Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Mt. Rushmore at Long Last

Sometimes when you wait a long time to see something you have heard about all your life, it doesn't measure up to what you have envisioned. I can't say that about seeing Mt. Rushmore for the first time: It is spectacular!

However, the ride up to Rushmore from Rapid City gives little clue about what is ahead. I kept waiting to see the Black Hills of South Dakota and they really aren't that visible until near the end of the drive to the top. The hills are black because the rock is a blackish granite, but I hadn't expected beautiful pine trees in the mix, envisioning instead the granite hills of Chatsworth, California, or Granite Dell near Prescott, Arizona, where there is no growth. And then, as the car rounds a corner, there it is--the national monument--bigger and more beautiful than any photograph.

I also hadn't envisioned the entrance to the monument. It is done beautifully with a long walkway between columns that celebrate every state in the union and the flag of each state, called the Avenue of Flags. The monument can be seen from that point, but it really is when you walk through that to the Grand View Terrace that the monument really has an impact.

It's a place to sit and look and wonder how this was built. It took 14 years from 1927 to 1941 to carve the monument, and 90 percent of it was done by placing dynamite precisely where the sculptor needed it to carve out the faces. The rest was done by many men with drills doing the final touches. It took 14 years and $1 million, but it is a wonderful symbol of America.

There is an extraordinary museum below the Grand View Terrace that shows the way the monument was built--first and foremost every day, the men had to climb 700 stairs before they could get into their harnesses and hang over the cliff to do their drilling.

Later, after visiting the cafeteria (where a scene from the Hitchcock thriller "North by Northwest" was filmed) and, of course, the gift shop, we reluctantly drove away and then, all of a sudden, the profile of Washington came into view and I felt as if a piece of my heart was torn away as his beautiful face moved out of view.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

The Trip to Rapid City, South Dakota

Yesterday, we visited Golden, Colorado and went through the Coors Brewery. It was interesting, but since it was a Sunday, no bottling was going on. Joe and I were looking forward to that process, which amazingly can go to about 1,800  bottles a minute. With that speed, I would imagine one could not even see an individual bottle because the process is so fast. It's a huge facility. I was amazed that they have 50 copper tanks to brew the beer--an incredible operation.

From there, we drove to Boulder and saw a beautiful college town. The buildings of the University of Colorado at Boulder are lovely, all made of brick or rock, very different from Southern California campuses like UCLA or USC. We stopped at the Pearl Street Mall in Boulder where there are lots of restaurants and shops. It turned out to be a beautiful, sunny day of about 78 degrees.
On Sunday, we drove from Denver to Rapid City, South Dakota. The area along the highway is that of high grass lands. Joe has always said the drive from Arizona to South Dakota, particularly the part from the beginning of Wyoming at Cheyenne until outside Rapid City. is boring. However, I found it to be absolutely glorious—tall grasslands that are lush with green with fat cattle and horses that have been grazing on its bounty.

 We stopped at the North Platt River and took a lovely walk along its banks, a much needed break. 
When we got to Lusk, Wyoming, we had lunch at a small diner that is typical of these kinds of places. Joe talked to a rancher, an older fellow who said the grass is normally not this green or lush, that the area has had much winter and summer rain and the cattlemen are loving it.

The rolling, gentle hills of this area from Colorado into Wyoming spreads out to mountains on the west, but as you keep moving north, there is only rolling grasslands. I guess this is called the high plains, but it certainly is different than I expected. We didn't see any sage, as Joe remembered from his youth driving back and forth from Rapid City to Page Springs. What we saw was grass. 

Friday, September 12, 2014

Driving to Denver

Yesterday, September 11, was a beautiful day to be traveling. The weather was sunny and about 77 degrees as we left Montecello, Utah.

We drove through the lovely town of Moab, a town very much like Sedona in that it is based on tourism—lots of river rafting companies that go down the Colorado River which is right outside Moab. Also Canyonlands National Park and Arches National Park. We took a scenic road instead of going to Interstate 70 through the canyon where the Colorado River runs. My gosh what absolutely gorgeous views of the high canyon walls. Periodically it would open up and there would be lovely ranches along the river and then the canyon would close up again.
Finally, we made it to Interstate 70 going east to Denver, but the views were still glorious. Lots of blooming Rabbit Brush and Snake Weed—all in yellow along with sunflowers. Beautiful views of meadows and horses and distant mountains. We began to climb into the Rockies with all of its splendor. The aspens are beginning to change in color already. The road was beautiful and well taken care of by the state of Colorado. As we drove closer to Denver, a large fog bank moved in and it is raining and cold. Temperature has dropped from 67 to 47 degrees. Sure glad we brought warm clothing.

We finally arrived outside of Denver in a community of Lakeside where our Hampton Hotel is located. An older hotel, but very stately with an indoor atrium of rooms that go up several stories. Our room is lovely. The evening news showed snow on Mt. Rushmore as a freak cold front moved into the region. Wow!!

Sunday, October 24, 2010

New England in All Its Glory

We arrived in Manchester, New Hampshire on September 29 after an uneventful and on-time flight from Phoenix, thanks to Southwest Airlines. We rented a car and drove south to Salem, Massachusetts.  

The bed and breakfast where we stayed, the Amelia Payson House, was built in 1845 and we had a beautiful upper floor bedroom with a canopy bed--decorated completely in the period--except for a TV. The owners, Ada and Bob were gracious hosts. We had wonderful fresh-baked scones for breakfast the next morning and decided to drive into Concord, MA, a beautiful New England town noted for its writers--Louisa May Alcott, Ralph Waldo Emerson, and Henry David Thoreau.,

Outside of Concord, we visited the Minute Man National Historic Site where American rebels fired the first shot in the Revolutionary War. The exhibit had an interactive diorama that beautifully explained the fight with the British. We also saw Waldon Pond, where Thoreau, probably America's first naturalist, wrote Walden, the story of his two years living in simple, natural surroundings. The above photo does not do Walden Pond justice because it is definitely not a pond--it is quite a large lake.

Salem is a charming city, and very ready to celebrate Halloween. Decorations were everywhere--corn stalks tied with bows to lamp posts and Halloween decorations in the streets and on buildings. Since Salem is called the Witch City of America, the merchants do their best to live up to the title.

The photo to the left is the House of Seven Gables, the actual house that was written about in the 1851 novel of the same name by Nathaniel Hawthorne. During the time period of 1692 when the actual witch trials took place, the house actually had seven gables. Hawthorne's wealthy cousin owned the home in the 1800's and he visited it often, thus using it as the backdrop for his famous novel.  

A few days later, we took the commuter train into Boston. Our first stop was the USS Constitution. Called Old Ironsides, the sailing ship was commissioned in 1797 and she never lost a battle. She is still an active sailing ship in the US Navy and the sailors dress in uniforms of the late 1700s.

It was a gorgeous, sunny day and Bostonians were out in full measure.They were everywhere--on the Boston Common (a beautiful park now but originally a place to keep the village cows during the 1600s), marching by the hundreds through the city in a major protest of some sort, and eating all the junk food imaginable at dozens of food counters at Quincy Market.

We jumped on the Red Bean Town Trolley and saw glimpses (and I do mean glimpses) of Cambridge, MIT, where the original Tea Party happened, the venerable Fenway Park (on the day the Boston Red Socks beat the New York Yankees), and the gorgeous Prudential Tower.

This is the Old North Church (see the tower peaking between the old apartments) where Paul Revere saw the signal that the British were coming--one if by land and two if by sea.

Portsmouth, New Hampshire
After four nights in Salem, we drove to Portsmouth, New Hampshire by way of Vermont. Joe wanted me to see as many states as I could. It was a beautiful drive, with the trees changing color more every day and clapboard houses decorated for fall with mums and pumpkins on front steps and leaves falling in the wind. Every nursery we passed was decorated like the one pictured below.

In Portsmouth, we stayed for nine nights at the Martin Hill Inn, another older home right in downtown Portsmouth near charming shops and restaurants. We chose this place for two reasons--it was a good spot because we could do lots of different day trips into Maine and northern New Hampshire. It also was where Joe was stationed forty-four years ago at Pease Air Force Base. The base is closed now but it has been converted into an air park where international freight comes into the US. We had a lovely closed in porch at Martin Hill Inn with a view of the garden and one night when the weather was warmer than it had been, we ate on the porch. We bought take-out Chinese food from a local grocery store where you picked out the fresh vegetables, noodles or rice, and in the deli section they stir-fried the beef, chicken or pork into the mixture. Every morning, the owner of the inn, Margot, managed to serve us a completely different breakfast (nine in all!)--delicious fruit compotes, various kinds of pancakes, waffles, and egg dishes. Along with the delightful food was the invigorating conversation among the people at the breakfast table, ranging from politics to economics to movies. The table was set beautifully by Margot and she was a charming hostess.

The White Mountains
The day after we arrived, we drove far into New Hampshire to visit Lake Winnipesaukee. Joe has long talked about this area, having been there with his late wife, Joyce, and his four children when he was stationed in Portsmouth. It was on that trip that he took a treasured photo of his children in front of a beautiful tree that was bright yellow. I have listened to this story for eighteen years and finally saw the countryside he so fondly remembers. We could have taken hundreds of photos on this trip, but photos simply don't catch the iridescence of the leaves that range from red to pink to magenta and no painter's palette can mix the right color of the orange and yellow.

At Lake Winnipesaukee, we had a fried clam lunch at the old restaurant on the lake. There was a photograph on the wall of the restaurant that showed the lake completely frozen and small planes with skis that had landed on the ice.

Further into the White Mountains, we drove along the Swift River, and the sun finally came out in all its glory. At last, we could really see the color of the trees. Mother Nature is beyond description when she wants to flaunt her glorious colors.

Every day we traveled to a different spot. Along the Maine coastline to Portland, inland to Augusta to see the capitol, to Freeport to see the "mother ship" of LL Bean, the sportswear and sports catalogue outfitter. There in Freeport were huge warehouses stocked with everything from LL Bean sheets, clothing, and couches to guns and hiking boots. The entire town of Freeport is in the employ of LL Bean! Finally, we went to the State Fair in Fryeburg, Maine where we saw livestock that seemed unreal because they were so huge. We saw draft horses that were seven feet to the hip, a hog that was immense and incredibly beautiful white steers from Italy that came from stock Caesar used to build the Colosseum. 

While in Kennebunkport, we shared the view of the Atlantic Ocean with the Bush family.

York Beach, Maine, not far from Kennebunkport.

Joe talks to the young woman who owned the beautiful team of oxen that we saw at the Maine State Fair. She was feeding him pieces of apple, and when I reached out, he licked my hand like a gentle dog.

The best thing about any fair, I think, are the pigs. This young and energetic farmer was trying his best to round up this unconcerned piggy.

This is truly the picture of New England that I will remember the most--leaves everywhere.

A final story. While in Augusta, Joe and I climbed the steps to the state capitol. There was no one around but us, even though it was a Thursday afternoon at 4 p.m. We tried the door into the rotunda but it was locked. We were about to walk around the huge building to find another entrance when someone inside noticed us and opened the door, then he disappeared into a nearby office. We stood looking at the various governor portraits hanging on the walls when a guard suddenly appeared from nowhere, wanting to know how we got into the building. We told him someone let us in. He was a bit incredulous because no one was around except us, but after several questions, he finally left. Later, when we went down to another level of the building, we saw him and he explained we had set off a silent alarm. The next morning, at the breakfast table, there was a couple from Bangor, Maine. When we told the story of setting off the alarm in the capitol building, the husband quipped, "We don't have much news in Maine, so I can imagine the headline of the newspaper this morning said: "Sedona couple set off alarm at Capitol."

A tree in full color on the grounds of the capitol in August, Maine. Its beauty is a reminder of a wonderful trip to New England.

Monday, July 16, 2007

Braubach on the Rhine

Our last few days in Germany was spent on the Rhine River. We knew we wanted to see it, but to be truthful, we did not have any idea how beautiful it was. By luck, we happened upon the wonderful little town of Braubach which looks like a picture post card.

We stayed in a charming small hotel which was connected to a German bakery. Every morning, we could smell, beginning at about 4 a.m., the baker cooking his strudels, bread, and wonderful, fattening things to eat!

While there, we visited Marksburg Castle. It is the only castle in Germany (there are about 80) that has never been rebuilt. When Napoleon went through the area in the early 1800's, he sacked all of the castles but Marksburg--and that was because the lord of Marksburg had an alliance with Napoleon. It was remarkable to go through this castle which was built in the early 1400's. We even saw the torture chamber with its "rack". Holy cats!

This is my last blog. Our trip ended really in Braubach on the Rhine, and what a wonderful way to end it.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Meyer-Werft Shipyard & Bremen

Once we left Cuxhaven, we traveled west, close to the border of the Netherlands, to Papenburg, the home of Meyer-Werft, the maker of the largest cruise ships in the world.

The shipbuilding takesplace inside a huge shed, about 12-stories high. We were in a corridor next to the shed looking through a long window at about the fifth-story level. The men who were working on the ship looked like ants, they were so dwarfed by the ship they were working on.

True to form, as we had thoughout our wonderful trip, we found someone who spoke English. Although the entire tour was in German, Joe struck up a conversation with a fellow named Hans, a financial officer for NATO. He was born in Papenburg, and comes home regularly to see the launching of the ships from Meyer-Werft.

It was an amazing tour. We were viewing the new Norwegian Gem. The next ship is going to be a new Disney ship which will be so big that the company will have to finance changes to a large bridge on the Ems River that leads to the North Sea just to get the ship launched.

After visiting the shipyard, we traveled to beautiful Bremen, the home of my central character. Bremen is a beautiful city, with a central market place and city hall dating to 1409. There we saw the statue of Roland, which dates from 1404, and represents civic freedom. We had lunch in the Bremer Ratskeller, a celebrated wine cellar and restaurant in the city hall basement that also dated to 1409.

Seeing these places makes one pause about history. America is only 231 years old. We saw barns that were older than our country!

Sunday, July 8, 2007

U-boat History

At the U-boat Archive in Cuxhaven, I had the opportunity to work with Jak Showell, a well-known published author on U-boats and their history. After two days of going through files, holding the great coat of Admiral Karl Doenitz (my gosh, it was so heavy!) who was the head of the U-boat arm of the German Kriegsmarine and later commander-in-chief of the entire German Navy, and sitting in a chair that Hitler once sat in, we took a field trip to Wilhelmshaven on the North Sea with Jak.

Our first stop was a German Naval base, at Sengwarden, the command center of German communications with its ships at sea. Historically, this is where Doenitz' headquarters was located in the early days of WW II before he moved his headquarters to France. A German commander, Admiral-Armin-Zimmermann-Kaserne, who wrote a history of the base met us, showed us where Doenitz' office was (historically important because this is where all U-boat commanders personally received their orders), and then he took us into a bunker to see how the German Navy today stays in communication with its ships. Holy cow, it was like being admitted into NORAD or the center of Cheyenne Mountain in the U.S.!

This is also the base that was used after the war to house refugees and it is where Jewish refugees boarded a boat to go to Palestine in 1947 and they were not allowed to get off the ship and were sent back to this base. The movie "Exodus" with Paul Newman was about this episode.

Our next stop was the old U-boat naval school. It sits right on the Wilhelmshaven bay and it is where U-boats docked while crews were going through training. A bit of a scary place with buildings showing many years of age, including a bunker for crewman to go to during allied bombing. We also saw the water tower building where U-boat crewman were trained to escape from their ship.

Finally, at the end of a long day, we went to visit a beautiful shoe shop in a housing suburb of Wilhelmshaven. In 1947, the building was purchased by a shoemaker. Previous to that, it was where the German's housed their communications center with U-boats before the base was built at Sengwarden in 1939. We were taken to the building's basement and saw that it was built like a bunker, with very thick walls and windows. Very old stuff here! We were told by the owner of the building that we were the first Americans to visit it.

The photos are top from left to right: the pre-war communications bunker, the old U-boat naval school (with a skateboard ramp in the foreground), , bottom left to right are the water tower where crewman were trained to escape their boat, and me standing in front of a bunker on the grounds of the old U-boat naval school.