Saturday, November 24, 2012

Days Seven and Eight

Note: We're back home. Safe and sound. Now comes the task of finishing up posting the happenings of our last few jam-packed days and editing all the photos we took. Get ready for bombardment. 

Day Seven: The Great Smoky Mountains and Spruce Pine

We slept in quite a bit this morning...perhaps we needed it. Waking up in Jellico was amazing. The house we were staying in was at the edge of a creek, surrounded by trees, mountains, and the most amazing nature we had seen. 

The home of our gracious hosts near Jellico, TN
We began our journey for the day heading straight for the Great Smoky Mountains. But before reaching the scenic tour, we had to travel through Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge. 

Now we had been told to drive through these towns by Maribeth and Ken, they had done the Tennessee trip years earlier and their travel stories were enviable. So, we took their word and added these towns to our route. The best way we knew to describe these places was Las Vegas for children. We stopped at a place that promised to show us REAL Moonshine barrels. Perfect. Just what we needed to see. The most thrilling backyard junk/historic barrels we had ever seen. 

The place was the perfect drive, but neither of us wanted to get out of the car. Even on a weekend in November the streets were flooded with families. Pedestrians haphazardly crossing streets and multi-tasking...losing track of their kids. 

The only place we stopped in Pigeon Forge: Hillbilly Village
The scene began to change as we neared the entrance to the Great Smoky Mountain drive we would be taking: Newfoundland Gap. It would take us about two hours. The fall colors had just about finished dropping, but the views were not lacking in any way. We were stunned when we came upon overlooks, patches of snow, an infinite number of mountains. We stopped and got out to breathe the fresh air and take some photos. I will use this word again, as I feelI have been using it quite a bit on this trip, but there is no other word that better describes our views: breathtaking.

The roads weren't too crowded, but there were a few people on the side of the road, kids playing in the tiny bits of snow, photo ops left and right. I felt as if we were all experiencing this beautiful thing together. We were all so in love with our experience. Everyone smiled, gasped, and laughed together. Cheesy, yes, but this is America. We get to be cheesy about things like beautiful views in America.

We ended our drive through the park and headed to Spruce Pine to see Michelle Moode. Our stopping point between here and there would be Asheville. Thrilled once again to get out of the car, we set our feet onto the streets of downtown Asheville. it was getting late and was a Sunday, so many of the stores were closed, but we found a bookstore that looked interesting and spent some time inside. Hungry, we stepped into what we figured was a perfect example of Asheville: vegetarian,down home cooking. We ate fried pickles, tofu and greens,and cole slaw and drank homemade Kambucha on tap. 

Spruce Pine is a precious place, tiny streets, sweet little houses, and Michelle. We spent the evening chatting and giggling, then had another good night's sleep. 

Day Eight: NC to DC

Penland School of Crafts with Michelle

We began the day with a tour of Penland School of Crafts, an expanse of land housing artist studios and printing labs, textile arts rooms,  glass blowing and clay facilities, and a cozy coffee shop. The school was quiet as winter is not their season, but it was beautiful, and each person we met was beautiful. Being in a space designed for creativity is so inspiring, and Laura and I left with brilliant ideas for the garden at home. 

After leaving Penland, we began what would be our last day of driving. This fact alone caused us to tire quickly and for the first time on the entire trip, we were bored. Bored stupid. Our jokes were getting old. 

We hit 3,000 miles!!
Desperate for a break, we got off the highway for some food. We had seen a sign for Bojangles Famous Chicken and Waffles and knew we were decided. The woman at the counter was excited for us to experience Bojangles for the first time and helped us through our order. Fried chicken, biscuits, mashed potatoes, dirty rice, and sweet tea. Delicious in that sickening way... Where all of a sudden you have realized what you were eating and of how greasy your hands were. 

Back on the road, we made our way to DC. Found a place to eat... American food, appropriate for our first meal in the nation's capital. A very tasty kale salad and pasta meal later, we called it a night and found our way to Kristen's house on Capital Hill. A little chatting. A lot of sleeping.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Day Six

Day Six: Country Music Hall of Fame and Jellico, TN

Woke up in the hostel, dressed, and headed out into Nashville during daylight. Our primary stop: the Country Music Hall of Fame. Like I said before, this whole trip was born from the desire to go to the Country Music Hall of Fame. We got lost for a short while trying to find the place, then parked and headed in.  We told the ticket-taker that we were from Bakersfield and finally got the excited response we had been waiting for. This set us in the perfect mood for the walk through the Museum. 

The Museum was spectacularly curated. The displays took us through the history of country music, showed us video, played us music, and generally dazzled us. We recommend a visit if you are ever in Nashville. 

Back in the car, we headed towards Jellico, a small town in Tennessee's Cumberland mountains. Evan's aunt and uncle have lovingly invited us to stay in their home for the evening. 

Having not stopped for food for the day, we were hungry. We had done a very good job of only eating local delicacies or highly recommended restaurants, but we were hungry and in the middle of small town, Tennessee about halfway to our destination. We knew this would be the moment we would eat what the regulars eat... Crappy, greasy, southern food. After driving around, we settled on what would either be a hidden gem, or a stomach ache. Potato skins, fried catfish, fries... Pretty gross, but we needed to give it a go. 

Heading up the mountain toward Jellico we passed historical towns, broken down buildings from what seemed to be the beginning of time, and plain ole' America. It was beautiful.

We got to our destination after the sun had gone down, so we couldn't see what surrounded us, but we knew we would be wowed in the morning. We were greeted by a very eager puppy and a couldn't-be-friendlier family. We chatted about our trip, they told us about their travels to Africa, their lives in Tennessee, and other welcome conversation bits. We then ate a delicious homemade meal that ended up being from the Jellico Community Friends Cookbook. It was nice to feel a connection to home on our trip, even if it was a relative of a friend. 

Then, a good night's sleep. And a good night's sleep it was indeed.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Day Five

Day five: We're Going' to Graceland, Graceland... Memphis, Tennessee.

Woke up in Little Rock, Arkansas in a smoky hotel room. We were happy to clean off the stale cigarette stench and get back in the car. We took a short driving tour of the city before we headed to Memphis.  We passed Little Rock Central High School, the site of the Little Rock 9, and drove through some beautiful neighborhoods.

Crossed the Mississippi while listening to BB King and Eric Clapton, sang along to Walking in Memphis, then sang Graceland as we pulled into the parking lot. Oohed and Ahhed at all of Elvis' really cool things and then spent some cash in the gift shop.

We walked around in Memphis for a bit... Walked on Beale, then went on a search for the famed Rendezvous restaurant. We curled up and down streets and alleys, knowing it would be worth it when we finally arrived. We stopped a girl on the street to ask her if she knew where it was and she happened to be looking for it, too. So the three of us continued the search together. Eventually, we spotted the sign in an alley. 

Rendezvous ... The most delicious- I mean... THE MOST DELICIOUS RIBS IN THE WORLD. Period. Laura and just sat there in silence, gnawing on heaven. 

With our bellies full,  we headed towards Nashville.

Nashville was just a short, beautiful drive up the road. And we were thrilled. The whole reason we began planning this trip was Nashville. A year ago Laura and I began talking about traveling here to see the Bakersfield Sound exhibit at the Country Music Hall of Fame. We figured it was the perfect excuse for a trip.

And we were sure Nashville would greet us with the widest open arms because of our Bakersfield roots. 

As we neared the city it was late, having spent the majority of the day in Memphis and on the road. We headed to the hostel that we were spending the night in, just off the riverbank. Young friendly folks, happy clean place, felt safe and surrounded by fellow travelers. After dropping bags off, we stepped out on the town.

 Music city? Absolutely. Everywhere we walked there was another live band blaring at us. Cowboy boot stores were nestled in between the bars and restaurants. We found a place that looked good for a meal and stepped in. Merchants. We found a couple spots at the bar and got to know the bartender. We ordered local brew: Yazoo. We ate lobster macaroni and cheese. The bartender was amused by us... We could tell. He liked us. We asked him about Nashville things and Tennessee things and Southern things and he gave us some good laughs. We told him we were from Bakersfield, but he wasn't as impressed as we thought he would be. We told him he should have been more excited. 

The meal ended and we took his suggestion and went into a bar called Robert's Western World. Yes. The best. We drank some more local beer. The place was seasoned. The walls were coverd in music memorabilia. Paintings, photographs, instruments, and signs. We danced. We sang along. The band was a spectacular mix of musical genres. The bass player was a rockabilly guy who made the most ridiculous faces, from big goofy smiles to sucking his cheeks in, to squinting and raising his eyebrows. Laura and I have been practicing them. The guitarist was a 17 year old whiz kid. He has thick red hair and massive hands that moved effortlessly along the frets. The singer was a great frontman and looked like he could be a good buddy of our parents...a JimmyBuffet sort. The drummer looked a little jazzier. Together they made up a great ensemble. We left to walk around a bit more and see what else was out there. We ran into some very nice people. We listened to more music. Then we headed back to the hostel.

 Nashville, you were better than we had imagined.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Day Four

Day 4: Three states, one day.

We checked into a hotel off I-40, just before Amarillo, TX late last night. We hadn't seen Texas in daylight, so waking up to prairie, surrounded by more prairie was interesting. We eagerly asked the hotel "concierge" about Cadillac Ranch. His response: People come from Europe to see it... I don't see the point... It's just the chassis, not even the whole car. So we ignored him and went anyway. We reached the destination... and survived a frigid, tornado-like walk (it was really cold) about 200 yards from the road.

We were not alone. A man stepped out of an impressive tour bus with an extreme paint job. We think his name was Allen Johnson or Tom Allen... We assumed he was a race car driver. He walked the distance to the cars carrying 2 gold trophies, and followed by a lady carrying a giant check in the wind, which was hilarious, as giant checks turn into sails in windy weather. Following them, a man with a camera. We aren't sure what this photo op was all about. Why did they need the giant check photographed, too? This has since given us a few good laughs.

On our way in, we met two nice ladies traveling from Michigan. We talked about life on the road as wandering women. This seems to be the season of lady travelers. They told us they left some cans of paint we could use. Pink and green.

We found a place inside one of the cars, shielded from the extreme weather, and sprayed MALAGA 4-EVA. We took some pictures, then sprinted back to the car.

Windy day at Cadillac Ranch

On the road again... Headed towards Oklahoma!

Upon crossing the Texas-Oklahoma border we stopped into the most impressive rest-stop we had ever seen... Clean bathrooms, granite countertops, free coffee, leather chairs, and two of the sweetest Oklahomans with thick accents. We talked about where Liz's great-grandparents, and grandfather came from, Dewey County and Tuttle, OK. 

She was eager to tell us about all there was for us in Oklahoma. Her suggestions for Oklahoma City sites included some neighborhoods, a river tour,  pawn shops and the Cracker Barrel Gift Shop. She was really excited about the Cracker Barrel Gift Shop.

A passer-by added to the suggestions... "you know what's really good? Golden Corral." We nodded, thanked, and left. I think we'll skip Golden Corral this trip.

Oklahoma was flat, but surprisingly beautiful. Dark red dirt, bright yellow fields, blue sky. It's just like the song... Oh, what a beautiful morning...Bright golden haze on the meadow...

Our stop of the day would be Oklahoma City, about halfway between Amarillo and Little Rock. It would be a quick stop. Lunch, stretch, leave.

Per Isaac's suggestion we ate bison burgers at Kaiser's American Bistro where the waiter called Laura "ma'am." Delicious. Friendly.

Bison burgers, sweet potato fries, and a root beer float.

We drove through OKC, passed landmarks and beautiful buildings and both decided we would come back to take full advantage of the city's offerings.

East of Oklahoma City, the land became hilly and forested, which surprised us as we hadn't heard of this type of Oklahoma .

Great names in Oklahoma:
Lotawata - right near a lake
Thlopthlocco tribe
Toad Suck Park?!
Fantasy Island on Tinker Diagonal
Deep Deuce

Crossed the Arkansas border, greeted the state with a "Hellooooooooo, Arkansas!" A tradition Laura brought with her on this trip.

After an interesting phone conversation, we made last minute reservations at a hotel on the outskirts of Little Rock. Sleep after a day of driving...ahh.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Day Three

Day 3: Santa Fe, NM

Fred's house is a short, straight walk to the downtown area of Santa Fe. We walked into the plaza around 9, just as shops were opening. Our eyes widened and jaws dropped at the architecture surrounding us. Every building in this area is traditional pueblo style adobe, either newly constructed, or historically so.

It being a Wednesday morning, it was very quiet... Except for the Coldplay and Cranberries covers being played by two street performers on a bass and violin.

We stepped into one of the recommended restaurants, Tia Sophia, and we're greeted by a gregarious character that proceeded to wait on us and give us tips for our Santa Fe day. We became such good friends we received hugs before leaving.

Our first stop was the Georgia O'Keeffe Museum where we sat through a docent talk with 10 other older women with equally short haircuts. We were intrigued to learn that her work has nothing to do with female sexuality - it's just flowers. (We'll be doing some research to confirm.)

The museum security guard excitedly answered questions, although none were asked.

Speaking of friendly security guards, the guard in the Santa Fe Museum of Art told us his life story along with some funny anecdotes about what it's like being a short man of 45 who looked like he's 28.

Both of these conversations were a testament to the easy-going nature, and hospitality of Santa Fe residents. We enjoyed getting to know them.

We walked into the Cathedral, built in the 1600's. Beautiful.
We saw the oldest house in the country. Occupied in the year 1200.
At both our Santa Fe meals, we ordered local flavors green and red chillis. They delighted the taste buds of even a spice-o-phobe like Liz.

Enchiladas "Christmas" style... Both red and green chiles.

Blue corn tortilla chips with chiles.

Laura and her enchiladas drenched in chile!!

Notes for future visits:

Eat at a reasonable hour. All restaurants close between 3 and 5pm.

When a store says "Indian" it is probably owned by Indians... The kind from India, not Native Americans. Our waiter at breakfast told us about this and we noticed most of the shops we visited were run by Indians from India. The Native American Indians set up shop along a long strand of sidewalk with jewelry made with various stones from around the world, metal bracelets and bookmarks, hammered guitar picks and beaded strands.

We are now back on the road ("on the road again, just can't wait to get on the road again") and headed for Texas!

Radio Lab.
An impromptu stargazing. Turned the car off. In pitch black, pure silence we saw the Milky Way.

Giddy-up, lil doggies!

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Day Two

Day two: Grand Canyon, Painted Desert, Albuquerque, Santa Fe

Total miles driven: 970

Bundling up for the cold!
Woke up in chilly Northern Arizona, hopped in the car and headed north to the Grand Canyon.  Beautiful.

On our way back to I-40 we drove through the Painted Desert. 

We passed Indian reservations... Rows of plywood structures touting Indian goods for sale, although most of them looked abandoned. We didn't stop to take any peeks at wares.

Ecstatic at the Grand Canyon!
Talked to a Native American man collecting pinons (pine nuts) to sell at the local gas station for $6 per pound..

So much driving.
Beef jerky.
This American Life.
Crossword puzzle.

We realized we  hadn't eaten a meal in the last day and a half, so we stopped in Albuquerque and found a spot that didn't seem it would turn us away for being stinky and homeless looking.

 Ate a meal of weird combinations that tasted surprisingly amazing. Way to go, ABQ!

We gave up on listening to the steamy book on tape. An easy decision.

Staying at Fred's adobe house. Just watched his housemate build a successful fire. Fred made chocolate from scratch. Delisch!

Monday, November 12, 2012

Day One

Liz and Laura pre-road (Malaga didn't come with us)

Where: Williams, AZ

After a seven hour drive, we have arrived at our first destination: a place to sleep in Williams, AZ. We had made arrangements at the hostel in Williams, but when we said we would be arriving around 9:30, they told us to go somewhere else. So, we are living it up in a hotel. It's 27 degrees outside and there are remnants of snow on the ground...nothing too alarming or exciting.

We spent the first hour squealing as we headed down the 58. Debbie made us a road trip mix and copied some Rhianna and Justin Timberlake for us. We found a really awful book on tape featuring three whiney and helpless ladies engulfed in lady problems: affairs, babies, hot men... There is sure to be some sauciness!

Things we saw on the road:
-GHANDI license plate
-Shooting stars
-Big golf ball
-Joshua trees
-A sign that said "itialian"

Tomorrow: the Grand Canyon