Tuesday, August 26, 2008

China part 1

Before our big USA/CAN trip, we went to China for 2 weeks.  The flight over took us along the coastline of Russia where sea ice was still breaking up.  We landed in Beijing and everywhere you looked were building cranes, if you could see them through the haze.  The locals claim it is mostly due to blowing sands from the Gobi desert this time of year....  We enjoyed tours of the Forbidden City, the Summer Palace and the Great Wall.  It had snowed the night before on the Wall which gave it a nice touch.

China part 2

We drove past the Olympic aquatic center and the birds nest.  They were tough to see despite only being a block or two away.  In the afternoon, the sun is barely distinguishable through the haze.  It's the first time we've been able to look directly at the sun on a cloudless day.  Then on to Xian and the Terra Cotta warriors.  They were built to protect a paranoid emperor's tomb in his afterlife.  Then on to Chongching where we boarded the river cruise ship.

China part 3

Down the Yangtze river we travelled through the Gorges.  This is where millions of people were relocated to accomodate the rising water from the Three Gorges dam.  Chinese shipping standards are a little more lax than the US as evidenced by this hay barge.  Then we visited a china factory and I tried my hand at some.  Keep in mind the asymmetry is a creative statement.

China part 4

On our way to Shanghai, we were entertained by this truck full of ducks travelling at 50 mph.  In Shanghai, we visited an impressive garden, the newly renovated "old Shanghai" shopping district and the waterfront overlooking the east half of the city where they're currently constructing the tallest building on earth.  At night, one can purchase many fine wares on the street including Rolexes and Mont Blanc pens for the amazing price of about $2.50 per watch and just under $1 per pen.  It must be legit since it all happens in front of the official Rolex and Mont Blanc stores.  On the way home we saw a hazy Mt Fuji from the airplane.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

California volcanic trail

Continuing with the volcanic theme, we visited Lava Beds National Monument to do some lava tube caving.  There's about a dozen caves of various lengths and heights to explore.  The hard core can squeeze through tiny sections of sharp jagged lava best left for grating cheese.  We stuck to the easier stuff.  On to Lassen Volcanic NP.  Very smokey from the wild fires near Lake Shasta.  Fortunately the second day was more clear so we could climb up to the peak for great views.  This one is of Mt Shasta over the wildfire layer of smoke.  An added bonus was a huge swarm of butterflies migrating via Lassen Peak most of the day (click on picture for more clarity).  Then down the eastern side of the Sierra Nevada by Lake Tahoe, Mono Lake and up to the Ancient Bristlecone Pine forest at 10,000 feet.  Gnarly twisted beasts they are.  Then finally back home after 3-1/2 months and 19,300 miles.  No major issues other than a compromised credit card (from our China trip), a replaced IAC valve for the Ford and the legal sodomy of record high gas prices (the week we got back home is when oil's bubble finally burst).  People ask what the highlight of the trip was and it's difficult to choose one thing over another but the feeling of waking up and being able go anywhere that day is hard to beat.  Time for a vacation from vacation: next up is a family cruise to the western Caribbean!


Back into the US and straight to Mt Rainier which still had a fair amount of snow at 6000 ft.  Visited Mt St Helens and the Cascade river gorge.  Then down to Newberry Crater and Crater Lake in Oregon.  They still have the silly rule in Oregon where you can't pump your own gas.  A law left over from the 50's when one person lit them-self on fire and the populace thought they were doing gas pumpers a favor by creating a career for them.  Now everyone sits around for a long time waiting for one teenager to run around trying to service a dozen cars.  You almost want to drive straight for the California border and pay the extra 30 cents a gallon just to live the dream of swipe, pump and leave.

Western Canada

We headed back north up to Calgary and the Canadian Rockies, eh.  We enjoyed many fine vistas on our way through.  Then over to the Vancouver area via Whistler where tons of construction is going on for the 2010 olympics.  We spent only a half day in Vancouver as we had to catch a ferry over to Vancouver Island late at night.  On Vancouver Island we enjoyed the wild west coast (and Canada's best surfing) then back down to Victoria which is quite the charming British-like town.  Quite.

Monday, August 11, 2008

In the Black Hills, it's obvious why motorcyclists flock here by the hundreds of thousands.  Lots of hilly twisty roads with tons to see and do.  The same roads are not built for a behemoth camper, however, we were not to be deterred.  With only 2 inches to spare on either side of the "Needles Eye", we creeped along with nary a scratch.  At the end, a long line of vehicles waiting to go the opposite direction weren't so impressed.  On our way out of the Black Hills area, Betsy couldn't pass up a kangaroo petting farm (as this was one of our favorite activities in Australia) and met Axel a young Agile Wallaby.  Then on to the ominous Devils Tower, or Satan's pimple as the locals call it.

On to South Dakota and the Black Hills area.  On the way there we fell victim to the dozens of billboards promoting the Corn Palace.  The building is decorated with various colored corn cobs each year then lure in unsuspecting tourists to buy corn related souveniers.  We got some corn cob holders.  Badlands National Park always impresses.  Next up, the Black Hills and Mt Rushmore.  That night we had a solid lightning storm.  The next day we visited Wind Cave- the very same cave where as a child, my Dad broke wind on a guided tour as the Ranger was demonstrating to the group how dark it can get in a cave when all the lights are off.  One of our fondest family memories.  Next we stayed in the heart of the Black Hills and did some trails to various peaks for great views of the surrounding rocks.  A definite must do if ever in the area.

The Long Road West

Booking at 55mph, we needed to make up for time we borrowed to see Newfoundland.  So we headed west back through New Brunswick and up north to Quebec.  The Atlantic provinces' McDonalds all had the McLobster which we had to try.  I never knew lobster could have gristle.  We spent a day in Quebec City, drove through Montreal and visited some of Betsy's friends in Ottawa.  Then on to Michigan and the Upper Peninsula.  Had a great site overlooking the Mackinac Bridge.  Then on to Pictured Rocks NP and my ancestor's land in L'anse.  Visited my great aunt and had some authentic homemade pasties.