M is for Mountains – #atozchallenge

I love the mountains.  I spent a good part of my life in the mountains – New Mexico, Montana, Utah, Colorado, Arizona.  These are the BIG mountains.

Having lived in Kentucky for the past 25 years, I hear of people that live in “the mountains of Kentucky” or heading to “the mountains of West Virginia.” In my perspective these are more like hills. But, by the broader definition, there are mountains in states like Kentucky, West Virginia, Pennsylvania and Virginia.  Maybe even Tennessee.

Purple Mountain Majesties – Sawtooth range in Central Idaho
Here I am at the Sandia Overlook near Albuquerque in 1964

When I take trips to the Western US, I always try to make an effort to get to the REAL mountains….the kind over 10,000′ tall.  I love the fresh air of these mountains.  I long for the spectacular views…both from below and on top.

My first ventures into the mountains were as a young boy living in New Mexico.  My Dad also loved the mountains and we often took rides up to the Sandias. We would hike, take picnics and my dad always took pictures. He always took slides because he thought they were better quality.

In 1968 we moved from Dallas to Denver.  While in Denver, my Dad would take us on various drives up to Rocky Mountain National Park, Mt. Evans, Pikes Peak and other mountains.  As a junior high school youth I went with him for the intense hike up Longs Peak, near Boulder.  This mountain hike was a first for me.  I never made it to the top (since we were bogged down by a massive hailstorm in the middle of summer).  But my Dad left me at the stop station and continued up with a couple of friends.

My Dad Joe at the top of Colorado’s Longs Peak in 1968.

Later in life I had the opportunity to take a trip up to the top of Mt. Evans (by car).  It had changed over the years, but still had the mountain goats and the thin air.

Sitting high up on Mt. Evans in Colorado in 1990 looking down at a crystal lake.
Sumoflam and Mt. Rainier from Sunrise

Living in Bozeman, Montana in the mid 1970s was the final straw.  We actually lived up in the mountains south of Bozeman.  I was hooked and still am.  My goals have always been to visit America’s great mountains, mountain ranges and parks. I have been blessed to have been able to do so.

Over the years I have been to Glacier National Park, Yellowstone National Park, Grand Tetons National Park, the Colorado Rockies, the Sawtooth Range in Idaho, the Beartooth Range and scenic drive in northern Wyoming and more.  I have even been to the eastern mountains of Shenandoah, the Alleghany Highlands in Virginia (where I am as I write this!), the Ozarks in Arkansas and Missouri and the Adirondacks.  They have their own wonderful scenery.

Mt. Rainier in Washington – visited in 2015
Grand Tetons as seen from Driggs, Idaho in 2013
Mt. Moran in the Grand Tetons as seen from Colter Bay Lodge
The Beartooth Range in northern Wyoming.
Three Sisters – nicknamed Faith/Hope/Charity near Sister’s Oregon
Lima Peaks south of Lima, Montana
America the Beautiful – A scene near Glacier National Park
A far off waterfall in Glacier National Park
Mountains of Glacier National Park near Babb, MT
Mountains near the Northeast Entrance of Yellowstone National Park
The mountains and the Yellowstone River as seen from US 89
Our daughter Amaree with the San Francisco Peaks of Arizona in the background taken in the fall of 1981.
On Glacier Bay in Alaska
Washington’s Lake Crescent and Mount Storm King in the background
Mount Timpanogos in Provo Canyon, UT
Mountain view from Sacajawea Park in Livingston, Montana
Colorful homes and scenic mountains in Leadville, CO
Mt. Jefferson – at 10,497 feet the second highest peak in Oregon

 

(10)

G is for Grandeur – #atozchallenge

The United States is a vast and diverse country. From sea to shining sea there are sweeping vistas and spectacular scenes of nature.

The grandeur of this country is not seen on the interstate highways, but on the back roads and the gravel roads that have woven the fiber of this country.

Grandeur as seen on a back road in North Dakota – The Enchanted Highway
Mt. Moran in the Grand Tetons as seen from Colter Bay Lodge

I am always awestruck by the superb landscapes that one can witness on the back roads. Some of these landscapes, such as the Grand Canyon and the Rocky Mountains, are known by everybody. But there are so many more spectacles to feast your eyes upon.

When speaking of grandeur, perhaps one of my most favorite locations is Monument Valley in the northwest corner of Arizona and the southwest corner of Utah. Located within the Navajo Indian reservation, this amazing natural wonder has been the backdrop for many movies and television commercials. And one can only stand in a location or another and must turn their head from left to right to catch the full glory of this spectacular wonder of nature.

Visiting Monument Valley with my family in 1993
Coal Mine Canyon in Arizona
Sumoflam at Coal Mine Canyon in Arizona in 1990
Coal Mine Canyon in Arizona, ca. 1983

Not too far from there and also on the Navajo Reservation is a much lesser known, but in another way very spectacular sight. Called Coal Mine Canyon, it is a hidden gem off of a two lane highway east of Tuba City, AZ.

Coal Mine Canyon is filled with a variety of HooDoos…ghost like rock formations that can form eerie shadows and spooky formations at night.  The view goes on for miles into Blue Canyon.  In any other state, this might be a National Park or Monument.  It is just one more canyon in Arizona.

Sitting high up on Mt. Evans in Colorado in 1990 looking down at a crystal lake,

Head north into Colorado and take a ride up to Mount Evans north of Denver. Nearly 13,000 feet up, it offers up an amazing view of the mountains and lakes below.

The Beartooth Range in northern Wyoming.
At Beartooth Level — looking at the mountains from the top of the world

Not to be outdone in the words of grandeur, is the scenic highway that traverses the Bear Tooth Range along the Montana and Wyoming border. I have only been there once and it was in the very early spring on the first day the road was open. There were still piles of snow on both sides of the road. But the expanse of the mountains left me in awe.

 

An antelope and her calves run through the grasslands near Craig, CO
SD 63, a gravel road, runs through northern South Dakota’s grasslands and badlands

But grandeur is not just mountains or spectacular geologic formations. I can drive through the plains of North Dakota or South Dakota and experience miles and miles of grasslands.

I have driven through these great plains in North Dakota, South Dakota, Wyoming and Nebraska. To some, the drive through these vast grasslands might be considered boring. To me, the vast expanse of grasslands is stunning.

The Oyate Trail highway in southern South Dakota
Wide Open Spaces near Scottsbluff, Nebraska
Mountains and grasslands near Glacier National Park and Bynum, Montana
Expansive views across Wyoming
Sandhill Cranes fly over high plains near Dell, MT
Expansive corn fields in central Missouri
Atlantic Sunrise in Maine

Then there is the grandeur of the oceans. I have been blessed to have been able to see the Pacific Ocean from the northern parts of Washington and Oregon all the way to the coast in Southern California. I have also seen the Atlantic Ocean from points in Maine all the way south to Florida. The amazing sunrises and sunsets over the water provide unspeakable grandeur and a glorious feeling.

Like the oceans, the Gulf of Mexico offers similar sights. Nothing like witnessing the spectacle flocks of pelicans flying in sync overhead.

Christmas sunrise near Ocean City, Maryland with a dolphin swimming by
Waves crash on the Pacific Ocean in the northwestern-most point in the continental US near Neah Bay, WA
Brown pelicans fly in synchronized formation over the Gulf of Mexico near Galveston, TX
A hoodoo at Hell’s Half Acre in Wyoming

The most gratifying part of experiencing grandeur for me is that every back road and numbered highway offers a peek at splendid views. One needs only crest to the top of a hill and laid out before your eyes are wonderful scenes like that of Hells Canyon in Oregon, or in Hell’s Half Acre in the middle of Wyoming. Drive along a two Lane highway in the eastern United States in the fall and you get to the top of the hill and see nothing but spectacular fall colors as far as the eye can see.

 

Hell’s Half Acre in Wyoming
Hells Canyon in northeast Oregon is actually wider and deeper than the Grand Canyon
View of Cincinnati, OH

But the grandeur is not just in nature. From a different perspective, the views of the skyline of a big city offers its own brand you were. Whether enjoying the skyline of Manhattan from across the river in Hoboken, NJ to witnessing the scene of riverine cities such as Pittsburgh or Cincinnati from the top of a hill, one gets a sense of how small they really are.

Three of my grandchildren look out at the lights of New York City from Sinatra Park in Hoboken, NJ
A panoramic shot of Pittsburgh from Mt. Washington
Seattle as seen from a boat in the Puget Sound
Massive bald cypress forests in Caddo Lake in NE Texas

I am grateful to live in these United States and my heart is filled with joy that I have been able to travel many a back road and experience the grandeur of this country.

With each new road comes a new experience. I still have yet to personally experience the special nature of Yosemite National Park or the giant sequoia trees of Northern California. But I have seen the vast expanses filled with volcanoes in Hawaii or the old volcano cones in New Mexico and Arizona.

Grand Tetons as seen from Driggs, Idaho
Humongous field of sunflowers in Central Kentucky. This too offers a feeling of grandeur

I have driven the long highway over Lake Ponchatrain in Louisiana and over the amazing Chesapeake Bay Bridge Tunnel. These man-made spectacles still offer a sense of grandeur.

The river into Juneau, Alaska as seen from a mountain top near Juneau
Fall colors as seen from a highway near Damascus, VA in 2016
Fall colors in horse farm country on a small road near Lexington, KY
Grand scene of the Badlands National Park
Visiting White Sands, NM in 2013
Bison relax in a wide field with antelope grazing in the background. Taken form the road in Yellowstone National Park
Sawtooth Mountains as seen from Stanley, ID
Two Medicine River canyon in Montana
Rock City in Central Montana
Fall colors from the Virginia Creeper Trail in Virginia
The grandeur of nature with sunbeams shining over a lake in Kentucky

So, get out on the road and experience this country for yourself.

(14)

D is for Diners, Dives and Drive-ins – #atozchallenge

What is April A to Z?

Every April, bloggers from all over the world participate in the April A to Z blog challenge, and you can too. It’s a lot of fun and it’s a great way to meet other bloggers. To play along, all you do is make a blog post for each letter of the alphabet during April, then visit as many other bloggers as you can.

Road trips would never be the same without the opportunity to stop at local diners, dives and drive-ins (OK…I gotta give credit to Guy Fieri). Food is such an important part of a road trip. Obviously, no matter where one drives they always come across the chain shops like McDonald’s, Wendy’s, KFC, etc. With those places, the food you get is always the same.

At Nashville’s oldest eatery – Elliston Place Diner – Featured in Antsy McClain’s video
Midway Diner sign on a barn

But, for me, the real joy is stopping at a local Mom and Pop shop or local Drive-In and trying out the fare. Someplace well known in that little town or region, but maybe not known anywhere else.

My good friend, singer/songwriter/storyteller/artist Antsy McClain did a song a few years ago called “Mom and Pop Don’t Work Here No More” in respect for these places that are quickly becoming a dying breed.  (see the video)

Goody Goody Diner – St. Louis

There used to be more flavor in this country that I roam
I feel like I’m a stranger, no place to call my home
I can eat the same cheeseburger from New Mexico to Main
The same darn cup of coffee, just to link in someone’s chain
No, mom-and-pop don’t work here no more
Antsy McClain

You Are What you Eat Cafe – Boring, Oregon

So, when I am on the road I really make an effort to find the local places to eat and I have found many of them across this wonderful country of ours. For example, there is “Cozy Drive-In” in Springfield, IL which supposedly is famous because of its creation of the corndog.

Cozy Drive In – Home of the famous Hot Dog on a Stick
Cozy Dogs and Homemade Fries – Cozy Dog – Springfield, IL
Lambert’s Cafe – The Home of Throwed Rolls – in Ozark, Missouri
Throwing Rolls at Lambert’s

Then there’s the place in Missouri called Lambert’s Cafe that is famous for its “Throwed Rolls.” Or how about the diner outside of Natchez, Mississippi that looks like an old 1930s black woman servant on the outside and service homemade sandwiches on homemade bread with deserts of homemade pie and cake? And how can I forget “Hillbilly Hotdog” in West Virginia or the unique burger joint called Fat Smitty’s that is plastered with dollar bills in Washington. And what about The Shack Burger Resort in Cypress, Texas?

Hillbilly Hot Dogs – Lesage, West Virginia
Hillbilly Hot Dogs, home of the Homewrecker
Fat Smitty’s, a burger joint near Port Townsend, WA.
Fat Smitty’s ceiling covered with money.
The Shack Burger Resort storefront – Texas style fun in Cypress, TX
Outdoor eating area at The Shack
Mammy’s Cupboard south of Natchez, MS on US 61
Waylan’s Hamburgers – Home of the Ku-Ku – Commerce, Oklahoma

Along the road there are always the burger joints, the ice cream places, and the roadside cafés. One never knows what they will get in some of these places.  But, chances are the food will be much better than what one will get at a fast food chain place.

And each of these local places has their “speciality,” such as the Ku-Ku burger at Waylan’s in Commerce, OK on Route 66.

Scotty’s Hamburgers – Idaho Falls, Idaho
Wimpy’s Burgers – Keller, Texas
Big Jud’s Gourmet Burgers, Rexburg, ID
Total indulgence in a Big Jud’s “small” burger
Tightwad Cafe – Tightwad, Missouri
Carrie Fields, owner – Tightwad Cafe

I recall visiting the “Tightwad Café” in Tightwad, MO. Amazing breakfast made for a king and not a miserly tightwad. The only indication that it was a “tightwad” type of place was that they only took cash — no credit cards.

But check out the food.  This giant breakfast was very affordable and kept me filled up for a good part of the day.

Breakfast at Tightwad Cafe
Bryant’s Barbecue – Kansas City, Missouri

Of course, there are the barbecue places. Oh yes, the myriad barbecue places across this country. I have had barbecue in North Carolina, Texas, Kansas City, Kentucky, Mississippi and Alabama. In fact, one of my favorites was in Paris, Ontario in Canada!! And they’re all different and wonderful.

 

Camp 31 Bar-B-Que – Paris, Ontario
Oklahoma Joe’s Neon in Kansas City, KS

One such great barbecue place is Oklahoma Joe’s in Kansas City, Kansas. The café is inside a gas station and people are always waiting in line out the door to get their famous barbecue. And when I finished, my friend Brad Sweeten, and athletic director at one of the high schools in Kansas City, Missouri, took me to a local ice cream place that makes ice cream cones as tall is the Empire State building.

Stopping in KC to enjoy lunch with my good friend Brad Sweeten at Oklahoma Joe’s
Giant Ice Cream Cone at Paul’s Drive In – Kansas City
Sumoflam gnoshing on pig tails at Olde Heidelberg in Heidelberg, ON

Honestly, I could write about the dozens and dozens of places I’ve visited over the years. Every single place has its own personality and tasty cuisine.

Following are a few of the photos of the diners, dives and drive-ins that I visited over the years.  I have dozens that you can read about in my blog.  I only have room to include a few.  One piece of advice though… don’t go looking for a sandwich in Sandwich, NH.  Been there…failed that.  No sandwiches in Sandwich.

Olde Heidelberg Restaurant – Heidelberg, Ontario
Trailer Park Eatery in Austin — a hybrid “food truck” type of place comprised of trailers that are actually like food trucks
In the Country Bakery and Eatery on the outskirts of Damascus, VA
A Pal’s Sudden Service building. Lots of fun and it looks like the food is great too. Bristol, TN
Hutch’s on the Beach – Hamilton, Ontario
Story Inn, Story, Indiana
Stoneville Saloon – Alzada, Montana (Cheap Drinks and Lousy Food)
Sumoflam at Mel’s Drive-in in San Francisco
Sumoflam at the Wigwam Drive-In in Ravenna, KY

 

(19)