Archive for the 'Travel' Category

Yellowstone by the numbers

3518 miles driven

318 (our Grant Village campground site #)

80 mph – speed limit in Wyoming and South Dakota (although the head wind made it hard to get up to 75 mph)

65 potty stops and/or bathroom runs for Patty, estimated

49 unique U.S. license plates recorded (all but Washington, D.C. and Hawaii)

30 buffalo (“bison”) seen grazing in Hayden Valley

27 mosquitoes on Katie’s sweatshirt while hiking the Pelican Creek trail

22 campground showers taken by 7 people (sixteen free, six at $4.51 each)

21 gas fill-ups

19 pieces of campfire wood scavenged

14 stops to re-tape the camper window (“Oh, no! The the tape is flapping!”)

12 glorious days of vacation

11 nights away (one in a hotel in Denver, CO; eight in a camper in Yellowstone! = ); one in a hotel in Keystone, SD; one-half in a hotel in Sioux Falls, SD

9.6 overall mpg

8 jaunts to wash dishes in cold water (carrying pots of hot water in addition to all the dishes and washing supplies)

7 large containers of food purchased, stored (three coolers + four flip-top boxes), prepared, and eaten; many wonderful meals (thank you, Jessica!), yummy snacks (Chex Mix), and tasty desserts (LaShell’s Awesome Bars, Peach Cobbler, Chocolate Gooey Butter Cake)

6 loads of laundry done

6 Canadian license plates recorded

5 adult kids (from Gordonsville, VA; Hong Kong; Palo Alto, CA; and Walnut Shade, MO) ALL TOGETHER in Yellowstone!!!!

4 mule deer (silently walking through our campsite, three of them only 25 feet from our picnic table)

4 gorgeous waterfalls (Lower Yellowstone Falls, Kepler Cascades, Virginia Cascades, Gibbon Falls)

3 amazing geysers (Beehive, Old Faithful, Lone Star)

2 and 1/2 mile hike to Mystic Falls = sunburned scalps

2 “real deal” boiling mud pots seen and smelled (Artist Paint Pots)

1 Old Faithful Buffalo, seen on three different occasions

1 memorable campsite (#241) and amphitheater, both in Canyon campground

1/2 roll of duct tape expended in camper repairs

innumerable games played (Bridge, Corn Hole, Harry Potter, Dominion Adventures, Bridge, Seven Wonders, Five Crowns, Cuppers, Bohnanza, Corn Hole, Bridge… )

lots and lots and lots of pictures taken

many, many special memories made  = )



Jeopardy question: What is three hundred twenty-six?

Answer: The number of emails that arrived in my inbox during the 12 days we were away on our amazing Yellowstone vacation.

I could also mention the (literal) seven-inch high stack of snail mail.

It took me several days, but I have now gone through all the print mail, and I’ve dealt with or deleted all but 80 of the emails. Re-entry progress is being made.


Déjà vu again

In traveling home from Waxhaw, to get to our lodgings in Townsend (“The Peaceful Side of the Smokies”), we had to first drive through Pigeon Forge and then 15 miles over the mountains. And although I had never before been to that town, and although it was 10:30 at night, Pigeon Forge was a very familiar place. As best I could tell, evidently someone just took Branson’s Highway 76 strip from the Ozarks and plunked it down in the Smokies.

Driving down the main drag in Pigeon Forge was really uncanny. Everything – and I do mean everything – was exactly the same as home, from the terrain (rolling, wooded hills and tumbling streams), to the restaurants (Outback, Cracker Barrel, Golden Corral), to the hotels (Hilton, Marriott, Comfort Inn & Suites), to the attractions (Titanic, Dolly Parton’s Stampede, The Track). I even saw two mountain coasters just like the ones recently constructed in Branson! As best I could tell, the only “Branson” thing Pigeon Forge lacks is Silver Dollar City. Well, it also seems to have fewer theaters than Branson, but then, I’m pretty sure that every town has fewer theaters than Branson!

[NOTE: I stand – or sit – corrected. Pigeon Forge has Dollywood to Branson’s Silver Dollar City and Splash Country to Branson’s White Water (where Andrew is life guarding today as I type, having had a save on his first shift of the season there two days ago!). All four of those theme parks are owned by Herschend Family Entertainment. Thank you Katie, for pointing that out.]

Jeopardy Question: What is 17 and-a-half?

Answer: The number of hours it takes to drive from Walnut Shade, MO to Waxhaw NC. Of course, Google says it takes 14 hours, 9 minutes, but Google doesn’t need a bathroom and leg stretch break every one and-a-half to two hours! We made better time coming home; we managed to do it in an even 17 hours, even with driving an hour out of our way to spend the night in Townsend, thus breaking the trip into two days of 5 hours and 12 hours, respectively.

I was actually OK to tackle the return trip in another (one) very long day, but on the way to Waxhaw, at about 16 hours in, when we knew we’d be doing again three days later, Scott said, “I really don’t think I can do this again.” So he researched all kinds of options for lodging on the way home, hoping to get a hotel on points in Nashville. That didn’t work out, and in fact, there was nothing available for any reasonable amount of points anywhere, but when he contacted the retreat center in Townsend we had stayed last fall for our WONDERFUL 30th anniversary, they graciously provided us a room in their lodge for only a donation toward their ministry. Since we knew we’d be arriving around 11:00 PM and leaving at 6:30 AM, they texted us directions to the room. When we got there, we found they had prepared one room with a sign on the door: “Scott and Patty Roberts,” AND another room directly across the hall with its sign: “Mr. Roberts.” What a blessing!

Packing it in

Some of our family members travel light.

Jessica can pack for a month in the States that includes her own wedding in half of a full-sized suitcase.

Josiah comes to spend the night at our house with a cell phone, his wallet, and Walmart bag containing a comb, some deodorant, sometimes a toothbrush, and possibly – but not always – a change of underwear and socks.

When forced to fly home, Katie inevitably arrives with a half-full carry-on bag.

And then there are the rest of us.

I don’t travel much, but if it’s more than about three nights, I need a big suitcase.  = {

Scott takes relatively few clothes, but a large everything else that could possibly be needed, including games, gifts, and groceries. Most of his travel is international and involves a large suitcase, one or two carry-on bags, and a computer bag.

But Andrew has officially won the prize for the highest pieces-of-luggage-to-length-of-trip ratio of any Roberts family member. His high school choir left last night by motor coach (luxury bus) for an exciting trip to Chicago over spring break. They departed at midnight Monday night and arrived in Chicago around 9:00 AM Tuesday. They will stay in a hotel Tuesday night and Wednesday night, and after seeing a show on Thursday evening, they will leave Chicago around 11:00 PM and drive home, arriving at 8:30 AM Friday. For this trip, Andrew packed one full-size suitcase, one duffle bag, and one regular backpack. Readers may leave a comment to guess the number of pairs of shoes he took.  = )


Best bottoms ever

It’s been about six weeks since we returned from our totally wonderful 3oth anniversary vacation. It was so amazing and delightful – literally, full of delight – that I wanted to blog about it, a) so I could always remember it, and of course, b) so my readers could enjoy the trip vicariously. I had planned to write a series of posts that would tell the story of our trip in sequential order. (Is that redundant?) To that end, I wrote the first post, “We should do this every thirty years,” and now, some five and-a-half long and involved posts later, we’ve barely even arrived in Townsend – boo-hoo – much less experienced ALL the great fun memories we made there. And meanwhile, life back here at home is zinging along in all its blog-worthy glory, and none of that is getting written either.  = {  So, while the logical, day by day story of our memorable time in and around Townsend surely deserves to be told, I have decided, with a deep sigh and some regret, to abandon the chronological approach and go topical. I figure it’s better to write something about our special places and activities, even if they’re out of order, than for so much water to go under the proverbial bridge that I run out of time, can’t remember the things that made this trip so special, and therefore never write about them at all. That would be maximally sad.

And so with that preamble, I hereby give you… Metcalf Bottoms!!! On Monday, our first day in Townsend, with our hammock still in the Durango and our bikes still on the rack from our cross-country trek, we packed stuff to make a picnic lunch and headed toward Laurel Falls, which was evidently a notable destination about 30 minutes from home, featuring a nice, “easy” (half-mile? paved?) walk to a lovely waterfall. Our plan was to put the lunch in a backpack and eat at the falls. Possibly with a lot of other tourists, but whatever. We’d make it work.

Our whole goal on this anniversary trip was to have fun. After all, it was just the two of us, and we could do whatever we wanted. We LOVE being outdoors in beautiful places, and the area around Townsend is one heck of a beautiful place. It also held some really precious memories. I could mention Mounds and tubing on the Little River. I could probably leave out the fact that thirty years later we still don’t agree on who locked the keys in the car in the middle of nowhere after 5 PM on a Friday night. I digress.

The route to Laurel Falls had us driving east on Little River Gorge Road, surely one of the most scenic stretches of pavement east of the Mississippi. Actually, we weren’t driving; Scott was. I was looking out the window, LOVING the views, and letting my soul be filled. Few things energize me quite like a rushing mountain stream perfectly back-lit by sunshine through millions of variegated green leaves.

The road hugged the writhing river with tight turns that, along with the incredible views, held us to about 25 mph, and every bend elicited more little gasps of pleasure and “Oh, LOOK!(s)” and “That’s so gorgeous!(es)” from Yours Truly. I was aching to take pictures, so Scott was constantly scanning for places to pull over. There were lots of small pull-outs that could accommodate a car or maybe three, but we were driving upstream with the river on our left, so they were all on the wrong side. And then there was also the matter of my bladder becoming uncomfortably full; I was getting desperate to find – or create! – a bathroom.

Just when I knew I had only about five minutes of margin max, our road merged away from the edge of the river for a short distance, and suddenly there was a paved road to the left marked “Metcalf Bottoms.” We didn’t know what a Metcalf Bottom was, but with a patch of woods between the road and the river large enough to potentially afford some privacy, we turned in. How very glad I am that we did! And not only because we found real, flushable bathrooms.  = )

Metcalf Bottoms was a large, lovely, mostly empty picnic area right along the Little River. WOW! What could be better when you’re hungry and looking for a photo-op? Maybe we could just go ahead and eat there and then go on to Laurel Falls later. So in true Roberts fashion we first drove around and scoped the entire area, noting the picturesque (my dad always says “picture-skew”) wooden bridge over the river, the many well-situated tables (some in shade, some in sun), and of course, the conveniently located bathrooms. After an almost painstakingly detailed analysis of our options, we picked a table, unloaded our stuff, and chowed down on a delicious lunch of sandwiches topped with with red onion and homegrown tomato, funner crunchies than we get at home, and two colors of grapes (thirty years being insufficient time for either of us to compromise on brands of toothpaste or colors of grapes) while playing a casual card game called Minus Five. The river gurgled past us just a few yards away, and as a bonus, the weather was absolutely perfect.

After lunch, Scott hauled out our MASSIVE hammock frame (the pipes are more than six feet long!) and set it up right at the water’s edge. With our big, green two-person pillow for comfort, my trusty walking stick for rocking, and dappled sunlight on the water for making us smile, we settled in to listen to the next installment of our Eric Liddell audio book. Ahhh, this was the life! However, I have been told by a reliable source that just a few minutes into the book I fell asleep, and that’s probably true since I seemed to have missed part of the story…

To be continued.


Wanna go to Walmart?

Scott had already decided that the thing to do would be to buy an initial amount groceries in Knoxville, and while I was in the restroom at the rest area, he had located and brought up on his phone a 24-hour Walmart that would only take us a few blocks off our planned route to Townsend. So while he drove us on into the night, Siri and I steered us toward 2501 University Commons Way, Knoxville.

We did as directed, but things started to look, well, odd. All the Walmarts I’ve ever seen (and I’ve seen a LOT of Walmarts) have been in “normal” shopping areas, but as we exited the freeway and twisted and turned to follow The Other Woman’s directions, we were clearly downtown. Downtown? Could there even be a Walmart downtown? Siri’s pretty smart, but she was clearly totally confused. We saw two really big, modern-looking, brick and glass buildings up ahead. The street Siri told us to turn onto, the one that ran alongside those buildings, was cobblestone – you know that ten year-old cobblestone stuff that was made to look quaint and like it’s been there since the 1780s? And the streetlamps were kind of ornate and looked like old-fashioned gas lights. Despite the curious décor, this was a dark, weird part of town, and we were obviously messed up. And hungry. And tired. And I was getting frustrated.

Doggone-it! All I wanted was a Walmart so I could buy some groceries, for crying out loud!

And then, shock and awe, we saw a Walmart sign on the nearer of the two buildings! How welcome, but how very bizarre. Here’s a link to some pictures. If you click through them – you can skip the interior ones that look like any Walmart anywhere – you’ll see several shots of the exterior and one of the parking garage and the escalator and the cart storage… The whole thing was like walking into another world! It actually made me think of Jessica. Maybe that’s what Walmarts are like in China or Hong Kong where land space is limited and they just keep building up?

We parked in a spacious, well-lit, clean garage, got out and followed the signs to Walmart. We also saw signs to Publix, which my memory said was a grocery chain. Tackling a new grocery store would definitely be an adventure, but at that hour of the night, we opted to stick with boring and familiar. We then rode a long escalator UP to… Walmart. Yes, Walmart was upstairs on the second floor. Inside, it looked pretty much like a regular Walmart, smaller than our super center at home and laid out strangely, but “normal” enough. So we wandered around trying to locate some breakfast stuff and lunch stuff for the next day, some milk, some juice, and maybe a bag meal or something for a supper. We also found a HUGE supreme pizza for $1.19!

Produce was a challenge. We finally found minimal freezer and refrigerator cases at the back of the store. If you shop at Walmart regularly, it would be like having a couple row of food stuff stuck back between sporting good and toys. Very odd. We were looking for fruit, but all I could find was a small display in the middle of an aisle, about half the size of the one they set up at home in the fall out in the middle of the main front-to-back aisle with all kinds of holiday baking goods. This never makes sense to me because all those baking goods are also in their normal places on the baking goods aisle, but whatever. This display was maybe eight feet long and four feet wide with a few plastic bins (about the size of those rectangular carry baskets some stores have if you want to use something smaller than a cart) that each contained four or five pieces of sad-looking fruit. I couldn’t find any employees, so I a customer, a young man, to ask if he knew where the full produce department was. He said that was it! He was very kind and respectful, a college student, as were all the other six so customers we saw. There’s evidently a college close by there. He said Walmart was good for cheap stuff for poor college students like him, but that if we really to do serious grocery shopping (we didn’t), we should go to Publix. We obviously weren’t going to mess with that, but we thanked him for the tip.

So we bought our few bags of essential edibles and checked out. And I was wondered how on earth we were going to haul our haul to the car. This was going to be a major challenge. We clearly couldn’t take the cart down the escalator, and it wasn’t going to be fun to carry several bags of groceries, some of which were heavy, down to our the escalator and across the garage to our car. Not to mention that two-foot-square pizza!

But not to worry. When you exit Walmart, you can either go back down the escalator… or… take a nice big, clean, speedy elevator! So we wheeled our cart into the elevator and then across the garage to our trusty Durango, unloaded our groceries with some difficulty because (well, we’ll skip the part about How. Much. Stuff. was already packed into said vehicle; let’s just remember that Scott likes options), parked the cart in its handy designated spot, and, still shaking our heads in consternation, drove off. Our whole Walmart-in-Knoxville experience was just surreal.