Monday, November 4, 2013

The Land of the Midnight Sun


This untamed wilderness called to us like sirens in the sea, we needed to see this state and all that inhabited it. The beauty of this trip would be getting my last two states in on the same vacation. We planned to drive the whole way up to Alaska taking the famous Alaskan Highway built during World War Two through Canada into Alaska. We set off and within two days’ time we were up in North Dakota ready to start our journey off right. We crossed over into Canada and were met with an immediate loss of cell service despite emergency calls. Canada was beautiful and the Canadians were all extremely nice as we met many along the road.

The Alaskan Highway was built during World War Two in fear that the Japanese would attack the west coast, specifically the islands around Alaska. The highway was made to transport goods easier to and from Alaska to the Lower 48. It was and still is basically dirt and gravel covered road spanning its way across the Canadian territories into Alaska.

Our first major stop in Alaska was in Fairbanks at a nice little private campground. We finally got to set up our new tent to use. The way up consisted of some hotel stays as well as sleeping in the back of the truck. I loved my comfy air mattress that trip and my cozy mummy style sleeping bag. In Fairbanks we explored the community and even drove to the college in the town around eleven o’clock at night and it was still sunny. The all the time daylight was very hard to adjust to. The campground offered a bus trip up the Dalton Highway to the Arctic Circle and I was lucky enough to cross the dotted line on a rug, walking across the Circle. The best part of Fairbanks was our neighbors, “The Wild Hogs”, super nice guys riding their motorcycles around the country, but sadly we had to leave and move on.

We ventured on to Denali National Park for the most exciting portion of our trip. I enjoyed this greatly due the shear fact that it was another National Park stamp in my passport and we got to see Mount McKinley, the most amazing rock I have ever come across. We took a bus tour into Denali, experiencing the multitude of wildlife within the park as well as the massive landscape before our eyes. Breathtaking…

As we were leaving Denali we got to see the Into the Wild bus used in the film and were a mountains distance away from where Christopher McCandless died, all alone in the wilderness. Down the road a ways we stopped for a plane ride over Mount McKinley in hopes of actually seeing its peak. We were absolutely blessed with this experience. My family, another couple, and a pilot all climbed into a six passenger plane with me in the copilot’s seat. We put on our earphones and got our oxygen masks ready for assent into the heavens. We experienced some turbulence over the glaciers but once we broke through the clouds we were greeted with sunshine and a glorious mountain in the distance. I was so struck by its size and beauty I actually teared up. I was only a mile or so away from one of God’s greatest masterpieces and 23,000 feet in the air. Life changing is all that could describe that plane ride above masses of ice and rock.
Mount McKinley

After that ride we made our way down to southern Alaska and hopped on a ferry boat in Hanes, Alaska. This was our way of leaving the most exciting state I’ve ever been to. We were on the ferry for five days and met a wonderful army soldier bound for Florida as well as another Ohioan. It was an interesting experience but I could have gone without the sea sickness. We landed safely in Bellingham, Washington and made our way through Seattle for the second time, then on to Montana. In Montana we drove through Glacier National Park and I again got excited for my National Park nerdiness. Sadly though we had to head home for school to start but this vacation was the most memorable and life changing that I have ever been on.

"Travel makes one modest. You see what a tiny place you occupy in the world." -Gustave Flaubert

Sunday, November 3, 2013

A Venture to the Last Southern States

Rounding out our States in the south...

We decided to take a trip to some of the southern states we had never managed to get to on this vacation. Starting off we made our first stop in the Great Smoky Mountains of Tennessee. It was absolutely tranquil and beautiful. Unfortunately it was rather rainy during our stay here but we still were parked near a lovely stream. The next day we continued on to Memphis to a blues lover's paradise. We ate at a BBQ restaurant of course and secured a tour of Gibson Guitars. It was super cool to see how such a simple instrument is so intricately made. On then we went after that tour and past Graceland, towards Arkansas and Hot Springs National Park. This was an incredible place to see and touch; as the water came out of the ground at a natural temperature of one hundred degrees. People in the late 1800s and into the 1900s flocked here to experience the medicinal remedies treated with these warm waters. The hotels built to house these Hot Baths were absolutely marvelous in craftsmanship and detail.
The Fordyce Bath in Hot Springs, Arkansas
Onward we went from there until we made it to Vicksburg, Mississippi to the famous civil war battlefield. It was interesting to see how many Ohio monuments were placed along the battlefield where these brave men fell fighting to preserve the Union. Following our visit there we continued east towards New Orleans in Louisiana. It is another world, filled with lace balconies and beignets. It is a wonderful place to visit at least once in your life. We got to take a riverboat cruise down the mighty Mississippi and stroll down Bourbon Street. We even went to the wonderful World War Two Museum. It was by far one of the best war museums I have been to and meeting a soldier who was actually in Normandy on D-day was the icing on my history nerd cake.
Beignets and cafe au lait at the Cafe Dumonde
The beautiful ocean in Pensacola, FL
We backtracked a little and went back into Mississippi to visit my high school English teacher in Biloxi for the summer. We got to go out on her son in law’s boat and enjoy the ocean current. Our final destinations were by far the prettiest and most interesting locations on this trip. We made our way to Pensacola, Florida and stayed at the National Seashore Campground which was a minute away from the white sand beaches and clear blue waters. Each morning we could hear the Blue Angels fly overhead. The beach was nice but our final attraction on this trip was seeing Andersonville prison, a civil war POW camp in Georgia. Although empty now its power still holds you when you find out the shear amount of men the camp held during the war. My brain and tan expanded that summer to my happy surprise, any day I would go back to those wonderful destinations if I could.

"When you come to a fork in the road...take it." -Yogi Berra

Another Day in my Favorite State

Maine AGAIN!

We decided to take another journey to my family’s favorite state of Maine for the summer. On our way up we stayed at a Wal-Mart parking lot in New York. The next morning we made our trek all the way to Freeport, Maine. We got a spot at a nice campground and went into the city for my birthday dinner at an oven baked pizza parlor. Mom and dad surprised me with hostess cupcakes and presents well hidden in the camper. Most of the next day was spend in Freeport at the stores, L.L. Bean and Northface, snagging some deals. We went on to Bath, Maine the next day and went to the Maine Maritime Museum and saw how ships were once built. We stayed at a few campgrounds on the way up and visited many lighthouses along the way. We stopped at a Fort Knox that was a civil war fort on our way up to Acadia. It was neat exploring the underground tunnels.
One of the lakes we kayaked on
Arriving again at the most beautiful National Park in the country, we camped at the Seawall campground again. Mom and I first set out exploring the rocks at the entrance of the campground. We did our own little version of tide-pooling while dad napped. Later on we ended up going to a nearby lake to kayak and fish. In the evening after we showered of we took a ride in to Bar Harbor. We went around to some of the little shops to explore. The next morning we drove up Cadillac Mountain to have a picnic lunch and walked around in the visitor’s center. After that we drove in to Bar Harbor again to get ice cream. That evening we enjoyed a campfire and had dinner. When it got dark we drove to Sand Beach for a Ranger led Star talk. We enjoyed our time relaxing like the locals in and around Acadia. We took many trips in to the town of Southwest Harbor for all their summer festivals. We even got to be spectators in their pink flamingo parade. The man who invented the Pink flamingo summers in Southwest Harbor every year and even graced the parade with his presence. On our way back to Ohio we made a side trip to Gettysburg to see the newly renovated Cyclorama and listen to a ranger led talk about Civil War medicine. The trip was very relaxing and enjoyable.
Inventor of the Pink flamingo

"Travel and change of place impart new vigor to the mind."       -Seneca

A Tour of the West

4 Weeks Worth of States...

We set out on this month long excursion with our first stop being in Springfield, Illinois at the Lincoln Presidential Library. We toured the museum and then headed on our way to St. Louis and toured the famous Gateway Arch. It was an exciting ride up in a washing machine sized car up to the top of the arch to see the tiny Mississippi River for the first time. We made our way onto Route 66 starting our day in Missouri and ended our day in Oklahoma. The highlight of our long day was seeing an eighty foot blue whale along the highway. That night our haven was that of a Wal-Mart parking lot. The next day we left Wal-Mart around 9:30 and drove through Texas as well as New Mexico. A detour took us into Colorado for the night and we stayed at Pueblo State Park. We drove through Denver as well as Vail the next day we made our way into Utah to Bryce Canyon National Park. Since we arrived so late we decided to explore the canyon the next day. It was one of the most beautiful sights I have ever seen. The next day we explored the Grand Canyon but honestly I was more excited about Bryce Canyon.
Bryce Canyon
The next day we drove into Mesa, Arizona to visit with my great aunt as well as cousins. We found a nice campground that was half a retirement park for the retired. After a day and a half of driving we made our way to the Hoover Dam and took a “dam tour”. It was amazing to feel so small in such a huge area of concrete. 
We continued on driving our camper through Las Vegas towing our camper the whole way during a busy night. We spent the night camped out behind an old casino truck stop… very classy. The next morning we woke up to drive clear through Death Valley into Sequoia National Park. The giant Sequoias were absolutely breathtaking and unlike nothing I have ever seen. There was even a tree you could fit a truck through. We also took a trip through Yosemite National Park on our way to San Francisco. In San Francisco we walked across the Golden Gate Bridge, toured Alcatraz, and made sure to take a trolley ride down the hills.
The Golden Gate Bridge
We drove straight up to Oregon and made a stop at the magnificent Crater Lake National Park with water bluer than anything I could compare it to. We made our way into Seattle, Washington. There we toured the Boeing Airplane Factory as well as explored the Space Needle. Our last major spots to see on this trip were at Little Big Horn and Mount Rushmore. After seeing these wonders we headed on home.

"Travel is more than the seeing of sights; it is a change that goes on, deep and permanent, in the ideas of living." -Miriam Beard

Another Expedition to the North

Michigan again..

Another Wal-Mart parking lot stay started this trip off on an exciting foot. We arrived at the Camp Dearborn in Milford around noon the following day. After we set the camper up we took the hour drive into Dearborn. We toured Henry Ford’s Fairlane Estate and drove around a little more. Back at the campground we fished with some hotdogs. I caught a huge crawdad that was about the size of a lobster. The next day we ventured back into Dearborn to tour the Henry Ford Museum and Greenfield Village. It was the first time that I can actually remember going there. There we got to ride in Model T’s and sit on the famous Rosa Park’s bus. The next day we returned and toured the Rouge Factory to see Ford vehicles be made. Made our way back to the campground to swim and pack up for our trip to the Upper Peninsula of Michigan.
The Weiner Mobile in The Henry Ford Museum
Before we got on the road dad had to rewire the brakes. But we drove the rest of the day and arrived at Tahquamenon Falls campground-The Lower Falls. We were very tired upon arrival so we showered and read the rest of the night. Luckily mom and dad wanted to sleep in the next day. We then hiked with a picnic lunch to the Lower Falls. We drove to the Upper Falls and had a snack at the restaurant there. That evening we did laundry at a local Laundromat and then came back to camp to have a fire. We relaxed and made s’mores after dinner of bacon and fried hominy.
The Shipwreck Museum on Lake Superior
The next day we took a day trip to Whitefish Point to tour the Shipwreck Museum. We had a tailgate picnic and then took a walk along Lake Superior not even daring to dip our toes in the icy water. Mom let me cook dinner and dessert that night over the fire. We took another trip to a local lighthouse and fished the rest of the next day. In the morning we got up and packed the trailer up to get ready to leave the next morning. We enjoyed a nice campfire before we made our way back to Ohio. On our way back we made a stop at our very first Cabelas and also at Tony Packo’s for dinner in Toledo. That night we camped out at Maumee Bay State Park and enjoyed the flat land to bike ride on. Mom and I spent the next day at the beach before we headed home while dad did our laundry. Our trip ended the next morning while we made our way home.

"To travel is to live." -Hans Christian Andersen

Southern Exposure

Georgia and South Carolina

This vacation began with a stop Beckley, West Virginia at the deliciously wonderful Tamarak for breakfast. The Green Brier chefs do a marvelous job at preparing the food there and it is always a treat to stop for a meal there. We arrived later that night in Georgia at our Tybee Island campground. The beach was only a short walk away and absolutely peaceful due to the lack of crowds. The next day we took an evening trip into Savannah to explore. We took a stroll down River Street and look into the artistic shops along the river. We spent my thirteenth birthday in Savannah. My mother loved me enough to wait in line for an hour and forty-five minutes to get us a reservation at Paula Dean’s restaurant. The food was delicious and buffet style so we ate our fill happily. We walked it off along the river again. The next day dad went to a train museum while mom and I explored the city a little more. I remember eating lunch with her at the Gryphon Tea Room, an adorable little cafĂ© in a restored pharmacy.
Beautiful Mansions of Savannah
The following day we stayed at Tybee Island and visited the civil war fort, Fort Pulaski. We also went to the Tybee Lighthouse. The next day we left Tybee and stopped at the Mighty Eight Museum about the Eighth Airborne Division of the United States Air Force. After that tour we made our way to South Carolina. We got to tour the aircraft carrier, the Yorktown and stayed on board the vessel until 5. Mom and I spent the next day on the beach while dad returned to the Yorktown. The next day we went into Charleston to see the sites of the city. We visited both Fort Multrie and Fort Sumter the next day. It was amazing to be in the very place the first shots of the civil war were fired. While in Charleston we also toured the Magnolia Plantation which was once a functioning rice plantation. We saw alligators and also many water fowl. On my mom’s birthday we went in to Charleston to eat at Bubba Gump’s for supper. We even went to the movies and saw “License to Wed” with Robin Williams in it. On the very last day of the trip we relaxed and swam at the campground. The south was a beautiful place with the Spanish moss on the trees and sweet accents, I would be happy to return any time.

"We wander for distraction, but we travel for fulfillment." -Hilaire Belloc

Southbound Excursions

Tennessee and Kentucky

During the summer of 2006 my family set out on a trip to Kentucky and Tennessee. It was an exciting trip filled with camping and caving. Our first night on the road we were not able to find a campground but fortunately we had our very own hotel pulled along behind us down the road. We luckily found a Wal-Mart parking lot to sleep in for the night. Much to our surprise we learned that if you park in a parking lot near a car wash around midnight, people are still awake and washing/vacuuming their cars. The next morning we got an early start and made it through crazy Nashville traffic to our campground; an oasis after miles of pavement.
The Hermitage Estate
We took a little side trip from Nashville to Andrew Jackson’s home, The Hermitage. It was a beautiful estate. The next day we drove an hour to the Jack Daniels Distillery in Lynchburg and we got to smell the strong aroma of fresh whiskey. We eventually got around to touring Nashville itself and began with a tour of the Ryman Auditorium where the Grand Ole Opry was first held. We went to the Opryland Hotel and got to look around its beautiful indoor gardens as well as purchase our tickets for the actual Grand Ole Opry.
Mammoth Cave
The next day we left Nashville and toward Kentucky to Mammoth Cave National Park. We toured the cave on lanterns only for light kind of tour. We also took a trip to Louisville as well for a tour of the bat company. It was very interesting to see how the world famous bats were made. We even received complementary miniature bats. The bats were the most exciting part of the tour though. The last day of the trip we took a long walk and then enjoyed a family breakfast. Later on that day we took a two mile long hike to the River Styx. We also took a guided tour of Sand Cave; the very cave that Floyd Collins was trapped and died in, in 1925. It was a fascinating tour but heartbreaking to hear the story of this man’s death. This vacation was filled with great adventures and I learned so much. I never in a million years would have guessed that I would have been in the world’s largest cave and at world famous distillery. Vacationing has opened so many doors for me.

"To travel is to take a journey into yourself." -Danny Kaye

Thursday, October 31, 2013

The Trips Continue

My First Maine Experience

Back in 2005 my family and I set out on an excursion to Maine as well as the other New England states. This was my very first experience in this region of the U.S. My parents had honeymooned here so they knew what to see while we were there. I remember this trip fondly as one of my very favorites since we got to camp as well as see the ocean which never really happened on the same trip. The nature in that Northern region of the country is some of the most beautiful I have ever seen and believe I will ever see again.
Ben and Jerry's Factory
Our first major stop was in Waterbury, Vermont at the wonderful Ben and Jerry’s factory for a delicious tour. I am a huge aficionado of everything ice cream so this tour was heaven for me, especially since at the end of the tour we were able to taste new flavors that had just come into production. We were also able to visit the Shelbourne Museum, which was fantastic for a family of history enthusiasts. They had every kind of history imaginable, even a home, made from freight shipping containers. Into Maine we drove and finally to my absolute favorite place in the world; Acadia National Park. We stayed in the Seawall Campground which was a five to ten minute walk to the ocean front. It is the type of place a person should go to when they need to escape the chaos and stressfulness of everyday life. It is heaven on earth in the form of a National Park.
Bass Harbor Light
In Acadia we took the Park Loop Road around the entire park sight-seeing as we went along. We went to see the Bass Harbor Lighthouse and for dinner that same evening I had my very first lobster dinner at a lobster pound. The best seafood in the world was eaten on this vacation. The lobster, potatoes, and corn on the cob was to die for, along with heaping bowls of clam chowder. Another wonderful adventure in Acadia is waking up to see the sunrise atop Cadillac Mountain. We woke up at 3:30 AM! We packed hot chocolate, blankets, and sweatshirts all so we could say we were some of the first people in the U.S. to see the sunrise that morning. It was absolutely breathtaking to watch the vibrant shades of oranges and reds rise above Bar Harbor below us. We also were able to go on a ranger led trip to tide pools getting the chance to handle seaweed, starfish, and sea urchins. Amazing is all that can describe that experience.

Cape Cod Beach
We took a day trip into Canada before a passport was required and saw a lighthouse only accessible during low tide. Franklin Roosevelt’s summer cottage was nearby as well so we took a tour of Campobello Island, a home I could definitely summer in. We were away for my eleventh birthday and my parents surprised me with a birthday cake snuck into the camper’s oven. We sadly left paradise to head down east to Cape Cod. We stopped at the Portland Light where the Perfect Storm was filmed. It was a fancier region and a lot less camping went on. The best thing about this leg of our journey was getting a fire permit to have a bonfire on the beach. We got to take a whale watching tour out of Provincetown and actually spotted some whales. It was a magically experience in New England and I loved every minute of my time there. My biggest hope is to someday have a house on a lake in Maine where I can enjoy the natural beauty around me every day. Maine is perfection and by far my favorite state.

"Not all who wander are lost." -J.R.R. Tolkien

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Fond Memories of First Vacations

My First Vacations

My family took the road less traveled by; as we explored campgrounds and natural wonders not plotted on any map. I don't recall every single trip that we took growing up, but I do fondly recall the long car rides when reading was my only companion to stave away car sickness. The views that passed by my window were like scenes in a movie. Where else do people get to see mountains or fields of wildflowers bloom before them each summer. God blessed me with a passion to learn and appreciate the special qualities in things. Without my travel experiences I wouldn't be the well-educated, eclectic college student I am today. My personality is a melting pot of my tastes and interests. Every trip we took seemed to have a specific soundtrack to it as we rolled down the roads. Johnny Cash, Patsy Cline on some, The Beatles, Queen, and ZZ Top on others; no matter the songs we rocked and Dad taught me to jam early on even when you're driving. I also remembering the most interesting discussions between my parents and myself occurred on long car rides.
Mom and I (me rocking pink bibs)

Luckily I have all of our travel journals saved from each of our vacations for reference but my earliest memory of a long vacation is my family trip to Illinois, Michigan, Wisconsin, and Minnesota. Our first stop was at Indiana Dunes National Seashore at their campground. I recall going to the beach there and my father got pooped on by a seagull. It was also at this campground, that our trailer was parked near a sand dune. Coincidently I had the grand idea that sand would taste like salt, since it appeared to look like table salt. I was playing around with a spoon, digging in the sand and curiously took a bite. It was an awful idea and I never again intentionally tasted sand.
Young Sarah digging in the sand
We took the train from Indiana into Chicago a few times that trip, and I recall being stuck on the train for two extra hours on one trip in due to another train being derailed. In Chicago we visited Navy Pier, the Shedd Aquarium, the planetarium, as well as the Museum of Science and Industry. On to Milwaukee to more adventures at the Miller Brewing Company where I got all jacked up on root beer. We moved on to Oshkosh, to my very first plane ride on a 1929 Ford Tri-Motor and then when I through with that one I hopped into a two passenger plane, taking my Young Eagle Flight with a complete stranger, soaring into the skies. In Minnesota we went to the Split Rock lighthouse which I recall was absolutely beautiful. We stayed in Toledo on our way home and of course stopped at the delicious Tony Packo’s for what I believe was the very first time. Tony Packo’s then became our Mecca on trips north and made every long car ride worth it. Home wasn’t far when we were there and I knew that upon return I would be with the rest of my loving family.

“Our battered suitcases were piled on the sidewalk again; we had longer ways to go. But no matter, the road is life”
-Jack Kerouac, On the Road

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Traveling- Where the Passion Began

In the Beginning....

There is something glorious in the way the roads wind before you on a stretch of land fresh to your exploring eyes. For as long as I can remember this sight thrilled me and made the heat of summer bearable. From my birth on I have been a wanderer, always seeing new things with my family. I am the only child of two wonderful parents, I'll call them Mom and Dad. They loved me so much that they packed all of my baby gear and took me all the way to Michigan for my very first trip; I was only a few months old.

Life in my early years made traveling easier. Due to my young age school never conflicted with my parents plans to take me to a slew of fantastic places around the country. I don't recall many "non-camping" vacations throughout my life; looking back I'm grateful for the simple pleasures of nature my parents taught me to enjoy. Our campers became a fortress for my wild imagination, I made tents in the bunks and let my mind roam to the beauty outside of the aluminum walls. My parents even nicknamed me Hamhead because of the way I stuck my head against the safety net on my bunk.
A young Sarah, net-pressed face in the camper before bed
Our summer vacations were always filled with a two-three week trip to some natural wonder, often times National or State Parks. Little did I know that I would at one point in my life aspire to wear the Stetson hat to work everyday. Whenever I meet new people they are shocked to find out that I have been to all fifty states at my young age. I decided to write this blog about all of my experiences with a lifetime's worth of vacations under my belt; the sights, smells, and tastes that have changed my life forever. The knowledge that the road provided me and my parents may help you reader, on your next quest to the west or the Land of the Midnight Sun

"The world is a book and those who do not travel read only one page."                                -Augustine of Hippo