THE Waterfall!

“A mind that is stretched by a new experience can never go back to its old dimensions.” – Oliver Wendell Holmes

April 2018-Carol

Niagara Falls, ON, Canada

I have heard of Niagara Falls since I was a child, but never seen it, except in pictures.  Those all led me to believe it was one, horseshoe shaped falls of extraordinary power, set in a beautiful, natural setting. Then I had heard that hotels ran shuttles to the falls, further feeding my expectations that it would be located some distance from the “quaint little town” of Niagara Falls.

Those who have been here will be laughing now at my expectations born of photos, movies and faulty assumptions.  Our arrival here was marked by stress – arriving late in the day (our modus operandi, unfortunately – we start the days slowly, even when we rise early), searching for water for the camper (we had been forced to empty it to avoid freezing the pipes – yes!  It’s THAT cold), stressing (me, not Allan) over the fact that all the signs to the Falls also included signs to the U.S. border, over which we did NOT want to cross, on top of a long day of driving. Speaking of which, the drive was through absolutely gorgeous, pristine farmlands, just waking up after a deep winter’s sleep, through light snow flurries alternating with pelting, tiny ice balls making a tick, tick ticking sound on our windshield, and past rivers and streams – no complaints about this drive, which was just beautiful!  But back to Niagara Falls – I keep expecting to pass through town and back out into the countryside, but the signs lead me, through road construction and past a million hotels, to a street rivaling Las Vegas for lights, Fisherman’s Wharf SF for wax museums and nowhere else I’ve ever been for haunted EVERYTHING.  In addition, it surpasses North Beach’s girly club section for hawkers – but these are electronic, LOUD and insistent, and are hawking you into haunted houses, not girly clubs, a cacophony of competing pollution for the ears as we parked our truck on the street.  I literally could not believe that any place so touristy, brash and ugly could host a natural wonder of the world.

But if nothing else, traveling teaches one to expect contrasts, and this is no exception.  I wanted to leave without bothering to see the falls.  But . . . . Slowly I turned, step by step, inch by inch . . . . . a block downhill, away from the noise, thank goodness, another sound began to make itself known. A kind of faint rumbling.  Cross the street and the American side of the falls comes into view.  Incredibly powerful, incredibly beautiful, across the half-frozen (did I mention it’s cold here?) river, mist falling as snow below the falls, a wall of water, green, clean, falling toward jagged snow-covered rocks.  Allan will attach some photos which will not do it justice. But where was the horseshoe falls I expected?

Far off in the distance, we see the characteristic horseshoe shaped Canada-side Niagara Falls, more mist, less visible from where we stand, a stone-walled walkway beckoning to us to draw nearer.  Mercifully, this walkway draws us away.  Away from the noise, away from the gaudy, gritty, contrived tourist fare and towards the most amazing, powerful, loud, beautiful river and falls.  As it turns out, I expected both too much and too little. This is beyond all my expectations and more than I could ever imagine or describe.  Impressions stay with me in flashes:  the beauty from a distance, from closer, the sense that I could slip behind the curtain of water literally jumping away from the river above, the raw power as I stand right next to the point where the water tumbles over, SO much water (where does it all come from?), smoothly, almost gently, casually, slipping over the edge – “what’s the big deal, I do this all day long . . . .”

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Canadian Side of Niagara

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Mist from Power of Fall

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Yes, We Were There!

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But Prettier Without Us

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Ready to Jump Over?

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American Side of Falls

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American Side Different Angle

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Closer Up

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Parts of Falls Collapse–Ice Encased

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MEMPHIS AND NASHVILLE Grace, Civil Rights and Music!

“Perhaps travel cannot prevent bigotry, but by demonstrating that all peoples cry, laugh, eat, worry, and die, it can introduce the idea that if we try and understand each other, we may even become friends.” – Maya Angelou

March, 2018

OK, I admit it, I (Carol) always wanted to go to Graceland.  I also admit that this was especially true after hearing Paul Simon’s “Graceland”.  Sure, I’m an Elvis fan, but not THAT kind of fan.  I was born slightly too late for that and I more appreciate what he made possible, musically, what came after.  I don’t drool and fall all over myself, or scream, truly.  But it just always seemed like a thing to do, a thing someone (of my generation, at least) should do.  And frankly, though I’m glad I went, the whole experience left me with more questions than answers.  Despite turning the whole thing into a kind of Disneyland, it seems those who knew Elvis personally want the world to know (and the world wants to believe) that he was a “regular guy”, someone who came from common stock and identified with the common man, who was approachable and fun.  Yet it’s hard to jibe that with the massive car collection and, not so much the fact that he lived in a mansion, but that he constantly remodeled and refurnished it, that he NEVER came downstairs until he was completely “media-ready”, nor allowed anyone else upstairs, and that he never even wanted to see Priscilla without make-up or getting dressed: “He wanted to see the result of me getting dressed”.  Still, it was interesting just being there, walking through the halls, seeing the iconic 70’s kitchen, now outdated and frozen in time without further remodeling. It was fun wondering what it would be like to have come from poverty into fame and wealth, what special pressures and challenges that carries.  And were his parents kind of running the show all along, did they pressure him to be who/how he was in the world?  Or were they just his greatest supporters?  As a parent, I know it’s sometimes hard to tell the difference.  I did really enjoy the “tribute museum” at the Disneyland-like extension across the street, where other musicians talked about the influence Elvis had on their music.  That was very interesting and inspiring – and sometimes quite surprising.  Oh, and I loved the Peanut Butter and banana sandwich fried in bacon grease – yum!

And Memphis is so wonderful for things other than Graceland.  I heard another tourist say that once you go to Graceland, there is nothing else to see in Memphis, that it’s not a “beautiful city” like Nashville. But if Graceland had been the only place we saw in Memphis, we would have missed a lot.  Three other highlights:  Beale Street!  I just don’t think there is anything like this in Oakland or San Francisco, and if there is, someone should have turned me on to it long ago.  Music is such an inherent part of Memphis culture and nowhere is this more on display than on Beale Street.  In a short 2 block area, there must have been more than 20 great live bands playing – outside, in clubs, in little bars, in restaurants, playing for tips.  We walked around, unabashedly tourists but with hearts wide open, taking pictures and listening to great music.  I didn’t feel that kind of open-heartedness at Graceland.

The National Civil Rights Museum!  Located at the Lorraine Motel, where Martin Luther King, Jr. was shot and killed, it is a rich tribute to the history of African American people and the civil rights movement in this country.  Beginning with a heart-wrenching history of the slave trade and culminating with a view of the room where MLK stayed on the day of his death (and many times before – the Lorraine was the only motel in Memphis that would accept African American guests), the museum captures the shame of how we in this country treat people of color, particularly Black people.  And it also captures the power of what it means to stand together and stand up to power, both the devastation and the triumph.  It was very, very moving, particularly in light of recent events. I know this “era” feels like nothing new for African Americans, but to reverse what little progress has been made through folks laying their lives down just makes me ill.

The Stax Museum of the Blues!  We are so glad we caught this gem on our way out of town.  Located in an old movie theater in a working-class neighborhood, this museum stands on the site of the Stax recording studio.  It chronicles the history of Black and White owners, managers, and musicians who shared this creative space, played music together, recorded together and got discovered together and is a very inspiring window into a special time and place.  Ironically, it was the death of Martin Luther King, Jr. that heralded its demise, as the experience of that tragedy and their reaction to it were so monumentally different for White people than for Black people.

Like any place, Memphis is so much more than what people see if they don’t look deeply enough.  Having just scratched the surface, having just touched down briefly as tourists, we came away with a deep appreciation of the history and people that make this place so very special!  (oh, and did I mention the barbecue?!!!!  Yummmmmm!!! Another benefit of a willingness to drop in where tourists “don’t go” (some others did come in and turned right around while we were there))

Nashville is a beautiful city (as the other tourist promised while dissing Memphis), also with a rich history and with a deep affinity for music (not just country music, either!). There are SO many recording studios on Music Row, and they all have congratulatory banners in front for artists who have recorded hit singles and albums or achieved awards.  But the really fun part of town is Broadway, a longer, even more lively, version of Memphis’ Beale street, where it seems that every storefront either has live music or sells boots.  We should note that we didn’t see Nashvilleians wearing boots and cowboy hats (not to say they don’t, we just didn’t see it), but they sure must sell a lot of them to the tourists!  While everything else closes at 6, the bars and boot shops stay open late into the night! We heard wonderful music night after night (well we were only there two nights, but we took advantage of as much live music as we could take in all the same).  SUPER FUN!  We also saw the outside of the Grand Ole Opry, took a LONG and misguided city bus ride out to the University and back (just because a shuttle is free, doesn’t mean it is going where you want to go), and visited a beautiful park with a wall that stretched at least ¾ of a mile and carried all of Nashville history from prehistoric times to the present.  The part of the wall depicting the Civil War was disjointed and broken, an interesting presentation.  Nearby is a market hall where we got Bi Bim Bop (delicious and a welcome infusion of vegetables after too much Southern Comfort Food), and a nice wooden teething ring for Maya, which has apparently become a favorite, and delicious ice cream.

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Home of the Blues

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Beale Street Rocks!

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And Never Sleeps

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Tourists/Locals Mix

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Father of Blues-W.C. Handy

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Best BBQ Anywhere!

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Guitars Bigger Than Me

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Love B.B.

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Sittin’ With B.B.

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His Club was Packed

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Having in a Bar

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Goin’ to Graceland!

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Living Room

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His Pics Everywhere

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Formal Dining Room

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Game Room

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All 50’s Style

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Large Graceland Grounds

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He Loved to Shoot

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With Mom and Dad

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His Pool Area

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Family Graves

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Stax–Amazing Museum

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Gold Caddy at Stax

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On Music Row

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Such Statues Abound

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Loved the History

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Wonderful Image

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Old Train Station

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Now a Hotel

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Largest Lobby Ever

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Very Well Preserved

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Outside of Hotel

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Large Row of Bars n Boots

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View Down the Street

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Cozyin’ Up To Johnny

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Music Row

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Blooms Everywhere!

“Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all of one’s lifetime.” – Mark Twain

KICKS ON ROUTE 66

April, 2018–Carol

Large portions of I-40, across the southern U.S., run alongside and are crisscrossed by old Route (pronounced ROOT not rout, as my mother emphatically reminded me before I left) 66 of “I got my kicks on Route 66” fame.  While following Route 66 all the way across would have taken too long for our timeline, and have been somewhat depressing, it is possible to dip off I-40 at intervals onto Route 66 and get a taste of what it might have been like traveling along that now historic highway.

Having been trying to wrap my mind around change spanning eons in Death Valley, on Route 66 I was struck quite strongly how quickly we, as humans, build idols, worship at their feet, and discard them for the next greatest thing.  Most of the times we dipped onto Route 66, we either traveled through lovely scenery or along largely abandoned former business districts (the depressing part – it occurs to me now that it might not make sense to feel depressed about this, as it clearly represents human progress on some level, but I tend to over-identify with the stories I hear, or imagine I’m hearing). Motel after motel after gas station after restaurant, closed, boarded up, rusting, or just falling down.  Signs faded by the seasons, dust settling over it all.  These strips are not ghost towns.  The occasional new, well-maintained, and open farm store or building store or Family Dollar store attested to current use of this now country highway by actual people who actually live here, but anything involving travel or tourism has traveled elsewhere.

Desperate to fill up with gas (or was it food?), we took off of I-40, only to accidentally discover the exception (isn’t there always an exception?), the U Drop Inn, described on the postcard I bought there as follows:  “The U Drop Inn, located at the Crossroads of America, U.S. Highway 83 and Historic Route 66 in Shamrock, Texas, is a Route 66 icon.  It has been featured in a major motion picture, and is known the world over.  It was completed in 1936.”  To be fair, I also knew of this “icon”, having found reference to it while exploring an on-line discussion of what to look for along Route 66.  But to actually find anyplace on the historic Route, one must actually travel the Route, or know where to dip onto it, and I’d lost track of all that.  So, this really did feel like a “Eureka!” moment, delightful and delicious.  It became more so as we explored.

Greeting us on the outside were Art Deco architecture, old pumps with the price set at 34.9 (cents) per gallon, an exhibit dedicated to a local DJ, Bill Mack (the Midnight Cowboy), who wound up hanging with country & blues greats and writing songs for them, and (I found this delightful) a bank of Tesla hookups alongside.  Inside, we were greeted enthusiastically, as were each of the few stragglers like ourselves who entered, by Martha, the 60 something docent of this small museum and souvenir shop keeping alive the spirit of Route 66.  Allan explored the attached café, complete with manikin waitress, and saw the booth where Elvis once ate.  I went crazy over the BEST Route 66 souvenirs – they actually had some classy stuff, and Martha was fanatical about wrapping them for our trip so they wouldn’t get broken. I learned that “Cars” was the major motion picture in which the U Drop Inn was featured (or, to be more specific, a graphic rendering of it) and saw the old Post Office from town, the whole of which was inside this small gas station museum.  The Post Office consisted of a bank of maybe 50 post boxes, with a window attached to one side and a kind of bulletin board (gotta have somewhere to post those wanted posters) wrapping around the other side. The whole affair is as deep as a post office box.  As Martha explained, when one person would get tired of being Post Master of the town, the whole façade would be wrapped around someone else’s front porch, aligned with their front window, and they would take over for a spell!  If you’re ever in Shamrock, Texas, please “drop Inn” and say hi to Martha for me.  It’s the most fun I’ve ever had in several trips to Texas.

A note about another fun “Route 66” experience:  this occurred on I-40 in McLean, Texas where we stopped in desperation at a rest stop to use the bathroom.  Granted, this rest stop was also designated a tornado shelter, so I can see why it might have been fortified, but it was the biggest, cleanest, fanciest roadside bathroom I have ever used.  It also contained its own Route 66 museum and the wall of the women’s bathroom was decked out with a great tile mosaic mural honoring Route 66 (Allan didn’t notice if there was a similar mural in the Gents).  My only complaint, after talking with Martha at the U Drop Inn, is that the “66” in the mural is not in the original format, in which the top branches of the 66 do not “wrap around,” but take a less curved trajectory.  I will have Allan post pictures of the two, so you too will be “in the know”.

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Road Sign–Gettin Our Kicks

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Mural Not Time Travel

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Hope U Drop In Sometime

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Tower Building

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Description of Tower Building

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One of Many Examples of Old Gas Stations

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Not 35 Cents a Gallon Now, Eh?

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Post “Office” Described Above

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Here’s the Diner

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Elvis Sat Here!

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Allan Loves Hats!

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Old Firetruck in Great Shape!

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Tesla Towers Next to Do Drop In

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Moved on Like the Wind–Very Glad Texans are Capturing It!

 

“To my mind, the greatest reward and luxury of travel is to be able to experience everyday things as if for the first time, to be in a position in which almost nothing is so familiar it is taken for granted.” – Bill Bryson

 

 

Southwest–What We Missed!

“A good traveler has no fixed plans and is not intent on arriving.” – Lao Tzu

Some have asked where the pictures are of our other SW travels, as we’d hoped to go to the Grand Canyon, Bryce, Zion and Canyonlands.  With an extra week in Death Valley and visiting loved ones, we didn’t make it.   However, here are sample pictures of my trip to Bryce, Grand Canyon and Arches a couple years ago.  In case you were wondering, no color enhancement here–just as it is!  Enjoy!

Bryce Canyon

Bryce Canyon

Bryce Canyon

Bryce Canyon

Bryce Canyon

Bryce Canyon

Bryce Canyon

Bryce Canyon National Park

Bryce Canyon National Park

Grand Canyon--So. Rim

Grand Canyon–So. Rim

Grand Canyon National Park--So. Rim

Grand Canyon National Park–So. Room

Grand Canyon National Park--So Rim

Grand Canyon National Park–So Rim

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Bryce Canyon National Park

Bryce Canyon National Park

Bryce Canyon

Bryce Canyon

 

AMAZING ARCHES NATIONAL PARK

If you haven’t been to or seen pictures of Arches, here are a few (27) from my 2016 trip (just click on one and you can scroll them all):

ARCHES NATIONAL PARK–2016