the Frontier Restaurant – a local establishment for brunch. From there we drove. We stopped in historic Williams for dinner, and decided to forgo a joint called Pancho McGillicuddy’s (Mexican Irish food) for a very mediocre place. Stopped periodically since Ross was feeling ill, including at a Navajo casino. After this was more driving, on to the last town before Grand Canyon Village, staying at the Canyon Plaza Resort.
Got up and headed to the Grand Canyon somewhat early after breakfast at the Resort. After the usual Visitor’s Center purchasing of the totems we walked up to the South Rim – magnificent beyond word. We walked along the rim until we reached the Geology Museum, and then began taking the shuttles, namely the Blue shuttle to food first (a rather late lunch around 3 at Angel. Nearby were historic buildings, lodges, studios, and other nifty things.) and then the Red Shuttle out to the end of the line – Hermit’s Rest – stopping at most of the overlooks along the way. Glimpses of the Colorado River below bely the true size – something that looks like a nickel actually encompassing the width of three football fields. On the way back we got sunset pictures before driving back in the dark to the Resort for a thoroughly mediocre dinner.
Woke up, got out of bed… and drove out of town. We made tracks towards Las Vegas, specifically the airport, to drop off mom. Stopped for brunch at bizarre, classic Route 66 diner. From the Grand Canyon this took a pretty long time, not getting there until after 3. After fond farewells we hit a grocery store on the outskirts of Vegas and stocked up for the desert. The two of us ended up getting into Death Valley rather late – after the ranger’s station had closed, and set up tent right as night began to fall. Having picked a tent site six months in advance, ours had shade, which would prove welcome. An attempt by Jess to do night photography with her camera (and my tripod) proved to no avail.
Saw most of what was easily accessible by car in Death Valley. Our campsite was near Furnace Creek, and so we drove out to the lowest elevation spot in North America, wandered salt flats, stalked pupfish, and looked at dunes. We decided to take a siesta back at the tent. The night before we’d put up the rainfly (due to proximate coyote howling) but it was actually quite pleasant when off. Siesta over we took to the Furnace Creek resort for showers (at their pool) and then got some sunset shots. Another night of camp food (mmm sardines on bagels – Jess felt blegch) and an early sleep.
We drove, each taking a four hour shift, from our camp site to Pacifica. The first shift got us as far as Bakersfield and included some rather unsettling shuddery brakes on a windy road with a steep grade. Driving out of Death Valley was really quite beautiful – perhaps more so than the eastern part of the park. Up Highway 5 we got in before the traffic, did a big switcheroo of cars and belongings in Pacifica at dad’s house (who had been keeping Ross’ car), got word that mom arrived safely back in Boston, and we all eventually got home to our respective dwellings. 4,700 miles later.