Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Final License Plate Map 2011

Saturday, July 16, 2011

NYC - Day 3

Empire State Building, World Trade Center, Battery Park, Top of the Rock... what a day!

We took the subway to the Empire State Building this morning and used our CityPass tickets to go to the observation deck.  (The tour guide on our bus said the extra $15 for the higher observation deck wasn't worth it.)  The CityPass ticket includes the audio tour, which is nice.  You bypass the first line when you get to the building, but there are more than enough additional lines to make up for it.

At the top, it was pretty crowded, but good views.  It was a hazy day, however.

After the Empire State Building, we took the tour bus to the World Trade Center.  The new World Trade Center building is about 2/3 done.  We got totally snookered by a hot dog vendor who charged us $23 for the same lunch that cost us between $6 and $8 down at Times Square.  Oh well.  From WTC, we walked to Battery Park, saw the bull statue near Wall Street.  We navigated over to Canal Street where Diana did some inspired, nerves-of-steel haggling, and got a nice leather purse and sunglasses.

We went back to our hotel before heading out for our final NYC adventure.  We walked to St. Patrick's Cathedral, then to Grand Central Station (wow!), and back to Rockefeller Center to visit the "Top of the Rock" observatory.

Top of the Rock is better run than Empire.  Instead of standing in all these crazy lines, you get your ticket for a specific time.  Then come back at your ticketed time.  The result -- fewer lines.  The view is great.  Instead of railing and fences like Empire, there is thick Plexiglass around the observation deck (with slits where you can stick your camera to escape the glare).  Then you can head up to the second observation deck for a similar view, and finally you can go to the third observation deck which is smaller, but has now surrounding Plexiglass.

And as they say, the view from Top of the Rock has something Empire's view will never have: a view of the Empire State Building.

Friday, July 15, 2011

NYC - Day 2

Started off today with a bus tour that dropped us off at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

We have tickets for the double-decker bus tours that loop all over the city.  We started with the uptown bus and stopped at the Met.  The place is HUUUGE!  We only saw a little of it, finding more of Diana's Ac-Dec artworks.  Then completed the two-hour bus tour and transferred to the downtown bus loop for two more hours of NYC info.  The downtown loop had a lot more shade, and was much more comfortable.  It got us oriented around the area, and we kept track of what places we wanted to come back to tomorrow: Empire State Building, World Trade Center, Wall Street, Battery Park, Staten Island Ferry, Canal Street.

When the tour was over, we went back to our hotel and got cleaned up for the theater.  We stopped and got Sbarro's pizza in Time Square and picked up our tickets to How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying.  It stars Daniel Radcliffe (Harry Potter) and John Larroquette (Night Court), and was really good.  Well, the first act was really good, the second act was awesome.  The last couple of dance numbers get outrageous.  Radcliffe's dancing was really good, and I kept thinking, "When in his career did he learn to dance?"  It's not like those actors who are discovered later in life and cut their teeth on the stage or in vaudeville -- he has been Harry Potter since he was a kid.

After the show, we realized we were right next to Shake Shack's theater district location, so we stopped in.  The food was just as good as last night in Madison Square Park, but they did lose our order and we had to wait about 45 minutes to get our food -- oops.

Walked back to our hotel and tried to figure out how much we can cram in to tomorrow.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

NYC - Day One

Took the train from Philly this morning (man, that Philadelphia train station is beautiful!) and arrived in New York City just a little after lunchtime.

We navigated the subway to our hotel (a tiny little place with tiny little rooms -- but very "efficient"), then walked a couple of blocks over to the Museum of Modern Art.  Saw several very nice -- and many very famous -- works there, including Van Gogh's Starry Night.

Then we walked down to Times Square.  Explored the Hershey Store, the M&M Store, the Toys 'R' Us... all the things you come to NYC for!

We met my cousin for dinner at Madison Square Park's "Shake Shack" which was really good.  The line stretched forever, but moved fairly quickly.  We ordered great burgers and shakes (Diana's burger had cheese-stuffed portobello mushrooms that she said were awesome).  The park is beneath the MET Life building and within site of other great sites (Flatiron building, for example).

Tomorrow we're going to go see a show!

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Philly - Day Two

Best weather of the trip today, so we were able to do lots of exploring.  Plus, here in Philadelphia, many of the sights are close together (and our hotel is in a good location).

I walked to the US Mint and walked through the tour right as they opened at 9.  Had the place to myself.  Several windows look over the production floor, and at the last window you could see the room where they produce the five-ounce silver bullion coins.  Today they had a table of Mount Hood bullion "pucks."

Then Diana and I took the trolly to the Philadelphia Academy of Fine Arts.  She was able to track down some of this year's Academic Decathlon artwork.  Along the way, we snapped photos of the City Hall, a phenomenal and ornate structure.  From there we walked to JFK Plaza and the LOVE statue.

We had lunch at the Hard Rock Cafe and made our way to the Independence Park visitors' center to pick up our reserved tickets for the tour of Independence Hall.  Today's tickets had been out of stock for over an hour, but evidently some people were missing from our tour because we were able to accommodate many walk-up guests.  Tours can be as large as 80 people.

You have to pass through security to enter the majority of the city block where Independence Hall stands.  Once inside the security fence (your bags are searched -- not too bad), you have access to the buildings and courtyard in that area.

The tour guide at Independence Hall was very knowledgeable.  He asked us if we could name signers of the Constitution.  As people would suggest names, we would respond with plenty of information:  "Thomas Jefferson was in France at the time and did not sign the Constitution." or "John Dickinson did not actually sign, he was sick -- you see him in the painting here -- and left before the signing, but his name is on the document because George Read -- shown in the painting here -- signed Dickinson's name for him."

After the orientation, we visit the court room in Independence Hall, then we see the Assembly Room where the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution were drafted and signed.

In the building next door, I took a short tour of Congress Hall, where the US Congress met while the Capitol was in Philadelphia.  The House of Representatives met downstairs, the Senate upstairs (lower house, upper house...).  Much of the furniture is reproductions, so you actually get to sit in the House chamber -- pretty cool.

Then we walked out of the secure area and toured the Supreme Court Chamber.

Later for dinner, we went to Campo's, then walked around Penn's Landing.

Tomorrow, NYC.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Philly - Day One

Took the train from Union Station (DC) to Philadelphia's Historic 30th Street Station.  Wow, had no idea the Philly station was so cool.  Great architecture, huge war memorial statue, old-fashioned flipping sign.

Once in Philadelphia, we dropped of our bags at the hotel and took the PHLASH trolley to the Philadelphia Museum of Art.  Diana was looking for more of this year's Academic Decathlon art, so she toured the museum while I explored outside.  (She reports ~20 Picassos, a handful of Degas, Renoir, Monet, Manet, Rodin originals, Chegall, and other odds and ends.  Who knew?)

In front of the museum are the famous "Rocky Steps."  In several of the Rocky films, Sylvester Stallone's character works out (in part) by running up the steps in front of the museum.  It was really fun to hang out at the steps.  There is a a brass set of footprints at the top of the steps where Rocky makes his triumphant stance, there is a pretty steady stream of folks re-enacting the jog up the steps (and if you make the dash, a local hawker tries to sell you a t-shirt), and there is a larger-than-life Rocky statue to the right of the steps where plenty of folks pose for photos.  So there are three important photo ops here.  You are supposed to get a photo actually running up the steps, a photo at the tops with your arms raised high, and a photo with the statue.  You got all that?  It was so fun to watch everyone, they should totally put a webcam on this like they have on Abbey Road in London.

Then we headed back toward our hotel and stopped at the Liberty Bell Center.  Crowds were light on Tuesday at 4:15.  We also saw the Presidents' House, one of the precursors to the White House.  Washington and Adams both lived here for a period.  The original house has been long demolished, but excavation has revealed some of the original foundation.

Monday, July 11, 2011

DC - Day the Fourth

Diana commented that in all our time in DC, today we took our first guided tour.  We toured the Capitol Building.  Our tour was at 9:30, and we showed up early to be sure we had time to get through the security line.  The line wasn't bad when we got there (about 30-50 long on our side of the Visitors' Center), but it looked like the line does get nasty during the day.

The Capitol Visitors' Center had some nice displays about the history of the Capitol and houses some of the National Statuary Hall Collection of statues.

The tour begins with a nice film about the Capitol and what is accomplished there, then a guide leads you through the Crypt, the Rotunda, and Statuary Hall.  Now, think about the logistics for a second.  The tour is about 20 or 30 minutes long.  Tours begin every ten minutes.  Each tour is split up and led by four or five tour guides.  Do you have a picture of how many different tour guides are shepherding separate groups around the Capitol simultaneously?  Well, each guide speaks in a normal speaking voice into a mic that is broadcast to headphones that his group wears.  So the noise level isn't bad, but those headphones are kinda quirky.  If your guide goes behind a marble column -- you've lost audio.  If your guide gets too far ahead -- you've lost audio.  Sometimes your headphones just don't work.  I had to exchange my first set, Diana went through four sets before she got on that worked.  The tour was quick but good.  We didn't feel rushed, and the guide was very friendly and knowledgeable.

From the Capitol Visitors' Center, we took the underground tunnel to the Library of Congress (which meant we didn't have to go through security again... though the Library of Congress also inspects bags upon your departure).  There were a handful of fascinating displays and great architecture/ornamentation.  They are currently displaying Thomas Jefferson's library, which he sold to the Congress for $26,000 to form the original collection of the Library of Congress.

Next we walked to the Supreme Court.  You can see the court room, walk the halls and see statues and portraits of many justices, and view the two spiral staircases (which are amazing pieces of architecture with no center support).  The cafeteria here was really good.  There's a salad bar, many ready-to-go meals, and custom-built hot sandwiches.

We took the Metro to the Bureau of Engraving and Printing to see the Visitor's Center there (skipped the tour) and returned to our motel.  For dinner, we went to the Hard Times Cafe -- a "Chile Parlour" -- which was pretty good.  Tomorrow we catch a train!

This Year's License Plate Map

so far...

Sunday, July 10, 2011

DC - Day Three

In which our heroes visit The White House, The National Museum of American History, and Ford's Theater.

We took the Metro to the Smithsonian stop and walked to the American History Museum.  The Star Spangled Banner is in a new display (with no photos allowed?  aw, man!) and they have Julia Childs' kitchen.

From there we took the Metro to Ford's Theater.  We didn't tour, but there are tours every half hour.  They seemed a little pricey, but your National Park Service America the Beautiful Pass may get you in.

Then we walked to the White House.  There is some renovation going on (of course) at the Ellipse.  We took photos on the north side and the south side, then walked to the Metro and came back to the hotel.  Our subway was PACKED.  More Dalai Lama classes and more baseball made for a hot and crowded subway car.

Tomorrow -- The Capitol.

Saturday, July 9, 2011

DC - Day Two

We did a lot today... walked a lot, saw a lot.

We started out at the National Archives.  We had a timed entry pass, which lets you bypass the line and go right through security.  We saw a replica of the Magna Carta (oh, sorry, it's out getting a new case), the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution (all four pages), and the Bill of Rights.  We were some of the first ones admitted, and already there was a pretty good crowd around the documents.  Also at the archives is a pretty nice display of the type of records they retain.

Then we got hot dogs on our way to the National Portrait Gallery.  It shares a building with the American Art Museum, and there is quite a bit of nice artwork all over that building.  Saw some great stuff.  Spent a few hours there.  Then we went to Union Station and explored for a while, eating at Johnny Rocket's.  Then we went back to the Mall and went through the American Natural History Museum.  It was kinda crowded there today!

We actually ran into crowds all day.  The Dalai Lama was speaking at the Capitol this morning, there was a baseball game this evening.  All that along with a nice Saturday made for LOTS of people.

We skimmed the Natural History Museum -- Fossils, Hope Diamond, Mummies... we didn't even go find the woolly mammoths.

From there we headed over toward the Lincoln Memorial.  Along the way we stopped at the World War II Memorial for a while.  It's very impressive and a nice addition to the Mall.  Then we discovered more ugly, ugly construction.  The Reflecting Pool is drained and is now a muddy, smelly mess while the renovate it.  I'm kinda tired of this sort of thing -- Sorry, the Jefferson Memorial is half cordoned off by orange cones and hurricane fence; Sorry, there is currently no visitor center at Old Faithful; Sorry, you just get to see a facsimile of the Magna Carta; Sorry, Saguaro is a lame, ugly waste of a national park.  But I digress.

We walked to the Vietnam Memorial, then the Lincoln Memorial, then the Korean War Memorial, then back to our Metro stop and the hotel.

Friday, July 8, 2011

DC- Day One

Got to the airport bright and early with a ride from one of Diana's work friends (THANKS!!).  The plane left 45 minutes late because of a "paperwork issue."  The flight was good.  We took the MARC rail to Union Station, had lunch in the food court, then took the Metro to our hotel.  It's a nice little place.  It's close to a metro station and it's priced well.  We're in one of the "recently remodeled rooms," which means the bathroom, in particular, is quite nice.

Went to the DC Mall.  The Smithsonian is hosting a Folk Life Festival all weekend which is kinda cool, but also kinda ruins the view of the Mall.  HUUUUGE tents all over the entire place.

We toured the "Castle," then went to find some of this year's Ac-Dec artwork at the African Art Museum.  Alas, none of the pieces are currently on display!!  But Diana found very similar pieces from the same groups/time periods/etc.

Then walked around the Hirschorn Statue Garden and toured the National Air & Space Museum.  By that time, we were starting to drag, but we pushed on!  (uh-oh!)  We decided to hike to the Jefferson Memorial.  That wouldn't have been so bad, except the sea wall is under construction -- turning a 10-minute walk into a 20-minute walk after the detour.

Took a cab from there back to our Metro stop and took the subway to find dinner, then back to the hotel.  One photo today, but I think it's pretty grand: (click the pic to enlarge)

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Things to do in NYC

Things to do in Philadelphia

Things to do in DC

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Enchanted Rock... er... Cascade Caverns

So from Llano we drove to Enchanted Rock.  And they were packed.  We detoured toward home and stopped at Cascade Caverns (near Boerne).

Now Cascade Caverns reminded me of a roadside attraction.  The kind that's advertised with billboards on the highway: "Only 2 More Miles Until... THE THING!"  There's a ramshackle gift shop, large campground, big fiberglass T-Rex (that appears in the Patrick Swayze film, Father Hood), and a limestone cave.  That being said, Cascade Caverns was better than I expected.

The tour is 1 hour (and $11) and covers about a quarter mile.  The cave is so small that you are much closer to the features than you are at other cave tours.  And the cave does have many modest features.  It claims to the "wettest" cave in Texas, which means that there are active formations.  Plenty of "soda straws," a waterfall in the final (and large) room (which is dry due to the current Texas drought), and a few examples of "cave bacon."

There are a couple of Mastodon fossils in the cave, and we got a very close-up look at a hibernating bat (tiny little guy about the size of your thumb).

Fredericksburg... er... Llano

From Austin, we drove to Fredericksburg.  We drove around downtown and then looked for a hotel.  Without any luck.  Everything was full so we headed over to Llano.

There we went to dinner at Cooper's Old-Fashioned Pit Barbecue.  So there are rows of pit barbecues under the front porch.  You line up at the pit and point out what you want for dinner.  Then inside you can add cobbler or other sides.  Seating is family-style at long wooden picnic tables.  We walked right up to the pit, but they said earlier in the day it was a 90-minute wait!  Quite a unique place.  We took the cobbler back to our hotel and picked up ice cream on the way.

The next morning we took photos on the steel bridge over the Llano for a while, then tried to drive over to Enchanted rock.

Rally for Texas Schools in Austin

Saturday saw 13,000 people on the Capitol lawn to show their support for Texas schools.

The Cause:  The State legislature is facing a hefty budget deficit for the next two years.  In addition, the 2006 "tinkering" with school finance has created a bad situation for public schools in the state.

The legislature is planning to cut school funds dramatically, and legislators are too distracted with other budget woes to address the underlying school finance issues that have gone ignored for five years now.

So Diana and I road tripped up to Austin to join the crowd.  There was a march before the rally.  Now, if you've never been to Austin, that town is filled with professional demonstrators.  Since we didn't want to have much to do with the Socialist Party marchers (or even the "Our Governor Sucks" marchers), we climbed the nearby parking garage and tool pictures instead.

Then on the Capitol grounds, the rally went on for about two hours.  We met up with about a dozen faculty members from my school.  Our superintendent and our mayor were among the rally speakers.

After the rally, our group made went to Texadelphia for a laaaaate lunch, then split up in different directions.  Some were staying in Austin, many were headed back home to San Antonio, Diana and I were heading to Fredericksburg for an overnight trip.

Friday, June 25, 2010

Calsbad Caverns

We drove to Carlsbad this morning and got to the caverns shortly after noon.  We walked to "Big Room" which we had not done last year.  It was not too crowded for a Friday afternoon.  The elevator means that the crowd comes in waves, so you can usually wait a few minutes for a group to pass you.

I took several photos that turned out well.  Near the end of the loop of the Big Room, I came across a tour of the lower cave that was ascending back to the normal path.  This tour of about 12 people requires a certain amount of spelunking.  I took a couple of photos before a ranger came over and asked me not to take pictures.  Not sure why.  (You know, you can click on the photo collages on this blog to see a slightly larger version.)

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Mesa Verde

We stayed in Cortez, Colorado last night -- just down the street from Mesa Verde.  We got there early this morning (to road construction as they improve the park road) and spent about five hours in the park.  We stowed away on a tour of the Long House, but left Cliff Palace and Spruce Tree House for another day.

During our tour, we met a park ranger named Habenicht.  Diana was quite excited, as you can imagine.  We also saw a HUGE squirrel climbing the ladders of the cliff dwellings.  (I don't think Diana will approve of that juxtaposition since the two events are not comparable in their monumental-ness... so, to the photos!)

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Arches National Park

By the way, last night's motel was across the intersection from BYU's LaVell Edwards Stadium.  I'm sure they are booked all through the fall.

Today we drove to Arches National Park.  We drove through the lower two-thirds of the park before hunger and exhaustion spurred us to leave.  We saw north and south windows (I hiked the "primitive" trail around the back side while Diana hiked over to Turet Arch), and went to the lower viewing area for Delicate Arch.

The desert lizards here are much larger than the desert lizards elsewhere.

We're checking out Mesa Verde tomorrow.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

On to Utah

You are looking at the ORIGINAL nuclear power plant control room.  (No Homer Simpson here.)  We visited EBR-1 or the world's first Experimental Breeder Reactor.  This facility was the world's first electricity-generating nuclear reactor.

Made it in to Provo, Utah.  The fellow at the front desk is originally from Brownsville.  Says he's worked here 7 years & has never met anyone else who knew where Brownsville was -- much less was from the same place!

Monday, June 21, 2010

Hanging out near Salmon!

Uncle Jim & Aunt Debbie drove us around some of the great sites near Salmon.  We drove up to Lemhi Pass and the continental divide along the Lewis & Clark Trail.  We ran into some snow and some spectacular views.  The skies were clearer than yesterday when we drove in.

Later, Jim took us up to go check on the horses (and a bonus, mystery mule had come to visit).  In the evening, Jim gave me some Photoshop tips.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

More of Idaho

We saw the "50,000 Silver Dollar Bar" today.  These guys have over 55,000 silver dollars fastened to the walls, and each one has a name and home town etched beneath it.  Weird.

The clouds in Salmon were doing some impressive things today as well.  We have so many awesome hosts in our families, we're enjoying the hospitality of everyone.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

The Route of the Hiawatha

We took at 15-mile bike ride!  The Route of the Hiawatha.  Along the Idaho-Montana border, an old railway has been converted to a bike trail (so there is a consistent 2% down hill grade).  The route goes through several tunnels (including a 1.2 mile tunnel at the beginning) and across several trestle bridges.

Now, I did wipe out pretty spectacularly when trying to take a photo, but otherwise it was a delightful trip!  The scenery was great and the weather beautiful.  The tunnels were a pretty chilly 42 degrees, but otherwise very temperate ride.

We're enjoying more great hospitality from great family!

Panoramas online

I've posted the panoramic photos from our current trip online.  If you want more photos, that's the place to go.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Wild Mustangs! sort of

We stopped along highway 90 at a scenic outlook near Vantage, Washington (just west of Lake Moses).  We expected a nice view of the bridge & water.  We were surprised by the wild mustang monument built on the top of a nearby hill.  A (very) steep climb got us closer for a good look at the sculpture and a better view of the water.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Seattle Aquarium

We met up with one of Diana's teacher friends and visited the downtown aquarium.  Later we went back to Snohomish and Aunt Frannie took us to a delightful dinner at Anthony's.  We had a great time visiting with her late into the evening.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Downtown Seattle

We walked around downtown Seattle today.  Our Aunt Sandy is an excellent tour guide (and a delightful host).  We rode the bus, went to the top of the Space Needle (Sandy is posing with a $110 pepper mill that we decided to photograph instead of buy), walked around Pike's Place Market, rode a monorail, and had a great time.

Tonight we had dinner with many of Diana's dad's family at a restaurant closer to Everett.  We walked along the river after dinner and had a great time visiting everyone.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Mt. St. Helens

We drove from Roseburg, Oregon on up to Seattle today.  We stopped at Mt. St. Helens to drive through the area.  The top of the mountains was obscured by clouds, so you couldn't make out the distinctive top of the mountain.

I was last here in 1986, and a lot has changed.  I did not see the massive log jam on Spirit Lake that was there before, but we may have been in the wrong place.  The canisters of ash that the historical society sells used to be clear film canisters, now they are fancy glass bottles.

Crater Lake in HDR

Crater Lake

We drove to Crater Lake.  Much of the park still closed to snow, but the views were still awesome.  After hanging around for a few hours, we started zooming up toward Washington.


We visited a sunstone collection area on Bureau of Land Management land near Plush, Oregon.  (Did we mention that gas is full-service in Oregon?)  You can stop at the store in Plush for directions, and then head 23 miles out to the site.  Only six of those miles are paved, mind you.  Most of the turns are marked.  (!?)  Once you find the place, the sunstone glimmers at you in the sunlight.  They say to visit about a month after the snow melt (that about now).  The water washes the dirt away and leaves the sunstone exposed.  We found many many small pieces (about the size of half an M&M).  We had a good time.  And our odometer hit 88,888 miles on the trip back.

Monday, June 14, 2010

By the way...

Did I mention that we stayed in a retired retirement home yesterday?  The Fremont Inn in Lakeview, Oregon used to be a retirement facility.  So the rooms were cavernous compared to a normal hotel room.  And the breakfast was pretty good, too.

We also stopped for lunch at "The Olive Pit" in Corning, CA.  This olive company sells all sorts of olives & olive related stuff.  (I was actually hoping for some sort of factory tour, but Diana was in heaven!)  She said her "olive burger" was the best burger she'd ever had.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Lassen Volacano & Oregon

We left California today, but not before visiting Lassen Volcano.  It was very beautiful, but we could not see much due to the snow.  The road into the park was closed one mile in because of heavy snow.  They tell me the roads are normally open by now, but not this year.  The park has a small geothermal area that we were able to visit, and there was many pretty snow landscapes.

Saturday, June 12, 2010


We drove from Madera, CA to Yosemite this morning.  The drive there was short, a little curvy, and not too much traffic (that came later).  We got to the park about 11:30 and entered the southern entrance.  We stopped at the pioneer museum near that entrance for a while, then drove on to Glacier Point.  The view were (of course) fantastic.  We saw snow on the ground for the first time this trip as we wound our way to Glacier Point.  Canon had a photo tent set up for some promotional, I asked for some tips on my camera.  They kinda helped.

We took plenty of photos at Glacier Point, and Diana noticed the dense, dense cars in Yosemite Valley below.  So we decided we would skip that loop.  We drove out via HWY 120 and stopped to photograph El Capitan.

Diana got "buzzed" by a dear running past her.  She got a much better photo than I did.  (I spent too much time trying to decide if I wanted to take my camera off the tripod and interrupt the panorama I was in the middle of.)   The GPS conked out all day.  It was having trouble finding satellites last night, and it only woke up a time or two today.  We're not sure if it's signal interference or if it needs some update/reboot.  Hopefully it will get it's act together, it can be useful.

The drive to Sacramento was long and frustrating.  LOTS of two-lane winding roads.  Diana was kind and fetched dinner while I rested at the hotel.

Let's Go To The Movies!

Got to Madera, California today.  One of the few operating drive-in theaters is down the street from our hotel (though you'd never think it if you followed my directions!).  We went and watched The A-Team.  It was a fun experience.

Friday, June 11, 2010


Thursday we spent the day at Disneyland.  We drove to Anaheim early in the morning, and Diana braved heavy traffic and weird parking directions to get us there within an hour of the park opening.  I was immediately surprised by the short wait to enter the park.  Er, did I say wait?  There was no wait.  Which I'm sure meant long lines inside, right?  No, not so much.  The Peter Pan ride just inside the main gate is usually a long wait, I'm told.  We waited about 15 minutes.  Then Mr. Toad's wild ride -- 5 minutes.  Buzz Lightyear?  Five minutes.  There was even a three-minute wait in there at some point during the day.  The longest we waited was at the Finding Nemo Submarine Adventure.  That one was a 20-minute line.  We used a fast pass at Indiana Jones, and there was a bit of a wait there, but otherwise, the park was uncrowded.

The weather was very nice.  It was overcast much of the morning and never hot all day.

Now, I don't recall visiting Disneyland, but I do have many memories of Disneyworld back when I was in second grade.  Toad's Wild Ride and Peter Pan's flight were just as I remembered, but there were many new & different things.  (Is it just me, or is the castle here much smaller than the one in Florida!?)

  • There have been many changes to Pirates of the Caribbean since the films came out.  There are many cameos of Johnny Depp's Captain Jack Sparrow, and some of the vignettes are removed or changed.  This California version begins with a leisurely cruise through a bayou past real diners at a real restaurant.  Pretty cool.
  • The submarine ride in Florida was based on 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea.  That ride is paved over now, but the California ride (which was always slightly different) is now a Finding Nemo adventure.  They have a system for projecting animated clips that are visible from the sub's portholes.  This was an interesting ride
  • The Swiss Family Robinson Treehouse is now Tarzan's Treehouse.  Vignettes of cheetahs and gorillas have been installed and the transformation is complete.  So it is completely unclear why the treehouse is made of ship parts.  Odd.
  • Indiana Jones is a new ride since I'd visited, and reminded me of a new-generation Mr. Toad's Wild Ride.
  • Buzz Lightyear was fun.  In this ride, you use a joystick to spin your car (an updated Mad Hatter?) and use a ray gun to shoot at targets throughout the ride, collecting points.  Very exciting.
  • Star Tours seemed very dated, but was new to me.  A 4-D ride based on Star Wars characters.
We had a really good time and actually left the park about 5 o'clock feeling like we got to do everything we wanted.

Buuuuuuuuuzz Lightyear to the rescue!

At Disneyland today, we rode the Buzz Lightyear ride twice.  It's an interactive ride where you use a little ray gun to shoot at targets throughout the ride and earn points.  It was pretty fun, and you can e-mail yourself a photo from the ride when its finished. 

Thursday, June 10, 2010

License Plate Update

We saw "Wyoming" on our shuttle bus to take us from the parking lot to Disneyland.  Weird.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Now entering California... High Winds Ahead

We drove to Joshua Tree National Park in California.  This park straddles two desert zones, features interesting geology and the eponymous Joshua tree cacti.  We zoomed through this park pretty quickly since we were meeting friends later in the day, but the park was a winner.  Lots of good views.  The trees were very dense in several places.  We entered by the north entrance (near Twenty-Nine Pines) and looped through the park to drive out the west entrance.  That worked out really well, and I think we spent about an hour and a half driving through the park (fee $15 if you don't have an annual pass).

As we entered California, we encountered serious winds, then I noticed the massive wind farm.  I don't know how those 18 wheelers handle it.

Then we met up with my college roommate who is now living near Palm Springs.  They have a nice little house, and they have done a GREAT job of settling in since they moved their just about a month ago.  Their toddler daughter was a lot of fun (very minimal whining... very impressive).  My roommate gave us a tour of the projector room of the theater where he is general manager.  That was interesting.  I never realized that all of the projectors are contained in a single long room, not multiple rooms.  His theater is a nice building that is in a very pleasant location.  He says he's got some challenges there, but it sounds like a positive change from his previous location.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Volcanos, Indian Ruins, Grand Canyon, and London Bridge

We headed north from Flagstaff to the east entrance of the Grand Canyon.  We stopped along the way at Sunset Crater Volcano National Monument (which sits alongside Wupatki National Monument). There is a 31-mile drive that takes you through both sites.  (It is not a loop drive, so it takes you about 15 miles down highway 89.

Sunset Crater Volcano was an interesting site.  There is a large wash of volcanic rock that was impressive, and there are attractive views of the region.  Lots of pine trees and mountains.

As you transfer over into Wupatki, there are a series of VERY impressive pueblo ruins.  And even more impressive, the park service allows you to climb all over some of them.  We really enjoyed the largest ruin with several rooms and a large tower.

When we left Wupatki, we drove on up to the Grand Canyon, driving in the East Entrance.  We drove from the East Entrance to the South Visitor Center, stopping at most of the great views along the way.  The canyon just goes on, and on, and on!  We had intended to take the shuttle bus that takes you from the Visitor Center area to a couple of lookout points that are not accessible by personal car. 

However, it was getting late in the afternoon (and the line for the bus was pretty long), so we headed on down to Havasu Lake City where we were spending the night.  If you haven't heard of Lake Havasu City, that's the current location of the original London Bridge.

Tomorrow we head to Calfornia:  Joshua Tree National Park, a visiting my college roommate!

In which our hero sees Castles, Wooden Rocks, and Meteorite Oxide

So I've been experimenting with HDR photographs, and the images on the left show a comparison.  The top image is an enhanced illustration of "Montezuma's Castle," a Native-American habitat near Camp Verde, Arizona, built in about 1250.  The bottom image is the original photograph.  How do you think they compare?  I'm currently using the trial version of this software... is it worth $99 to register?

After Montezuma's Castle, we drove out to Petrified Forest and Painted Desert.  A single 28-mile drive takes you through both parks.  They were certainly worth the trip.  Lots of neat rock formations and many petroglyphs.

Next we headed out to Meteor Crater, near Winslow, Arizona.  The site was impressive.  We took lots of pictures.  Finally, we made our way to Flagstaff to spend the night.  Our hotel chain has three locations in town, and we found the other two LOOOONG before we got to the correct hotel.