Archive for the ‘Travel’ Category

Leftover Bits and Pieces from the Road

March 9, 2015

Most of the wandering on my trip took place in Nevada, as nearly all the sites I wanted to hit on this go-round were in the desert. There were some great ghost towns and haunted spots from my start in Missouri, for sure, but those only popped up at the rate of about one a day.

Like Texola, OK, where the Great Depression and the Dust Bowl pushed residents out, and the nostalgic Route 66 tourism (the juice that keeps towns like Seligman on the map) didn’t bring enough in. I had a great time tromping around through obviously unsafe ruins and poking into doorways where I probably shouldn’t have been.

abandoned building, with faded

Another day was for Picher, OK, an old mining town that the EPA calls the most toxic place in America, where only a handful of people refused to take the federal buy-out. I poked around the Picher Mining Museum (now empty, except for a strange tiny photo of an antique clock on one wall), respected the signs that told me a building was still inhabited, and walked all through the others.

window in faded wood, cracked glass, red brick

young couple spraypainting upright cadillacs

Not all the sites I headed for were ghostly. Visionary and outsider art has always been as much of a draw for me as the unknown and spooky, and this trip included a healthy dose of that as well. I’ve meant to hit up Slug Bug Ranch and Cadillac Ranch in Texas for years, and I finally had the opportunity. Carhenge was a highlight of my last trip; there’s just something about the idea of big ol’ road trip machines sticking out of the earth in odd ways and covered in colorful paint that calls to me. Especially if you get to leave your own mark on them. The best bit was watching a young punk couple spray their names onto a car in the middle of the row. Before leaving, the boy came up to me and grinned, and let me know that they’d collected all the cans with leftover paint in them, and that I should feel free to grab a couple and go nuts. They walked off hand-in-hand.

sun peeking behind aluminum-covered 'castle' tower

The next day’s site wasn’t ghostly either, just awesome: Cano’s Castle, in Antonito, CO. 30 years of junk collecting and building, and the result is a glittering, towering, pile of awesomeness. Dusted in snow when I saw it, it was freaking astounding. I’m both a bit sad and a bit relieved I didn’t run into Cano, the marijuana & Jesus-inspired builder. Sounds like he has some strange views about women, and food. Still. Next time, maybe. There’s a sweet little narrow gauge railroad that runs up the mountains from there in the summer, and a return trip might be called for.

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orange and nuts and note left for ghost in room 19

I didn’t find any ghosts at the Weatherford Hotel, in Flagstaff the next night, though I wasn’t looking too hard. Actually, the St. James, a few nights earlier, was the only spot where I spooked myself to the point of almost seeing something. My room was sans bath and at the end of a long mirror-lined hallway, which meant I had to run down creaky floorboards and past doors open to empty poker rooms with antelope heads on the wall every time I had to pee. I also stood for long minutes outside the most haunted room, where other visitors left offerings in the morning, and almost convinced myself I heard something. And I ate green chile, both for dinner and breakfast the next day, that flat-out changed my life. My mouth is watering right now. The Bay Area might be awesome for international food, but it’s severely lacking in southwestern tastes.

That was the first five days, bringing me to the desert and Nevada. The next day was when I really went a bit nuts.

Amargosa Opera House sign and doors, openingI spent that night at the Amargosa Opera House Hotel. It was a Thursday, which sadly meant that I missed the performance by one day. But I met the young dancer from Oakland who is carrying on the vision of the founder, a New York ballet star who renovated the little decrepit Death Valley theater and danced, regardless of whether she had an audience, every weekend. And I saw the wild horses that came up to her back door every night. And I met the hawk who spent his nights in the old barn, thanks to an introduction from a chihuahua-toting Modesto man who had been there for a week. If you think of this lovely old place as a historic hostel with private rooms, and you’re cool with that, you’ll love it.

AmargosaNight

I left at sunrise the next day to get to Rhyolite, where the old West ghost town wasn’t itself the attraction. Within the ruins lies the Goldwell Open Air Museum, where artists have scattered works here and there in the desert setting. The ghostly forms were, obviously, my favorite. They reminded me of my favorite building in San Francisco.

white ghostly forms against a desert background

On to Scotty’s Castle… but I made one quick detour on the way. I was geocaching this whole time, and that lovely little sport/game led me to some fantastic spots. But none compared to the Hard Luck Castle. The second cache, about 4 miles down the dirt road after you turn at the big attention-grabbing Tourist Attraction! sign, was located at a fantastic roadside shrine – and I simply cannot resist a roadside shrine.

HLShrine

HLCastleEntryWhen I got to the end of the road and met the shrine’s creator, I learned that it was built from the bed of a truck that cracked an axle when he was hauling his first load up the road to begin his castle. Oh, his castle. It looks pretty nondescript from the road – just a big round green bunker, with a bit of a tower in the middle where you can watch the stars – but as soon as you get closer, you start to see the amazing bits. This is your classic lone-man-builds-a-dreamhouse-in-Nevada-to-escape-the-government type scenario, and the tour will blow your mind. The great doors open to a circular room, with arched doorways leading off in various directions, and an immaculately tiled labyrinth taking up the entirety of floor. With a jewel in the center.

The main living room has not one, but two pipe organs, one rescued from a condemned church, one from a theater. It also has a 5-foot wide latchhook wall hanging, made by the builder during a long Tahoe winter (part of the reason he chose Death Valley). As you go through the house, the details overwhelm you: the conjoined HL logo with a naked woman on each side (pretty sure I spotted a – classy – naked woman in each room of the castle); the commemorative bricks placed (first, last, and in honor of departed dogs); the central fountain-filled courtyard, open to the observatory above and joined by a circular metal staircase; and oh lord, the white and gold bathroom dominated by a gleaming tub and a huge window with an expansive view of the desert valley. Simply amazing.

GoldfieldStationSo as I said, on to Scotty’s Castle – which, while part of a National Park and a Historic Place with an Entrance Fee and Picnicking Area and also Parking For Recreational Vehicles, was way less impressive. An engineering marvel, and a gorgeous deco building, but how can you compare a private tour that went into every room with a don’t-touch-anything, follow-the-guide, stay-in-your-pack-of-30-people tour? You can’t. I left early, and moved on to Goldfield, a town studded with geocaches, art cars, abandoned buildings, and historical markers. Perfection.

ClownMotelSignStill, I rushed through it, as sunset was coming and I had to get to my lodging that night: the Clown Motel in Tonopah. This was my last haunted hotel for the trip, and probably the one I was the most excited about. It’s like doubling-down on terror: not only do you have ghosts (well, maybe – the owner says any ghosts are just nearby, in the adjoining cemetery), but you also have clowns. ClownMotelClowns5Clowns. Lots, and lots of clowns. Over 500 of them in the motel’s lobby, a collection that went a bit mad. However, I actually found this one of the most peaceful nights of my trip. Aside from a clown holding my door number, and a tasteful pastel watercolor of a clown gentlewoman holding a parasol in an Edwardian dress above my bed, the clowns were mostly confined to the lobby. I slept like a log. No evil cackling or anything.

ClownMotelClowns2ClownMotelBigClown2

And that was my time in the desert. I spent one full day traveling a distance that you could make non-stop in about 2 hours. Bliss. The high point of my trip. I’ve always given Nevada a wide berth, calling it the one state within which I found nothing to love on my first road trip. I love the Arizona deserts of my ancestry, but the Nevada ones always felt truly empty to me, not conducive to living (or dead) souls. Man, was I wrong. You just have to go a little slower and be willing to off-road it a bit, and the uniquely-Nevadan spirits will show themselves.

DesertSunrise2

Ghosts of the Past

March 8, 2015

I’m long overdue for a wrap-up of my ghost trip. I’ve been putting it off for some reason. It’s not that I’ve been waiting on photos – I had those processed and uploaded the day after I made it home. Not waiting for mental processing, either – I do all my thinking on the road, and haven’t really done any more since. No, really. No thinking at all.

It’s more due to the fact that I came to a big, scary realization on the road, one that I’m only slowly beginning to tell my friends and families about. And yes, it’s shocking people every bit as much as it shocked me to discover.

I don’t want to be an author.

Dude. Gentle reader, you may or may not know how huge that realization is. I’ve written throughout my life, ever since my first short story was published in the Saipan Sun at the tender age of 6 (it was pretty bad, but it was the family newspaper that my dad photocopied at his office so the standards weren’t super high). I wrote my way through high school and college, and wrote on into my career, where the word Writer became a part of my title in my jobby job.

Still, there was this feeling that it wasn’t enough. A writer does not become an author until they are published, and you’re only published if you write every day, and follow through with query letter after query letter, and ballsy introductions to agents and acquisitions editors at hotel bars during conventions.

So I did it. I joined the board of a writing association, I queried (some of which were accepted), I schmoozed. But my heart wasn’t in it. And I tried to write in my chosen genre every day, and every time I skipped it, I felt guilty.

The guilt grew. I didn’t talk about it. I wrote less. The guilt got bigger. I started talking about it, bitterly. But I never attacked that core assumption: that a writer must desire to be an author.

I don’t. And it took this trip for me to realize that, to allow me to release that ghost from the past.

How will this change things for me? Meh. Probably not much. I’ll still write every day (I mentioned my day job is Writer, right?). I’ll still blog, especially while traveling. I’ll still write short stories when the mood catches me. I’ll likely still do NaNoWriMo (cuz it’s awesome). But I’m releasing the guilt. I’m releasing the feeling that Author must be my career goal.

Man, is it freeing. There’s this project that I’ve had on the side, where a friend and I work with teenagers around the idea of beauty and societal values, then help them put together their own beauty mag, and I think I’m going to shift some of my drive over in that direction.

It’s also terrifying. I told a friend at work about my revelation, and proceeded to wig out a bit on her. Writing and aiming for publishing has always been my main creative outlet. What do I do without it? She brought out her ukulele and let me harmonize to “Hallelujah” and “Blank Space” to prove it wouldn’t be a problem. She’s good people.

I’ll always have writing, I’ll have singing and photography and knitting and a host of other creative outlets. But y’know what? I’m cool if I never achieve pro status at any of those. I’ll be a blissful amateur.

And hey, what the heck does this have to do with road tripping? Umm… Nothing, really. This just wraps up the various paths my mind was wandering down while I was physically wandering. And I’ve gone on so long, I think I need to do another wrap-up that’s a bit less in the mind. But the road trip epiphanies are about 80% of the reason that I love traveling that way, so this felt like the piece that had to be wrapped up first. Thanks for putting up with the detour; more awesome photos of bizarre places coming soon.

Amargosa Performance

Ghosts at the Weatherford

February 19, 2015

Like clockwork, on day four of my road trip I hit my cranky existential crisis. It didn’t help that for this trip, day four overlapped with my birthday, which always makes me a little bit cranky. So double crankiness.

I had a wonderful visit with two parts of the family that I never get to see, and then hit the New Mexico roads. About an hour in, my crankiness descended.

I’ve never liked birthdays, but I hate telling people that, because they nod their head and say, “yep, getting older sucks.” That’s not it. I’m cool with getting older, if for no other reason than it releases some of the societal expectations that get forced on younger people.

It’s the ghosts of birthdays past. I’ve had some great ones, and whether I’m consciously remembering them or not, I think my brain tries to hold each new one to ridiculously high standards. I don’t really like that about my brain.

Last night I sat and listened to the Italian study group that was inhabiting the upstairs saloon at my historic (haunted, of course) hotel. The ghost of my last trip, to Rome and Venice, was floating about, but it wasn’t making me feel all nostalgic and wanderlusty. It just felt like I was trying to be manipulated into a good mood.

(By the way, 100% sounds really cool in italian. Cento perciento. Or something like that.)

The facilitator, who is from San Diego and has a very large family, was very cute, but this was a closed group and my Italian skills are below remedial. I moved over to the mostly empty ground-level bar for another cocktail (apparently all the kids were in the basement bar playing trivia), but I didn’t really engage with anyone and booked it upstairs pretty early, hoping to see a ghost. Because how can a too-young college kid at the bar compare with a pair of honeymooners who died in a murder/suicide in room 54? He can’t.

… Yeah, I think this bit of my brain that is fixated on ghosts may not be the most healthiest thing for my real-life relationships. Something to think about on the long desert roads scheduled for day five.

(Also, it’s just painful to listen to college kids hit on each other in halting Italian. “Can I dance? Oh, DO I dance. Yes.”)

Your video for the day: Senza Fine, the best part of the horrible 2002 film Ghost Ship, with a bizarrely creepy background image.

Borderlines

February 18, 2015

On my last road trip, just over 10 years ago now, I noticed a surprising thing when I crossed state lines. Things changed. I’d always assumed these borders were largely arbitrary, formed by politics and history and maybe a river here or there.

Nope. I found that each of the states had distinct landscapes and personalities, and these changes took place pretty much right on the borderline. Today, when I passed from New Mexico into Colorado, that feeling was reinforced. Suddenly, trees! The adobes shifted to log cabins. The weather and the rivers were the same, but now there were fly fishing outfitters. All of this within the span of about 10 miles.

This time, though, because I was thinking about it, I noticed the shift coming back into New Mexico down a different road. On this road, the changes were far more gradual; it took nearly an hour of driving for the landscape to feel like a new place. (Yet another sign that the brain tricks you, and only remembers what it wants to remember.)

And of course, since I seem to be traveling on a theme this time around, I started to think about the borderlines between life and death. Sure, sometimes they’re abrupt: life on one side, death on the other. But maybe sometimes they’re a bit more gradual…

I was lucky enough to see two aunts today, who live about seven hours apart from each other within New Mexico. The first, who’s right next to one of those gradual state borders, was who I was aiming to reach when the snowstorm pushed into a haunted hotel instead.

“I worried about you!” she said. “Did you sleep at all? Did you even know what it was, going into it?” I reassured her, and we got to talking about spirits. I think one of the reasons I seek them out is because I’ve never seen one. I’m not what you’d call sensitive, really in any sense of the word. So I look for them, and enjoy the terrifying tricks that my mind plays on me along the way.

She had an amazing story, about coming down a grade in the snow, losing traction on a pile of slush, and hearing her father’s voice telling her to let up on the brake. She swears she never would have thought to do that, and that he saved her life that day.

As I sit near Santa Fe and think about borders and spook-filled late nights, this feels appropriate, from Tom Russell’s Borderlands album. “Baby wakes up and calls to me, ‘What is that lonesome sound? It echoes off the mountain out near the lights of town.'”

On an unrelated note, I started to get nostalgic for the sketchy places I’ve slept in (the hotels and family homes on this trip have been freaking DIVINE, I feel spoiled) and discovered that my favorite, the Sleeping Buffalo, has been seriously swanked up. I reeeally want to go to the new spot, but I’m a little sad, too. Here’s what it used to look like, except I’m pretty sure it was never really that clean or that bright. I remember dim lighting, murals obscured by decades of mineral deposits, and the only after-hours entry was through a darkened, perennially under-construction motel with plastic window coverings flapping frantically in the wind. Once you actually got to the pool, your senses were overloaded. The water coming in through the exposed pipes (with holes punched into them for jets) blasted your eardrums so that you could just barely hear the menacing, grumbly, hungry noises of the water running back out, and the jets churned up the rust colored water so much you could not see your foot as you stepped naively into the water. It was a pretty good bet that the crazed serial killer lurking in the abandoned motel behind you was going to grab up one of the power tools left lying about and easily sneak up behind you.

I loved it. I miss it. RIP, old Sleeping Buffalo.

Ghosts, and Adventure

February 16, 2015

My spirit tour continues…

To sum up, here’s my timeline so far:

Friday the 13th:
– Hop on Spirit Air to Dallas, connecting (belatedly) to Missouri, to pick up the car.

Sunday, 15th:
Picher, OK: a ghost mining town and Superfund site, largely evacuated in 2010.
– Geocaching in cemeteries

Monday, 16th:
Texola, OK: a ghost(ish) Route 66 town
St. James Hotel, Cimarron, NM

And so much more still to come…

I like ghosts. Whether or not they exist (and I will withhold all judgement on that), the very idea of them makes me all tingly. They are things that exist through storytelling, and often only through storytelling. What is an icy hand on your back if you don’t tell about it, with great gusto and exaggeration, to your buddies in the bar the next night? Have you ever heard of a ghost that lived an uneventful life and died peacefully in their bed? No, their lives and deaths were undoubtedly filled with drama and plot twists.

I like adventures. I’m sure that’s not a surprise, what with the deep and abiding love of getting lost that I confessed to in my last post. I’ve bungee’d, zorbed, slept alone in the woods, cross-country tripped solo, visited 48 states and 6 countries, whitewater rafted, swapped a desk job in publishing to drive a freight train, went skinny-dipping in a leech-filled pond with people grabbing my ankles (okay, that was at a theme event thing, but still), and more.

I freaking LOVE Ghost Adventures. I watch it ironically, and scoff at the frat boys yelling “Come at me, bro!” to ghosts, while magnifying every possible sensation to the millionth degree. Later at night, I watch it totally un-ironically and have to turn on every single light in the place.

So while I didn’t plan this trip based on their site visits, I was stoked when I discovered how many of the places on my itinerary that they’ve also been to. They’ve visited the St. James and Amargosa, and even the Clown Motel, but they went to the other haunted hotel in Flagstaff, the Monte Vista, while I’m hitting the Weatherford.

Of course, it’s a tourism thing. They’re on the Travel Channel, for pete’s sake. Ghosts and travel go together perfectly; locals can tell as many tall tales as they want, and the history of a place will only grow. Right now, I’m sitting in the lobby to work, and listening to the front desk agent field calls. On about 3/4 of them, he mentions the paranormal. He’s pretty good, though; when I stopped in to get out of a blinding snow storm white-out, he didn’t say a word about ghosts. It was only when I saw the signs while coming down the hall (“Ghost Investigators:” followed by a list of rules, one of which is “No Ouija Boards”). Even then, he downplayed it, just in case it was a turn-off for me.

It was not. This trip, man. It’s doing this itself, I swear, my fingers aren’t even on it.

cemetery gravestone:

Not quite Unknown, but unnamed.

Digital Tools

February 15, 2015

Before I got a smartphone – and this was embarrassingly not long ago, like less than a full year back now – I railed constantly against google maps and online tools for travel. Yes, they mean you’ll never get lost again. But you’ll never get lost again. That’s heartbreaking.

I love getting lost. On my year-long road trip (chronicled here, because I’m really not at all an anti-internet person), I was lost about 89% of the time. It’s one of my favorite things to do, and absolutely the best way to travel. You never miss anything, because you weren’t aiming for anything to begin with, and you find little amazements that delight you. Like this, hidden behind a bush off Route 66:

https://www.flickr.com/photos/jujuwiz/16519111936/

Y’all, I was wrong. That little guy? Geocaching.com actually led me to him. And this?

https://www.flickr.com/photos/jujuwiz/16544082782/in/photostream/

Roadtrippers.com. Here’s the thing: I’ve figured out how to use the tools.

Today, they actually helped me get even more lost than normal. Because I was free of any fear. I knew that I could dig myself out of any hole that I wandered into accidentally. It may be that the degree of ‘lost’ness wasn’t quite as great, that because I wasn’t really in danger of never coming back, then maybe I wasn’t ever truly lost. Still. I got lost enough to bliss me out, anyway. I ditched my expectations, and found back roads and heartlands backyards that blew my mind.

sunset behind neon motel sign and curving road

Route 66 sunset, Missouri

I may just be a luddite no more.

I’ll leave you with one last image. Early this morning, I was following a geocache link out to a cemetery in Kansas. I could see some headstones off in the distance, so I started crossing an empty (I thought) field toward them. A few steps in, my boots clicked on something. I paused, and started pulling at the weeds, uncovering a gravestone. Then I uncovered ten more.

https://www.flickr.com/photos/jujuwiz/15922552634/in/photostream/

You Are At Terminal E

February 15, 2015

“Hello. Hello? Hello! Hello! …. Hello?”

The empty baggage carousel of an international airport is a strange place to hang out and listen to “Welcome to Night Vale” podcasts. And yet, it’s somehow also the most perfect place in the world to do so.

A car pulled up about twenty minutes ago. It’s still sitting there, its lights on. The engine may be running; I can’t hear from inside the wall of glass.

A cleaner overheard a man speaking on the phone in Swahili. (The same man who could not get a clear connection a second ago, and simply repeated hello twenty times.) Both were delighted, and surprised, to find each other here. One was from Kenya, the other Tanzania, but the shared language united them for a moment.

“Hello? Hello? Helloooo. Hello. Baby. Hello.” He’s trying again.

The car has moved on, very slowly, down the passenger pick-up lane.

Maybe the reason the desert is such a place of weirdness is that it inspires late nights and insomnia. The million stars so bright they keep you awake; the warm nights that encourage sitting outside on a porch, not cuddling under a down blanket.

I love the languorousness of late night people. At 2:41 A.M., no one is in a rush. You’re walking down the hallway only to keep awake, not to actually get anywhere.

I’ve switched from “Night Vale” to Tom Waits. Blood Money. Best damn play I’ve seen, maybe ever.

Night people can sit and stare at a vending machine for twenty solid minutes. They might not ever get anything; they might not even intend to. But they can carefully consider their options, staring not-quite-vacantly until another night person wanders slowly over and they have to give up their position.

Because night people also do not overlap. There’s one sitting right behind me, barely four feet away. I could reach out my hand and touch his furry lined cap. But I never would. We’re in different worlds. And in fact, it seems a little weird that we’ve both been sharing this space for so long. An hour has gone by, with each of us studiously ignoring the other.

Well, he’s ignoring me. Obviously, I am pretending to ignore him while listening carefully to all his conversations.

There are reasons for moving slowly late at night. Your actions can become repetitive very easily, and if you are moving fast, quickly making vending choices, popping chocolates into your mouth, there’s a high likelihood that you’ll never stop. This crosses over to other things as well; writing, say. Smoking. Or driving.

Driving late at night, through the desert, your speed gradually increasing, without you even realizing it, until you’re passing the gulch where James Dean died at 100 miles per hour. It happens. It’s the desert.

I don’t really believe in ghosts. Not really. I believe in them less than I believe in God, though I do feel like both of those beliefs are on a kind of spectrum of “well it doesn’t hurt, and it could be a really good choice should the afterlife prove to be long.” I don’t believe in ghosts, yet this trip has turned into a ghost-hunting expedition. From my arrival on Spirit air and my refusal to get a hotel room during my 12-hour layover (maybe the non-overlapping of night people is actually a sign that they are in fact ghosts) to the three haunted hotels that just lined themselves up perfectly with my itinerary, the theme of this trip built itself.

Odd, I don’t think of ghosts when I think of the desert. Ghosts are a plot convention for urban areas, or at least rustic and aged small towns. I can’t picture them wandering among the saguaro cactus.

“Hello. HELLO. Hello?”

A whole slew of people who are not night people just entered. A plane must have gotten in, or it’s closer to dawn than I realized and the next shift is coming on. It’s easy to tell them apart; these folks are out late tonight from necessity, and they’re all on their way somewhere, in a bit of a hurry. They’ll make it to the cabs and their next hotel, or to their cars in the employee staff lot, and they won’t slow down to see the ghosts. They occupy each other’s spaces, overlap with each other, and avoid the eyes of the specters moving slowly on their fringes.

Visionary

June 15, 2014

I shoulda been writing this morning, but I was dreaming of roadtripping instead…

Memories of Travel

March 25, 2014

I’ve become a bit afraid of this blog. Blogs have become places for a writer make her mark, places to gain a following. Places where your unselfconscious account of your adventures in coupon-clipping as a broke-ass rehab-graduate gains you a fan base that you never, in your wildest Pollyanna dreams, could have imagined.

Phlbt.

I forgot why I started this thing in the first place. First, to break the spell of the blank page: a short blog post is the equivalent of a running push to a VW van with a dead battery. A kick in the pants that leads you to god-knows-where. Second, travel. Just that. Third, the joy of writing like no one is reading (my version of the old “dance like no one’s watching” maxim – ’cause I sure as hell don’t dance).

So. I am broke (1.4 years to debt-free!), and cannot travel. Instead, I dream. And plan. And remember.

First, the dreaming. I want to drive to Alaska. More about that in a future post, I’m sure. Second, the planning. More realistic travels: once I’m debt-free, I have researched and discovered that it will cost me $2.2K to fly to Boston, rent a car, drive up the coast on the cheap and camp throughout the glorious Acadia National Park, eventually finding my way to Prince Edward Island, where my sisters will be waiting, having flown in the night before. (This is gonna happen, man.)

Finally, the remembering. For a young(ish) person, I have some hella good trips to remember. Tonight, I was remembering Kentucky. I think.

On my Road Trip (always in caps), when I was 24, I had a long list of sights to see. I’d been building that list for years, culled from the burgeoning internet and RoadsideAmerica.com, and recommendations from far-flung friends, and amazing magazines like Weird New Jersey. My supreme college roommate Katy gave me a parting gift of a perfectly organized pendaflex with AAA maps of every state, and I turned my list into highlighted towns and cramped notes along the margins.

This worked exceedingly well. I was guided to the most amazing surprises. Since the lag time between planning and traveling was 1-5 years, sometimes I had completely forgotten why I wrote “White Squirrel Mecca” next to a town’s name, or what the source for that little tidbit was. It made for an infinitely surprising and awesome road trip.

Of course, it also made for a few lost places. I didn’t take the most comprehensive notes in my journal, and sometimes, all I have left are a handful of photos (like that of Little Guy‘s grave) and a hideously faulty memory.

husky dog, crumbling statues in background

Like this place. From the photos that surrounded it in my borrowed Kodak Advantix camera, I discovered it during my speedy (or speedy for me, which still meant back roads all the way) trip from Minnesota to Atlanta in December of 2003, where an airline ticket awaited me to take me home for Christmas. I have a vague memory of dogwoods, and the Blue Ridge Parkway… I think it might have been Kentucky. I’m pretty sure. Alfred somebody-or-other’s statues – an outsider artist who created these strange, life-size, concrete persons. From the remnants of paint on the faces, they may have once been bright and colorful. When I found them, they were gray and missing limbs, the greenery just barely being kept back from engulfing them.

They were fantastic. I had followed a strange trail there, not knowing what to expect, and the creepy, abandoned, kudzu-encroaching feeling of the place had not disappointed. As I wandered among them, snapping photos, I heard a howl. From out of nowhere, a wolf appeared. (Well, probably more of a husky-mix, but still. And he was actually ridiculously friendly – we tossed my mascot, Stripes, back and forth for ages, and he postured like a puppy.)

I have not the foggiest idea of how to find this spot again. For all I know, the kudzu has won the battle and the statues have been absorbed by the forest. Or my memory is just truly terrible, and it was actually Florida and the artist was named Jeanine Smith. Who knows.

But it doesn’t really matter. Yes, reality is a good basis for travel memories. But it’s how those memories impacted me, the bit that I took away from the trip, that really matters. (To me, anyway – I’m remarkable self-centered and don’t care much for the travel dollars that a blog with a following of 4 people could have poured into that small Kentucky/Florida hamlet.) And there was a longing about that place, a sense that time had either already forgotten, or would very soon forget, the spot, a sense that would have been ruined by my being able to locate it on a map and return.

Or so I tell myself. Because I really, really want to try and find it again.

 

All the rest

April 22, 2011

The time is running out. My memories and notes are still fairly clear, but I think if you write a post more than 2 weeks after an event, half-truths start to filter in. So I’ll keep this brief, fast, and mostly in picture form.

After Inishmore, we returned to spend a bit more time in the Connemara region. Clifden Castle was an un-signposted site that I’d had on my list, and, after a bit of up and down and around the block, we found it. Trooping through sheep fields, past white shaggy ponies, it finally appeared.

a castle in a field of sheep, by the ocean

See that curve in the road there? The one that seems to be a bit… puddley? That’s because there was a 25 ft long completely impassable stretch of water, mud, and sheep poop. The fence posts went straight down into the water, with no way around it.

So I went through it. Luckily, I was wearing my high-top hiking boots that day; after I rolled my jeans up, the mud went clear up the sides, but didn’t hit my socks. Win. And it was gorgeous close up:

a cow through a castle ruin's doors    tower ruin facing the water

Well worth the muck. Actually, you don’t really have to entice me with a castle. The muck is its own reward.

On to Galway (which I’ll have to return to someday, since my only impression was loud and full of tourists; I didn’t really find the city), then south to Lisdoonvarna and the Burren. Beautiful. Ancient crosses, amazing landscapes, a perfumery that uses local scents, and flipping adorable Burren ponies.

burren ponies

I pet that one on the nose. He was a sweetie.

Since we’re on it, more animals:

dramatic sheep

This was a lady we found at the end of an unmarked road. I christened her “Dramatic Sheep” and proceeded to chase her around (politely) the ruins and striking sea cliffs of Kerry. I do believe I have a hundred pictures of her alone. I went a bit sheep-wild.

cows coming out of the fog by Hore Abbey

Then there were the cows.

cow staring at the cameraFirst, at Hore Abbey, my pre-dawn rambles nearly got me in trouble as these ladies came to a slow realization that I was not bringing them breakfast. The betrayal in those eyes.

Cows and a cross

This last cow picture takes a bit of explaining. G and I were out investigating the crosses at Kilfenora. Two of the ancient beauties were hiding in a protected ruin of a church. The third was just off a bit, in the middle of a field.

A field that, while having convenient stiles to get you closer in, was not empty. Not at all. It was, in fact, home to about 20 or so young cows. G and I approached tentatively, snapping cautious pics along the way. The cows were looking at us. We got a bit closer. They were still looking. Then they started to take a few tentative steps towards us. G and I looked at each other, and slowly started backing up towards the stile.

Bad move, apparently. Something like showing weakness to a wolverine. These adorable baby cows started to come a lot closer, a lot faster. G and I are hustling it now, but there’s a problem; only one person can go over the stile at a time, and the cows are RIGHT THERE. I bravely pushed her towards the stile, yelled for her to go first, then turned to the calves.

I had no idea what to do with frisky teenage cows. I know with a bear, you puff up big and yell, but cows? The only thing I had was my camera. So I popped the flash up, and started snapping pictures, tilting the bright flash all around and shouting “Pose! Vogue, ladies! Vogue!”

It worked. They preened and posed like red-carpet Bessies. Or, you know, they were just totally befuddled. Either way, I was able to make my escape, and they ran back to the cross, kicking their feet up playfully. Probably they didn’t want to chew our legs off, but you never know. Sadly, their photo shoot resulted in nothing but blinding white shots. That’s what happens when you’re too panicked to adjust ISO or focus.

On to Dingle, where we found amazing cheese with seaweed in it. We also found some crazy good Gouda that we called the Springsteen cheese for the rest of the trip (apparently he’s a fan). On to Killarney, where I fell asleep in the shade of Muckross Abbey. On to Cork, where a sweet young priest convinced us to tour St. Finbar’s Cathedral by offering us a bargain-basement price. They were replacing the organ, which was a bit fascinating to watch, but meant a lot of the church was cordoned off. Still, pretty.

a stone angel in Finnbar Cathedral

On to Cashel. In Ireland, they either have too many historic monuments to lock them all up, or they actually trust people to have a care with the ancient artifacts and ruins. Either way, it means we had a fabulous amount of freedom. Our lodge was directly between Hore Abbey and the Rock of Cashel. While that put us in perfect touring position for the next day, it also meant we could sneak across the road to the Abbey ruins that night and take some spooky pics.

Ghostly Me's at Hore Abbey

We just barely poked our noses before we chickened out. C and I chickened, anyway. G was raring to go. She later mentioned that it looked like a perfect place to pitch a tent and spend the night. There were, like, hyenas howling in the distance, I swear. She was cool as a cucumber.

Our final stop before we returned to Dublin was Locke’s Distillery, another recommendation of @smartgrrrl’s. And what a recommendation! An amazing tour of an old pot still, with wheels still churning up the river and whiskey still bubbling in the vats upstairs. A wee taste afterwords convinced us to do most of our souvenir shopping here, and what a great choice that was! Their Connemara peated whiskey was favorably compared to Laphroig by a grateful recipient, and their 15 year-old whiskey has won international prizes.

locke's distillery chimney

And that’s it. My trip, in a large, colorful nutshell. Thanks for listening.