Oklahoma City National Memorial and Museum

It’s always jarring when you’re on vacation to visit sobering memorials and museums. I don’t want to ever be the one that turns away from the darker parts of our past so I always force myself to go. While in Oklahoma City for the WCWS, we couldn’t skip the bombing memorial.

This memorial was interesting because I remember when the bombing happened. I was in third grade in the spring of 1995, my best friend’s birthday was in just a couple of days. We saw the pictures and knew it was horrible but that’s about all my 9 year old brain could comprehend. I was really curious to visit the museum and help bring all the pieces together.

As we stepped through the gates on the west side of the memorial, we were greeted with the giant reflecting pool on what had been Oklahoma City’s 5th Street. This now decommissioned street was where Timothy McVeigh had parked the now infamous Ryder truck.

Stacia, Andrea and I all agreed to start in the museum to give context to the memorial. This is one of the best museums I have ever been to. I have a low threshold of patience for museums with lots of video content and while I still felt there could be fewer videos (or at least shorter ones), the exhibits were put together excellently.

Back outside, we visited the survivor tree and then wandered over to the site of the federal building and saw the chairs representing those who died in the bombing.

We wandered around the grounds for awhile taking it all in. The memorial was really well done. If you’re in OKC, you can’t miss it, it’s hard but you must go.

WCWS Roadtrip: Pecos National Historic Park

After leaving Santa Fe, I knew I didn’t need to rush on to Oklahoma City so I started looking for things to visit. One of the things that immediately jumped out to me as I looked at my Gazetteer (yup, even with phones and technology, I travel with the red De Lorme atlases!) was Pecos National Historic Park. It wasn’t located very far off the interstate so I piloted Ruth that a-way.

This was yet another NPS unit that I knew nothing about when I showed up (just like Chimney Rock earlier in the trip). I was really excited to see the trail rules sign as I walked into the visitors center that said that dogs were allowed on the trail!

Pecos National Historic Park documents the Cicuye pueblo and the Spanish missions that came afterwards starting with Coronado in about 1540. (Yes, I typed that right FIFTEEN FORTY.) The mission came to be called Pecos. This was the site of the Pueblo Revolt of 1680 (oh, don’t you worry, The Pueblo Revolt has ended up on my reading list, you’ll hear about it eventually).

Because of the revolt, the Spanish actually built two mission churches at the site. The first was bigger, its footprint is the rock wall surrounding the ruins of the smaller second church.

I really enjoyed visiting this park. The video at the Visitor’s Center felt a little dated but had a ton of information. I did inquire about how closely this pueblo was tied with Chaco culture and the answer I got was pretty… unsatisfactory? My curiosity was mostly roused after having left Chimney Rock that had both kivas and pit houses. There seemed to be a lot of things labeled as kivas at Pecos and nothing called a pit house so that sort of piqued my interest. Anyone know anything about that?

…guess I need to go visit Chaco Canyon

 

WCWS Roadtrip: Santa Fe, New Mexico

After I finished up in Los Alamos, I made the short drive down to Santa Fe. It was really hot so it was clear that this was going to need to be a dog friendly adventure (aren’t they all?) but fortunately Santa Fe was super welcoming. I’m always a bit hesitant about walking into shops with Sprocket but honestly? no one has complained yet. (He usually just lays down and goes to sleep.)

I’ve passed through Santa Fe before but I’d never just wandered around the Plaza. The park in the middle was really pretty and I loved the old architecture. Unfortunately, I’m not super excited about either turquoise jewelry (or really any jewelry) or Native American art so most of the shops didn’t really strike my fancy.

We wandered up to the area around the St. Francis of Assisi Cathedral but I was afraid to go inside with Sprocket. (Yes, I appreciated the irony even in the moment.)

Next we explored a side street sort of randomly. I didn’t particularly have a game plan for this adventure so we were just wandering! Fortunately, it took me to the oldest church structure in the USA and the oldest house in the US!

While I was looking for a place to eat lunch with a patio and some good New Mexican food, I stumbled across 109 East Palace, the Santa Fe base of the Manhattan Project where arrivals visited before heading up “The Hill” to Los Alamos.

It took a little deciding but I finally sat down for lunch at La Casa Sena. Sprocket and I were treated excellently, I greatly enjoyed my jalapeño-cucumber margarita and my lunch was fantastic. It was nice to sit in the cool patio and enjoy my book!

I was really drained after lunch. I’m not sure if it was the heat, the driving, or just the residual school year catching up with me but when we headed up into the mountains near town to find a camping spot, I promptly climbed in the back of the Jeep about 4:30pm and fell asleep. I managed to rouse myself about 8pm to take Sprocket for a walk and went back to sleep for the night. I guess I needed a vacation or something, ha!

WCWS Roadtrip: Los Alamos, New Mexico

After I left Chimney Rock, I headed south through Chama where we stopped to stretch our legs and then continued south towards Los Alamos. I’d never been to the Atomic City but it seemed as good a time as any to check it out.

I started at the Los Alamos History Museum first thing the next morning. I knew a little bit about Los Alamos but only in the vague sort of way where I remembered that it was important from AP US History and what I gleaned from Elizabeth Church’s excellent novel The Atomic Weight of Love.

I certainly knew nothing about the history of the Los Alamos Ranch School and my New Mexican history in general is pretty shaky. I was pretty shocked by the pretty impressive list of alumni and other attendees.

Even though I knew a little bit more about the development of the bomb, it was really interesting to learn more about Oppenheimer and the rest of the scientists as well as how the social order worked in the early days. The museum gives an excellent concise but powerful picture of Los Alamos’s role in ending the war and the development of the atom bomb.

After I finished with the history museum, I headed down to the Bradbury Science Museum. Affiliated with Los Alamos National Laboratory, the Bradbury is free but honestly, I didn’t enjoy it anywhere near as much as the history museum. The displays felt really busy which made reading them and following the story difficult. It was loud and I really just couldn’t focus so I decided it was time to move on.

Among the serious things I learned at the history museum I also learned this fun fact: Oppenheimer, called “Oppie” by peers, made a mean martini. I made sure to get a photo with him.

Topaz Museum and Historic Site

A cursory Google of my intended route had turned up the (free) Great Basin Museum in Delta, Utah. I figured I could use a leg stretch when I arrived after driving across the state so I pulled in behind the visitor center and walked around the corner.

Before I reached my intended museum, I noticed the Topaz Museum sign. This gorgeous building, with its exterior clad shou sugi ban style, stood out in the plain western Utah town. I’m a little embarrassed but I wandered inside partially not knowing what to expect and partially expecting a rock museum.

It only took me a few minutes of wandering around the lobby to understand what this museum was about. I was confused about whether there was an entry fee and about where to go. Eventually, a woman came out and ushered me into a group with a docent that had started just minutes before me.

We watched two films before the docent ushered us into the start of the exhibits. The first was about the history of Topaz and how it fit in with the rest of the internment camps in the western United States. The second was footage actually shot in Topaz by someone who was held in the camp. An administrator had helped him acquire a camera but didn’t fully give him “permission” to film. This is one of only two home movies to be housed in the Library of Congress.

I was nervous about taking photos of all of the museum exhibits but within minutes of entering the museum I had a sad sinking feeling in my gut. I attempt to not be overtly political on this blog but it is clear that our country has elected someone who is unclear on how much internment is in conflict with true American values and that underscored how important it is that we recognize how we failed ourselves in the 1940s.

The Topaz museum is astounding. The exhibits are incredibly well designed. Housed within the museum is a residence for four people and outside the backdoor is a recreation hall moved from the site. There is furniture from the site that was constructed from found wood and photos showing how Topaz interacted with Delta once it was realized that the internees were not actually a threat to our country.

The last piece of the museum is a discussion of how the internment was handled in the courts after it happened. This didn’t feel like the end of the story to me so I decided I should head out to the actual site of the camp, just outside of town.

I only made it to the memorial before I sat down on its sunwarmed granite and cried. I hadn’t even entered the site yet. The museum had so well laid the foundation for an understanding of how the internment of Japanese-Americans fit into our history and into our present that I couldn’t help but feel the moment so acutely.

While I was in the museum, one of the docents commented how terrible it was that they were confined to such an ugly place. I couldn’t help myself when I responded, “It’s only ugly if you’re stuck.” On the very edge of the great basin, I was struck by the mountains and the sky. But to imagine being trapped in such a space was unthinkable.

I grew up near the Puyallup Fairgrounds which had been an assembly point for those of Japanese ancestry while waiting to be sent to their permanent camps further inland. In elementary school, we’d had a presentation by the author of Baseball Saved Us, Ken Mochizuki, and we learned about internment camps and how important baseball had been.

Standing behind what had been the backstop of one of the baseball fields, I finally started to feel some peace. I’m not sure if its the idea of baseball being “America’s game” or if its just that my long association with the game makes me feel closer to people or what. I sat on the hard dirt and looked out to the northeast, just like ball fields are supposed to, for a bit and collected myself to move on.

 

While my visit to Topaz wasn’t expected and it certainly wasn’t easy, I really recommend a stop. The museum is located in Delta, Utah right on the main highway and the camp is a relatively short drive outside of town. 

Running Natural Bridges National Monument

Natural BridgesYes, I know, running is not the first thing you think of when you think of Natural Bridges. When I passed by the entrance sign on my way home after exploring the Henry Mountains a bit and checking out Bluebell Knoll I figured with Sprocket nursing his broken nail it was as good a time as any to check it out. I didn’t want to leave him in the car alone too long so instead of doing what I really wanted to, hike under all the bridges through the canyon, I ran down from the road below each bridge and then back up.

Visitor Center Natural Bridges

Sipapu from above

Well, ran up is a gross exaggeration but I did mostly run down! The first bridge, Sipapu, was my favorite hike but I think Katchina was the coolest looking bridge. I even tossed in the short run to the Horse Collar Ruin overlook.

Sipapu

Sprocket stayed nice and cool thanks to a stiff breeze on the rim above the canyon that was blowing through the open Jeep windows. I, on the other hand, spent the entire afternoon a sweaty mess: sports bra running forever.

Not flashing gang signs, just proud of finishing bridge 2 of 3..
Not flashing gang signs, just proud of finishing bridge 2 of 3..

The hikes are all pretty short (the longest is 3/4 mile, I think) so it didn’t amount to much but it was a fun challenge. I briefly felt guilty for “rushing through” the highlights of the park but it sure beats just looking from the overlooks and driving on!

All three complete!
All three complete!

Summer Kickoff Roadtrip

I rolled into Ridgway just long enough to cheers summer starting at Colorado Boy and then I headed out for a little roadtrip around Colorado. The sun was out and there is little that is better than cruising around listening to good music with a pup drooling on my shoulder.

Monarch Pass

We cruised through Cripple Creek, taking a little walk down the strip of casinos and then headed down the road to Victor.

Cripple Creek

From Victor Pass, we got a beautiful view of Pikes Peak (our destination for the next day!).

Victor Pass

Finding a place to camp turned out to be way harder than I’d expected: I always forget there are so many more people out towards the Front Range! Eventually we found a place to sleep although it wasn’t quite as remote and restful as many places we’ve camped!

Adventure Is Embracing The Unexpected: People

After I summited Two Buttes, I pushed north towards the Phillips County Highpoint. The wind that I’d experienced on the hike didn’t seem to abate. When I approached Lamar, I saw a sign notifying me that US 40 was closed from Kit Carson to Limon. I began to realize that the dark clouds and wind might be a little bit more than just a small storm.

In Kit Carson, I tried to take Colorado 59 north but it, too, was closed. Not really willing to hunker down in the Jeep before noon to endure what at that point were just windy conditions with all of the trucks waiting to go westbound so I turned east towards Cheyenne Wells. There, I found US 385 open to the north so I just kept on towards the goal; wind and some non-sticking sideways falling snow aside. In Burlington, I navigated through town, only to find that my northbound route was closed… and I-70 westbound was closed.

image

I drove around town looking for a restaurant or a bar that I could hole up in, hoping against hope for somewhere that might look like it might have wifi. I spotted Essential Foods and headed inside. The space was simple but the lunch menu they handed me looked delicious. I’d already eaten on the road but they happily let me just sit and drink coffee for hours, understanding that I was just seeking refuge from the DOT and its road closures. Outside, the snow started, but it wasn’t sticking and I was frustrated. Time ticked by and it became clear that Denver was a mess and I probably shouldn’t expect any roads to be opening any time soon.

As I worked on my computer and the snow finally started to stick to the roads a little instead of just blowing sideways, a man walked up to me and asked if I’d found a place to stay. He had offered his vacant, for sale house to a couple also holed up in the restaurant and wanted to extend the offer to me as well. James, the homeowner, drove us over to the house to show us around the house that turned out to be a gorgeous 1919 Craftsman. James fretted about the lack of furniture, turned the heat up for us, insisted on opening the blinds so it didn’t feel like a cave, and offered to go to the grocery store for some toilet paper. Simply feeling grateful to have a warm place to stay, all I could do was reassure my host that it didn’t matter that there was no furniture, that I had toilet paper in the jeep, and that I couldn’t ask for anything more for the night.

Back at the restaurant, I got to know my housemates for the night better: Bart and Leigh (along with their dog Boone) run Be Hippy, a grassroots lifestyle brand. We chatted about social media, traveling, and marveled a little bit about the goodness of people opening their homes to us. The staff at Essential Foods continued to take good care of us stranded travelers and eventually we drifted off to our warm home for the night.

Be Hippy

I’d started off the blizzard delay so frustrated and annoyed with DOT for being overly cautious but in the end, I was filled with the warm fuzzies of making friends, being reminded of the kindness of strangers, and the absolute importance of being open to adventure. Thank you James, Bart, and Leigh for making my day and being part of a weather event that added so much adventure to my plains highpointing.

Exploring: Salida, Colorado

After our exploration of St. Elmo, Sprocket and I headed out past Mt. Princton Hot Springs back to the highway and headed south to Salida, enjoying the views of the southern Sawatch Mountains the whole way.

Sawatch

US 285

In Salida, I realized that I’d left my laptop at home which severely cramped my plans to do some grading and blogging but I made do with some #hikerchat and just relaxed with coffee and quiche at Brown Dog Coffee.

Brown Dog Coffee, Salida

Since I couldn’t get much work done, Sprocket and I took full advantage and wandered around town enjoying the sunshine. Spring was out in full force!

Beth and Sprocket

We walked through the shops and down the main streets:

Salida, Colorado

We wandered around by the Arkansas River:

Arkansas River Arkansas River

I made Sprocket pose with historic railroad equipment:

Denver & Rio Grand Caboose with Sprocket

We creeped on a Wagoneer driving through town:

Wagoneer; Salida, CO

Finally, after we’d seen what there was to see in town, we headed to Poncha Springs where we were going to meet Mike and then head to the trailhead.

Poncha Springs

We had some time to kill so Sprocket and I revived our living on the road skills and made ourselves at home in the rest area.

Poncha Springs Visitors Center

Sprocket Poncha Springs

It was a really rough life, hanging out in the sunshine, reading, and enjoying the views.

Sprocket with the Sawatchs

The breeze kicked up as the sun sank on the horizon and we crawled into the jeep to stay a little bit warmer. I think #jeeplife suits us well, don’t you think?

Beth and Sprocket

Arizona: Southward Bound!

One of the bonuses of being a teacher is that a lot of school districts seem to have gone to week long Thanksgiving Breaks! This actually makes a lot of sense considering the number of families that travel for the holiday and missed some school anyway. Last year I took advantage of the break by spending some time in Denver and then flying to Connecticut to celebrate Lucy and Franz’s wedding. This year, I decided to return to an infant holiday tradition and go to Arizona to spend the Thanksgiving holiday with a dear friend from high school who had been kind enough to invite me to Thanksgiving in 2012 and 2013. I think she’s stuck with me now. 🙂

Thursday after school, Sprocket and I hopped in Ruth, made a quick stop at the gas station and headed out of town. I decided to take advantage of the long stretch of driving to run a fuel mileage test at about 55 mph so we weren’t making great time but I wasn’t worried about it at all; we were cruising down the highway listening to podcasts and simply enjoying the freedom of the open road.

XJ Selfie

I’d hoped to make it all the way down to Kayenta that night but I’d gotten a start about an hour later than I’d hoped plus it’s amazing what a difference driving 55mph for 200 miles compared to 70mph makes. (I think I drove about 40 from Monticello to Blanding…holy deer everywhere on the side of the road!) We made camp along the San Juan River knowing that it would be more difficult to find a good place to camp once we crossed the bridge onto the Navajo Reservation.

Camp near Bluff, UT

In the morning, we got our start just before the sun crested over the buttes to the east. It was lovely to cruise along watching the desert become fully light.

Originally, I’d planned to take the standard route to Flagstaff via Kayenta but, seizing the luxury of traveling alone with no real schedule, I decided to take US-191 south to Chinle and visit Canyon de Chelly National Monument. I’d passed right by the monument in 2013 but it just so happened to be during the government shutdown so even though the park is run as a partnership with the Navajo Nation it was no dice on visiting.

Roadtrips are my absolute favorite. I almost didn’t take this one to try and save some money but I am so glad I did and I’m excited to share stories of the adventure with you all.