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The Mother of all Trips

September 27th, 2010 Posted in The Mother of all Trips

Our trip comes to an end, today we flew from Seattle to Boston and tomorrow we will fly to Munich. Here are the last updates…

Total distance covered: 8058.55 miles / 12969 km   

plus 74 miles / 119,1 km during whale watching  

plus the flight from Seattle to Boston, but I don’t really count that

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Longest stretch in one day: 682 miles / 1098,90km from Helena, Montana to Portland, Oregon

Highest elevation: 11320 ft / 3450 m

Lowest elevation: 0 ft / 0 m plus-minus a whale

Highest temperature: 100.4°F / 38°C

Lowest temperature: 37°F / 3°C

Time zones entered: 3

International borders crossed: 1 between the USA and Canada

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Gas filled: 341.29 gal/ 1291,93 l 

Oil Changes: 1 in Roswell, NM. Probably lasts for a trip through the universe;-)

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Breakdowns: none, but the „check engine“ light is on, like always…

Meltdowns: well, one or two…

Casualties: one „big“ roadkill, looks like a couple of dragonflies, whose lives ended in the middle of you know what…

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And millions of smaller collateral damage

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This little guy flew solo

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Wildlife sightings: elks, bisons, three eagles, a coyote, mule deer, a fox and this little critter

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AND: sea lions, harbor seals and Orcas!!!

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And a rare species, the so called Rubber Duck, in their natural habitat, a furniture store

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Most unreasonable footwear

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Silliest hats worn (bought non of them!)

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Cars sold: 1

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And this is the map showing the route we took (click on the map to see it in full):

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And this is how it looks from outer space:

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Rocky Mountains III – North America’s Backbone – From Boulder, Colorado to Cody, Wyoming

September 27th, 2010 Posted in The Mother of all Trips

A National Park a day keeps the doctor away!

Next Must See on our list was the Rocky Mountain National Park. Guess how we got there… Right! Winding roads and clouds in blue skies! Not that I want to complain, but I started to grow a little tired of that…

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But however boring those winding roads get after a while, the Rocky Mountain National Park is definitely worth this luxury problem.

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Rocky Mountain National Park is different from other parks, because nowhere else in the US can one see so much alpine country. And it is easy to access. I have seen some alpine landscape in my life, some definitely more breathtaking, but never felt to have all different kinds of scenery put together in such little space. The Rocky Mountain National Park is not small, don’t get me wrong, (I could express this better in German), but somehow it manages to present all its varieties along one road, which is (again, West Hartford!) in perfect condition. Traveling along the „Trail Ridge Road“ makes it easy and convenient to access vista points that highlight the most stunning and amazing views. But see for yourself.

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More than three million people visit the park every year. Whatever time they plan to stay here, a week or only a day like us, they get to see high peaks (78 of them exceed 12,000 ft), glaciers, or at least snow covered valleys between the peaks, alpine tundra, lakes left over after the big melt down of the last ice age. And with a bit of luck visitors get to see more wild animals than we did. We only saw some deer, nosy little grey birds (they didn’t introduce themselves, so I can’t tell you their names) and a single squirrel. But rumor has it that there are also bears, bighorn sheep and beavers.

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What you will see in huge numbers, because they can’t run away, are pine trees. They are everywhere along the road and covering the lower boulders, standing close to each other like soldiers and, again like soldiers, all kind of looking alike.

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The vista points and sights were dubbed with quite a bit of fantasy. There is „Farview Curve“, „Bear Lake Road“, „Horseshoe Park“, „Many Parks Curve“ (the parks are mountain meadows), „Never Summer Mountains“ and „Grand Ditch“.

The „Grand Ditch“ is a manmade horizontal scar along the western side of the „Never Summer Mountains“. It was made to divert water from the wetter western side of the Continental Divide to the drier Great Plains in the east.

That reminds me: The Trail Ridge Road crosses the Continental Divide at the „Milner Pass“ (elev. 10,759 ft / 3279 m). So we were now, like all water flowing down from here, actually on our way towards the Pacific Ocean!

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Milner Pass was named after the surveyor of a never-built railway route through the Rockies.

Places like this always make me aware of how important we and our so called civilization really are; not at all, I must say! The oldest peaks were already there when they simply protruded as little islands above a shallow sea approx. 135 million years ago. Dinosaurs were reigning the planet at that time… One can only try to imagine what erosion, the grinding forces of glaciers and wind, water and weather contributed to form this extraordinary landscape. And even if the scarce tundra plants need decades to recover if clumsy or empty-headed tourists step on them, they will definitely outlive us. Some people find the idea that all of this will still be here after mankind finally succeeded to extinct itself frightening. I don’t, I am even able to find some comfort in that perception…

We left the park at the western end of the Trail Ridge Road and reached the „Grand Lake“, which speaks for itself.

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After having lunch on the deck of the above shown boat-restaurant-general store-thing, we decided to end the day in Cheyenne, Wyoming. But to get there, we had to… Yep, you guessed it! Winding roads (which grew straighter as the landscape grew flatter) and blue skies with beautiful clouds.

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I actually didn’t expect too much from Wyoming, but I was proven wrong. The landscape changed into what I would call Cowboy Country.

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Cheyenne, Wyoming welcomed us with a stunning sunset. There are probably more things to say about Cheyenne, but we didn’t make it into the city. We were exhausted and not ready for any kind of sight seeing or nightlife any more.

Wyoming, the „Equality State“ showed itself from its pretty side again the next day. And as some times before I found that I prefer landscapes like this to the narrowness of mountains. I like to be able to see on Friday who is coming for dinner on Saturday 😉 And with a little imagination I can even see Cowboys driving huge herds of cattle on the horizon.

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And in Cowboy Country there has to be a Fort, right?

Seeing a sign at the side of the road (always look out for brown road signs, they point out scenic places!), we decided to leave the Interstate and take a detour to Fort Laramie.

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It says „Mormon“, not „Hormon“!

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This is the so called „Fort Frog“. If you lick its skin, you will see colors. You can also say „Fort Frog“ 25 times to reach the same state of mind…

The landscape changed and totally put a spell on me. I must admit, I fell in love with Wyoming…

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I can understand, if my compulsive cloud obsession is not everybody’s piece of cake. But this is MY blog. So either live with it, talk to your shrink, or simply scroll further down!

Shoshoni, Wyoming. On our way and not really pretty, but it was necessary to take some pictures for Claudia: Schau, Claudia, so wohnen die Schoschonen!

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The last, let’s say 200 miles to Cody brought a change in the scenery again, but still some amazing clouds 😉

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And believe it or not, there were other people with us on the road!

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This train seemed to have no end, but in the end I saw the end.

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At last we arrived in Cody, hoping for a speedily served dinner and a good night’s sleep. Didn’t work out… A rodeo was coming up that weekend and Cody was pretty much booked out to the last park bench. After pounding the streets for an hour we had to take a suite in a fancy hotel with a menagerie of stuffed animals in the lobby. We got the impression that we paid at least for the polar bear and one or two wolves together with the rooms… However, we slept well and were fit enough the next day to tackle Yellowstone. Read more about that in the next article.

Rocky Mountains II – North America’s Backbone – From Durango to Boulder, Colorado

September 25th, 2010 Posted in Allgemein

 

Driving from Durango to Silverton means driving winding highway US 550 between tree covered mountainsides crossing the San Juan Mountains.

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This turn is a dream for Miata drivers and bikers… Augustin started to drool!

The highway is the so called Million Dollar Highway, which was dubbed for the extensive cost of its completion. I reckon, a million is not enough to keep it maintained nowadays, not even close. But this is the right time to mention that the roads in most places we saw on our trip were in better condition than the ones in posh Connecticut. I often heard "the hard winters with all the ice and snow ruin the streets" in West Hartford. Well, listen all you heads of highway departments of Connecticut and you, whoever you are, who is responsible for Farmington Avenue, we were in the middle of the Rockies at elevations around 9000 feet and found GREAT road conditions!!! Don’t dare to tell me about harsh winter weather ever again!

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Talking about harsh conditions… There is a historic train connecting the two cities, the “Durango and Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad”, and one can’t even begin to imagine, how excruciating the placing of the tracks must have been for the workers. Well at least they had a great view…

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Silverton is a former silver mining camp, most or all of which is now included in a federally designated National Historic Landmark District. The town population was 531 in 2000, and without really counting, I guess the day we were there saw about the same number of tourists. A local is quoted to have said:" Silverton: A gritty little mining town with Victorian pretensions!" After Silverton was opened legally to miners in 1874 the silver and the railroad brought about 2000 men into the region. Many of them didn’t work as miners. Miners needed laundry to be done, booze, food, tools, etc. So approx. 100 "sturdy souls" inhabited the city taking care of the post office, working as black smiths, doctor, bankers, newspaper editors and so on.

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As early as 1874, men were bringing their wives and families to live in Silverton. This influx of families provided an incentive for citizens to keep at least part of Silverton respectable. From the very beginning an imaginary line ran down Greene Street dividing the town between the law-abiding, church-going residents and the gamblers, prostitutes, variety theatres, dance halls and saloons.

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A lot prettier than Durango (I don’t care, if this is fair!), lively, mostly original and just friendly and inviting. Silverton welcomed us with the charms one expects from an old gold digger (in this case silver digger) town. It certainly makes its living mostly by tourism, but it doesn’t seem to be spoiled by that. People were extremely nice without all the ass kissing of other tourist cities (excuse my French!).

Passing the Red Mountain on our way to Ouray, the Idarado Mine, an old gold mine caught our eye. The tunnels of the Idarado extend some 5 miles west under 13,000 foot mountains to the Pandora Mill near Telluride, a trip of more than 60 miles by highway.

The site is currently a hazardous waste clean up site. Well, every time faces its own challenges… Once it was gold, now it is garbage.

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Again "Perle", our brave horse, carried us up between huge rocks…

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… and we arrived in Ouray, also called "Switzerland of America". Pretty obvious why.

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From Ouray it isn’t far to The Black Canyon of the Gunnison which mostly consists of dark gray stone rising more than 2700 feet above the swift and turbulent Gunnison River. In some places it is deeper than wide. Standing on the rim of this gneiss and schist formation one looks on two million years of patient work of the river.

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Neither Native Americans nor white explorers risked to conquer the canyon for whatever reason. Only in 1900 five men went down to the river to find a way to make the water of the Gunnison available for the draughty surrounding Uncompahgre Valley. As mentioned earlier greed can be a driving force for dangerous ventures. But in this case, hunger was the motivation. The five men came back with little more than their bare lives. The very next year two men went back down to fulfill the enterprise. This time they didn’t use wooden boats to combat the wild waters of the Gunnison. They entrusted their lives to rubber air mattresses. And they were successful. A 6-mile-long tunnel through rock, clay and sand was drilled and finished in 1913.

Nowadays the Gunnison River is further tamed by three dams upstream and kayaking is possible. We were more than happy to work on our vertigo by staring down and listen to the sound of the rapids…

We wanted to reach Boulder that night and took one of the scenic routes to the East, which was a lot longer than the "normal" route, but also much prettier.

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In the middle of a valley along the Gunnison River near Cimarron an original hot dog stand from Coney Island surprised us with actually good hot dogs and Polish sausages.

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Boulder, at last!

Boulder has a reputation of being liberal and even rebellious. Inhabitants might state that they live in "The People’s Republic of Boulder". The high percentage of students in Boulder may contribute to this fact.

Some of you, old enough to remember, might know Boulder from the TV series "Mork and Mindy" ("Mork vom Ork" in Germany. Nanonano!).

One of the places to be is the Pearl Street Mall, a pedestrian area a few blocks long, loaded with shops, bars and coffee shops. And I can actually imagine that it can be full of live, if it does NOT rain cats and dogs… We picked one of the 65 days per year without sunshine.

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Yeah, right, American bread… a real Wonder as we know 😉

We dried up, had wonderful steaks and were rewarded for not complaining with a great sunset when we looked west towards the Flatiron Rocks.

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We were very tired that day, and so I am today. Next part of the Rockies-series tomorrow, dears!

Rocky Mountains – North America’s Backbone – Mesa Verde, Colorado

September 24th, 2010 Posted in The Mother of all Trips

The states we collected on our tour through the Rocky Mountains are:

Colorado, number 30 and called “Colorful Colorado”

Wyoming, number 31, the so called “Equality State”

Montana, our number 32 and the “Big Sky Country” (chances are, you will see some pictures of clouds!)

Idaho, Augustin’s number 33 (I slept through it, so Augustin doesn’t allow it to be in my count), the “Gem State”

The Rocky Mountains are called “The Backbone”. Well, from a physiological point of view this is weird. If my backbone were where this backbone is, I’d be really in trouble. But historically seen it all starts to make sense. Before Europeans started to explore and later on exploit the region (that is before the late 18th century) Native American tribes inhabited the area. Nez Percé, Lakota, Crows, Ute and Shoshones lived in and with the mountains and the Great Plains.

First French Trappers and Spaniards came into the Rocky Mountains. Later on Meriwether Lewis and William Clark gained immortality after the Louisiana Purchase had taken place in 1803. Not only Louisiana, or parts of it, was purchased in what was the biggest real estate business of all times, but also areas up to the North reaching as far as today’s Canada. I added a map for you to make clear what you could buy for 50 million Dollars at that time (today worth approx. 250 million Dollars, which would still be a bargain…).

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Somebody had to find out, what was there to find up in those mountains. And these somebodies were Lewis and Clark. They put together an expedition crew and set out to explore what exactly the US got for their money.

Well, for most of the Native Americans this meant the end to their peaceful lifestyle. We all know that Lewis and Clark were successful. And soon settlers followed their paths on their search for a better life. Generally this put an end to a lot of traditional life in the Rocky Mountains. Millions of acres of trees, thousands of Native Americans, almost all buffalos etc. had to make way during the colonization of the newly bought regions. Greed is an incredibly effective motor!

Within less than 100 years miners and white farmers took over the power in the Rocky Mountain states. Native Americans were displaced (not peacefully as we all know) into smaller and smaller reservations. The country and its resources were exploited. Only when tourism gained higher importance after WW II the unrestrained exploitation came to a halt. And now we are able to travel through those parts of the US and get the gist of how humbling nature is, how capable mankind is to destroy what is feeding it and maybe we will come to the conclusion that nature, in the end, will survive us anyway.

One who definitely preferred nature to the company of people and understood the importance of the treasure given to the US by nature was Henry David Thoreau, who decided to live in the woods for two years, which he described in his book „Walden“ (1854). Ok, he was also abolitionist, tax resister and development critic. But there is no doubt that he started something with his retraction from civilization that lingers on today. Words like environment and ecology gained meaning by his descriptions. 19th century landscapists followed in his footsteps, and with their paintings they contributed to a wider spread understanding about nature and its need for protection. John Muir, a Scottish-born American naturalist, author, and early advocate of preservation of wilderness in the United States was the founder of the Sierra Club (1892), which still exists today and is one of the most active groups working for nature’s protection (www.sierraclub.org) in the US.

Nowadays the National Parks, National Forests and historical monuments like Yosemite, Zion, the Grand Canyon and so many more are preferred tourism goals for Americans and travelers from all over the world. I still don’t get why a lot of them obviously still feel the need to leave their traces in form of empty beer cans, carvings on trees or cigarette butts behind, but all in all nature is a well protected and beloved treasure (at least in National Parks… ) in the US. The landscapes are breathtaking and humbling and deserve to be left as they are.

Now you had enough to read. Look at the pictures! One of the National Parks in the Rocky Mountains coming from the South is Mesa Verde. It starts out pretty dry and harmless, but wow, if you reach the peaks after an adventurous climb up those winding roads…!

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Green hills, cows and farms. Well, déjà vu, I would say. But what a kid of the Alps like I am never saw before are those little towns that look like right out of a John Wayne movie. Oh, by the way, we are in Colorado, or “Colorful Colorado”, as it is also called. It is the 30th state we visited by now.

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And up we climb, passing more cows and more farms,

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Rocks and cliffs

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And we reach a place where all reasonable road construction would normally end…

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But, they did it anyway.

Mesa Verde National Park is a bit eldritch and definitely mysterious. An ancient people called the Anasazi lived here and left their unearthly amazing buildings behind. But first have a look at some of the ancient findings (not all of them are originals…)

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The Navajo Canyon allows visitors to get a glimpse on the lives of ancient tribes in their pueblos. The ground of the canyon was fertile enough to grow corn (called mais as in German!) and other fruit. There was enough water and deer to hunt to enable a whole new culture to develop. And only well fed people are able to accomplish something like this! The Anasazi, or more correctly ancient Puebloans, lived here from approx. 550 to 1300 A.D. They lived on the top of the canyon and in the alcoves on the ground. They managed to build cliff dwellings as high as four stories and up to 150 rooms big.

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Why the ancient Puebloans disappeared is not completely clear. Scientists guess, they were overtaken by the same fait as other highly developed people. Their population grew up to approx. 5000 individuals. And so the soil, once so fertile, depleted, years of drought and lack of food might have made them leave those amazing homes.

In 1888 two cowboys searching for straying cattle in a snowstorm stopped on the edge of the canyon. Through the snowflakes they saw what they later called „Cliff Palace“. Climbing down on a makeshift ladder they forgot about the lost cattle and were astonished by the sophistication of the buildings on the ground of the canyon. Willa Cather wrote about this scene:“It was more like sculpture than anything else…preserved…like a fly in amber.“ And that is what one feels nowadays when stopping at one of the roadside outlooks and looking down at those witnesses of a long gone culture. It rather feels like a huge piece of art than like an actual dwelling once inhabited by people.

The Mesa Verde earned its name as you can see. From above it looks like a huge green table cloth spread negligently over a huge table. Peacefully empty, the occasional hikers, some cars climbing up and down the roads and an incredibly blue and wide sky above.

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Our next stop was Durango. It is said to be the most charming gold digger city of the region. Well, this still has to be decided. What it has is an amazing restaurant serving Asian-American fusion cuisine called „East by Southwest“. And a big car is named after Durango… Other than that the city was a bit too silent and boring. But that can’t be absolutely false, if you only want to spend the night.

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More about gold diggers and miners in the second part about the Rockies!

New Mexico – Land of Enchantment Part II

September 17th, 2010 Posted in The Mother of all Trips

I still owe you an explanation for New Mexico’s nick name “Land of Enchantment”. Just the fact that Billy the Kid was born here fills the country with legend. But also UFO landings that were first evidenced and then hidden and denied, atom bombs built and tested here and roadrunners that drive black cats crazy show to which extend New Mexico obviously fires people’s imagination, good as well as bad.

My imagination ran wild here. I was immediately captured by the wild and untamed beauty of the landscape. Turns out, I am a desert and sandstone formation type. Still no clue, what I am talking about? Well, first of all, look at the following pictures. Did you ever see the clouds as near to the ground? It feels like you just have to stretch your arms out a little to grab them.

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Alright, I also wouldn’t know what to do with a cloud in my hand, but still, it is enchanting to witness this sky looking like freshly cleaned with Windex, and it is for free!

Did I mention that the Very Large Array is situated in New Mexico, searching for extraterrestrial intelligence? (well, maybe they should direct their antennae to the earth once in a while) I am sure that there is a scientific reason to plant it here, but I also love the idea that ETs would choose New Mexico for their landing on earth…

The second reason for me to immediately fall in love with New Mexico is its diversity. After driving a completely straight road through desert like nothingness all of a sudden a bridge leads you over a breathtanking and vertigo causing deep gauge. 

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You can drive a hundred miles without seeing a living being. And around the next bend you suddenly see these buildings, which are so called Earthships. They are completely constructed from recycled material and produce all necessary energy themselves.

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As soon as you start to believe that there is absolutely nobody living in a perimeter of at least 500 miles, a bunch of mail boxes next to the road indicate that even here somebody receives junk mail, BedBath&Beyond coupons and invoices…

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Leaving the south and driving into the mountains (to reach Las Vegas, NM in our case) brings about a complete new landscape. But first I need to bore you with some more cloud pictures. Aren’t those clouds just heavenly? And aren’t they supposed to? 😉

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I mentioned mountains, right? Here they are… They lead up to a city called Las Vegas. But don’t be mistaken by the name, it was Sunday, and Las Vegas, NM behaves nothing like Las Vegas, NV. It was a total ghost town that day. And the only thing we could spend any money on was a donation of a few bucks to one of the homeless gathering in the park.

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Las Vegas, NM

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Well, I would definitely give Las Vegas a second chance on a weekday… It is beautiful, no doubt about it. But somehow this city seems to like to be left alone. Understandable with all the tourism in Santa Fe and Taos, but still, a little more life would be doing it no harm.

On our way back down to Santa Fe I ultimately found my place in New Mexico. As Georgia O’Keeffe in 1934 we stumbled over Ghost Ranch near Abiquiu and its surrounding cliffs. Well, Ms O’Keeffe was inspired to some of her most amazing paintings. I was only inspired enough to let the camera click until it started to go up in smoke, but this is only due to my personal lack of creativity, not of enchantment!

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At least we have one thing in common…

More of Georgia O’Keeffe’s work can be seen in the Georgia O’Keefe Museum in Santa Fe: http://www.okeeffemuseum.org/

One more painting of Georgia O’Keeffe has to be mentioned here, even if it has nothing to do with New Mexico…

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This tree hangs in the Wadsworth Atheneum in Hartford(http://www.wadsworthatheneum.org/). It was first hanged the wrong way…

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…and didn’t make a lot of sense. But somebody recognized it and the mistake was corrected.

Back to the land of enchantment. And although the dry air gave us both nose bleeds this is definitely my favorite place so far. I totally understand why Georgia O’Keeffe tried for years to make the Catholic Church sell her the Ghost Ranch. Well, she was successful in the end. I won’t be…

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Back in our enchanted hotel we had an enchanted dinner and some enchanted drinks listening to enchanting flute and guitar music until we couldn’t take any more enchantment. The enchantment overdose of the last few days let us sleep like babies and dream of aliens, clouds, black elephants and, to include Augustin’s dreams: beer.

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This was our tour through New Mexico. Let’s see what we found in the Rocky Mountains. Good night for now!

New Mexico – Land of Enchantment

September 11th, 2010 Posted in The Mother of all Trips

New Mexico is number 29 in our collection of States. And after mostly driving for three days… (tired of those road pics? Yeah! Me too!)

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…we were exhausted enough to decide to stay a wee bit longer than in the last seven… And, oh boy, what a great decision!

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Our first stop in New Mexico was Roswell. Yep! Just where those aliens landed. Being aliens too, we considered this the perfect place to land.

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But before we could actually start adopting those cute little green alien babies, we had to take care of our loyal German horse named Perle. She needed a little inside makeover…

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No, that’s not the horse.

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There she is, and a handful of very friendly guys took good care of all her fluids. A little side note for my European readers: in the US you better have an oil change made after 3000miles, believe it or not.

The next day started with the visit of the UFO museum. Or, to be exact, the day started with parking Perle in the middle of a big skunk stink… Pretty little critters, but stinking like right out of hell.

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The UFO museum tries to explain what exactly happened in Roswell. You can read more about the whole story on www.roswellufomuseum.com. So much for now:

“W.W. „Mack“ Brazel, a New Mexico rancher, saddled up his horse and rode out with the son of neighbors Floyd and Loretta Proctor, to check on the sheep after a fierce thunderstorm the night before. As they rode along, Brazel began to notice unusual pieces of what seemed to be metal debris, scattered over a large area. Upon further inspection, Brazel saw that a shallow trench, several hundred feet long, had been gouged into the land.
Brazel was struck by the unusual properties of the debris, and after dragging a large piece of it to a shed, he took some of it over to show the Proctors in 1947.  Mrs. Proctor moved from the ranch into a home nearer to town, but she remembers Mack showing up with strange material.
The Proctors told Brazel that he might be holding wreckage from a UFO or a government project, and that he should report the incident to the sheriff. A day or two later, Mack drove into Roswell where he reported the incident to Sheriff George Wilcox, who reported it to Intelligence Officer, Major Jesse Marcel of the 509 Bomb Group, and for days thereafter, the debris site was closed while the wreckage was cleared.

On July 8, 1947, a press release stating that the wreckage of a crashed disk had been recovered was issued by Lt. Walter G. Haut, Public Information Officer at RAAB under order from the Commander of the 509th Bomb Group at Roswell, Col. William Blanchard.
Hours later the first press release was rescinded and the second press release stated that the 509th Bomb Group had mistakenly identified a weather balloon as wreckage of a flying saucer was issued July 9, 1947.” (from: www.roswellufomuseum.com/incident.htm)

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This is Mack.

The rest of the museum is about the “cover up” by the government, about UFO sightings all over the world, and there are quite a bit of stories about people, who presumably were abducted and examined by aliens.

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I guess I will start to believe in all those stories as soon as one of these guys walks up to me saying “we come in peace!”

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Altogether Roswell is not the most beautiful city in the world, but it is definitely fascinating how the whole city advertises with an incident that never happened… 😉 Live long and prosperous, Roswell!

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We were on the road again, and guess what, there are more road pictures!

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Torture, hah? I know. I sat through it. But no sweat, better things are about to come!

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Lunch only a few miles away from…

Santa Fe!!! The oldest capital in the United States. And we made a bargain on the hotel again, a beautiful Adobe building, Native American owned and with great service! http://www.hotelsantafe.com

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The shuttle took us to the city.

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Nice color, hm?

To describe how different and outstanding Santa Fe is compared to a lot of other cities let me quote the program of the Santa Fe Festival of 1928:

“This year we are making a studied conscious effort not to be studied or conscious. Santa Fe is now one of the most interesting art centers in the world and you, O Dude of the East, are privileged to behold the most sophisticated group in the country gamboling freely…

And Santa Fe, making you welcome, will enjoy itself hugely watching the Dude as he gazes. Be sure as you stroll along looking for the quaint and picturesque that you are supplying your share of those very qualities to Santa Fe, the City Incongruous… Be yourself, even if it includes synthetic cowboy clothes, motor goggles and a camera.”

So the „Dudes of the East“ strolled along…

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…found a lot of shops selling turquoise and silver jewelry, seized some booty, saw a lot of more or less synthetic cowboy clothes…

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…took pictures with their camera…

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…and became thirsty…

Dinner and drinks at the hotel, where Lawrence, our charming bar keeper, makes the best cappuccinos in New Mexico. Oh, the tipi was quickly renamed tip-tipi. Not funny? Believe me, after a few of Lawrence’s drinks it IS funny.

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The next day we wanted to see a real pueblo. There are several pueblos around Santa Fe. One of them is near Taos, which we also wanted to visit. Ha! What a coincidence!

So we drove…

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…through a slightly more diversified landscape than we were used to in Southern New Mexico…

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…which made the driver happy…

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…over hills and through valleys…

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…to Taos (more about Las Vegas, NM later).

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Taos is, like Santa Fe, a city with a high concentration of artists and artists-to-be. You see a lot of women, who apparently decided to escape their suburban households and lead a different lifestyle at one point in their lives. They got rid of their husbands, make up, hair color and business suits and started to pursue a more artsy and free life. So much to my personal prejudice…

Taos is named after the Native American tribe, who still lives in the near pueblos. It was established in 1615 by Spanish settlers, who first were on amicable terms with the Indians of the pueblo. But the peace only held until missionaries got involved (totally new!). This led to a revolt in 1640, in which the Native Americans obviously killed some Spanish settlers and a priest and fled their village. They did not return until 1661.

Well, this was not the last revolt, or let me put it that way: this was not the last time the Taos people had to defend themselves against the Reconquista. Read more about it on http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Taos,_New_Mexico

However, Taos is a pretty little jewel at the foot of the Sangre Cristo Mountains. Nowadays it mostly makes a living by tourism. It is a good example for the Adobe architecture, as you will see again in the pictures of the Taos pueblo.

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Taos Pueblo is an ancient village belonging to a Native American tribe of the Pueblo people speaking the language Taos. People say, the pueblo is about 1000 years old and was founded by the ancient Anasazi, who moved there after escaping a drought in their old areas. The Red Willow Creek, a small river, flows through the middle of the pueblo from its source in the Sangre de Cristo Range.

Taos Pueblo is a member of the Eight Northern Pueblos. The Taos community is known for being one of the most secretive and conservative pueblos.

Taos Pueblo’s most prominent architectural feature is a multi-storied residential complex of reddish-brown Adobe. The doors are a concession to modern times. Originally the buildings were only accessible through holes in the roofs. As soon as the pueblo was threatened by any enemy, the ladders were lifted and a certain safety was granted.

About 150 people (and about the same number of dogs) still live in the pueblo and sell handcrafted goods and cold drinks to tourists.

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Near Taos and the Taos pueblo a bridge crosses the Rio Grande Gorge. Not the right thing for people who suffer from vertigo…

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Dears, I am tired, it is 2.30 am and I can’t think anymore. I will try to continue tomorrow. There is so much more to see and say about New Mexico. And I want to be at least a bit inspired for the Land of Enchantment…

Good night for now!

7 States in 3 Days

September 8th, 2010 Posted in The Mother of all Trips

To keep up with the schedule, we had to decide, which of the States we would just drive through, more or less without looking to our left or our right. Well, we certainly DID look, but mostly out of the windows of our car… I won’t be able to elaborate a lot about what we saw, because this was literally the “Drive Thru Portion” of the trip.

Georgia: already counted with Savannah and Atlanta, but we had to cross quite a bit of it today, after we left Atlanta…

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Alabama, “Heart of Dixie” and our number 23

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On our hunt for food in the middle of nowhere we read about the “Natural Bridge”. Before we started we promised to be flexible and explore things along the way, even if we didn’t plan it before… Promise hereby kept.

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And then there was the food, yak, in one of those diners.

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And back on the road…

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Mississippi, the “Magnolia State” and number 24 on our list.

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Tennessee, “Volunteer State” and also our number 25

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Arkansas, the “Natural State” and our #26. I like states that are entered over bridges, reminds me of home…

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Oklahoma, the “Sooner State” and # 27

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Inevitable: a BBQ place

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Whenever I am driving, it is going to rain, and/or we are stuck in traffic…

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Passing Oklahoma City

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Clinton, proudly presenting a Route 66 Museum, threatening with hitchcockian scenes and a power outage during a roaring thunderstorm…

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The Route 66 Museum

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And back to work: driving

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Texas, the “Lone Star State” and our number 28

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Amarillo, TX: The Cadillac Ranch

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And on we go!

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and on…

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and on…

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and on…

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and on…

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…to the border of New Mexico. And that was the end of three days of flat buttocks…

New Mexico is going to be more interesting, I promise!!!

How Y’all doin’? Part II

September 8th, 2010 Posted in The Mother of all Trips

Savannah is situated on the Savannah River, about 18 miles off the coast. The river is part of the city and you will be crossing a beautiful bridge, entering Savannah. There is also a lot of traffic on the river. We actually suspected that our container could be on one of those vessels…

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Like Charleston before, Savannah is characterized by tradition, historic mansions and colonial buildings. But there is a slight difference between those two cities, one can actually rather feel than see. Let me try to put it into words. Savannah is said to be Charleston’s dirty little sister. Being one myself, I instantly preferred Savannah to Charleston. Not only the fact that the river plays a more important role in everyday life than in Charleston. I also got the feeling that Savannah is not trying to hide its, well, not so beautiful sides. In Charleston I got the impression that only the bold and the beautiful were out in the streets and in the restaurants and bars. In Savannah I immediately felt that this is an absolutely normal city with totally normal neighborhoods and the matching average inhabitants. Only the architecture is more beautiful than in your average American city… See for yourself.

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A specialty of town planning in Savannah are the 22 park like places. They were created for two reasons: First of all every neighborhood consisting of one or two blocks took pride in having their own church. And these churches obviously demanded a little park. The second reason for this string of pearls of originally 26 parks was that a lot of the houses didn’t have their own kitchens. And if they had a kitchen, it often was much too hot to cook at home. So people gathered in the parks and prepared their food outside and in groups. Maybe this makes Savannah the birthplace of BBQs?

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Speaking of family dinners: Some of the family tombs in this graveyard were designed like tables, because on Sundays or holidays it was common practice to visit the long gone family members and have a picnic with them. See how different Savannah obviously always was?

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This my dears is the corner at which they put the bench, on which Forrest Gump sat waiting for the bus that would carry him to Jenny. Yep, you are right, there is no bench. Well, wouldn’t make any sense anyway, because there is no bus either…

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Where Charleston tells you stories about its great but past times of the rich planter families, spoiled young ladies sipping lemonade on the porches and demanding a replica of the arc de triomphe on top of the mansion, their father would give them as a marriage gift, Savannah has less glamour to present, but manages to captivate with its little details. Here are some of them:

Sailors told Savannah’s citizens that dolphins accompanying their ships meant luck. So it didn’t take long until house owners adapted this superstition to decorate their buildings.

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Savannah’s vicinity to the Savannah River and therefore to the ocean always made the city an important military base. Soldiers had horses, and horses had to have a place to live, so the reasonable thing to do is to build stables. But that was not enough for Savannah, the stables had to have Arabic decor!

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Red doors are pretty common in Savannah. They are said to keep off bad ghosts. I once read that the devil can’t walk through red doors. Seems to be a pretty international thing.

The paint for the blue shutters contained Indigo, which is said to keep off mosquitos.

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Here are some more impressions, just because I like them.

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This was our tour through Savannah, and my thanks go to Batman, our well tempered carriage horse!

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The next day we went to Atlanta, GA. Atlanta has only a few things that make it worth visiting. One “thing” is definitely Dunia and her family. No photos thereof, sorry guys, but some things are just private. But for those who know Dunia: she is fine, looks gorgeous, the house is beautiful, no more than beautiful, the kids are happy and so seems Rainer.

Leaving Atlanta meant that the really stressful part of our trip started. Stay tuned for “7 States in 3 Days”!

How Y’all doin’?

September 7th, 2010 Posted in The Mother of all Trips

North Carolina, the “Tar Heel State” was our #20. There would have been two routes worth seeing, if there had been more time. One is the Blue Ridge Parkway, the other leads along the East coast.

The Blue Ridge Parkway leads from Virginia to North Carolina, 262 miles are in North Carolina. It was one of Franklin D. Roosevelt’s projects of the “New Deal” to get people into work during the depression. It is known as one of the most beautiful tourist roads in the US and especially in spring and fall, when either everything is in bloom or the foliage starts to show its vibrant colors, this stretch of road must be amazing. The more I read about it, the more I regret not taking the time for cruising along Grandfather Mountain, through 26 tunnels and to the city of Asheville with its 1920s charm. To learn more about the history of the Parkway, go to http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Blue_Ridge_Parkway or read “Velva Jean learns to drive” by Jennifer Niven, a fiction novel that takes you back to the times of moonshining and the hard life of poor families in rural areas at that time. The book tells the story of a girl growing up before WW II in rural North Carolina. Her only way out of the never ending circle of a childhood filled with hard work and disappointments, unhappy marriage and death in childbed is to learn to drive and take the newly built Blue Ridge Parkway to fulfill her dream of independence and go down south to Nashville to sing at the Grand Ole Opry. So much for today’s literature advice 😉

The coast of North Carolina has also some jewels to present. The Outer Banks are a loose chain of low sand dunes, which form a bow of about 200 miles along the coast. Tourism is big there, certainly. But also the town Kitty Hawk on Bodie Island made the Outer Banks famous, because the brothers Wright started their first attempts to fly out there.

Well, we had to skip both and got bored on the Interstate, but the day’s plan was to reach Charleston, so we put on the cruise control and reached…

South Carolina, Palmetto State, number 21 of States on our bill.

After having tasted the Southern hospitality in Charlottesville, our next stop was Charleston. Arriving late in a really beautiful hotel, there wasn’t much more for us to do than jump into the bathtub warm pool. We were exhausted and left the exploration of the Southern beauty to the next day.

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And a real beauty she is, this city of Charleston! The hotel shuttle (I can only stress the point that hotwire.com makes some seriously good deals!!!) took us to the waterfront. From there you can not only see the sweet grass, people make gorgeous baskets of, but also Fort Sumter, from which the first shot of the civil war was fired. The people of the South called the civil war the “great unpleasantness“, by the way…

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A short walk brought us to Market Street, where a historic market hall houses dozens of stands, where all kinds of tourist junk is sold. The typical merchandise is the pretty hand-woven baskets made of sweet grass, but they are also pretty expensive.

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Visiting Charleston certainly means going back in time and seeing the Antebellum villas. But with temperatures in the high nineties and humidity like in a pool, you don’t walk! You take the horse carriage!

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And the speed of the hoses allows you to see things a little closer.

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Slightly North Of Broad (Street)!

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The porches, oh sorry, piazzas!, were the only room of the houses, where a lady could lift her skirts a little to cool off. You may notice the doors at the side of the piazza. They actually were the front door to the house, because during the hot months all social life during the day was happening on the piazza.

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The pineapple was a sign of hospitality in Barbados. Wherever a pineapple was, you were welcome. This custom was imported by the mostly British colonists, who left Barbados to come to America. Still the pineapple, even made from stone now, should represent a welcome to visitors. Well, we didn’t put this rule to the test…

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If you ever wondered, how Macbeth’s first name was: here it is. And he was from Charleston. Now, that was new…

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The gas lanterns are on 24/7, because nobody remembers anymore, where the gas pipes are.

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This is the place where young ladies of the Charleston society were having their debutante balls. One staircase for each gender…

Ladies of the modern times are no longer concerned about showing their ankles, but where to buy the next drink can be a real challenge.

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There are so many more things to see in Charleston. You should visit yourself to get an idea. What I liked best were the gardens and the trees. I reckon, if you put a broom stick into the ground, it starts to bloom the very next day…

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The wrought iron reminds me of New Orleans. The Rainbow Row shows some nice examples.

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After having Sushi and some more drinks, we went back to the hotel to get a good night’s sleep. We needed all our power for Magnolia Plantation and Savannah.

Magnolia http://www.magnoliaplantation.com/ is one of the three big plantations near Charleston. Drayton Hall, Magnolia Plantation and Middleton Place are all situated along the Ashley River. To visit all of them would have been nice, but we had to choose one.

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The owner of Magnolia, Rev. John G. Drayton, had tuberculosis and his doctor recommended doing some gardening to regain strength. John Drayton did and created what is called a romantic garden, including a maze. Well, it is actually a park.

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If one thinks of plantations in the South, cotton is the first produce that comes to mind. But actually most plantations started with producing rice. The vicinity to the Ashley River helped with that. Whenever the rice fields had to be flooded a slave boy opened a sluice. He also had to taste the water regularly, because the Ashley River could get pretty salty. As soon as he tasted salt, the boy had to close the sluice again. Probably not the worst job on the plantation.

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The rice and cotton times are long gone. Now the former fields are flooded and a home to a variety of animals.

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The whole area is a paradise for all kinds of critters.

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Dragonflies and water birds,…

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…but also for water bird loving alligators:

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Sorry, they digest and sleep during the day… They safe their energy for the hunt at night.

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And to do so, they have to warm up in the sun. To make them stay away from the gardens and the visitors (yeah, really!), they have these wooden ramps. Well, the fact that they don’t use them made me slightly nervous.

The house, which is not the original anymore and surprisingly small, can be visited. Again, no photography inside.

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After the house tour we took off and drove on to Savannah. This means, we left South Carolina and entered Georgia, the “Peach State” and our number 22.

From Front Royal over the Skylinedrive to Charlottesville – What a Ride!

September 2nd, 2010 Posted in The Mother of all Trips

Virginia, or the „Mother of Presidents“, is #19 on our list of visited states. Although we already touched it when we saw Arlington Cemetery, we actually never set foot on Virginian ground until today.

“Oh Shenandoah, I long to hear you, away, you rolling river…”

The Shenandoah River winds through a fertile valley between the Blue Ridge Mountains and the Allegheny Mountains. The valley was of strategic importance during the Civil War, because the Confederate troops got their supplies delivered through it.

A handful of people recommended the Skyline Drive and the Shenandoah National Park as worth seeing. Especially Brenda R.’s friend took the time to elaborate about it in order to make our mouths water to see it. Also the Blue Ridge Parkway was described to us as a picturesque alternative to cross Virginia avoiding the Interstate highways. So we stayed in Front Royal for the night and started from there along the Skyline Drive.

Front Royal was once a crude station for rough and wild mountaineers and river travelers in the area who came into town looking for alcohol and women during the 18th century. Nowadays it is a small and sleepy town with some pretty shops (not open anymore when we arrived, and not yet open when we left), some of the usual hotels and motels and an exquisitely unfriendly USPS staff. But most importantly Front Royal is now the northern entry to the Skyline Drive and advertises the Skyline Caverns, which present mineral formations with white tops looking like sea urchins. We kind of forgot to visit them, so please google the Skyline Caverns.

The Skyline Drive is only 105 miles long, but with a speed limit of 35mph it takes a whole day to pass it. And for outdoorsy people, who actually park there car not only to step out and take a few pictures, but to hike through the woods, explore water falls, etc. a stay here can easily take two or three days.

And these are some of the pictures we took from some of the outlooks (half of them are closed for repair right now):

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For those of you who like to hike and explore National Parks, there is a lot more to see. For people like us, who first of all don’t hike and second of all crossed the Alps a few dozen times, the Skyline Drive actually held no big surprises. It was beautiful and wonderfully calm, but we decided to skip the over 400 miles of the Blue Ridge Parkway, because we didn’t expect more than what we already saw. Probably this was a bad decision and we will regret it some day, but we actually don’t think so.

We rather followed another recommendation and proceeded to the beautiful and charming city of Charlottesville. A real jewel with a Mediterranian lifestyle. But see for yourself.

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Charlottesville was our target to be close to Monticello, which we visited the next day. Monticello was the estate of Thomas Jefferson, the principal author of the United States Declaration of Independence, third President of the United States, and founder of the University of Virginia. There we are, another all-rounder in American politics… Jefferson designed the house himself and followed the neoclassical principles of the Italian Renaissance architect Andrea Palladio. Situated on a hill within Jefferson’s estate the name Monticello (little mountain) was almost inevitable.

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Monticello is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. On arrival one is led to a modern visitor’s center including a theater showing a documentary about Thomas Jefferson, a permanent exhibition of things from Jefferson’s household and other memorabilia. Shuttle busses take those up the hill, who can’t or just won’t climb up themselves (guess, if we took the bus…).

We took the guided tour through the house (no photography allowed) and were impressed by the comprehensive knowledge of our guide and his beautiful southern accent.

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After the house tour visitors are free to take a self guided tour of the basement. Here you find stables, the kitchen, wine and beer cellars, the ice house, etc.

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Other tours are offered to visit the gardens, the living quarters of the slaves, etc. For more information visit www.monticello.org.

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Even on a six-weeks trip time is scarce, and we wanted to reach Charlotte that day. So we took off and were on the road again!

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