Monday, September 30, 2013

Oregon Bound: pt.6

Welcome to Wyoming ladies and gentlemen. This is where the true wild begins in this story. Unbeknownst to me, the majority of Yellowstone National Park is in Wyoming, with small bits on the north and west dipping into Montana and Utah. But I'm getting ahead of myself for right now.

Our first stop in Wyoming, dubbed "Forever West" was Devil's Tower. Unlike most of the other main attractions in other states, Devil's Tower is pretty far off the beaten path. Yes, you take a US Highway, but that highway doesn't exactly look like a highway. Much like other US highways, this particular one was simply a long and windy two way road out in the middle of nowhere.
still on the interstate... but just before the exit for the US highway

But the magic laid in where it led. Devil's Tower has a whole story associated with it from Native American legend. I'm going to copy and paste the story from

One day, an Indian tribe was camped beside the river and seven small girls were playing at a distance. The region had a large bear population and a bear began to chase the girls. They ran back toward their village, but the bear was about the catch them. The girls jumped upon a rock about three feet high and began to pray to the rock, "Rock, take pity on us; Rock, save us." The rock heard the pleas of the young girls and began to elongate itself upwards, pushing them higher and higher out of reach of the bear. The bear clawed and jumped at the sides of the rock, and broke its claws and fell to the ground. The bear continued to jump at the rock until the girls were pushed up into the sky, where they are to this day in a group of seven little stars (the Pleiades). The marks of the bear claws are there yet. As one looks upon the tower and contemplates its uniqueness, it isn't hard to imagine this legend as fact.

So that's the story, and there's a lot more information on the website. But you're more interested in the pictures of this thing, I'm sure. Say no more:

looming from a distance
note those cool fluted sides
see if you can spot the climbers... they say it takes about 5 hours to climb

I'd say it was pretty worth the drive. It's something that's just completely out of the ordinary, and honestly it doesn't even do it justice to take pictures of it. It's just something that is purely bizarre, and you have to go there to see it in person to appreciate it. So if you're ever in the Wyoming neck of the woods... here's what you should see!

Our next destination was our arrival for the night in small-town Cody, Wyoming. However, the entirety of the Big Horn Mountain Range stood in our way, and the forecast for that night was rain. Not just a drizzle, I'm talking full out storm. Downpour. Murderous amounts of weather. The closer we got to the mountains the darker it got, and pretty soon, as we started up the switchbacks, it was all around us. Because of the weather, we didn't take any shots on the way up. However, as we crested the top, the storm subsided, and you could see hints of blue among the sky. The drops ceased falling and as we came down out of the mountains, we passed through Shell Canyon. It was so breathtaking that we not only took pictures along the way, but actually had to stop and get out and take some photos too:

yep... that grey stripe is the road down there

Pictures simply don't do it justice. After passing through the dinko town of Shell, population 83 (yes, you read correctly 83!!!) we pulled into Greybull, Wyoming for one last stop of gas before heading off to Cody. En route to Greybull, I encountered one of the best sunsets I've ever seen in my life.

Honestly, it was like something out of a calendar. Upon rolling into Cody for the night, we met up with my friend Grace and her roommate for dinner at the Geyser Brewing Co, where I had my first taste of a true bison burger. Literally the best burger I've ever had in my life, though as per the recommendation of the waitress (and myself after having experienced it) I highly recommend ordering one grade more toward the rare side than you normally do! First time I have ever ordered medium-rare in my life.

We turned in that night at a local inn not-so-creatively called "A Wyoming Inn", and rested up for the next day in Yellowstone.

Sunday, September 29, 2013

Oregon Bound: pt.5

This post will pretty much be entirely about what the time we spent in South Dakota. There's not really a ton of things that we did there... seeing as it's a pretty big state with a whole lot of nothing in it. But there are some cool pictures, and a trip to Mt. Rushmore as well.

As it turned out, South Dakota was the first place that we saw windmills. At first it would just be one or two, and then all of a sudden out of the blue there would hundreds. You might even go so far as to say that there were "wind farms". We also crossed the Missouri River, which, as you might imagine, is pretty huge.


My dad wanted to stop at this place called Wall Drug Store, located in Wall, South Dakota. Apparently when he was growing up it had always been a dream of his, so naturally, since we were passing by, he decided that, much to my dismay, we had to stop.

The story behind Wall Drug (named because of a giant "wall" of natural rock that the town sits atop) is that it was a ma and pop drug store basically in the middle of the nowhere. They were really struggling for business, and needed a radical new business plan. They decided that, given they were in the middle of the desert, that they would start offering free ice water to travelers passing through. Then they started putting billboards 300 and 400 miles out from their location, and literally you'd see a Wall Drug sign every 10 miles or so. By the time you actually got to Wall, South Dakota, you would HAVE to stop for some water! They also boasted 5 cent coffee, and both of those claims are still true today, despite the fact that the place is not a giant kitschy tourist trap. However, my dad's desire was satiated and that's what matters.

After a night's stay in Rapid City, South Dakota (which, honestly, is not worth talking about because there was nothing there) we drove towards Yellowstone in Wyoming. But we still had a few stops to make along the way, one of them being Mt. Rushmore.

When I tweeted about being at Rushmore, I actually got a lot of replies that said something along the lines of "wow I didn't know it was even in South Dakota..." which is about the same place I was at prior to planning this trip. The other thing was that it was a lot smaller that I had imagined. I was sort of expecting something that absolutely swallowed you up. And despite reading the stats online, it's hard to imagine what the size will be until you're actually there. Needless to say, Rushmore was one of the coolest things I've seen in the States to date and it's definitely, definitely, definitely worth a visit.

on the way!

all of that rock on the bottom is stuff they've chiseled away 
family photo! 
clearly my thoughts were on my future home...
one of my favorite pictures of the day
and of course, the motherland
Now you would think that our travels in South Dakota would end here, but you'd be wrong. You see, South Dakota also has a monument that's in the process of being built called Crazy Horse. As far as size goes, it will dwarf Rushmore when it's finished. However, in my personal opinion, it's not really that impressive because quite frankly it's nowhere near completion. However, despite the hefty twenty-dollar fee to get in, my dad really did want to see it, so here it is. Can you tell my 22 year old self is not impressed?

that white line is going to be a horse's head... the indian's arm will be resting atop it

Next stop -- Wyoming! Slowly but surely making our way all the way across the country!

Saturday, September 28, 2013

Oregon Bound: pt.4

The main point of the detour up the Minneapolis, Minnesota was to meet Liz Schewe, a girl who works for Publishgreen in the eBooks department. Liz and I had never actually met in person before, nor even talked on the phone, now that I'm thinking about it. However, we did both work with author Carl T. Smith, and exchanged a few emails. When my dad and I finalized the idea to drive across the country, I asked Liz if she'd like to meet, both to show me a bit of the city and just to actually talk in person, and she was gung-ho for the idea. My dad also had a friend, Al (short for Alfonso believe it or not) who he went to school with that we could meet up with in St. Paul. For those who don't know, St. Paul and Minneapolis are the "twin cities" because they are so close. This is also where the Minnesota Twins baseball team name came from.

My dad had been in the habit of at least attempting to get all the state welcome signs, though most of the time we were driving 65-75mph and I wasn't about to slow down for pictures when we had hundreds of miles to go... But, he did do okay with the drive-bys and you can sort of tell that it does actually say "Minnesota welcomes you":

Minneapolis was a very cool city and I almost wish we had spent a little more time there, but I think we probably made the right decision in heading to our next destination because pretty much every day we had a long drive, and this day was no exception. Some cool things to note about Minneapolis: there are a lot of pedestrian bridges that cross over the roadways. Not just from sidewalk to sidewalk, but actual bridges that connect buildings. Maybe that's for the cold or the snow; who knows... Another thing was that the public transportation seemed like it was pretty well done. The "subway" was really a tram, that rain right in the street. But I'll let my dad's pics speak for me here, since I didn't take too many that day (I was focused on driving like a good boy).

All in all we had a great time, and a great lunch with Liz at a place called Kieran's Irish Pub (after seeing the office of Publishgreen of course). It's a place I'd definitely love to go back to one day... though maybe it will be even more pretty when there's some fluffy white stuff on the ground :)

Before we crossed the South Dakota border, there was one more cool little tidbit that I need to mention. I've been a pretty big fan of Adam Young, the man behind Owl City, for quite some time, and still follow his music. Adam Young is from Owatonna, Minnesota, a place I never quite thought I would ever be near, because frankly, there's not really any reason to go there. However, it just so happens that while we were driving towards the South Dakota border, we passed the exit for Owatonna. And I did my best to take a picture as we hurtled by, given that Dad was very much asleep in the passenger seat...
the view from where we were eating lunch -- it was a beautiful day; we HAD to eat outside!

the good old city of Owatonna from the highway 
...and the official exit sign... nearly missed!
The rest of the day basically consisted of lots of driving through a vastly flat area, basically a straight road as far as the eye can see! Not to mention the sky looks absolutely cavernous!

The day ended in little Sioux Falls, South Dakota... where we stayed at the quaint little Brimarck Inn.

More to come tomorrow!

Friday, September 27, 2013

Oregon Bound: pt.3

Upon heading out of Chicago, our next destination was Rockford, Illinois. This may seem like a city in the middle of nowhere and perhaps an arbitrary location, but in fact it was the city in which my dad grew up. It had been quite some number of years since he had been back, and he was very excited to show me around. When we first passed the Rockford city limits, my dad immediately noticed how much the town had grown since he was a kid there. Chicago has been sprawling west, and Rockford has been sprawling east, and the cities may eventually meet in the middle, where there once existed a deserted open plain.

The first place we stopped was a park. But it wasn't just a park; my dad remembered going there and so we took a stroll around. Surprisingly, it was super hot outside. We're talking 90's, which is apparently very unusual for that area, especially in September.

After stopping for lunch at Steak and Shake, a venue at which I had never been in my life (it was delicious, for the record) we headed outside the city since we couldn't check in to our place for the night just yet. We headed to the cemetery where my dad's parents are buried. This is a pretty big deal for me... I have never met either one of them. My dad's mother passed away before my parents were even married, and his father passed away shortly thereafter. For those of you who were able to have your grandparents as a big part of your life, consider yourself lucky. I never even got to meet my paternal grandparents, and my maternal grandparents live in upstate NY (though my maternal grandfather has already passed away).

The cemetery was pretty standard, lots of grass, lots of graves. But seeing my last name on a gravestone was nothing short of a bit haunting. Nonetheless, we took a moment and said a prayer. It is probably the only time I'll ever really get to "meet" my paternal grandparents.

We proceeded to then head back to the city, driving through downtown (or rather what's left of it, as the majority of busy areas are not actually in downtown anymore) and just getting a feel for the city.

We eventually moved a little outside the city center and into some of the more residential areas. My dad actually lived in three different homes in Rockford, and so we drove to each one to see them. Mind you, I felt like a complete creep stopping on these residential roads, cruising around super slowly as my dad dug around in his brain how to remember where to go to get to these places. And then taking pictures of people's current homes... that was kind of odd. But, nonetheless, it's a pretty cool thing to see where your parents grew up, especially since I don't know very much about his childhood. Here are the three houses, in successive order:
first house
second house 
third house (which my grandfather actually designed!)
After visiting a church that my dad had gone to as a kid, we were on our way to the next big adventure: Minneapolis. But that will be in the next post!
the church -- note that that window is not direct light (even though it looks like it)

Had to throw this one in there just because it was cute.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Oregon Bound: pt.2

For those of you who check back here often, I know I've been absent a few days. A certain someone I am traveling with has a tendency to really be lazy about getting up in the morning... which sets us back timewise and pushes the whole schedule later. By the time we get somewhere around 8pm we check in, unpack and eat dinner and by that point it's time to go to bed! And so if you want to blame someone for my lack of stories and anecdotes... blame him. :)

I'm writing this currently from Sioux Falls, South Dakota. Clearly a lot has happened, as we have now passed the official halfway mark of the mileage (can you believe it?). I believe the last time I wrote we were in Akron, Ohio, or somewhere around there. The next stop was Chicago. I have never actually seen downtown Chicago and therefore we decided that before we left the downtown area to go to our hotel, that we would drive a few loops (pun intended, given The Loop) around downtown so I could experience the city. More importantly I'd get to see the area where I proposed an intervention for the 2013 Evolo Skyscraper Competition. My project was an urban camping concept that lifted campers high above the river right in the middle of the city.

Anyways, we took I-90 right into Chicago, which is called the Chicago Skyway at that point. Naturally, there is a toll to pay before you get on it...
tolls... gotta love 'em

I have to say, though, the toll was worth it. You come blasting down this interstate highway and the skyscrapers seem to literally grow out of the ground. It just so happened it was kind of hazy and cloudy that day, and so it looked even more cool.

downtown Chicago rising up out of the mist
It's always cool when the interstate goes right through a city because a normally straight (especially out in the midwest) road all of a sudden becomes windy and snakes its way around the buildings, banking like a rollercoaster after the initial drop. And then when you take an exit... BOOM. You're right in the middle of everything. This is literally the first thing we saw after the exit we took.

We drove towards The Loop and Wacker Dr. (which, if you ever saw the Dark Knight is home of the chase scene underground where the Joker is in an 18 wheeler -- just look up The Dark Knight chase scene on Youtube) and got some cool views of the river, the bridges and more. The bridges were something I researched explicitly, and it turns out that they are all rack and pinion drawbridges with massive counterweights underground! In addition we saw one of my favorite buildings in Chicago -- Trump Tower, which sits right at the kink of the river. From the lake, you can look directly down the river and see that building right in front of you. Leave it to Trump to pick some prime real estate for a building with his name on it.
Wacker Drive -- those corn cob buildings are the Marina Towers, and poking up behind it is Trump Tower
Trump Tower Chicago -- one of the most gorgeous buildings I know of

...and again driving from a different angle because I missed our turn
the entrance to Lake Shore Drive
One of the cool things about Chicago is the elevated tracks. These tracks allow trains to come in from commuter areas outside the downtown area, circle around at several stops, and eventually go back out to where they started. Because they circle around, the area that they're in is called The Loop. The tracks itself are called The L, which is because they are "eLevated". If someone knows this better than I do feel free to step in because honestly, this is just what I remember from my research on a project almost a year ago...

elevated train tracks right above the road.. also an articulated bus; talk about a nightmare to drive in a city
We then headed a bit North in the city, out of the immediate downtown area to where my grandfather grew up on a dairy farm. At the time, of course, there was a farm there, since Chicago was so much smaller than it is now. Here's what the same street looks like today:

Pretty incredible, really. It's obviously completely changed, and almost into a ritzy condo area too. After driving past Wrigley Field, we literally rode off into the sunset, some number of miles directly west to the suburbs where we were staying. By that point the city skyline had disappeared into the haze behind us, and the bustle of traffic and noise had calmed to a mere buzz.

One thing I do have to say about Chicago though. If you are an NJ driver, you probably won't have any problem driving in Chicago. Of course, we were there on a Sunday and not in rush hour traffic or anything. But getting around the downtown didn't seem too bad. And to be perfectly honest, I'm pretty sure I was just as much an aggressive driver (if not more) than the locals!! Don't steal my thunder; I feel accomplished.

More to come soon!
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