Archive for September, 2012


Checking in from Charles City, Iowa …


On our trip back across the country, we visited two iconic locations in a single day.  In Mitchell, South Dakota, we started our day at a uniquely American folk art building—the majestic Corn Palace.  This building, in its third iteration, has celebrated agriculture and the productivity of the American farmer since 1892.  Each year a new decorating theme is chosen and the outside of the Corn Palace is stripped and completely redecorated with new corncobs and grains.  Some 3,000 bushels of rye, oat heads and sour dock are tied into bundles and used along with corn to grace the exterior of the building.  Roughly 275,000 ears of dried corn in twelve colors are sawed lengthwise and are nailed to the building in elaborate patterns created by local artists.  And the building is not a simple box.  In each rendition, it has turrets and towers, spires and steeples.  It is an amazing structure that is the center of community activity for the prairie of South Dakota, hosting plays, stage shows, concerts, trade shows, even basketball games.  Folksy and corny but remarkable and original.


In the afternoon, we rolled into Clear Lake, Iowa to visit the famed Surf Ballroom.  Built in 1948, this nostalgic facility has been lovingly maintained in its original glory and splendor.  The 30,000 square foot facility has a capacity of 2,100 and includes a 6,300 square foot polished wood dance floor.  The ballroom’s name and motif was chosen by the original owner who wanted it to look like a beach club, complete with palm trees, bamboo and rattan and the ambience of a South Seas island.  The dance floor is circled by booths that would be at home in any 50’s diner.


The walls of the Surf are lined with the photos of the countless stars that have appeared in the club from genres of folk, country, jazz, blues, pop, swing, rock and big band music.  Names like Count Basie, Duke Ellington, Lawrence Welk, the Everly Brothers, Roy Orbison, Ricky Nelson, Little Richard, Fats Domino, the Drifters, Conway Twitty, George Jones and Willie Nelson.  The Surf continues to draw big names in recent years including Santana, BB King, ZZ Top, George Strait and so many others.  Even big name comedians like Bill Cosby and Jerry Seinfeld continue to appear here.


Of course, the Surf Ballroom will always be tied to the 1959 Winter Dance Party and the night of February 2, 1959.  The Dance Party was a 24 day barnstorming tour of the Midwest featuring Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens, J. P. “Big Bopper” Richardson and Dion and the Belmonts.  From the beginning, the tour was an organizational disaster with the stars and support staff crisscrossing the Midwest in a drafty bus in the worst winter in many years.  On the fateful night, however, the show was a great success with the crowded ballroom rocking to the best of early rock music.  When the show ended and the crew started to head to the next site, Buddy decided to charter a plane for himself and his band the Crickets.  One of the Crickets (Waylon Jennings) gave up his seat on the plane to Ritchie Valens who had the flu, and the other Cricket (Tommy Alsup) lost his seat to the Big Bopper in a coin flip.  Tragically shortly after takeoff, the plane went down in a cornfield, killing the three stars and the pilot.  The loss of these stars, particularly Buddy Holly, was to quote the song American Pie—“the night the music died.”


Brenda and I were honored and awed to stroll around the Surf Ballroom.  We were allowed to go into the “green room” where the stars awaited their time on stage.  The walls of the green room (which are white) are covered with the autographs of performers including the first verse of American Pie penned and signed by Don McLean.  We were also allowed to walk up on the stage for a photo.  Thanks to our hostess Margaret for her kindness to some real Buddy Holly fans.  Even though the Surf Ballroom is a long way from North Carolina and Florida, we hope to return to this historic venue for a future concert, maybe even the annual celebration of the Winter Dance Party.


Please keep following our journey east and south.   And don’t forget to join us at the PNC Center in Raleigh at 1:00PM on October 7 for the Triangle Heart Walk.


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Checking in from Mitchell, South Dakota …


 Leaving Yellowstone, we headed east through Montana and Wyoming.  At an early stop in one of the canyons, we met a National Parks Ranger who was saddling a couple of horses.  Ranger Donna was preparing to head off by herself into the wilderness to check on hikers.  Since I really like horses and adventure, I was little envious of her job.  Could get a little lonely though, and this country can be threatening.   To emphasize the raw nature of the land, the roads are marked every quarter of mile with stakes that measure snow levels, three and six feet.


 In southern Montana, we visited a truly historic site—Little Big Horn—the scene of Custer’s Last Stand.  On this rise in the plains on June 25-26, 1876, a Seventh Cavalry force of 647 men under the command of George Armstrong Custer faced approximately 1,800 Indians from the Lakota Sioux, Northern Cheyenne and Arapaho tribes.  The army was trying to return the tribes to a reservation, while the Indians commanded by Crazy Horse, Sitting Bull and Gall wanted to reclaim their original territory.  With a textbook case of arrogant leadership, military mistakes and miscommunication, the Indians won an overwhelming victory.  Custer, who was actually a Lt Colonel but had assumed a brevet promotion to Major General, had split his forces and was entrenched with just over 200 men on the high ground.  Forces under Majors Reno and Benteen were located some distance away.   Five of the Seventh Cavalry companies were annihilated including Custer and all the men with him.  The casualty count for the US forces was 268 dead and 55 wounded; for the Indians, 136 dead and 168 wounded.  It was sobering to see the stone markers where the men had fallen.


 As we eased into northeastern Wyoming and South Dakota, we entered the Black Hills.  This area was so-named by the Indians due to the pines that cover the hills and are such a dark green that they look black from a distance.  In the Black Hills, we visited two world famous landmarks—Mount Rushmore and the Crazy Horse Memorial.  Driving around a curve in the mountains, Mount Rushmore with its sculpted countenances of Presidents Washington, Jefferson, Lincoln and Teddy Roosevelt is pretty amazing.  This sculpture was started in 1927 by artist Gutzon Borglund and was basically left in its current state since 1939 when Borglund died and funding dried up.   The Crazy Horse Memorial was commissioned by the Oglala Lakota nation in 1948 based on drawings by Borglund with original sculptor Korczk Ziolkowski to honor the Native Americans.  It is far from finished with a projected completion date of 2120.  If and when it is finished, it would be the largest memorial on earth.


 Wildlife is plentiful in the Black Hills.  We came across pronghorns, antelopes and deer and saw several flocks of wild turkeys.  In the Wind Cave National Park, we got really close to a small herd of bison (buffaloes) with an even larger herd grazing in the distance.  The bison are huge and considered dangerous, but they appear to be docile and even a little lazy.  Maybe these particular animals are just too used to gawking tourists.


 We also did a few drive-thrus of a couple of famous towns in the Black Hills.  Sheridan, Wyoming is the hometown of Buffalo Bill Cody.  And Deadwood, South Dakota is where Wild Bill Hickok was shot in the back and killed while holding a full house poker hand of aces over eights.


Leaving the Black Hills, we entered the Badlands of South Dakota.  The Badlands were so named by the Indians as a “bad land to cross.”  This is an area where soft sedimentary rock has been eroded over time by wind and water into a colorful and unbelievable landscape marked by canyons, ravines, gullies and hoodoos.  No two parts of the Badlands are alike, yet each part is remarkable and strangely beautiful in a raw and unique way.  Definitely, a must-see part of any trip to the West.


We are now headed back to North Carolina with hopes to see other parts of our great country.

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Checking in from West Yellowstone, Montana …


 On our way back to the east coast, Brenda and I were fortunate to spend the better part of two days at Yellowstone National Park.  We have wanted to see this premier destination for years.  Yellowstone covers almost 3,500 square miles, mostly in Wyoming but with some acreage in Montana and Idaho.  From the RV site in West Yellowstone, Montana, it was less than three miles to the western entrance to the park.  Once again, we got in free on our seniors pass.  Oh, it’s great to be a senior citizen (occasionally).


 The park has been occupied by Indians for almost 11,000 years.  It was explored by the Lewis and Clark Expedition early in the 18th century, but, with the exception of a few mountain men like Jim Bridger, was not inhabited by white men until the 1860’s.  It was one of the first national parks, established in 1872 by President U. S. Grant.   The vast park encompasses mountain ranges, valleys, canyons, forests, meadows, rivers and streams.


 Probably the primary attraction at Yellowstone is the geothermal or hydrothermal activity.  The hydrothermal activity is a result of latent volcanic forces under the park.  In fact, Yellowstone Lake in the center of the park sits on the Yellowstone Calderon, one of the largest super-volcanoes on earth.  With over 10,000 hydrothermal features, Yellowstone has over half of the total in the whole world.   The hydrothermal features include: colorful hot springs with water boiling at an average of 278 degrees; mud pots (acidic hot springs with limited water); paint pots that boil into pools of various pastel shades; geysers (hot springs under tremendous pressure that release periodically); and, fumaroles that emit sulphuric gases and smoke.


 We visited geyser basins and paint pot fields and drove through beautiful valleys cut with pristine steams where fly fishermen waded at many points.  Of course, we had to visit the world famous Old Faithful geyser to wait with others for the eruption of water.  For almost 150 years, this geyser has spurted water some 140 feet in the air every 50 to 120 minutes on an average of every 92 minutes.  In our case the eruption occurred almost right on time, 94 minutes after the last blast.  It was as expected, spectacular, drawing uhs and ahs from the crowd and lasting over two minutes.  This is one of the sights that every American should see.  It was amazing, however, that the large crowd was made up of so many from other countries.  It almost seemed that English was the minority language while we were in Yellowstone.


 Another outstanding geological feature in the park is the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone.  This truly colorful canyon is bisected by the Yellowstone River which features the fantastic Yellowstone Falls which fall in two parts first 109 feet, then a whopping 308 feet more.  From Inspiration Point on the north rim and Artist Point on the south rim, the view of the falls and the canyon is truly breath-taking.


 The secondary attraction at Yellowstone is the wildlife.  Along the roads, it is common to see elk and mule deer grazing and wading in the streams.  They seem totally comfortable with humans stopping and snapping photos.  We also saw several lone bison bulls close to the roadside, and in the beautiful Hayden Valley, we came upon a herd of bison with bulls, cows and calves.  Zuzu also spotted the “buffaloes” and actually whined at the sight of the “big puppies,” wanting to play with them.   We saw what we think was a lone wolf way off in the distance at one point but did not see the grizzly or black bears or cougars that roam the park.


 Yellowstone is truly a special part of America, and we hope all can visit at some time.  We next pack up and head through Wyoming to Deadwood, South Dakota, the Black Hills and the Badlands.  Looking forward to getting back to North Carolina by the end of September.  Hope to see many of you at the Triangle Heart Walk on October 7 at the PNC Center in Raleigh.

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I’ve Been Everywhere

Our son, Jeff, created a video highlighting many of the places we visited on the walk and many of the people we met along the way…

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Checking in from Cedar City, Utah …


  On our way out of California, our path once again crossed the Mohave Desert, somewhat north of my walking path.  Wasn’t quite so hot this time because we passed under the continual threat of thunderstorms.  We caught the edge of several storms and had to ease our way across a couple of flood washes that had crossed the road.    Crossing Nevada, we again were lucky to stay basically ahead of the worst of some serious storms.  We heard the next day that flash floods had swamped parts of Las Vegas right along the path we had passed just a short time earlier.  Even so, it was no fun out-running storms and negotiating Las Vegas traffic in an RV pulling a little car.


  After bisecting Nevada, we crossed a little 40 mile section of the most northwestern corner of Arizona.  This stretch of road runs through the Virgin River Canyon which is an amazing winding path cut through steep and severe mountain peaks.  The combination of nature’s work and human engineering makes a breath-taking ride.  The Canyon was, however, just a prelude to the wonders of the Utah landscape that lay before us.


  On Wednesday, we headed about 100 miles off path to visit the beautiful and unique Bryce Canyon National Park (BCNP).  (Couldn’t help thinking that would have been about five days of walking.)  On the way, we got a taste of what was coming as we passed through the Red Canyon which lives up to its name with spectacular red rock formations including a couple of rock arches over the road.  Admission to BCNP was a whopping $25, but we got in free with our National Parks Seniors Pass.  Finally, some advantage to getting older.  Even at the full price, Bryce Canyon would be a bargain.  The rim of the canyon, which is about 18 miles long, rises from 6,000 to over 9,100 feet in elevation.  It looks down on a vista that is unlike any other—complex, rich and colorful.   The floor of the canyon is littered with limestone towers called “hoodoos,” pinnacle or odd-shaped rocks left standing after erosion over eons of time ate away the adjacent formations.  Most canyons are created by flowing water.  Bryce Canyon and its hoodoos are an exception.  Naturally acidic rainwater dissolved the limestone walls into strange shapes while the freezing and thawing of snow and ice helped sculpt the hoodoos.  Every color seemed to be represented from white through every earth tone to purple.   A favorite sight was the “Natural Bridge” which is actually an arch etched in the limestone.  Brenda describes the hoodoos as looking like huge candles that melted with wax running down the sides.  The view was unique in every direction with each point on the canyon rim offering a different perspective.  Brenda, Zuzu and I even walked about a half a mile down into the canyon for a close-up of the hoodoos.  The walk was worth the effort, but the climb back was challenging.


 Riding out of the park, we saw a sizable mule deer buck and several pronghorns, including one grazing very near our car.  We learned that the pronghorns are mistakenly called antelopes, but their closest genetic relative is actually the African giraffe.  We did not see the bears and mountain lines that also roam the park but are thankfully more reclusive.


 Be sure to check out our photos of Bryce Canyon.  Only a few of the best are shown since we took over 250 shots.  Not only is Bryce Canyon National Park beautiful, but it also has its place in romantic Western history since it was a frequent hideout of the Hole-in-the-Wall Gang led by Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.  Be sure to include BCNP on your list my must-sees across American and allow a day or more to take in the gorgeous views.


Next destination for us is Yellowstone.  Stay tuned.

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Checking in from Barstow, CA …


 After leaving LA, we headed north up the central valleys of California, to visit our son Jeff and his family in Pleasanton, CA (halfway between San Jose and Oakland).  Once we were through the golden hill country, we passed endless fields of crops, groves of fruit trees and vineyards.  Some we could identify; some unique to us.  California produces more than half of the nation’s fruit, nuts and vegetables.  Grapes are the leading legal crop, followed by almonds.  Nationally, the following products are almost exclusively grown in CA (over 95%): artichokes, dates, figs, kiwifruit, olives, persimmons, pistachios, prunes, raisins and walnuts.  In addition, strawberries, oranges, lemons, limes, grapefruit, greens of all types, onions and garlic are major crops.  The fields, groves and vineyards were massive and generally well tended, mostly by migrant workers toiling in the California sun.


We enjoyed several days in Pleasanton, which lives up to its name and is certainly “pleasant.”  On Friday night, we were greeted by Jeff and Debbie’s neighbors with a block party featuring pizza, ice cream and a cake tracing the Heart Trek USA path.  Early Saturday morning, our granddaughters, Ashley and Olivia, marched through the vibrant downtown area of Pleasanton that looks like a movie version of Main Street America along with at least three hundred other kids that are part of the Pleasanton soccer leagues.  Each team was dressed in costumes to match their team name.  Ashley, who plays on the 10-12 year old Bullet team, was dressed with a silver cape, silver face paint and silver swim cap and was followed by coaches and team mothers carrying bull eyes (that had been made by Brenda, Jeff’s wife Debbie and Debbie’s mother Lillian).   Olivia, who plays on the 8 year old Matador team, was carrying a red cape and had a red flower in her hair while her coaches dressed as bulls and charged in front of the girls.  There were lots of creative costumes among the other teams as well.  After the parade, we visited the downtown farmers market that featured many of the products seen on our trip north plus some unique Asian fruit that were new to us.  Soccer games followed with Ashley’s team coming up a little short and Olivia’s team winning.  But all had fun and got some good exercise.


 On Sunday, Brenda had a full day learning to prepare and cook some Chinese dishes from resident master chefs, Debbie and Lillian.  After a quick lesson, Brenda was busy folding and filling won ton pastries.  There was much chopping and dicing going on.  With the kitchen full, I was allowed to watch pro football which starts at 10:00AM in California.  (I knew there was something special about the left coast).  The meal that night included won ton soup, fried won tons with sweet and sour sauce, chicken with broccoli, bok choy with ginger, Chinese sausage, crispy pork and of course rice.  The meal was very tasty, but Brenda found that Chinese cooking takes a lot of preparation.  We’ll probably continue to eat most of our Chinese meals out of little paper pails with wire handles.


 Jeff was busy on Sunday finalizing a musical video review of my walk across the country.  Be sure to check future blogs for the end product.  We had a wonderful, relaxed visit with the west coast branch of our family that was much too short.  The girls are growing so fast.  We miss seeing Jeff, Debbie, Ashley and little Olivia on a regular basis.  It was great to see them so happy, however, and enjoying life in Pleasanton.


 As we left Barstow, we headed south down Interstate 5 and east on Hwy 58, passing more groves and vegetable fields plus fields of roses and assorted flowers.  We’re headed next for Bryce Canyon, Utah.  Stay tune for what will hopefully be some spectacular photos.

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Checking in from King City, CA…


  Before leaving the Los Angeles area, we had the opportunity to visit two of the premier attractions of not only Southern California but of the nation—the J. Paul Getty Museum and the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library.  


The Getty Museum is rated as the number one attraction in Los Angeles.  This magnificent art museum is housed in a stunning architectural facility on a high bluff above the 405 (Interstate 405) with a great view of the LA basin.  It has the distinction of being the richest museum in the world, having been originally endowed by Paul Getty to the tune of $1.2 billion.  Its collection of Western art from the Middle Ages to the present includes works by such masters as Titian, Rembrandt, Monet, Renoir, Van Gogh and Gauguin.  The museum attracts over 1.3 million visitors annually.    We were shocked at how up- close-and-personal we could get to the priceless artworks.  Unfortunately, the Getty is so massive that we got to see less than half of the exhibits on our visit.  If visiting LA, don’t miss the Getty and allow two days to complete your tour.


   It was a personal thrill to visit the Reagan Library on a hilltop in nearby Simi Valley.  In my opinion, President Reagan was the greatest President in my lifetime and one of the two or three greatest of all time.  The life of “Dutch” Reagan is artfully presented from his childhood in Illinois, his college time at Eureka College, his experiences as a radio sports announcer, his diverse acting career, his tenure as president of the Screen Actors Guild, his time as the spokesman for General Electric, his governorship of California and his monumental performance as the 40th President of the United States.    Utilizing numerous films of Reagan’s speeches, it is clear why he was known as the “Great Communicator.”  In a quiet voice but with impeccable timing, he inspired Americans with strong values and a spirit of optimism and determination.  Thirty years after these speeches were delivered, I was moved by his words and infected with pride to be an American.


  The library holds more than 40,000 artifacts and has some magnificent exhibits—Air Force One that was used during Reagan’s presidency; an actual piece of the Berlin wall; and, an exact replica of the Oval Office.  The most inspirational part of the library, however, is President Reagan’s tomb and memorial on which is inscribed these words:  “I know in my heart that man is good, that what is right will always eventually triumph and there is purpose and worth to each and every life.”  


When visiting Los Angeles, you should consider skipping the cheesy tourist attractions and visit the world class Getty and Reagan Library.

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