Monday, July 7, 2008

 

Hello West Coast!

12 days after setting off from Atlantic City, I finally made it to Los Angeles, CA! It was an overall awesome experience, probably the best trip I've had (and I've had some good ones). I kept busy from 8am until midnight every day, barely with enough time to eat a meal -- always had to keep on moving! I fit in just about everything I wanted to do, and more!

For the record, LA is very smoky right now due to the local forest fires. I will post photos later, but you can see clouds of smoke overtake areas north of redondo beach. In fact, when I drove into the city late last night (about 3:30 am) I could barely see the skyscrapers from I-10 (which literally borders downtown).

Anyway, I did want to mention a bit of fun I had in Vegas. I went to the Rio, where the World Series of Poker main event was taking place. One of my friends from RPI bought in for $10k, so I figured I would go watch him. Here he is going all-in with trips:


Now, this event is enormous: 150 tables of 10 players per table, plus just as many people in satellite games trying to win a seat in the main event. The tournament takes up just about all of the Rio's convention hall space, and includes an entire expo filled with poker related events, huge celebrities, even putting/driving range challenges and new types of poker games inventors are trying to push.


I got a chance to meet Daniel Negreanu, one of my favorite poker players. He was signing his books in the expo, since he busted out of the tournament the day before and had nothing else to do.

Johnny Chan was also at the expo, and I watched Chris Moneymaker and Doyle Brunson playing for a bit before going off to play the low stakes myself in downtown Vegas.

Before now, I had never been to downtown Vegas -- I've always stayed on the Strip and never had much of a reason to leave it. Going downtown was a neat experience, it's like going back in time 40 years to the days when neon lights (and other things) were abused.

I played poker and half a dozen variants of blackjack for much of the rest of my time in Vegas, before heading West to LA. I left around 10pm on Sunday night to avoid traffic, but it didn't help as it still took nearly 5.5 hours to get to my new apartment in Redondo Beach. Still, it was all the way around quite a great trip and life experience!

Saturday, July 5, 2008

 

The Road to Vegas

The day before felt very hectic, with nearly 500 miles of driving including within the parks. I needed to relax and spend a couple days in Vegas before heading to LA, but before I did I went to the Grand Canyon.

Now I've been here before, about 9 or 10 years ago. This was the first thing I repeated all trip (besides Atlantic City), but anyone will tell you a day at the Grand Canyon is a day well spent. I really wanted to do a strenuous hike to near the bottom of the canyon, but I didn't have the time and it was way too hot. So I instead just hiked a ways along the rim.

One cool thing I learned here was that the canyon was the United States' primary source of uranium during the Cold War era, and there was still mining equipment setup along one of the ridges.
During my trip I only saw a few cactus. I thought I would see those big ones like in the roadrunner and coyote cartoons, but all I could find were these:


Anyway, I left the Grand Canyon by about noon, in order to get to Vegas before sunset for the 4th of July fireworks. As it turned out, there was a 1.5 hour wait at Hoover Dam that I got stuck in, so it took a bit longer than I planned. But it did give me a good opportunity to prep my glow sticks for the night (which I will talk about in a second).

The water table is very low right now by Hoover Dam, as you can see:



Normally the water is up to the top of that white area in the rocks, as thats the "spill-over" level by the dam. This area is in a pretty big drought, hopefully global warming will happen soon and bring more precipitation.

Finally made it into Vegas! I am staying at a hotel just off the Strip for a couple nights to relax and have a little fun before I start work. I promised I would get back to the glow sticks, so what I was talking about was the fact that 2 summers ago for July 4th, me and a friend sold glow sticks at fireworks shows and had a lot of fun and made some good cash in the process. I still had about 1000 left over, which I intended to bring to Vegas and completely sell off during the night of fireworks shows here. Didn't go quite as planned, there was no interest in glow sticks tonight for some reason. Maybe it was the fact that people were saving their dollar for the bottled water (it is HOT here!!!), or maybe glow sticks just aren't a seller under the bright lights of the strip. Either way, I only managed to sell about 30 glow sticks and watch a short and unimpressive fireworks show before meeting up with a friend from RPI who is currently playing in the World Series of Poker. I will be watching him play a bit tomorrow, and maybe play a little low limit myself downtown (I have never been downtown).




Vegas officially marks the final coast to coast link between where I've driven in the US. It was really neat to be driving into Vegas from the East! I will be here until Sunday night or so, then heading to LA. So don't expect a blog post for another couple days.

 

Petrified Forest and Meteor Crater

On the way south to I-40, I ran into a "National Historic Landmark" called the Hubble Trading Post. I guess long ago Indians used to trade stuff here, and then an American by the name of Hubble bought it out and the store is still run to this day. However, they don't actually trade, they only sell....I tried to offer them one of my extra caps in exchange for a souvenir, but they wouldn't take it. Oh well..


My next stop was to Petrified Forest National Park, off I-40. This park wasn't just about rock-solid wood logs, but it also featured the Painted Desert and more Indian ruins (as if I wasn't tired of this by now).


It happened to be a bit cloudy/rainy that day. Yeah, in the desert, I know. But these hills look more impressive during sunny days. Next, they show us some ancient petroglyphes, which in my opinion is just a fancy word for Indian graffiti.


If you can't tell in the picture above, one of the images is of a massive stork hanging a man by the neck with his beak. Where do these natives get these ideas?!

And then oh, the petrified forest. There was lots of it, and it was all completely crystallized.


Another interesting park fact was that historic Route 66 passed right through it, and there are still remnants of the road and electric poles running through the park.

After the park I headed west toward Meteor Crater. On the way there I saw the coolest motel ever:


Yeah, those are actually tepee rooms you can stay in for a night. I was inclined to stay here just for the hell of it but I wanted to be in Vegas by the 4th, so that wasn't going to happen.

Meteor Crater is, well, a massive crater in the middle of the Arizona desert. It's claimed to be the best preserved crater in the world.


The site included a decent museum and a bunch of different viewpoints. There is a structure in the center of the crater, that is where NASA trained astronauts for the Apollo landings, and tested some of the vehicles.

That night, I headed west and then north to a lodge right next to the Grand Canyon. On the way there I had to deal with sunsets such as this one:


 

The Indian Reservations

States visited today: Colorado, Arizona, New Mexico (sort of), Utah (sort of)

It seems that almost all of Arizona is an Indian reservation. Four Corners, many national monuments, and half of the grand canyon is reserved for different tribes across the West.
My first stop on Thursday was to Four Corners. I've always wanted to put each of my limbs into different states, so here we go:

My right leg is an hour behind, thanks to Arizona's resistance to conform to the Daylight Savings standard.

I spent the next 2 hours driving through Arizona desert, which had some pretty cool looking formations all over the place.

My next stop was to the Canyon de Chelly National Monument. This canyon has a dry river bed and is home to the Mojave tribe. They have their own police force and people still live down there in the canyon, doing whatever it is Indians do. A few of the women come to the rim of the canyon to sell tourists jewelery, and the native American men sell paintings of the womens' jewelry. The monument also has more cliff dwellings and some cool natural features.


The timing during the morning was a bit confusing, because some of the Indian tribes recognized daylight savings and others didn't. Of course the state of Arizona itself doesn't, but I think I went back and forth in time at least 3 times today.

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

 

From the Mountains to the Desert

The Million Dollar Highway starts in Ouray, CO. This small western town is located just north of the mountain range I was about to pass through.


The highway doesn't take its time to start it's incline into the mountain range above. The first 4 miles or so of the highway is embedded right into the side of the mountain cliff, with no guardrails and barely enough room for 2-way traffic. There are several pullouts to enjoy the scenery, though.



There were also several waterfalls. One of them went down the entire cliff but the pull-out was full of cars so I couldn't stop to take a photo. But I did pull over to shoot this one, from on top of the falls:


Near the first summit (Red Rock) the road gets less hazardous. It was also freshly paved. And the scenery is stunning!



There are also a lot of old, abandoned mining buildings in the area. This range was a major part of the Gold Rush in the 1800's.


The Red Rock highway summit is about 11,000 ft in elevation. The road leads down to a mid-mountain town of Silverton, CO. From here, it's just 35 more miles of mountain roads until you reach Durango (the large town south of the mountains). In total, there are 3 summits you must navigate, all of them over 10,000 feet.

Molas Pass (summit #2):



Coal Bank Pass (summit #3):



I got through the mountains by 5:30pm, so I only had a few more hours of light to go. My original intention was to get to somewhere in Arizona, but I really wanted to see Mesa Verde so I decided to find a hotel as close to the Four Corners monument as possible.

Mesa Verde National Park is an archaeological site, full of pueblos and old settlements within the canyon walls from the 1200's AD. A lot of the park was closed by the time I got there, but I still got to see some neat stuff:



These old cliff dwellings were all over the place, and many of them you can actually tour with a guide if you were there earlier in the day. The cliffs are situated on the edge of the New Mexico and Arizona deserts, and you can see out in the distance for miles!



I didn't make it out of this park until after sunset. Luckily my hotel was nearby.


Tomorrow is another big day of national parks and exploring Arizona!

 

The Rocky West

I stayed in Gunnison at a Holiday Inn Express for the first time this trip, and it had by far the best free breakfast of the hotels I've stayed it. I highly recommend it!

Anyway, my first stop on Wednesday was to the Black Hills of the Gunnison National Park. I didn't know much about this park so I didn't know what to expect. To get there, I headed down Rt. 50 West towards Montrose, CO. The highway follows the Blue Mesa Reservoir, which is a lake formed behind a dam leading to the national park. It also has some great natural rock formations:



Finally I get to the park. The main attraction is the narrow, deep gorge with a fast moving river flowing through it. Some people nicknamed this the "Mini Grand Canyon". The scenery is absolutely incredible here!



The cliffs here are about 2000 feet high and the gorge is about 1/4 mile across. There are also some colorful rock formations along some of the cliffs.



I spent a lot more time here than I planned on, so I had to get a move on to see everything today! I headed towards Montrose for a quick lunch and to start my journey on the Million Dollar Highway, US 550! The mountain range I was about to go through was clearly visible, and slightly intimidating. Here we go!


Tuesday, July 1, 2008

 

Crossing the Continental Divide

I drove I-50 West through the Rocky Mountains in the early evening. The first half followed the Arkansas River which is famous for it's long and high quality river rapids. If I had an extra day here I definitely would have done rafting.



This rock looks like a fighter jet!


The snow capped Rocky Mountains!



Reaching the Continental Divide!


I am spending the night in Gunnison, about an hour east of Montrose which is the start of the Million Dollar Highway, US 550. Tomorrow is going to be another great drive!

 

Exploring the East Rockies

I left Denver around 9am to head down to Colorado Springs, about 1.5 hours south.
On the way south I made a quick stop in Littleton, CO (which was near my hotel) and stopped by Columbine High School. Of course we all know why this place is famous...

My first stop in Colorado Springs was Pike's Peak, one of the highest peaks in Colorado. It has a partially-paved road to the summit (and also a railway if you do not wish to drive up). The road was pretty steep but in good condition, and the scenery was beautiful!


The base of the mountain is at about 6500 ft, and the mountain's summit is an incredible 14,100 feet! Before this, I have never been higher than 11,000 ft (at the Mammoth Mountain summit). Near mid-mountain we reach the treeline and snow.


The road continues with tons of switchbacks and steep cliffs on the side of the road:



The high in Colorado Springs was pushing 90 degrees today, but the temp dropped quickly as you climbed the mountain. At the summit, the temp was 40 degrees!
July 1st snow!!


Finally I made it to the summit. Here's the spectacular view:




Take it from me, the air is thin up there. You definitely need to breathe harder just walking around on the rocks near the top. I had lunch at the peak, and then it starting snowing!! Just a flurry but seeing it snow in July is something.

Now that I spent the morning on top of the world, I wanted to spend the afternoon under the ground at Cave of the Winds. This cave is well known by South Park fans because ManBearPig lives in there, but it's also a popular limestone commercial cave with some impressive stalagmites and other formations.
While waiting for my tour, I got a quick snack. They misspelled "soda" here:


The entrance to the cave is a ways up a mountain cliff. It's a nice cave and the tour guide was interesting during the 45-minute cave walk, but my experience was obviously nothing like the spelunking I've done in upstate NY mountains.

After the cave I went to an impressive nearby park called Garden of the Gods. Despite the silly name the park has some great natural scenery. This is "balanced rock", not to be confused with the Balancing Rock at Arches NP:


More cool formations:

There were also rock climbers all over the place:


This formation is called the "Siamese Twins". In the background is Pike's Peak:



By now I was ready for dinner: because the Rockies scored more than 7 runs at the game last night, I was entitled to 4 Taco Bell tacos for $1! Apparently you don't have to go to the games to get this deal, so everyone in Colorado goes to Taco Bell when this happens.

Now for the drive through the Rockies!

Monday, June 30, 2008

 

Tap the Rockies!

Today I woke up early and drove the last 2.5 hour stretch from the Kansas border to Denver. It's a nice, clean city with the beautiful mountain backdrop about 15 miles further west.

After taking care of some errands I headed up to Golden, CO which is embedded within the first row of mountains overlooking Denver.

This town is the home of the Coors brewery, but it also boasted itself as an "old-fashioned western" town and the scenery matched its claim. Here I found out about the Lariat Scenic Loop, which is a 40 mile drive to the top of the mountains and along a river. Here I got my first glimpse of the Rocky Mountains!

The loop brings you to beautiful overlooks of Denver as well as the burial site and museum of Buffalo Bill.
Denver in the distance:

The town of Golden below:

Buffalo Bill's tombstone and grave:

The next part of the loop brought you through a mountain valley with some fun sharp turns:

Finally, the loop ended at Red Rocks:


The loop took up most of my afternoon so I headed to my hotel afterwards. I have not yet been able to enjoy a hot tub yet because I've been getting into my hotels after they close. So, this time I was able to snag a room with a Jacuzzi which definitely made up for it.

I then headed to the Rockies game in the evening, who were battling the Padres for last place in the NL West. Going into tonight's game the Rockies had a 7-game losing streak, but the fans wouldn't give up on their team, still sporting their "Rocktober" t-shirts from last year's playoffs.


These fountains climb to about the level I am at here when the Rockies hit a home run.


I got tickets for the upper deck, which is about 2 miles high after you account for Denver's elevation. The only true nosebleed section. So I moved down, no problem. The Rockies took a commanding 8-3 lead mid-game after beating up Maddux, but the Padres piled it on late and won 15-8. In the 9th inning I went down to one of the front rows just behind the Rockies dugout.

Tomorrow I'm headed down to Colorado Springs, and I have a huge list of things to do there before driving to southwest Colorado.

Sunday, June 29, 2008

 

Long Day in Kansas

States visited today: Missouri, Kansas

I drove about 450+ miles today, clear across Kansas. I stopped just shy of the Colorado border, so I only have about 2 hours of driving to get to Denver tomorrow.

The Great Plains is definitely a neat sight during sunset:


Treeless for miles, it's actually a cool sight to see!


Tomorrow I finally reach the Rocky Mountains!!

 

The World's Oddest Zoo

Kansas is very flat and boring. Hundreds of miles of nothingness that can start to get on your nerves after a few hundred miles. I started looking for something to do, and I finally saw a sign on the side of the road for the "World's Largest Prairie Dog". So I decided to pull over and check it out.

What I found was basically a privately owned zoo or local and strange animals and birds. You pay a fee and walk outside, and all the sudden you are in the middle of a huge prairie dog range. Tons of prairie dogs hopping from burrow to burrow, and they love to impress people:

The "zoo" also had other local animals such as the coyote, fox, buffalo, badger, etc:


And of course, the world's largest prairie dog:


And then there was the freak show. 2 cows: one had an extra leg growing out of the back of his neck:

And the other cow had 2 legs growing out of...erm..well....


After this stopover, I enjoyed a good buffalo burger at a local steak house. I wish they served buffalo burgers in LA!

 

To Kansas and Beyond

Today was to be a long driving day. I knew that, so I had to get up early and briefly see Kansas City before my drive through Kansas.

I started in Independence, MO, which was the starting point for the Oregon Trail. Today it's more well known as the birthplace of President Harry Truman, and the entire town emphasizes this point with tours of the Truman home, Truman farm, and the Truman Presidential Library.


This is the historical courthouse on Independence Square:


The Truman library is considered one of the best presidential libraries in the country, and they also have a large museum. I tried to get in, but it unfortunately was closed until noon (darn Sundays!) which would have been too late.

So instead, I discovered some cool looking riverboat casinos nearby. I thought at first they were actually on the river boat they are actually just regular casinos with steamboat exhaust pipes. I didn't have time to play much, so I just got a few souvenir $1 chips.
\
I drove back to downtown Kansas City, but I didn't find anything especially interesting. I was there until about noon before starting my drive through Kansas.

Saturday, June 28, 2008

 

Driving Missouri

I didn't get on the road until about 6:30pm, so my goal was to get near Kansas City and find a hotel. I stopped in a small college town called Columbia for dinner, and shortly after I got back on the road I saw a huge fireworks show next to the highway. I decided to figure out where they were coming from, so I wandered off the highway and drove as close as I could to them. Well it turns out it was just a big house party. I guess everyone combined their cash to clean out a local fireworks store and have a fun night.
One exit later I saw some more fireworks being launched next to a fireworks sales stand, so I pulled over again. This time it was for promotional purposes, but I managed to convince the guy firing them off to give me his blowtorch and light off a few myself. Great fun!

I finally made it to Independence, MO just east of Kansas City (the starting location of the Oregon Trail) around 11:30pm. I thought it would be fun to stay here like the early pioneers did before setting off for the Pacific, but little did I know that the St. Louis Cardinals were in town -- and so were all their fans! Every single hotel in the area was completely booked and I had to drive miles east again to find a place. So that's where I am right now. Luckily there's a late checkout and a free breakfast.



Tomorrow is going to be a long driving day through Kansas.

 

The Gateway to the West

That's the nickname for St. Louis and the justification for building the massive Gateway Arch in front of the city.



I started the day by going to the Anheuser-Busch brewery, where they give free tours of the plant and a few free beers at the end. The tour brings you the malt/rice mixing tanks, the hops filter, the chill tanks for yeast fermenting, and the bottling plant. They also brought the tour to the horse stables where the famous Budweiser Clydesdales and dalmations are kept.


These huge fermenting tanks would keep a frat busy for months! Well maybe days depending on the frat..



Unfortunately the bottling plant was not running because they do maintenance and cleaning on Saturday mornings, so we couldn't watch the lines spit out 2000 filled bottles per minute.

After the brewery, I headed down to the Arch. Little did I know that St. Louis has casinos! To avoid paying for public parking, I parked at one of the casinos and played some $5 blackjack on my way out. This was a good opportunity to check out the Mississippi River flooding:


There is supposed to be a road and a river walk down there!
I walked to the Arch, and it happened to be pretty crowded today -- there was a 1.5 hour wait to ride the tram to the top. So I hung out for a half hour and then went to a really good IMAX featuring the Lewis and Clarke expedition -- their journey seemed a bit more difficult than mine.

I finally got to take the tram to the top. It's a really neat system made of eight 5-person "pods" that rotate to keep you upright as the tram climbs the side of the arch.
The view of Busch Stadium from the top:

And looking straight down at the people underneath:


In this photo is the shadow of the arch, and you can see the flooded coastal area next to the river:


I was in St. Louis until pretty late today, so it will be a light driving day.

Friday, June 27, 2008

 

See you in St. Louis!

States explored today: Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Missouri

I got an extra hour today because of the time zone shift. Score!

I reached the Mississippi River by sunset, it is completely flooded and a few streets in downtown St. Louis are underwater! I will take photos of this tomorrow. When I got here I found a hotel, and then I met up with Chad, who was my roommate at Boeing last year. He works at St. Louis Boeing, and enjoys the cheap gas and low traffic here. We went to dinner at a restaurant called Pujols, named after, you know it -- Albert Pujols of the St. Louis Cardinals!

Speaking of the Cardinals, here is Busch Stadium from the freeway:


Tomorrow I will be spending the day in St. Louis, then I'm off to Kansas!

 

Stopover in Indiana

I was scheduled to drive 400 miles today, so I needed to leave the air force museum a lot sooner than I hoped. But driving that far in one sitting makes you really miss some cool stuff, and I wasn't about to let that happen.


I decided to take a stopover in Indianapolis for the afternoon. I set my GPS to take me to the Indy Racetrack to check it out, but as I drove around I found more to do:


The city has a neat-looking canal, and the water was a lot cleaner than the ones in Amsterdam. I ran into a kayak rental shop and decided to take a boat ride on the canal for an hour.

After a fun and refreshing ride, I headed over to the Indy Speedway. It was closed so I drove around until I found a way to see inside the track. I'm not into racing but the track itself is impressively big:



On the way to St. Louis I ran into some pretty powerful thunderstorms. Only temporary, luckily:


 

National US Air Force Museum

I found out about the US National Air Force Museum from a AAA book, but I had no idea it would be this great! I thought the museum in Virginia was good, well this one in Dayton was about 5 times bigger! The biggest air museum in the world actually. Between both museums I have seen just about every plane, rocket, and missile ever developed by the US and many from other countries as well. I didn't even get to see the entire museum -- there were free bus tours to see Air Force One. The museum is located near the world's first airport -- Huffman Prarie Airfield.


The museum takes you through the history of flight, from the Wright Brothers to WWI, to WWII, to the Cold War, to the Hydrogren bombs, to modern warfare. The poor pilot in the model below never made it past flight school:


Now this museum had everything -- the B2 stealth bomber, the F-117, the F-22, F-15, F-16A, a Russian Su-27, a Boeing B1b and B52, modern and cold war era ICBM missiles in their entirety, actual thermonuclear bombs (not active anymore obviously) a couple experimental Boeing Phantomworks aircraft, and oh -- the actual Apollo 15 re-entry vehicle!


The huge B-2 makes the SR-71 next to it look like a Cessna! Can you see the people walking around in the photo?

The F-22, the most modern and technologically advanced aircraft in the world:


And oh, a couple actual hydrogen nuclear bombs:

Next stop, St. Louis!

Thursday, June 26, 2008

 

Down to Dayton

Today was a light driving day because of my time at the park. But I planned it that way. Only about 4 hours today combined from my last hotel, and now I am in Dayton, OH nearing Indiana. I was starting to wonder when I would start running into midwestern accents and people using the word "pop" instead of soda, and today is when I finally found it! I also found tons of fireworks stands on the way down here with VERY cheap and high quality stuff. I resisted every urge to buy some becuase I don't want to keep them in my hot car for the rest of the trip, but hopefully I'll get some during the 4th of July in Vegas.

Anyway its far west on the Eastern time zone here, and the sun set around 9:20.


Nice scenery, but not much to see on the way here besides farmland.

I forgot to mention a few posts back a funny thing I saw at the Confederate fort. I will put this part where it belongs at the end of my trip, but I wanted to point it out here for now.
There was a small museum there, and one of the exhibits were old "simple" farming and hunting equipment used by the soldiers in the area in the 17-1800's. They are pictured below:


Pretty simple tools -- an axe, a hammer, other easy to make things. But wait, what is that in the lower right hand corner?

An apple peeler? You have got to be kidding me! I can't even figure out how this complicated monstrosity of a tool works. This is the most simple thing they could come up with? And just to peel apples!

Anyway I'm off to St. Louis tomorrow!

 

Cedar Point

The roller coaster capital of the world, they call it. 17 coasters on an island in Lake Erie that make up one of the biggest parks in the country.


Now I've been to quite a few of the big parks in the US, but this park definitely has the most varied set of coasters. There were only a couple "new" types that I haven't ridden before, such as the one built here last year which uses induction to launch the coaster car up a hill and then down at a 95 degree angle (as in, more than vertical). This is not the same as Kingda Ka of Six Flags Great Adventure (although Cedar Point has one of those too called Drag Racer, which I rid on 3 times and it was great). Oherwise most of the other coaster types were here: suspended, open-leg, standing, indoor pitch black, etc. They didn't have a "flying position" coaster like at Six Flags, or a single-seat spinner like at Magic Mountain in CA, but it was still fun. The morning was not fun, though -- the lines were unbelievably long for a Thursday. I guess it's summer so it's always crowded, but I figured getting there early meant beating the crowd. Well it didn't, and I was waiting in line for 1-2 hours between rides in the hot sun. For some reason the crowds dwindled by the afternoon, I guess everyone got tired of the heat and left. So the entire afternoon was a great line-less day at the park!


As I was writing this post I forgot about the other unique coaster here. That is, a forward and reverse double spiral as you can see in the image below (again using induction for acceleration and braking):



I got to be in the front row for this one!
I was at the park until 6pm before I started my drive down to Dayton to spend the night.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

 

Drive to Ohio

Day 2 States driven through: Virginia, Maryland, Pennsylvania, Ohio

I found a hotel a bit west of Cleveland, after driving about 400 miles for the day. I was happy to learn today that I can actually achieve 40 miles to the gallon with my Civic! About a quarter of the trip was in cruise control so maybe that helped.
There was a thunderstorm coming into the hotel, and it was late, so I didn't bother to do anything else here. I did get a chance to marvel at how cheap everything was around here though -- for dinner I got a big cheeseburger and a jumbo hot dog for $2 total! Iceland and Netherlands need to learn a thing or two about food pricing from this area.
And this concludes Day 2.

 

A Confederate Fort!

Along my drive I saw an interesting turn-off, and ended up in Fort Fredrick State Park. Here I discovered an actual Civil-War era fort that the Confederate Army used to protect its troops while heading north to fight the Union army.


Of course I had to go inside. It's basically a stone enclosure with barracks, pretty neat stuff. I love finding things off the road like this!


 

Air and Space Museum

Last time I was in DC, I had a chance to go to the Air and Space Museum in the National Mall. It was a good museum, but I finally got a chance to see the other part of the museum -- located at Dulles International Airport in Virgina, and it was spectacular!

The museum is located in a huge former Boeing aircraft hangar -- by far the biggest hangar I've ever seen. The hangar also has a visitors control tower so you can see the airport and learn about airport flight controllers. This is the museum from the outside (the hangar is behind the tower which is hard to see here but its enourmous):


The real treasure of this museum is what's on the inside of the hangar. The actual Enola Gay which dropped the Atomic bombs on Japan is in there, an SR-71, the Virgin Atlantic plane which set the record travelling around the planet non-stop. and so is an Air France Concorde and several one-of-a-kind German WWII aircraft (as well as dozens of rocket designs, engines, experimental aircraft and home-made aircraft). Oh and the best thing of all was in the space section:


That would be the Space Shuttle Enterprise, the first shuttle ever built. And it is massive! The tiles on this plane are different because this one was used for aerodynamic tests and gliding rather than space travel and re-entry, but still impressive!


In addition to the shuttle there were tons of other space travel artifacts, such as the actual re-entry capsules used in the Gemini program, as well as a space suit worn by one of the astronauts who landed on the moon (there was still moon dust on the suit). The (actual) rockets and (replica) satellites were also great. Oh, and did I mention this place is massive?

The museum gives free tours, and the guides are pretty much all from the industry (retired). I know this because I hopped from one tour group to the other around the museum because they all had their own great stories to tell.
There was also an IMAX and simulator rides but I didn't have time to check them out. I did get to go up to the flight controller observation deck though.


I could have spent days here, but I had to keep driving West so 4 hours was all I could dedicate to this.



Tuesday, June 24, 2008

 

Nats Game and a Capitol Hill Tour

Traveled through: New Jersey, Delaware, Maryland

Because of a bit of traffic I didn't get into Washington, DC until about 6:15, so I decided to go straight to the Nationals vs. Angels baseball game. Parking was a bit confusing, as I had trying to find the official lots until I started driving down sketchy streets. I found a few... $20 to park!!! But oh wait, on the same street as the parking lot was a legal street parking area with a few spaces available, so after checking with a bunch of other people to make sure I wasn't going to get a ticket I opted for the free parking.
Nationals stadium is brand new, and it definitely has that feel to it. Unfortunately it doesn't have a home-team baseball feel because, well just as I expected, the Nationals don't have any fans. The ones who tried to be fans wouldn't stop criticizing the team and grunting about the season. And they had a lot to be upset about, as the Nats had 4 errors and a balk by the 3rd inning, and were down 8-0. I was secretly enjoying this even thought the Angels just swept the Phils, but it's always nice to see another team in my division bite the dust. Of course the atmosphere itself was a bit depressing since there were not really any fans to begin with. At least I felt at home with the cheesesteaks they served at the park.


This park reminds me a bit like a minor league game with some of the events they have. Every Friday is Fireworks night, and every Saturday they play a movie on the Jumbo Vision after the game. Today was the "Presidential Race" as they call it. A bunch of Presidents running around the field and knocking each other into walls in order to win (sort of like the real Presidential Race):


Abraham Lincoln won.
One cool thing about the stadium was that you could see the Capitol building and the Washington Monument from the upper decks.

After the game I went to return to my car. I remembered where I parked because it was on the corner of 3 St. and M St. and it was the corner of the ballpark that has a parking garage. Well I arrived at 3 St. and M St. and my car wasn't there. In fact neither was the parking lot I parked next to. It was a completely different intersection. Confused out of my mind, I walked around sketchy downtown DC for awhile and eventually walked back to the ballpark. Interesting.... the ballpark has 2 corners with parking garages, so I walked to the other one, and there was ANOTHER 3 St. and M St. intersection, each about a mile apart. This city is confusing, but at least I found my car there.

It was getting late by this point, so I drove to the Mall and walked around the Capitol building which is beautiful at night:


I also went to the White House but it was dark, I guess Bush was sleeping. Finally, I walked up to the Washington Monument and then over to the Lincoln Memorial, both spectacular at night:



Funny story, so I was parked near the Washington Monument and walked (~15-20 mins) to the Lincoln Memorial. While I was looking at Mr. Lincoln, it was just me and a security guard in the building. I could overhear his police radio and the officers were talking about cars they need to ticket/tow. I hear the officer on the radio say "...yeah it's a Blue Honda Civic, License plate *inaudible*...7-0". Obviously I freaked out that they were talking about my car, and got upset because I checked the signs very carefully. I rushed back to my car (worried they would tow it) and luckily it was a different civic. So that almost ruined my night...
Speaking of night, it's way too late to be writing still, and I have alot to do and drive tomorrow, so this post is now over.

 

Starting Point: Atlantic Ocean

I decided to "officially" start my trip by swimming in the Atlantic Ocean (can't get much farther East than this)! I headed to Atlantic City at 8am on Tuesday, and arrived just before 10 am to spend the late morning on the beach. And it was a beautiful day for it, even though the water was a bit chilly.
I parked in the Trop and headed to the beach:


I stayed on the beach for about an hour, short enough to avoid getting sunburned for the rest of my trip. Then I decided to go even farther East -- to the edge of the Caesar's Palace Pier:


I stayed in Atlantic City and played a bit of poker at Caeser's, and then blackjack at Trop before getting back in my car at 2:30 to head down to Washington DC. Last time I was in Atlantic City with Steve C, we forgot to get those free Trop playing cards so I made sure to get some this time. I just asked for a couple packs, but the security woman gave me 12 of them. What am I going to do with 12 packs of cards?


Today I traveled through New Jersey, Delaware, Maryland, and Virginia. I have a photo collection of the "Welcome to [state]" which I'll post in my albums.

By the way, this is the mileage I started with on my new car before my trip (let's compare it to the end of the trip):Next stop, Washington DC!

Monday, June 23, 2008

 

My Journey Begins!

I am about to embark on a great journey across the country. New Jersey to California in about 13 days (give or take a few based on what I run into during my trip). I only have a few hotel rooms, the rest will be done as I continue my drive. My route can be followed on this website, where it will officially start in Atlantic City (swimming in the Atlantic Ocean), and ending in Redondo Beach (swimming in the Pacific). And it should be a great time throughout.

Tomorrow at 7am the trip begins....stay tuned and wish me luck!