Tuesday, June 12, 2012


Two weeks (felt much longer), two dudes (still dudes, just physically exhausted ones), one car (a bug-splattered nightmare), six audiobooks (half of which actually made the drives longer because they were so boring), hundreds of pictures (964!!!), and countless memories—this is our trip in a nutshell.

Our daily log book!

Of course, I wish I had the space and time to write much more about our road trip.  I also wish I had the words to describe every fantastic experience, enlightening conversation, and inspiring sight.  But I don’t.  I just don’t think I can put into words the incredible emotion I feel when I think about this trip with Dad. 

Now, before you start thinking “Oh, their trip was perfect”—which my intro seemingly implies—it’s important for you to know it wasn’t.  After five or six days on the road, the happy conversation and easy drives began to waver.  For some inexplicable reason, I found myself getting irritated with my father’s continual use of the word “beautiful” to describe every impressive mountain, sprawling farmland, and bewitching body of water, as well as old trains and airplane cemeteries (Note: He probably didn’t use “beautiful” to describe these last two things, but he was so enthralled by them that I couldn’t help myself).  I also struggled with his gum-chewing, which I never really noticed until my mom mentioned on the phone at some point during the trip that many people reflexively fear or despise loud chewers.  She called this a disease; I thought “disease” was a little strong, but I later worried that I contracted it during the trip.   It’s probably more appropriately labeled a “complex” (Here’s the real thing: http://www.thekitchn.com/misophonia-the-unbearable-loud-155746). 

Finally, the misanthrope in me resented the constant stream of incredibly nice people my dad befriended at every location.  I’m not lying either.  As if by some sort of weird extrovert magic, he identified the kindest people to initiate random conversation with and/or ask to take our picture.  These new acquaintances soon became our pseudo-tour guides, for they often recommended future destinations for us to explore.  Jerome, the tiny ghost town outside Sedona, AZ where we enjoyed a personal art demonstration, was one of those lucky suggestions.  The awe-inspiring (surprisingly pleasant) four-hour drive along the California coast was another. 

So, after further thought, I really can’t blame my dad for his little quirks, especially when they lead to such amazing opportunities.  I also shouldn’t give him too much of a hard time for overusing “beautiful” as an adjective because everything we witnessed, experienced, felt was beautiful in its own way.  Giant trees that beg to be climbed are beautiful; magnificent canyons that render one speechless are beautiful; mile-long trains that bring childlike joy to an older man are beautiful; memories of a father chewing gum are arguably beautiful; exploring a new locale with a loved one is beautiful. 

Driving across the country with my dad was beautiful

There’s no denying how appropriate the word turned out to be.

Thank you, Dad.  I’ll never forget this.

Friday, June 8, 2012

Traveling Home

The beginning of the end is nigh.  And I don’t mean the great Zombie Apocalypse is finally upon us.  Although, it doesn’t seem too outrageous considering cannibalism’s shocking resurgence in recent news stories.  No, I mean our journey is coming to an end, and the experiences are slowly fading and diminishing.  I know my family members following this trip will be disappointed, while my friends will most likely thank me for ceasing the email updates, and I suppose those feelings inform my own.  I absolutely love writing about this trip with dad, but I’m also friggin’ ready for it to end. 

The end starts with Mount Rushmore.

Remember those long diatribes about America’s diverse and expansive and beautiful landscapes?  Well, I think I’m done with that.  This isn’t to say the miles and miles of desert and farmland aren’t picturesque; they are.  And I’m happy to see so much yellow and green thriving outside the cities we’ve visited.  I’m just tired of looking at the same thing.  I blame part of this unexpected sentiment on Dad’s car (our second home), which I’ve come to regard as a mechanical coffin quite like an elevator.  You can probably tell small spaces are not my friend.  Essentially, the rides are long and boring and torturous until you reach the national park shrouding Mount Rushmore, which is populated with spurts of dense, towering forest and a surprising number of dead, burnt, or stripped trees that both repel and fascinate the viewer.  We later learned that the park system is purposely thinning the forest because some sort of terrorist beetle is killing the trees in close proximity to one another.  It’s unnerving to see how much of the forest has been affected by the beetle and the process.  

We finally made it to Mount Rushmore at 6 PM after 11 hours of driving.  Our backs and legs ached when we exited the car, and our moods were definitely not the happy father-son moods that characterize much of this road trip.  We were tired, and I’m sad to confess, Mount Rushmore was not what we needed to perk up.  Don’t get me wrong; the mountain is incredible, and the history is even more inspiring.  The park was just too underwhelming for two already tired and defeated travelers.  Addendum: I feel very un-American typing this.  We did our best to snap pictures and wander the museum (which contained a very fun faux-dynamite blast game that involved pushing a lever that exploded portions of Mount Rushmore on a television screen.  I played it three times).  However, we left much of the park untouched, including trails, theaters, and the sculptor’s studio behind the mountain.  I’ve added these to my ever-growing bucket list.

Gutzon Borglum is the impressive sculptor responsible for Mount Rushmore.  His equally impressive son sculpted this.  

The next day promised another long drive (13 hours) to Kansas City, MO and the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art.  I won’t overwhelm you with the exciting details of the drive because they were not exciting.  It was just one of those drives where you fantasize about taking the car off-road or engaging in a high-speed chase or shunting fellow cars for bonus points like you do in Burnout: Revenge (one of those Playstation games that probably sends the wrong message to children about car safety).  

Anyway, we made it to Kansas City around 6 PM, dropped the car off at the hotel, and walked to the museum.  The Nelson-Atkins Museum actually reminded me of the National Mall in DC because it offers a lot of open green space for couples to picnic, friends to toss the frisbee, and actors to rehearse Anthony and Cleopatra on the steps leading to the museum (we walked through the middle of that last one).  Here are a couple pics I took along the walk to the museum through the Kansas City Plaza:

These are a few of my favorites from the museum:

Subodh Gupta's Egg (2010)

Thomas Hart Benton's Open Country (1952)

Kara Walker's Scene of McPherson's Death (2005)

Thomas Hart Benton's Hollywood (1937-38)

Home is right around the corner!  We're on our way to Zanesville, Ohio today.  

Wednesday, June 6, 2012


Morning came early on Yellowstone travel day, for we wanted to experience as much of the park as we possibly could.  We were 300 miles away, but our anticipation and an incredible drive through rough mountains and towering trees kept us going.  Hours later, we arrived in Jackson, Wyoming, attempted to drop off our bags to no avail, grabbed sandwiches for the road, and hoofed it to Yellowstone National Park.  

I know I haven’t made much of an effort to explicitly recommend parts of our trip to readers, but the drive through Grand Teton National Park and then Yellowstone is absolutely necessary for every American and distant traveler.  Too often our friends and work colleagues recommend extravagant island getaways or Living Social deals or European adventures, and we forget the incredible expanses of land, mountains, trees, and water that exist a road trip away or an even quicker flight.  You actually feel a surprising sense of satisfaction when handing over the $25 (in our case, $10, now that Dad owns a lifetime senior pass—possibly the coolest perk for being old) to enter the park, for you know that your trip will contribute to the funds necessary to keep something so beautiful, so perfect alive and thriving.  

While we spent the bulk of our time in the car on the way to Old Faithful, we stopped for countless scenic views of the Tetons, one awesome picture of dad and a waterfall, and the obligatory snapshots with national park signs.  We also watched bison, horses, and bull elk roam and chomp away at endless tufts of green while we abandoned our own sandwiches to join them (from safe distances of course).  

The day’s ultimate destination, the renowned Yellowstone geyser, made us wait 30 minutes for the next eruption of water and vapor.  This wasn’t too bad, considering it predictably explodes every 90 minutes.  It was actually a comic experience as we waited next to a particularly funny family that snickered and joked when the geyser teased the crowd or failed to fully erupt.  Questions like “Was that a premature eruption?” kept the onlookers in good spirits while waiting for Old Faithful to live up to its name.  Despite bouts of rain and overcast skies, I captured a few passable shots of the eruption and a handful of stinkers.  I think this is just one of those natural forces you should watch with your own eyes.

When Old Faithful concluded its three-minute spectacle, we hit the Yellowstone gift shop where I lost myself in postcards, coloring books (mostly for Avery Elaine), commemorative glasses and mugs, fantastic t-shirts, and Yellowstone foodstuffs.  I brought a lot of them home with me. 

We ended the day at The Gun Barrel, an aptly named Jackson steakhouse recommended by the Hampton Suites’ staff.  I don’t want to write much about this place because it truly undermined the heart of our Yellowstone experience.  Being watched by the taxidermied carcasses of the very animals you enjoyed all day is simply wrong and regrettable.  As a museum-turned-restaurant, The Gun Barrel maintained old exhibits of guns and rifles as well as countless animals frozen in time that hung on the ceiling above and the walls adjacent to your meal.  As the perfect hypocrite, I attempted to save face by eating fish.