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Welcome to the online blog for traveler/writer/photographer Steven Barber. Come in. Relax. Take off your shoes and socks -- or any other article of clothing, this is the internet. Have a look around. I hope to intrigue, amuse, entertain, and maybe provoke you just a little. I love to find adventure. All I need is a change of clothes, my Nikon, an open mind and a strong cup of coffee.

Monday, August 14, 2017

THE GRAND TOUR - First Half Recap

The last two days of the trip sort of melded into one blog entry, then vanished completely. We had a problem with the wifi at a B&B in Harper's Ferry which proved to be problematic. In the future I will post a "travelogue" of Harpers Ferry. It's a fascinating and historic site deserving of a more in-depth review.

So, on we go. Time to recap the first half of the journey as we prepare for the second leg, back to Long Beach.

We're here in Annapolis, Maryland after a madcap dash across the country. 2815 miles. The San Bernardino, Wasatch, Rocky, Blue and Appalachian mountain ranges. Five major American rivers - the Colorado, the Missouri, Mississippi, the Shenandoah and the Potomac. 14 states. Tens of thousands of acres of corn. Six major cities and dozens and dozens of small towns. "Blue" enclaves and full "red" states.

Along the way we encountered stunning scenery in Utah, expensive parking in Vail, a very tall structure in St Louis, a beautiful hotel in Cincinnati an some of the country's most important history in Harpers Ferry.

One of the premiere notes we take away from this adventure was how nice Americans are. All too often we see each other in terms of race, politics and economy. But the truth of the matter is that most people are extremely decent folk when given half a chance. America's strongest asset is its people, and those who would divide us, decrease us.

Highlights of the trip were many. Discovering even more spectacular scenery in Utah was one of the
first major revelations. I was entirely too young to admire the sights when last I transited that route. This time the view was foremost on my mind. It seemed that every turn, every wind in the road revealed something new and even more impressive that what had gone before. Obviously I'm familiar with Utah's unique set of National Parks, but just the scenery along Interstate 70 certainly earns the Westernmost strip of asphalt an award as perhaps the most beautiful scenery along an interstate any where in the country (which is saying a LOT, folks, a LOT!).

Colorado River
Following the emergence from the eastern Utah desert we crossed the Colorado River for the first of perhaps a half dozen times. Crossing and recrossing rivers is a hallmark of I-70. There are multiple passes over the Colorado, the Missouri and the Ohio - though only one of the Mississippi. The interstate parallels the Colorado's path for many miles through the Rocky Mountains, jumping from one side to the other, making the river a constant companion on the winding road up the mountains.

Expensive coffee
The first of three "just stop" areas on the trip - where we just took time out from the pall mall drive to get to Maryland - came in the ski resort town of Vail. After three days of racing down highways with only a handful of ten minute stops, we decided to take a genuine break in Vail, stopping for an hour to get coffee and bagels in the resort's central plaza. There was a fun soccer (futbol) game going on with a handful of ten to thirteen year olds. We sat, eating what were already pricey snacks, until we were done and it was time to get back on the road. Destination for that day was Denver, and we still had to crest the mountains and head back down to the Mile High City.

We made our way back to the parking structure and discovered, much to our chagrine, that the hourlong stop was a full $20 in parking fees, making our little bagels and coffee the most expensive snack we've ever eaten (we think. Haven't actually done the math).

After wincing at the net cost of our stop, we headed up the mountains towards the longest tunnel on the Interstate Highway system, the Eisenhower/Johnson tunnels which mark also the highest point in the interstates. The twin tunnels are more than a mile and a half in length, crossing under the continental divide at just above 11,000'. High enough my altitude-sensitive wife got a splitting headache - relieved only after we descended down into Denver on the far side of the Rockies.

The next few days were flat. Eastern Colorado, Kansas, Missouri, Illinois and Indiana have hilly areas, but for the most part the terrain was wide open and the visibility went for miles in every direction. Gradually the tan-browns of the plains gave way to a lush greenery as we moved east. This was helped by the large storm system we were fortunate enough to taste but not experience in its full fury. By the time we made our way to Topeka the system had moved out and we were blessed by bright skies and fluffy clouds.

Given the nature of the first half of the trip...get to Annapolis with some haste...we didn't get a chance to do much exploring. The second half of our voyage, starting a little later today, will enable us to play around a bit more to the extent we were discussing some serious re-planning of the latter part of the drive as we head into West Texas in a few days time. More about that as we refine the plans.

Continuing the review, we left St Louis and headed for Cincinnati via Louisville, Kentucky. Time-wise it made only a little difference, but enabled us to drive through the Kentucky countryside to look for horses and whiskey. We found a wonderful distillery, the Kentucky Artisan Distillery in Crestwood. Wonderful stop, unfortunately right as they were closing. We had a nice conversation with a woman named Katy who kindly stayed a little longer to allow us to purchase a couple of bottles for friends back home.

We took issue with Kentucky after arriving in Covington for the night, realizing we hadn't seen a horse the entire day. It just didn't seem appropriate. The for the next few days whenever we saw horses in a pen or running through fields we noted them, wryly commenting "but it's not Kentucky".

Save for witnessing and assisting with an automobile crash in Ohio, the next day was pretty quiet. The path was kind of amusing in that we left our hotel in Kentucky and crossed immediately into Ohio. Then passed from Ohio into a sliver of West Virginia, into Pennsylvania, back into West Virginia, into Maryland, and back into West Virginia for the night. It's a slightly confusing set of state boundaries, dating back to West Virginia's secession from Virginia during the lead up to the Civil War.

Harpers Ferry

Last Friday we made the final couple of hours on the road as we crossed Maryland into the familiar environs of Annapolis, a city I regard as my East Coast home.

But as of today, we're headed away for perhaps the last time. In about an hour we start the second half, heading down across Virginia, tickling Tennessee and stopping for the next few nights in Asheville, North Carolina. Hoping the weather holds.

Follow the Thumbnail Traveler Twitter and Instagram feeds for updates throughout the day, and I'll post a recap tomorrow morning.

On to round two.

We made Harpers Ferry in eight hours and stayed at a pleasant bed and breakfast. As I stated above, I'll cover this stop in more detail in a later column.

On the Road Again

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