Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Beartown and a Battlefield

Beartown State Park is a unique place not far off of U.S. 219, less than 25 miles north of Lewisburg. It is just a small, day-use only park, with only a few picnic tables and minimal facilities. However, it is well worth an hour of your time (or less if you are in a hurry) to check out this special park.

Beartown is actually a jumble of large boulders, crevasses, and overhangs that seem like they would make a great place for bears (or some type of magical forest creatures?) to live. Much of the sandstone surface is pitted from erosion, adding to the mystique. We were there on a beautiful summer day, with dapples of sunlight forcing its way through the verdant leaves and dancing on the ground around us.

A trail leads from the parking area down a short distance to where the boardwalk starts. The boardwalk provides an easy way to explore Beartown, with views from up above as well as down inside the rock formations. Just be careful on the steps that take you up and down—especially since your eyes will be busy staring at the incredible combination of rocks, trees, moss, ferns, etc.

There are several signs along the way, conveying educational information. The boardwalk itself actually forms a circle, but you can choose to start in either direction. There are a few places where short extensions (spurs) off the main boardwalk provide unique perspectives, but the main pathway will take you back to where you started. Once you arrive back at the beginning, I would recommend reversing course and retracing your route around the boardwalk again. It may surprise you to see things from a different vantage point on your way back.

While you are in the area, you might want to also check out Droop Mountain Battlefield State Park—their respective entrances are only three miles apart on opposite sides of Rt. 219. These two nearby state parks share a common superintendent as well as other resources. In November 1863, Droop Mountain was the scene of the last major battle for the control of West Virginia during the Civil War. The Confederates held the high ground, but determined Union troops fought their way up this hillside to force the rebels into retreat. A log cabin near the park offices houses a small museum, plus there are a number of educational signs around the park providing insights into the battle.

There is a really nice observation tower that provides an awesome view of the small town of Hillsboro and rest of the valley below, as well as the ridges beyond. It was built by the Civilian Conservation Corps during the Depression years. I climbed it as a youngster when my family visited years ago, and felt like a youngster climbing the steps again during our recent visit. There are also a number of intriguing hiking trails that I hope to explore on a future visit.

If you find yourself in the area, these two state parks provide a nice respite from everyday life, while teaching visitors about nature as well as our history. They make for a wild and wonderful combination!

[I wrote this story for the October issue of "Two-Lane Livin'" magazine.]

Thursday, September 25, 2014

A Grand Vue, Indeed!

I recently added another ziplining experience to my list. I’ve had the good fortune and fun to have flown through the air a dozen different times at half a dozen locations in West Virginia, as well as a couple of more in Ohio. I’ve before at Hocking Hills (twice), the Treetops Canopy Tour at the New River Gorge (twice), the WVU zipline near Coopers Rocks (twice), the Wild Safari zipline above "The Wilds" in eastern Ohio, the long double zipline at Burning Rock, the Gravity zipline in Fayette County (twice), and the canopy tour at Nelson Rocks.

My latest attempt at flying through the air on a wire was in Moundsville, WV. Marshall County established a recreational park in 1974 on top of a hill, with scenic views overlooking the town of Moundsville as well as the Ohio River. Although it was indeed a “grand view,” they apparently found out that there is already a “Grandview Park” in West Virginia (formerly a state park, it became part of the New River Gorge National River under the auspices of the National Park Service in 1990). Grandview Park overlooks the New River Gorge near Beckley and has long served as home for the “Honey in the Rock” and “The Hatfields and McCoys” outdoor dramas. So with some creative spelling, I assume those in Marshall County who were in charge at the time came up with the name “Grand Vue Park.” None of the workers I met that day could verify this chain of events, but I’m willing to speculate that is how the park’s unusual name occurred.

[I want to make a couple of quick points if you drive there to go ziplining. Just because there are signs within the park directing you up the hill to the “Zipline Basecamp,” be aware that they want you to park your car at the golf course club house parking area (it is mentioned on the website and in your reservation notice). After signing paperwork there, they bus you up to the basecamp. You finish the course near where you parked. Also, be aware that Google Maps on my phone did not seem to have a clear idea where Grand Vue Park is really located, based on the inaccurate driving advice the voice on the phone was trying to give to me when I reached Moundsville. Luckily, I had a good idea of where it was plus they are some signs directing you there.]

This is the main tower from which three of the zips start.

About three years ago, Grand Vue Park added a ziplining course. It includes a seven zip canopy tour, with three swinging bridges, and a long, grand finale zip (that can also be done as a single zip ride). The entire tour of eight zips takes about three hours usually, but our trip took three and a half hours—you’ll see why later in this story.

The Grand Vue Zipline turned out to be different than any of the other ziplining courses I have tried. This was apparent when we gathered to get our gear before starting. For the first time ever, they brought out a scale and required everyone to step on it individually to ensure we were below the 270 pound weight limit. [The guides were able to make some jokes about some participants who had been “overly optimistic” when estimating their weight on the forms we filled out prior to starting.]

But that was just the first difference—I immediately noticed that the “trolley” which runs on the wire had metal plates on both sides covering the wheels. I supposed this was a safety consideration, but noticed that it made it heavier and a bit more cumbersome to carry around—not a major problem, but different than my previous experiences. They claim that all the gear weighs about ten pounds.

The harness that we wore was also different than I had used before. Rather than belts at various points of your body, it was more of a sling. This made it a bit heavier as well, but it did make it easier to lay flat when flying through the air. Another difference I noticed was that there were no gloves to wear.

Finally, the apparatus hanging from the trolley was different. It was a bit similar to a circus trapeze, providing a bar for you to grasp with your hands. However, when lying flat, you couldn’t reach the bar, and instead were instructed to grasp the belts (not the carabineers!) below it. Thus, simply getting “geared up” showed me that this was not the same as my other ziplining experiences.

After a quick “ground school” on a short zipline, we climbed the main tower for the first run. This wooden tower would be scaled three times during the day, plus there was another tower on the course with a spiral staircase. When you add in the uphill hiking we did a few times, this was the most physically demanding zipline course I’ve ever tried. Although I enjoyed getting a little workout while ziplining, I’m sure there are some folks who might be surprised at the amount of physical exertion required here compared to other courses. This isn’t an activity for those who are out of shape—there are no elevators or escalators, so uphill walking and stair climbing are necessary.

I love flying through the air! Notice the "trapeze bar" and how the sling lets you lay flat if you want.

It became apparent at the ground school that there was no need to worry about putting your hand up on the wire for braking purposes. The trapeze bar resulted in the rider hanging too far down to reach the wire (which was probably a good thing, since we didn’t have any gloves). All the braking would be done automatically by a stopper block and cable as we approached the end of the line (similar to what is used at Burning Rock and on the Gravity ziplines). During the ground school, they also stressed aerodynamic braking by sitting upright and putting out your arms and legs out to catch as much air as possible—this maneuver was called the “starfish.” The guides would signal you if they thought you were coming in so fast that you needed to “starfish.”

The guides had also pointed out that on a few of the zips, there was the possibility that you might not have enough momentum to make it all the way to the platform (especially those who weighed less). In order to avoid requiring a rescue, they encouraged folks on some of the runs to lay back and stretch out to make their bodies as aerodynamic as possible. This was called the “torpedo” and was the opposite of the “starfish.”

As our group began ziplining, everything went well, despite the fact that none of the other eight customers that day had ever ziplined before. We started from the tower and went for about four zips before finding ourselves back on the main hill. We hiked to the top of the hill and took a short break at the basecamp (a covered picnic area with open walls on three sides) where we had started. Then we climbed the main tower for the second time to continue the course.

This first zip of the second segment was one where the lightweights ran the risk of not making it to the platform. Thus the guides had the heavier men go first, so that there would be some assistance at the far platform if needed. Obviously, I didn’t have any problem torpedoing to the other end of the zip. However, one of the women didn’t make it to the platform, and was unable to catch the throw-bag with the rope that could have pulled her in. With no ability to reach the wire to brake herself, she rolled back to a point of equilibrium and had to be rescued by the guide. This caused a substantial delay, but she was soon back on the platform and the remainder of the group began zipping down the wire again.

However, another woman just missed making it to the platform. This time, she was able to grab the rope as the throw-bag went by her. As the guide began pulling her in, she lost her grip on the rope—but she didn’t want to let go entirely. So she tried to grasp the rope that was sliding through her hands as the guide pulled, not realizing that she was getting a rope burn. By the time she made it to the platform, both of her hands were injured. They were able to bandage her up and she completed the rest of the course, but it was the first time in all my zipling that I’ve ever seen someone get hurt in any fashion. It was a very unfortunate incident, that somewhat ruined what otherwise would have been a fun day for her, her boyfriend, and even the rest of the group.

In hindsight, perhaps the guides could have given better rescue instructions, or perhaps ensured the rope was secured to her body or the sling so that her hands could have been better protected. Of course, on every other ziplining course, she would have been wearing gloves, and this would not have happened. Personally, I wish they would go ahead and provide gloves to everyone on this course. It felt weird to me to be ziplining without them. Even if you aren’t using your hands to brake on the wire, there are still a lot of advantages to wearing gloves, whether to protect from potential rope burn during a rescue or perhaps merely to protect from potential splinters on the wooden bannisters.

After the rescue incident, we did one more zip that dropped us to ground level partway down a hillside. Then we hiked up and over to another tower—this one with a narrow spiral stairway of about 70-some steps. Once at the top, there was a long zip back to the bottom of the hill where the basecamp is located. On most of their zips, there are two separate lines, so potential you could “drag race” your friends from platform to platform. However, the guides had only used one line on each run until we reached this one. Those who wanted to were now able to pair up and fly parallel to each other.

Upon reaching the opposite slope, there was a steep hike up the hill to the picnic shelter/basecamp, where we took another short break. Then we climbed the 90-some steps of the main tower for the third time for the final and longest zip—a 2100 foot dual line providing a nice view of the town below. Apparently, customers can also choose to only zip on this line, rather than pay to do the entire canopy tour. As with the previous zip, couples were able to race each other on this last opportunity of the day. I definitely got some speed up by torpedoing down this zip—it was a nice way to end a pretty good day.

I’m glad I went to Grand Vue Park to zipline. It was nice to get a bit of a workout while ziplining, so all the hiking and stairclimbing didn’t bother me—but I would want folks to be aware of it. However, I will be bringing my own gloves with me the next time I zip there, and would encourage others to do the same. I also want to mention that I appreciate the photo package they offer here. For just $7, all the pictures the guides take can be sent to you via email. Usually, I consider the optional photo packages to be overpriced, especially with the ease of today’s digital cameras. However, the $7 price seemed reasonable, and they sent the pictures a few hours after our trip had been completed. Finally, although I didn’t take advantage of it, I understand they sometimes offer two-for-one deals on Groupon and Living Social, plus they have an All-Day package deal if you want to do other activities at the park.

All in all, I’d recommend the Grand Vue zipline tour, and I hope to try it again someday.

I'm "torpedoing" down the final zip, with the town of Moundsville visible in the valley below. I inserted an arrow to show where this zipline ends on the opposite hillside.

Monday, September 15, 2014

A Tale of Two Road Trips

I grew up as a Mountaineer fan, and am proud to cheer on our state’s flagship school at numerous sporting events. I’ve been lucky enough to attend quite a few bowl games, as well as some nearby regular football season away games such as Maryland, Pitt, and Virginia Tech. Until this year, I’ve never had a season where I attended more than one away game—but in just the past two weeks, I was able watch the Mountaineers play twice away from home. It is fun to be part of “Mountaineer Nation” and go into a different stadium to cheer for your team. The fact that WVU has fans who are willing to travel has always put us in a good light (and helped us escape the Big East to land in one of the “power conferences”).

The first game occurred on August 30 this year. We (my daughter, Anna, and myself) had a mostly enjoyable trip to Atlanta to watch WVU play #2 Alabama in the Georgia Dome for the Chick-Fil-A Kickoff Classic. Even though the final outcome of the game was a defeat for the Mountaineers, we still played pretty well against one of the best teams in the country. Although the Alabama fans outnumbered us (considering they didn’t have to come as far), I think they were surprised by how many of our fans made the trip from West Virginia. The blue-and-gold contingent represented our state well.

The three of us arrived late Friday afternoon (after purchasing $2.99 gas in Wytheville, VA—I’ve not seen a below $3 price at the gas pumps for a long time!), and checked into our hotel in the Buckhead section of Atlanta. By the way, our hotel was charging nearly $300 a night for rooms because of numerous events bringing folks to Atlanta (including the big NASCAR race just south of town), but I had immediately made a reservation last year when this game was first announced, which locked us into a $76 rate. It pays to reserve early!

We then headed to the MARTA (Metropolitan Atlanta Regional Transit Authority) station, and learned how their light rail/subway works. We purchased a round-trip card and rode downtown, to test out what we would be doing on game day. Once downtown, we explored Underground Atlanta and other parts of downtown. I had seen most of the major sites during my previous visit to Atlanta (http://inquisineer.blogspot.com/2011/06/hotlanta-trip.html).

During this same weekend, a large convention of science fiction/fantasy fans were in town, and there were lots of interesting costumes roaming Peachtree, the main street downtown. For example, characters from Star Trek, Star Wars, Harry Potter, assorted superheroes, and even Waldo could be found around town throughout the weekend. We ended the evening with dinner at the salad bar of a Jason’s Deli, which proved both delicious and healthy.

The next morning, we again rode MARTA downtown dressed in our blue and gold game gear. There were hoards of people from both schools gathered near the Georgia Dome for the game. It had the same feel as a bowl game, with fans from both teams at a neutral site. Eventually we went inside and found our seats. Prior to the kickoff, I was also able to meet with a long lost friend whom I had not seen in about 30 years. It was the first time I’ve watched a game in a domed stadium—which came in handy when a thunderstorm rolled through about halfway through the game.

Speaking of halfway, the WVU Band did a fantastic job with their halftime performance. Even the few ‘Bama fans scattered on the WVU side of the field were impressed. We may have lost the football game, but our band (the “Pride of West Virginia”) won the halftime competition with their salute to the branches of the military.

The "Pride of West Virginia" forms the outline
of our state at the Georgia Dome.

After the game, we found a decent place for dinner. Then we drove to “The Varsity” near Georgia Tech for dessert—their Frosted Orange drinks. This overgrown drive-in has been featured on numerous food-related television shows. It is quite a large operation that has become an institution in Atlanta (http://www.thevarsity.com/history.php).

On Sunday, my daughter wanted to visit an Art Museum downtown. Fortunately, there was a display featuring old concept cars from car shows of the past. It provided me with an interesting place to spend my time.

We made it back to West Virginia, and I got to introduce my daughter to Little Buddy Radio (http://www.bobdenver.com/radio/) as we passed through the Princeton area. We stayed overnight on Sunday at Hawks Nest State Park Lodge. This was primarily because I was taking my daughter ziplining the next morning, but it also provided us with the opportunity to stay at two different Hawks Nests, following our previous visit to the Hawks Nest Lodge during our trip to Maine (http://inquisineer.blogspot.com/2014/08/made-it-to-maine.html).

We had a great time riding the Gravity Ziplines through Adventures on the Gorge—the first visit for my daughter, but my second visit there (read about my first visit at http://inquisineer.blogspot.com/2014/06/fayette-county-flying.html). I was lucky enough to have the same guide from my trip back in June, and she remembered me.

After our aerial adventure, we picked up Anna, ate some lunch, and headed for home. It was a fun road trip even if we came up a bit short on the scoreboard.

Two weeks later (after watching a home game victory on the Saturday in between), we loaded up the Prius for another Mountaineer football game road trip, this time with my daughter’s boyfriend joining us. I was off this past Friday, so I was able to cheer on the WVU Volleyball team to victory over Kent State in the Coliseum that afternoon, but had to wait until the others got off work before we could leave. On our way east on Friday night, the four of us stopped in Frederick, MD, and enjoyed a nice dinner with a couple of old friends from Parkersburg who moved there years ago. Eventually, we checked into our hotel at College Park, Maryland.

The next morning we coordinated with Anna’s friends from her WVU days, and the ten of us eventually made it to our seats in the visiting team area of the stands at Maryland’s Stadium. Fortunately for us, the top rows of the lower section where we were seated were underneath the front part of the upper deck, so we were protected from the intermittent rain showers during the game. It was much more enjoyable to be dry, especially compared to sitting in the monsoon rains during last year’s miserable shutout defeat at the Ravens Stadium in Baltimore last year.

Speaking of last year’s game, one of the many things that went wrong that day was that Maryland had decided that the WVU Marching Band would not be allowed to perform that day. Despite a long history of joint band performances between WVU and Maryland at both home fields, a new athletic director decreed that only Maryland’s band would perform. Needless to say, WVU fans (many of whom consider the “Pride of West Virginia” to be nearly as important as the football team) were not pleased by this new policy, and rebelled against it in social media and elsewhere. The Baltimore Sun published several letters, including one that I wrote (http://articles.baltimoresun.com/2013-09-19/news/bs-ed-wvu-band-letter-20130919_1_west-virginia-university-maryland-wvu-band). I pointed out that this new “No Visiting Bands Allowed” policy would not be permissible in the Big Ten Conference that Maryland was joining.

Sure enough, this year the WVU Band was allowed to perform, and both schools worked together on a fantastic halftime show. With the Bicentennial of the Battle of Baltimore this past weekend, there were lots of events going on in the area to commemorate the Star Spangled Banner, which was written that day. The Terps football team wore special uniforms based on the Star Spangled Banner and Fort McHenry. Both bands performed a patriotic medley that told the story of the battle, and concluded with a humongous flag being unfurled which covered the entire playing surface of the football field. It was impressive—and demonstrated how much more entertaining halftime band performances can be when Maryland leaders show some respect for their visitors.

The game itself started off great! As the first half neared its end, we were ahead 28-6. However, I knew there was still a lot of time left. I remember telling my daughter that I wish we could just end the game right now, but she replied stating that she wanted to run the score up even higher after last year’s game. I told her not be overconfident, because momentum can turn around quickly in football games (and I’m old enough to have seen this happen numerous times to the Mountaineers). Sure enough, in the last few minutes of the half, Maryland scored two quick touchdowns to go into the locker room down just 28-20. Then, their quarterback ran 75 yards on the first play of the second half to make it just a one-point game, 28-27.

What had been the makings of a blowout in the first half turned into a nail-biter in the second half. Maryland never got the lead, but had been able to tie the game with only a little more than two minutes left in regulation. In the stands, the large contingent of WVU fans had been making lots of noise cheering on their team throughout the game. Emotionally, the game was very intense, and it all came down to a long field goal attempt at the end. Fortunately, the ball made it through the uprights and over the crossbar. The fans in the stands went ecstatic, with much jumping and hugging and high-fiving! It was an incredible roller-coaster game, and we all felt like we played a small part in helping the team to victory.

That evening and the next day, we explored downtown Washington, DC. My daughter is very familiar with DC, and I lived there for three years early in my career, but her boyfriend had never been there. Although we were only able to scratch the surface in the limited time we had available, I think he really enjoyed seeing the major sites (see http://inquisineer.blogspot.com/2013/07/dc-destinations.html for my tips on sightseeing in DC). I am especially glad that I took him over to see the Marine Memorial of the flag being planted on Iwo Jima, because it turned out that his late grandfather had been there for that battle.

We had a great time over this past weekend (especially since the football team didn’t lose the game), but eventually it had to come to an end. We made the long drive back into our Mountain State yesterday afternoon and evening because all four of us had to go to work on Monday morning. Even though the football team didn’t win both these games, we feel that we went 2-0 when it comes to having a good time going on the road to follow the Mountaineers!

After the initial excitement of winning the Maryland game, I finally remembered to take a picture as the players left the field.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

My Western Swing

I recently had the opportunity to accompany Anna on a business trip to Grand Junction, Colorado. However, rather than going directly to her destination, we flew into and out of Salt Lake City, where a friend of hers lives (he had served as our guide on our only previous trip to the west back in 2007). This gave us the opportunity to see a lot of the amazing territory in that part of the American West.

We arrived late Friday afternoon, and her friend suggested we check out Antelope Island State Park. This is the largest island in the Great Salt Lake, and its residents include not just pronghorn antelope, but also mule deer (with their large ears) and a herd of bison. A long causeway connects the island to the coast, and then a park roadway allows exploration of much of the island. We checked out the visitor center/museum that helped to explain a lot about the Great Salt Lake. The island was an interesting place to kick off our western week, and we enjoyed watching the evening sun reflecting off the water of this inland sea.

The next morning, we went on a roadtrip to cross another state off of our list of those we have visited (you might recall that earlier this summer we were able to cross Maine off our list). Anna’s friend is dating a girl from Idaho, so we drove north from Salt Lake City to visit her hometown of Pocatello. It was interesting to see this old railroad town, and to explore the campus of Idaho State University. We also drove through lands designated as an Indian reservation just north of Pocatello. I enjoyed seeing a crop duster airplane spraying a field—something I’ve never seen back home. The geology of the west is just so different than what we are accustomed to in the east. We returned to Salt Lake City in time to enjoy a nice dinner in downtown Salt Lake City.

On Sunday, we started on our trek to Colorado. Rather than stay on interstate highways, we wanted to explore the back country on two lane roads. We chose to cut across U.S. Route 6 from Provo through the town of Price and on to I-70 near Green River. It was a fascinating drive through sparsely populated areas which first had us driving through mountains but eventually through flat desert.

We were only on I-70 for a short distance before exiting on a two-lane highway that took us southeastward to Arches National Park. The unusual red rock formations were incredible! We enjoyed taking a few hikes to see the recommended sites in this park, including several of the natural stone arches for which the park is named.

Afterwards, we drove into the nearby tourist town of Moab for a nice dinner. Moab makes me think of what a much larger version of Fayetteville, WV, might look like, because it serves as the base for many visitors exploring the unusual landscapes in Southeastern Utah. There are a number of outfitters there, providing opportunities for whitewater rafting, rock climbing, ziplining, etc.

Rather than backtrack on the highway we had come in on from I-70, we opted to take a twisty two-lane that follows the Colorado River and joins I-70 closer to the Colorado border. The views we enjoyed in this red rock canyon were indescribable! There was only the road and the river, with majestic multi-layered walls on either side of us. The pictures we tried to take simply can’t convey how “wowed” we were on this drive. As this seldom used road left the canyon and the river, but before it joined I-70, we were treated to two different unexpected encounters with wild antelopes along the highway. Not long after getting onto I-70 again, we crossed into Colorado and were soon checking into our hotel in Grand Junction.

After driving Anna to work on Monday morning (using U.S. Route 50, which also runs through West Virginia less than a mile from my house), I was free to roam about during the day. My morning was spent at Colorado National Monument, which is a 26 mile road that is part of the National Park Service. It is a bit like Skyline Drive or the Blue Ridge Parkway, except it is along the edge of a mesa. There are numerous pull-offs with breathtaking views of the canyons. It is a stunning way to see the beauty of this area.

That afternoon, I arranged to take a solo kayak trip on the Colorado River. The outfitter provided me with an inflatable kayak (also known as a ducky) and drove me upstream towards Grand Junction from their headquarters at Fruita, Colorado. For the next few hours, it was just me alone drifting down the upper Colorado River. I enjoyed seeing familiar Great Blue Herons (like we have back home) as well as the black and white long-tailed Magpie birds that are only found in the western states. I had noticed a beaver dam and was lucky enough to later see a beaver swimming in the water. Once he realized I was there, he dove under the water, while a companion on the bank was slapping its tail on the ground as a warning call. I really enjoyed the solitude of this trip, not knowing what was around each bend of the river, and knowing that this water would eventually flow through the Grand Canyon and into the Gulf of California.

On Monday evening, Anna and I attended a local minor league baseball game to support a former WVU graduate (and Bridgeport native) who pitches for the Grand Junction Rockies. Although he didn’t pitch that night, it was an interesting evening at the ballpark (home of the U.S. Junior College World Series), with a good view of Mount Garfield (a high peak) in the distance beyond the outfield. Their concession stand even sells local peaches from nearby Palisades, Colorado, which are renowned for their flavor. I tried one (served in a cardboard basket similar to the way French fries might be served) and I must say it was the best peach I’ve ever tasted.

My Tuesday was spent primarily indoors to avoid some intermittent showers. I first toured the Museum of the West in downtown Grand Junction, before traveling to Fruita to check out the Dinosaur Museum there. This area is known for dinosaur discoveries, including the large dinosaur in the Field Museum at Chicago—I also hiked the interpretive trail on the nearby hillside where that huge dinosaur was recovered. I finished the afternoon at Allen Unique Autos, a car collector’s warehouse turned into a museum of sorts.BR>

Wednesday was a big day for me. I had decided to make the long drive (more than four hours) over more two-lane roads to visit the Four Corners (where Colorado, Utah, Arizona, and New Mexico meet). It was a beautiful drive through mostly desolate areas. I started off by taking U.S. 50 east of Grand Junction before turning south. As I crossed the first ridge, I saw Big Horn Sheep along the roadway. They were more like deer with strange horns than the sheep we have back home. Later, I saw a large black bear amble into the highway ahead of me, and disappear into the brush, followed quickly by a small cub. I had slowed down but just as I started to speed up, a second cub crossed the road in front of me! Other sights I’ll remember from my trip south to Four Corners include the resort built at Gateway by the owner of the Discovery Channel, a huge field of tall sunflowers, and a large Indian Casino in the desert south of Cortez, Colorado.

The Four Corners monument is located in the middle of nowhere—folks just like to see the exact point where four different states meet. I was able to practice my skills from the old “Twister” game by placing my left hand in Colorado, my left foot in Utah, my right foot in Arizona, and my right hand in New Mexico (thus allowing me to cross off the last state I needed to visit in the southern half of the United States). Surrounding the plaza are shopping booths where Indians sell a variety of items such as jewelry, knives, t-shirts, food, etc. I purchased some “fry bread” and a few souvenirs and then headed back to the rental car.

Rather than retrace my route through southwestern Colorado, my plan was to take other small roads north through southeastern Utah to see more territory. This enabled me to make a stop at the Hovenweep National Monument. Hovenweep was a village that once housed as many as 2500 of the same early Native Americans who also inhabitated the better known Mesa Verde cliff dwellings. Numerous stone buildings, including multi-story towers, are still standing even though the Indians left this area in the 1300s. After checking out the visitor center, I took the two-mile trail around the small canyon where most of these stone buildings were located. It was fascinating to see what a large and vibrant community had lived here for hundreds of years, but who had mysteriously disappeared long before the Europeans arrived.

After my hike at Hovenweep, I drove north (past beautiful mountains, mesas, arches, and other scenery) to Moab, where once again I took the roadway that follows the Colorado River through the canyon it cuts on my way back to Grand Junction. It was definitely worth taking that road twice!

Some folks might wonder why I spent the day driving more than eight hours to spend only about half an hour at my primary destination (the geographical oddity of Four Corners)? The driving time can be justified because the entire drive was an experience—not just the time spent at the destination. I saw so many incredible sights that day that will long reside in my mind. Now, whenever I look at a map of the USA and see the only spot where four states converge, I will have a treasured memory of the awe-inspiring landscapes I witnessed during my day spent driving there.

During my last full day while Anna was at work, I decided to drive east into the Rocky Mountains. I took I-70 for two hours from Grand Junction to Glenwood Springs, Colorado. There are lots of things to do there, but I chose to check out the Glenwood Adventure Park. A tramway takes you up a 7000 foot mountain above the town, where a series of caves were discovered, and then an amusement park was added. I took both of the cave tours and watched some of the thrill rides (including a giant swing powered by compressed air that swings you out over the edge of the cliff). I only chose to make my way through a maze (more of a mental challenge than a thrill ride) and to ride the alpine coaster (which was much longer and faster than the one I had previously ridden at Maryland’s Wisp Resort near Morgantown).

Before leaving Glenwood Springs, I drove into the downtown area to eat a late lunch at Doc Holliday’s Tavern. The famed dentist/gunfighter had left the OK Corral to move to Glenwood Springs, where it was hoped the mineral springs might help his tuberculosis (although he eventually died there). It was interesting to sit at a bar (which shares its name with Marshall’s football coach, who is also a West Virginia native and WVU alum) eating a buffalo burger in Colorado when I happen to overhear two guys down the bar talking about fracking in West Virginia. I introduced myself and discovered they were from Morgantown and Wellsburg—what a small world!

I made it back in time to pick up Anna after work and drive her through the Colorado National Monument from Grand Junction to Fruita. Even though I had seen it on Monday morning, it was much different to see the same exotic rock formations in the late afternoon/early evening sunlight. We enjoyed a late dinner in Fruita before heading back for our last night in Grand Junction.

Friday morning I made time to visit the Colorado National Monument Visitor Center and Museum at the western end of the road (it had already closed last night by the time we got there). This allowed me to drive this scenic roadway one more time—but this time in the opposite direction, which afforded a number of unique viewpoints. Anna was able to leave work early, so we headed back to Utah, taking I-70 to Green River before turning north on U.S. 6 towards Price, Utah. This time, we veered off U.S. 6 onto another small highway (Route 191), which took us northeast (across a couple of nearly 10,00 foot tall ridges) to U.S. 40. We then made a left turn and followed U.S. 40 (which is the same road that passes through West Virginia at Wheeling) past Starvation State Park and beyond to Park City, where we caught I-80 down the mountains to Salt Lake City. We met with Anna’s friend again, who took us to the University of Utah campus area for a delicious dinner that evening.

On Saturday, we drove about two hours west from Salt Lake City, past the southern edge of the Great Salt Lake, and on to the Bonneville Salt Flats near the Utah-Nevada border. I’ve always been fascinated by the high speeds attained by land speed racers there. We were able to walk out onto the salt flats, which stretch for miles and miles in the distance. It is truly an alien landscape! I count myself very lucky this year to have visited perhaps the three most famous racing venue names in the USA—Daytona (after our cruise in February), Indianapolis (for my first Indy 500), and now Bonneville.

We drove into the nearby town of Wendover, which straddles the state border. The Nevada side of town has about half a dozen large casinos. It also features a huge neon sign of a cowboy welcoming you to town. We saw the site of the future “Land Speed Record Hall of Fame and Museum” but unfortunately it hasn’t been built yet. I guess that gives me a reason to come back someday! We enjoyed a nice meal in one of the biggest casinos, but neither of us chose to play—we just never picked up the gambling bug.

We had a great week traveling out west, but had to catch our flight home on Sunday. I was able to visit six states (Utah, Idaho, Colorado, Arizona, New Mexico, and Nevada), two of which were for the first time (Idaho and New Mexico). We saw a wide range of scenery over the week, from salt flats to red rock canyons to mesas to arches to Rocky Mountains to southwestern deserts. The American West is truly an incredible place to visit! Plus, I must admit how much easier it is to travel like this these days, using the apps on our smartphones. From driving directions to restaurant recommendations, modern technology makes grand sightseeing tours so much easier! I’m grateful to have had this opportunity.