Ninth Time Across the Continent

Bumble Bee Plane

Is there any way that looking at this world-record tiny plane won’t prompt the thought of a bumble bee? Believe it or not it does fly with crazy-cramped quarters for the pilot; but it doesn’t buzz.

Having driven from NYC to Yosemite in 72 hours going west during my eighth crossing this year I was content to take my time going east on my ninth crossing. I managed to spend three days in Arizona and New Mexico and a fourth day in Colorado. Then I heard that my new iPhone had arrived and within three days I was home again. It’s nice to be back.

While I loitered, I saw many things but I’ll only mention four here now. Continue reading

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The Loop at Tehachapi


This is not a picture of two trains passing one another. No, this is the same train passing itself. Strange as it may sound that’s what happens many times a day as trains take this loop to gain elevation.

I’ve visited the Tehachapi Loop before but I didn’t find it very interesting. This time however was quite a different experience. Today I had an absolutely fabulous visit because my timing was perfect. I arrived in time to see a very long train enter the loop and circle over itself. Crazy!

To understand what you’re about to see you need an overview. The first picture below is a satellite view of the Tehachapi Loop from Google Maps. I’ve annotated it with details which should put the subsequent pictures into perspective. Flow through them and see why it’s such a fascinating spot.

Continue reading

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A Lighthouse Hostel: Point Montara

Point Montara

How cool is it to spend the night at a lighthouse? If I have to tell you then you lack romance in your heart! It’s awesome!!! Happily I’ve done it several times and twice along the California coast.

The appeal lighthouses hold for me is complicated. Do I understand it?!

First, they’re usually at land’s end overlooking the sea and typically in a tortured locale. The waters are rough or weather tends to be wild and/or the waters nearby are riddles with obstructions. Second, it was often a remote, isolated and hard working life that accompanied the choice of managing a lighthouse. Neighbors were few, towns were distant, and life was lonely. Still, there is a sense of romance in being alone on land and fighting the elements with light to keep safe those men at sea. 

I’m sure it wasn’t romantic in life but from a distance it seems special. Work was physical and hard, the hours and conditions were terrible, and the never ending boredom  must have been mind numbing. Perhaps I’d have found it a romantic life it I’d had automated equipment, a broadband connection and FedEx delivery. Then again, if I had those things they wouldn’t need a lighthouse tender. Darn!

This lighthouse is at Point Montara just south of San Francisco on the coast. It is the second I’ve stayed at in the area. Pigeon Point Lighthouse is the other. Within the Hosteling International network there are many lighthouse hostels but along California’s coast I’ve now stayed in both.

Perhaps I should set as a goal to stay in all of HI’s lighthouse hostels? 

Hmmm … that’s food for thought!  Continue reading

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Prison in the Bay: Alcatraz


Isolated a mile off shore from San Francisco and separated by cold, rapidly flowing waters, Alcatraz was supposed to be inescapable. How amazing that now every year there’s a swim meet with hundreds of participants; it starts on Alcatraz and ends at Fisherman’s Wharf.

Alcatraz was first a U.S. fort guarding the Golden Gate and in the 1930s was converted to the nation’s maximum security prison which it remained for 30 years. After that it suffered neglect and an Indian land-rights kerfuffle before being taken over by the National Park Service. It’s now one of San Francisco’s most popular tourist attractions. 

This little island is a pretty special piece of land. While it has almost no resources, its position in view of the bay entry and its isolation from nearby populations gives it distinct attributes. How Alcatraz could be used was nicely summed up in its history: fort, prison, protest platform and national treasure. 

My ambition for visiting was just to wrap my head around its character and to take pictures of those things that interested me from the period. It’s the prison period which stands out most and with good reason, that’s the last extended purpose the island was put to. A few pictures are shown below. 

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Where East Met West


No plans existed for this historic engine so the Jupiter was rebuilt using only references designs developed from pictures and postcards. It is now very similar to the original train engine and it is in immaculate condition.

Every day, east meets west in a recreation of the event that made this huge country small. On May 10, 1869, two railways joined tracks at a place called Promontory Summit in Utah and created the first transcontinental rail line. For the first time it was possible to buy goods on one coast and have them efficiently delivered to the other, the west could sell to Europe and the east could sell through to asia. The world got smaller too.

The reason the railroads met here was chance. The two companies who accepted the government’s contract started from opposite directions: one in Omaha heading west, the other in Sacramento heading east. Progress across the plains was fast and easy but laying track out of California over the Sierra Nevada mountains was slow progress.  Continue reading

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Charging up the Arch

Poor weather can’t take away from the grandness of the Arch, the visual cue most prominent of St. Louis. I’d driven by it too often to count but that wasn’t going to happen this time because I learned where to park my car!

From the outside the Arch is to be admired. From the inside it’s for the practical purpose of riding an elevator to the top to look out the windows. From beneath it’s to visit the Jefferson National Expansion Memorial, run by the National Park Service. I came for the views.

Having recently visited to tour the Memorial I knew how to get into town, do my business, and get out of town. Given it was a Sunday, given it was early in the day, given I was downtown I figured this of all days would be a efficient opportunity to visit, and I was right. Today I’d ascend the Arch for the first time in over 40 years.  Continue reading

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More Old National Trail

Mile Marker

Mile markers were a requirement by the federal government but no specifications were provided. Each State created their own design; this three-sided version from Ohio is my favorite.

Thomas Jefferson commissioned this road which means what remains of it has been around almost as long as the United States. Call me nuts but this amazes me. By looking hard I can still see pieces of of that road and Ive made several outings to drive as much of it as I can. Continue reading

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Dodge City and the Santa Fe Trail

Boot Hill

Buried with their boots on. Thirty five men and one woman were murdered in just a few years in lawless Dodge City. That all started to change when the sheriff came to town. The rest, as they say, is history.

It wasnt intentional but Im glad I stumbled along a chunk of the Santa Fe Trail which for decades (1820s to 1860s) was the route for trading with Spains Mexico. All I intended to do was visit Dodge City, the famous cattle town of the wild west. Well, I got my Wyatt Earp and a whole lot more. Continue reading

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A Varied Path Home

Museum of the Appalachia

Museum of Appalachia is a living village of farming life. It reflects the simple but difficult life of those eking out an existence in mountains of eastern WV, Kentucky and Tennessee during the 19th century

Often the last leg of my trips is simply about getting home. However, this time I wasn’t shooting to break land speed records so I wove in a few interesting distractions into each day. Given the new path I had chosen for my return, finding new things wasn’t difficult. 

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Touring Western Living

Two Headed Cow

Everyone needs to see the two-headed calf. This kind of oddity would get talked about and draw people into businesses. In this case, the stuffed contrivance was used by a pub in Boise to attract patrons.

Time to meander home. Why “meander”? The fact is that all the primary east-west routes via the Interstate Highways I’ve already explored. Sure, there’s alway more to see but they’re not the rich passageways as they once were.  By taking secondary highways and especially diagonal highways I come across abundant new veins of discovery to mine.

Not in keeping with the above, I started down the Columbia River Gorge which I love, love, love to drive. However, once I emerged on the east side of the Cascade Mountains I jumped on a quiet road, the John Day Highway, to the National Monument I had once visited too briefly. Then I cut east through the Blue Mountains to historic Baker City Continue reading

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