Ouray Badlands

Badlands, so-called because you supposedly can’t grow anything on them, are characterized by their eroded, bare-looking, rounded slopes showing a lot of colorful striations. I’ve been intrigued with them since learning about them at work, enchanted by aerial views of land forms I couldn’t quite figure out but was eager to get a closer look at.

I finally got a much closer look when we went to Ouray National Wildlife Refuge, a place known for its wetlands and migratory birds, to hike on the badlandy hills there. (Yes, badlandy is a word. At least it is now.) It was a steep and rugged climb getting to the top of the hills, but once we were there it was just magical.

Soon after we arrived at the top Chad picked up a piece of something I assumed was a rock, had me look at it, and told me it was a piece of fossilized turtle shell. I’m enough of a nerd that fossils in the wild really bowl me over – in this case I was in disbelief. As we looked, we kept finding more and more pieces of turtle shell. We took photos but left the fossils there, as you should if you find fossils on public land. I still find it just amazing that we were able to go hiking on ground that was probably under water millions of years ago, and discover traces of the former inhabitants, just lying on the ground. Moments like these really help put things into perspective for me.

Walking on the ridges and running up and down the slopes of the hills was a ton of fun. Hiking on terrain like this just might be one of my favorite things to do. The vistas are beautiful, the ground is beautiful, and those hills are actually not as barren as they look. We saw plenty of plants growing here and there.

The only thing that marred the experience for me was that beyond the edge of the refuge, the horizon was littered with the tell-tale shapes of oil wells. Alas, the refuge is literally surrounded by them. That is what drives the economy in this neck of the woods. I can’t help dreaming of an alternative though, where eco-tourism is the force that gives people their paychecks instead of the polluting, depleting oil and gas industry. I imagine some of you out there may think I’m exaggerating, always harping on environmental issues. But I think whatever your stance on the environment, for someone who is an outsider to this region of the country, it is just shocking to see how much of the landscape is marked by oil and gas. Which is one of the reasons Chad and I want to show you the beautiful landscapes that need protection from the spread of industry.

We will return to Ouray for more hikes, no doubt, but I will always have a lump in my throat as we drive past the oil wells to get there.

Yellow Flower Desert Pinnacle

When Chad and I need a quick hike, this is our new favorite location, the place we call Yellow Flower Desert. We discovered this area, just off of one of our major highways, several months ago and were enchanted at how quickly we were able to get to fun hiking terrain. When we went this time, we spotted a location in the distance that we wanted to checkout. As we approached, I thought it looked like a cool natural amphitheater, albeit, with a pinnacle in the middle of it. Chad was drawn to the pinnacle. So we set out towards this spot, and weren’t disappointed when we got there.

 

 

The pinnacle and sides of the amphitheater were about the height of a 3-story building, we figured. It felt like a very special place to both of us. Sometimes you just find one of those places in nature that seems to have a healing energy to it. We both did some yoga poses near the pinnacle, but my favorite pose was simply sitting near it, soaking up some positive earth energy.

The day after this hike I flew back to NC to spend some time with my family, which created such an interesting contrast – being alone in the peaceful desert one day and the next, back in the busy sprawl of Charlotte. Being familiar with different locations is, I think, similar to being familiar with different languages. Both give you a broader perspective of the world. I’m so lucky to be able to learn something of the language of the desert.

Wickliffe Mounds, Kentucky

June 23, 2017: Wickliffe Mounds, Kentucky – Day 3

IMGP6908 2Our last side-trip on our way to Nashville was a prehistoric site in Kentucky, the Wickliffe Mounds State Historic Site. Chad did most of the work looking for sightseeing stops for us on our trip and he did a great job coming up with good variety.

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This long building in the preceding and following photos housed the artifacts that were found on the site. The mounds may not look like much; inside this building were the real finds. No pictures were allowed, so I’ll have to tell you what we saw. The ground had been excavated to reveal foundations of living quarters. Many of these contained infant burial sites – whenever an infant died they would be buried under the dwelling floor. The artifacts found here include some really beautiful pottery pieces – not just containers but sculptures made of animal effigies.

Having spent a lot of time in one of the world’s best museums, the Louvre in Paris, France, I can be a little jaded about museums. This one really surprised me – they have a fine collection that is worth going out of your way to visit. We could have spent all day looking at the artifacts.

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Next: Day 4 – Family reunion

Driving through Missouri and Illinois

June 23, 2017: Missouri and Illinois – Day 3

Taking a long cross country trip has its good sides and its bad sides. On the less comfortable side, it can be hard to stay seated all day long. You get to that point where you forget about it for awhile and then you make a stop, get out of the car and realize how stiff you are, what a relief it is to stretch. That would be one of the bad sides.

On the other hand it’s amazing how time changes. When you’ve driven through three states in one day, it feels like your day has been richly filled, compared to say, sitting at a computer all day long or all week long. In the latter scenario, you find yourself at another Friday night and wonder, really, did the week go by that quickly? I enjoy the feeling of time spreading out and having a day more densely populated with experiences and memories. Maybe it can’t be like this everyday, and maybe I wouldn’t want it to, but it’s fun to remember that it’s possible.

On day 3 of our trip, we drove through Missouri.

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And then we drove through a corner of Illinois.

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And then we arrived in Kentucky!

Next: Day 3 – Wycliffe Mounds, Kentucky

 

Mark Twain State Park

June 23, 2017: Florida, Missouri – Day 3

We stayed the night in a cabin at the Mark Twain State Park. We got in a little late and may have woken up some fellow campers which I felt bad about but c’est la vie. It’s pretty cool that many campgrounds offer a few cabins for those who don’t want the full blown camping experience of sleeping in a tent. It’s a nice compromise. Unlike many women, I actually love sleeping in tents, but since we knew we’d have a long day driving reserving the cabin made it easier for us.

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Later that day we were supposed to arrive in Nashville to begin family reunion activities, but we wanted to take a little time to see the sites along the way. Since we were in Mark Twain territory, we had to at least check out his birthplace, in Florida, Missouri, which we’d noticed on the map. We loaded our belongings back into our car and headed out in search of the Birthplace. We saw a sign leading to it but all we saw was a more recent building indicating it was the “Mark Twain Memorial Shrine.”

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We figured we’d go inside and ask where the Birthplace was, not wanting to take the time to visit a museum. On our way in we both mused at how Mark Twain would have felt about having a shrine.

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And there it was, the house Samuel Clemens was born in is actually inside the shrine.

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The cabin was relocated from it’s original location nearby. I’m pretty sure the Clemens family probably had daylilies on their supper table every day – aren’t you? Snarkiness aside, it was very cool to see the cabin, pardon, “the Birthplace,” and some of the memorabilia of Mark Twain’s more luxurious life after becoming famous.

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Day 3 – Driving through Missouri and Illinois

 

 

Driving through Nebraska

June 22, 2017: Nebraska – Day 2

Driving through Nebraska brought some very Nebraska-esque sites, like covered wagons. And then there was the Great Platte River Road Archway Monument. Quite a surprise when you’re not expecting a giant archway over the interstate!

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By the time we made it to Lincoln, Nebraska we were ready for some real food. It’s hard to eat on the road when you try to eat healthy and even more so when you have food sensitivities. With an ulterior motive of renting an audiobook, we decided to make a stop at the old standby, Cracker Barrel.

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They had a full menu based on food sensitivities and allergens so I was able to order a gluten-free, corn-free meal with no problem.

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Do an unusually high percentage of antique car drivers prefer Cracker Barrel too? It’s possible.

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Finding some food made us both happy and ready to keep driving towards the day’s destination: Mark Twain State Park in Missouri.

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Chad enjoyed his first Cracker Barrel meal while I drove over the increasingly less flat roads of Nebraska and onward towards Iowa!

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We drove through a corner of Iowa and could feel the humidity rising.

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By this time I’d gotten news that Charlie was doing just fine and I could stop worrying about her. Before we knew it we were in Missouri and Chad was still working on his dessert.

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As the sun set we stopped to get gas, very obviously in Jesse James territory.

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Yes, this meant we’d be arriving in the dark, but since we had a cabin booked and didn’t have to set up a tent, we knew we’d be able to relax from our long day in the car soon.

Day 3 – Mark Twain State Park

Pony Express Station In Gothenburg Nebraska

June 22, 2017 – Gothenburg, Nebraska – Day 2

IMGP2859Our next destination was the Pony Express Station in the town of Gothenburg, Nebraska. It was nestled into a cute little neighborhood with historic craftsman houses. I enjoyed seeing different types of residential neighborhoods throughout our trip, and this was one of the cutest ones.

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We eventually found the Pony Express Station. It felt good to stretch our legs while we took a quick look around. Chad bought some souvenirs and I eavesdropped on fellow tourists. A middle aged couple were there with their son who was starting college soon. It made me remember when my parents drove me to NY for my first semester in college and we took a road trip of our own from NC to NY.

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One of the interesting things I learned about the Pony Express was that it was only operational for 18 months. Then the telegraph became more widespread making the pony express  obsolete. It seems strange that it became legendary in such a short time.

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What I haven’t yet told you is that we had a pretty tight driving schedule on our way out, trying to make it from Salt Lake to Nashville in just three days. On this particular day we woke up in Wyoming and would be finishing the day in Missouri. Chad was ready with ideas of places to stop and I tried to keep us on schedule. It turned out that there was a Sod House museum in the same town so we decided to have a quick look. It was closed but we had fun goofing around at the American Gothic face hole board.

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Next: Day 2 – Driving through Nebraska

 

Driving through Wyoming

June 22, 2017: Wyoming – Day 2

We passed a giant oil refinery somewhere outside of Rawlins.

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The roads were long and straight and for quite a long time we were going 80 on 80.

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The landscape was very picturesque but the size of these snow fences made me think about how cold and blustery it must be in winter.

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Still, there were many cute little farms with mountains in the background.

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We were ready for a food break by the time we got to Laramie. It seems we were so focused on food that the only shot either of us got of the town was this pretty church:

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Next: Day 2 – Gothenburg Nebraska

Rawlins, Wyoming

June 25, 2017: Rawlins, Wyoming – Day 2

Part of the reason we picked the motel we did in Wyoming was that it had an interesting cliff behind it. It was a Rodeway Inn – looked like a motel on the outside, felt more like a hotel on the inside. The last motel we had stayed in together was kind of gross – it smelled like smoke and was a little dingy – so we were relieved that this one was pretty comfortable. And it matched my car!

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We were impressed with all the beautiful old churches and other historical buildings in the town of Rawlins. The town looked like it had once lived through better days but was now just a place for people to stopover on their way to somewhere else.

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Next: Day 2 – Driving through Wyoming

Salt Lake City, Utah to Rawlins, Wyoming

June 21, 2017 – Summer Solstice – Utah and Wyoming – Day 1

This summer Chad and I set out on an 11 day road trip, driving to Nashville and back. No, we weren’t going to check out the Country Music capital of the world, we were just going to a family reunion. We thought we’d make a vacation out of it rather than just fly in for a day and a half and then fly back.

We had our trip all planned out and were  both excited about it and then one of our dogs, Charlie, had to have last minute, unexpected surgery. The surgery went well and she seemed to be doing better so we decided to go ahead and board her at the vet to recover from her surgery in a calm manner (ie, with no way to jump around like she usually does) and then we could still go on our trip. I was questioning this decision though, still worried about my sweet little Charlie.

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So we packed up and hit the road. We stopped off in Salt Lake City and then took interstate 80 into Wyoming… and beyond! As soon as we got out of the city and into some wide open spaces I started relaxing and getting revved up for the trip, trying to have faith that Charlie would be just fine.

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Wyoming has such beautiful landscapes. It feels like a privilege to see some of the less populated areas of the country. The wide open spaces just fill you with awe.

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Chad and I had scoured the map along our route to look for interesting spots along the way. Our first one was an interesting spot on the map in Green River, Wyoming: the Greater Green River Intergalactic Spaceport. We drove through the town of Green River trying to find the “spaceport” right around sunset. When we found it we were disappointed – not because it was just an ordinary old landing strip (which we knew it would be) but because it had several signs warning us that unless we were professional aircraft people we were not welcome. We decided to respect the signs and just enjoy the sunset.

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We got back on the road and drove until we reached the Continental Divide. I admitted I didn’t really know what that meant and Chad patiently explained that on the western side of the divide the water runs to the Pacific Ocean and on the eastern side of it, it runs to the Atlantic. So there you have it!

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I was starting to get fidgety in the car by this point and Chad agreed that it would be a good idea to go ahead and find somewhere to stop for the night. We had our choice of hotels in Rawlins, Wyoming and picked the one that looked good to us both.

Day 2 – Rawlins, Wyoming