Archive for the 'Travel' Category

Postcard memories

For years, I collected postcards. As a homeschooling mom, I thought they would be a great way to expose our kids to geography; you know, interesting places, excellent photos, good conversation-starters. It was a nice idea in theory, and it would have been effective if I had actually executed my plan! However, as it turned out, I just ended up collecting and – as you might imagine if you know me very well – organizing postcards for well over twenty years.

Originally they lived in a shoe box, and when they outgrew that, I bought them a nice, roomy, lidded plastic storage box, within which I rubber-banded them together alphabetically by state and then by nation. That storage box has been unopened – well, very rarely opened – on a shelf in our office closet for a number of years that I am embarrassed to even try to calculate, but in my current declutter-my-life phase, I’m tackling the office closet. And therefore, I am, yes, sorting through postcards.

I’ve decided to keep only the ones that have real meaning to me – ones my mom or other special people have sent me, ones with photos of particularly meaningful places, or ones that bring back really neat memories. The rest, most of which were never mailed or even written on, are going to the thrift store. Well, I am keeping a few blank ones for personal use.  = )

Yesterday, I got through Alabama, Alaska, Arkansas, Arizona, California, and Colorado, and in the process, I learned or was reminded of these facts:

~ The world’s highest suspension bridge is over the Arkansas River at Royal Gorge near Canon City, CO, and the hanging railroad bridge built down along the river there in 1879 is still in use today!

~ The world’s largest hand-dug well is at Greensburg, KS. (I’m not sure how that card got in the A-C stack.)

~ When we were at Mesa Verde, CO, we evidently didn’t see the most interesting ruin.

~ The 14-mile road to the top of Mt. Evans (CO) is the highest paved road in North America.

~ El Capitan in Yosemite National Park is just amazing.

~ I remember very fondly our day trip to Muir Woods (CA) with Josiah in a stroller. Also cable cars and the Golden Gate bridge.

~ I still have the big pine cone I picked up on my solitary, snowy drive up around Lake Tahoe the day I went exploring while Becky, Milt, and Scott were skiing.

~ Nebo Steps (AR) is a killer trail, and watching hang gliders launch from the top of Mt. Nebo is thrilling.

~ As a kid, from time to time we’d take little day trips to Hot Springs, AR and walk around. I enjoyed that.

~ I liked Blanchard Springs (AR) Caverns as a kid and again as an adult with our own kids. That was one of our very first family camping trips, and we were using Scott’s parents’ massive, old, two-room canvas tent from Africa. That was the same trip where 18 month-old Jessica woke me up in the middle of the night with her ecstatic, piercingly shrill, “It’s a BIBLE, Mommy!!!!” She had found the Beginner’s Bible on the floor of the tent.

~ The Petrified Forest (AZ) is one of the strangest places I’ve seen.

~ Gulf Shores was clearly MUCH less developed when my first family was there in the early 1970s than when our current family was back there in 1998. 25 years makes a big difference!

~ In 1980, a first-class stamp cost $0.15.

~ No matter the time of day or lighting conditions, no matter your specific vantage point, and no matter how many times you pause to look, if you are walking on the south rim trail along the Grand Canyon while your husband and 16 yo son are spending parts of two days hiking to the bottom and back up, you will never be bored by the view.


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.