Onward Westward

A TRAVEL LOG OF SORTS

#5

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Greetings All-

It’s been far too long since the last post, I’d say. We left off in Livingston, MT I believe, and from there we headed north towards Glacier National Park, stopping in Missoula for a few days of rest from driving. The KOA there was really a blast. It was kind of like living in a small neighborhood of campers, kids running around everywhere, and general friendliness all around. We went to a great farmers market downtown that was well stocked with fresh morel mushrooms (good glob, they were amazing) and drank fresh squeezed lemonade while checking out the local wares. Met a guy who makes furniture out of old wood from torn down houses, barns, etc. He was real nice, and his furniture was really solid and well made. 

After Missoula, we wandered into Glacier for some sights, and there were sights-a-plenty! Our campsite was a KOA near the west entrance of the park, and we made friends with a nice couple from switzerland who spent most of their time romping around with their kids in the pool. Now I have to say, Glacier has been, by far, my favorite park on this trip so far. It is absolutely beautiful, an although it was fairly crowded, we had a great time walking the trails. Our main hike was across a snow covered plain (sweet relief from the summer heat!) to a “hidden lake” that ironically was very well marked and mapped. We had a nice salami and cheese picnic there, and at one point we were joined by a mangy old mountain goat. It literally looked to be about 800 years old… Still, a regal and majestic animal.

From Glacier we drove to Spokane where we spent the night in a cheap motel. There really isn’t much to the place, but we did go the movies to see Wes Anderson’s new film, Moonrise Kingdom. We found it to be spectacular, uplifting, and generally a joy to watch. The whole audience was cracking up, oo-ing and ahh-ing, just a fantastic setting to see a good movie. Not to mention, it was followed by a feast of tasty Pho.

From Spokane, we drove north into Canada to begin our journey towards Vancouver, and eager stop for Maggie as she had been there several years previous, and wanted badly to show me Granville island, a groovy little community on an island under a bridge. We stayed the night on Christina Lake at a quiet little campground that was really swell, and only about 10 minutes from the border. We went for short dip, and the water was so cold Maggie had to coax me in for about 20 minutes. 

We decided to drive straight from the lake to Vancouver, a 7 hour drive that was just plain exhausting considering we were stuck in grey clouds and constant rain. We decided to stay in a super cheap hotel located in an interesting part of town. By interesting, I mean the parking lot was home to scores of characters straight out of a John Waters film. It was great! We went to Granville Island and looked at a lot of interesting shops and artist studios, ate some tasty meats and cheeses at the local market, and witnessed a strange and hilarious street performer juggle fire and escape from a straight jacket. Spot on. Vancouver almost got our stamp of approval, until we realized that EVERYONE IN CANADA DRIVES LIKE A MANIAC. Seriously. Don’t go there unless you absolutely have to. And no, the health care isn’t worth it, because you’ll constantly be dying of frustration.

Anyhow, from Vancouver we went into the Olympic Peninsula to explore Olympic National Park (and fulfill Maggie’s desire to see where Twilight takes place). I took my first ride on a ferry, taking the same one featured in the horror film The Ring. It was pretty rad! I sort of love being at sea. Maggie was not so keen on the movements of the water, and took to sitting in the truck as we crossed. Honestly, I don’t blame her… I was definitely feeling a little queasy at the end of the trip. Once across, we drove into Port Angeles and stayed at an awesome campsite where all the staff’s faces were painted in flamboyant camouflage. We hiked in the Hoh Rain forest the following day, and it was some of the most amazing woods I’ve ever encountered. Something green grows on every inch of everything in there, and Maggie took the position of slug patrol on the trail, making sure I didn’t step on any of them as they crossed. After the hike we drove to La Push beach, the “Twilight” zone so to speak, skipped some rocks for a bit, looked at the incredible ocean cliffs created by our great friend mother nature, encountered neither vampire nor werewolf, and went back to the campsite slightly disappointed.

Onward to Seattle we went, encountering for the first time in awhile, a clear and sunny day! We immediately stopped at Stumptown, a favorite roaster of mine, and sat in the sun drinking coffee and reading for a bit. We stayed with Maggies cousin Forrest and his family, and they were very fun and welcoming. Right when we walked into their house, a stuffed animal/pillow fight was happening with their kids. Maggie and I hopped right in and felt right at home. The weather was really nice during our stay, so we spent most of our time just walking around the city. We stopped by Pike Place Market, a big open air emporium full of flowers, fruits, pasta, meats, cheeses, and fish shops where they throw entire fish back and forth amongst the crowds. Very cool. Very smelly. 

Now we are in Portland staying in the home of my good friend Adam. I’ll save the details for the next post, but I think it’s safe to say we really like it here. Maybe it’s just luck, but we’re told it got sunny the day we arrived and we haven’t seen a cloud since. 

We hope you all had a safe, happy, and productive 4th of July!

Big Love,

Michael & Maggie

Missoula:

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Glacier:

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Vancouver:

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Olympic Peninsula:

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Seattle:

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So much cheese. NOM NOM NOM.

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#4 

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Hello Friends.

We’ve traveled about 1,200 miles since our last update. After leaving Moab, we scooted through western Colorado all the way to Denver for some relaxing fun time, and I’ll admit it, we stayed in a motel for some much needed bed rest (tent camping for 3 weeks really does a number on the back). Denver was really a pleasure, we stopped by Great Divide Brewery and had some really tasty beers, followed by a dinner of the most delicious Pho EVER.

After our night of luxury we moved to a more primitive site northeast of Denver near a little town called Nederland. I stayed there a few years back on the 4th of July during a trip with my sister and cousins. It was amazing. Great views of the Rockies, and the drive takes you past some great swimming spots. The town of Nederland is small and friendly and has some fantastic eateries, you just have to navigate through the occasional hula-hooping pack of hippies. From there we headed north into Wyoming.

Unfortunately, northern Colorado is plagued with intense forest fires that have destroyed hundreds of homes, and due to the hot, dry, windy weather, don’t seem to be letting up any time soon. We drove right by them on our way passed Fort Collins and it is a sad sight indeed. If you have the means, please go to www.helpint.org and donate a few dollars to help those families whose homes have been destroyed, it would mean a lot to them I’m sure!

When we escaped the smog of the fires (which wasn’t until we were WELL into Wyoming) we came upon a strange KOA site in the town of Rawlins, WY. It was pretty bland, the campsite being on open flat land with no trees in sight, and the whole town closing up around 6pm. We did manage to find a great donut shop in the morning, so that made up for any shortcomings. The neighboring town of Sinclair is home to the Sinclair Oil Refinery, spewing out refined liquids to the masses since 1923. I’m fairly certain that everyone in the town works at the refinery, and has at some point suffered severe burns from working there. Not an ideal situation for anyone, I’d say. I’ve always been fascinated by the structure of oil refineries, looking like the set of David Lynch’s Dune, and slightly terrifying in nature. I was also happy to see how cheap the gas was there. 

Our next stop was Jackson Hole, basically the exact opposite of Rawlins. We stayed there as a sort of base camp to explore the Grand Tetons and Yellowstone National Parks. Our campsite was right on a Snake River tributary with great fishing and the sound of rushing stream to wake you up 5 times during the night to pee. Hey, there is always a give and take in the setting of natural beauty. Jackson is a little bit of a, how do I say it, well-to-do-person’s-town-to-spend-a-lot-of-money-on-things-they-don’t-really-need. That being said, if you can make it through that part without losing your wallet (we only stopped at the candy store, typical) it’s a very charming little place with a friendly down-home feel.

Needless to say, Yellowstone was quite amazing to behold. The plethora of natural formations that occur on this special little stretch of landscape did quite a “restoring faith in humanity” number on me. However, that was smothered a little by a certain reoccurring situation of which I will give one example: While driving through the park, we came upon a grand Bison sitting right next to the road just chewing, not giving a damn about anything in particular. Maggie and I of course had to stop and observe this shaggy majestic masticator in action. However, we had not been there for more than maybe, thirty seconds, before about 50 other people pulled up to see what we had stopped for. Within minutes, dozens of group photos were being taken in front of the scene, and the magic moment was as dead as a quail in the path of my grandpa’s shotgun. This is the problem that plagues all of our national park adventures. Thankfully, we have good friends that tell us about the back roads to avoid most of the summer traffic when we can. Seriously, we love you guys.

Our path out of Yellowstone lead us right into one such road, Beartooth Pass. This is really the most incredible drive we’ve done in the 5,000 miles driven so far, and I recommend that all who can, take it. I don’t want to give away all of it’s majestic properties, but I will say that our breath was taken, we discovered some tiny, beautifully fragrant flowers that weren’t listed in my Western America Wildflower Guide Book, and Maggie mentioned that it felt like a scene out of ‘Lord of The Rings’. My inner-nerd (who am I kidding, outer-nerd) was tickled. Don’t worry, there will be pictures.

After the pass, we began the trek into Montana through the small town of Red Lodge where we stopped and got an $.89 ice cream cone that was perfectly dairy-licious, and proceeded to drive into the sunset through rolling grassy hills dotted with farm houses and cows grazing in the pasture, a scene of udder (get it?) Americana. We ended up in the town of Livingston on the recommendation of cousin Eli. Very neat little place with some nice bookstores and a great sandwich joint named Pinky’s, featured on Anthony Bourdain’s No Reservations. We found the sandwiches to be alright, but the blackberry custard pie was on point.

From here, we head on towards Glacier National Park for hiking extravaganza. Until then, we wish you all the best, and hope your summer is going as well (if not better) than ours is! Enjoy this weeks pictures:

Boulder, CO:

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Denver, CO:

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Nederland, CO

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Driving through CO:

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Elk!:

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Wyoming Highway:

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Jackson Hole campsite:

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The Grand Tetons:

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Old Faithful:

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Young Faithful?:

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Beartooth Pass:

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Big Love!

-Michael & Maggie

#3

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Greetings All!

We have been busy making our way towards the heart of the West since relaxing with family in Sedona. Our first stop was the obligatory American road trip destination, the Grand Canyon. By golly, it’s huge. Maggie’s wonderful sun hat she picked up in a thrift store in North Carolina blew off of her head and into the abyss, a mega bummer. We deemed it: a sacrifice to the canyon gods. The place is plagued with tourists, and quite honestly, seems to have lost all of its charm and mystique to overpopulation. However, After we left we passed a lot of pull-offs that had great views and hardly any participants (After all, the Grand Canyon can’t be contained to one measly government-built spot!). I don’t feel at all sappy saying Maggie and I shared a very romantic Americana kiss at one of these very spots. 

Our last campsite in Arizona was at Lake Powell, a quant little site called Wahweap just a  few minutes walk from the shore. It was a very pleasant campground, and when the sun went down we walked to the beach and watched the stars come out one by one until there were just too damn many to count. When the sun came up we were caught unawares by the raven population of the camp that came in screaming and searching for food. Imagine R. Lee Ermey’s character from Full Metal Jacket, but in a raven suit. Terrible.

We packed up in a hurry, had to get away from those squakers, and headed for Bryce Canyon in Utah. The drive was rich with the strange rock formations that make up a lot of the Southwest’s intrigue. It’s a little bit like being on another planet; a hot, dry, barren planet full of roadside carts selling knock-off turquoise and buffalo jerky. We couldn’t be happier. Stopped off at a roadside attraction called “Moqui Cave”, claiming to have the largest collection of fluorescent minerals in the U.S. … Once again, I ask you to use your imagination: a rave, in a dark musty cave, no music, no people, just rocks (that appeared as though they had been painted) bathed in blacklight. What else is there to say?

We stayed at a KOA near the canyon and watched the sunset at Kodachrome Basin State Park. Really, a spectacular park, almost empty, and with great trails and wildlife. Stopped on the way and photographed some fantastically gothic looking cattle that crowded the fence as we approached, slobbery, shitting, and mooing like there was no tomorrow. At the park, we found a nice lookout point over the basin and sat in a hefty breeze that cooled us down in Southern Utah’s intense summer heat (even at 8pm).

And now, Maggie and I are sitting in the Lost River coffee shop in Moab, Utah, enjoying some free wifi and a fine cup of iced coffee, complete with coffee ice cubes (a seriously under-appreciated idea in the coffee industry). The drive here from Bryce Canyon was breathtaking. We took two-lane highway most of the way, the geography constantly keeping a jaw-in-lap expression on my face. Hey, this Nebraska boy ain’t seen much!

Today we took on a 10-mile hike in Arches National Park, ambitious for how late we got out, but fun and amazing trails that were rough and sometimes hard to follow. Quite frankly, we’re in love with the charming little town of Moab, so don’t be surprised if the trip ends here.

PSYCH. We’re driving into Colorado tomorrow. Hopefully we can cool off a bit up in the Rockies.

Big Love! 

Michael & Maggie

Oh, here are some iphone shots from this past week.

Interesting signage in a convenience shop Richard took us to in Cottonwood with phenomenal tortas:

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On our way to the Grand Canyon:

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A semi-trailer that burnt to the ground off of 89a. It was full of paper towels. 100 degree heat + paper towels = DUH IT’S GOING TO LIGHT ON FIRE:

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Moqui Cave’s dinosaur tracks… Real? Not real? Who cares:

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Our campsite @ Lake Powell:

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The Grand flippin’ Canyon:

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The gum tree @ the Grand Canyon (delicious):

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Maggie @ Kodachrome Basin:

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Maggie @ Arches National Park

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And of course, the Southwestern landscape as you would expect it, vast as vast can be:

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#2

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Greetings From Arizona!

The above map shows the first leg of our journey, DC to Lincoln excluded, that led us into the southwest for a family reunion that was nothing short of heartwarming. While the drive through western Nebraska can be slightly redundant, the drive south through Colorado brought forth an American landscape I have not yet experienced, and was hauntingly beautiful. Dilapidated buildings that resembled old saloons of the west popped up every 5 miles or so, and every once in awhile, the faint outlines of mountains  could be seen. As we approached our first overnight stop, Trinidad Lake, a summer storm closed in upon us.

In Las Animas County, CO:

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Photos from our camp at Trinidad Lake:

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When we woke up the following day, it seems we had rolled over a forgotten tent stake and got a flat tire. Luckily, we had the spare checked out before leaving on the trip, and although it was rusted and crumbling, we made it to a tire shop in a neighboring town and they patched us up for $20, free coffee too! Then, on to Sedona for a Sherman family reunion.

The Sherman side of my family is a welcoming, loving, and just plain fantastic group of people. We hiked, we ate, and we spent late nights around the fire pit catching up on life activities, something I think we put on the back-burner far too often. It was a great way to begin our journey through the West, with well wishes from plenty of loved ones.

Floating down stream with Eli: 

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Maggie giving cousin Emma a haircut:

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Tonight, we are staying with my Uncle Richard and Aunt Kim in their fantastic Sedona home. Tomorrow, we head for Utah! Stay tuned for more updates, we will do our best to make posts several times a week. Until then, big love!

Writing the post in Richard’s living room, some view!:

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#1

Greetings one and all,

This blog will be home to the thoughts, photos, maps, and any general meanderings that come to mind while on what some might call a vacation, but in reality is more of a supplemental exploration for future life activities in the Western United States.

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My first intrigue with photographing this section of the U.S. came when looking through a book of portraiture from the late Richard Avedon, In The American West. The people he chose to photograph seemed fierce and bold to me, people that I would like to know, people that could probably tell a great story. I also imagined that the place in which they were photographed was, most likely, inherently as fascinating as they were. Indeed, the Western landscape is vast and plentiful with towering rock and endless dust that tell us a different kind of story. And yet, Avedon chose to put each subject before a background of pristine white, alienating them from this world, suspending them in a photographic limbo contained only by the borders of his 8x10 film. It was a true testament to the power of the medium.

While I have no intention of repeating what the photographers of the past have so gracefully put before our eyes, I do find myself looking at their work often, thinking about how I can address my own mystified fascination with this landscape and it’s quirky inhabitants, while still maintaining an original vision.

I hope this document will keep you all well informed and engaged with our travels as Maggie and I make our way through the West. Many thanks to those who have helped us prepare for the trip, we are forever grateful.

-Michael