Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Is This Heaven?

It's Iowa.

One of my all-time favorite movies is Field of Dreams, the story of a hippie-turned-farmer (Kevin Costner) who plows up his corn field in Iowa to build a baseball field, because a mysterious voice told him to do so. Afterward, his neighbors think he's crazy, he almost loses the farm because he plowed through his most profitable crop to construct the baseball field, and then ghosts of former baseball greats begin showing up to play ball. Nicki doesn't quite understand my love for the film, but I think it's probably more suited for guys... not to sound sexist... but it's about a man's attempt to come to terms with a failed relationship he had with his now deceased father. You know, typical guy stuff.

Anyway, back to the point. After all of the wonderfully American family-oriented things we have been doing on this journey back east, I requested that we stop by Dyersville, Iowa, so that I could get a glimpse of the film's location. Nicki wasn't thrilled, but she was agreeable to the slight change of course. After waking up in Sioux Falls, SD, we made fairly good time across I-90 through southern Minnesota, then dipped down I-35 South into Iowa. We exited the main highway and took the state highways towards Dyersville, arriving around 5:30PM. We were lucky, as once we arrived we saw that the attraction closes at 6:00PM.

I ran around like a mad man, trying to take as many photos as I could before closing time and before the sun completely set over the field. Nicki obliged in taking a few photos of me and the boys. All in all, it was a fun 30 minutes. The only bummer... all the corn in the cornfield was cut within hours of our arrival. The photos would have been a little better with corn in the field, but I was still overjoyed to see the site.

Sam absolutely loved climbing the bleacher along the first base line of the field. Couldn't help but remind me of the movie scene where the daughter of Kevin Costner's character fell off the back of that very same bleacher and choked on a piece of hot dog. Fortunately, Nicki was there to catch Sam on his way off the back, and spared him from a similar fall.

As for the shot of me, Joshua gets credit for the photographic work. He's a budding photographer and he offered to shoot that one of me holding the very limp remains of a corn stalk, one of the few long stalks remaining. Good for Josh - I'm completely in focus!

And as for the off-the-beaten-track detour we took through most of Iowa today... Did I mention that Nicki is awesome? She is.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Mt. Rushmore and Crazy Horse

Rapid City, South Dakota, has been a really good experience so far. Never would I have ever thought that the area near Mt. Rushmore would be so family friendly. Just about every hotel has an indoor pool and there are attractions for the whole family to enjoy. Our hotel (the AmericInn, Rapid City) has a indoor pool, hot tub and water slide. We aren’t talking some little kiddy slide with a small stair case that goes into the pool. I’m talking about a tube slide that twists down all the way from the second story... Water park style! Joshua was so excited during the whole drive until we got here. He climbed up the staircase with Mike and peered down the dark entry. He could tell that the slide would be pitch black going down. He sat at the top shaking and said that he was a little scared. Mike went first and hollered all the way down then told Joshua to go. He came down, did a little smile and said that he liked it. Then promptly told us he didn’t want to go again. Mike is really the king when it comes to encouragement and before long, Joshua couldn’t stop sliding down and yelling, “THIS….IS…..SO…..AWESOME!!!”

After a fun night at the pool and an awesome pizza buffet at a nearby restaurant, waking up on a brisk Sunday morning wasn't very easy. But the plans were worth it. After hitting the complimentary breakfast buffet our hotel offered, we packed up our minivan and headed towards Mt. Rushmore. About 45 minutes southwest of Rapid City, through Black Hills National Forest, we arrived at the famous monument. In a word - Spectacular! We arrived at Mt. Rushmore early enough in the morning and late enough in the season that we didn't have to compete with other tourists for parking or the view of the famed sculptured stone mountain. We spent about an hour on the grounds, including letting Sam walk his way through pretty much the entire visitors area. For the record, in the picture below of Josh, he's not actually playing his Nintendo DS at the monument, he's setting it to camera mode to take a photo.

Afterward, we headed deeper into the Black Hills to visit the equally impressive Crazy Horse Monument, which has yet to be completely sculpted, but still manages to impress observers with its significance. I guess the story goes, that in the late 1930's, Chief Henry Standing Bear sought a sculptor to create a memorial similar to the one constructed at Mt. Rushmore. In a letter to the eventual sculptor (named Korczak Ziolkowski), Chief Henry Standing Bear stated in part "My fellow chiefs and I would like the white man to know that the red man has great heroes, too." Ziolkowski died in 1982, before completing the project, but his wife and 10 children continue to push for the completion of the monument. When completed, the monument will be the world's largest sculpture. It is well worth the drive, if you are ever visiting Mt. Rushmore.

During our trip, we’ve been well stocked with workbooks and other road trip activities. Joshua has been working on his school workbooks, math flashcards, and writing in his journal. More often then not though, Joshua has been playing with his DS. We also have a DVD player and loads of kid music. I think back to the times that our parents had to go on road trips with us and am really thankful that we have all this technology. Of course some folks question the quality of sticking children in front of a box but I have to say that during a 6 hour drive it helps our sanity so much!

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Entry into the Midwest

Living out of a car (including suitcases and motels) for a week with limited sleep and a screaming toddler has its benefits. Really, I’m not just saying that. Because we are driving, we can stop for potty breaks when needed, we aren’t disturbing anyone else except for our own family, and the time changes happen gradually.

Here we are now a couple days into our trip. Our first stop was Elko, Nevada. I was a little weary about staying in Elko. After reading some of the reviews on the hotels there, I was expecting a ghost town of what once was a popular gambling town in the 50’s. I was pleasantly surprised to find our accommodations at the Inn very nice. Two rooms is always good to have with children so that we can put some space between us. If anyone has been to Laughlin, Elko is comparatively a sister town. Although Nevada has some great tourist attractions (namely gambling and... other things), I was happy to get through it and on to our next destination.

Once we got about an hour into Idaho from Nevada, the scenery started to change. Gone were the salt flats and signs for gambling. There were many more signs of life. Farm houses, corn & potato fields, and small towns dotted the scenery and it was a nice drive. The kids were getting fed up near the last leg of the trip, so we found a school playground to stop at and let them burn off some energy.

Out of northeast Idaho and into the bottom toe of Montana. Our hotel, the Kelly Inn at West Yellowstone, was in a small town right outside the entrance to Yellowstone. Across the street was a McDonald's and an IMAX theater. It (the hotel) had a pool and hot tub as well. Joshua was absolutely chomping at the bit to get into the pool so I took him downstairs while Mike got Samuel down to sleep.

I didn’t realize how excited Mike was about Yellowstone until the next morning at 4:45AM when I heard the shower running. I hit the snooze button in my brain and went back to sleep only to be awoken again by the smell of coffee at around 6:00AM. Yes, Mike had been up since 4:45 in the morning (which was actually 3:45AM California time) He told me the whole night he had been tossing and turning with excitement awaiting our big Yellowstone Park adventure. My hair was cloaked in eau de chlorine from the pool the night before, so I hopped in the shower myself.

Washed and fed, we made it out the door by 8:45AM. The park entrance fee was $25 for a car. The Ranger was very helpful and informed us that there was only one road closure, which for this time of year is strange. Usually by this time there is two feet of snow on the ground. It’s been unusually warm this October. About 2 miles into our drive, we happened upon a herd of Elk. It was absolutely spectacular, to watch as they were grazing and trotting through the water. Joshua was so excited and said, “that was so awesome!”

Little did we know that we were in for an even bigger treat. As we drove along a little further, a small group of cars was slowing down the road. As we crept closer, we saw something in the road. At first, we thought it was a bear, but it wasn’t. It was a rogue male buffalo trotting down the center line. We stopped and took more pictures. Literally, this great beast got within five feet or less from our car. Joshua said, “my heart was beating so fast, dad!” I think all of ours were. These animals are absolutely huge up close. I’d say at least 7-8 feet tall.
Buffalo seemed to be the common sighting through out the day. We were even able to experience another “crossing”. My favorite sight was a small cinnamon colored calf running with its mother.

The park itself takes about 3 hours to drive through, without stopping for all the amazing views along the way. It’s about 100 miles across, but because of the speed limits (35 MPH is most areas) it takes longer. We started at around 8:45AM and finished up at around 4:00PM. I’d say we had a pretty good tour of the park. We also stopped at the new visitor’s center that was just finished in August. It provides a glorious indoor view of Old Faithful.

Just as many religions have a migration destination (for Muslims, Mecca; for Jews, Israel; for Catholics, Rome), Americans should all aspire to visit Yellowstone. The animals, education, breathtaking views, and natural wonders just shouldn’t be missed. It was truly one of the most amazing displays of nature I have ever seen. Sadly, we only had one day to see it all.

Our next stop was in Cody, Wyoming. The name Cody comes from world famous Buffalo Bill. This is where he laid down his roots. The town has a very large museum and there is a large rodeo arena. Cody reminds me of a place we only read about it books these days. It has a Main Street and that’s about it. It’s the kind of place where many people dream about raising their children. Where Friday night means everyone is out at the High School football game... and I mean everyone. This town has less Americans attached to it than the Yokosuka military base in Japan. Folks slow down a little bit more and still hold doors open for women. I liked it here. I tend to like small towns. After living overseas for such a long time I sort of got used to it. A small trivia fact: Wyoming as a whole has just over 500,000 inhabitants. It’s estimated that there is more cattle than people that reside here.

Stay tuned to more news from the road... and click on any of the photos to enlarge them.

Friday, October 8, 2010

A Blur

The last week has been going by in a blur and at break neck speed. The idea of moving overseas is always fun until it is actually happening. Then the reality of leaving all of the family members that I cherish so much slaps me in the face and the not-so-fun part rears it's ugly head.

Jane is pretty much all squared away. This spoiled feline is getting the absolute royal treatment on her journey. A company called Happy Tails Travel will be taking care of her traveling arrangements. Did I mention, she gets a villa for a week under the Golden Gate Bridge? Oh yeah, it's costing us a pretty penny. But, we didn't have much choice, or honestly, we wouldn't have it any other way. If one is planning on taking their furry friends overseas they need to plan in advance! For island countries it can take even longer to transport pets. For Germany, here is a helpful site: http://www.howtogermany.com/pages/pets.html. I can't stress enough that the moment orders/job offers/etc. come in for an overseas position, you should call the vet and ask what steps are needed for "Fluffy's" travels.

All of our things are pretty much packed up on a truck and we are left with our express shipment to go. This includes things that we might need right away upon arrival. One thing that we put in this time was our bikes. I have a feeling we will get a car soon, but just in case, the whole family is equipped with wheels. Honestly if we were headed back to Japan, we may have done this as well. I thought it was a pretty smart idea for Mike to come up with. After all, one can't always depend on their sponsor for rides! I've got to get the kiddo to school in the morning after all!

Before we fly, we'll be taking a road trip across the country. This time we plan to go the northern route. Some famous sites will include Yellowstone, Mt. Rushmore, and the actual Field of Dreams. I found out recently that a lot of my family is from the Boone, Iowa, area. How they ended up in central California, I will never know, but there's a good chance we'll be able to pass through that town. We may even write something up for Joshua's class. Right now, they are working on a social studies project about their family trees and how their ancestors came to America. The exciting part is that most of Mike's and my families have been here since the 1700's. One of Mike's ancestors was a signer of the Declaration of Independence and the fourth Governor of Virginia. He (Thomas Nelson, Jr.) ended up bankrupt and died a pauper all in the name of democracy! I'm sure Mike was surprised to learn that he married a Yankee whose ancestor fought in the American Revolution. Unlike Mike, my ancestor was a foot soldier and not so much the nobility type.

This may not be a Europe or Germany themed blog for a couple of entries, but only because we want to write about our journey across this great land first! Readers, I beg that you bear with us.