Saturday, September 23, 2017

History and half pillows

Okay, this has been an ongoing beef of mine ever since I started road tripping. The infernal hotel half pillows. You would think it would be easier to outfit hotel rooms with standard size pillows. But, possibly in an effort to provide a more artistic bed presentation, the half pillow was invented. I don't know about you, but I can't sleep on half a pillow. In fact, in order to get a consistently good night's sleep, I bring my own king-sized pillow. It doesn't matter what type of bed I get, the pillow makes all the difference. Anyway, for your viewing enjoyment, here's an example of last night's half pillows with my own pillow to provide scale, and tonight's offering.

I left Kennewick, WA this morning and drove about two and half hours to Baker City, OR. After a quick lunch, I went to my only fun destination of the day, Baker Heritage Museum. This museum is fairly small, but loaded with nice exhibits of local history and miscellaneous items.

Of the historical artifacts, most were pretty standard...stuff about gold mining, cattle ranching and pioneer life. Still, there were some things I found interesting. Here is a school wagon, equivalent to our modern day bus, a 1939 era Snickers candy box and vintage dolls. I thought the dolls were a bit creepy. That second one appears to be looking at me.

There was a cool scale model of the town they built for the movie, Paint Your Wagon, which was filmed near Baker City back in 1968. I thought the scat quiz for kids was educational and humorous. I sure learned a thing or two!

The museum also had a special exhibit of rocks, minerals and fossils donated by two local families. I was very impressed by the sheer number of beautiful items. Here are a couple that I found particularly unique that I had never seen before...the second one is a fossil coral.

Tomorrow, I'll finally be seeing some outdoor natural wonders as I head over to Yellowstone National Park. The weather and roads have been pretty iffy for the past week, so I'm a bit apprehensive what I might find when I get there. To make matters worse, I might be coming down with a cold. I hope it's not the case. I'll see how I feel tomorrow morning...

Friday, September 22, 2017

The first day of fall means...ROAD TRIP!

Yes, it's that time of the year...time for my fall road trip. Actually, I was packed two weeks ago. It was a rather sad day, though...the last day with my beloved cat Kimi. She was 19 years old and was too sick to keep going on. I said my last goodbyes that day and the next day she was gone. Her absence has left a big void in my heart, one that will eventually be filled with another feline friend. In the meantime, I'm using my road trip as a pick me up, and to forget about work for awhile.

Day One of my fall road trip was a whole lot of driving. I stopped at Uwajimaya in Bellevue to pick up lunch and some other road trip food essentials. About an hour and a half later, I stopped at a rest area and enjoyed my unagi...that's eel with teriyaki sauce...rice bowl.

My only sightseeing destination of the day was The Reach Museum in Richland, WA. This museum has exhibits showcasing the geology, history and science of the surrounding area and southwest Washington.

I found the exhibits on how the Ice Age created the amazing geological formations in the Columbia Basin especially fascinating. There was also a very informative presentation on the Hanford Nuclear Reservation and its importance in providing plutonium for the Manhattan Project...our first nuclear bomb...and our entire nuclear arsenal thereafter. After looking at the indoor exhibits, I went outside to check out a travel trailer that families stayed in when Hanford was under construction during World War II. Before leaving, I noticed some pretty seed heads of a plant I couldn't identify.

So, the first day of my road trip was a bit understated, but things will pick up as I continue on my journey. Tomorrow, I head into Oregon and Idaho, losing an hour along the way. The forecast says sunny skies and that's always welcome when you're road tripping!

Sunday, July 30, 2017

My Five for Fighting Texas Adventure, Day Three: Dallas

Before leaving Longview, I had breakfast at Whataburger...a delicious Honey Butter Chicken Biscuit. We don't have Whataburger in Washington, but I've heard a lot about it.  It took about two hours for me to drive to Dallas, which was a pleasure in my Infinity Q50 rental car.  I had brought my own portable GPS, which made navigating almost foolproof.  I had just a single destination of the day... The Sixth Floor Museum at Dealey Plaza. 

If you're well versed in American history, Dealey Plaza was the site of President John F. Kennedy's assassination on November 22, 1963. The museum is located inside what was once known as the Texas School Book Depository building.  It was from the sixth floor that Lee Harvey Oswald fired the shots that killed the President and wounded Texas Governor John Connally.  Although there was no photography allowed in the exhibit area, you could take photos from the windows at the level looking down on what was the motorcade route.  The museum was excellent, providing a timeline through its exhibits, outlining the events before, during and after that fateful day. 

Afterward, I went outside and walked around the plaza area to get the perspective of those who witnessed the assassination at ground level.  There was an effort to preserve things the way they were as much as possible, including the fence at the infamous grassy knoll.

From below and looking up at the sixth floor of the book depository, you can see the marked window where Oswald was positioned.  And on the road, there is a painted X indicating the location of the President's car when he was fatally shot.

While walking around the plaza, it was hard not to notice two eye-catching buildings.  The impressive Reunion Tower and the Old Red Museum of Dallas County History and Culture.  The latter was once known as the Old Red Courthouse, built in 1890.

If I had more time, I would have visited the Red Museum, too.  But, I had to return my rental car, take a shuttle to the airport only to catch another shuttle to my hotel for the night.  The whole process ended up taking a good two hours to complete.  In the end, I just wanted to hit the sack early since I had a 5:00 am hotel shuttle to the airport to catch my 7:30 flight to Portland, then onward to Bellingham and home!  Yes, all good things must come to an end, but I really enjoyed my long weekend in Texas.  Good times with good friends.  I'll be back someday! 

My Five for Fighting Texas Adventure, Day Two: Enoch's Stomp

I had a fairly good sleep considering my bed was equipped with those annoying half pillows. I'm used to sleeping with a king-sized pillow, so to make do with something half that a huge difference!  After breakfast at the Waffle House, my Texas friend Tonja and I visited the Gregg County Historical Museum in Longview.  With time to kill, we decided to check out Enoch's Stomp Vineyard and Winery before the big Five for Fighting show there in the evening. 

Not having ever done a wine tasting, Tonja and I decided to try it out.  After perusing the wine tasting flight list, we opted to do the sweet wines. The first wine we tasted we ended up liking the best...a Blanc DuBois Sweet. The two other white wines were also pretty good, but neither of us liked the two red ones.  I guess we have similar tastes!  Even though I'm not much of a wine drinker, I was so impressed with what I tasted, I bought a bottle of the Blanc DuBois.  While we were there, I had the opportunity to chat briefly with Jon Kral...John Ondrasik's brother-in-law...and co-owner of the winery.  I complimented him on his beautiful winery and told him I traveled all the way from Washington state for the concert.  Jon replied that he used to live in Olympia, and was familiar with my current home in Bellingham.

I haven't yet mentioned the weather in east and HUMID!  I'm just not used to mid-90s and high humidity!  Thank goodness for air conditioning in buildings AND my car!  After our wine tasting experience, Tonja and I returned to our respective hotels to rest and prepare for the upcoming event.  When we returned to the winery that evening, we were surprised to find valet parking for all, which was nice.  Right after we checked in at the registration table, who should appear but John's wife Carla and his parents!  Carla greeted me with a hug, and I asked her not to tell John I was there, wanting to surprise him.  We dined on very tasty hot appetizers and mini desserts.  When I decided to see what was available for sale at the merchandise booth, I was delighted to find it staffed by John's daughter Olivia.  While conversing with her, I bought a T-shirt that I'll add to my collection.

The big event started with an introduction by John's sister Shelley before John and his string quartet took the stage. Athough I've gone to many, many Five for Fighting concerts, only once did I ever hear the songs with a string accompaniment.  It was pretty awesome!

One signature characteristic of a Five for Fighting show is John's stories, and he certainly didn't disappoint this time around.  John's telling of his week at The Ashram is a classic and one that I never tire of hearing.  Here's the set list for the night:

The Riddle
The Devil In The Wishing Well
Two Lights
Note To An Unknown Soldier
If God Made You
White Picket Fence
(Quartet Jam)
I Don't Want Your Love
What If
Symphony Lane
I Just Love You
100 Years
Encore: American Pie (cover), Hope

I can't say enough good things about John's string quartet. Such a talented foursome! With Peter Sachon on cello, Katie Kresik on 1st violin, Melissa Tong on 2nd violin and Chris Cardona on viola, John's songs sounded so much more special. John's singing and playing, and the strings backing him up complimented each other beautifully. Midway through the concert as John switched to guitar, Katie joined him for the song If God Made of the high points of the night!

It was nice to hear a few songs played live that I've never seen John perform before, White Picket Fence in particular.  That's my favorite song from his Message for Albert album.  For his hit song 100 Years, he called up his wife Carla to join him on stage, which I think embarrassed her.  It was a sweet moment, though!

After the show, I chatted with Carla while waiting for the meet and greet line to see John to taper off.  When the queue whittled down to just a couple of people, Tonja and I joined the tail end, with me trying to stay out of John's line of sight.  Then, the big moment arrived.  Tonja moved to the side and John finally spotted me!  Boy, was he surprised!  Both Tonja and I got hugs, and John asked how I was HAD been three years since I last saw him!  John offered us free T-shirts, but both of us had already bought ours.  It was a kind gesture, though...John is so amazing!  He DID sign a small concert poster of the night's show that I "stole" off one of the restroom doors.  Of course, we couldn't say goodbye without a photo with John.  Carla used Tonja's phone to take the pic.

Needless to say, both Tonja and I had a great time in each other's company, at the concert and Enoch's Stomp, and of course, meeting John and his family.  It is an evening and day that I'll remember for a long time.  Before leaving Texas, I would be spending a day in Dallas doing a little historical sightseeing. Nothing that will top this day, but some acts are hard to follow!

My Five for Fighting Texas Adventure, Day One

So, a couple of weeks ago, I took a little trip to first to that state.  Back in March, I found out John Ondrasik...better known as Five for Fighting...would be doing a mini-tour of Texas with his string quartet. Normally, I wouldn't even consider traveling that far for a concert, and I've passed on many other Five for Fighting shows that are equally as far away. Then, I realized one particular show being held at Enoch's Stomp Vineyard and Winery would fall on my four days off from work. That in itself was extremely tempting, considering his brother-in-law...his sister's the winery. What pretty much sealed the deal was the fact I had an Alaska Airlines $300 credit that I needed to use by the end of the year. This would be the perfect time to use it! Of course, I still needed to consider hotel reservations and a rental car, but that wasn't enough to stop me...I was going!

Making my airline reservation so far in advance, I was able to score a pretty cheap ticket. Minus the $300 credit, I was out of pocket only $47.  I quickly contacted my Twitter friend and fellow Five for Fighting admirer Tonja of my Texas trip. She lives just east of Houston and enthusiastically made plans to attend the show, too.  We had never met before and were mutually excited to finally do so.  It had been three years since I last saw John perform, and this concert was long overdue.  I know John pretty well and decided it would be cool to surprise him and show up at this event.

I left Bellingham, WA on a 6:00 am flight, then caught a connector in Portland, OR on my way to Dallas-Fort Worth airport.  As we left the Pacific Northwest, I said goodbye to cool temps and green vistas.  Here's a shot of three majestic peaks, Mount Hood in Oregon, and Mount Adams and Mount Rainier in Washington.  Three hours later, I got my first view of the more arid flatlands of west Texas. 

When it came time to pick up my rental car, there was initially a minor delay when they couldn't find a premium car with satellite radio. But, after conferring with his supervisor, the rental car guy gave me the good news...I was getting a free upgrade to a Infiniti Q50!  Woo hoo! That made my drive to Longview SO MUCH better, even after getting stuck in traffic getting out of Dallas and arriving at my destination an hour later than expected. 

After checking into my hotel and freshening up, I met Tonja and her family for dinner at a local BBQ place. It was wonderful to finally meet Tonja, as well as her husband Todd and son Ian.  Really nice people!  So, that was how Day One of my Texas Adventure went.  A good start, I would say!  I was looking forward to tomorrow and the big Five for Fighting concert at Enoch's Stomp! 

Saturday, April 22, 2017

Painted Hills: Wonderful world of color

Last official day of my road trip! I left Winnemucca, NV and headed north into Oregon. I would occasionally see small ground squirrels run across the highway...I almost ran over one! I also saw the corpses of some that DIDN'T make it. But, in the circle of life, they became food for the crows and magpies. At one point, I saw a large bird land on the sagebrush and as I passed by it, I saw it was a magnificent golden eagle! I'm sure the ground squirrels are included on its menu, too.

After driving about seven hours, I made it to John Day Fossil Beds Painted Hills Unit. I had visited this park on a past road trip, but didn't get a chance to see this area. The colorful hills are evidence of past climate change events, and the late afternoon is the best time to see them. First, I drove to the Painted Cove Trail. Because of scattered clouds, the colors weren't showing too well, but I was still impressed. I captured some animal tracks...probably deer...preserved in the dried mud.

Next, I went to the Leaf Hill Trail. This area has actual fossils with leaf imprints. It was a bit hard to see any actual was fenced off to discourage people from collecting...but, I took a few photos of the shards anyway. Maybe you see something in there?

The third place I checked out was the newest...the Red Scar Knoll/Red Hill Trail. This is almost an understatement. The hill is really, really red! By this time, the sun was shining brightly and I got awesome pics!

The last area that I visited was the Painted Hills Overlook. I saved the best for last. The sunshine was holding out and I was treated to magnificent views of many colorful hills. I'll let the photos speak for themselves.


It was a wonderful ending to yet another fun road trip. Tomorrow, I do the final leg of my road trip...driving home! Hotel beds are usually pretty comfortable, but nothing beats my own bed! And, I can't wait to hug my cat!