Thursday, November 29, 2012

TPThursday: A Vermilion Vignette

The scenery had been stunning in its expansive, empty way; the roadways long and lonesome as the High Plains Drifters (our nom de blog for the next few weeks) made our way south to Arizona on this Western Winter Road Trip.

AZroadtrip2012 067 Having crossed our snow-dusted 3,022-foot Snoqualmie Pass in Washington on a gray Thanksgiving morning, we were delighted to find  elevations further south, like the Le Fevre Overlook at 6,700-feet, to be shirt-sleeve warm and sunny.

In keeping with our travel style, we followed a road less traveled  on this segment of our trip. It was Highway 89A, from St. George, Utah a route that wound its way through northern Arizona (instead of southern Utah) through the rather sparsely- forested Kaibab National Forest.

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We had no expectations – no ‘must see’ places – for the day, only a plan to reach Prescott, Arizona before sunset. And it is those kind of days, we’ve found with travel, when the magic happens.

A roadside overlook just outside this forested land is where we had our introduction to the Vermilion Cliffs National Monument, a mind-boggling vast area of some 293,000 acres of plateaus, canyons and cliffs. Two Native American ladies were some distance away quietly setting up tables to sell artwork and jewelry. The silence, the absolute silence and the view. . .I still struggle to find the words to describe that moment and its magic:

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For miles the roadway cut through that ‘valley floor’ itself an elevation of 5,000 feet, with those cinnabar cliffs towering from  3,100 – 6,500-feet above us.

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We were the only travelers on this stretch of road for some time and could only imagine what it had been like for Sharlot Hall (1870-1943), a journalist, poet and the Historian of the Arizona Territory as she traveled this same area by horse-drawn wagons some hundred years ago.

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The Vermilion Cliffs are an outdoor enthusiasts playground – hiking trails abound.  Next time, we’ll allow ourselves some time to stop and explore the area.  We passed two character-looking mom-and-pop places that offered overnight accommodations:  Lee’s Ferry Lodge and Marble Canyon Lodge.

If You Go:
The Vermilion Cliffs are bounded on the east by Glen Canyon National Recreation area, on the west by Kaibab National Forest, to the north by the Utah border and to the south, 89A (389 if coming from Fredonia).

Services are limited between St. George, Utah and Fredonia, Arizona; the bookend cities of this loop. However, there’s is a service station and convenience store at Pipe Springs, about 15 miles west of Fredonia.

The Paiute Indians have opened a museum across the road from the service station at Pipe Springs National Monument. Allow some time to visit it, the historic fort and cabins.

You can learn more about the woman I mentioned at the Sharlot Hall Museum, 415 W. Gurley, Prescott, AZ. (In 1927 she signed a contract to house her collection of history and memorabilia in the building that had in 1864 been the Governor’s Mansion.)

That’s it for today’s Travel Photo Thursday. Be sure to visit Budget Travelers Sandbox for more photos.

And for those who missed the first two segments of High Plains Drifter’s Winter Road trip, you might be interested in:
* A Thanksgiving Jackpot
* A Long Lonesome Road: To Stop or Not
Hope you’ll come back Saturday when I’ll tell you what “P.C.” means in Arizona!

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

On a Long, Lonesome Highway: To Stop or Not?

The High Plains Drifters left Jackpot, Nevada in the nippy early morning hours on Day 2 of our winter road trip through the Southwest. It was to be another day of traveling over long, lonesome highways as we crossed this state best known for the glitz and glamour of Las Vegas. 

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But away from Sin City there’s simply land; lots and lots of land.  One AAA Guidebook says of Nevada road trips, that you will either see miles of nothing or miles of everything – it’s all in your attitude. The first time we drove through the state, I’ll admit I thought it was the most God forsaken place I’d ever seen. . . it’s captured me now – this high desert landscape is lovely and lonesome.

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We reached Ely, Nevada (a place deserving of its own post soon) by noon; a short break for lunch and we were back in the car en route to Utah, where we’d spend the night in St. George.

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We passed a road sign that warned again picking up hitchhikers because there was a prison out there somewhere in the vast wilderness.  More miles and minutes ticked away and we were entertained by views of Wheeler Peak, 13,032 elevation, pictured above.  Our route looped around this stunning peak (there’s a 12-mile scenic drive that takes you to the 10,000 foot level on the flank of the Peak, which would have been spectacular, I’m sure) but once around the Peak our road again became. . .

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. . .the long ribbon of empty highway. A place so remote that neither  ‘dumb’ or ‘smart’ phones work. They whirl endlessly searching for service. 

Joel, after some time and many miles, asked if I could recall the last time we had passed a car. Hmmmm, one, two hours?

He’d no more than asked the question when in the distance we saw a car pulled off to the opposite side of the road.  A man started waving his arm to flag us down, a woman stood by the SUV with its engine hood raised. . .
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To stop or not to stop? 

Joel slowed, crossed the road to where the man was standing but kept our car in gear, foot on the brake.   Turns out this 40-something-year-old couple, who lived in a town a hundred miles away, were on a day’s outing to go ‘prospecting’ in the hills when their car broke down.  They couldn’t call for help – no cell phone service. It was too far to walk.  They’d tried flagging down the  few cars that had passed (obviously long before we arrived) but as the man said, “You know how it is. In this day and age, they don’t stop.”

I can’t tell you how profoundly grateful they were that we had pulled over.

We took all their information (their GPS, by the way, showed them on the wrong highway – luckily our old ‘paper map in the lap’ showed the road we were all on).  It was many miles down the road before we reached a place we could call 9-1-1. The dispatcher assured us he’d ‘get someone right out there’.  We suspect he did!

How sad, that we actually have to think twice about stopping to help someone these days. On this Travel Tip Tuesday, we ask the question:  To stop or not to stop?  What would you have done?

Monday, November 26, 2012

High Plains Drifters: A Thanksgiving Jackpot

The High Plains Drifters (our Southwestern nom de blog) brought the song lyrics, “Over the river and through the woods. . .” to life on Thanksgiving morning. 

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Tossing aside the traditional holiday falderal, we set out – for the first time ever - on a winter road trip. We headed for America’s Southwest on a 1,628 mile route that would take us from Washington State, across Oregon and a tip of Idaho, into Nevada, Utah and to our destination, Arizona.

AZroadtrip2012 007Winter road trips through this area of the country require bi-polar packing: flip-flops, shorts, and suntan lotion in the suitcases that sit next to tire chains, snow boots, gloves and window scrapers in the car’s trunk.

We were prepared for winter’s potentially worst driving conditions and were pleasantly surprised to find the only ‘snowy conditions’ were on the trees and roadside on Washington’s Snoqualmie Pass (top photo).

It was sunshine and blue skies as we crossed the Columbia River and entered Oregon country.

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Crossing Oregon’s Blue Mountains (this photo at the summit) was a snap. Traveling on Thanksgiving Day made for virtually no traffic. . .we did pass a group of wild turkeys standing along the roadside, showing off, we think,  for having avoided the platter for another year.

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Our route through central Oregon was flanked with the Wallowa Mountain range in the distance to our left and the Blue Mountains (pictured) to our right.

Day 1: Was a bottom-buster:  11 hours and 693 miles.  Subsequent days we allowed ourselves a bit more sightseeing, fewer miles and less hours in the car. 

We reached our destination: Jackpot, Nevada – a wide spot in the road just south of the Idaho border, with four casinos, three hotels and a service station at 6:45 p.m. our time; 7:45 p.m. by the Mountain Time they follow here.The casino/hotel we’d hoped to stay in was sold out – luckily the place across the street, Barton’s Club 93  had rooms ($57 a night)and food. 

We could have had the traditional turkey either as a plated meal or from the buffet.  But we’d already thrown tradition aside. . .

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. . . so we opted to hit the Thanksgiving Jackpot with chicken fried steak platters!

Hope you’ll come back for Day II of the winter road trip – we’ll be leaving early tomorrow so pack your bag and join us!

Sunday, November 25, 2012

WAWeekend: Autumn in the Islands

The ‘sea breeze’ was more an icy wind that made us stuff our hands into coat pockets for warmth. Evening came silently, as we stood at the end of the deserted marina dock, a usual summertime hub of activity. 

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On this night we were alone watching a sunset that was not the red blaze for which San Juan Island is known, but a calming  autumnal palate of pastels.. 

VeniceSanJuanIsl 288It had been several years since our travel compass had pointed us in the direction of the San Juan Islands, to the north of Seattle. Like so many travelers, we are guilty of taking the close-to-home wonders for granted.

In 2011 the San Juans were ranked the #2 place to visit in the world by the The New York Times and the #3 best place for a summer visit by National Geographic.

There are many from which to choose, San Juan, Orcas, Lopez, and Shaw, perhaps better known than Blakely, Decatur, Stuart, Waldron and a myriad of other small islands that make up the group.

They are close enough to Seattle (about a 90 minute drive to Anacortes, the city from where the ferries depart) that it is possible to do it in a day or overnight trip, but by giving ourselves two nights on San Juan Island we had time to explore its west coast and southern tip, both places we’d never visited.

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We drove the two-lane paved road that loops through forested areas and emerges to stunning views out over the Strait of Juan de Fuca.

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We had the road to ourselves on this crisp Friday morning in early November. In the summer months we’d have been watching for bikers on this popular route, but on this day we were able to concentrate on Mother Nature’s handiwork.

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If You Go:

Map picture

Getting Around: Took our car on the ferry so didn’t need to rent one although they are available on the island.  Our cost (car, driver and passenger was $55 round-trip).

Eating: Restaurants abound in Friday Harbor. We ate some fine pub grub at Herb’s Bar,  which claims to be the oldest operating bar in town.

Accommodations:  Click this link San Juan Chamber of Commerce for information.
Not to be missed: Krystal Acres Alpaca Farm (and products store), Pelendaba Lavender farm, and San Juan Vineyards

Thanks for visiting today. Hope to see you on Travel Tuesday. If you’ve not yet subscribed to receive these posts in your inbox, you can do so using the box in the upper right corner; or click the link a bit lower to become a follower and receive this in your reading list. Happy Travels!

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

TPThursday: Travel Guilt or Gratitude?

Thanksgiving Day is being celebrated throughout the United States today with traditional acts of gluttony and, hopefully, with some time spent on gratitude (the day’s original purpose).

We are bypassing the culinary gluttony this year for. . . What else? Travel gluttony.  So, as I was stuffing our bags instead of a turkey, I was thinking about how grateful I am for the freedom and ability to travel as well as the joy it brings.

I recalled a passage from Paul Theroux’s  book, “Pillars of Hercules”.  Thanksgiving seemed the perfect day to share it with you:

“Did the traveler, doing no observable work,

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                             (Early morning Milano, Italy’s train station)

freely moving among settled, serious people, get a pang of conscience? 

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                             (Afternoon Bologna, Italy)

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                           (Evening Cetona, Italy)

I told myself that writing – this effort of observation – absolved me from any guilt;

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                             (Squero di San Trovaso, one of Venice’s few remaining gondola workshops)

but of course that was just a feeble excuse.

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                              (Wine store in Venice, Italy)

This was pleasure.

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                         (A piazza in Milano, Italy)

No guilt, just gratitude.”

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Happy Thanksgiving ~ we are grateful to all of you for stopping by on this Travel Photo Thursday. Remember to stop by Budget Travelers Sandbox for more armchair travel.

If you want to regularly receive these posts in your inbox,  just sign up in the box to the right on the home page or scroll down and join our growing group of followers. Thanks for visiting!

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Travel Tip Tuesday: Surprises and Savings in Amsterdam

We had an overnight stay in Amsterdam prompted by airline connections on our return from Italy. And, as once before, within hours of arriving were scolding ourselves for not allowing more time than the-less-than-24-hour ‘dash and glance’ we'd allowed ourselves.

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But one reason we’ve shied away from extended stays in this picturesque place is that its hotels are expensive. For week’s prior to our arrival The Scout searched hotel booking sites and found triple-digit prices.

HOTEL TIP: We finally used Hotwire, the site that allows you to book a hotel for a significantly discounted price; you’ll select it by its general location, price and star-rating but you won’t know the exact hotel until your credit card has been charged.

Our travel friends, Mary and Greg, have sung its praises for some time and we’d tried it once before – at their suggestion -- and were pleased with the results. This time was no exception.

We selected a four-star hotel within the geographical area of the train station and the city’s famous, Dam Square. . .

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What we got was a treasure! We stayed in the  NH Doelen Hotel, the city’s oldest hotel sitting on the banks of the Amstel River in the heart of its historic district. Its who’s-who guests have included Queen Victoria, the Beatles and Rembrandt, the latter who  painted his famous, “Night Watch” here.

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We were within easy walking distance of Rembrandt Square, the Jewish Historical Museum and the colorful flower market. Our room, while not overlooking the river, was spacious and the bed comfortable. Free WI-FI was provided, although despite my best attempts we couldn’t connect to it from our room .

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GETTING AROUND:  We’d been ‘taken’ by the taxi that brought us to the hotel; the driver of the small van charged the two of us (we learned too-late) a four-person 19.5 euro rate for the short drive.  So, the next morning the hotel folks called a driver they use:

Enter Maarten de Grunt, in his Mercedes. He whisked us to the station (pointing out sites along the way – he spoke perfect English) and dropped us at the entry nearest the tracks – a real plus in this rain-drenched city.  The cost?  9.8 euro, half the prior day’s toll.

So good was Maarten, that we plan to contact him prior to our next stop in Amsterdam so that we can use his services during our stay.  For that matter I wanted to tell all of you about him!   Once you let him know your arrival time by sending an email or making an on-line reservation,  he’ll monitor your flight and be waiting  (whether it be the train station or the airport). Maarten is also available for full blown tours.

If  You Go:

Ground Transportation: Maarten de Grunt, owner ‘De grunt personenvervoer’, email:, phone: 0031 6 43259424, website:

Hotel NH Doelen,, location Nieuwe Doelenstraat, 26.

Hotwire, (Our room cost about $150US ; booked directly with the hotel it would have cost about $225).

Thanks for stopping by today, hope to see you back here again on Travel Photo Thursday; the day armchair travel takes flight in the blogosphere.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

WAWeekend: Sailing those Tall Ships

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Sails unfurled, the boom of cannons re-echoed in the distance from Lake Washington.  We could hear and see from our Kirkland home, the battle – mock, of course –  each afternoon of September’s sunny Labor Day weekend.

Washington's Tall Ships were in town.

If you’ve never seen the Tall Ships,  -- Lady Washington and the Hawaiian Chieftain -- owned and operated by the Grays Harbor Historical Seaport in Aberdeen, you are missing a treat.  They can be found traveling the Pacific Coastline from British Columbia to California, stopping at ports like Kirkland, along the way.

kirkland 022 The Hawaiian Chieftain, is a replica of the ships used by European merchants and is similar to those sailed by the Spanish off the Western Coast of the United States.

The Hawaiian Chieftain, built of steel in 1988, was purchased by Gray’s Harbor Historical Seaport in 2004 and now accompanies. . .

kirkland 003The Lady Washington which was built in Aberdeen and launched in March 1989.  The ship is a full scale reproduction of the original 1750’s Lady Washington – the first American vessel to make landfall on the West Coast of North America.

kirkland 008The best part about these ships is that the public can buy tickets to tour the vessels or sail on them while they make their guest appearances up and down the West Coast. And if you are really into tall ships there are a variety of volunteer opportunities available as well.

The ships can be rented  for charters, group tours and education programs – and if you are making a movie and need a tall ship, well, give them a call.

To Sail On The Tall Ships:

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You can often find the ships in their home port in Aberdeen but with their heavy tour schedule, it is best to plan ahead and see if they will be there or not during your visit. To check their sailing schedule and locations -  and to buy tickets - visit the Grays Harbor Historical Seaport website.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Mama Mia! Mealtime Magic with Anna Maria!

It was, by far, the most memorable meal we had in Italy; in fact, the most memorable we’ve had in some time.  And we attribute it to the serendipity of circumstances that can so unexpectedly happen when you travel. . .

It was the night we met Anna Maria Monari; the night we experienced Trattoria Anna Maria.

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The serendipity began weeks before our Italian trip. I’d written, BolognaWelcome, the  city’s tourism site for some information. 

Enter Giorgia Zabbini, (pictured to the left). She works for the Municipality’s tourism office and became our source of information both before and during our visit.

She was guiding us on a winding path through the city’s famous arcades, when several blocks from the tourist-filled 13th Century Piazza Maggiorri, she stopped before an unmarked store front so that we could note the pasta being made inside.

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The ladies were more than gracious in granting my request to photograph them as they kneaded and rolled out pounds of pasta, that we learned would later be served to diners at Trattoria Anna Maria.

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Anna Maria’s is one of those places that all the locals know about – the kind of place that serves ‘real authentic Bolognese food’ Giorgia said, adding that we ‘might want to try it’ while in town.

 Understatement! Within minutes we we at the restaurant securing  reservations for the next night. . .

Mama Mia! That’s when the fun began! 

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We’d hoped to meet Anna Maria  as she made the rounds that evening, chatting with guests, checking on customer satisfaction – as she does each evening.  But what we didn’t expect was a full-blown visit with her.

We’d barely been seated when Laura Bizzari, (on the left in the photo above) introduced herself and said that Anna Maria would join us shortly and Laura would serve as our translator.

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The wine was poured. The antipasti plate with omelet squares, bruschetta and mortadello (the meat for which Bologna is famous) arrived and we met this delightful 72-year-old restaurant owner.

Trattoria Anna Maria began 24 years ago in a smaller location a few blocks from its present site. Back then, Anna Maria was both waitress and chef, serving menu items created from her mother’s recipes.

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The restaurant may have changed locations, but recipes have stayed the same.  Tortelloni en brodo, those wonderful stuffed pasta pockets served in broth was our first, ‘first’ course.  It, like the pasta used in lasagne, tortellini, and the long thin strands of tagliattelli, is hand-made daily by the ladies pictured above. (They had used 136 eggs the day we visited – which should give you an idea of quantities produced each day).

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Our second ‘first course’ was tagliattelli in Bolognese, the famous meat sauce of the area. My mouth waters at the memory of these thin, near-translucent noodles that melted in our mouths.

Anna Maria sources as many of the products as she can from nearby farms and producers. She’s worked with some of them for years and was practicing that culinary ‘farm-to-table’ philosophy long before  it became trendy.

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Yes, this lasagne was the third ‘first course’ and I hate to admit that it was so good that I forgot I was taking photos of each course until half way through it.  We did declare a stop after this and didn’t sample any of the items on the extensive ‘segundi’ or second, main course list. (Okay in full disclosure, we shared a home-made gelato and fruit for dessert.)

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The restaurant was jam-packed by the time we left, several hours after our arrival.  Anna Maria was making her rounds, obviously enjoying her guests. Her earlier comment, when we’d asked about retirement plans, came to mind: 

“I am here every day.  Where else do I have to go? This is the party.  . .Mama Mia!”

If You Go: Trattoria Anna Maria is at Via Belle Arti, 17/A, Bologna. Information at Credit cards accepted and is English spoken.

In full disclosure: We didn’t know until we asked for the bill, that we were Anna Maria’s guests that evening.  That wasn’t our intention in going there.  (I will add that going back to this restaurant is high on our list of reasons to return to Bologna. The pastas were incredible.)

This is our contribution to Travel Photo Thursday.  You’ll find more photos at Budget Travelers Sandbox.


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