Monday, September 3, 2012

Exploring

Where have you been? Are you fortunate enough to have travelled? Do you live near where you were born or have you moved around?

The travel bug bit me at a fairly young age. My family took an annual summer road trip from the time I was ten years old. Those first trips were only a few hundred miles from our home in New Orleans. We went ‘all the way to Biloxi’ on one of them. Those two whole hours on a highway were pretty exciting to a ten-year-old and that was the first time I saw a beach. As my sister and I grew older and as Dad bought better cars, our travel expanded to places like Florida, Arkansas, Washington DC, Texas and New Mexico.

As an adult I added a few more places to my list. I have now visited forty of the fifty states and three nearby countries and have lived in five different states. I am very lucky and don’t take any of this for granted. But there are so many more places I want to visit and a few I want to revisit.

Two Travel Channel programs triggered these thoughts today. They are part of a project done in conjunction with the National Parks Foundation. One explored the area around Mt. Rushmore and the other covered the Colorado River through places like Arches, Canyonlands and the Grand Canyon. I’ll get back to that in a minute.


Arches National Park
  Think about trips you have taken. What were your favorites? Are there any places you would go back to? What is on your destination wish list for the future?

Three states I have returned to many times are North Carolina, Florida and Louisiana. My favorite places in NC are the mountain areas to the west (Asheville area) and the beaches to the east (Outer Banks). I love vast horizontal vista views, hiking on wooded trails and sandy ocean fronts and spending time in quirky towns with quirky residents. I have also visited Raleigh and Chapel Hill many times each but those places are less interesting to me now. I used to visit the beaches three or four times a year and plan to start doing that again next year. I visit Asheville three or four times a year and will continue that.

Florida … I lost count how many times I’ve been to the Orlando area, specifically to visit the various Disney properties. I love the whole idea. I would like to revisit some places from my youth and college years, however, like Pensacola, Jacksonville and St. Augustine. Future spots I’ve never seen but would like to: Key West, the Everglades and the Kennedy Space Center.

Louisiana … I grew up there and always love visiting but I mostly keep returning to New Orleans. I really want to re-explore some of the bayou country on a future trip. And ride in an air boat; I’ve never done that.

Out of the country … I’ve been to Mexico and Jamaica. I have great stories to tell about each but no interest at all to revisit. I’ve also been to Canada … crossed the border, drove in for thirty miles, came back, all so I could say I’ve been there. I would like to take a real vacation there someday, but it’s lower on the priority list than many other spots. Top of the list? Italy! There are way too many interesting destinations there to take them all in on one trip, so my priority is the Tuscany area (and Venice and Florence). I’d also like to visit Switzerland and England.

In the USA? I want to visit the ten states I haven’t seen, of course. Top of that list would be Washington state, Oregon and Alaska. Wyoming holds some interest too.



Grand Canyon

Of all the travel I have done and the exploring I’ve only dreamed about, the place my heart and eyes want to visit the most … revisit, actually … is Arizona and Utah, specifically the parts near the Colorado River. That is what hit me as I watched those TV shows I mentioned. The single most memorable vacation of my life was a trip I took there more than ten years ago. I have wanted to go back ever since, but other things got in the way.

My travel partner packed too many stops into that adventure but I’ll give her credit for picking a few I might not have known about. My hot spots for a fantasy revisit include Arches, Canyonlands, the city of Moab, Monument Valley, Navajo Nation, the city of Flagstaff and the North Rim and South Rim of the Grand Canyon. Believe it or not, the earlier trip I mentioned included all of those places and five or six more, all in one week.

I’ve been a photo enthusiast since childhood and I shot hundreds of pictures on that trip … all on slide film. I don’t have a slide scanner (yet) so I can’t share them with you in this post, but they are the best photographs I have ever taken and sometime soon I will scan them and do a brag post about them. My favorites? Arches, Monument Valley (many John Wayne films were shot there) and both rims of the Grand Canyon. I still remember the moment I saw the Grand Canyon for the first time; I nearly cried. There is no way to adequately describe in words or pictures the feeling you get when you step out to the edge and actually see it. North Rim, the less visited rim, impressed me even more than South Rim but both are beyond description. “Grand” is not nearly a big enough word.

Other memories: shooting a sunset at North Rim, then turning around and shooting a full moon moonrise … driving my rented SUV on a 17-mile off road trail near Canyonlands … an incredible meal at a restaurant in Moab (I don’t remember which restaurant but I can still taste the butternut squash soup) … walking along a short stretch of the old Route 66 in Flagstaff … waking up to the site of deer on the side of a meadow outside a hotel near North Rim … hiking a mile into Grand Canyon down a steep trail near the South Rim … shooting sunrises and sunsets in Monument Valley … trying to find the best photo angles in Arches.


Monument Valley

That whole area was more than just a jaw-dropping viewing experience. There is some kind of spirit there. You FEEL the place as much as see it. It is no surprise to me that Navajo, Hopi and Anasazi Indians worshiped the land, water and sky they lived on. That has to be God’s back yard. I want to go back there. Who wants to come with me?

Meanwhile, I have other priorities and my exploring will be limited to the web sites I’ve linked here and my search for the photos I took. But every time I see TV programs like the one that inspired this post and every time I talk about my past travel, I get another step closer to the future adventures. You too, I hope. Maybe you’ll be standing next to me, camera in hand, silently soaking in the indescribable.

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