Thursday, August 31, 2006

The Right's View of Western Parks

A couple of weeks ago when I was worried about the fires at Glacier, I signed up for a Google alert. I shut it off today, but not before catching this interesting view of the same parks I'd seen written in the National Review. Funny, I'd thought about moving out to Missoula too.

The Scheme

We met two friends of Katti and Adam's who were also staying with them, while their house was being worked on. Jim and Dave hit it off, because Dave showed Jim how the Beatles really played Dear Prudence on the guitar. When Dave and his wife Diane sang together in harmony, everyone stopped what they were doing to listen.

Dave gave Jim a CD that his band put together recently. The Scheme now plays out in Seattle, but you can check out some of their songs on their MySpace site. Great tunes.

Persian Cooking Lesson

My Aunt Maryam cooked a second feast for us at Katti and Adam’s house and we returned from Snoqualmie Falls in time for me to watch and help her prepare a variety of dishes. She was making three different main courses, actually four, because one of them was a vegetarian variation of Persian macaroni. I was most interested in the Koresh-e Fesenjan, the chicken stew made with a walnut and pomegranate sauce. I had tried to make it at home with peanut butter (I know…) because Jim is allergic to nuts, but here was a chance to see how it’s really made, with all of the authentic ingredients. Aunt Maryam was reluctant to make it at first, when she heard about Jim’s allergy, because she didn’t know if even having the walnuts in the kitchen when she was preparing other things would be a problem. I assured her that his allergy is not that severe, and she thought of another stew with celery and beef that she would make for him.

To start, we ground walnuts in a grater, such as the kind that some use to grate parmesan cheese. We did what must have been a pound or two. Then we cooked onions in oil and added pieces of skinned chicken to brown. I believe we added water and then the ground walnuts, which made a thick gravy. Later, after the meat simmered we removed the bones. We added a full bottle of pomegranate syrup for flavor. Aunt Maryam gave me two bottles to bring home. Adam gave me a bottle of olive oil flavored with Persian limes and Nahid gave me saffron. I expect to cook with all of this gifts and my new knowledge sometime this fall. Let me know if you want to join in the experiment.

The other dishes we had that night included the ultimate Chelo Koresh, or rice with a crusty top. I learned a few tricks about this, but I’m not confident that I can pull it off yet. Making rice like that is the hallmark of a good Persian cook, and it probably takes years of practice. We also had Persian macaroni, which involved taking the cooked pasta and homemade meat sauce, flavored with cinnamon, and layering it over cut pieces of yam and crushed rose petals. Katti also made a green salad with red currants and avocados and a salad dressing of lime, garlic and live oil. We sat out on their patio and watched the sunset over the Olympic Peninsula. Everyone had seconds, thirds? Even Chloe and Conor ate more than just rice and bread.

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Persian ways

Every minute we were there, our hosts were eager to see that we were entertained. Shirin and Siamak arrived each morning to take us somewhere new. We explored the Pike Place Market and downtown one day, ending at the Elliot Bay Bookstore. Majid met us there and magically, somehow everyone else had left to do other things, leaving the two of us time alone to talk.

It’s so refreshing to know that there is a whole other group of people now in my life who are mature and kind and generous, brilliant and passionate. I only wish that I could have done more. It’s true the saying that it’s better to give than to receive. After being the recipient of so much affection and generosity for four days, I only wanted to give back to these amazing people. They promised to let me return the love when they come to visit us in NY.

I learned about a Persian custom called Tarof. It has to do with manners and the requisite courtesy that one pays to family or friends. It’s very complicated and I doubt that I’ll ever completely understand it, but I think that it has something to do with the way that we were treated. No matter that we weren’t close, since we were visiting in their city it was their obligation to treat us as their special guests. I hope that we weren’t too much of a burden and that somehow, despite all the work involved in entertaining us, they managed to have a good time too.

Luxury and Feasts

We spent four nights at my cousin’s house and we were treated like royalty. A bed never felt as comfortable as the one in the guestroom at their house. My cousin’s husband is an uber cook and we were never without a cappuccino, or a mineral water, or a platter of cherries, figs, peaches, and nectarines.

My half-brother and sister picked us up and brought us to Ivar’s, a seafood restaurant overlooking a lake, to meet my birth father and his wife. I had never met his wife, so this was a momentous occasion. She was gracious and kind in conversation, and I thought the evening went well. I had the most delicious salmon. It doesn’t taste anything like the fish we get back east. Conor impressed me by ordering the salmon from the children’s menu.

When we got back to my cousin’s house, my aunt was still there and we played Blokus and talked about what to do the next day. I asked them if someone might recommend a place to get a pedicure and then the idea of all of us going out together to get one, while Conor did something with the guys became the plan for the next day. After two weeks of camping and limping along on the socialist realism pedicure I got in Prague, my feet were eager to go along.

We picked Jim up at the airport and went to my birth father’s house for dinner. I was also to meet another cousin that night, the son of one of Majid’s brothers and his wife. We were presented with a Persian feast. Three main courses two different kinds of chicken, one like a shish kabob and the other in a stew and then shrimp, along with rice, salad, sautéed vegetables, and cucumbers in yogurt. We had strawberry juice to drink.

One feast followed by another, the next morning Adam cooked brunch for us. Homemade Belgian waffles made with a yeast batter, omelets, fruit, and the makings for a Persian breakfast, as Katti explained to me, cucumber, feta and nan bread with fresh mint.

We left for an outing to Snoqualmie Falls and planned to go back to Katti's for yet another Persian feast, this time cooked by my Aunt Maryam. I hoped to get home early enough to help, and perhaps learn a little about this magical cuisine.

Seattle Campground Take One

For those of you who don’t know, this trip was planned in part for me to spend some time with my birth father and his family. I had spoken to him a few times before we left, because he was concerned about where we were going to stay. He had originally wanted to put us up in a hotel, but I had said that wasn’t necessary—we were going to have the T@B after all—but when I spoke to my aunt, she insisted that we stay at her daughter’s new house, because they had plenty of room and they wouldn’t hear of us staying at a campground when we had family in the area.

I was glad we were going to arrive in Seattle a day early. I wanted time to do laundry, relax and repack our things before arriving at Katti’s house. I was nervous. I had only met this cousin once before over a year ago, when her sister Marjan had asked me to come down to the city for lunch. We were ragged and tired and I wanted to be fresh and clean when we showed up.

It was late when we got to the campground, sometime after 9 PM and right away I felt disappointed. It seemed more like a parking lot than a campground. The site they sent us to was too narrow for our tent, because the RV next to us had its sewer line hooked up in the only clear spot where we could have put it.

I went back to the office and asked them to move us and the woman I spoke to was unsympathetic. She said, “You have a trailer and a tent?” as if that was an offense. All the way across the country we stayed at KOAs and had no problems. “All of our sites are 16 feet, what do you want me to do?” I was tired and beginning to feel desperate and asked if there were any other campgrounds in the area. Then the young man who also worked there and who had checked us in when we arrived stepped in to help. He offered to put us in a wider site, even though it was deluxe (having cable access, not that we could use it with no TV) and said he would do it for the same price. We were staying there for 9 nights. I was glad for his help and yet when he showed us the site, right up front and two rows from the highway, where we were staring at a street light and listening to trucks roar by, I cried. It was after he left, and in the dark, but the kids saw me and comforted me. I don’t know if it was from exhaustion or nerves, I don’t know. I just cried and together we set up the tent and then I climbed in with them and we cuddled like we used to when they were little. It seemed like too long since we did that and in fact it precipitated a number of conversations on their part of-- remember when…we used to play spoons in the drawer or when you spent more time in Conor’s room then mine?

Saturday, August 26, 2006

Coeur d'Alene to Seattle

We’ve been in Seattle for a week now, and I haven’t had a chance to write about our short time in Coeur d’Alene, or our trip into Seattle, so I’ll catch up with that before describing our time here.

We left Glacier a day early, because we woke up to a rainstorm the day we were to travel to West Glacier. The forecast was for more rain the next day and I thought that maybe we could escape the rain by traveling farther west. The kids agreed and together we packed up the wet tent and air mattress in plastic bags and changed our reservations to arrive in Coeur d’Alene a day early.

It was a long drive, about 8 and a half hours, a lot of it on secondary roads. Idaho impressed us, especially the LOLO National Forest with its ragged mountains and evergreens.

Our site in Coeur d’Alene was a back-in and when the person who checked me in saw the look on my face, she offered some assistance. I was met at the site by a young man who took over the wheel and backed the T@B into the narrow, terraced spot with ease. The tent dried out easily and we put the air mattress in the T@B with the heat blasting to dry it out.

We spent the morning exploring Coeur d’Alene a popular resort in Idaho. It has one of the longest floating boardwalks on a fresh water lake.

Every corner in the downtown had a different, unique fountain. We found a nice café with WiFi and had lunch. Five and a half hours later we were in Seattle.

Thursday, August 17, 2006

Hidden Lake Overlook

We started our hike from behind Logan’s Pass visitor’s center. Don’t go in the late morning like we did, because the parking lot fills up and then you have to drive around until someone pulls out.

The first part of the trail is along a board walk to help protect the fragile alpine plants. Some of the steps were high and Conor began to complain. This was after he had bragged about climbing Chimney Mountain when he was in camp this summer. But he said that this was different, it wasn’t deep in shady woods and we weren’t climbing on rugged dirt and rocks like he was used to.

On the way we say a marmot, crossed a couple of streams, and passed through fields of wild flowers—yellow, red and purple. Close to the overlook we saw a mountain goat. He stood only about 10 feet from the trail. Our tour boat guide had told us that mountain goats eat lichen. Their tongues are like sand paper and they lick if off rocks. That’s how they’re able to survive through the winter in the high elevations where the wind sweeps the snow off rocks.

St. Mary's Lake

We arrived at the boat dock for the tour of St. Mary’s lake at 8:45 AM. Both the pilot and the on-board ranger were young women. I was impressed that the boat, an old wooden tour boat, runs on bio-diesel. It was so nice to ride in a power boat and not have to smell the exhaust. Makes me rethink my stink-pot hatred.

We learned that the reason the water in the lake is such a beautiful green color is that the glaciers cause erosion of the limestone and small particles enter the lake from the mountain streams. These limestone particles reflect back light and are responsible for the color. That’s why parts of the lake are greener than others; they’re closer to the source of glacial water.

Happy Campers

At 11 PM last night, the three of us walked back to the camper from the laundry. It was dark everywhere in the campground, except for our site, because our outside light was on. We stopped about 30 yards away, because we heard noises and worried that it might be a bear. Then we saw a horse walk between the T@B and the car. Two others followed. They walked to the campsite next to ours. The kids were alternating between feelings of fascination and fear. Wanting to catch one of the horses to take home and worried that they might be trampled on in the tent.

When I woke up this morning at 6 AM, they were still here eating the campground’s green grass. We asked a ranger about them when we entered the park this morning and she said that there aren’t any wild horses around here, but that they might have gotten lose as fences burned in the Indian Reservation.


I received an e-mail from my birth father today. It had a link to this video.

Sights of Iran for those who have little idea of Iran’s diverse beauty. This video captures parts of Tehran, Fasham, Khamneh, Azarbaijan, and Caspian.

Glacier on Fire

Our drive was short today and soon after passing Browning, a town in the Blackfeet Indian Reservation, we could see smoke coming up from the mountains. At first it looked like it was coming right toward us, and then it looked like it was heading north, in the same direction that we were heading to get to St. Mary’s. I wondered if the ranger I had spoken to was wrong. There was no way we would stay if our campground was filled with smoke.

I decided that, if needed, we would just continue straight through the park to West Glacier, where there wouldn’t be any smoke, and hope that they had space for us there.

We drove right through the thickest part of the plume and past large stands of burnt forest on the reservation. St. Mary’s was clear, as it sits to the north and slightly to the west of Red Eagle Mountain. We could still easily see the smoke out the window of the camper.

It’s a good thing that we were safe at St. Mary’s, because I learned from a fellow camper that no vehicles with a total length of over 21 feet are allowed to cross through the park on Going-to-the-Sun Road. We will have to return to Browning and travel to the south of the park on Wednesday to get to West Glacier.

Great Falls to Glacier

We took secondary roads again and stopped at a rock shop in Bynum, MT. We asked the owner, John Brandvold, if he would help to identify some of the rocks that we had found in North Dakota. He said two were agates, some were different types of oxidized iron ore (including the one I thought was an arrowhead), one of Chloe’s was petrified wood and another possibly dinosaur dung.

The owner’s wife Marion Brandvold was the first person to discover a baby dinosaur skeleton. A cast of it is in the shop. She’s 94 years old and hard of hearing, so we weren’t able to talk to her, but John answered many of the kids’ questions. I bought Conor a small pick-axe for rock hunting there. I figured we could also use it to hammer in tent stakes. The kid loves to dig and maybe this will save his fingers.

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Chloe in Glacier

Hey everybody this is a post from Chloe.

So, you’ve probably heard a lot about our trip so far but not from my point of view. Well here I am in Glacier National Park. Amazing! Is how to explain it in one word. Oh and Judy if you happen to read this it did make the hairs on my arms stand up. I saw maybe five or six glaciers today. I love it here, but, I also can’t wait to get home to see all you guys back home. Yeah, middle school. Well it’s 11:00 and I’m tired so Goodnight.

Sunday, August 13, 2006

Great Falls

As we got closer to Great Falls, we started to see pines on the hills and mountains on the horizon. We past the Judith Range and the Big Snowy Mountains.

The KOA here is the nicest we’ve ever seen, so we’re so pleased with our decision to come here a day early. The temperatures are in the low 80s, refreshing after the 100 degrees weather we had in North Dakota. There’s a water park in the campground and the kids just want to play in it all day. There’s not much to see here beside the falls, and we can do that tomorrow on the way out, so a day spent relaxing at a pool sounds ideal. I let them have ice cream for lunch and I packed just nuts and cherries for myself. We’re not that hungry after having a big breakfast at the camp kitchen. Chloe and Conor had pancakes with homemade chokecherry syrup. We have a choke cherry tree on our campsite, right above the water spicket.

Tomorrow we’re off to St. Mary, the eastern entrance to Glacier Park. We’re going despite the ongoing forest fire. The local paper here today says that it’s 75% contained. I called the ranger station and the ranger I spoke to said that the air quality should be OK, depending on the winds and that they generally blow in an easterly direction—away from St. Mary’s. He also assured me that we should have no trouble seeing most of the things that we want to see.

Conor just walked over with a little girl and said, this day is the most fun I’ve ever had. Then he introduced me to the girl and quickly left to finish his game of tag.

Medora to Great Falls

We made a decision Saturday morning, after we got in the car, to change our route. We were originally headed to Big Timber Montana, which would take us south on the Interstate past Billings, about 353 miles. Then the next day we would arrive in Great Falls, north of Big Timber and on the way to Glacier National Park. When I looked at the map, I realized that Great Falls was a straight shot from Medora on Route 200—a two-lane road right across the middle of eastern Montana. I asked the kids if they would rather spend some extra time in the car today and then have the day off tomorrow, and they were thrilled with the idea. So we changed our reservations, Chloe impersonating me on the cell phone while I drove.

Our first stop was Prairie Fire Pottery, one mile form the Montana border. We were hunting for gifts and hoped to find something interesting. The potter and her husband were interested in the T@B and told us that we should be fine on 200, just to make sure we got gas in Jordan, because there was a long distance to the next town from there. I bought a blue platter and she bubble-wrapped it for me.

For over 400 miles we saw nothing but ranch land. At first the landscape was like th North Dakota Badlands, but then it became hills of pasture with mostly Black Angus cattle. The towns consisted of a gas station, a grocery store and a bar.

One interesting and different thing we noticed were handmade, original anti-meth signs. I took pictures of some of the ones I saw in towns when we stopped to get gas, but the more interesting ones were on the side of Route 200, like a noose hanging from a big pole and a smashed up car, both painted and lettered with the message. It would be an interesting project for someone to document these signs.

In Winnett, MT the first stop after Jordan and a place really in the middle of nowhere, two attractive women walked out of a bar and looked at us and our orange trailer and said “New York to Winnett, that’s just weird.” And then they continued walking to their car.

Medora Musical

Friday night and we’re at the Medora Musical. We had tickets for the steak fondue first (fondue?), which was really just a cookout. The food was OK, drinks extra and not really worth the price. But the setting was incredible. We were up on a plateau looking out over a 360 degree view of the Badlands. A breeze was blowing and a band was playing country music.

The ampitheater sits in a valley below the parking lot and entrance. Outdoor escalators are built into the hill and you have to take two of them to get down to the mezzanine level. The set for the show is a main street Medora—train station, church, post office, saloon, hotel, and general store-all different colored buildings. There’s no curtain, no backdrop, just the stage, the buildings and the sky.

We were front row center, since I bought the tickets back in April when I planned this whole trip.This show is a big deal for North Dakotans, probably something like the Radio City Music Hall’s Holiday show is for New Yorkers. On the escalators, we overheard a few people say that they’d been there a few times and that it’s different every year. I think most of the people who visit Medora are either from North Dakota or Minnesota. At least it looks that way from the license plates and the pins stuck in the map in the office of the horseback riding concession.

The three hour show was mostly cheesy and nationalistic country music and dancing, but a few things amazed us. They have the Rough Riders, who ride horses on and off the stage at a gallop. They have trails from the canyon and part of the stage between the buildings and the dance stage is dirt. And then they had acrobats from South Africa who did unbelievable things with their bodies. By the time we left the temperatures had dropped down to the 70s and it felt cold. We all fell asleep immediately.

Medora Storm

I got back from doing laundry and the kids were playing with the new National Parks version of Monopoly we had just gotten at the visitor’s center. They were sitting in the T@B with the AC on to escape the severe Badlands afternoon heat. I was about to take a shower to get ready for the show we were going to that night, when I saw a black cloud coming over the hills from the west. I had the kids help me close the windows on the tent room we had set up for the first time the night before, and we brought all the chairs, shoes, towels and other things we had lying around the campsite. When the storm started, quarter-sized hail came down with heavy rain. I waited for it to stop before going out to take my shower, because I would have gotten hurt. It cleared up soon--the whole storm consisted of one large cloud—and as I went to go take my shower, I discovered that the tent room had leaked. Not just through the windows, but through the roof. The air mattress, sleeping bags and blankets were all damp and the tarp underneath them. I had the kids help pick everything up. I set up the tent, because if it rained that night we would need it. We deflated the air mattress and put it in the tent. Winds had picked up, so for the first time on the trip we made sure to put in the tent stakes.

I’m disappointed in the design of the T@B tent room. What’s the point of having a tent if it leaks? In the morning we had to pack up both the tent room and the regular tent. I cannot believe how mature and helpful the kids have become. It must be from their month at camp.

Little Missouri River Bank

We spent the afternoon on the sandy banks of the Little Missouri River. Our campground sat on the opposite side of the river from the National Park. Conor and I came down here first to hunt for agates, which we found in abundance. I also found my first arrowhead, made of reddish stone, to add to the collection.

After seeing our prizes, Chloe wanted to go to the river. We returned this time with a chair and water bottles. It was a hundred degrees with little shade, but very dry. I felt like I had to apply Blistex every 20 minutes. I sat staring at cliffs in the Park, which had to be 300-500 feet high. Across some of them you could see coal veins. It was burning coal that baked the clay in the hills, creating the red-colored stripes. I could have sat there all afternoon writing in my journal, except that red ants were crawling up from the sand and biting me on the legs.

Chloe and Conor crossed the river and ended up in knee-high grey clay on the other bank. Neil had told us about this clay when we were horseback riding, but I can’t remember the name. It’s used in all sorts of manufacturing processes like cosmetics and some milkshakes. I had no ideas of possible dangers there, so I was more relaxed than I might have been at home. Were there any poisonous snakes in the river? I asked a park ranger afterward, not mentioning that I had let my children play in the river before inquiring about dangers, but she assured me that there were no water snakes in North Dakota. Besides, she said with this heat you won’t see any land snakes either.

Riding in Theodore Roosevelt National Park

Woke up a couple of times last night to a train whistle, then alarm at 6 AM, so that we could be on time for our horseback riding lesson. I think I’m fighting off a cold, or I’m allergic to something here. I wake up having sneezing fits and feel drained.

Our reservations were for the 2.5 hour advanced ride. I hoped that they wouldn’t question us too much. We had our cheap boots, jeans and sweatshirts and asked for the optional helmets. We were the only three along with the guide to leave the ranch at 7:30. Conor and I were both on quarter horses and Chloe on a mule named Molly. For most of the beginning of our outing, Chloe was begging Conor to pick up speed. We were asked to keep one horse length between us, and Conor’s horse (by choice of the concession I’m certain) was pokey and liked to eat grass along the way. Our guide started to get after him, and told him to kick Elbert until he told him to stop. Conor obeyed and eventually it only took him 3 or 4 kicks and not much more for Elbert to stop eating.

We rode through a prairie dog town. Of the 46,000 acres in Theodore Roosevelt National Park, the prairie dogs have about 1,300 acres claimed. Neil, our guide told us that one of the low-lying weeds near the holes, was wormwood. I knew from reading about absinthe, which is legal in the Czech Republic, that the active ingredient, thuyon, comes from wormwood. Neil said that the prairie dogs eat it, so they’re tripping down there in those holes.

We saw numerous cottontails, two eagles, wild horses and three lone bison bulls. Male bison who are away from the herds are younger or weaker and pushed away by the more dominant males. Neil called them Lonesome Georges.

The destination of the trip was a limestone formation called the Eye of the Needle. We rode through it, ducking our heads, and came out on a high field with the best view of the canyon. Ahead of us, directly on the trail and about 50 yards away, was a Lonesome George. Neil led us to the left, toward some trees and the buffalo followed us, getting even closer, now about only 30 yards away and staring straight at us. I thought if it charges at us now we’re screwed. I had faith in Neil, but doubted that Conor would be able to handle an escape at a gallop, besides we were on top of a mountain now and heading to quickly in any direction could lead us right over a cliff. Neil then decided to take us back to the right, toward the trail and the buffalo continued down through the trees.

Neil’s horse spooked once as we were about to head downhill. He was riding a three-year old who didn’t have a lot of trail experience and the turkey family below us startled him. Our three were good old souls and barely lifted their heads during the commotion.

When we returned to the ranch, we saw more wild horses munching on hay. Neil said that he would have to chase them away later in the day. (Pictured--we could not bring a camera on the ride).

Saturday, August 12, 2006

Fargo to Medora

The Healthy Highways Guide has proved its worth. We Found Touchi's Products in Fargo. Wow! Best selection in a health food store I've ever seen. Rooms of international products. Not just typical Japanese or Indian, but Eastern European, even Croatian. Nice people too. The kids told them all about our trip, and the owner went into the back to find gifts for us. He gave us their anniversary jar opener and plate scraper.

We drove on Interstate 94 all day. Seems that big sculptures are popular here. On the way we saw the biggest bison in the world and then the biggest Holstein cow. We figured it must be a way to try to draw travelers into town, off the Interstate, to spend their money.

We stopped at two small museums, the National Buffalo Museum, which had Native American artifacts as well as buffalo facts and animal pelts--hands on, which Conor couldn't get enough of.

The Dakota Dinosaur Museum has a skull of a Triceratops that was found nearby in Eastern Montana in 1992. The kids loved both of these museums and we were through each of them in under an hour.

The eastern side of N.D. is lush rolling farmland. Just west of Bismarck the landscape starts to get more interesting. Little hills and buttes start to appear in the middle of fields, and just at the border of Montana, in Medora at the Theodore Roosevelt National Park, sits the Painted Canyon, a stunning, colorful piece of Badland heaven.

Thursday, August 10, 2006


Made it to Fargo KOA at around 5:30 PM. Stopped at a store in Moorehead, ND to get cheap boots with heels, since we all forgot to pack something for horseback riding and we’re going at 7 AM on Friday.

Back in Minnesota, near Duluth, we had stopped at a general store and bought wild rice bratwurst (a local specialty) and fresh sour cherries, which together made a fine dinner. The kids also made Annie’s Mac and Cheese in the microwave for themselves.

The T@B is a big conversation starter everywhere we go. Don’t buy one if you don’t like to talk to people. A guy at a gas station on the way here (a place called New York Mills, funny enough) told us that it had been a hundred degrees up here this summer. Kind of spoils the point of living up north if you have extreme winters and extreme summers. He said it always used to be beautiful up here in the summer. Hmm…

Plan to look for a health food store in Fargo.Our Green Highways book lists two. We need to pick up a few things before heading to Medora tonight. We’ll be at the Theodore Roosevelt National Park tonight. Conor is so excited to see the North Dakota Badlands that he packed up the tent and air mattress himself this morning. Chloe was too tired to help him.

Wednesday, August 09, 2006


Duluth is a beautiful city. Somewhere I would choose to live for the outlook it seems to have. It sits on a hill, which overlooks the western edge of Lake Superior. Yes, there’s a lot of industry spoiling the shoreline, but the downtown has brick lined streets with cool shops, restaurants and views unlike anywhere else.

When we arrived at the campsite last night we saw the same little camper in a spot next to us that had been next to us the night before in St. Ignace. This morning, on my way to the bathroom, I stopped to talk to them. Their names are Leroy and Carol, they’re bikers on a Harley pulling a tiny BF Specialties trailer behind them that pops up and forms a tent and a bed.

They’re taking Route 2 all the way across to Washington State. I told them I would have done the same thing, except that we wanted to see Theodore Roosevelt National Park on the way, so we have to head south for a while. Leroy said he gets much better gas mileage when going on secondary roads at 60 mph than he does on the highway. I’ve noticed the same thing; I get almost 30% better mileage at 55-60 mph than I do at 70 mph.

Carol and Leroy are also headed to Glacier and they told me that St. Mary’s, the entrance on the eastern edge, where we are staying for two nights, was reopened. I had no idea it was closed, but they told me that forest fires have been a big problem up there this summer and they were about to evacuate the entire town. I guess I better pay more attention to the news. They also said that bears problems are worse than usual because it’s so dry (they’re looking for water?).

We had our first incident this morning. The kids were screwing around in the tent, taking 2 hours to pack everything up. Wrestling, fighting, laughing, then daughter comes out with a bloody nose said brother hit her with a pillow. Sigh…

Next Fargo—can’t wait.

Upper Penisula and Route 2

We left St. Ignace Tuesday morning with expectations of a 12 hour drive, according to the navigation system. It actually only took 9 hours, thank God. Our morning drive started out nicely. We drive by gorgeous sand dunes on the northern shore of Lake Michigan. Route 2 was smooth, quiet and vastly underdeveloped. Kept wondering where all the people and businesses were.

At our first stop, a BP station—seems they have a monopoly on gas up here—called the “Party Store,” they sell smoked fish, smoked meat, cherry salsa (bought some to bring to Seattle) and fireworks. I overheard the owner saying that gas would be up to around $4 a gallon by Monday, because of what happened in Alaska. When I asked him what he was talking about, he said that 20 miles of pipeline up there had corroded. No one knew? Bad timing for our road trip. We saw the news on TV in the restaurant where we had dinner and it confirmed this news, announcing that CA for instance gets 20% of its oil from Alaska. Too late now.

We saw our first T@B, a sliver one, in a little town in Wisconsin, about 30 miles from Duluth. We had pulled into a lot for dinner and they pulled in beside us to say hello. They were on their way back from a cross country trip from Pennsylvania to Seattle and back. They said that, for the most part, everything went well, but that they had a few problems. I didn’t ask them what the problems were, because they seemed to be in a hurry.

Only once so far have I had fleeting feelings of self-pity. It happened the night we arrived in St. Ignace and I thought I had 12 hours of driving ahead of me the next day. My neck was sore and it was starting to feel like we were in the Army. Get up. Pack up. Move out. Over and over. It was the fourth day and we hadn’t been anywhere for more than one night. Once we’re on the road though, I’m so glad we’re doing this. I’ve wanted to see this part of the country for as long as I can remember. I realized that part of the reason I wanted to do this, is because I was always a map geek and staring at maps and planning this trip was the ultimate game for me.

Mackinac Island

On the way from Port Huron to St. Ignace, we stopped in Flint, MI—home of Michael Moore-to hit the Target store for some microwave-safe, plastic bowls. I wondered if Flint would be as desolate as Moore portrays it in his films, but it seemed solidly middle-class inside Target. Lots of tanned, thin, blonde women shoppers. Flint?

We arrived at the Makinac Bridge around 5:30. It takes a lot to terrify me, but driving on this bridge in high winds, with the T@B, and construction forcing me onto a steel deck was enough to do it. I looked out over the water to stay calm and was fascinated by the rich blue and turquoise color of Lake Michigan. I was expecting dark grey and blue like Lake Champlain, not a Caribbean palette. With colors like this, why are there so few people around St. Ignace?

We checked into the campsite at 5:45 and I knew that if we were going to get to Mackinac Island that we would have to do it that night. The staffer told us that the next ferry was at 6:30 and if we wanted to catch the shuttle we would have to be back at the office at 6:00. I made a decision to give it a try, since the ferry after that wasn’t until 7:30 and it had been a long day. We drove to the campsite, plugged in the T@B, grabbed my camera, sweatshirts and pocketbook and made it back in time for the shuttle. The kids were asking a lot of questions, where are we going, what’s the rush, why do we have to do this? I should have explained our plans ahead of time, but they were caught up in the DVDs that we got at the Blockbuster in Flint, 4 for $20 and they didn’t say a word to me the whole day.

The ferry moves fast. We were at the island in 15 minutes. The Harbor was lit up by the setting sun and the white church and buildings were gleaming. We had a great dinner with fast service at Goodfellows and made it back for the 8 PM ferry. Mackinac Island will not suffer from rising gasoline prices, since no cars or trucks are allowed on the island. The bicycles and horses are not an anachronism as I see it, but the way of the future. Now, just how to deal with the smell of horse piss everywhere?

Monday, August 07, 2006

Niagara Falls to Michigan

We’ve been on the road for two days. Day one from home to Niagara Falls and day two from Niagara Falls to just west of Port Huron, MI. Our plan was to actually be in the Upper Peninsula by now, but we spent the entire morning today taking a professional tour of the falls and then got stuck for two hours at the border, reentering the US from Ontario. We decided to just take it easy and call it a day at 7:30 PM after being in the car for six hours today.

Niagara Falls was so much more beautiful than I had imagined. I had this grainy, black and white honeymooners-from- the-1950s-image in my head. I thought of tacky Americana, but the water and the setting were National Park stunning. I didn’t know that the US side was forever wild and the Canadian side, while built up, is shiny and full of enthusiasm. Right before us were two gleaming examples of environmentalism, one even involved an international agreement (with Canada to cut back flow of the Niagara River at night to help prevent erosion of the escarpment, without which there would be no falls).

I looked up at this mass of plummeting water from the Maid of the Mist boat and thought that this alone is worth fighting for. I know as we travel further into the wild that more of these examples will become evident. And yes to many people this would all seem obvious, but I’ve been discouraged for so long that I need reminders about my country. Reminders that I do have things to be proud of, many, many things.

After the Cave of the Winds tour, where you get to stand on what’s known as the Hurricane Deck, just at the bottom of the Bride Veil Falls, Son told me that it was the most awesome thing he’d ever done.

For those skeptics out there, yes I’m still holding it together. The children are rising to the occasion. Daughter packed up the air mattress and the tent this morning, because we were in a rush to leave the campsite by 8 AM in order to the make the tour. I’m finding it easiest to leave the camper attached to the car hitch, because getting it on and off intimidates me. My only gripe, and it’s nothing I can’t learn to live with, is that they play country music in the bathrooms of the KOAs. It’s loud and at 6 in the morning, not what I want to here. Can’t wait to see the U.P.

Friday, August 04, 2006

Packing for a Cross Country Trip

I've already cited as an excellent resource for packing advice. But what about a camping trip across country, one that includes children and cooking and hiking, and extremes of temperature? Well, for that I found the Universal Packing List site to be invaluable. It has drop down menus for you to choose the length of your trip, the temperature ranges, and activities. For me, having a packing list frees up much of my mental energy for the fun of making choices about which shirt to bring rather than agonizing about forgetting a crucial item. I can also hand one to my children and have them do their own packing.

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Last Day in Prague--Memorials

I have one more thing to tell you about Prague, before we start reporting on our cross country trip. I spent my last day in there visiting memorials for the communist resisters.

Jan Palach is remembered all over the city. The large square in front of Charles University--where we had our classes--was named for him and a replica of his death mask hangs from a wall near the front door. His friend Olbram Zoubeck a sculpter cast his face for the resulting sculpture and then hid it for over 20 years.

If you don't know the story of Jan Palach, he set himself on fire in front of the National Museum at Wesceslas Square in 1968, to protest the Soviet invasion of his country. Another memorial, which I found to be so moving, sits on the ground at the spot where he committed this act. All the memorials that I visited in Prague had fresh flowers placed on them. Each day, someone is placing them there. Who I wonder?

Zoubeck's other sculpture related to Communism is the Victims of Communism Memorial, found at the foot of Petrin Hill. I had heard about this sculpture of the disappearing men, but missed it the first time we climbed the hill. I returned at night, to see it lit up and once more on my last day, to take some pictures.

These heroes seem so big in this little country, and they leave me with a new realization about power. I thought my Big Idea from this trip was going to be that there's hope for the US, because the Czechs went through two terrible occupations by totalitarian governments and look at them now. Doesn't this offer hope to us here? But Hana, once again gave me a new way to think. She thinks that the Czechs' suffering was to some degree self-inflicted. Why didn't they fight back? Who else, she asks, was invaded by the Swedes (Thirty-day war). I'm left with that uneasy feeling that I often get that I'm constantly over-simplifying everything, but no, we aren't talking about self-defense in the case of the US really, are we?

Air Conditioning and Climate Change

Did I mention that they had no air conditioning in Prague? Well, at least not in any of the places that I spent time: my dorm room, Charles University, the Ypsilon Theater, pubs, restaurants, stores, and tour busses (although the bus drivers and tour guides assured us that it was on as we sat red-faced, fanning ourselves). Apparently, last summer it was cool and rainy, so maybe they are simply unaccustomed to the 90 degree weather that they had the entire month of July.

Regardless of what type of weather they've come to expect in July, the Czechs handled this heat wave with grace. People stripped down to essential clothing--tank tops, skirts on women, short shorts. After a while, I did get used to being hot and sweaty. It just meant changing my clothes more often and maybe adding a second shower to my daily routine. I only really missed the air conditioning at night, when despite having a fan in my room, I would wake up sometimes with my face against a sweaty pillowcase. I know, it's disgusting.

Today, to help prevent a city-wide blackout, Mayor Bloomberg required all New York City-owned buildings to raise the temperature of their air conditioning units to 78 degrees. You know, that's a lovely temperature, not a sacrifice really. I mean who wants to carry a sweater around with them in the summer time anyway?

Last year the New York Times, in its Style section, carried an article on the relationship between the chicness of a store and its degree of chilliness. As you might expect, the more chichi a store, the lower its temperature was kept.

What's up with this? Can we get real already and stop this ridiculous charade? It's summer and it's hot. Consider turning your own air conditioning up to 78. Trust me it's better than nothing. Ask the restaurants, theaters, and stores that you visit to do the same. Tell them that they'll be doing their part for the planet and keeping you more comfortable at the same time.