Mystic Aquarium offers attractions familiar to most visitors; the aquarium of note with most New England communities. There are seals, turtles, rays, and reef fish, as well as activities for the kids, a special themed theater, gift shops, and cafeteria style lunches. What makes Mystic so unique is the belugas. A centerpiece of the park, the beluga tank boasts several of these pleasant mammals. They are visible both from the surface and from a viewing glass along the side of the pool.
Along the northwest corridor of the park, twelve miles west of the Yellowstone River, through a heavily wooded area between Mammoth and Norris, this aged bison, appearing lost, straddles the double-yellow lines, and stares down a row of northbound automobiles. The Terraces will have to wait, for drivers are at his mercy. His tired eyes are glossed, weary of the persistent invasion, looking simply to cross the road and possibly search for an elusive place for permanent rest. It is soon obvious; one charge could thrash any number of these SUV’s and those nervous inhabitants inside who anticipate his next move. He stands, minutes pass, he takes four steps, stops, and more minutes pass. Many drivers turn toward the shoulder, giving the old giant the respect of an emergency vehicle, but to no avail. Minutes approach an hour, and he begins to move, pausing to catch the eye of each passing driver, who avert his stare. A brief glimpse seems to represent a lifetime of buffalo profanity. After several more pauses, periods of indecisiveness, he decides to cross in front of my vehicle, moves slowly to the right shoulder, glances again into the passenger window, and meanders down a ravine. Good-bye old man!
Scotty was able to convince an east coast millionaire, who suffered from ill health, that there was a substantial vein of gold in the northern wasteland of Death Valley. The benefactor sent money to Scotty to invest in material and equipment to mine the gold. Legend has it that Scotty bought a few nuggets to continue the cash flow and then squandered the rest. The millionaire and his wife arrived to Death Valley to evaluate how their investment was being spent and discovered instead that the dry climate had a healing effect on their health. After relocating, Scotty and the couple became friends. The “castle” is situated near the California and Nevada border; a southwestern style home with a stucco facade and a red-tile roof, and located in one of the most desolate areas in the lower 48.
Only a block from Yale University, this New Haven institution claims the invention of the hamburger. The burgers are cooked vertically in unique grill contraptions resembling that of a toaster oven standing on end. The patty is thick, placed between two pieces of toast sans crust. Dill pickles accentuate the taste. Ketchup is absolutely forbidden in the establishment. The dining area is small and crowded. Graffiti has been carved in the tables, window sills and walls, dating back over a century. Louie’s ambiance complements the food. The burgers are juicy and the fries are piping hot.
Dyer’s Burgers on Beale is only a block away from B.B. Kings bar. Within walking distance from the Mississippi River, this Memphis landmark claims to use the same grease to fry its burgers that was used at its grand opening in 1912. The raw hamburger is pulverized with a mallet before being submerged if a large pan of sizzling lard. The fixings are up to the customer. The burger drips cholesterol, but is worth every bite. Whether a precursor to a night of raw delta blues or a filling nightcap to the evening’s bar hopping, Dyer’s ranks as one of the best burgers places in the U.S.
The city of Preston, Idaho has a great sense of humor, and with tongue firmly in cheek, the Annual Napoleon Dynamite Festival is scheduled each summer. Attendees can bowl at the town’s only bowling alley on South State Street. North a block and two blocks east is Preston High. No tetherballs were apparent. Further north on State is the burger place and the second hand store. It appears the tae kwon do establishment has closed. The festival has contests for happy hands performances and dancing, milking familiar scenes from the movie for maximum effect and to everyone’s delight. Napoleon’s house stands on a ridge northeast of town; a private residence. The door seems to anticipate a knock from Deb, soliciting boondoggles or glamour shots for college tuition. In the pastureland surrounding the house, Tina, the llama, is nowhere to be found.
Take the spur route north from Sequoia into Kings Canyon National Park. The road winds down to the canyon floor, with seemingly endless hairpin curves. The thirty mile trip can take well over an hour. When the Scenic Byway reaches the rushing river, travel toward Cedar Grove and Road’s End. The byway eastward goes against current, creating a sense of vertigo as one becomes intrigued by these white water rapids. It’s easy to relax along this stretch of road that follows the river’s northern bank, especially after the white knuckled effort it required to reach here. Kings River is mesmerizing, inviting. A suggestion would be to simply stop at the first pull-off, get out, and stroll several minutes along the river. Here, the San Joaquin Valley smog doesn’t yet reach levels that it does in nearby Sequoia and Yosemite. Just outside the parks western border, still within Giant Sequoia National Monument, and to the left of the roadway, a signpost announces Grizzly Falls. The water splashes off outcroppings and soon joins the current of the Kings.
The Yellowstone leaves the lake, carves the park’s grand canyon, dropping two major falls, before exiting into Montana. Along the western plains bordering the Rockies, the river rolls with the topography of the land, joins the Missouri, then the Mississippi in Saint Louis and reaches the gulf. Driving westward from Theodore Roosevelt National Park in North Dakota, upon a ridge where a Montana rest area is stationed, dawn had broken and the sun was cresting. The reflection, of almost perfect blue, defines a hairpin bend.
The Tennessee Valley Authority and its construction of the Pickwick Dam resulted in this reservoir that flows into northwestern Alabama. The bridge, crossing at one of the widest points, is the modern route of the Natchez Trace.
Northern Dakota’s equivalent to the Badlands of the south, Theodore Roosevelt National Park represents an area of pristine beauty where, because of its isolated location, few enthusiasts make the effort to tread. The park’s namesake liked the area and lived here for a time. His cabin still stands directly behind the Visitor Center. The looped drive around the park’s South Unit offers amazing vistas through fertile buffalo pasture land. Summer thunderstorms are frequent but disperse quickly and allow for brilliant natural lighting. The only campground, located on the Little Missouri River, is amidst river cottonwoods. The bluffs on the opposite bank provide a perfect backdrop to a spectacular sunset. Look for a daily rainbow in the eastern sky.
Plum Point is on the western shore of Rhode Island’s Narragansett Sound. The point overlooks Conanicut Island and the village of Jamestown. The bridge is the first of two that connects the southwestern region of the state with down east and the city of Newport.
Once fertile farmland to pre-historic Native Americans, the mesa has now returned to natural forest. The deep ravines that define the mesa have exposed sheer cliffs where pockets served as an excellent protection from inclement weather. The anasazi enclosed these pockets with masonry, using the rooms for shelter, storage, and religious ritual. The Cliff Palace may have served as a central meeting place for this ancient culture; a national capital for several hundred thousand who may have lived in the greater four-corner region of the United States. Tribe leaders and kokopelli shamans may have met to discuss politics and cultural affairs.
The Figurehead Exhibit has a room dedicated to the carved wooden figures once attached to the bow of ships. Voluptuous women, salty seaman, eagles and the like stand proud at a forty-five degree angle around the perimeter of the room. The craftsmanship is exquisite. During the peak of the whaling industry, smiths manufactured tools, rigging, as well as other necessary commodities. Specialty shops have been restored at Seafaring Village, where artisans recreate the shop’s production method and display their goods. Several ships are in port, including a three-master, a whaleship, and a schooner.
Overcast skies and a steady drizzle made for a wet crossing. Highway 80 continues south out of Selma before regaining its eastward bent. The plan was to walk the historic trek across the bridge from north to south toward Montgomery; however, parking availability on the Selma side was limited. The southern bank of the Alabama River has a small memorial to those protesters that died during the march. From this parking area, a boardwalk, rain soaked during my exploration, extends partially underneath the bridge and beneath a wooded canopy. Huge brown-tinged puddles restricted efforts to reach the river. Crossing the bridge in the counter-march direction offered a view of the Bloody Sunday events from the opposing gauntlet. In retrospect, parking on the south side seemed appropriate; appreciating the symbolism of the moment. Crossing toward Montgomery, toward liberation.
Evening shadows had already fallen on the four visages soon after arrival. The parking complex resembles that of a shopping mall, though necessary to accommodate the mass of visitors. The courtyard, Avenue of the Flags, the viewing terrace and amphitheater, slowed access to the base of the monument. Evening crowds were gathering for the summer lighting of Mount Rushmore and the subsequent firework display.
Two smoke-tinted guard posts face the north wall, just outside the entrance to Red Square. The posts flank the eternal flame. A curbed walk, separated by brown marble, extends from the flame, follows the wall, and enters into the depth of the Kremlin. During weekend hours, the guards vie for the attention of brides—their maids, and possibly the entire wedding party—who utilize Red Square as a backdrop for the reception. The solemn ritual of Russia’s Changing of the Guards garners the visitors respect .
The famous statue exemplifies this American institution. The gravesites of Washington Carver and Booker T. Washington, the storied airfield north of town, and the unprecedented standard set for its graduates, seem to be represented in the protective stance of Booker T., and the sense of comfort and hope, the solitude and respite, afforded to the man, huddled beneath the folds of the coat.
Weeks after visiting Thunderhole in Acadia National Park, a violent surge and undertow resulted in the deaths of several individuals, swept away after investigating too closely the sheer depths of the coastline. Here, the Atlantic is unpredictable and foreboding, yet like a siren song, the outcroppings entice every adventurous soul.
Stockade Lake is part of a western appendage to Custer State Park in South Dakota. Custer represents a great land mass that borders Mount Rushmore to the north and Wind Cave to the south. After driving the Needles Scenic Highway; where sharp, craggy pinnacles reach to the sky, and the Wildlife Loop Road; where pronghorns, buffalo, and prairie dogs free range across pastureland, we began driving westward toward the town of Custer and then north to the Crazy Horse Memorial. The highway crosses the lake’s northern shore and the morning sun seemed to make the placid water glisten.
From the Wolverton parking area, the trail to Heather Lake—the first of three alpine lakes on the route—is a challenging ascent of switchbacks that stride the southern ridge above Lodgepole leading to a panoramic crest, which overlooks the high Sierra range. Heather Lake is nestled a few hundred feet below the crest and approximately four miles from the trailhead. The descent to Heather is steep. Secure footing is recommended, since the scree will shift so easily. The brief ascent back to the crest is possibly the most challenging of the hike. Because of the popularity of the hike in the summertime, marmots tend to populate the crest area. Hikers generally utilize the location as a place for lunch. The “Don’t feed the Wildlife” rule is subjective, based on the aggressiveness of the wildlife. This marmot was persistent.
Bathhouse Row at Arkansas’ Hot Springs National Park is quiet after dark. The trinket shops across Central Avenue have closed. A few patrons from the Arlington Resort and other area hotels can be seen either strolling the avenue or along the Grand Promenade. The bathhouses are dark. Only a few left remain open, keeping standard business hours. Along the Promenade, steaming water is visible from its source; bubbling up from Hot Springs Mountain. This late night photograph of the fountain at the corner of Central and Reserve Street seemed more apropos.
Legend has it that two range cowboys, taking a moments rest, sat down near this odd-shaped cleft in the rock face and that suddenly their hats blew off. A steady breeze escaped from below the earth’s surface. Thus wind cave was discovered and subsequently explored. The cave is one of many in the Black Hills of South Dakota, but the only one designated a National Park.
A persistent nor’easter made exploring lands end at Cape Cod almost impossible. The climb up Pilgrim’s Monument offered temporary relief, though the small windows at each rise allowed the tempest, creating a minor vortex within the tower. Dumpster lids were vertical. Only the roots of the dune-hugging shrubbery held steadfast.
It’s low tide at Big Lagoon Beach on California’s north coast, where an outcropping to the south exposes a sea cave. One can navigate rock debris over the surf and through the cave. Beyond is an extensive strip of beach, defined by a high bluff and the Pacific. Few explore this isolated coastline. The last footprints had already washed away, rocks offshore break the waves, and seagulls perch on driftwood, and share a setting sun.
When Starbuck and Queegueg were hired as crew on the Pequod , they departed from the port at Nantucket. The island seems to have maintained most of the atmosphere and charm from Melville’s masterpiece. The Whaling Museum offers harpoons, rigging, and scrimshaws, along with telescopes and a widow’s walk to view the harbor. The process for extracting and storing whale oil is also described in detail.
A storm drenched my tent with rain in Memphis, and I followed it eastward across the southern states, through Georgia and well into Congaree National Park. A mist hovered over Stone Mountain. The northeastern Atlanta suburbs have encroached upon the mountain, which is now easily accessibly from a beltway off ramp. Water particles on the windows of the cable tram hampered visibility and would challenge even the best of digital cameras. Treading the top of the mountain was slippery and I even lost my footing on the steep decline back to the parking area. Since trails off shoot, a map is necessary to navigate the way back. The mountain depicts three Confederate leaders: Davis, Lee, and Jackson.
A summer rain drenches the Badlands on a warm afternoon, awakening vivid colors throughout the park. The thunderstorms are usually isolated, with a blue sky, sun breaks, or a double rainbow visible on the distant horizon. After the storm, the prairie dog town off Sage Creek Road is rife with activity. Hot pursuits zig and zag at a moment’s whim, with participants chasing through the saturated grass and abruptly stopping in a careless tumble. The sweet aroma of the prairie grass fills the air.
The two front rooms of Doctor Chekhov’s house are his examination rooms, and above the rooms, his bedchamber. Upstairs, in the rear of his house, is a small theater, sitting about fifty guests. A small garden extends out from the back entrance. Located along the Garden Ring, the Moscow suburbs of 100 years ago, the home is within walking distance from the
Resembling a mini-Lincoln Memorial, this mausoleum houses the log cabin where Abraham Lincoln was born. A guard desk is posted just inside the hall and the wooden structure is stanchioned off, restricting admittance. Mud in the chinks needs replaced often. The memorial’s Visitor Center provides a vivid history of the president’s early life. Based on historical records, a diorama of the cabin’s furnished interior is also on display.
The profile on the Crazy Horse Memorial has a slight resemblance to that of Thomas Jefferson’s visage on Rushmore, only a few miles away. Only a small tunnel separates the area defined between the chief’s extended arm and the mane of the horse. The arm has yet to be carved and serves as a causeway between the extremities of the memorial. After being chipped from the profile, debris of small stone and dust pile up on the shoulder and is then dozed off to a larger debris field at the base of the memorial. The photograph captures the fall.
Across the Continental Divide from metropolitan Denver, just outside the western borders of Rocky Mountain National Park, lies the Never Summer Mountain Range. The mighty Colorado navigates through the Kawuneeche Valley here, wider at the trailhead, but diminishing to a trickle as it flows past the old mining town of Lulu City. Deer drink from the tributaries and a moose with spring calf grazes the meadows.
A small ravine, rejuvenating after a moderate winter, obscures the entrance to Mammoth Cave. A relatively small stroll from the Visitor Center, and accessible for a small ticket price, the cave is one of the largest in the National Park system. Stalactites and gypsum flowers await those visitors seeking the depths. On the surface, a small trail overlooks the Green River Valley, and by auto, a ferry crossing permits visitors to explore the furthest regions of the park. Trailheads to many waterfalls begin on this side of the river, along the Maple Springs Loop.
The Wall-mart of the Black Hills, this block long western emporium offers everything imaginable. Beyond the expected souvenir trinkets are sporting good supplies; from camping to hunting, western apparel for the entire family, and jewelry. The constant bombardment of road signs from across the Dakotas and the west appeal to travelers even slightly curious.
The ski swaths along the eastern ridge of Cannon Mountain are accessible by lifts and a tramway. After exiting the tram, hike down the Ridge Trail, the closest vantage point to where the profile of the Old Man—the famous stone face and New Hampshire’s northern sentinel—once guarded Franconia Notch.
The Tunnel Trail follows the western slope of Hawkins Peak at Pinnacles National Monument in California. The Juniper Canyon Trail to the south connects with the High Peaks trail and allows the hiker to be in the midst of these strange rock formations. Descend through the tunnel and complete the loop with a return back to the Chaparral Ranger Station.
The view from Mount Washington in New Hampshire is framed from the smoke of the Cog Railway. The railway chugs up a substantial incline before reaching the tallest peak east of the Mississippi. Once at the station, guests are free to roam about the mountaintop. The wind is usually gusty and there’s a substantial chill in the air. Of particular note, the climbable boulder field at the summit and the cairns along the northern route of the Appalachian Trail.
Cypress trees extend from the grassy shore and into Lake Providence; a crescent shaped body of water in northeast Louisiana near the Mississippi border. Rowboats dock at the tin-covered fishing shack just off the western bank.
South Pass represents the easiest route through the Wind River Range, a route that connects the towns of Farson and Lander. An authentic western ghost town, South Pass City boasts a two-story hotel and two thick-walled, musty jail cells. The town saloon has planks across two wooden barrels with a liquor cabinet behind. The summer winds at this elevation remind one of a perpetual chill in the air year round, and peaking into the hotel rooms, with only thin wall paper to keep out the cold, one senses only minor comfort against the Wyoming winters.
Beyond the tunnel at Zion’s east entrance, the Towers of the Virgin appear on the horizon at the canyon overlook. Once reaching the western wall of the canyon, a shuttle bus carries visitors to roads end; the Temple of Sinawava and the trailhead into The Narrows.
A modern turnpike—by 1940 standards—the Natchez Trace follows the original southwesterly route from just south of Nashville to Natchez, Mississippi; a route connecting the Appalachian hinterlands to New Orleans. Approximately halfway between Natchez and Jackson, evidence of the sunken trace still exists; a narrow path, deeply banked, through a thick national forest with extensive undergrowth. In the early 19th century, the commute was long and arduous, with a constant threat from native tribes or highwaymen. The latter, known as cutthroats, would rob and massacre the travelers, sometimes several miles from any settlement. Sixty miles south of Nashville, renowned explorer Meriwether Lewis allegedly took his own life along the old trace.
Passing through Newport heading for Buzzards Bay, the weather was overcast and rainy, the streets seemed quiet. Time would not allow a visit to the harbor or a tour of the castle, but nevertheless, it was nice to finally visit the state of Rhode Island. Next trip, Newport will be an extensive stopover on the way to camping the Maritimes.
Highway 16, between Worland and Buffalo, Wyoming winds its way up the Powder River Pass and crests at Meadowlark Lake. We left the hot springs at Thermopolis in the early morning hours. The drive to Buffalo resembles the Going-to-the-Sun Road at Glacier. Hairpin curves hugged ridges as the journey transitioned from blinding glare to deep shadows within moments; treacherous at best. Several vantage points allowed an opportunity to get out of the vehicle and regroup. Meadowlark was the reward. The blooming meadow, the fragrance of the grassland and neighboring pines, added to the experience. A lifetime could be spent just lying in that grass.
Medicine Lake volcano erupted approximately half a million years ago. Located in the outback of California’s northeast, between Lassen Peak and the Nevada border, the eruption’s remnants include cinder cones, lava flows, and hundreds of tube caves awaiting exploration. Ladders allow access into the tubes. Caution is needed to negotiate the sharp fragments of lava protruding for the cave floor. With no definitive caldera or crater visible, Medicine Lake shares a resemblance to the ancient volcano at Yellowstone.
Down a dirt highway in the Mississippi delta almost one hundred years ago, Robert Johnson approached this intersection, now the heart of Clarksdale, and met Mephistopheles. The Faustian deal was that if the musician would offer his soul, he would become the world’s greatest blues musician in return. So the Legend of the Crossroads began. Variations of the story abound, but the town of Clarksdale lays claim to the corner of Highways 61 and 49. The master of the delta blues, who himself seemed to propagate this myth, died at the early age of 27.
Between the two pines just off center, search the shrub line as it extends up the base of Devil’s Tower. What appears to be a blemish on the picture is actually a climber beginning his ascent up the sheer base. When visiting the tower, take the short hike around the monument’s base, yet respect the American Indian prayer offerings tied among the tree branches.
Crossing Vermont’s Green Mountains west of Brattleboro en route to Albany, the definitive New England covered bridge comes into view. The one-lane bridge—with what appears to be an added walkway—crosses a small brook flowing toward the Connecticut River. Springtime flowers splattered the green meadows along the drive over to Bennington. The route is curvy but pleasant.
When facing Saint Basil’s Cathedral, off left is the chopping block of Ivan the Terrible. The stone block is enshrined in a round alter and locked behind a rod iron gate. The discoloration of the block adds to the sense of the macabre.
William Faulkner found solace in the home and grounds of his beloved Rowan Oak. Several flower gardens and a horse corral dot the property, located in the heart of Oxford, Mississippi. A novel plotline is scribed on an upstairs bedroom wall. His hunting boots stand in the corner of the master bedroom.
Yellowstone’s paint pots glisten in the early morning sun. Trunks of trees seem to succumb to the terraces of mud, bubbling all around. Wooden walkways allow for a journey into the midst of the pots. At various places along the walkway, steam escapes from underground thermals.