Archive for August, 2009

North By Northwest: A Retrospective

Posted in Personal with tags , , , , , , on August 31, 2009 by Kyle Barry

So here I am, back in Chicago—broke and bored.  I have begun the arduous task of finding a job.  From there, a permanent place to live and then come the loans.  What a great list to tackle after the best vacation I’ve ever been on.  I thought it would be appropriate to end this trip by summing up how it impacted me and allowing my very few readers to know that I will continue to right on other subjects and events in my life.  That means, stay tuned.  It ain’t over.

First and foremost, you have to do this.  Not our exact trip, or even a trip to the western states.  Just a roadtrip.  It’s liberating.  Like first discovering boxers.  Okay, well maybe not that liberating, but it’s unbelievable how comforting and calming a trip like this can be.  Don’t make a schedule, just pick a starting and ending point, a duration of time, and a budget.  Doing this without any cemented plans gave us the freedom to embrace whatever crossed our path.  I know Colleen enjoyed this trip so much that she’s already planning a month-long trip on her own to other parts of the country.  If you’ve never driven more than a few hours between cities, it’s a must.  Find someone you can tolerate for a week or two, save up some money, and just get in the car and go.  Even better, fly to the middle of nowhere and rent a car.  See if you can find your way back.  You’re bound to see something cool along the way.  It’s a sure thing you’ll meet some interesting people too.  We did, and now we love the Danish…or Dutch…still haven’t nailed that one down yet.  I can’t stress this enough.  Go before you can’t.  You can easily make excuses, but it’s a lot harder to erase regrets.

Secondly, and in a sense, a sidenote to my first point, go to Canada.  It’s cool.  They have interesting things, and beautiful scenery.  They say “eh” too.  I’m not even kidding.  It’s a foreign country and it whets your appetite for more foreign travel.  I want to go to Europe now.  I want to go to Australia.  Maybe even Africa.  Canada is right there, and anything they share with us they’ve made look a lot classier.  Example: Glacier National Park.  It’s gorgeous from both sides, but Canada has views that make your eyes well up.  I’m going back.

Third.  Uhh, okay so I haven’t really figured out my third point.  Do I want to mention the bonding?  Sure, let’s go there.  Colleen and I have never lived under the same roof.  She’s 12 years older than me, and the most time we’ve ever spent together was probably 3 days in a family setting.  Now we have inside jokes and memories we can share forever.  We didn’t kill each other which leads me to believe we have things in common and our personalities can share the same space.  Even if that space is a Kia Rondo.  I’ve become close to my sister Chelsea in recent years and my brother Ray and I have almost always shared a bond through things that no one else is interested in.  I realized that Colleen and I have never had a long period of time to bond, and now after countless nights laughing ourselves to sleep under starry skies and driving thousands of miles, listening to hours of the worst 80’s music ever produced, I can confidently say: Mission accomplished.  Where are the Kleenex?

So grab that parent, friend, sibling, estranged family member and hit the road.  Rent a Kia Rondo with a horrible transmission roomy backseat and fill it with some camping supplies…or bags of cash to pay for hotel rooms, and make some tracks.

I’ll end this story with some video clips that we took along the way.  Unfortunately, I can’t post them here because I don’t want a monthly payment for my blog.  SO, head on over to the website below and enjoy.

http://www.youtube.com/thebarry2001

On a more practical note, rent whatever vehicle you can get your hands on.  DO NOT buy a Kia.  If you already own a Kia…so sorry.  In its defense, we beat on it really hard.  I’m pretty sure the transmission and brakes were shot when we turned that thing in.  Gotta love the rentals.

North By Northwest: Oh Canada!

Posted in Personal with tags , , , , , , on August 29, 2009 by Kyle Barry

I’ve finally managed to take some time, sit down, and do some blogging.  The past few days have been pretty wild.  With the end of the trip right around the corner, I think Colleen and I have felt the need to pack as much activity into the remaining days as humanly possible.  It’s been a bit draining, but we’re going out in a blaze of glory, rather than fizzing out like those stupid sparklers you get in Connecticut during the 4th of July.

We decided that we had seen enough national parks.  You see one amazing mountain covered with glaciers and rare wildlife, you’ve seen them all.  We wanted something a tad more thrilling.  What better place than our neighbors to the north.  Traveling up a secluded stretch of road, we reached the customs and immigration and after the border patrol had a good laugh at my passport photo, we continued on to the Prince of Wales Hotel where we enjoyed a lovely late lunch and an incredible view of the other side of Glacier National Park.  I have to say that I consistently make fun of the Canadians.  Milk in a bag, policemen still on horses, using the words “hoser” and “eh”.  It’s material so good, it practically rips on itself.  However, this trip has shown me that not only is America laced with Wal-Marts and numerous fast food joints throughout the midwest, but we’re being one-upped by those crazy Canucks.  Their views are prettier, their hotels are classier, and the metric system is so much more efficient than whatever garbage we’re still using.

Yes, those are reindeer.  Canada trumps again.

Yes, those are reindeer. Canada trumps again.

(Seriously, 32º is freezing?…5280 feet in a mile?  Who came up with this system of measurement?)

All I’m saying is, if you plan on being near the border, just go.  It’s so nice and things are just a little bit cheaper.  And their paper money has hockey players on it.  That right there should be the nail in the coffin.

After another wonderful night at another wonderful KOA, we entered the last state on our trip.  Here, we had a crucial decision to make.  Tack on one more northwestern state to our ever growing lists, or head north once again and scope out Vancouver.  Since we had been so impressed by Canada once, we figured we would give it another chance.  Again, we were amazed.  White sand beaches overlooking the city, cute little towns along the way, and my two favorites.  A custom t-shirt store and an Irish style pub where the bartender sings along to Journey.  Oh yeah.

I could live in Vancouver.  It’s one of those cities that doesn’t make you feel like you’ve left America, but you do have the excitement of being in a foreign place.  It’s very modern and very user-friendly.  It was a hip little place.

We returned to Seattle where we met up with Colleen’s friends Randy and Leslie and caught a ballgame in the evening.  Safeco field is a beautiful ballpark and the fans love Ichiro and Ken Griffey Jr, but that’s about the only good things I can say about the Seattle Mariners.  Sorry.  As a Red Sox fan, I can love no other team, especially one that resides in the American League.

This morning we ventured out and took a tour of Seattle’s underground.  An absolute must if you visit.  No excuses.  Best tour I’ve ever taken…of anything.  We had very funny tour guides, learned about extremely fascinating material, and you get to walk under the city.  Our guide looked and sounded exactly like Norm MacDonald.  I even approached him after the tour to ask him if anyone had ever told him that he resembled the actor, and before I could get halfway through the question he responded with, “Norm MacDonald, I know.  I get about two of those every tour.”  So there you go.

Afterwards, we joined up with Randy and grabbed some lunch at a gas station…yes…a gas station.  For ribs.  At a gas station.  Believe it or not, it was delicious.  As I recall, Colleen referred to it as “Living the Dream”.  I whole-heartedly agree.  She took a picture of me stuffing my face which you can find at http://www.colleenbarry.com.  I probably have some BBQ sauce on my face.  I don’t eat like that all the time, just when I’m very hungry.  Don’t judge me.

Following our high octane meal, and I do mean high octane…(little potty humor there), we took a ride on an elevator up to the observation deck of the Seattle Space Needle.  Built in 1962 for the blah blah blah google it.  It looks so cool on the skyline and even at the base but it’s nothing special folks.  I wouldn’t recommend it and neither would Colleen.  Thumbs down.  I will just have to admire it from afar.

Colleen and I polished off the day with a ferry trip across the Elliott Bay to Port Angeles which looks a lot like Cape Cod, sans the Kennedy’s.  What a great way to relax and take in the city and the enourmous Mt. Rainer as a backdrop to the skyline.  It looks like Bob Ross himself just dabbed some happy white right to the east of Seattle.  It really is a magnificent mountain but doesn’t even look real half the time.  Truly one of those picturesque pieces of nature.

If you look closely on the right, you can make out Mt. Rainer.

If you look closely on the right, you can make out Mt. Rainer.

Joining up with Leslie and Randy for dinner, we dined at this fabulous pizza place on the south side of the city.  Seattle decided that it wasn’t going to imitate another city’s style of pizza, it was just going to rewrite the book on it.  We had a pie topped with balsamic dressing and figs and I don’t know if I’ve ever been blown away with flavor.  It was so good, I couldn’t believe it and neither could Colleen.  Bravo, Seattle, BRAVO!  As an added bonus, this pizza establishment, known as the Flying Squirrel, uses only organic products in their pizzas.  So no cows eating cows.  Everybody wins.

A beautiful sunset at the pier.

A beautiful sunset at the pier.

Well tomorrow is the last day and I’m trying to make it last as much as possible.  Colleen and I have red eye flights tomorrow night, but before then, we get to enjoy the city of Seattle and the amazing northwest for one more day.  Then the inevitable return to real life.  I shudder just thinking about it.

North By Northwest: Glaciers and the Post Industrial

Posted in Personal with tags , , , , , , , on August 25, 2009 by Kyle Barry

So, I must say right off the bat that KOA Kamgrounds are quite a mixed bag.  I know I raved about it in the last entry, but we seem to be experiencing a bit of bipolar disorder in the northern region of Montana.  After a full day of driving from west Yellowstone, we arrived in Butte, Montana.  At one time, they were the largest silver mining town in the world, and had been mining for several other minerals such as gold and copper up until 1984 when the whole operation shut down.  Now, it’s eerily similar to the rustbelt cities of Pittsburgh, Buffalo, etc.

The KOA in Butte was nothing special with the exception that they had exceptionally soft ground, which made for great sleeping.  Unfortunately, Satan’s Partridge Family was occupying the cabin next door, and that made for some interesting shouting matches WAY past quiet hours.  No respect for KOA rules.  As a sidenote to how sketchy this campground was and Butte in general; they have all of their old mining shaft towers lit up in red Christmas lights at night, haunting the hillside.  Also, at the top of the mountain range to the east is a 90 foot statue of Mary covered in floodlights so she looks like she’s floating in the middle of the night sky.  Apparently, she is known as “The Mother of the Rockies”, but when you’re trying to fall asleep and all you can see is this giant white orb floating between Ursa Major and the Big Dipper, you get shivers.

So we shower up and after a quick t-shirt purchase, we went in to scope out what Butte had to offer.  We found a neat little cafe called “Blue Luna”.  They could’ve gone completely Spanish with the name or just stuck with English, but I guess they were digging Ricky Martin that day, so they stuck with the Spanglish.  Butte has quite a thriving underground arts scene, and there were plenty of hipsters to be seen entering and exiting the joint.  We decided to take a walk around and shoot some of the local flavor, and that mostly ended up being dilapidated buildings and boarded up storefronts.

Some Detroit muscle in Butte.

Some Detroit muscle in Butte.

Butte was such a strange little town, and their history is fascinating.  Apparently, they had a working brothel until 1982, and they still don’t have an open alcohol container law.  That means you can walk to streets with your friends Jack, Jim, and Johnny.

As you can tell by the amount of time I’ve omitted here, it was a bit of an uneventful day.   However, the campsite in Polson, situated on Flathead Lake, completely redeemed the lackluster afternoon.  I shouldn’t even use the word campsite.  It was this odd hybrid, like a redneck Hilton and Indiana resort.  I know you’re saying to yourself, “That’s not a hybrid, it’s an oxymoron.”  Yeah, well you’re an oxymoron because it was awesome.  Brand new showers and bathrooms, fully tiled, and no dead bugs in the light fixtures.  That’s a first on this trip and because we were the only ones on the entire premises that were actually camping, it was like our own private facilities.  Everyone else had quarter million dollar RV’s, because this KOA was staying classy by converting to what they call, “RV Resort”.  I’m sure if you look in the nearest Merriam-Webster, it will have “RV Resort” as the definition for “classy”.

But seriously, if you’re ever in Polson, Montana…you know where to shack up for the night.

Our final destination for this great state was Glacier National Park.  We arrived in the early afternoon, to multiple cops handing out tickets to visitors.  They don’t mess around up here.  No mounties though.  I’m keeping my fingers crossed.  We were only 15 miles from the Canadian border at this point.  So as long as you keep it under 40 in the park, you’re bound to enjoy yourself.  They claim that the glaciers here will only remain until 2030.

The rapidly melting Jackson Glacier

The rapidly melting Jackson Glacier

Take whatever stance you want on that one, we just figured we should see them before they turn to lake water.  What an awesome mountain range, and a great diversity in wildlife.  Colleen and I were just driving along, following the winding road through the pass, and off to the side of the road were wild mountain goats.  Just hanging out, catching some rays.  The only animal left on our wildlife list are moose and we’re in no rush to run into one or many of those.

Oh, I almost forgot.  On our way to Glacier, we passed through Kalispell, Montana.  What they had to offer was such a treat.  A drive-thru, overfed and lazy WILD bear park.  The slogan as you enter read: YOUR CAR IS YOUR CAGE.  How could you say no to that?  Inside were four black bears, and they walked right up to the car!  It was very entertaining.

Yogey was well fed and didn't have much interest in the Kia.

Yogey was well fed and didn't have much interest in the Kia.

So here we are, in a Kabin* at yet another KOA on the eastern side of Glacier National Park.  Tomorrow calls for horseback riding and maybe a quick stop up in Alberta, Canada.  After that, we may head for Seattle, or we may head for Portland.  We are open to any and everything.

* KOA thinks it’s very clever to change any word beginning with a “C” to a “K” to provide humor and continuity to their “kampgrounds” and overall marketing.  It’s not so much laugh out loud funny as it is “Family Circus” funny, which ironically, is the antithesis of funny.  Personally, I think it’s just plain Krappy.

North By Northwest: Long Forgotten

Posted in Personal with tags , , on August 22, 2009 by Kyle Barry

Day 6

We’ve been doing a lot of driving and not much else lately  so we rely on what we see in passing.  After looping through Idaho yesterday and not seeing anything spectacular, we decided it would be best to turn back north towards the stunning scenery that we had become accustom to.  On our way, we saw some interesting things.

Let me preface this next little story by saying that this area of the country was the frontier.  Mostly territory until the late 1800’s, the towns were overcrowded and lawless, relying on the mines to produce minerals such as gold, silver, and copper to keep them afloat.  When they dried up, which almost all did, everyone packed up and left, leaving their houses, storefronts, and industrial structures standing in their wake.

We happened upon one of many large prairies as soon as we entered Idaho from the east, and were confronted with this lonely looking abode.

You don't see wooden shingles too much anymore.

You don't see wooden shingles too much anymore.

Just a small, one room house, it most likely belonged to a simple farmer at one time, but my estimation hasn’t been inhabited for at least a quarter century.  Rusted out farm equipment lay in the back, and the interior walls were covered with graffiti and crushed beer cans.  My kind of living.  I find places like this so interesting because at one time, a family lived here and cooked meals, and memories were had.  Now it’s just four walls and a roof full of holes.  A place where birds make their nests, and teenagers come to be destructive and party.  And soon, (yes I just started a sentence with a conjunction, deal with it) it will deteriorate and the wood will rot into the ground and return to where it came from.

We kept driving and saw what reminded me of school out in Indiana so I stepped on the gas a little harder and we arrived back in Montana.

Colleen and I have become big supporters of KOA Kampgrounds.  They’re affordable, clean, safe, and they always have Wi-Fi, which is a big thumbs up in my book.  We decided to stop at one on the west entrance of Yellowstone, just over the Montana-Idaho-Wyoming state lines.  We’ve also become pros of pitching our tent, especially by the aide of the headlights on our Kia Rondo, which is a trooper after taking repeated beatings from high altitude, 10% uphill and downhill grades, and multiple electronics charging off its battery daily.  A TRUE beast.  Eat your heart out, Audi wagon.

(For everyone that’s reading this that isn’t a Schmunk, just email or ask one of them about it.)

Back to the camping.  They take their quiet hours at KOA pretty serious.  At around 11:30, Colleen and I were turning in and as our usual custom, began sharing inappropriate stories at a normal inside voice.  Well the campground’s security guard, or Boss Hog as he has come to be referred to as, came over on his motorized golf cart and politely told us to shut up because everyone could hear us.  So, being polite east coasters, we did.  Then the real noise started.  Chainsaws off in the distance, and then in the middle of the night we both were startled to hear a very large pack of coyotes howling, and not far off.  Pfffff, quiet hours my butt.

Day 7

We headed out north in the morning, in the direction of a few ghost towns and a small town called Wisdom, where they still make cowboy hats the old fashioned way.  Our first stop was Virginia City, which was a classic case of Gold Rush turned desolation.  What was unique about this place was that a family had come along and bought it, and modified the original buildings to be a full functioning tourist ghost town.  Each store front was the actual facade from 120 years ago.  They even had a guy panning for gold, which can still be found in the hills.

Farther north, we arrived in Wisdom.  Come to find out, the woman that made the cowboy hats had moved to another town and hadn’t set up her shop yet, so we were a bit disappointed.  However, we grabbed an early dinner, and what would you guess was on the menu?  If you have a taste for really revolting entrees, then you guessed right-Rocky Mountain Oysters.  If you don’t know, then google it, because I don’t want to explain.  I shouldn’t have to say that neither of us ordered it, although Colleen contemplated it for a moment.

As we kept driving north, we saw excellent photo opportunities along the way.  One was this cool junkyard that happened to be some guy’s backyard, who wasn’t home.  A quick drive in, some rapid fire snapshots, and off we were.  Again, we passed a family’s front yard full of rusted out model-T’s.

This pickup hasn't seen use in the last half century if I had to guess.

This pickup hasn't seen use in the last half century if I had to guess.

They must’ve been off at the lake because the boat was gone.  Walk by, whip out the camera, rip off some fast shots, and haul your behind out of there.  I know this may sound like we’re breaking the law, but that’s because we are.  Better to beg for forgiveness then beg for permission, right?  I think the crowd may be divided on that one.

Anyways, here I am typing up a storm in a familiar place.  Oh yeah, KOA in Butte, Montana.  You know the Butte – Butt jokes are rolling, and I’m even thinking about buying a shirt that says, “Butte America” and somehow scratching off the “E”.  I keep you posted on that one.


North By Northwest: Rocky Mountain High

Posted in Personal with tags , , , , , , , on August 21, 2009 by Kyle Barry

It’s been 3 whole days since I’ve had even a hint of cell reception, much less internet access.  The past few days have been full of experiences you only dream about, and have left me with almost no words to convey what it’s been like.  I’ll do my best here.  Where I left off last time, we were settling in nicely to our cabin on the eastern side of Wyoming.  The drive had been beautiful and we had just begun to feel what it was like to be surrounded by nothing but gorgeous scenery.

Day 3

Tuesday morning, we departed from Buffalo and headed due west on I-90.  The pictures I’ve included really don’t do justice.  It’s just that incredible.  You pull over on the side of the highway, and just exhale as you turn in place 360º and gaze out into this great expanse.  I forget if I’m repeating myself, but Wyoming really is America’s best kept secret.  With a population just under a half million, it’s our least populated state but I can’t figure out why.  Forget Florida, I’m retiring out here.

We traded the interstate for a Wyoming 16, a scenic route that continues west.  We happened upon a large sanctuary for wild mustangs called FOAL, which is home to over 30,000 wild horses.  A small dirt road gives access to amazing views of the horizon as well as bands of horses roaming free as I feel they were intended to.

Pictured left to right are a stallion, colt, and mare.  What a family.

Pictured left to right are a stallion, colt, and mare. What a family.

I can’t think of any other time in my life when I’ve been left speechless.  Where else can you see something like this?  It was just incredible.

We drove a bit farther and found the rodeo town of Cody, Wyoming, on the western border of the state.  Great little mountain town, with a rodeo that they claimed was “world famous”.  I beg to differ.  Colleen bought a belt buckle the size of a Cadillac that she swears she will wear.  I have yet to see it in action.  I’m guessing it will never leave the shrinkwrap.

Day 4

We started our ascent into the northern range of the Rocky Mountains the following morning.  This was a collection of twisting, windy routes with guardrails dangling on the edge of cliffs, each pass across the mountain steeper than the last.  Leaving Cody at around 5500 feet, we reach the acme, commonly referred to as “The Top of the World” at just under 11,000 feet.  A little turnoff at the very top gave way to the enormous valley we had just left.

A view from the top

A view from the top

This is where, had I been properly equipped in the vocal region, I could have yodeled to my heart’s content.  Or maybe just shouted, “RI-CO-LA”.  We found patches of snow and ice at this elevation and thought, why not have a snowball fight in the middle of August?  Bad idea.  They don’t tell you the air is thin up here just to yank your chain.  After about a minute of LIGHTLY JOGGING around flat ground, we were completely out of breath, gasping for air.  It doesn’t take much before you’re looking for a coach to sub you out.  Needless to say, we stayed in the car for the rest of the mountain pass.

Another one of those unbelievable moments presented itself at the same rest stop up in the middle of this mountain pass.  There were a slew of ground squirrels and chipmunks running around, looking for crumbs and bits of food to nibble on.  Come to find out, they were pretty daring, and would actually come right up to you and eat out of your hand.  It was pretty hilarious after about 5 minutes, because with a handful of sunflower seeds, you could have a small army of critters crawling all over you.

I couldn't figure out if this was Simon, Theodore, or Alvin.

I couldn't figure out if this was Simon, Theodore, or Alvin.

We ventured on and down the other side into the little town of Cooke City, Montana.  The pass provided a back and forth state change through Wyoming and Montana several times.  Cooke City was pretty much like any other little mountain town, except they had an amazing selection of apparel.  I purchased a hoodless sweatshirt, designed and printed in 1984, of snowmobiles.  I’m just going to take a stab in the dark here and say that I will only be allowed to wear this by myself, and not in the company of a certain someone.  It’s awesome though.  Seriously.

Incredibly, we drove even further, and entered Yellowstone National Park through the Lamar Valley.  Apparently, they refer to this part of the park as the “Serengeti of Yellowstone”.  It’s easy to see why.  This massive valley, squeezed between two canyon walls, is lush with sage and tall grass.  It’s perfect for the larger packs of animals such as…I don’t know…buffalo?  Oh yeah.  We had been in the park maybe 10 minutes, soaking up more amazing scenery when we see what at first appeared to be an extremely furry Volkswagen bus parked out in the middle of this meadow.  Pulling off to the side of the road, we come to realize it’s a buffalo, or bison.  (I still haven’t figured that one out.  There are signs throughout the park referring to them as both, but I’m guessing one is plural and one is singular.  If you figure it out, let me know.)

They are somewhat like a cross between a bull and the Incredible Hulk

They are somewhat like a cross between a bull and the Incredible Hulk

Colleen goes running over and starts snapping photos only about 100 feet from this mammoth beast.  People are slowing down to get pictures and a lady yells out of her car.

“Hey, just to let you know, they can gallop at 30 mph and they DO gore just like a real bull.”

Gotcha.  Cameras still work from inside the car, so we stuck with that mindset throughout the rest of the park.

We settled down at a local campground for the night, with an entire view of the Milky Way and every constellation visible in the summer months overhead.  Wow, I didn’t know that was included in the 20 dollar camping fee.

Day 5

So, up at this elevation, it gets kind of chilly at night.  So much so that Colleen decided she would be a bit more comfortable in the car with the heat on.  There was frost on the tent at 6 in the morning, and I’m almost positive I have what looks to be the beginning stages of frostbite on a couple of my toes.  Probably just blisters from wearing thongs sandals on open trails, but frostbite sounds better.  Colleen didn’t feel so good so we headed over to an aide station and found out that she had a case of mountain sickness, or altitude sickness.  Some people are affected by the drastic changes in elevation, and it causes headaches and nausea.  We were told to return to about 6000 feet and camp there for the night.  So after a little bit of tourist-y stuff like the hot springs and Old Faithful, we headed down through Big Boobs Grand Tetons National Park and into Jackson Hole, Wyoming.  This was after we crossed over the Continental Divide multiple times.  If you are unaware of what that is, let me enlighten you.  (Colleen had to tell me because I didn’t know either, so no worries.)  Basically, this divides the continent in half so to speak so that every river and stream on the west side eventually flows into the Pacific and every flowing body of water on the east side eventually makes its way into the Atlantic.  Because the Rocky Mountains are so large, the Continental Divide is much farther west than the actual halfway point of the United States.  There’s your geography lesson for the week.  You’re welcome.  I accept donations in the form of American currency and vouchers for free sandwiches at Arby’s.  Thank you.

A must see, but not the awesome eruption I was hoping for.

A must see, but not the awesome eruption I was hoping for.

The reason I haven’t really talked about all the cool stuff in Yellowstone is because, frankly, it wasn’t that amazing.  Don’t get me wrong, it’s certainly something you have to do if you’re out here, but after seeing wild horses, mountain passes with expansive valleys, and all kinds of other amazing things, a couple of bubbling springs and a geyser that sprays hot water 30 feet into the air after waiting for 45 minutes just doesn’t measure up.  Yellowstone is one of those classic tourist traps, where everything costs a fortune, like those sandwich shops in airports.  Everyone has a camcorder with a herd of little kids running around, and it’s packed…always packed.  Colleen and I both agree that the scenic roads, the lonely stretches, the vast uninhabited is where you really gasp at the creation that is Earth.  You get misty eyed and find yourself standing in the same spot for 15 minutes just staring in awe.  I’m doing my best to translate what I’m seeing and experiencing into words, but you really have to do this on your own.  I know I’m coming back at some point.  I have to.  It’s too beautiful to see just one time.  You can do it on a budget.  Take me and Colleen for example.  A tent and two sleeping bags.  Two meals a day with coffee in the late morning.  The only thing you’re paying for constantly is gas and food, both of which are not expensive if you do it right.  I am jobless and homeless in about 10 days, but I couldn’t pass up an opportunity like this because it may not ever present itself again.  Buy a plane ticket, fly into the middle of nowhere, rent a Kia Rondo, and just start driving in any direction.  You’re bound to see amazing things.

North By Northwest: She’s a Butte

Posted in Personal with tags , , , , on August 17, 2009 by Kyle Barry

Day 2

Today was a bit more relaxed than yesterday with more driving and less tourist traps.  The night before, Colleen and I found a cute little motor lodge right outside of Deadwood in its sister town, Lead.  The two room cabin was cozy and rustic, but this morning we both found blood stains on our comforters…maybe a bit too rustic.  We returned to Deadwood to visit Mt. Moriah Cemetery which is home to the graves of “Wild Bill” Hickock and “Calamity” Jane.  The short drive was steep, as was the stroll up to the gravesite, but the view was breathtaking, as it has been since we got here.  We even climbed to the very top, which was at an elevation of over 5500 feet, and we were both sucking wind like fatties.

Vole Buffalo Jump at the side of I-90

Vole Buffalo Jump at the side of I-90

Grabbing some brunch at the Iron Horse Inn, we headed out for the beautifully lonely state of Wyoming.  Our first stop was Devil’s Tower.  This mammoth rock tower, which formed from a pocket of magma under the earth’s crust, rises over 900 feet out of the ground.  It’s an alien shape on the horizon, dwarfing the surrounding buttes and rolling hills.

Devil's Tower from the foot of the boulder field below it.

Devil's Tower from the foot of the boulder field below.

Google it for more information, but I would highly recommend checking it out if you are ever out in this area.  We doubled back for a bit to drive through Sundance, where Butch Cassidy’s famous sidekick gained his name.  Apparently Robert Redford was influenced so heavily by this small town that he created a film festival in its honor.  It’s nothing special.  I don’t see what’s so amazing about it.  Moving on.

The landscape and scenery out here can give you goosebumps because it looks like a gigantic painting.  It’s so surreal at times that there are no words to encapsulate it and taking a picture just wouldn’t do it justice.  You really have to see it firsthand to appreciate the beauty of this state.   I’m so excited for what’s in store next.  We are about 1/3 of the way across and tomorrow we hope to reach Yellowstone Park and the edge of the Rocky Mountains.

North By Northwest: The Beginning

Posted in Personal with tags , , , , on August 16, 2009 by Kyle Barry

Arrival

I think I realized I was a true American when I got excited because they had full WIFI reception in the men’s room at the airport.  Nothing like a little solitaire on the commode, right?

I spent most of yesterday flying through the midwest and on into the Rockies.  I spent countless hours in cramped seats next to people with excessive ear hair or an infatuation with the psoriasis on the backs of their hands (I kid you not.)  I shouldn’t be talking considering I have what some refer to as a bit of a gas problem.  One notable thing I picked up on while still at O’Hare was that a lovely young woman was holding her luggage waiting to board, but was decked out in Amish clothing.  Now the last time I checked, the Amish didn’t even use electricity, much less motorized vehicles.  So what gives?  Have they figured out how to strap a couple of turbine engines to a horse and buggy?  I also think it’s important to mention that I did use the facilities on the flight from Kansas City to Denver, hoping to catch a glimpse of the now famous razor blade slot that Jerry Seinfeld hilariously refers to in his standup bit.  To my dismay, there is no slot to speak of.  I was all ready with my camera phone too, but nothing.  What a disappointment.

My day of flying ended in a small city located on the west side of South Dakota, affectionately called Rapid City Shitty.  Well, that’s what it should be called.  What a miserable little slice of existence.  It’s just another reminder why I never want to live in small town, America… ever.  Colleen (my older sister) and I settled in to our room at the luxurious Econolodge in town, and laughed ourselves to sleep over inappropriate Michael Jackson jokes.

Day 1

With no real agenda or schedule to keep, we rolled out of bed at around 10 and took our time leaving.  I made motel room coffee which may have been simultaneously the best and worst decision of my life.  Our first stop on this grand tour was Mt. Rushmore.  We wound through the Black Hills, passing countless fields of hay and cattle, and up into the cool air to find four dead guys with their mugs carved into limestone.  It was actually quite beautiful.  It’s just incredible to think that something like that was created without the aide of computers.  It just boggles my mind.

Beatiful Mt. Rushmore

Beautiful Mt. Rushmore

Mt. Rushmore is one of those little slices of Americana, the hokey tourist stops in the middle of nowhere, but for me, that is what this trip is all about.  It’s so pathetic and cliché that it needs to be done.  Colleen agrees.  Back in the small town at the foot of the mountain was where I indulged in my first Buffalo burger.  AMAZING.  My liver and kidneys hate me.  On to Crazy Horse.

Now I didn’t know anything about Crazy Horse or his monument until today, but apparently he was quite the Native American hero.  This monument is absolutely massive and is something out of the Lord of the Rings.  The entire sculpture of Mt. Rushmore could fit on just his head alone.  The Native Americans asked this crazy Polish sculptor to create a monument to Crazy Horse because they wanted Americans to know that they have heroes too.  He started by himself in the 1940’s and the project is completely privately funded.  It’s in the process of being completed and will most likely take somewhere between 50 and 100 years.  The final concept drawings look just stunning though.

Oh, did I mention I saw Crazy Horse from a helicopter?  Oh yeah, we’re doing this thing high class out here in South Dakota.  The 15 minute ride over the monument was nuts.  I was actually stressed out because you look down at your feet and 1000 feet down are tiny little trees and minute strips of road.  Totally worth 65 dollars.

The plaster model shows what the actual monument will look like when completed.

The plaster model shows what the actual monument will look like when completed.

Finally, we rolled into an old mining town way off in the hills called Deadwood.  Now you might be saying to yourself, “I’ve heard of that.”  They recently did an HBO series called Deadwood, all about the rough beginnings and ongoing anarchy in this lawless strip of saloons and burlesque houses.  Talk about your all time tourist traps.  Not only have they fully legalized gambling here, but the souvenir shops are like Starbucks.  The old time photo booths and re-enactments of Wild Bill Hickock getting shot in the back.  Fun and entertaining, but I feel for the people that live here permanently.

So here I am, feverishly typing away because I’m exhausted after only one day.  A lot has happened so far and I hope we maintain this pace.  The plan for tomorrow is Sturgis, and off into the forgotten state of Wyoming.  But I can’t say for sure, because we’re going wherever the roads take us and making decisions on a whim.