Before we even picked up the Grey Whale in Portland, S and I took a hunting/gathering road trip to pick up the pick-up, not to mention all the gear and supplies stashed in our family homes from the Midwest to the coast. Rather than rush as we originally planned, we decided to hit some parts of middle America that we’ll miss this year just because there are no National Parks present.
We followed the Mississippi downstream from Wisconsin, then crossed the plains of Kansas and climbed the Rockies via Denver, cut across Wyoming and Idaho and finally Oregon to Portland. We saw that there is beauty everywhere – even without a National Park Service designation, even in the dead of winter during unforeseen blizzards, hail storms, and bitter cold snaps. We also learned a lot.
We learned that there is a SPAM museum in Minnesota and that SPAM fries are actually a thing. (A surprisingly yummy thing.)We saw more than our share of bald eagles along the river, and I learned that Ben Franklin preferred the turkey, a modest, humble bird, for the American mascot.
We drank non-profit Potosi Beer and saw the BEST beer commercial ever made (courtesy of Old Milwaukee and lawyer jokes). We also learned that there used to be 2000 breweries in the US a hundred years ago – then 30 in the 1980s, and now back to an overwhelming 3000. Much thanks to all for getting the microbreweries growing again.
We spent New Year’s Eve in Mark Twain’s hometown and learned afresh just how enjoyable of a wit he was, and S helped to paint Tom Sawyer’s fence.
I also have new resolve to read his autobiography, but maybe only the first 1000 of the 3000 pages. I Iike water, but this is a firehose.
We learned about ancient burial mounds shaped like bears, and then saw even bigger ones shaped for cities.
We saw the recreated Mormon town of Nauvoo, and learned all about the LDS in Salt Lake City. No further comment.
We learned that my dad’s alma mater, U of Missouri, had the first journalism school in America. Go Mizzou!
We ate toasted ravioli St. Louis-style and learned they do not joke about double shots of bourbon in their egg nog during the magical holiday light show at their botanical gardens.
Also in St. Louis, we saw both a magnificent basilica tiled in gold mosaic and later a Justin Trudeau-scented candle, the strange combination of which made me kind of want to move there.
We enjoyed a freezing hour running around the sculpture garden in Kansas City’s art museum, which was brilliant and learning about Henry Moores and Rodins as well as other, more funky works. It was also -15F and I could not feel my face.
In Kansas we saw mushroom rocks and monument rocks, and oil rigs and wind farms co-mingling on the plains of Kansas.
For the record, I learned that despite a contrary reputation, the plains are quite beautiful and full of rolling hills, even in the dead of winter. We also saw the most massive group of blackbirds feasting in the cornfields and it was a sight to behold.
We got to ski in two feet of fresh powder the day after a blizzard in Winter Park CO, during a sunny cold snap of -13F. Then, we got to ski in two feet of powder during a blizzard in Park City, UT and had to be evacuated off the mountain via skiing down back streets of Park City.
We learned we may not have good skiing juju. Or that we have the best skiing juju. Either way, getting to ski in two of the best ski areas in America is a pretty good way to pass some bad weather days on a roadtrip.
We learned that Idaho is the epicenter of Basque culture in America (go to the Basque festival! They have excellent lamb as they came to America as expert sheep herder immigrants.) I also learned in Idaho that Jimmy John’s really does make subs so fast, I freaked. Color me impressed!
We got to stand atop the Golden Spike at the start of the Transcontinental railway in Utah, and meet the Jupiter and 119 – the fabulously-colorful steam engines from that famous day (well, working replicas). We also learned rich men can’t drive in railway spikes without help. Tsk tsk Leland Stanford.
We learned the sad history of how pitifully some Chinese rail workers had to live in underground Pendleton OR, and how baths were priced – the first pays a dime for clean water, and the last one to take one in the communal dirt pays only a penny. Is that a good deal? Discuss.
I also found all Pendleton signage too cute for words.
We experienced the mess all of Oregon is in snow and learned that they do not salt their roads. But Western Oregon is a beauty in white and I am more likely to buy fish from these salt/pollutant-free rivers now. Also, while it’s been said many times before, I rediscovered that Pok Pok is just divine Thai food and Portlandia cannot function AT ALL when snow occurs. Except for these cross-country skiiers, making lemonade from the lemons.
Finally, we got to experience the over-the-top fun of having 4 Christmases, since we opened presents with family in San Francisco, Wisconsin Dells, Winona MN, and Portland OR. Well, “presents” being the loads of gear from Amazon we got ourselves. But still, who knew that buying yourself a lot of crazy camping gear could be such fun! But we learned that having more excused to visit family is even better.