Saturday, 27 August 2011

Madison and Chi-Town

Our second, considerably less epic road trip of the year was to Madison, WI and then Chicago, IL. It was like 14 hours each way. No big.

Oh wait, that was 14 hours through the most boring scenery on the face of the planet, and the worst state in the entire Union. 

The most notable topography on the entire journey was the disappearance of the Rockies somewhere around Ft Morgan and their reappearance, three days later, again somewhere around Ft Morgan. 

Here's some pretty industry in Julesberg, CO, just over the state line from Nebraska. We stopped here to get gas as the sun was starting to get into the sky.

I started off taking pictures of state signs but by the soul-crushing end of Nebraska, 300 miles later, I just didn't care, so this is the last state sign you'll see. And Nebraska = way nicer than anything that came after it. 

Much like on our last trip, we followed Louis and Clark, on this one we followed the Oregon Trail. Luckily, no one died of cholera. I did, however, get a speeding ticket in Iowa. God, what an awful state. 

That evening we arrived in Madison. The town itself is very pretty, and reminded us a lot of Boulder -- college town, obviously liberal, lots of bicycles... Except unlike Boulder, it has some very pretty lakes.

Also unlike Boulder, it has crushing humidity.

This view is looking up State Street towards the capitol building, where Scott Walker was ensconced in his evil lair. Becca showed us around State Street and the University campus, including her office, and we saw many cool and cute shops and ate some Thai food. We also briefly lost the car keys, which would have been xdisastrousx, but luckily a nice couple found them on the beer terrace at the university and the day was saved. That night we went out for a bar crawl and enjoyed Wisconsin's famous beer. Or, I should say, I enjoyed it, and Nathan drank lots of rum and orange juice and Becca drank lots of gin and tonic.

The next morning, Nathan and I drove to Chicago. The drive should have been quite short, but traffic meant that it took forever. I was getting hungrier and hungrier and crankier and crankier and by the time we made it to Maeve's place (where, though she was out of town, she was very kindly letting us stay), my hunger was sitting right around "homicidal". This was our first view of Chicago, through a rainstorm.

We met up with Devin once we got there and he showed us around the city. Here we are about to take the "Loop" on the El. The "Loop" is very cool because, since it is elevated, you see all sorts of cool views of the big buildings of downtown. Chicago reminded me, more than any other city, of New York in terms of age, big buildings, and close space. Also: size. Chicago is HUGE!

We took the El to a stop near downtown and then walked over to the Field Museum. Here's the view looking back towards town.

Inside the Field Museum, Devin and Nathan show off their best T-Rex poses with Sue, the famous T-Rex.

Once the museum closed, we walked along the shore of Lake Michigan a bit and saw some absurd party boats before Devin took us to see The Bean, which sounds stupid -- it's a big reflective surface -- but actually... it's pretty awesome. I can't really explain why. Here's Devin in front of it.

From there, we went to a bar and met Nathan's friend from college, Rachel. We hung out and they caught up for a while before parting ways. Devin took us to Hancock Tower. Here's the view from the base, a cool old church.

And here's the view from the top! I took this photo with my cell phone from the ladies' bathroom, which had really magnificent views. Apparently the mens' bathroom just has walls, no windows. Sad!

After having cocktails there, we went and ate delicious pizza and bruschetta before Devin showed us the mansion (like, really, it's a mansion) where he and a lot of the other people working on the Obama campaign are temporarily living. We met the owner and her daughter and their various pets, including two incredibly cute golden retrievers, and then sadly had to leave. From there it was a taxi ride back to Maeve's apartment, where we fell asleep, exhausted.

The next day, we drove back to Denver -- whirlwind trip! -- and the only thing I found notable to take a picture of in 14 hours of driving was the Mississippi River. Which was pretty big. But man, the Midwest is boring.

However, it was fantastic to see Becca and Devin, as well as to meet Rachel. I'm just sad Maeve wasn't there that weekend or things would have been perfect! Thanks to everyone who showed us around and gave us a place to stay. 

Mt Bierstadt

Two weekends ago, my dad and I climbed Mt Bierstadt (14,060 ft), one of the easiest 14ers in the state. We had planned to climb the Bierstadt-Evans combo over a narrow ridge called the Sawtooth, but my dad took one look at it (which is a Class 3 hike), and said no way, so we just did Bierstadt. This turned out to be lucky because when we got back to the parking lot, our truck's battery was completely dead and trying to leave was quite an ordeal.

Here is sunrise, as we started the hike from the parking lot at the top of Guanella Pass. 

Here we've already crossed the marshy area known as "The Willows", which some helpful people from the Colorado Fourteeners Initiative thoughtfully built a boardwalk over. This is very lucky, because we could see thick, deep mud everywhere that wasn't the boardwalk. We also were lucky enough to see a fairly large (seven-eight) group of moose, including a young one, drinking water in the lake down there. 

Here, the sun has fully come up and we are at about 12,750 ft. You can see lots of people on the trail -- it was a Saturday morning, Bierstadt is only an hour or so from Denver, and it's known as one of the very easiest 14ers. So naturally there were a ton of people there. There were also a lot of people who were very overweight, or who were dressed terribly for hiking, or who were clearly very out of shape. One woman who we passed was insisting that she was going to throw up and another woman who I would describe as almost certainly obese in terms of BMI who left the parking lot at the same time as us was still below this point coming up when we were on our way back down. We saw many examples of people hiking who absolutely should not have been. Even though the hike is easy, it seems as if people are unprepared for altitude or for the chance of some weather event happening. Luckily the day remained gorgeous.

I should also note that we saw a ton of adorable dogs, including a very placid looking yellow lab retriever puppy in someone's backpack. ADORABLE.

Here is the view towards Evans from the summit of Bierstadt. Mt Evans is the first 14er I was ever on top of, as the highest paved road in North America goes to the top and my family used to drive up there regularly. I still haven't hiked it, sadly!

As we were sitting on the summit, we saw a flight for life helicopter come from the west (to the left/behind us in this photo), swoop along the ridge of Evans, and then hop over the summit. It was awesome. Later I learned from that someone had gotten badly dehydrated on the Sawtooth and people had called the helicopter for him to be rescued, but that the rescuers never found him (and that he made it down safely). 

Here's a view to the south from the summit.

Here's my dad on the summit, showing off the camelbak I gave him for Father's Day.

While on the summit we also overheard a really idiotic conversation from a group of guys who clearly fancied themselves tough and knowledgeable mountain men. First they talked about how they "totally could have cut off their arms" if they were in an Aron Rallston, 127 Hours-type situation. Uh huh. Then they started talking about tall mountains and one of them declared with absolute certainty that Mt Elbert is the highest mountain in America. First: Denali is 6000 ft taller. Second: Mt Elbert isn't even the highest mountain in the lower 48. Third: You're loud and dumb.

So here I am, laughing at them.

This is the view down the Sawtooth towards Evans. Everyone has told me that it looks a lot scarier than it really is. I was excited to do it as I found Bierstadt to be a REALLY easy hike and was looking for more of a challenge. However, my dad was eyeing the ridge and was absolutely not feeling it, so we headed back down Bierstadt.

Here's the view looking back towards the Sawtooth. Bierstadt summit is to the right. 

And a better view of the Sawtooth.

Looking north towards Longs Peak and Mt Meeker.

Some cool rock in the parking lot.

A close-up view of the Sawtooth.

And our sad Truckie, who was unfortunately not feeling well when we got back to him. It quickly became obvious that there was a problem with his battery. We tried to find tools, and then jumper cables, but no one had anything, and eventually we had to call my mom to come rescue us. Oops. I had to stand on the roof of the truck to get reception, but that didn't work well, and my mom didn't know how to get to where we were, so I had to hike a ways up to some high ground to get enough cell reception to tell her directions. After about an hour and a half, she arrived, and then we started a lengthy odyssey of using jumper cables, going to Bailey to buy new cables, coming back, new cables not working, and finally admitting that the battery was completely dead. My dad said that sometimes, when a battery is really old (as that one was), driving over a rough road -- like, oh, say, Guannella Pass on the southern side -- will destroy the inside of a battery so that it can't even be jumped. This seemed to be the problem, so, at that point, since it was 4:30 and we had gotten back from our hike at about 11, we elected to leave it overnight. My parents came back the next day with a new battery and installed it. After that, Truckie was perfectly happy and came back down the mountain to Denver just fine. 

Road trip to Seattle!

When Nathan decided that he was going to climb Mt Rainier with a few other guys, we decided that road tripping to Seattle was the best way to get there. We looked at google maps and scoffed: 
"It's only 20 hours. We can totally do that in one day."
And so we did this. We left Denver at 3 am MST and arrived in Seattle at about 10:30 pm PST. It was... a long drive. 

Here's the worst part: that's not ALL of Montana. There's more of it. Somewhere to the east.

The merits of the drive are that it goes through some very pretty country, with spectacular mountain and lake views, big skies, and notable western landmarks like the Anaconda silver mine. Another bonus is that there's very few cars on the road, and almost no cops, so, despite the disappointing fact that Montana now has a speed limit, doing 90-95mph there is totally cool.

Even leaving Denver, the biggest city we would see by far until we got to Seattle, there were essentially no cars on the highway. Granted it was 3 am, but it was nice to drive up a completely deserted I-25 at whatever speed I wanted as Nathan slept in the passenger seat.

Sunrise over a reservoir in Wyoming. I also did not know that Wyoming had so much water.

Here I've skipped most of Montana to show you a very pretty section of the mountains near to Idaho. Eastern Montana is a huge section of grassland and Indian reservation, and I was asleep for a lot of it. The most notable thing we saw was the Anaconda Copper Mine outside of Butte, which has now been taken over by an ENORMOUS open pit mine. And I say enormous as someone who has toured the Bingham Canyon Mine. This is probably the second largest mine I've ever seen (and I've seen a lot of mines). It dominates the entire eastern side of Butte. I didn't take a picture, however, as I was driving. 

I should also note that we followed Louis and Clark's trail almost perfectly. However, we did it faster. Take that, Louis and Clark! Way to waste government resources by taking forever to do a drive we did in a day!

In the mountains, we entered Idaho, and they lowered the speed limit to 65. Jerks.

We passed through Coeur d'Alene, Idaho, which is a town built on the shores of an enormous, beautiful mountain lake. Unfortunately I didn't get a good picture of it as I was driving. 

Then we entered... Washington!

Turns out that lava flows from the Cascades have made eastern Washington flat flat flat. And farmy. At this point we were kind of going crazy, and we got super excited because the farmers had put the names of their crops on the side of the road surrounded by sparkly pieces of paper. Every few minutes we would shriek and point and scream, "Alfalfa!" "Potato!" Did you know that central Washington has a county that produces more potatoes than anywhere else in the US?

Finally we came to the valley of the Columbia River. It's pretty big. Like, really big. 

This was the warning at the scenic overlook. We watched, but didn't see any, sadly.

From there we had to go over a very low pass to get to Seattle. At this point dusk was falling, but we could see beautiful, snow-capped mountains to our right and left. Then we got stopped while they did some blasting on the pass and we started freaking out. Eventually we came into downtown Seattle -- which is big! and bright! and has really steep streets! and made it to Leslie and Tim's condo in the University District. They had kindly made us the most delicious pasta ever, which we ate with total enthusiasm. Then we crashed. In the morning, Nathan left to go climb Rainier, and I headed into work with Leslie. She works in an architecture office with gorgeous views of Lake Washington and downtown Seattle.

After we worked for a few hours, we walked over to Gasworks Park, which is next to her office and a very pretty re-use of urban space.

Here Lesl contemplates being a human sundial. 

From there we headed into downtown Seattle. First stop: the REI flagship store. She bought a Camelbak and I got a nice new base layer. We couldn't resist the allure of nice outdoor gear!

Seattle has really cool manhole covers. I always appreciate it when these are decorated. I also love this style of Northwestern art. 

We then walked to the famous Pike Street Market. 

First we went into a truffle shop where the skilled shopkeeper managed to sell us some truffle oil after giving us a ton of free taste samples. Nom nom nom.

Then we saw the fish markets, which had enormous fish for sale!

There was also a shop selling different kinds of pasta, including delicious chocolate flavored pasta that I decided to buy.

From there, we continued walking around downtown Seattle. I told you the streets were steep! 

This cool statue is outside of the Art Museum... he moves his arm and hammers. 

Finally, the Space Needle came into view. I completely fell in love with the Space Needle. It was built for the 1962 World's Fair. I later learned that it was built to withstand 200 mph winds and a 9.0 earthquake. So even though a huge earthquake will do a lot of damage to the rest of Seattle, the Space Needle will just whip around harmonically and still be awesome. 

Lesl and I enjoyed some public art.

After the Space Needle, we met Tim for some sushi and then walked to a outdoor art museum. This tree made of metal was really beautiful.

I <3 the Space Needle! (I am sparing you the literally 20 pictures I took of it from different angles around Seattle.)

As sunset came, we were overlooking beautiful Puget Sound.

The sunset on train tracks. 

Tim and Lesl hang out on some public art.

Here I am getting my feet into Puget Sound. I haven't been in waters touching the Pacific Ocean since Mexico in 2005! Pro-tip: Mexico was warmer.

The next day, we tried to go to the San Juan Islands. Unfortunately, through some random circumstances, we were unable to take the ferry out to Orcas Island, so we wound up staying around the town of Anacortes. Lesl and I took a little hike from this beach around a headland while Tim slept in the car after pulling an all-nighter for work.

The headland was beautiful and had enormous trees.

It also had these bizarre trail markers that I originally interpreted as a Myst-style logic puzzle. Turns out that the colored lines correspond to a black and white map that labels trails as colors... 

Here is where a glacial erratic scraped out the side of the cliff during the last de-glaciation. Everywhere in this landscape you can see dramatic evidence of the geomorphology and geology that shaped it.

From Anacortes, on the suggestion of the woman at the tourism office, we went to the town of La Conner, where there was supposed to be some sort of festival happening. When we got there, we weren't sure what or where it would be, so we stopped for some food. We also decided to model some of Seattle's architecture (hanging out with two architects...) with various table implements. The salt is the Space Needle, the knife the monorail, and the crumpled napkin is the Experience Music Project. What an ugly building (and the architects concur). The water glass is... not supposed to be in the picture.

Here is the river (channel?) that cuts La Conner off from the mainland. It was a very cute little town.

There was indeed a festival going on, and it turned out to be very cool. La Conner is on the Swinomish Reservation, and they were having a meeting of all the tribes from the entire Pacific Northwest, including people from Canada and Alaska. They had all travelled down the coast in their canoes, some of which had amazing artwork.

There was a lot of free food and stalls selling craftwork. Also, as someone used to the barren landscapes of the southwestern reservations, it was a REALLY nice, prosperous-looking reservation. 

That night, Tim went into work and Leslie and I attempted to create a delicious pasta meal with our new pasta and truffle oil. About four hours later, we finally called Tim and told him he should come eat it because... the sauce that we had been stirring constantly was NEVER going to become thicker. But it was all good, because it was delicious in the end anyway (Though as Lesl repeatedly said, "Sorry it's a bit runny..."). 

The next day, with still no word from Nathan, I started to feel a bit worried, as I'd expected him home the previous night. Leslie had to go to work again, so I went to the Burke Museum, which is the University of Washington's museum. 

First I walked through a section on the geology of Washington state that was both informative and included this adorable illustration of what you (as a baby dinosaur) can do in an earthquake. Unfortunately it also included the obligatory "Evolution is real because..." section that all US museums seem obligated to have.

Then I went downstairs to see what I had really wanted to see, which was the native art. I love this style.

Finally, Nathan came back! Hooray! They successfully summitted Rainier but were too tired to come down the night before, so slept at Camp Muir and then had to hike down further that morning. On the plus side, when he got to Lesl and Tim's, he was well enough rested that all he needed was a shower and then we headed off with Lesl and Tim to see the Ballard Locks.

The coolest thing there was the salmon steps, built to help spawning salmon return through the Lock. 

Here are some blurry fish attempting to scale the ladder...

I liked this poster, which advised me that killer whales will indeed kill me. As if I needed further proof that cetaceans are man's greatest natural predator.

After dinner at a delicious pizza restaurant, we then went back to Gasworks Park and saw the view of downtown Seattle. Sans tripod, I managed to take a pretty good picture. 

The next morning was our last in Seattle. Nathan, Lesl, and I walked around the University of Washington campus. Here were some baby seagulls squatting on baby duck territory. Not too cute.

Here is one of Leslie's old dorms, done in "College Gothic" architecture.

After that we went for the infamous bubble teas. They were surprisingly good!

Our final stop in Seattle was the Museum of Flight, which is located next to the Boeing factory. As we pulled into the factory, we had the surprise experience of a 787 with "787" painted on it landing right in front of us. It was awesome!

The Museum of Flight has an outdoor area with a Concorde (shown below), an old Air Force One, a 747, and various other aircraft. We could walk onto the Concorde and the Air Force One. 

But naturally my heart was reserved for the 747, the greatest airplane of all time (passenger edition). 

Did you know the nose cone of the Concorde could be rotated? Isn't that awesome?

One of the sad things about the Museum of Flight is that they had a hall entirely built to put in one of the retired space shuttles, but they weren't awarded one, so they have posters up asking people to vote for them to receive one as well as this huge, empty space. Sad! I wish there were enough space shuttles for everyone to have one!

Inside, they had a big hall dedicated to space exploration. Something I learned that in retrospect I probably could have guessed: lunar (and presumably Mars too) rovers can't have normal Earth tires, because of air pressure, so they have mesh tires. Cool, nón?

This is the Boeing runway.

And here's a view of Mt Rainier from the Museum's control tower.

From there, at about 4 pm, we left Seattle, and Lesl and Tim behind. I had a great time with those two and hope to visit them again soon -- they're so much fun!

We drove a different route this time.

Here was sunset over Oregon.

We spent the night in a very sketchy motel on the Oregon-Idaho border, after nearly running out of gas in the absolute middle of nowhere due to small Western towns having old-fashioned, non-credit-card-taking gas pumps and it being late at night. The next day, we drove from Idaho into Utah.

Utah is a beautiful state. Here's the Wasatch.

From there, it was just a long, long way across Wyoming until... we entered Colorado. Welcome home!