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Columbia River Gorge

STATE 19 - OREGON

sunny 85 °F

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This picture appeared in my National Geographic Traveler magazine that arrived just days before my trip out west. This picture is the reason I am looking forward to visiting Oregon. Waterfalls, giant trees, moss covered trails—a hiking wonderland. This specific waterfall was to be my destination immediately upon leaving the airport. Unfortunately it is a six-hour drive west to reach this waterfall in the Columbia River Gorge from Spokane, Washington where I landed.

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To my surprise, the drive from eastern Washington into eastern Oregon looked nothing like the photograph in National Geographic.

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Where were the trees? Where were the mountains? Where were the breweries and the birkenstock-clad, bearded men I had been promised? Much like there is more to North Carolina than sandy beaches and the Appalachian mountains, a large portion of Oregon is void of mountains. The Cascade Mountain range cuts through the western edge of Oregon, and along with a prevailing westward wind, keeps most of the moisture near the coast. I was driving through an arid plateau, and it would be a while until I see any trees.

In fact, the first trees I saw where obviously planted by man. The trees formed perfectly straight lines, it looked like a never-ending tree farm.

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This tree farm was gigantic, stretching for miles down the highway. The Boardman Tree Farm stretches out over 30,000 acres. Eventually the tree lines ended, and I was presented with more dusty scenery. The highway I was traveling on, Interstate 84, runs along the Columbia River, the river that separates Oregon from Washington. Although the river was visible next to the highway, it was far from the view presented in National Geographic.

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Way off in the distance, I saw what looked like a mountain. A solitary mountain surrounded by dusty plains. In the middle of the summer, it looked to be covered in ice. What I saw was Mount Hood, the tallest peak in Oregon. The Cascade Mountains are actually part of the the Pacific Ring of Fire, the volcanic hotspot that we all learned about in 4th grade that circles the Pacific Ocean. This giant mountain was actually a volcano similar to Mount St. Helens. I was finally getting closer to the mountains and the waterfalls.

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The Columbia River Gorge is the only natural passage way through the Cascade Mountain range. The highway twists and turns as it follows the steep slopes of the mountains. I tried to follow the signs to get to the Eagle Creek Wilderness Trails, but I never saw the exit I needed to take off the interstate. After a couple wrong turns, I eventually was stopped by park security as I tried to enter a secure zone. Explaining that I couldn't find my exit, the park ranger informed me that the exits were only available on the westbound side of the interstate, there were no cloverleaf style interchanges. Following the ranger's directions, I was able to find the trailhead and start my hike into Columbia River Gorge.

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A 5 mile trail from led from the parking lot to the waterfall from National Geographic. The trail was beautiful. Gigantic trees loomed overhead (although not quite as big as the ones I saw while hiking in Tasmania or the Tingles in Western Australia). A picture doesn't really show how big the trees are because no one is in the picture for a reference, but the smaller tree in this picture was easily 50 feet tall, and it would take at least 4 people to form a circle with their arms around the big pine.

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The trail hugged the slope of one of the mountains, and a large pass hung precariously over a drop. A steel cable was bolted to the rock for support, but it was nerve-racking when I had to let go to pass someone on the trail. You couldn't beat the views though.

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The trail started to make its way down to the bottom of the gorge, and I was presented with my first view of the falls.

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Upon reaching the bottom, several waterfalls cascaded down the valley. People sat on rocks taking in the scenery, while others briefly swam in the cold waters. You can't see the waterfalls in this picture looking downstream, but it gives you an idea of what it was like standing on the edge of Eagle Creek.

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Following Eagle Creek upstream, I finally found the waterfall that inspired the entire trip.

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The waterfall (Punch Bowl Falls) is much larger than it looks in the picture (which surprised me). It is over 30 feet tall, but you can't get super close without swimming out to it. I saw a crowd gathering to watch the falls, and then noticed someone fly through the air and land in the water beneath the falls. A group of younger guys were jumping off a ledge 4 times higher than the waterfall! It looked insane, and only a couple actually braved the jump (I assume the rest climbed back down via a trail). I rested my legs and watched a dog fetch rocks from the water. I got someone to take my picture in front of the falls, and then hiked back to my car. My travel through Oregon has only started, as I planned to spend the next week in Portland, Oregon.

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Posted by Mike.Flynn 07:14 Archived in USA Tagged waterfalls mountains hiking state_park Comments (0)

Oklahoma City & The Oklahoma City Bombing Memorial

STATE 16 - OKLAHOMA

sunny 95 °F

Flowers on the prairie where the June bugs zoom, Plen'y of air and plen'y of room, Plen'y of room to swing a rope, Plen'y of heart and plen'y of hope. I'm off to where the land is grand, the great state of Oklahoma!

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The opening paragraph may seem strange to some of you, but it is exactly how the state of Oklahoma was explained to me. I couldn't wait to have a circle of people surround me, singing and slapping their knees, and telling me about all the great wonders of their state. This is the official informational video on Oklahoma:

In light of all the devastating tornadoes that have hit the US over the past few months, going to Tornado Alley may not seem like the best idea. Thankfully we experienced nothing but clear skies the entire time I was there (as well as scorchingly hot 95 degree temperatures that seemed unnatural for the first week of May).

I actually flew into Dallas to meet up with Jason since it was a direct flight and Jason was driving to Oklahoma City anyways. It was only a 4 hour drive, and it gave us a chance to see the countryside of Oklahoma. Southern Oklahoma didn't differ that much from Northern Texas. Few trees, and even fewer hills. You could see forever in any direction. Oklahoma was much more green than I expected (not sure why I expected something a little more desolate, I guess countless watchings of Westerns showing dusty plains skewed my perspective). There were hardly any exits off the interstate, only fields filled with cows. As we got closer to Oklahoma City, oil wells were everywhere. I guess when gas gets over $4 a gallon, every well in the state was operating.

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We stopped in Norman just south of Oklahoma City. Norman is home to the Oklahoma University Sooners, so we parked the car and began making our way around the campus. Our first stop was the football stadium which was right in the middle of campus.

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We also stopped to watch the Kansas Jayhawks warm up before their baseball game with the Sooners. The wind was always present, a strong breeze that never seemed to stop. The breeze was blowing straight out to center field, so in the short time we were watching warmups, several homeruns were belted only feet from where we were standing.

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When then turned to walk through the main part of campus. Most of the buildings seemed to be made of brick, and the campus was smaller than I expected (I was expecting it to be about the same size as NC State). We walked around the majority of campus in under 30 minutes, stopping to read some of the historical plaques and take a couple pictures.

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We still had a couple of hours to kill before we had to meet up with Brian in Oklahoma City, so we did what most people do in a college town, head to the college bars. We found a place called The Library and stayed through the duration of happy hour.

It was a quick drive to downtown Oklahoma City, and since we still had a little time to kill, we stopped by Tinker Air Force Base on the east side of town. They had around 10 retired jets lined up in front of the base (stealth bombers, giant carrier jets, and a variety of attack aircraft). Most of the jets were actually on the base and behind a giant fence, but one jet sat in a small park in front of the base.

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The sun was starting to set, so we headed back towards downtown to check into the hotel. Since it was pretty flat, we had a great view of the skyline and the sun setting behind the buildings.

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Jason and I met up with Brian (a friend of mine who is stationed in Kansas) and made our way to the entertainment district of Oklahoma City, an area called Bricktown. Like a lot of cities, the old warehouse district of town was being remade into the weekend hotspot. The baseball stadium overlooked a number of bars and restaurants. After hopping through a couple bars, we got a recommendation from one bartender for a good place to get something to eat. The "great pizza" ended up being a choice between a supreme or veggie DiGiorno that I pulled out of a freezer. At least PBR was on special.

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We woke up early the next morning to head back down to Bricktown and check out the canal that runs through the city. A Mexican restaurant overlooking the canal looked like a good place for lunch. Tour boats worked their way up and down the canal, offering the lazy man's approach to check out some of the sights.

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After lunch we walked along the pathway next to the canal. Restaurants, bars, and some shops lined both sides. We passed by the first Sonic, past Toby Keith's "I Love This Bar", and eventually made our way to the Land Run Memorial. Back in 1889, the previously restricted Oklahoma Territory was opened to homesteading. One of the main ways the land was divided was by having aspiring homesteaders line up and race to claim territory (as portrayed in the movie Far and Away). Giant metal statues reenacted the land run. Sooners were the people that hid in the fields to claim territory instead of legally racing the other participants. It was estimated that 50% of the land was claimed by Sooners.

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After walking through all the statues, we walked back down the canal and into Toby Keith's bar (primarily to escape the brutal heat). After rehydrating with a couple waters and cooling off with a couple beers, we walked back through downtown to head to the Oklahoma City Bombing Memorial.

We came to the block that contained the Murrah Federal Building that was destroyed in the April 19, 1995 attack (which was the most destructive terrorist attack on the US before 9/11). At 9:02, Timothy McVeigh detonated a Ryder truck filled with homemade explosives that was parked on the side of the building. The blast destroyed a large portion of the federal building (and 323 other buildings in the area, some of which are still condemned today). The blast killed 168 people, including 19 children under the age of 6. One of the floors in the building housed a preschool, and a YMCA was only a block away.

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The building was selected because of its proximity to a road where the rental truck could be parked. The motive for the attack was in response to the Waco Siege (a standoff between armed militants and the ATF beginning when several agents were killed trying to serve a search warrant), and the attack marked the second anniversary of the date when FBI ended the 51 day standoff by using tanks and gas.

We first saw the Murrah Federal Building Promenade, which featured a waterfall and several ramps. Thinking we had reached the memorial, we took a picture in front of the fountain.

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However, upon walking to the end of the promenade, we realized that we were only in the remains of the federal building. The memorial stretched out below us. 9 rows of chairs marked where the building used to stand (one for each person killed in the attack with little chairs representing children, and the 9 rows representing the 9 floors), a memorial pool marked the road that ran next to the building, and the Survivor Tree stood on the far hill (a tree that survived the blast and served as a symbolic reminder of perseverance).

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We walked around to the Gates of Time, which are two giant walls marked with 9:01 and 9:03 that indicate the moment before and following the attack. The tranquility pool was crystal smooth and very shallow. Water slowly trickled over the edges of the pool and it was very calming. The children's playground was still visible over their chair memorials.

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We circled the memorial, read the informational signs, and then decided to go through the museum. The museum was very detailed, painting a picture of life before the bomb, the background on McVeigh and his co-conspirators, the rescue effort, and the aftermath of the bombing. A section of the museum still contained some of the original wreckage.

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The memorial and museum tugged at the heart strings, really letting you feel the impact of the terrible attack. One of the the lasting impacts from the attack may have been increased security around federal building, but the final displays in the museum focused on how the citizens of Oklahoma City, the US, and countries around the world came together to help out one another. The clear, sunny day perfectly complimented the feeling of hope and togetherness that you felt leaving the museum.

We left the museum and walked back down to Bricktown. The Oklahoma City NBA team, the OK City Thunder, were playing in a playoff game (unfortunately they were away) and we didn't want to miss cheering with the local fans. The English pub we entered had the game on every screen, and fans filled every seat. The fans were passionate, and all over the city we saw signs of "Go Thunder" (one sign spanned the side of a building). The Thunder ended up losing the game in overtime, despite the loss we still enjoyed the game.

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After the game, we took a cab over to Stockyard City, the world's largest cattle market. Our destination was Cattlemen's Steakhouse, the oldest restaurant in Oklahoma. President George H. Bush raved about the steak at Cattlemen's, dubbing it as "The Presidential Steak". Man vs. Food also recently went to Cattlemen's and loved the steak as well. Instead of starting with the steak, we eased into the meal with Cattlemen's own beer, "The Double Deuce" and a signature starter, the lamb fries.

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The lamb fries are not made from lamb or potatoes. I didn't tell Jason or Brian what they were until we were almost finished. They are, in fact, fried bull testicles. Mmmm, mmmm!

We each ordered a steak, and they were humongous. Each steak came with a potato, salad, and bread, but after eating just the steak, I had no room for anything else. It was huge, but tasted fantastic. I would say it is a must-do in Oklahoma City.

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Oklahoma had been a lot of fun, and I can say that the land was indeed grand. As we drove back to Texas, I tried one last time to find that hawk doing lazy circles in sky.

Posted by Mike.Flynn 14:36 Archived in USA Tagged beer museum state_park local_food Comments (0)

The Great Salt Lake & Antelope Island

UTAH - PART II

semi-overcast

Resting our legs after hiking in Arches National Park, we drove out of the flatlands and made our way into the mountains. It wasn't as steep as driving through the Rockies, but the snow covering the ground made it feel like we were even higher. At one point while driving through a mountain pass, a huge wind farm sat directly in front of us. The blades were lazily turning, and although installing these "eyesores" in the North Carolina Appalachians has been a controversial debate, it was mesmerizing to watch them spin. It may have just been the little kid in me remembering playing with a pinwheel.

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We passed through Provo, which was a disaster. The main interstate was under construction, and our GPS nearly blew up trying to calculate the remaining time on our trip as we crawled foot by foot. We had already been driving 9 hours, and it was only another hour to get to Salt Lake City. We got off the interstate and decided to follow some back roads to bypass the city. Other than the congested highway, the city was beautiful. Scenic farms with mountain backdrops were only a mile from the city. A mix of rustic barns and the colors of spring were able to take my mind off the traffic momentarily. We looped back to the highway just in time to see some crazy people jumping off cliffs wearing parachutes.

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We entered into Salt Lake City in the early evening. You can't help but admire the gorgeous views from the city. Snow-capped mountains surrounded the city to the east, while the lake borders the city to the west. It was very pleasant outside, and the grass was a rich green (which was a stark contrast after staring at sandy-brown dirt and shrubs for the past week). I could see why Brigham Young selected this spot as the home for his community and his church after conflicts forced the church to leave Illinois.

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We drove right through the heart of the city to reach our hotel. As we aproached the end of the drive, I was surprised that we got such a great location while booking a hotel through Priceline. We passed the Utah Jazz NBA Arena and turned onto Temple St. The GPS had said we reached our destination at this building.

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This is the Salt Lake Temple, the largest temple of the The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Obviously this was not where we were staying. After consulting the hotel confirmation and the map, we figured out the error. The address for the hotel was 2100 Temple St, but the "2" was covered by a paperclip, and Megan had entered the address of 100 Temple St. Since we weren't staying within walking distance of the arena or the temple, we took in the beautiful gardens surrounding the temple while we were there. A crowd of people were walking into the arena, apparently a big game since the Lakers were in town (about 1/3 of the people had Lakers jerseys on).

I was amazed at how wide every street in Salt Lake City seemed to be. Even down side roads and through neighborhoods, roads were easily 5 lanes wide. Apparently Brigham Young had designed the city streets to make sure that you could do a U-turn in a horse and buggy on any road in the city (or at least that is what I was told by a local who overheard Megan and me talking about it).

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Megan and I got back in the car and headed towards the hotel. Good thing the roads were 6 lanes wide, because 4 of them were closed to construction (although I didn't see a single person working on the two mile stretch of road). I nearly went blind from all the reflective strips on the construction barrels.

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Although Mexican cuisine had been a frequent choice for a meal on this trip, we had been told that the best place to get dinner in Salt Lake City was the Red Iguana. The place was busy, as expected on a Friday night, so we got seats at the counter/bar. The specialty at Red Iguana was their variety of mole sauces. I'm not sure how many of you have ever been with Megan at a restaurant, but she needs time to consider each choice on the menu, and many choices means a lot of time to decide. We were given 9 different types of mole to try, and she began the scientific process of deciding which one she liked the best. A basket of chips later, she had finally made her selection. Only then did she open her menu to decide what food to put the sauce on. The waiter saved my sanity by suggesting a combination that sounded appetizing to Megan. The food was fantastic, and well worth the wait. As good as the food was, Megan was even more excited by the mango margarita.

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We woke up early the next morning to drive out to the Great Salt Lake and do some hiking on Antelope Island. The Great Salt Lake has several islands in it, and Antelope Island proved to be much larger than I had expected. The island received its name from the wild antelope that live on the island. In addition to the antelope, there are also herds of bison on the island. We drove down the land bridge that connects the island to the mainland (the Great Salt Lake is only around 35 feet at its deepest point, and has an average depth of about 13 feet). The view from the island was amazing.

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You can see how the water line seems to be pretty far from the shore. Since the lake is so shallow, its size can change drastically. A lot of the snow has not melted yet, so less water is flowing into the lake. I had wanted to swim in the lake, but it was a little cold to do that. And since the water was so far from the shore, I didn't even get a chance to dip my finger in.

We drove up to the visitor's center to get some information on the trails. There are a lot of different trails, and we wanted to make sure we went on the one where we would most likely see antelope and buffalo. The visitor center had a display of the two animals living in the Great Salt Lake (something does actually live in it), the brine shrimp (seamonkey) and salt flies. They had information on how the lake was formed and the types of animals living on the island, but not any information on which trails would be best for seeing wildlife. I found a ranger and asked her where we would should go, and gave me a look indicating I had just asked a stupid question and replied, "Anywhere but the visitor center."

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We left the visitor center and headed out to a trail that led up to a lookout on top of a hill. The trail was short and steep, but it did have great views of the lake and the rest of the island. They even had telescopes mounted at the top to allow you take a closer view. I scanned everywhere for bison and for antelope, but didn't see any. Disappointed, we hiked back down to the car to get to the next trail. Our disappointment didn't last long, a couple miles down the road we ran into our first group of buffalo.

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The bison probably look like ants in the picture, but they were only about 70 yards away. We got out of the car and watched them for a while, but they didn't do much except slowly make their way across the field grazing on the grass. I wanted to get closer to them, so we figured we would head out to the most remote trail in the park (and theoretically where the most wildlife would be).

Our destination was Garr Ranch, the home of the people who originally used the island as grazing land for cattle. Although the land is now a park, the ranch is still in use as a ranger station. No cows are on Antelope Island anymore, but a different type of livestock is raised here now. The park actually introduced the bison, and annually round up every single one to do vet check-ups. They try to keep the number of buffalo around 400-700, and sell off the extras. The island really was pretty big. It took nearly 25 minutes to drive to Garr Ranch on the other side of the park.

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In one of the barns next to the ranch, a museum of old tools and signs are on display. Utah didn't become a state until almost 1900, the US government not ready to accept a state that allowed polygamy. In fact, Brigham Young had to be removed from his position as governor by the US Army because he was becoming so influential and powerful. The museum was OK, but we were more interested in seeing something that was still alive.

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It didn't take long in our hike to see our next bison. He was huge! It was as close as I had been to one since I saw buffalo in Deer Park in New Zealand, only this time I wasn't in a car.

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As the trail came over the rise of a steep hill, we saw our first antelope. They turned and ran up the hill as soon as they saw us.

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The trail was 5 miles long to the top, and it offered great views down both sides of the ridgeline that divided the island. More buffalo were visible on the sides of the hill. A fire was visible across the lake, the tall orange flames clearly visible even from miles and miles away.

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We walked back down the trail to the ranch. Earlier in the day we had been the only car on the road. Now other cars and cyclists were winding their way through the park. It was a beautiful day, and it seemed like everyone was making the most of it. We passed more antelope and bison visible from the road as we left the park. Since we had enough hiking for one day, we sat in the car to appreciate the scenic view and the grazing animals.

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Eventually we made our way out of the park and back into the city. It was time to explore the urban side of Salt Lake City.

Posted by Mike.Flynn 15:26 Archived in USA Tagged mountains animals hiking state_park local_food Comments (0)

Mile-High City—Denver!

COLORADO - PART II

sunny 65 °F

When I pictured heading into Denver, I envisioned driving up monstrous mountains, ice and snow covering the roads, streams of Coors flowing down the valleys, and trouble catching my breath in the mile-high thin air. I guess I was brainwashed by all the Coors ads showing the Rocky Mountains and watching snow fall during a Monday Night Football game in Denver. The mountains were certainly getting larger, but they weren't the titans I had imagined, and I certainly wasn't driving through them. The road leading to Denver was flat, mountains on the left while the plains stretched out as far as I could see to the right.

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Part of the problem may have been my view was slightly blocked. Having stopped to fill the car with gas, I began to clean up the car. Megan still had water in her water bottle, but I saw her carrying a fresh one out to the car. I threw the half filled one in the glove compartment to make room in the cup holder. About twenty minutes after leaving the gas station, Megan opened the glove compartment to find it filled with water. Apparently Megan puts the cap back on the water after taking a drink so she "doesn't lose it", but only tightens the cap down once she has finished drinking it. I told her that defeats the purpose of the cap if the cap is only sealed before you start drinking and after you are finished. I asked her, "why don't you take the extra .3 seconds of time and tighten the cap?" She replied, "It hurts my hand if I have to continually screw and unscrew it." So, as a result, this was my view for the 9 hour drive to Denver.

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Like I have mentioned before, distance is deceptive out west. Looking along the line of mountains, I could see one clearly standing higher than the rest. I asked Megan if it was Pike's Peak. She checked the map, and said we were still 120 miles from Colorado Springs, so I thought that it must be another mountain that was closer. 2 hours later, I found it was Pike's Peak. You can see it behind Megan in the picture below.

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Upon arriving in Colorado Springs, we wound through the town to head to Garden of the Gods. Here a park had been set up around a series of gigantic and unusual rock formations. Apparently it got its name when a brewmaster was looking for a place to setup his brewery came across the area and proclaimed it was fit for a god, therefore "Garden of the Gods" was derived from "beer garden for a god". I think the story is a tall tale, and the more obvious reason is the correct origin of the name, that the rocks are so big that they could have only been placed there by a god.

The warm, sunny day had brought people out in droves to run the pathways between the rocks. A man was scaling up the side of one of the larger rocks, while the other rocks just looked cool.

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All the rocks had little signs in front of them with information and creative names for each rock (names like Sentinel Rock and Cathedral Spires). But there was one rock that Megan felt got left out, "the most interesting rock in the park" according to Megan. What do you think she named this one?

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This is "Gorilla Rock". Supposedly it is the profile of a gorilla turned to the left, with his brow, nose, and mouth on the left side. He is reclining with his belly going down to the left.

The last rock we wanted to see was a short drive away. A Colorado Springs man had bought the land directly beneath the rock and made his living taking touristy pictures next to the "Balanced Rock". He even had mules that people could sit on, and hats to wear. Eventually people started to own their own cameras, and he built a fence around the rock to protect his business interest. He eventually donated the rock to the park so that everyone could enjoy it.

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The sun was starting to set, so we left the park and continued driving to Denver. We were staying with my friend Ryan's brother in Conifer, which is up in the mountains overlooking Denver. We arrived and chit-chatted for a little while, and then hit the hay after a long day of driving.

Megan and I were told that we had to start our morning with a breakfast burrito at TNT Country Kitchen. Megan's was filled with egg, potato, cheese, and bacon while I got one filled with chorizo. They were huge, and very tasty. They came with green chile sauce on top too.

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From TNT Country Kitchen, it was only a 15 minute drive to Red Rocks Amphitheater. A concert arena was built into the natural red rock formations, creating a scenic and unique place for bands to play.

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We parked in the parking lot, and then walked up into the amphitheater. A lot of people were running across the wide rows of the amphitheater. We walked out of the amphitheater and back down to a trail that goes around the various rock formations in the park. The warning sign caught my attention.

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If you encounter a rattlesnake, just walk away. Walk around the poison ivy to avoid it. However, if you encounter a mountain lion, FIGHT BACK! It was funny to think about Megan fighting off a mountain lion (although the warning did send the tiniest bit of worry through my mind, especially since Ryan's brother had just told a story of a mountain lion that had been seen in their neighborhood last night). The rock formations were similar to the ones we saw in the Garden of the Gods, just a little smaller.

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At one point along the trail, you could get a good view of downtown Denver.

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We finished the trail, got back in the car, and left the amphitheater. I had anxiously been awaiting our next stop, the Coors Brewery in Golden, Colorado.

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It was a self guided tour that took you through the brewing rooms, the bottling factory, and the shipment area. It was pretty similar to the Miller tour we had gone on in Milwaukee, minus the tour guide. We did get to stop half way through the tour to sample beer that had finished brewing that day (the sample cup didn't really give you chance to taste a big difference).

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We finally made our way to the tasting room, where we were able to sample 3 beers. Megan and I coordinated so that we could try some of the experimental new beers and some of the local ones we couldn't get back home. I also made sure to get the Banquet Beer, Coors original.

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After two of the beers, Megan said she desperately needed something to snack on. I gave her 3 dollars to go to the vending machine, and she came back with a single bag of pretzels. I realized now how the free beer tour could actually turn a profit. Megan began talking in a British accent and using one of the pretzels as a monocle. Apparently the experimental beers were stronger than the regular beers.

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We stopped by the gift shop on the way out to see if anything caught our eye. We laughed at some of the funny t-shirts, and I took my picture with a Broncos helmet.

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We left Golden and headed back into Denver. Our next stop was Elway's Colorado Steakhouse. The $40 steak was a tad expensive for lunch, but the $8 chili was supposed to be excellent. We each ordered a bowl, and surprisingly enough, it was actually really good. It was also burning hot, even I required a couple glasses of water to put out the fire in my mouth.

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I had also wanted to tour the New Belgium Brewery (they make Fat Tire), but it was an hour away. We instead decided to head downtown to take a look at Coors Field, and then sample a smaller, local brewery.

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After seeing the outside of Coors Field, we made our way to Breckenridge Brewery. The beer was delicious, and it was nice to just sit and relax. It was opening weekend of baseball, so we watched whatever game happened to be on TV. Ryan's brother and sister had invited us to dinner, so we left to make it back in time for dinner in Conifer.

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Now let me tell you something about the car I was driving. It was a tiny Hyundai Accent. This thing barely had enough power to get up to the speed limit of 75 on flat roads, much less going up a mountain. The Rockies proved to be quite a challenge for the little car. The engine screamed as it tried to find enough power to make it up, and sometimes even down the mountains. We left at 5am the next morning to get an early start on the 10 hour drive to Utah. To get to the interstate heading west from Conifer, it was quickest to cut through the mountains. I was the only car on the road, and even standing on the gas petal, I couldn't get up to the speed limit. So ironically enough, just as I turned off the mountain highway to travel the .3 mile side road down to the interstate, a deputy turned on his lights and pulled me over. We had only gone a couple hundred feet, so there was no way for me to even know what the speed limit was, but the cop had clocked me doing 45 in a 25. He gave me a story about how elk were causing a lot of issues in the area, so they had to enforce the slow speed limit. His suspicions were further aroused when he saw two NC licensed drivers riding in a Nevada car at 5:30 in the morning with a destroyed registration document. Thankfully Megan produced some fake tears and got us off with a warning.

Posted by Mike.Flynn 14:32 Archived in USA Tagged mountains beer hiking brewery state_park local_food Comments (0)

Hot-lanta!

STATE 7 - GEORGIA

sunny 80 °F

Birthdays are typically a good time, especially when it is your own birthday. All your friends come together, you eat some cake, but most importantly, you get gifts! Megan decided to go all out for my birthday and give me an ENTIRE STATE. Not literally of course, but she did plan an awesome trip to one of the largest metropolitan areas in the south, Atlanta!

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The British originally established the colony of Georgia as a place of resettlement for those serving prison time for owing debts (the British were experiencing problems with overcrowding in the prisons and too many poor people in the streets, so they just shipped them off to new colonies). Not many prisoners made their way to Georgia, as a much more convenient form of indentured labor was borrowed from their neighboring colony to the north—slavery. The second reason Georgia was established as a colony was to provide a buffer to South Carolina from the Spanish colony of Florida to the south and to the French controlled territory to the west. The early Georgian colony had a strong religious influence, primarily populated with Protestants looking for a little freedom from the Anglican church of England. The early Georgians were not very friendly to other religious backgrounds, resisting the Catholic influence from the Spanish and French (they did not allow Catholics to own land), and pushing out Moravians and Jews. Eventually the more wealthy South Carolinians began taking over Georgia to set up plantations.

As I mentioned, Georgia was one of the original 13 colonies, but it was arguably the least significant of the colonies. Georgia had only been established a few decades before the Revolution, and most of its citizens were still pretty loyal to the crown. Georgia did not have a formal militia, so it could not contribute soldiers to the American armies. However, 1/3 of the slaves joined the ranks of the British in exchange for freedom. Savannah (the main city in Georgia) was captured early in the war, and remained in British control throughout most of the war. Georgia didn't fare much better in the Civil War. Sherman burned Georgia to the ground as he marched westward to the sea (as was seen in the movie Gone With the Wind).

One more paragraph of history and that's it, I promise. After the Civil War, Atlanta was rebuilt. Atlanta has easy access to fresh water from the Chattahoochee River, a refreshingly cooler climate due to its higher elevation (compared to the lowlands along the coast), and was a major hub for the railroads extending to the south and to the west. The capital was moved to Atlanta, and in the 1960s Atlanta served as the organizing center for the civil rights movement. And truly showing how much the city the flourished since being burned to the ground, it hosted the Olympic Games in 1996 and is the home of the busiest airport in the world.

After sharing much of this same information with Megan on the drive to Atlanta, she got really excited at our first glimpse of the city (she could finally get out of the car and not have to listen to me anymore).

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It was a beautiful day, so we parked the car and walked to our first stop, the Coke Factory!

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After listening to a short spiel from our tour guide about the greatness of coke (it was just a way to keep us occupied while they let the previous group disperse from the entrance), we were let loose in the World of Coca-Cola. The first exhibit we entered showed the history of coke, starting with getting served by the inventor of coke himself at the local pharmacy when coke was mixed by hand.

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In the glass case of the pharmacy, some of the original ads for coke were displayed. Reading those ads you would think coke was the magical drug that cured everything. "Lose Weight With Coke!", "Got Headaches? Drink a Coke!", "Exhaustion? Try Coca-Cola!", "Got Cancer? Coke Cures It!"; these were along the themes of the original ads. Check out this ad that describes Coca-Cola as "The Brain Tonic":

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They didn't just have ads from the 1880s. They had ads from the last 130 years and from all over the world. Some of them were just plain weird. Apparently a child with white hair and a giant bottle cap stuck to his head appeals to some part of the world, where in others (apparently Afghanistan) coke appeals to those who are constipated.

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They also had loads of coke memorabilia and cool artifacts from around the world. Since Coca-Cola sponsors the Olympics (it is a well known fact that coke is a key component to every successful Olympic athlete), they had the torches from all the recent Summer and Winter Olympic Games.

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They also had a 4-D experience movie (the 3-D movie where they spray you with water and poke you in the back). The premise was that you went around the world looking for what makes coke great. It was incredibly corny, but still entertaining. You can watch the whole 10 minute movie on YouTube, but I don't know if it would be that same without the 4-D mosquito attack or the cool glasses.

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Right next to the 4-D movie, they had a room where you could watch all the old Coke TV commercials. It was cool seeing how coke was advertised in other countries. It was a little bit of nostalgia every time an ad from the US was played, apparently coke was able to successfully reach me through their TV advertising. Go ahead and try to not sing along with this ad from 15 years ago:

I'm sure there is some type of subliminal advertising in that commercial (do they flash pictures of fruits and veggies in that flurry at the end?).

We saved the best room for last, the tasting room! After looking at coke advertisement for the past 2 hours, I really want to drink one. I visited the Coke Factory around 15 years ago, and I remember it being a blast (give any 12 year-old access to as much coke as he can drink and there is no way he won't have a blast). I remember jets of water being shot over our heads as we walked into the sampling room where you could taste the different cokes from around the world. I was looking forward to comparing the taste of coke in China versus the coke from Mexico again, but the entire theme of the World of Coca-Cola was "Unforgettable Taste, Uniform Quality, Universal Availability" which steered away from the idea that coke in China was different from coke in Mexico. I did get to drink Inca-Cola from Peru again, as well as try the minty coke from Africa. After a couple of other exotic tastings, I realized that I prefer the original coke.

We left the Coke Factory and took the long 100 yard stroll over to the largest aquarium in the world, the Georgia Aquarium (after Megan posed for a picture in front of the Coke Factory).

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Needless to say, the aquarium was humongous. Every fish tank was larger than my house. They even had tanks large enough for whales! They had giant jelly fish that you couldn't help but watch float in the tank (the tank is about 25 feet wide and 12 feet tall so you can get an idea of how big the jelly fish were), whale sharks that would swim directly above you, a coral reef tank exhibiting brightly colored coral, and another tank that had to be at least 40 feet tall with exotic fish constantly swimming past.

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The children's section of the aquarium was also very cool. The had a tank where you could pet stingrays and sharks as they swim by (and these were decent size sharks and stingrays). Personally, I was a little weary about having my hand bitten or stung, but I convinced myself that if the 10 year-old next to me was brave enough to do it, I could muster up enough courage to do the same (plus the shark would probably go after his little hand before my hand). They also had another tank where you could pet anemones and other lethargic sea creatures. I thought anemones stung, but once again following the lead of the 10 year-old, I ran my hand over the various creatures.

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We got to see the penguins get fed, and then stared eye to eye with some very cool looking creatures of the deep.

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The final tank we saw was the one that held the whales. We climbed the steps to the second level to fully appreciate how big these guys really were.

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Having our fill of looking at fish, we decided it was time to grab a late lunch. We left the aquarium and took a detour through the Olympic Park. I quickly pointed out to Megan when I saw the Olympic Torch.

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We walked through the park to get closer, and that when I realized that it wasn't actually the Olympic Torch (unless Atlanta had made 20 different torches). Instead I had spotted one of the park lights creatively designed to look olympic-ish.

We walked down to Grindhouse Burgers, a burger joint squeezed in along a wall in a market (right behind where they were cutting up whole pigs using a band saw). Apparently this place was labeled the best burger in town, despite its location. While we waited, we watched a Kung-Fu movie being silently projected on a wall and sipped ice cold cokes (drinking anything else seemed wrong). When our burgers finally arrived, they were absolutely fantastic.

We spent the rest of the afternoon walking around downtown Atlanta. Later that evening we headed out to an area of town called Little Five Points to check out the Porter Beer Bar. This bar sounded appealing because they recommend a beer to go along with every food item on their menu, and it all sounded delicious. The beer list was 12 pages long, and Megan and I had a great time making our way through some new (and typically local) beers.

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We left the bar and walked around Little Five Point to soak in the atmosphere (it's a bar district with lots of outdoor seating). Walking past one of the windows, we saw a display that made the foreign coke ads almost look normal. What appeared to be a demon baby was pulling down the blouse on a mannequin. Definitely weird.

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The next morning we headed out early to Sweetwater Creek State Park to do some hiking. The first several miles followed the Sweetwater Creek and offered a pretty backdrop to the hike.

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The path eventually took us down close to an abandoned, 5-story textile mill. This mill existed before the civil war and was burned as part of Sherman's march to the sea. It is not often you can see buildings destroyed by war here at home in the US, so it really hit home that our country was split in war 150 years ago.

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We took a trail that curved away from the water and through the hills leading into the woods. The woods felt familiar to the trails in North Carolina, although I'm sure my forestry friends are shaking their heads that I couldn't distinguish the Georgian Southern Pine from the Carolina Southern Pine.

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At the furthest point on the trail we encountered a sign that made Megan want to immediately turn around.

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I was a little confused as to why this sign was posted in the middle of the woods so far from the trail access points. It seems that you would warn of snakes at the beginning of the trail, not at the point furthest away from civilization. Instead of a warning sign, it felt more like a map you find in the mall that says YOU ARE HERE [IN DEADLY SNAKE COUNTRY]. We continued along the trail, but we had hardly gone 100 feet before we ran into our first snake.

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The snake posed no harm, but Megan tore off down the trail anyways. She absolutely refused to crouch down near the snake for a picture, so I had her take the picture instead. The rest of our hike was snake-free, and we eventually made our way back to the car to start the long drive back home. As we passed back through Atlanta on the way home, we finally did catch a glimpse of the real Olympic Torch near Turner Field.

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Posted by Mike.Flynn 07:57 Archived in USA Tagged animals beer hiking museum tour state_park local_food Comments (0)

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