Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Pictures from the Road -- I Never Sang for My Father

As I will be vacationing for much of the next two weeks, thought I would submit a Father's Day entry in the "Pictures of the Road" series. Dad's home and favorite location is Table Rock Lake and surrounding areas, so these photos show a few of his go-to spots.

The Roaring River Spring

Father's favorite hatchery -- Roaring River State Park

A sky view of the hatchery

The Shell Knob Bridge over Table Rock Lake

A common view from his boat

Looking up in his front yard.

His balcony view -- bird's eye.

His favorite lake -- Table Rock

Looking for an eagle soaring over the dam.

A favorite place to shop -- Branson, MO

Stories from the Road -- Kansas City, MO

Kansas City brings back wonderful memories of childhood. I met one of my closest friends here, if only briefly. I spent many hours waiting for the Country Club Plaza trolley with my grandmother, who was healthy at the time. I've spent still more hours sitting in the Crown Center lobby, finishing a crossword puzzle with Mom. We would take walks up and down the plaza, staring at the wonderful buildings lit up on a cold December night. I would get a Mushroom and Swiss burger at the Gran Falloon, typically after a day of college football airing through the speakers of shops we would go in and out of.

I remember staying in a hotel near the airport, and a severe storm hit while I was swimming in the pool. I was floating on the water, looking up at the (window) ceiling -- seeing lightning streak across the sky. I remember seeing the model trains go in circles near the Halls, and the pedestrian bridge linking us from Crown Center to the Hilton.

As you can imagine, with so many fond memories of the place, visiting here is always a highlight for me. Nearly always, we go to the same places. The Westin. Union Station. The Country Club Plaza. The WWI Memorial. A Royals baseball game.

My favorite place in KC is Union Station. Recently, a pedestrian bridge was built between the Westin and the spectacular train station. The building is, essentially, one very large room -- I can imagine any famous movie scene filmed here, with people standing small in a grand hall. You can hear your shoes echo on the walls.

I can see the clock silently tick-tocking away above the hall. I wonder if it silently judges as Mom gets her new pennies. It seems to stare back indifferently when ever I look back up at it. I must look like an ant from up there.

The reason I like Union Station is that it is one of the few places I appreciate purely for the architecture. The ceiling is extravagant, the floors perfectly waxed, and the building itself big and bold. You know immediately what the building is and what purpose it serves.

The walk from the Westin to Union Station is called "The Link" and is an extension of the connection from the Westin to the Hilton. At night, the street is aglow from the lights, with the lanes moving unnervingly as the cars drive by silently underneath. White noise from the vents dominates the ears, making you imagine the sounds associated with the moving lights. Absolutely surreal.

Equally mesmerizing is the walk to the World War I Memorial, which sits on a hill and allows for long, unabridged views of the city. Kansas City is an ugly downtown, run-down, unoriginal, purely mechanical. In many ways, very Midwestern. Sort of the "Rust Belt of the West". I like it that way -- no glamor, no frills.

I remember a summer long ago when I was scorched with three of my friends at Oceans of Fun. Four teenagers, feeling invincible, burned by the invisible rays. We never thought about it, and we paid the price. And yet, it is a fond memory. Kansas City is like this. You think you should hate it -- but once you dig in, it's a place that fills your head with wonderful memories instead.

A Streetcar Named Desire -- fun little diner in the Crown Center

The Westin Crown Center lobby

Union Station -- from The Link

Inside Union Station

Union Station and KC fountains

View from the WWI Memorial

WWI Memorial

A trolley!

The Country Club Plaza

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Pictures from the Road -- Flag Day

Mount Rushmore, SD

Monterey, CA

Tybee Island, GA

Savannah, GA

Memphis, TN

Smyrna, TN

Royal Gorge, CO

Winthrop, WA

Winthrop, WA

New Orleans, LA

North Cascades National Park, WA

Table Rock Lake, MO

Branson, MO

Stories from the Road -- Kings Canyon National Park

My most pleasant surprise of the trip to California last year was the relatively unknown Kings Canyon National Park. Somewhat overshadowed by Sequoia National Park to its south and Yosemite National Park to its north, Kings Canyon is a joy just waiting to be discovered.

Most national parks require a particular type of exploring. For example, Hot Springs National Park requires a stroll down a street in town. Rocky Mountain National Park requires hiking. Yosemite National Park is enhanced by a picnic-like activity. Everglades National Park promotes recreation.

Kings Canyon is no different. Kings Canyon requires driving. Essentially, a trip to Kings Canyon involves going in and going out via a winding, gorgeously scenic drive into a deep canyon with raging water. My kind of place.

I visited Kings Canyon in 2009 with my mother, and this was after a long two days at Yosemite. Our first day at Yosemite was glorious, with a beautiful mountain drive through the Sierras and Tioga Pass. Our second day was a stunning but extremely stressful day in Yosemite Valley -- on its busiest day of the year (the Sunday of Memorial Day weekend). Both days required driving after dark out of the park, which is thoroughly exhausting work. Needless to say, our emotions were "on edge". Unfortunately, Ma and I had two major blowouts during the day. Our first was near Grizzly Falls, after Mom complained one too many times about the speed of my driving. Not sure why a couple (literally, 2) miles per hour above the speed limit was so problematic for her, except that both of us were slightly edgy from the exhausting "Chad-cation" of the previous two days.

Nevertheless, nothing cures a fight like nature. And Grizzly Falls was masterful at mending fences. Waterfalls are of various types: the horsetail, the cascade, the stair-step, the trickle, etc. Grizzly could be described as the "falling film" type, with a thin layer of water seeping down the slope in a hypnotically continuous motion. Mom would finally allow me to take pictures near her, and soon we were sighing in agreement.

If Grizzly is the falling film, Roaring River Falls is the gusher. The water furiously boils at the base of this instant classic, and the color of the water only magnifies the experience. The setting of the waterfall could not be more perfect. Well within the canyon, the mountains soar above with water seeping down the gorges in furious splendor. All that can be heard is the roar of colliding water. All that can be smelled is the stubborn plant life surviving in this harsh climate. Only the bravest of life live in this place, and nature tends to provide the best gifts at these places.

Kings River and Roaring River are living postcards. Trees tower at their sides, and sliding rocks peer over the snakelike streams in morbid fascination. The plants are brown, and the rivers are green. Nature's Bizarro World, I guess. Whatever the case, it works.

There are hiking trails here. Many of them -- and they go farther than Road's End. Sadly, I had no time to partake in these adventures on this trip. And yet my curiosity had no problem imagining what I would find. Stubborn nature, surviving and somehow thriving in such a harshly beautiful place. The sound of water soon segueing into the whir of the Bernoulli'd wind. The cumulus clouds puffing up above the mountains, devilishly watching the plants and animals opening their mouths in dire desire. And the emptiness -- the void of people. The canyon walls metaphorically portraying a walk into a mysterious and unwelcoming place.

On the way in, I noticed a long dead tree sitting alone atop a lookout into the canyon. It foretold of this harshly beautiful place. We stopped here again on the way out. Check-out time. One last glimpse of a place that time and people forgot. Nature works best this way.

Stories from the Road -- Golden, CO

After a week visiting Glenwood Springs, Aspen, Great Sand Dunes National Park, and Rocky Mountain National Park, three friends and I ended a trip in Colorado on a more restful note. There is an "old mountain town" just outside of Denver that's home to more than a Coors factory. It has a beautiful river, a mountain with an 'M', and a downtown that screams "Get outside!" Golden. The town name speaks for itself.

Actually, it's even descriptive of the landscape. The foothills gleam the color. Pretty dry here, and the plants show it. I suppose it would be called brown...maybe khaki...but the scenery gives the color a shine. Indeed, the hills seem to sparkled underneath the mountain blue sky.

Golden is a town where getting out of the car is required. Eating inside is the option of last resort. Walking on the bridge, you look one way and see the Coors building utilizing the water. You look the other, and you see canoes motionless in the raging stream. In Golden, it's all about the water.

It's funny how the people who respect water the most have the least of it. Sure, it makes sense, but there's a celebratory nature to it that instantly makes me jealous. As I walked along the stream, I was mesmerized by paddlers fighting against the raging water. Such smiles on their faces, in spite of or more likely because of their futile attempts to make progress against the yielding rush.

Along the canal, there are several indications that the townsfolk want to have a little fun. I was amused by a really small, really twisty slide. Perhaps fun for a four-year-old. Or my friend Bryan. Either way, an amusing image that, I think, says a lot about the town.

Or the town welcome sign, hovering above a quickly modernizing business district. Golden seems a bit tongue-in-cheek. People here know not to take themselves too seriously. It's contagious. Sure, there's the obligatory long stare above the creek on the bridge. But then you read the sign, indicating the weight capacity the bridge can take -- based on "animal cargo". Those long stares turn into chuckles. Time for a sandwich on the sidewalk and a free beer at a factory. After all, it's Golden.