Archives for category: Travel

In 1997, three boys entered my life, my first grandsons. Matt, Alex and Zac were all born that year, the same year that we found out that my husband had cancer. He died a week after Matt turned 1 and these three boys are a big portion of the glue that helped mend my shattered heart that year. In my heart, they are Alan’s boys, the ones he got to meet. I love all eight of my grandchildren, no one more than the others, but these boys just happened to be the first and are part of that year of my life.Scan 20Now I have eight grandchildren and my family all lives in Tulsa, but it’s hard to get us together for a vacation with baseball and soccer and school and work. Besides, when we are all together, the kids tend to hang out together and I don’t get to visit with them as much as they visit with each other. As I get older, my realization of time gets more frantic and I feel the urge to go and do before I just can’t. So many adventures out there…

Last winter, I asked the boys if they would like to go on a road trip with me. I’m not sure what their reaction was. Can you imagine? Your 71 year old grandmother asks you to go on a trip with her? Is that even cool? Sitting together with all three of them as they pondered this made me smile. I ran it by them several times, asking them where they would like to go, over the next few months. I kept expecting them to bail on me, but I persevered. It’s hard to duck out when your cousins are going – who wants to be that one? I chose the week after all their college finals were over, while their siblings were still in school, before they had jobs. And I began to plan. I’ve taken many road trips over the past decade, everything from 6,000 mile trips to day excursions around Oklahoma, so I had ideas. I sat with my iPad, mapping out places and times, trying to schedule things I thought they would like, while leaving flexible time to explore. I didn’t want to waste a minute of this precious time with them.

We took off on a Monday after I picked up a rental car, a big SUV. Did I mention how big these guys are now? 6’5″, 6″4″ and 6″ with athletic builds. There was no room in my little hybrid and the rental car was like a toy for them with all the gadgets new cars have. They took to it like the new computer it was, programming maps, music, and figuring it all out. We took off, heading west.

While planning, I was asked if I was going to have them put their phones away. This was a thought, but I decided we would play it by ear. I’m as glued to mine as they are, so I can’t exactly preach. Besides, this wasn’t about me having a bunch of rules. The first things we figured out is that they would each take turns playing their music. During the course of the week, I told them that they owed a lot of their music to my generation, the 50s and 60s rock. I listened to Matt’s country mixed with some rap, Alex’s blend of pop, rap and a little country, and Zac’s rap and harder rock, all loud. At one point, I figured out how to make my own play list and they were treated to some Beatles, Chuck Berry, Motown, Willie Nelson and others. I liked it all.

Being in the front seat, I got to talk to each one of them for awhile. Sometimes, I turned the music down to tell them something. As we drove through western Oklahoma, I told them a little about the Land Rush. When we got close to the Panhandle, I told them stories and pulled up photos from the Dust Bowl. There is nothing like being able to look things up while you travel rather than waiting until you get home to find answers. I would look up the history of towns we drove through and point out things they might miss. They started to look more closely at the old houses we passed, wondering out loud how old they were.DSC_1169After eating in a small town diner, rather than a fast food place like they are used to, we made a quick stop at Gloss (or Glass) Mountains in Oklahoma. DSC_1141I’d wanted to stop here before and we discovered that the rocks that shined in the sun looked like pieces of glass close up and were selenite gypsum. The boys read the signs and seemed genuinely interested to have discovered this new fact about their home state. I was tentatively seeing how they reacted to stopping with no warning, exploring a little along the way.

We crossed through New Mexico and on to Colorado, commenting on the ever changing scenery as we went from the plains to mesas to snow topped mountains in our first day. We stopped in Trinidad, CO for the night, across from a mountain range, next door to a pot shop. I posed them in front of the sign so we could text it to their mothers. All I said was “We’re in Colorado.”IMG_2409I thought it was funny, but it went right over their mother’s heads. I pointed it out to my girls and they sent funny emojis. The boys and I talked about alcohol and drugs while we drove. These three are pretty smart about it and I hope it stays that way. Not saying they’re innocent, but they’re smart.

For dinner, I learned that this wasn’t like trips I take with my friends where we share meals. These boys eat. A lot. I have new appreciation for their parents’ grocery bills. I also learned that fitting them in beds was going to be interesting. The best bet were suites with two queens and a sleeper sofa. Zac brought his laptop and hooked up video games for Matt and him to play each night and they sprawled across whatever beds we had. I felt a little, just a little, guilty taking up a whole bed for myself. Well, not too guilty – I’m old.

Conversation was interesting. These three guys’ mothers are sisters and they have grown up together, but they couldn’t be more different. They went to the same elementary school and the same high school, where Matt played baseball, Alex played soccer and Zac played football. They have different friends. Matt just finished his sophomore year and Alex finished his freshman year, both at Oklahoma State, where both are business majors. Matt wants to be an entrepreneur and dreams of flipping houses. Alex isn’t sure. They belong to different fraternities. Zac is following his dream of being a filmmaker and finished his freshman year at Tulsa Community College, trying to decide if he will continue on to the University of Tulsa or head on into his chosen profession after next year. Their talk went from Alex and Matt comparing classes or fraternity experiences to all of them sharing videos on their phones to talking about people they all know or remembering things they had done together. It was like those days when I drove carpool and just listened as the kids talked as if I wasn’t really there some of the time – and that’s ok with me. Sometimes, I spoke up and told them about something from my time that was so much like what they were talking about. Not everything changes from one generation to several on down the line. There’s always the realization that I’m 2 1/2 times their age, but I didn’t point that out. Yikes!

Mornings were the hardest because I tend to get up early when I’m traveling and hit the road, eager to not miss anything. Traveling with three college boys gave me plenty of time to get dressed and wake up – an understatement. Trying to pry three big old sleeping giants out of bed was cute. I tried not to bug them too much, but we had to get moving. Day two started with driving by mountains, while they patiently waited while I stopped to take pics. We saw a herd of antelope and some elk by the road and beautiful scenery. I was traveling with giants, as you can see.IMG_2433In Ft. Garland, we ate breakfast at the Old West Cafe and toured Ft. Garland, where Kit Carson was once in command while protecting the settlers from the Indians. Here is where we had a big generation gap. Not only did they not know who Kit Carson was, but they weren’t familiar with the old westerns my generation grew up on. There was a Kit Carson television series, Kit Carson comic books, and the history of the west, no matter how skewered it was by pop culture. The American West was something embedded in our cultural sense. We played cowboys and Indians, we had images of the west in our minds. Oh well. We toured the old fort and the boys played around with the old soldier stuff, getting a feel for it all. IMG_2444I told them several times, probably once too many, that travel is the best way to learn history, geography and geology. Duh!

Our first big stop was Great Sand Dunes National Park, which I had been wanting to visit for years. My only mistake was having them sit through the film in the visitor center. Usually, these are excellent and informative, but this one was too long and repetitive. They were good sports about it and we got to the river with little expectation. Being kids at heart, they crossed the water, which was freezing cold and running fast. DSC_1236They came back to help me across, which was good since my sandals weren’t all the way on and I would have washed away. They decided to at least climb to the top of the lowest dune and I decided to stay behind and watch. I could have made it, but I could see rain coming from behind the mountains behind us and I didn’t think I could retreat as quickly as they could. Dang. I should have remembered how hard it is to follow them since my husband was 6’4″ and I learned a quick step and a half to keep up with him when I was younger. Now, think how big these guys are as you spot them on the dunes with ant sized people on the higher dunes beyond.DSC_1245They stayed there quite awhile as I could only envision what they were talking about. I know they laughed about filming Star Wars in that environment. We left with the rain moving in and moved westward, climbing higher on mountain roads where snow was falling and spring thaws brought running water down rocks and in the creeks running beside the roads. Beautiful change in scenery as we drove to Durango for the night. After dinner, the guys found the hot tub and that became their nightly routine, while I showered and relaxed. Once again, one can only imagine the hilarious discussions these three had in their hot tub sessions. Did I mention that they are all funny and know how to crack each other up?

Another morning to get them up as we drove to Mesa Verde National Park. The visitor center had been redesigned since I saw it about 8 years ago and it was spectacular. I took over the wheel since I felt very responsible for my three kiddos on the curvy roads. Not that I love driving like that, but I can do it and it is nerve wracking as you wind upwards, looking down into canyons. The archeological museum was as interesting as I remembered and they got their first look at the incredible cliff dwellings. We didn’t get to climb down due to rock slides, but we drove to see the canyons and dwellings. The boys were starting to get more interested, I think. The canyons are beautiful and the experience is fascinating. DSC_1318We took a 3/4 mile hike to get one view and I fell victim to the altitude since I hadn’t had enough water, but was able to follow them reasonably well. Those long legs! Once again, weather started moving in, so we cut our drive a little short to get off the mountain before the rain and snow.

The landscape changed from mountains and mesas to more flat land as we stopped at Four Corners. I told them it was one of those things that you have to do because you are there, and I read them the history of the monument. It is kind of fun to stand in four states.IMG_2518Once again, we left as the rain began to fall and headed for Monument Valley, listening to heavy rock, my stuff and rap as we covered the desert. I had the foresight to book a room for the night, thank goodness. We had a cabin that overlooked Monument Valley and we could see the stars at night. I couldn’t imagine anything prettier.

Monument Valley was a place they had no knowledge of – at least they didn’t think they did. I love the place, so I was hoping this would be the highlight of the trip. As we approached, the weather changed again and the clouds dropped down to cover the tops of the buttes. Hmmm. Where was our starry night? As I ran into the hotel to check in, freezing rain pelted me. By the time we reached the cabin, it had changed to snow and it was getting heavier. Wow. This was unexpected, but one of those unique experiences that you learn to appreciate. At dinner, we watched the snowflakes get bigger and bigger. By the time, we settled in for the night, the snow was covering the ground. This was the view from our cabin before it got to the heaviest point. IMG_2523I was lucky to get the cabin, the last of two rooms, which had a queen bed and bunk beds. We had also brought a blow up bed. The room was tight with a small bath for the four of us, but it would have been perfect for a family with two kids. There was no tv (horrors), but they had phones & laptop. The hilarity of sleeping that night…none of them fit in their beds.IMG_2539Morning was spectacular, as I had planned (hoped), and we had a tour scheduled at 9 with a Navajo guide. We had to get up, although they cut it close. None of us looked too fancy. IMG_2556I had been to Monument Valley twice before, driving it in my car. This time, the roads were muddy and rough, so I was glad for the guide and jeep/truck. This time was the best and I will never go there again without the guide, who drove us into restricted areas and shared Navajo history, stories and songs. Our companions on the trip were a woman from Manhattan and her parents from Columbia. The kids were learning how many people from foreign countries tour the US. Our guide said 70% of the visitors to Monument Valley are from foreign countries and we heard French, German, Japanese and other languages spoken.

The scale of Monument Valley is what I wanted them to see. I’m a firm believer in getting into nature, finding places that are bigger than you are, to put your life in perspective and to restore your soul. I can find God in lots of places, but in nature, I agree with John Muir as to the beauty of natural cathedrals. I love this picture of the boys, huge men, in perspective. DSC_1396Or this one, taken by the guide, showing them near a huge arch. They are the dots under the tree branch. He and I climbed up another spot where he showed me this shot. IMG_2570At this stop, he had them lie back to look up and see the image of an eagle’s head above them. Then he told a coyote story and sang a Navajo traveling song. As we left, he showed us the image of the Mohawk in the rock – can you spot it? The braid is on the right. IMG_2580This tour changed the trip in exactly the way I had hoped. They got it. After we left, we drove to Goulding’s Trading Post across the highway so I could show Zac all the movies that had been made in the valley. They started to recognize it. I love this picture of the three of them with a model of the valley, locating all the places we had been. IMG_2602From there we drove to Albuquerque for the night, where they headed for their hot tub night while I kicked back. Whew. I knew the trip was a success. The next morning we took a detour and spent a few hours in Santa Fe for lunch, tour of Loretto Chapel and walking around before we hit the road, traveling the freeway along old Route 66 to home. Oh, it snowed on us as we got to Santa Fe then cleared for a beautiful day as we ate lunch. We hadn’t expected so much snow in mid-May.IMG_2619A much anticipated stop on Route 66 was the Cadillac Ranch, west of Amarillo. I had brought a can of spray paint and we hit the iconic spot with a rainbow beside us. I wish I could say I planned that, but who plans snow and rainbows?IMG_2624The boys had fun painting whatever on the cars, IMG_2627before we headed to the Big Texan in Amarillo for a perfect last dinner. They consumed 18 oz steaks each with only a tad left on Alex’s plate. Big boys with big appetites. One more hot tub visit, sleeping late, and a final stop at the VW Slugbug Ranch, east of Amarillo, for our final stop. Perfect! IMG_2667At home, they were out of the car and back to their friends and lives. As they should be.

What were the lessons of this road trip?

  1. Maybe they will remember that they spent 6 days with their Mimi, visiting 6 states and seeing new things every day. I hope so. I hope they realize that they are never too old to have adventures and to have them as long as they are able. You never know how many years you have.
  2. I hope they learned to explore, look up information on places they might just drive by otherwise, and take the time to stop.
  3. I hope they learned to take a deep breath and restore their souls in nature. I also hope they respect our natural resources and vow to protect them.
  4. I hope they got a new look at our beautiful country and want to see more.
  5. I hope they want to return to these places with their own families and I hope they want to find more places of their own. I told them the only thing you can give your children is memories, so make them good ones. A friend told me that bit of wisdom.
  6. I hope they know that I am proud of them and love them very much.

I can’t wait to plan the trip for the next group of grandkids. I’m already working on it!

In my old age, as I drove along, I thought it was a pretty good thing to be able to take a trip by myself. I’d been to a funeral for a sweet friend the day before, enforcing the knowledge that I would be going to more of them each year until my own. It was good to be on the road, very good.

I’d been planning a trip to Oklahoma City for the extraordinary exhibit, “Matisse in his time,” the only place it would appear in the US. I was up early and left earlier than I’d planned and found myself the first one there, which was rather strange for a world class show. I wasn’t that early and was soon joined by a man who had flown in from Houston that morning for the show and was as surprised as I was. He had worked for NASA and then for a graphic arts company and was retired to play, which meant a spur of the moment trip that had him getting up at 3:00 am to fly here. Anyway, such was the draw of Matisse. I love that this opened the exhibit!IMG_8399

Anyway, being first in line meant that I was first in the galleries since I didn’t stop to get the headsets. I understand those, but love to experience art for myself. I know enough to appreciate and can read the excellent information posted around the galleries. In the first gallery, I was met by a young security guard and greeted him with a smile. I worked at a museum and appreciate them. This cutie asked me if I’d like to hear something fun and I said sure and he showed me some tidbits about some of the paintings from Matisse’s early works. He ended it with, “I just learned this five minutes ago.” I’d watched the staff being prepped before the doors opened. He was so pumped for the crowd.

I had the galleries to myself for awhile while the people in line behind me did who knows what as they got their tickets downstairs so I absorbed what I could in the quiet before the kids from a boys and girls club, all in matching bright blue t-shirts, who had been waiting with me burst into the galleries. I mean, really, what can be more fun than to watch kids seeing great art for maybe the first time in their lives. They disappeared and came back as they flitted between galleries ahead of and behind me. As I stood before a nude study, I realized that two little boys, one African American and one white, had come up beside me. To their credit, there were no giggles although they were a little wide eyed.

I had many favorites, including this one from 1922, “Interior in Nice, the Siesta.” I related to the colors, the subject, the whole vibe. That’s how art works.IMG_8400It wasn’t a large painting at all. When I saw this Picasso, I felt a big smile. Oh you, Picasso, you! “Rocking Chair” was one of my favorites I kept returning to. Maybe I saw my future!IMG_8415I won’t spoil the show for you, but it was pretty spectacular for art lovers. To think he spent his last years cutting designs and creating fanciful treats for us to enjoy all these years later. Thank you, Matisse!IMG_8425I went downstairs to see the permanent Chihuly exhibition and the rest of the museum, going back through the Matisse show before I finally left. Chihuly brightens my day and brings joy to my heart. Having tried glass blowing, I can only say it takes not only creative talent but an enormous amount of strength to master the manipulation of the hot, heavy glass. His work always makes me go Wow!IMG_8406Since I was by myself, I thought I would do some things I’d been wanting to do. Next was the Oklahoma City National Memorial, just blocks away. Did I mention I was born in Oklahoma City and lived there until my family moved to Tulsa when I was 2 1/2, back in 1948. I spent much of my life traveling back to see my grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins and even spent work time here later on. It is a part of me.

When the Oklahoma City bombing occurred, it rocked this state to the core. All of us knew someone who was close to the site or affected by it. My husband and I had driven over a few days afterward and stood by the fence in shock at the horror and the extent of the damage. I could see broken windows for blocks, even in the old Central High blocks from the site, where my father had graduated. My family’s company had started a few blocks away. It was a local, state and national tragedy. I still have a box of magazines and newspapers from those days when the media printed it on covers and in large headlines. We never will forget it. I have driven by the memorial since then, but had never gone in. I’m not sure I was ready.

The memorial is one of the most beautiful and powerful tributes I think I’ve ever seen. As I walked by the last of the walls I had seen with dust and smoke still rising back in 1995, I was calmed by the serenity and magnitude of the famous gates and reflecting pond with the chairs for each victim so meaningly placed. At night, I think I would be overcome with the beauty with the chairs lighted from underneath. IMG_8437

I was also so inspired by the Survivor Tree, the lone tree that had been scorched by the blast and survived to shade us all as we look over the scene. You can see it on the hill beyond. It’s a miracle of nature and life. And, you can’t help but feel your heart tighten as you see the small chairs of the children who died so horribly that day. Like Kennedy’s assassination years before, this was another turning point in our country’s tragic history as we faced more violence and hatred. After a last glance at the reflecting pond, I went into the museum, something I had been dreading.IMG_8439A couple of years ago, I toured the JFK Memorial in Dallas and I felt the same way about this one. I lived through it and it is so painful to walk through each detail again. Both are wonderful walks through our history with details that take you right into the moment if you were here at that time. For those who are younger, these are important ways to understand and learn what happened, bringing it to life. In the OKC memorial, you walk into an exhibit that shows what a normal day it was and then you wait to enter a room that is a copy of the ordinary meeting room where the Water Resources Board was meeting that fateful meeting. They had recorded the meeting and you sit in a closed room listening to a woman start the meeting, giving instructions, greeting the visitors, knowing that you are going to hear an actual recording of the bomb exploding. I was lulled into listening to her as she routinely did her job and then jolted by the sounds of bomb, screams, hysteria and confusion. You then enter the rest of the story. I didn’t spend too much time there as the photos and sounds were so very familiar to me. I stood in the memorial room, looking at the portraits of the victims, hearing their names as they were called as each person’s picture was lit. Powerful stuff to see the miniature memorials of stuffed animals, tokens of memory placed by families. Powerful. I was ready to race back into the 100 degree heat and rest in the memorial outside, standing in the shade of the huge tree that showed us we can make it, even through such atrocities.

Leaving there, I wove back to the north of downtown, passing beautiful historic homes and buildings I had driven by most of my life until I reached the neighborhood my grandparents first lived in when they moved to OKC way back when my father was young. Their block is being restored, except for their house which is in terrible condition. I hope the artists and builders buy it soon before it has to be torn down. I was so taken with the loving care with which they are rebuilding the neighborhood. This is where my grandparents raised their four children. Their youngest son is shown behind them on the porch in this fuzzy photo. He was to die at 19 in World War II.Scan 54Here they are, relaxing in that wonderful home, much smaller than I remember it when we gathered for dinners and holidays. My grandad had his workshop in the garage in back and the big kids got to eat at the big table in the room behind the kitchen at the back of the house. The smaller children ate at the kid’s table in the kitchen. The beds were so tall that we could crawl under them easily and had endless games of hide ‘n seek.  We played on that porch and walked that street for hours.July 1949Driving around the corner, I saw the movie theatre we used to walk to, now an antiques mall…DSC_0135…and parked across the street for a fried chicken lunch. It seemed like the right thing to do and the right area to be in.IMG_8447After drinking as much liquid and eating fried chicken and fried okra, I headed further north with the goal of visiting my grandparents’ grave, very far north in a city that sprawls forever. Driving past the more affluent areas where my grandparents and cousins lived later, I finally arrived at the cemetery. I have to tell you that my family isn’t much for visiting graves and I hadn’t been here since my grandmother died in 1977. My parents were both cremated, which I agree with, so here we are. I’ve visited all my grandparents’ graves now along with my great-grandparents, so I’m up to date. There are mixed feelings about graves for me. They are interesting, but I’m obviously not out there all the time. I don’t know if we are losing some history, but I’m about dust to dust too. I’m being cremated myself.

Anyway, I easily found my destination with help from the map I got from the nice lady at the front of the cemetery. What a job – waiting for visitors like me. My grandparents had purchased lots for everyone but ended up being the only ones here, joined on the headstone as they were for 55+ years in life, not counting the years they knew each other growing up. I hadn’t brought flowers, which would have fried in the 115 degree heat index day, so I took a wipe and cleaned the bird poop off the headstone, had a conversation with them and took pictures before I left. Sweet moment. As I took a quick drive further into the cemetery, I saw a monument in the middle of the road ahead. Hmmm. Guess who?IMG_8458Wiley Post, the great aviator from Oklahoma who died in the Alaskan plane crash with his friend, Will Rogers.

Turning towards home, I took back roads until I reached the interstate, because it it almost impossible to get around OKC and all its sprawl without using them at some point. I turned onto the turnpike and was quickly bored with passing and watching big trucks and hurried traffic and took the first exit onto Route 66 to head to Tulsa.DSC_0017I hadn’t been on this stretch in a few years, so it was a new adventure. There are places with stories like this.DSC_0018And then you turn a corner and then modern times hit you as you meet the new Iowa tribe.DSC_0019In the eastern side of Oklahoma, we have brown dirt, regular dirt. About halfway between Tulsa and OKC, you begin to see the red dirt, clay colored dirt. Growing up, we would play in this bright stuff, staining our summer clothes. I guess my mother knew how to get it out because I’m picturing white shorts and tennis shoes with globs of red mud on them. Anyway, that memory came back as I saw this scene with cows and ducks cooling off in the red muddy waters.DSC_0021Across the road, there was a farm with green plants pushing up through the red earth.DSC_0022I kept turning around and going back to see these things. On the last pass by this field, where I had stopped to take pictures, I had to stop at this sign, conditioned by my mother who never saw a road-side stand she didn’t love. IMG_8464I mean, you have to stop, don’t you? Especially when you can meet Mr. Wilson himself.IMG_8463I know he thinks I’m the most ignorant city girl he’s ever seen as I asked him questions about how hard it is to grow crops in that red soil. Of course, he smiled his missing tooth smile and told me it’s no problem if you have water. Of course. And I purchased potatoes and peaches and tomatoes from him, even though I asked and he told me that these weren’t his crops as his aren’t ripe yet. Duh. Of course they aren’t. I know when Oklahoma crops come in. But I wanted to keep his stand going, chickens running around with its cute painted things and all sorts of quirky items on the ground.

Heading down Route 66, coming into Stroud, I turned around when I saw this in a back yard, visible along the road. It was great with the laundry flapping on the line and the aliens playing in the yard flanked by skulls. Isn’t this why you take Route 66?DSC_0032DSC_0053Following along, I approached Depew and took the truck route through the mostly deserted town. It had its own charm as I drove the main street, thinking of the people who came from all over the country to travel this road.DSC_0056IMG_8466Leaving Depew, I crossed the old railroad tracks leading east.DSC_0059Now I was passing through other towns that had jumped on the Route 66 bandwagon and restored their main streets with antique shops and restaurants and museums for those who are hitting the off roads again. Occasionally, I saw one of these signs and jumped off the current Route 66 onto the old one.DSC_0034Driving for just a stretch, I would imagine how it must have been with new fangled cars heading across the country on great adventures – without the air conditioning I was enjoying so much! Whew! These old stretches have wildflowers still alive before our stretch of summer heat wilts them all.DSC_0049At a house on the old road, I saw this basketball goal where someone had made Old Hwy 66 into a private court.DSC_0043Here’s the old sign you see in the background.DSC_0044Turning back from this little touch of the old Mother Road…DSC_0037I kept going, stopping and turning around for things like this that caught my eye as I made my way home.DSC_0060And this. I saw the sign from the road and then turned onto the next street with another one of those Old Hwy 66 signs.DSC_0063It was deserted, but must have been a lot of fun at one time.IMG_8473IMG_8472That was my day on the road alone, not rushing anywhere and stopping to see whatever. Adventures and people I wasn’t expecting made me arrive home hot and happy. I should do this every week, this getting in the car and going somewhere. There’s so much to see out there in ordinary places and I’m old enough to enjoy it and young enough to do it. Thanks for coming with me…

The first wildflowers I noticed along the highway were Indian Paintbrush, which started small12986938_10208256409264599_7286732991570888144_nand then grew taller and fuller until they blanketed hills along the way.DSC_0009As the weeks have gone by, other wildflowers have appeared. There are patches or whole fields of one color and then there are the mixed fields. Driving along, you spot the colors sometimes paired with native grasses as you whiz by.DSC_0102This week, I stopped on a beautiful bright breezy day because the flowers are so different up close. First there were large vistas of purples that appeared over the last week. DSC_0019Look how pretty these flowers are up close. Nothing like you would think from the road.DSC_0023Then there were white flowers, some standing tall above the other plants, waving in the wind.DSC_0065Up close, they are little bouquets.DSC_0033Or these other small flowers for a doll size bouquet.DSC_0060The yellows are in bloom, swaying in the background.DSC_0087These are probably something that irritates those with allergies, but they are so pretty.DSC_0092And smaller yellow babies are bright along the ground.DSC_0101More tiny flowers for the doll tea party…DSC_0074Or flowers as bright as the sun that day.DSC_0095A random flower to accent the field.DSC_0100And more fields of orangey red blazed beside the road.DSC_0070And more and more orangeDSC_0069Indian paintbrush…DSC_0006mixed with Indian Blanket, Oklahoma’s state wildflower.DSC_0045As I was getting in my car on one of the gravel or dirt roads where I pulled off to wade in the flowers, a pickup stopped and a scruffy resident smiled a somewhat toothless grin and asked if I was stuck. I laughed and said I had stopped to see the wildflowers. He laughed back, waved and drove away. I can’t imagine that people who live in the middle of all this color don’t love it as much as I do, but maybe some take it for granted.

If you don’t stop to smell the flowers, you miss so much. If I hadn’t stopped, I’d have missed this fellow fan of the flowers. And that would have been my great loss that day.DSC_0043

Anyone who travels a certain route begins to recognize certain things along the way, things that mark where you are in your drive, how far you have to go. It’s kind of a subtle thing where you suddenly notice something and are kind of amazed that you’ve missed it before and then it becomes something you look for. And you add to your collection of travel markers the more you drive that way.

For me, it’s been driving Highway 51 between Tulsa and Stillwater for the past couple of years. People are amazed that I prefer the old road to the turnpike – and the turnpike is fine – but I really like this old road, the same one I drove when I was in college with massive road improvements in the last 50 years, thank goodness. It was longer and more dangerous back then, more curves and curves and curves. Now it’s pretty much a straight shot from here to there and back again.

I call it my zen drive where I think and watch and look for new things along the way. Since I travel with my camera, I’ll stop and take a picture of something I want to remember (because that’s what I do). Here’s kind of a travelogue of the trip. There are some things I love that I can’t get photos of because there’s no place to stop or I haven’t stopped yet. But, you’ll get the picture.

When I leave Tulsa, I drive through beautiful historic neighborhoods before crossing the Arkansas River heading west. I’m now crossing over the railroad yards and into an industrial area. When I return, I get a wonderful view through oil refineries with trains running through and the skyline of Tulsa in the backdrop. It makes me realize how our city grew from its early days.DSC_0043Here’s the view when I pull up the hill into Chandler Park and look back.IMG_9932I’m mixing pictures coming and going, so there are views from east and west. Bear with me.

Then, I turn onto Avery Road, which winds around under Chandler Park with the Arkansas River to the north of me. This is one of the most nostalgic pieces of the trip to me, although it’s curvy and narrow. No pictures of the drive because there are few places to stop, but you have views of the river in the winter and lush greenery in the summer. There are bluffs to admire as you drive under them and colors of fall and spring to enjoy. This is entering Avery Drive from the west side as I come home. There are more hairpin turns to come.DSC_0037As soon as I turn off of Avery Drive, I see one of my favorite landmarks, a memory of all the years I’ve driven this road. It’s the Monarch Cement…what is it? Pretty cool anyway. In the summer, it’s covered in greenery.DSC_0001Coming from the west, you see it in full frontal, although I still can’t figure out all the words on it. Monarch Cement Co.  ???? Dept. From the west, I can see it from miles away.DSC_0023On the straight road past that, there is usually a train either parked or passing. Who doesn’t love seeing trains? I even love all the tags left by rogue artists decorating the train cars.DSC_0036DSC_0041Next, around the corner, is the little town of Lotsee. I’ve looked it up and it’s named after the owner’s daughter. The whole place is hardly more than a few lots long along the highway as you pass the Lotsee city limit signs on each side in about 15 seconds at 65 mph. From the west, you spot the big cow sign.DSC_0035I’ve actually stopped in to buy pecans and they have lots of varieties in the fall. It’s a 2,000 acre cattle and pecan ranch with horseback riding added called the Flying G Ranch. I don’t think Lotsee was there, but I met her husband, the only two official inhabitants of Lotsee, OK. They are Oklahoma State University people, so we had that in common.

Over the hills, past the Keystone dam, headed for Mannford, you cross over a small part of Lake Keystone and a quick view of the lake. That’s fun as you watch the weather on the water with either peaceful calm or windy whitecaps. Heading into Mannford, I’ve started looking over for this funny sign that I noticed when I stopped there once.DSC_0003Awesome!

Leaving Mannford, you head into areas where your cell phone service can go in and out as you drive through hills with breaks for views across the way. As you cross Cottonwood Creek, you can see an area that links to Keystone and is sometimes dry and sometimes swampy with rainfall. Somewhere along the way, you see this row of mailboxes for inhabitants you can’t see from the road.DSC_0032I also met these guys last week around that area. A couple of weeks before, some of them had escaped somewhere and I found myself passing three black cows as they ambled along the shoulder of the road.DSC_0027Then I cross the Cimarron River, which has the most beautiful view of bluffs, shadowed in the morning and glowing in afternoon light. I look both ways as I cross over. Cimarron reminds of the land run and the book and movie Cimarron and Oklahoma in general.  Miles past this, the road rises and I can look to the south when I’m heading east and see where the river turns into the countryside.DSC_0017One of the great surprises of the drive came this winter when I noticed a herd by the side of the road and turned back to check it out. Sure enough, it was a herd of bison near the crossroads where you can turn towards Oilton. Now I check for it all the time, coming or going. Once I pulled over to watch them and a highway patrolman stopped to see if everything was ok. That was a nice feeling because he was thoughtfully checking on me and I told him I was just watching the bison. He may have thought that was a bit much, but I always find them interesting.DSC_0014This stretch of highway I drive is only about 65 miles and I see all kinds of animals. There are lots of cows, horses, sheep, goats, and even a llama. As I head towards Yale, OK, home of the great athlete Jim Thorpe, 

This building as you come to Yale from the east is intriguing. The basketball goal with the old building is a story of some kind out here along the road.IMG_0051Coming into Yale, I always enjoy this place, whatever the weather. Peacefully falling down in its own time.IMG_6427I slow down as I come into Yale because I know there is a watchful policeman there and I’ve been to their traffic court once (enough). Going slow, I noticed this patriotic painting.DSC_0030Leaving Yale, I cross Salt Creek and am always happy to see the herd of donkeys in a field. There have been adorable babies, but I haven’t caught a picture yet. How many animal herds have I mentioned in this relatively short drive? Not to mention chickens. DSC_0029Past the Salt Creek Arena, I drive through woods where I once saw a deer step out in the early morning until I reach the intersection where my Sky Barn is seen best as you drive from west to east. I did a whole post on it.DSC_0253Past that are the archaeologically interesting Twin Mounds, where remnants of Civil War camps have been found. You only catch a glimpse of both of them coming from west to east. I learned about them when I stopped at the best little museum and antique shop ever, which is a couple of miles off of Highway 51 near Stillwater. I’ll have to write a whole post on this treasure of Oklahoma regional history.IMG_9145Next is one of the goat farms I pass. DSC_0045A new landmark for me is this field that I’ve passed so many times. Recently, I was driving on a clear day and the sky became hazy, smoky for no apparent reason. As I approached this place, the field had been burned in the few hours since I drove by in the morning. I’m hoping it was a controlled burn but it didn’t do much damage. Here is it is right after the burning.DSC_0005Within three days, I could barely tell it had burned for all the green. Amazing. About three weeks later, this same spot looks like this. Gotta love nature.DSC_0010When I pulled off to take this picture, I spotted a Scissortail Flycatcher, Oklahoma’s state bird, on the fence.DSC_0013I now look for this house as I pass. I saw it once and couldn’t find it again for awhile. Now I know the landmarks to look for so I can nod as I pass. In the country, you don’t have to worry about taking down old houses and barns. Charming really.DSC_0004

On the final stretch into Stillwater, I pass a farm with several pumpjacks on Clay Road (my son’s name was Clay). I always look for this one to read the sign and smile. This week, the Indian Paintbrush is in bloom. Gorgeous.

DSC_0003Sometime, I’ll do a post on the different pumpjacks, but this time I’ll just show you more Indian Paintbrush.DSC_0009DSC_0006Next is the road to historic Ingalls, location of one of the great western gunfights. I wrote a post about that awhile back.

And so my drive goes, never knowing who I will meet along the way…DSC_0044…driving into Stillwater where I pass this new exciting Transformer by the road…IMG_7820and see these familiar structures ahead. IMG_9942My final destination is Oklahoma State University with its beautiful campus, but this is the story of the road I take. I travel with beautiful sunrises…IMG_5136 IMG_0087 IMG_0092and sunsets…DSC_0001This trip reminds me to slow down and see all that is around me and notice something new every time. I travel from the city to the country to college town and back again. I drive through the Creek and Pawnee nations. I go from oil refineries and railroads to granaries and see the history of our state unfold before me. There are hills, woods, plains, fields and crops, farms, ranches, small towns, lakes and rivers, all changing with the season and the weather, different on cloudy days or different times of day when the slant of the light accents different objects and views. The skies are wide open and everything is there to remind me I’m alive and so glad to be here!

On my weekly travels from Tulsa to Stillwater and back, I have certain landmarks I always use to mark my way. There’s something comforting about seeing a familiar place in every season, always there to show me how far I’ve gone. Much more fun than mile markers, don’t you think?

One of my favorites I’ve named The Sky Barn. I can barely spot the roof coming from Tulsa on Highway 51 and have to look back to see it even a little from that direction. It’s at the crossroads of Highway 51 and Highway 18 (also known as Twin Mounds Road at this spot, but that’s another story). When I return from Stillwater, I can see it peeking over the hill as I pull up to the 4-way Stop.DSC_0253See why I call it The Sky Barn? There’s just something about it that intrigues me.DSC_0254Months go by and I always look over at it with a feeling of affection.

A few weeks ago, I decided to explore it more closely.DSC_0006The closer you get, the more you can see why the sky shows through. I ventured onto the property and towards the barn. Nobody came out of the nearby house to ask what I was doing, so I drove in and turned around. Here’s the first side view.DSC_0008Now it’s looking like a piece of folk art. When I got past it and turned around, I got the close up front view, complete with the cool cars rusting in front of it.DSC_0009DSC_0010What can you say? I love it! Next, I drove to the road behind the property…DSC_0011…to get the back view.DSC_0016Now you know my Sky Barn, so full of character. In the city, it would be urban blight. In the country, it’s part of the landscape that fuels my imagination and feeds my heart.

Lucky me! I got a break from my regular life at a time when it was much appreciated and went south to Florida with friends for a few days. For something different, we left the beauty of St. Petersburg and traveled north to Crystal Springs on the Gulf Coast.

Amazingly, it was predicted to hit a low of 30 degrees the morning we wanted to dive with the manatees in the only place you can do so by law, when they head from the colder Gulf waters into the springs with a constant temperature of around 70 degrees. We almost chickened out, discouraged by reports of visitors only lasting a few minutes before leaving with chattering teeth. At 70 years old, you think you’ve learned to be smart enough to know when it’s not going to work out. We considered a kayak to see them from the surface, but that was a 45 minute paddle, which sounded worse. My friend and I are nothing but game when it comes to a fun experience, so we prepped ourselves by worrying about the cold all night, packing up all kinds of non-Florida like things to keep warm.

It was 30 degrees when we walked to the boat at 7:15 am. I’ll be really honest – I was more worried about squeezing into a wet suit than the cold. Not pretty. I wasn’t shivering and I somehow got into the wet suit as several of us helped each other. Our boat was enclosed which helped.
IMG_9664Their slogan was promising a lot of fun ahead.IMG_9665It was the middle of the week, cold, and we lucked out with the last boat, so there were only 6 of us, my friend and me, two older ladies (maybe our age, but who knows) who are sisters-in-law, and a couple in their 50s celebrating their 30th wedding anniversary. He didn’t end up going in but a few minutes at the end because of heart issues. This was on his wife’s bucket list and he was making sure she got to check it off. Captain Ed has been doing this for 27 years, being a guide for 6. We had an extra photographer and another helper, who stayed on the boat and later served us coffee, hot chocolate or Manatee Mocha (a mix of the two). It was looking good.

We watched a video of rules for approaching manatees before we left and Captain Ed gave us more pointers on how to use the snorkel equipment as our boat approached the location. Everyone had their own dive shoes but us, so the worst cold I felt was taking my shoes and socks off on the boat. The water felt warm, there was no wind, and I climbed down the ladder to be met by a curious manatee.

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This was a great start. I’ve been on whale watching trips in Alaska and Oregon and swam with stingrays in the Cayman Islands, but this was different. For one thing, manatees are so cute. When the first one you ever see swims over and rubs against you as you tickle its back, you fall in love instantly. They’re called sea cows, but a cow could rush you. There is absolutely nothing to fear with a manatee. Nothing! They eat plants and their only teeth are at the back of their mouth. We didn’t want to disturb them, not for fear of them frightening us but because we didn’t want to bother this endangered species whose greatest enemy is man. One had great slashes along his body from the blades of boats, even though their skin is tough.

Manatees can be as large as 13 feet long and 1300 pounds, but those were mostly sleeping. Ducking under water in my snorkel and mask, I quickly came face to face with some smaller ones. Oh, those faces.

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We had seen manatees mating, thrashing around near us, as we approached our site. As the captain said, they’re trying to keep from becoming extinct. We also were so thrilled to see a baby nursing at its mother’s side below us.

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In the springs we visited, there were homes around and the waterway was only 8 feet deep at the deepest. Most of the time, I could stand up if I wanted to stop my floating. We were there almost two hours, petting the cuties we met, watching them roll over in delight with our tickles.

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There were some areas we couldn’t enter, full of large manatees resting.DSC_0081

I can’t exaggerate how very peaceful these funny creatures are.

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When you have a chance to spend time with creatures who are so innocent and passive, you have to compare them to every other person or animal you’ve encountered in your life. I don’t know what their purpose is in our ecological system, but maybe it’s to remind us that it’s sometimes enough to get along with everyone, accepting them without qualm. These aren’t stupid beasts as they are compared to the very intelligent dolphin in many ways. They are gentle in the best kind of way. I felt so special to be in their presence.

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At the end of the trip, I knew I’d had a unique experience. Captain Ed said you’re never going to get as much love as we did that cold January morning in the warm Florida spring water. In the end, we never were cold and had almost missed the adventure of a lifetime over nothing. A friend looked at this picture of me and said my expression was different, the glow of the morning showing in my smile. I know the magic of the manatees had rubbed off on me. I’m very lucky!

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Wherever you live, there is beauty all around you, history to learn, and good food to eat. To a traveler, ordinary things seem exotic or, at the very least, different from what you see at home. The comparisons are good and the differences delight. When I go to Oregon, I absolutely immerse myself in everything that is coastal and part of Oregon so I can take that back to Oklahoma to absorb into my existence there, enriching my life with the comparisons and the vast diversity of our country.

More reflections on my latest visit to the Pacific Northwest…

They have signs we don’t have or need…DSC_0409 DSC_0693 DSC_0510This one made me wince. Isn’t that common sense? I guess not since I’ve seen people do crazy things to get a photo or to see a view. I’m overly cautious myself and that toddler would be on a leash.
DSC_0406And there are the people who disregard the signs – same as everywhere. Really! You think your climb for the view is more important than the wildlife?DSC_0682When I’m on the coast, I can’t get enough seafood because, well because it’s right there and it’s delicious. This is a trash can in downtown Astoria.DSC_0058

This is Mo’s where the clam chowder and garlic bread are delicious and they still have film?IMG_8152

And Fresh means Fresh. This fishing family brings in their own.IMG_8354

And you can watch them steam your crab while you wait. Again – right from the crabbers.IMG_8460In Oregon, I can watch the ships come in, wondering what wondrous cargo they contain.DSC_0047

These boxes are in Newport and I love the colors. I have no idea what they’re for. DSC_0393I don’t have to worry about tsunamis in Oklahoma. In Oregon, I stay on a tsunami evacuation route and have a tsunami alarm right outside the condo. DSC_0648This sign is down the street and kind of sums of my plan.DSC_0755The wildlife is definitely different in Oregon. They have whales that I can watch from my window…DSC_0523DSC_0555
Harbor seals down the street…DSC_0351and loud California sea lions I can watch while I eat in Newport.DSC_0371This year, the sea lions frolicked in the port, doing some kind of synchronized swimming and leaping in the air for fun.DSC_0389When you live in a comparatively new state like Oklahoma, the history of the coasts puts time in a better perspective. This trip, I visited the Maritime Museum in Garibaldi, where I learned about Robert Gray, who discovered the Columbia River from the Pacific side, making it easier for the United States to stake a claim after Lewis & Clark made their reports. DSC_0241In Garibaldi, I also got up close and personal with the Oregon lumber industry. Here’s an old smokestack which kept the smoke from the townspeople in its day.DSC_0297DSC_0287DSC_0288Reminded me of the pines in southeast Oklahoma. Bet some of you didn’t know we have pine forests, too.  We don’t have the lush ferns and moss in our woods that I enjoy in Oregon.IMG_8052DSC_0896The crops in Oregon are bountiful with fruits and vegetables and grapes for wine…DSC_0758 and hazelnuts (filberts)…DSC_0839DSC_0823There were seagulls on oysters shell hills that I don’t see at home…DSC_0303And lighthouses up and down the coast. IMG_8255On a glorious day at Yaquina Head, I went down (and back up – pant, pant) these steps to the cobble beach (rough walking) and the tidal pools.DSC_0426DSC_0429
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And I can never ever ever get enough pounding waves. My place in the universe is put into perspective with the power and beauty.DSC_0600 DSC_0717 DSC_0272 DSC_0626 DSC_0702 DSC_0728 DSC_0591 DSC_0178 DSC_0697 DSC_0717 DSC_0103 IMG_8410

My visits to the coast always restore my soul, widen my perspective and bring me pride in this great land. I’m excited to go and excited to be back home. Isn’t that always the way?DSC_0264

I’m back from my fourth consecutive fall visit to Oregon. Like anyplace you’re revisiting, you return to some of the places you love and you find new adventures. And you learn, you always learn.

This was actually my fifth trip along the coast so I was constantly remembering, comparing, absorbing the differences. Before I left on the trip, I read the most frightening article in the New York Times on the Pacific Northwest being 100 years overdue for the plates to shift and the whole coast to fall into the ocean. Well, I summarize my horror to the extreme, but it did give me room for pause. Was I ready to be wiped off the earth on vacation? I took a deep breath and pushed on. Don’t laugh – it’s true and frightening, but I guess we all live with possible end of our world visions, no matter where we live. The earth may revolt and take us all, according to scientists, epic movies and all the predictors of the end who went before us. Oh well, can’t sit home and wait for it – must venture out there before we’re all gone.

Here are some of the things I spotted this time…

We took the long way, going along the northern coast. Our first stop was after we crossed the Lewis & Clark Bridge in Longview, Washington to catch the view of the mighty Columbia River with all its ships and ports, winding west to the Pacific.

DSC_0046DSC_0044 DSC_0042The last times I’d been this way, my views had been limited by rain and this time, the rain stopped for us to get our first view of the river. We wound along Highway 30, noting that there was more fall color in the forests than we’d seen before at this time of year. The drought was taking its toll. Our first place to visit was the town of Astoria, one of the most charming cities ever, even if it’s built on hills that rival Seattle and San Francisco and make me wonder what kind of mountain goat ancestors we had to pioneer this country.DSC_0059We ate a splendid lunch of Salmon fish & chips by the docks, then drove around town, admiring some of the wonderful buildings, including this beautiful old theatre. I love the old theaters I see around the country, imagining them when they were movie palaces unlike the commercial boxes we have today.DSC_0060I had to revisit the Astoria Column, which I’m glad I saw last year since it’s under renovation this year. Here are the two years…DSC_1416DSC_0062The scaffolding was impressive and the views as incredible as I remembered. DSC_0063DSC_0070I can only marvel at Lewis & Clark hugging the Washington side of the Columbia in their little boats while I’m watching huge freighters that look like toy boats today. Someday I want to do a whole Lewis & Clark trip in this area with so much to learn and see. Here’s information on the column to ponder.IMG_8098We had to move along this time, so we hurried on down Highway 101, which is a joke because it’s a narrow road that twists and turns and was busy on Friday afternoon. Our next must stop was Cannon Beach because I absolutely cannot get enough of this beautiful place. Some natives say it is too commercial now because they remember being able to drive right onto the beach not so long ago and now it’s lined with homes and rental properties. It still amazes and the homes don’t bother me. It’s an amazing beach in a coast of amazing beaches. DSC_0092Our next stop was in Tillamook, which we reached right before Tillamook Cheese Factory closed, just in time to grab some wonderful Tillamook ice cream. I had Oregon Hazelnut & Salted Carmel, which was as good as it sounds and as creamy as the wonderful ice cream is. The town is surrounded by the dairy farms that are part of the coop and I began to call the cows my ice cream cows even though they also deliver the wonderful cheeses I also enjoy.DSC_1389IMG_8239The town of Tillamook has also embraced the quilt trail idea and is home to 100 quilt squares, found on buildings in town and surrounding farms. Another thing to do next time is take the Tillamook Quilt Trail. So much to do. DSC_0115I’ve been both north and south on Highway 101 and I notice different things as I go different directions. This made me smile out in the middle of nowhere in particular.IMG_8245Sometimes you have a moment of deja vu. We pulled over in a scenic outlook and I realized I had stopped here in 2009, my first trip up this coast. This rock wall triggered the memory. DSC_0113Enough travels for today, ending with the sign by the wall. Hmmm.DSC_0108

The San Francisco-Oakland Bay area is rich with adventures, so each day of my recent trip was spent exploring something new, including revisiting San Francisco to see the things missed on previous trips. We passed the incredibly ornate City Hall (those city fathers wanted to make a statement) and buildings with the old state seal.  DSC_0393

DSC_0300There were the obvious places, such as Fisherman’s Wharf, which was so crowded with tourists (not that we weren’t) that we skipped stopping there.DSC_0328We did join the crowd at Lombard Street, only because I hadn’t seen it and felt I must.  Driving the crazy curves in the line of cars and standing for the obvious pictures was actually pretty charming, only because it is what is is. DSC_0322We drove through the business district with the imposing iconic TransAmerica building…DSC_0351And this delightful lady reaching between tall buildings…DSC_0387Streetcars are as delightful as ever…DSC_0329And we visited the waterfront, enjoying the sailboats and fishermen…DSC_0339DSC_0342Leaving the city, we passed this delightful mural…DSC_0536before reaching the Golden Gate Bridge, which never fails to delight…DSC_0540On this day, we headed towards Sausalito, changed our minds and I suggested the beach, which looked pretty close on the map. Of course, I forgot that this is the coast and that short road was crooked and narrow and the trip to Stinson Beach took way too long for what we were planning. But we got there and dipped our feet in the ocean and enjoyed the views and people watching…

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DSC_0544…before heading back along the same long, curvy road…IMG_7353On other days, we headed into Berkeley, driving through the campus of UC Berkeley, intrigued with its ties to the incredible Phoebe Hearst and her son, William Randolph Hearst, along with buildings of every architectural style.  A hodgepodge of buildings strung through the hills.DSC_0230

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DSC_0412with the classic Clock Tower at the center…DSC_0242Looking for a late lunch, we found the Gourmet Ghetto district…DSC_0251opting for Oscar’s, a classic burger place, over the fancier trendy restaurants nearby. The selling point was that Oscar’s had been there since 1950 and was destined to close in a few weeks to be replaced by yet another salad restaurant. We wanted to experience the history not the health. IMG_7250That day, we drive north to the towns of Benicia and Martinez, the location of the historic home of one of our national heroes, John Muir. Entering Martinez, we were struck with the irony of the oil refineries in the home of the man who protected our wilderness areas. DSC_0260We found his home on a major thoroughfare, back by an interstate highway. You have to wince, but the site at least has preserved enough to let you envision the way it used to be. Looking at old photos of the rich orchards that covered the hills, you look out at the modern mess of franchises, motels, and fast food that have replaced the fruit and trees. But, if you look the other way, it’s the way it was, somewhat. You get the idea. This is the home where Muir took over his father-in-law’s orchards very successfully and began his writings that so enlightened the world. I had read much about him, but had forgotten how painful it was for him to write since his words are so lovely. DSC_0262

DSC_0264I should have realized when I saw the mess of his office with papers strewn around the floor as he did. It was nice to pay tribute to this genius of a man.DSC_0267On another day, we drove to Palo Alto to see the Stanford campus, probably the most beautiful campus I’ve seen. In contrast to the variety of building styles at Berkeley, from classic to contemporary, Stanford has consistency (like my own Oklahoma State University), which gives it much beauty.  This 8,000+ acre campus is casual and elegant and impressive as we entered through an avenue of magnolias and beautiful homes, followed by streets lined with oaks and shops and restaurants and then through the campus gate and an avenue of palms leading to the heart of the campus. DSC_0592

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DSC_0614The Stanford Memorial Church has a simple name that belies its grandeur. Having toured many cathedrals and historic churches, I have to admit that this lovely sanctuary reached me with its beautiful warm details. The incredible mosaic murals on the outside stand over the central quad of the university. IMG_7373

DSC_0611and the interior somehow comforts the worshipper.IMG_7375Across the campus, there are architectural details and fountains that delight. Students walked through them casually in their shorts and tanks. A group played in the elegant fountains, a perfect example of the atmosphere. I reminded myself that these are the brightest of the bright, playing and not studying at the moment.DSC_0644

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IMG_7402 - Version 2On our final morning in the Oakland area, we visited a beautiful botanic garden, the plants displayed by the region of California in which they grew.

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DSC_0722Around another curvy road (that’s all they have – I’m sure of it), we delighted in an old fashioned carousel with its colorful, fanciful animals and lovely paintings of California history.  Built in 1911, one of the last original merry go rounds in the country, it has been in this location since 1948, hidden away in the California hills.DSC_0735

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DSC_0726And so ends my tour of the areas around Oakland, an area of history, natural beauty, and absolute delights wherever you go on your adventures. Put it on your bucket list again and again because there is always something new to see.

On a Saturday in June, we traveled through the valleys of Sonoma and Napa with little intention of tasting the wines.  I’m sure that’s heresy, especially for someone like me who works with vintners and wines, but it wasn’t that kind of day.  We drove from Oakland, crossing the bridge that takes you by San Quentin prison, where the fog was rolling over the hills.DSC_0414We saw the missions bells along the way, one of my favorite things to spot in California. They mark the trail of Spanish missions in the state.DSC_0418We turned at the Sonoma Raceway to head up towards the Sonoma Valley and our first destination…

DSC_0417Passing the beginnings of the farmlands and vineyards, where a flag flew from a tree in the glory of the day.DSC_0421Our actual destination was Glen Ellen, home of Jack London, and we cruised through the small town which had changed since my friend had last been there and had met London’s daughter in a small bookstore. Neither remains. We headed to the park, touring the museum and then heading down the trail to Wolf House, the incredible 15,000 square foot dream house that London and his wife, Charmian, built. It burned to the ground days before they moved in.  I can only imagine their complete devastation at seeing the charred ruins.DSC_0424The trail was lovely, although it got hot quickly that day.  Thank goodness for the drinking fountains and benches along the way.  It’s not that far in, but can be a trek in the heat. DSC_0429The signs along the way tell you that you’re in a wilderness area. There were also signs to watch for a mountain lion that had been spotted in the area.DSC_0467DSC_0470Wolf House was spectacular, even in ruins.  No wonder it burned to the ground before help could arrive.  It’s deep in the woods, surrounded by trees.  But, you can envision their dream. Here’s the entrance.DSC_0440And a couple of other views.  Looking down into the house, you see the place it would have been, a house to entertain and enjoy. DSC_0444DSC_0448As an English major, I hate to admit that I didn’t know that much about London.  I’d read a little back in high school, but he wasn’t one that I explored.  After seeing the place and hearing his story, I ended up reading “The Call of the Wild” on the plane going home.  I get him now.  And his wife, Charmian.  Quite a story.  I walked up to their cottage, where he wrote and experimented with pigs and crops, becoming quite the farmer on his land. DSC_0474DSC_0479There were vineyards and cactus without stickers (not very technical) he grew to see if they could feed the cattle.DSC_0475DSC_0483Leaving the ranch, we spotted a fruit stand.  I love fruit stands, an homage to my mother who never passed one without stopping. We filled the car with the smells of the last of the cherry crop and apricots and sampled the juicy fruits as we drove.IMG_7316

IMG_7317Up Sonoma we headed, watching for Francis Ford Coppola’s winery, which I had visited several years ago and thought my movie loving friend might enjoy.  After passing it several times (no sign on the highway and my maps weren’t giving us time to exit), we found it in all it’s glory.  I’d been here about 8 years ago and the place looked like it had doubled in size, including adding a resort pool for families, which is unique since it’s not a resort.  It was packed, so I guess people stop for a swim.  It was lovely, just interesting since it’s in the middle of just about nowhere.  DSC_0485Lunch was great, overlooking the vineyards.  IMG_7329They had added more movie props along with the Oscars and other awards.  This is the desk from “The Godfather” – so they say.  There was also a Tucker automobile from the movie, “Tucker.”DSC_0489It was late afternoon when we left and the wineries were closing for the weekend.  We traveled through the Alexander Valley to cross over to the Napa Valley.  Some of the best wineries are in this area, marked with signs going every direction. A gorgeous drive along curvy roads through the hills, lovely on a Saturday afternoon.DSC_0493We headed south through the Napa Valley, passing through Napa as the Wine Auction was taking place, one of the top fundraisers in the country and probably the most profitable charity wine auction. Since I’ve worked with wine auctions over the last ten years, it was fun to even breathe the air of this giant event. DSC_0495Other than wine with late lunch, we didn’t sample the wines, but it was a delightful trip through the valleys that have changed this country’s wine industry. It’s always lovely. We circled back to our base in Oakland, ready to find another adventure the next day.