July 5 + 6: Mmmm…

“Who can take a sunrise
Sprinkle it in dew
Cover it in chocolate
and a miracle or two?

The candyman
The candyman can
The candyman can cause he mixes it with love and makes the world taste good”
~”Candyman Can” — Sammy Davis Jr., or that dude in “Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory”

[LOTS of new pictures up!!]

I felt kind of like Charlie when we pulled into downtown Hershey with it’s Hershey’s Kiss shaped street lamps and street names like “Cocoa” and “Chocolate.” Unfortunately, the Hershey factory wasn’t quite as impressive as Wonka’s and neither Gene Wilder nor Johnny Depp were standing out front. I was a little disappointed, but that didn’t hamper my spirits any.

We got into town late yesterday afternoon and decided to grab a quick dinner at a local diner before riding around the downtown area to get our bearings. I found out later that Hershey actually built the town around his chocolate factory (I had been wondering which came first, the town or the chocolate). It’s a sweet little town (haha, get it?) with a old style downtown area and a nice little park on the right side of the road. It has a community center and a full Broadway-style theater.

Hershey was really adamant about building a wholesome and fun town around his factory. He basically built and planned the town himself and most of his buildings are still there. He set up the churches, some houses and even the schools, one of which he set up for orphan boys — Hershey Industrial School — after he found out that he and his wife couldn’t have kids. It sounds like this guy was pretty cool, and I hope more filthy rich people take his example and really invest a lot into the people in the community. He basically left his life savings and a large portion of the stock from his company to a fund that supports the Hershey Industrial School and some other things in town. I guess you have more perspective and respect for the little people when your candy business fails four or five times like his did.

Anyway, this morning we got up and headed over to the main attractions area of Hershey, just a few blocks from downtown. The main attraction there is Hersheypark, which Hershey set up as a place for his workers to relax and enjoy themselves on days off. What started out as a nice relaxing park has turned into a full-fledged amusement park complete with 11 roller coasters and a $40 entrance fee. We decided to skip that part and instead focus on Hershey’s Chocolate World and the Hershey Museum.

Hershey’s Chocolate World is an awesome little building right beside Hersheypark. Inside it has a free Hershey Factory Tour ride that we went on first. We jumped on a little car that rode us around a simulated factory and told us how the chocolate is made. It wasn’t quite as cool as touring the real factory — which apparently they don’t do anymore — but it had singing cows and free candy at the end. One of the cows was named Gabby (one of Madison’s friends), so we got a good laugh out of that!

They also have an area called the chocolate factory works where you can personalize chocolate. Either you can make the kisses yourself, personalize a bag of candy with whatever you want, or personalize the wrapping of a Hershey Bar or Hershey Kiss. We got to have some fun with that.

There is a trolley ride that rides around the town and gives some of the history of the area and its founder. We figured it would be the best and quickest way to learn, so we got a ticket. We weren’t quite sure what they meant by sing-a-longs, but we figured it couldn’t be too bad.

All of the conductors on the trolley young, over-caffeinated people that took a lot of drama classes in high school. They were over the top and goofy, almost like clowns, but they were still pretty funny. When we got on the trolley we found a song sheet sitting on the bench.

Our main conductor was a cool little girl named Rachel. She was later joined by “Wilbur” the “new guy” on the staff who was just a little bit on the slow side. They played off each other pretty well and were a lot of fun to watch. It was definitely aimed at kids, but I got a lot of enjoyment out of it. Maybe that says something about my sense of humor, but I’m not ashamed. We rode past the factory a few times. Every time we did, they would say “THE WORLD’S LARGEST CHOCOLATE FACTORY!!” and we had to cheer. Good times.

When we were getting ready to ride up to Hershey’s house, “Wilbur” claimed that he forgot his camera and had to go back an get it, so he ran off the bus. Rachel led us through some stuff, showing us the mansion and the grounds around it. Of course, the guy playing Wilbur kept popping up at different points on the bus acting like different characters: Hershey’s parents, a student at the Industrial school and a soldier just getting back from World War II. He was mostly there for comic relief as Rachel expertly led us around the Hershey homestead (where he was born), the Industrial School grounds, and the Hershey Gardens. It’s a beautiful little area, and I wouldn’t mind living in a town like that. Especially because of all the candy!

Every once in a while, one of the characters that got on the bus would pass around candy, which was pretty sweet. Even more often, we would get to sing a song. We were encouraged to sing along, which most people surprisingly did. We sang “A Bicycle Built For Two,” “You are my Sunshine,” and a few others that I’ve forgotten. Wilbur and Rachel showed us all up with their amazing voices and harmonies. I was really impressed with their singing, especially because it was a cappella on a moving trolley.

When we finished the tour, we decided to head over to the Hershey Museum. It wasn’t as much fun as the Chocolate World, but it had some good information in there and interesting little exhibits. They had a lot of places where you could put on factory uniforms and Native American clothing (they had a Native American exhibit because Hershey started a Native American museum in the town), so Madison was our guinea pig. (Check out the pictures)

I think by then we were all chocolated out, so we grabbed some lunch, left Hershey, and made the one-hour drive to Gettysburg in the afternoon. After getting checked in, we got some dinner at the Lincoln Diner and are now back in the rooms to rest up for tomorrow.

We’ll be touring the battlefield and learning all the history tomorrow. Unfortunately we missed the reenactment that they were doing over the past three days. We’ve seen lots of people walking around in Civil War dress and even a few trucks carrying canons.

After we finish touring Gettysburg, we will be heading on to Philadelphia since it’s only a two hour drive. We’ll probably end up spending one or two nights there.

Only two stops left!

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July 3 + 4: Corky’s Old Time Rock ‘N’ Roll Revival…oh yeah, and fireworks

I decided not to post last night since yesterday was spent just traveling from Chicago to a little city just outside of Dayton, Ohio, called Fairborn. It’s right at the Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, where Paw-Paw used to be stationed and where the National Museum of the Air Force is located. We toured the base last night. It was huge and had two golf courses inside it. It was like a mini city. A lot of the base was still the same, especially the area where he mostly worked with the Strategic Air Command, which is located in its own little area at the back of the base.

We got up relatively late this morning (I never thought I would actually consider 9:30 late) and ended up at the Air Force museum at around 10:30. It was pouring down rain all morning. It’s the first rain we’ve seen on the trip outside of the occasional drizzle when we were driving. Luckily the museum is inside and the weather didn’t affect our plans.

The museum is housed in three massive airplane hangars and contains planes all the way from the Wright Brothers to the new B-2 stealth bomber. Most of the first hangar showed the evolution of the plane from the first flights to its use in the two World Wars. It’s amazing how quickly aeronautical technology advance in just those 30 years. From unstable wooden contraptions to single-propeller fighters that can reach 40,000 feet. The highlight of that exhibit was the Bockscar, the bomber that dropped the second atomic bomb on Japan. Paw-Paw was in the unit that worked with this plane and the Enola Gay, but he joined it after World War II.

Between first two hangars, they had a small exhibit on the Holocaust, consisting mostly of artifacts and stories from locals who were involved. It took us about three hours to get through the first hangar, so we decided to grab a quick lunch. After that, it was on to hangar two.

This hangar was made up of planes from the Korean and Vietnam wars. Since the planes have gotten larger at this point, there was less to see and we got through it quicker. They centerpiece was a large B-52 bomber that they had set up on a pedestal in the middle of the room. There were also a lot of jets, since this is when they started to replace the propeller driven aircrafts. They had the fuselage of one bomber open so you could walk through it, and they also had the cargo area of a huge cargo plane open. In one part, they had the cockpit of a fighter open so that you could climb into the pilot and co-pilot seats and look at all the panels. It was pretty tight quarters and there was a confusing array of knobs, buttons, levers and dials. I had no idea what was going on.

The final hangar housed what Paw-Paw called his plane: the B-36. This plane is even larger than the B-52, but was only used between 1949 and 1959 because the faster B-52 replaced it as the bomber of choice. This is the plane that Paw-Paw worked on the most, and the one that he was a crew chief for, which basically meant he ran all the maintenance on the craft. It was so impressive to see towering over all those other planes.

This hangar was focused on the Cold War on up to the present. There were a lot more jet fighter planes and experimental models on display. The last plane in the exhibit was a B-2 stealth bomber, that looks more like a kite than a plane.

We left there just before the museum closed at 5 p.m. Yes, we were there for almost six hours. You could spend days in there and not see everything. We were even breezing through most of the exhibits and not reading all there was to read.

Madison was adamant that we were going to see fireworks tonight, so I did some research and found out that there was a little festival and fireworks show down at a park in Fairborn. We couldn’t convince Paw-Paw to come with us, so Madison and I went searching for this little park. It was right beside the high school, even though the GPS system sent us two blocks farther down the road and proudly announced that we have “reached the destination!”

We got there about two hours before the fireworks were supposed to go off, but we had heard that there would be a band, so it couldn’t be that bad.

Alright, imagine a band that plays mostly at weddings. Cheap weddings. In the country. Now give them all matching shirts that have the American flag on them. Except the keyboardist. Think rock stars past their prime, then imagine that they never had a prime. Have them play every old, stereotypical rock and roll song that you can imagine. Got that in your head?

Call them Corky’s Old Time Rock ‘n’ Roll Revival. You can’t make that up.

They weren’t that bad, but combine them with the most stereotypical redneck Ohioans you can imagine and the scene was priceless. It made the Ayden Collard Festival look normal. I had to sit there and suck on my straw to keep from cracking up.

But we stuck it out through the rocky renditions of Bob Seger, Elvis Presley and Ray Charles, through awkward off-beat dancing and through chain-smoking teenagers wearing Disturbed and Lamb of God T-shirts. We fought through it for the fireworks.

I wasn’t sure what to expect with this being Fairborn, Ohio. It started out kind of rocky. One firework at a time would shoot up and explode followed by a few seconds of nothing. Eventually it started to build a little bit, but never really got completely going. It just kept dragging on. I thought it would never end until finally it seemed like the guy got bored and said “Forget it, just light them all.”

About 10,000 fireworks went into the air at the same time and started exploding one after the other. It was blinding and loud and confusing. It was everything a finale should be. The show concluded with dozens of those small, loud bang fireworks — that have have no point other than to be obnoxiously loud — exploding all together. I love those things. It was a great finale.

Corky and his band came back on for one last set, but we — and seemingly everyone else in Fairborn — decided that they’d had enough of the revival and it was time to go. We had to fight crazy traffic to get out, but 20 minutes later we were finally back in the hotel.

Tomorrow we will be driving all day to get to Hershey where we will stay one night and check out the chocolate the next day. I probably won’t post tomorrow unless something amazing happens on the drive.

Happy Fourth of July!

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July 2: The Windy City

It lived up to its name.

We got to Chicago a little after noon today and checked into our hotel that is right near the lake and across the street from Grant Park. We had heard about some storms coming in Milwaukee, but we hoped the weather would hold off as it has this entire trip. It looked like it would when we first got here: the sky was blue with just a few clouds floating around.

I had gotten some ideas of what to do from people who had been to the city, so we decided to just walk around and hit as much as we could in the one day that we had. We went through Grant Park, which was really nice. They had the Taste of Chicago festival in the park, but we decided not to go to it. I figured we would get lost in there and not go to the other things we were interested in.

Right above Grant Park is Millennium Park. It is — hands-down — the coolest park that I have ever been to. The first thing we saw was this fountain thing that had two massive brick pillars on each side with water cascading down them. Kids were running around in the middle just splashing in the very shallow water. Every now and then, faces would appear facing each other on the pillars. It looked like it used fiber optics. Either way, the faces were of real people and they moved, blinked and looked around. Eventually, the faces would look like they were blowing and water would come pouring out of their mouths while the kids ran up to get right under the stream.

Next we walked over to the grill and got some lunch. This area usually has an ice skating rink, but 90 degrees is a little warm for that. They had covered it up and put some tables and a bar on there.

Every person that told me about Chicago told me about the Cloud Gate sculpture. Except they didn’t call it that. They called it “The Bean.” It’s pretty understandable why. “The Bean” is a huge sculpture that looks just like a bean with that is made up completely of mirrors. You can walk under it and look up and see all the people around the inside of the sculpture. You can put your hand on “The Bean” and look like you’re holding yourself up in the air. The coolest view is to look at it from the street side and you can see all the buildings on Michigan Avenue stretched out around “The Bean.”

It may sound weird, but it’s a huge tourist stop. And lots of fun to take pictures with.

We walked farther into the park where there is this massive amphitheater with an interesting sound system. Instead of a lot of speakers at the front, there is decorative scaffolding that criss-crosses the lawn area with speakers hanging over the seating area. From there we walked into a nice little garden area that had a creek running through it. A lot of people were sitting on the edge with their feet in the water, so I had to join. The water was freezing!! But it did cool me off a little bit.

It was about 3:30 at this point, so we decided to go ahead and catch a bus up to Lincoln Park Zoo, one of the last few free zoos around. It was a pretty nice zoo, but nowhere near as big as the North Carolina one, but that wasn’t necessarily a bad thing. It meant that we were closer to the animals and they didn’t have as much room to hide. We saw gorillas, kangaroos, lions, tigers, zebras, bears and giraffes! The gorillas were amazing to watch, so human-like. My favorite was a big silver-back who was laying in front of a fan at the edge of the cage. He was just curled up and ignoring everyone. There were two chimpanzees sitting up on a rock and they were facing each other. One looked like he was picking stuff out of the other’s eye and trying to clean it off. Then it looked like the first was kissing the other one on the cheek. It was so amazing watching them all interact.

The lion started growling when we walked in. It growled continuously for a few minutes and echoed throughout the room. Scary, yes, but impressive.

After wearing ourselves out around the zoo, we hopped back on the bus to the Millennium Park area and got some dinner. Paw-Paw decided he was done walking — understandably, I think I was, too — but Madison wanted to go over to Navy Pier. We took a path along the lakeside to get over to the pier and watched all these people sitting on their yachts and enjoying the weather and water.

The pier is filled with restaurants, shops and a couple of theaters. It was fun just walking around for a little bit and looking at some gift shops. We found out that there were fireworks that night, so we had an incentive to hang around for a while. When we got down to the end of the pier, we ran into the beer garden, which had a stage set up right by the sidewalk. A band was setting up, so we decided to sit down and listen. When the Modern Day Romeos finally came on, it was an hour and a half after they were supposed to start.

They were pretty good covers band, but the lead singer had a nasally voice that reminded me a little of Tom Petty. But anything that he lacked in voice quality he made up with stage presence and showmanship. He had a wireless microphone, so he would just jump off the stage and dance around with the kids and just have a good time. They were a lot of fun to watch and you could tell they were having a lot of fun. If you go to their Myspace, you should find a picture of Madison and I that they took while we were sitting there.

They played for about an hour, then stopped for the fireworks. We were in the perfect spot to see them. We just had to turn around and could see them shooting off from a little platform on the water. They had music that went along with the show and they went together pretty well. I was impressed.

The band got back on, but we decided that it was about time to head back. First, we went to the big ferris wheel on the pier. It was a nice view of the city at night from the top, but both Madison and I have a weird, irrational fear of ferris wheels, so most of the time we were talking about all the things that could go wrong.

We didn’t want to walk back, so we tried to figure out the bus system. We got on a bus, but we weren’t really sure where it was going to go. Luckily it went the direction of our hotel, but turned off earlier than we wanted, so we were stuck walking the last 10 blocks. It wasn’t too bad, though, and it felt nice outside. Once again, my feet and legs hurt from all the walking that we’ve been doing.

Tomorrow we’ll be heading to Dayton, Ohio. We’ll probably get there in the afternoon and will just relax for the night. The next day we’ll go to the Air Force museum there and stay one more night. From there it’s on to Pennsylvania. We’ll be back in the Eastern time zone.

We’re on the home-stretch.

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July 1: Summerfest

“So I said Johnny whatcha doing tonight?
He looked at me with a face full of fright.
And I said, how ’bout a revolution?
And he said right.”
~”That was a Crazy Game of Poker” — O.A.R.

Summerfest: the largest music festival in the world. So how come I’ve never heard of it? There’s something wrong with it.

We got to Milwaukee a little after lunchtime today and checked into our hotel, which was right across the street from this sweet little park that looked over Lake Michigan. Pretty good location if you ask me. We walked down the block to a little Greek cafe and got a quick lunch.

After going back to the hotel to do some research about Chicago, we got ready to head down to Summerfest, which was only about a half mile from our hotel and right on the lake. Becca met us at the hotel and we made the short walk through a little park on the lake.

Fifteen bucks got us into the 11-day music festival that has 11 stages and a ridiculous amount of performers from noon to midnight. We walked around the perimeter first, just to get a feel of the area and see where all the stages were. Then we decided to get some food and go sit somewhere and chill. Becca was adamant that I must try a butterburger, so I did. Apparently it’s a local thing, and it was really good.

The weather was beautiful today, right around 70 and clear skies. We went to one of the little stage areas and we got to see wheelchair basketball. Those guys (and girls) were really good!! At the end of their game, they had audience members come on and try to play against “the professionals” in the wheelchairs. Even with a good eight-point handicap, the audience got beat both games, with the first team not scoring any points.

After that we saw the end of one band called Hello Dave from Chicago. They described themselves as “Chicago twang.” The music was good, but the guy was trying to hard for a southern accent.

At 7:30, we moved over to the Harley Davidson stage, where we planned to camp out for the night. First up was the Dirty Dozen Brass Band and they were amazing, as usual. They are the best jazz band that I’ve seen and are all amazing musicians. The sousaphone player tops it all, just chilling in the back and rocking a great baseline. I’ve seen them once before in Raleigh, but this show definitely topped that. We were dancing all over those bleachers.

When they left the stage, we waited an hour for O.A.R. to come on at 10. During that hour, the bleacher area around gradually started to fill. By the time the show started, you had to stand diagonally on the bleachers to be able to move at all. The whole area around the bleachers was full with people standing. Everywhere I looked it was more people.

O.A.R. rocked. I’ve seen them once before, and this show was definitely comparable. This was the first of two shows that they’re playing at the festival so they had to hold off some material for tomorrow night, but they played most of what I wanted to hear. I can only imagine what it sounds like for them on-stage to hear thousands of people yelling the lyrics back to them.

We were exhausted when they finally finished. It was almost midnight and we had been standing and dancing for about four hours. I wish I could stay around longer for more of the festival, but tomorrow it’s off to Chicago.

Until then.

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June 30: Driving Day, Part II

Thank God for the Midwestern accent. Something about it gets me really excited. Something about the nasally “a”s and the long “o”s just tickles my fancy, and I don’t use that phrase lightly. Maybe I’ve just seen “Fargo” one too many times, ya know?

I was hoping that I would meet someone with a really strong accent today, since we finally made it up to the Midwest. Luckily, our waitress fulfilled my dialect needs. It wasn’t too strong, but it was just enough to make me smile when she said “Yoo guys doing ookee?” and “Mountain Doo.” (Please excuse my awful phonetic spellings.)

Anyway, we covered 651 miles today, jumping from the desolate hay bales of South Dakota to the roaring corn fields of Minnesota, and finally into the cheese sauce of a little town called La Crosse, Wisc.

We crossed the Mississippi again today. It’s really starting to feel like we’re coming back home. We’re out of the mountains and the farms and hills are starting to look like eastern North Carolina.

Tomorrow we will head to Milwaukee and meet up with my friend Becca from UNC who lives in Wisconsin. We will also check out Summerfest, a massive music festival that happens every year. It should be good times!!

I will wrap this post up here since I don’t have anything else to report from the day. Unless I forgot something, which is always possible.

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June 28 +29: Man-Made Nature

I’ve been really slack recently, I know, but we didn’t get to our hotel last night until 10 p.m., and I was in no mood to post after avoiding seven deer on a back-country highway in Wyoming. Three I had to brake for to avoid, two walked across the road way ahead of me and got off in time and two were standing on the side of the road just watching me. Talk about nerve-wracking.

But before my deer run, we took the few hour trip from Missoula, Montana, to Yellowstone National Park, right in the northwest corner of Wyoming. I talked to a friend of mine who is working there for the summer and got the lowdown on the high points to hit in the park. We knew about Old Faithful, but we knew there had to be more to it.

The park is massive! A lot bigger than we thought it would be. A lot of it was just normal mountain driving, which we’ve seen plenty of on this part of the trip. Our first recommended stop was at Tower Falls. It’s a beautiful waterfall with a nice overlook in front of it, near the top. There were trees all around it so you could barely see where the fall hit the bottom. There is a path that goes down to the bottom part of the fall, but it was closed and you couldn’t see the waterfall from it now. I don’t know that I’ve ever seen a waterfall before.

We also stopped at the Calcite Springs overlook, which is where the springs have bleached the side of the mountain by the river because of the chemicals that are released through the spring. All along the road there were beautiful overlooks on valleys and rivers. The road climbed up to the tops of the mountains, giving a great view of the park. There was still snow on the ground all over the place. It is so thick that it still hasn’t melted, even though it was 70 degrees. Water was rushing from under the snow where it was melting at the bottom. It was really funny to see kids in shorts and T-shirts throwing snow balls.

The best part was going to see Artists Point. If you’ve ever seen a picture of the park — other than Old Faithful — it was probably from here. The point sits over this beautiful canyon that is painted all shades of white, yellow, red, orange and purple because of the deposits from the springs. At the far end of the canyon, right in front of the point, is a massive waterfall. It was gorgeous. Pictures should be up soon, we took plenty of them.

It took us from noon until five p.m. to get down to the south part of the park where Old Faithful is. On the way, we had to slow down because there were a bunch of park ranger cars on the side of the road. I thought it was just a wreck. As we were creeping by the cars, Madison looked up and saw a bison sitting right on the edge of the road, up on a hill, not 20 feet from the car. He looked like he owned the place and he was making a good point.

Old Faithful goes off about every 90 minutes. Earthquakes over the years has gradually lengthened the time between eruptions because it changes the internal plumbing of the geyser. When we got there, the next scheduled eruption was in 30 minutes, so we took some time to walk around the visitor center and gift shop. About 20 minutes before it was supposed to go off, we found a seat by an older couple on the front row.

After a few minutes, the man beside me looks over and asks if we saw the bison. That got us talking for a bit, and then he said, “We’ve been traveling around for a while. We started in North Carolina.”

I couldn’t believe it, this is the second couple that we have sat down next two that has been from North Carolina. I found out that they lived in New Jersey for a while before moving down to Stokesdale a few years ago. They were essentially taking a longer version of our trip, heading down south and coming back through the north. But they were hitting all the states in the middle. They had been on the road a week longer than us and didn’t plan on going back until the beginning of August. They were even driving a Cadillac, just one year newer than ours.

While we were talking, I started to notice the steam coming from Old Faithful getting thicker, then I saw some water starting to spray out. Suddenly, a powerful burst of water pushed out of the geyser and towered above us. I’m not sure how tall it was, but it was bigger than I expected. The most impressive thing was how long it lasted: about 4 minutes, continuously pushing out water.

As great as it was, I still took more away from Artist’s Point. You can’t beat a view like that.

At my insistence, we decided to detour a bit and go out the south entrance of the park so that we could drive through the Grand Teton National Park. My friend at Yellowstone said it was worth it and I’ve had other friends say the same thing. Since we were so close, I couldn’t pass it up. We pulled over into a roadside vista point, and I was simply amazed. These massive, rocky, snow-capped mountains towered over a crystal clear lake. It was breath taking. The reflection of the sky and mountains in the water just added to it. It reminded me of some pictures I’ve seen from the Alps, but I may have just made that up in my mind. Either way, I’m glad we went there.

Since I got us off track, I had to pay for it by driving two hours east while the sun went down in my rear view mirror. We stopped in Riverton, Wyoming at about 10 p.m.

This morning, we got up a little later and enjoyed a nice breakfast before setting off on the five or six hour drive to Mt. Rushmore in South Dakota. We got here around four and checked into a hotel a few miles from the park. Paw-Paw talked to people working the front desk and found out that they have a lighting ceremony for the monument at night. We had to see it.

But we wanted to see it during the day, too, so we went down there to check it out. The entrance is a massive marble walkway with pillars that have all of the state and territory flags on them. Just farther up is a statue of the Rushmore sculptor, Gutzon Borglum, done by his son. The path led to the main view point, right in front of the mountain.

I’ll be honest, as impressive as it was, it was lot smaller than I expected. I was waiting for it to blow me away with it’s size, but it didn’t. I found out in the museum area that each face is about 60 feet tall. That put it into perspective. They are massive. It’s an amazing feat in engineering and art. According to a video we saw, 90 percent of the carving was done using explosives. Only the really small detail work was done with chisels and drills. I can’t imagine being able to manipulate dynamite in a way to make such an intricate sculpture. Truly genius.

We left and got some dinner, then waited around in the hotel until the monument lighting, which started at nine p.m. When we got there, we were shocked to see the massive amphitheater slam-packed. We squeezed into a couple of seats right before the program started. A ranger came out and started talking about the American flag and its history. Then she started talking about the national anthem. She read all the verses (there are actually 4, we only sing the first) and sang the last one. It was an amazingly strong voice for such a little girl. The third verse is my favorite, since it basically makes fun of the British for not being able to take the fort in Baltimore during the War of 1812.

After she spoke, there was a quick movie about the mountain and the presidents — Washington, Jefferson, Lincoln and Teddy Roosevelt — that were carved into the stone. At the end, “America, the Beautiful,” played while light slowly started to shine on the monument. By the end, the monument was covered in a golden glow, giving it a completely different look from when we saw it during the day. It seemed larger, grander.

Everyone stood while they played the National Anthem. Then they asked veterans and current military personnel to come down to the stage. We got Paw-Paw to go down there (Madison ran down to take pictures). After a long round of applause, the ranger asked some of the veterans to take down the flag that was on the stage. They folded it — after some instruction from fellow veterans and the ranger…I guess it’s been a while — and handed it to the ranger. She thanked them all, as well as their families and asked for another round of applause. She then asked that all the veterans touch the flag as they left the stage. It was a touching moment, and I know Paw-Paw appreciated it.

We fought traffic, got out of the park and retired to our hotel.

Tomorrow we will be mostly driving, just to get closer to Milwaukee. I will be meeting a friend there and I convinced Paw-Paw to stay there for a bit so that we can go to Summerfest, a yearly music festival in Milwaukee. We should be there on the first of the month. We’ll probably stay one night and then make the short trip to Chicago.

I’ll try to make a quick update tomorrow and throw some long overdue pictures up!

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June 27: The Backstretch

I’m sitting here trying to figure out why the elevator at the La Quinta Inn in Seattle was so angry at me. It was like that grumpy old man that sits in a rocking chair on the porch and yells at the kids running by, or the insubordinate, long-haired teenage bus boy with a crooked cap that grunts and complains at every suggestion that he does some work.

Our relationship went something like this: I insert my room key to call the elevator to the basement parking area. There’s a ding signaling that the elevator is here. WHAM! The door flies open and slams against the inner wall, shaking the claustrophobic contraption. We hesitantly step into the still vibrating elevator and I hit the “2” button. The glowing light just stares at us, the elevator doesn’t move. I nicely depress the button again. WHAM!! The door slams closed with even more force than it opened with, giving new life to the shaking that had until then almost died out. With a jerk, we soar at seemingly astronomic speeds to the first floor, where the door slams open again. Remember, we hit the “2” button. No one is waiting for the elevator. The “2” button glows vacantly while we wait for something to happen. Finally I hit the button again. WHAM!! Rocket engines take us the 10 feet to the next floor and the car stops with such severity my stomach is caught somewhere in my upper rib cage. When the door violently opens, we run out and take cover in our room.

It was like this every time. So angry. So unnecessary. Now to be honest, I don’t really know why I’m writing about this today. I was just thinking about it, and not much else happened today. Instead of just making a short post, I ramble on about stuff like I’m getting paid by the word, which, by the way, would be awesome.

For the first time in two and a half weeks, the little digital compass in the rear view mirror of the Cadillac glowed “E” in that digital green that we’ve come to know and love. We’re on our return trip. It’s pretty crazy to think that we’ve already come this far. As far as we can tell, Seattle was the halfway point of our trip, so it should be about two or three more weeks. Of course, that is always subject to change.

When we finally made it on to the interstate from Seattle — I hate one way streets — we jumped on I-90 east toward Spokane. Paw-Paw was stationed outside of Spokane near a little city called Medical Lake, where he lived after he left Roswell, N.M. What Paw-Paw had described as a “small town where everyone knew each other” had turned into a sprawling suburb of Spokane. It even had it’s own high school. Needless to say, he didn’t remember anything. We went on to the base that has since turned into a reserve unit. It was very large and well taken care of and still had a lot of the same buildings that were there when Paw-Paw was there. He was even able to show us the hangars that he used to work on the massive bombers.

We rode around there for a while, then got back on the highway after grabbing a quick lunch. We wanted to get somewhere relatively close to Yellowstone so that we could get there and have sometime to go around it tomorrow afternoon. We made it to a town called Missoula, Montana. It’s a decent size town, but I’m sure it’s the big city for anyone that lives on this side of the state. There’s nothing out here. I refuse to believe that 997,000 people live in this state.

We did lose an hour today somewhere around the Idaho/Montana border. But we couldn’t tell since the sun didn’t go down until about 10 p.m. It really throws off your whole evening.

Tomorrow, we will be heading off to Wyoming to check out Yellowstone Park.

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