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Posts Tagged ‘US travel’

water carnival

Look up “good clean fun” in the dictionary and you’ll be directed to the Detroit Lakes, Minnesota annual Water Carnival. The community recently celebrated the 75th anniversary of the event in the usual way: turtle races, boat parade, firehose water fight, “polka in the pavilion”, kid’s ship building contest, and 63 other events.

The money shot of the two-week festival is the Parade of the Northwest, involving every Shriner in a 200-miles radius, every emergency and service vehicle in the city (including the Kentucky Fried Chicken delivery van), assorted entrants (like the bed race champion), and local elected officials and festival organizers waving from towed pontoons.

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old montana prison

I’m not sure how I feel about the Old Montana Prison, built in 1871 and emptied of prisoners and staff in the late 70s.

While sad, it also felt unhaunted and peacefully laid to rest. Inside the red castle-style walls the offices are in stasis—as if the job placement counselor and chaplain just stepped out for a coffee—and have a stark, government-issue beauty (if there was ever an oxymoron, that’s it).

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custer’s last stand

We visited the Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument—a vast area 60 miles from Billings, Montana—on the day after it took place 134 years ago. Ralph “The Master of History” narrated the story of the clash between Custer, his two subordinates (Benteen and Reno) and the 600 men of the 7th Cavalry, and thousands of well prepared Native American warriors as we drove the length of the battlefield and back.

“What happened was this,” Ralph began patiently. “Custer divided his command into three, well, really three and a half parts” (already this account is getting complicated.)

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virginia city

Look up “Virginia City” in any thesaurus and it will be synonymous with “tourist trap”. Something about that name, from Nevada to Montana, means overpriced sassparillas, olde tymey portraits, tedious demonstrations, cheap t-shirts and worse.

Virginia City, Montana and it’s redheaded stepsister, Nevada City, are technically ghost towns that are described as “two of the best-preserved examples of the many mining camps of the West.” During the gold rush days in Alder Gulch, Virginia City—population 10,000—was the largest town in the inland Northwest. Now, it’s teeming with nearly that many sightseers, but unlike the Nevada version, it manages to retain a modicum of authenticity.

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austin

Question: Is Austin legitimately fabulous, or only comparatively so?

I visited Austin—an oasis in a bleak and vast cultural wasteland (I’m looking at you, Texas)—on work business, sans Airstream. Released at last from exhibit hall duty at the Hilton I set out on foot in the wrong direction to find Hey Cupcake, the Airstream food cart darling of Twitter buzz. After many blocks I was informed by a hot UPS guy that I was miles from my destination on the opposite side of town. “But if it’s cupcakes you’re lookin’ for?” he said, pointing. “Right by those men there walkin’ up ahead? There are some cupcakes…” [trails off, slowly shakes head]. “Mm-mm. They are dee-LISH. They make you wanna slap yer mama.”

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ogden

The Utah scenery abruptly vanished when the wind kicked up and created a brownout of smoke and grit from Provo to Ogden so thick we could barely see the huge temple in downtown SLC. People everywhere were apologizing. (“It’s never like this!”) A crusty guy in line at the gas station convenience store reported that “one of the islands in the lake”—what on earth could he have been talking about—was on fire due to a lightning strike.

When a state park is downgraded to a county park it falls into a bureaucratic black hole for a period, making it impossible to find online or otherwise. Such was the fate of Fort Buenaventura, which we finally discovered hidden behind the railroad yard.

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the pretty state

Sorry California. You too, Colorado. In the scenery smackdown, Utah is the clear victor.

My conspiracy theory is that Utah pays New Mexico to be a disorganized empty lot so it can be even that much more attractive by comparison. Almost immediately northwest of Four Corners the attitude brightens and the landscape gets increasingly more striking as you near Moab, which is home to what looked from the freeway to be one of the prettiest KOAs in the West.

Surreal Arches will require a second visit to stop and camp overnight at Devils Garden. (I would love to know how many natural areas in the U.S. have the word “devil” in their name).

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colorado

Outside Magazine just declared Colorado Springs the number one best city in the country. (As they maturely state, “It’s simply a pretty awesome place to live.”) Passing through Colorado Springs we only saw the Scenic Office Parks of I-15 as we drove around in vain looking for an Airstream dealership that moved months ago but never updated their website.

We agree that the best thing about Eastern Colorado is the tiny town of Trinidad at the base of the Sangre de Cristos. “Oh, I know Trinidad well,” said Ralph’s mother when we later told her we found it to be the cutest place we visited (this should tell you something about our route).

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wyoming

When I moved to Portland twenty years ago I thought the Oregon Trail was, well, in Oregon. I’m embarrassed that I was surprised to encounter historic aspects of the trail (and signs of Lewis and Clark) in almost every Western state we visited.

Fort Laramie in Wyoming is (according to the Smithsonian Guide to Historic America, our roadtrip reference bible) one of the West’s most important forts. As a trading post in the 1840s it became a popular stop on the Oregon Trail, one-third of the way to the promised land and the first place to swap an ox in 300 miles. Today, it’s restored to appear the way it looked back in the day and “provides a glimpse of a bygone military era”.

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i’ve got one just like it in my living room

Close Encounters has been on my Top 10 Favorite Movies list for 35 years so I was predictably excited about visiting Devils Tower, our nation’s first national monument. As we drove through Wyoming I waited for it to appear on the horizon the way I did as a child in the 60s approaching Disneyland, watching from the backseat of the family Studebaker for the first sighting of the Matterhorn.

As one explores the world it’s interesting to note how the natural and manmade wonders you’ve come to know in photos and films hold up to face-to-face scrutiny.

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