Monthly Archives: June 2012

Day 31: New Orleans (Beth)

Today we rode from Thibodaux, LA to Meridian, MS.  It actually wasn’t all that far, but it took a long time because we wanted to ride through parts of New Orleans.

New Orleans hit me with an atmosphere I never could have concocted on my own!  Wow.  We rode through French Quarter downtown and all I can say is, this city has got some major Cajun panache.  The architecture was gorgeous, the streets narrow and bursting at the seams with color, the buildings tall, the balconies frequent, seafood and jazz clubs everywhere.   I would have loved to catch some live jazz in town, but sadly, our schedule didn’t allow for the luxury.  Plus, we were so caught up in trying to navigate the roads, our minds didn’t dwell on much else besides making it out of the city alive!  I honestly didn’t think any place in the US could have worse roads than Michigan, but I stand corrected.  Although, after going in the same circle about 3 times, I managed to get a good look at some of the “graveyard towns” on the way through.  Talk about impressive!

We finally outsmarted the roads and got back on track and the next thing we experienced is officially my favorite part of our road trip by far (as far as natural beauty is concerned).

After lunch, we jumped on the bike to stay ahead of a nearby storm and made our way towards Lake Pontchartrain.  Ryan shouted back to me that we were about to cross a causeway that way 24 miles long, so I better prepare myself.  “Alright,” I thought, “just a half hour and we can get back to seeing some cool parts of the city.” No, riding on this causeway WAS the coolest part of the city.

A few miles after riding on the causeway, the sky scrapers behind us disappeared and any civilization ahead of us was nowhere to be seen.  All that stretched out before us was ever narrowing concrete that gradually evaporated into a surrounding world of water.  Unlike a beach view of an ocean where your senses understand that the water keeps going for miles and miles, the lake extended beyond the curvature of the earth and seemed to halt drastically at a defined line.  Two gargantuan cumulus clouds filled the sky and dropped partially below the horizon’s edge.  The color of the water and clouds melted into each other so expertly that for minutes at a time, I couldn’t tell where one stopped and the other began.  It felt like an unnatural universe located above the earth and we were traveling along a massive water highway that transported you from one world to another.  My eyes couldn’t consume enough of it!  Absolutely surreal.  No picture could do it justice, but I tried to snap one with Ryan’s phone anyway…

Crossing the lake-

After crossing the causeway, we continued on and finally hit the Mississippi State Line.  Arriving in Meridian, we found our hotel, grabbed some dinner, did laundry again and did some more blogging.

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Day 24: Mesa Verde (Ryan)

Possibly my favorite national park of the whole trip. I love ruins and the stories you can guess at from them! There really isn’t so much of a story for our day, we rode through the park and hiked down to ruins. Instead of trying to intersperse pictures, I think I’ll give a description of the park and then background on the dwellings then just put a bunch of pictures up.

About Mesa Verde

The park has a lot of driving…be prepared. It’s around 20 miles from the main road to the headquarters. There are two sets of ruins you can hike to on your own and three sets you have to purchase tour tickets for. Two tours and one self-guided sets of ruins are down the same access road, the tour and self-guided are down another road and take around an hour to get to from the first two. We chose to go to Cliff Palace and Balcony House (tours) and Spruce Tree House (self-guided). The cost was reasonable at $3 per person per tour if I recall correctly. While you can only access a few of the dwellings, there are over 600 known cliff dwellings in the park.

About Cliff Dwellings

Apparently the cliff dwellings were occupied for only around 100 years from the mid-1100s to the mid-1200s. They originally were living and farming on the mesa tops but then shortly after Chaco fell (Chaco was a power-center…the only time the Puebloans had an elite group that we know of…located something like 100 miles to the south) they built these cliff dwellings. It seems they had been supporting the elite in Chaco and after the fall they built these either for protection or because they developed their own elite since they no longer sent resources down to Chaco. Among other things their farming resulted in 8 row corn. One guide showed us a sample (sorry, no picture of it) and explained that the first corn was 4 rows and the early development went by additions of four. They still find store rooms with hundreds or thousands of cobs.

Digression regarding Chaco: Chaco had enforced a peace on the region for a long period of time and traded as far south as the Mayans. After 100 years they abandoned them and apparently moved south. Tradition has it that they only moved to the south when they abandoned a region (that probably backs up the idea that most immigrated across the Bering straight). The move from the cliff dwellings was the last move south. When the next time came around the Spanish had come in from south and central America so there was no more moving south.

Back to cliff dwellings: The mesa dwellers (ancestors to the modern Pueblo tribes) apparently built homes that would last around 40-50 years. This means there is significant rebuilding work that continued to be done over the course of the cliff dwelling years. The dates for construction have been arrived at by taking tree ring core samples and comparing the rings for similar patterns. The trees growing on the mesa grow exceedingly slow so a moderate to large tree may easily be over 1000 years old. An adjoining mesa that burned about 12 years ago has not yet regrown any trees.

Access to the cliff dwellings was by a series of hand and foot holds. Basically you had to free solo climb a cliff face to get into your house! Might help to explain the life expectancy that was 35 for men and 25 for women. We had it much easier climbing down because the CCC had carved steps into the cliffs and built ladders. Admittedly though, they did it for something like a dollar a day and meals, so some steps were large, some small, some wide, some narrow, some deep, some shallow or any combination of the above. We went to the three dwelling which were down one road. First we went to Balcony House which is called that due to a balcony on the front of one of the structures. Balcony House had a sheer drop below it and actually had a guard rail that the builders had put in place. Some archeologists think that Balcony house may only have been used for ceremonies. Cliff House was the largest and is the most photographed of all of the cliff dwellings. There were some petroglyphs in one dwelling as well. Spruce house was more easily accessible and had a sweet reconstructed Kiva. When you look at pictures of the Kiva, note what looks like a fireplace in the side wall, it’s actually a fresh air inlet and the vertical stone in the middle is to deflect wind. The fire would have been made in the middle of the room and exit out of the hole in the middle of the roof. The Kiva was much like their ancient dwellings, but by this point it was just for ceremonies.

Now for Pictures

Entrance to Mesa Verde

Ladder up into Balcony House

Kivas. Also note the long beam that would have been part of the 2nd level floor structure…no one knows why it’s so long.

Kiva. Note the air intake hole (looks like a chimney) with the defector. The actual fire pit is the depression in the middle of the hole.

Balcony House

Us in Balcony House

Decorative plastering…original I think

Cliff Palace taken on the hike down

A section of Cliff Palace…note the elevated Kivas.

If you look at the center left of the cliff you can see more ruins that were visible from the Cliff Palace.

This lady ranger gave a fantastic tour of Cliff Palace and took to time at the end of the tour to answer all my questions about the relationship between Chaco and the cliff dwellings.

Petroglyph on a wall in a Cliff Palace room.

Spruce Tree House

Kiva with a reconstructed roof.

Reconstructed Kiva Roof from the inside

Entrance and Exit ladder for the Kiva

Diagram of a Kiva from a guide book


Day 30: Alligator bait in the Louisiana Bayou (Beth)

Today’s ride was from Galveston, TX to Thibodeaux, LA.  As soon as we hit the Louisiana border, the whole make-up of the land changed!  Texas was long gone and we were in swamp territory.  Right next to the “Welcome to Louisiana” sign was a stretch of water, several egrets and in the distance, some heavy, looming cloudage and lightning.  Probably 5-10 minutes after the border, the rain started.  This was actually the first rain we’ve ridden through this whole trip.  We put on our rain suits, so we weren’t technically getting wet, but they don’t offer much protection by way of pressure.  Thankfully, it only lasted maybe 10 minutes or so and we were able to unburden ourselves of the suits and get back to normal.

We followed the coastline for the first portion of our ride and then worked our way back inland.  I don’t recall if I’ve ever been in swamp land before, but I loved riding through it today!  There were waterways everywhere, moss-ridden trees, alligators, turtles, dozens of egrets, cows and airboats.

Swampland!

The best part of the ride was trying to spot alligators.  I counted three or four!  Three for sure.  The fourth may have been a log masquerading as a gator to trick me.  The first 2 were just babies.  The larger one was just hanging out about 20 feet from an angler casually casting his line into the water.  The fisherman seemed to be completely at ease with his reptilian neighbor, like they were spending some quality time together.  I bet people here that see gators all the time just think they’re annoying/commonplace, and that’s understandable.  I’ll tell you what though, me never seeing them, they’re fascinating.  So here I am at 45mph making a complete fool of myself, twisting, craning and turning, trying to get a decent picture from the passenger seat as I see them. (I never did get a decent one despite my efforts.) I wonder if out-of-towners feel the same way when they come to Michigan and catch a glimpse of our black, Frankenstein-like squirrels…

We stopped for lunch at a little diner and Ryan ended up with a Po-Boy (never heard of this before) and I got one of the best cheeseburgers I’ve ever tasted.

The rest of the ride was scenic and relaxing.  We rolled into Thibodeaux, LA, unpacked the bike, got settled in and by that time it was dinner time.  We drove around town and found a place called “The Foundry on the Bayou.”  It was an old warehouse that was remodeled into a restaurant and looked sharp.  When we walked in, it was late and a weekday, so we had a waitress all to ourselves.  We asked her a zillion questions about the food and ended up settling on some good Louisiana grub.  We ordered fried alligator, catfish with a crawfish sauce, and a crawfish gumbo dish.  Glad I ventured out and tried it. I mean, we’re in Louisiana.  We’ve got to try some local food.

Foundry on the Bayou

After dinner, we coasted around town for a half an hour or so, taking in all the French architecture.

Great balconies.

On the road back to the hotel, we saw a quaint, little ice cream shop and had to stop in.  The guy serving us behind the counter turned out to be the 20-year-old owner of the shop!  He let us sample a myriad of flavors and I settled on the cake batter.  I can’t remember the name of Ryan’s, but it was a cake batter base with some other stuff added to it.  We pulled a couple chairs up to the counter and chatted with the owner, Percy, for the duration of our time there.  Ryan and I were both very glad we stopped in.  The name of the shop is “The Sweet Tooth.”  If you’re ever in Thibodeaux, you should stop in.  The ice cream is delicious!

As I gift to you readers, Ryan found a song to capture the spirit of Thibodeaux, LA that he wanted me to post with my write-up.  It’s hilarious – Enjoy! (For parents reading along with children, be advised, there is one “h” word.)


Day 29: Island Hopping (Beth)

The ride from Corpus Christi to Galveston was a refreshing change of scenery!  The desert has a beauty all its own, but we had had a steady diet of it and enjoyed the change.   From Corpus Christi, we jumped onto a road that served as intermediary between several islands off the coast of Texas.  Green palm trees, grass, ocean view, pelicans, houses on stilts- it was gorgeous.  We rode across Mustang Island and had to take a ferry to cross over to the next island on the route.  It only lasted a few minutes, but we caught a glimpse of a couple dolphins swimming lazily out in the water.  After a while we had to take yet another ferry and eventually (hours later) we ended up in Galveston.  (You would think there’d be more to say after a full day of riding, but it was fairly uneventful in a nice way.)

Riding through the islands

Arial view of our spot on the ferry.

This is actually a shipwreck we passed.

It took us a while to find a place to stay for the night, but we did eventually get settled in somewhere and then ran out for a late dinner.


Day 28: The Trek to Corpus Christi (Beth)

As we sat down to eat our continental breakfast this morning, we discovered that the hotel owner used to live in Michigan!  He came in asking about our bike and where we were from in Michigan and I think 20 minutes later we finished bonding over our mutually known State.  It’s nice to find people that will just start talking with you out of the blue because of a common interest.

Today was the ride from Del Rio to Corpus Christi.  Now comes the grueling part.  Today was HOT.  Not only was it hot, but travel was slow.  There was a leg of the trip where we were stuck behind five semi trucks!  We have no windshield and at this temperature, we definitely do NOT have on any of our leather gear, so the gravel spitting out the back of these trucks is smacking us frequently, with conviction.  And we felt it. Ryan got the worst of it, being the driver.  After a while, I had to ask him to pull off to take a break.  I think I was getting mildly dehydrated, so he pulled off no problem.  We ate some subway, sat in the AC and drank loads of ice water.  While this did feel good at the time, I realized it was a huge mistake.

When we got on the road again, it was blazing hot and my body had adjusted to the cooler indoor temperatures.  The first 20 minutes of the ride, it literally felt like my skin was on fire.  After that, my body got used to the heat again and it was tolerable, but I had certainly learned my lesson.  When we stopped for gas next, I just sat outside in the shade and Ryan took care of filling our water bottle inside the gas station.

As the day progressed, the temperature decreased and the humidity increased.   We got to Corpus Christi and crashed in our room while we ran the ever necessary load of laundry.  Once we again had clean clothes in our possession, we scouted out some nearby restaurants and settled on some place with “Blackbeard” in the name.  I can’t remember exactly.  What I DO remember was a delectable white chocolate raspberry cheesecake slice that I enjoyed profusely.

There is a section of coast that is really pretty to drive along at night, so that’s where we headed after dinner.  There were kids playing in fountains near the water, couples taking strolls, and lights off a more distant piece of land suspended out in the water.  It was very, very pleasant.  A nice way to end a long day.


Day 27: Snow White and Some Bikers (Beth)

Today we rode from Carlsbad to Del Rio, TX.  We left early in the morning to start off the day, picked up some nutritious McD’s breakfast and headed out of town.  As I recall, we were warned by some gentlemen at McDonald’s to watch out for these wild hogs that roam out here.  At first glance, their size makes them appear more harmless than you would think, but if you hit them, they’re about as harmless as a runaway semi.  Thankfully, we never even spotted one.

The intensity of the sun has wiped out most of my memory of today’s ride.  It must have been fairly standard.

When we arrived in Del Rio (early evening), it had reached the low hundreds outside.  When we asked the lady at the hotel desk if it is always this hot, she said this was mild.  Yikes.  After recuperating in the AC for a bit, the temperature had cooled down a little outside, so we rode around town.  We met another pro-bike couple and we all decided to do dinner together.  Really fun!  The husband had a 1984 Shadow that was currently under repair, so he and Ryan got along great.  The wife was as sweet as could be, so I loved talking to her.  After hanging out for a couple hours, it turned out to be hard to tear ourselves away from them, but they needed to get going, so we did, sadly.

After leaving the restaurant, we got back to the hotel parking lot, but then immediately left because we realized neither of us was tired even though it was pretty late.  We searched for a movie theater nearby and managed to slip into the last showing of Snow White and the Huntsman.

Okay, here’s my review in case you are debating about seeing it:

Eh. The evil witch (Theron) carried the entire movie.  SHE was worth watching.  There was a scene where she’s screaming her head off at someone that had me mesmerized.  The quality of acting was superb. As far as everyone else, the acting didn’t capture or inspire.  The girl who played Snow White seemed to have the same expression on her face through the entire movie.  I will say that the special effects were quite good and the general aesthetics, very pleasing, but I would wait to see it in a cheap theater or on Netflix.


Day 26 – Everyone needs some ukulele (Beth)

We love Albuquerque!  This morning, we thought we were just going to drive through Old Town, but we ended up staying and exploring for at least 2 hours!  There was a group playing music in the park, vendors lined up around it and lots of unique little shops.

Old Town

Live music in Old Town!

This guy was making copper bracelets right in front of us. Awesome.

I was engrossed by the vendors selling jewelry and spent a while walking up and down hunting for a gift for a friend.  After talking to most of the vendors, there was one lady I liked a lot more than the others.  She was genuinely friendly and not pushy, so I decided that of everyone, I wanted to buy something from her.   What a great time!  I think we talked with her for 30+ minutes about anything and everything.  She spent a lot of time trying to figure out the best gift for our friend and after we made our purchase, she even gave us a hug.

Jessica

We walked through several of the shops and found several really cool items.  There was one I wish we had actually bought:

Taste buds? We don’t need no stinking taste buds!

After lounging around Old Town, we got on the bike with every intention of hitting the road for the day, but got sidetracked again by a farmer’s market.  We didn’t buy anything too exciting, just a little bit of food for lunch, but it was a fun atmosphere!  The cherry on top of the whole experience was a store I spotted that advertised ukulele lessons!  What city affords you such fantastic options like this?  If we had stayed there just one more day, I guarantee I would have found a way to take a lesson before leaving.

I never would have guessed it, but both Ryan and I decided that we could EASILY live here.  What a great city!  There are a lot of places that you could love visiting, but would never move to.  It wouldn’t take much convincing to get us to make a permanent move here.  All this from a 24 hour visit, you say?  It’s crazy and hard to explain, but yes.  So if you’re out there looking for a change of scenery: consider Albuquerque!

We did eventually pry ourselves away and started riding to our destination: Carlsbad.

On the way, we drove through Roswell and had to stop to check it out.  We really wanted to visit the actual “crash site,” but was informed that it was basically just a sign in the middle of nowhere to identify it and that even that had recently been removed.   After we abandoned that option, we decided to check out the alien museum in town… to find it closed.  Oh well.  We took some pictures of the outside of the museum and headed on our way.  We did get an awesome sticker for the bike though!

UFO Museum

Love this picture.

Roswell, NM Sticker: “Resistance is futile.”

When we reached Carlsbad, we had some trouble getting a place to stay.  Other than a couple PRICEY hotels, there were only really questionable places to stay for the night.  After searching for a while, checking out some different options, discarding them and searching for others, we did find a room that was at least reasonably clean and settled in.  We grabbed some dinner at a decent restaurant, which was nice, but overall, neither Ryan or myself liked Carlsbad much at all.  Because of this, we didn’t do much exploring.   We used the night to work on a couple things on our “to do” list and then turned in.