Category Archives: Cross-Country

July 3: A flowery, historical, viewful long drive

Middlesboro, Kentucky, where I spent last night, is just outside of my eighteenth (I think) national park of the trip (I’ve sorta lost count, and this is a guess from looking at my road atlas). Anyway, Cumberland Gap National Historic Park is right up my alley. It’s one of the main passes that the early settlers passed through on their way from the 13 original states to go west and explore. Daniel Boone was not the first white man to pass through Cumberland Gap, but he was one of the early people to do so.

The Gap, I was amused to find out, was named after the Duke of Cumberland. The same guy who led the forces that beat the heck out of Bonnie Prince Charlie and the Jacobites at Culloden, which battlefield I visited twenty years ago last month.

A morning glory in the garden outside of the visitor center.
A morning glory in the garden outside of the visitor center.
A log cabin perched in the middle of the huge mowed lawn outside of the visitor center.
A log cabin perched in the middle of the huge mowed lawn outside of the visitor center.

The visitor center was interesting, and also had a lovely garden out front. Also a lot of lawn. I’ve seen more mown grass since I arrived in Kentucky than I think I’ve ever seen before. I’ve passed hundreds of houses, big and small, with huge rolling lawns surrounding them. It’s bizarre. Bluegrass, I guess, although I always thought that was referring to what the thoroughbreds ate.

The other high point, and I mean that literally, was a six-mile corkscrew drive up to Pinnacle Point, which tops out at about 1500 feet above the gap below. You can see three states (Kentucky, Tennessee, and Virginia) from up there. Today’s been pretty darned humid, so you can see the haze, or smoke, that gives the Great Smokies, a hundred miles or so to the southeast, their name, as well. It’s not real smoke. It’s what happens when you have millions of deciduous trees transpirating all at the same time.

A rhododendron -- in July! -- along the road up to Pinnacle Point.
A rhododendron — in July! — along the road up to Pinnacle Point.
This was up at Pinnacle Point.  It's a quote from Frederick Jackson Turner, the guy who decided the frontier period was over in 1890.
This was up at Pinnacle Point. It’s a quote from Frederick Jackson Turner, the guy who decided the frontier period was over in 1890.
A view from Pinnacle Point, looking down at the Gap.
A view from Pinnacle Point, looking down at the Gap.
Another view from Pinnacle Point.  That's the small town of Cumberland Gap, Tennessee, below.
Another view from Pinnacle Point. That’s the small town of Cumberland Gap, Tennessee, below.
Trumpet vine, or what I've been thinking of as the bad hair day vine, alongside the road to Pinnacle Point.  Near my mother's old house in Texas, there's a huge trumpet vine growing up a power pole.  It loses its leaves in the winter, and just looks awful.  One day my sister was driving by it, and there was a sign tacked to the pole reading, "bad hair day."  So that's what we've called it ever since.
Trumpet vine, or what I’ve been thinking of as the bad hair day vine, alongside the road to Pinnacle Point. Near my mother’s old house in Texas, there’s a huge trumpet vine growing up a power pole. It loses its leaves in the winter, and just looks awful. One day my sister was driving by it, and there was a sign tacked to the pole reading, “bad hair day.” So that’s what we’ve called it ever since.

More flowers along the road, too. And I did manage to keep Merlin from rear-ending himself on the hairpin turns [g].

The rest of the day was seeing how far I could get heading towards Fayetteville and my friends Morgan and Kaz, because it’s about 360 miles total, and I want to get there tomorrow, which is the Fourth. I made it across the far northeastern corner of Tennessee to North Carolina, where I crossed the border just north of the Smokies (which I visited and was not all that impressed with on my last Long Trip, which is why I didn’t revisit them), and down through Asheville and across the southern part of North Carolina almost all the way to Charlotte. I’m in the town of Gastonia tonight, having crossed the French Broad River, the Broad River, and the 1st Broad River on my way. The name Gastonia sounds like it ought to be in France, too.

Coming down out of the mountains to Asheville, there's a viewpoint with a veterans' memorial.  This is the view from there.
Coming down out of the mountains to Asheville, there’s a viewpoint with a veterans’ memorial. This is the view from there.
I was always under the impression that Bruce Wayne lived in Gotham City, but maybe he's got a vacation cave near Asheville?
I was always under the impression that Bruce Wayne lived in Gotham City, but maybe he’s got a vacation cave near Asheville?

Over 200 miles today, which means I only have about 150 miles to get to where I’m going tomorrow. Not too shabby. I did drive about 100 of those miles on the Interstate, though, both for time’s sake and because for most of it there really wasn’t a viable alternative [sigh]. I hate the Interstate.

I am truly in the South (a bit farther than I expected to be, but that's okay).  Crepe myrtle outside of my motel here in Gastonia.
I am truly in the South (a bit farther than I expected to be, but that’s okay). Crepe myrtle outside of my motel here in Gastonia.

Oh, and I should mention that this is the first time on this trip that I’ve intersected my last Long Trip, seventeen years ago.  I drove the Blue Ridge Parkway on that trip, which passes through Asheville, and, on my way down to Atlanta, actually drove a chunk of the same Interstate that I drove today.  I knew I’d end up doing that at some point, but I never was sure where it would be.  Now I know!  Actually I’ll be going up the East Coast the same way I went down it on that trip, but I’m going to do my best (except for Washington, DC, which I also spent time in on that trip) to go on new roads, and not the ones I’ve already been on.

I am not fond

West Texas
Along the highway in west Texas, fall, 1999

Of the kind of platitudes like, “If one door closes, another opens,” or “every ending is a new beginning.”

I also hate how you have to end some things to start new ones.

But I’ll be 57 years old next week (how the heck did that happen???), and there are things I will regret not doing, and I don’t have too many more years before I won’t be able to do them at all.

So.  I have made two, no, three concrete steps towards ending some things so that I can start some new ones.  In ascending order, from least to most scary.

First.  I test drove and have about decided on a new vehicle.  My current car is 10 years old with 123,000 miles on it.  It’s time.  Also, the new vehicle will facilitate the rest of my plans.

Second.  I have started de-cluttering my condo, so that I can put everything in storage.  I also need to figure out what to do with my cat, but much as I’d like to take him with me, I suspect that’s not practical.

Third.  I just spoke with a real estate agent.  I don’t want to leave my condo empty for that long, plus I don’t need to be making mortgage/HOA payments on an empty house.  Plus, as some folks already know, there are other reasons I need to move, and those reasons were basically the straw and camel’s back thing.

Once the condo is sold and the new vehicle is purchased, I am going to hit the road, the way I did in 1999, the journey that resulted in Cross-Country.  For at least three months, possibly longer.  Last time I went across the northern part of the U.S. to Vermont, down the east coast to Florida, and back across the South to California and on home.  This time I’m going to go across the center of the U.S. to the Other Washington (D.C.), up the east coast to Prince Edward Island, and back west across Canada.

I’m not sure what I’m going to do when I get back, but I do know I will be coming back.  I can only live so long without looking at Mt. Rainier, after all.

Deep breath.  Here we go…

 

Two weeks ago, Day 9

And so on towards home.

From Sheridan — well, actually from Twin Bridges, the next little town down the road — there were two ways to go. One north, which I hadn’t driven before but which led to I-90, which I’ve driven at least a couple dozen times, and one southwest towards I-15, that stretch of which I’d never driven before. Even though it was about twenty miles further, guess which way I took?

And I’m glad I did. The first bit was very pretty, through sparsely populated ranch land ringed with mountains and down into the town of Dillon on I-15. I’ve only been to Dillon once before. It was the first place on my Long Trip in which I couldn’t find a place to stay (due to it being Labor Day and the annual rodeo).

From Dillon I headed north on I-15, and, less than twenty miles down the road, I happened to glance over to the right and saw a bald eagle perched on one of the posts holding up the wire fence running alongside the road. Fully mature, white head and all, he had to be two feet tall, I swear. Too bad I was going 70 mph on a freeway — I’d have tried to take a picture of him. He was amazing.

Deer Lodge Pass over the Continental Divide south of Butte (where I-15 and I-90 cross) is much more gradual and less steep than Homestake Pass due west of Butte. But because of that I think I was climbing pretty much all the way from Dillon to the pass. At any rate, once I hit I-90 I was on familiar territory and pretty much ready to head home.

I stopped for iced tea in Deer Lodge (the town, not the pass, which is about forty-five minutes from Butte (the highway signs say west, but the road runs almost due north-south at that point). I stopped for lunch and more gas in Missoula.

And I crossed over Lookout Pass into Idaho and the Pacific Time Zone about the middle of the afternoon, aiming for Spokane.

I won’t bore you with the hunt I had to make for a motel room in Spokane. Suffice to say that I think I’ve found a new reasonably-priced convenient place to stay there on my way to wherever, which is a good thing as the one I was used to using had upped its price out of reason because of Hoopfest (I’m assuming) that weekend.

Only one photo today, taken along I-90 between Missoula and Lookout Pass, probably closer to Lookout Pass. I was trying to take a photo of the rain falling ahead of me, which actually turned out to be mostly virga (that is, not hitting the ground).

Stormy weather along I-90 in western Montana.
Stormy weather along I-90 in western Montana.

And that was the penultimate day of my trip, two weeks ago today.

Two weeks ago, Day 8

Sometimes traveling at the last minute just doesn’t work out. But then sometimes it does.

So. I was supposed to switch from hostel bunk to single room two weeks ago this morning. I had been informed when I originally made the reservation that the rate of $95 would include an ensuite bathroom. I was informed this morning that it was one of the rooms in the old building that shared the same bathroom as the hostel.

You have to understand. I’ve stayed in one of those rooms before (about seven or eight years ago, when they cost what a hostel bunk costs now). It wasn’t worth what I paid for it then, for two reasons. One, the room had a horrible bedbug infestation (the bunks have always been clean), and two, that’s where I had a really frightening experience with what I’m pretty darned sure was — well, I’m not going into that here. Let’s just say that the only reason I was willing to pay $95 for a room was because I thought they were going to put me in the new part of the building. The new owner and I went round and round about it, and I ended up having him refund my credit card.

But now I didn’t have a place to stay tonight, nor did I want to waste the day looking for one. So I drove back into the park figuring I’d make the best of whatever time I had left, and I’d head on out this afternoon to find somewhere to stay farther from the park before heading home tomorrow a little earlier than planned.

Which all turned out to be a good thing. At least timing-wise this morning. I headed back out into the park, towards the geyser basins again, and decided my first stop on this cloudy-but-not-raining-yet morning would be at the Fountain Paint Pots.

The Fountain Paint Pots.  This early in the year, they're kind of runny.
The Fountain Paint Pots. This early in the year, they’re kind of runny.

The Fountain Paint Pots (and the long-gone Fountain Hotel, which was nearby) are named after Fountain Geyser, which is just off the boardwalk there. It was a geyser I’d always wanted to see, but it’s not officially-predicted, and I didn’t know then about the unofficial predictions, so I’d never seen it.

So what do you think happened? Yup. Just as I walked up, it boiled over and started erupting. And if I hadn’t ended up wasting the time arguing with the owner of the Madison Hotel this morning, I’d probably have missed it — again.

Glorious, glorious Fountain Geyser, which is much taller than it looks in this photo.
Glorious, glorious Fountain Geyser, which is much taller than it looks in this photo.

As for those unofficial predictions, just as Fountain was beginning to wind down from its glorious half-hour long eruption, a very nice lady named Maureen, who turned out to be on the Geyser Gazers Facebook group, strolled over and we struck up a conversation. And she told me about the unofficial predictions available if you have a smartphone. I really do need to get a smartphone…

The rest of the morning was still wonderful, if a bit anticlimactic. I mean, there’s nothing better than a new major geyser to add to one’s life list. But I stopped at all the usual suspects that I hadn’t wanted to get soaked over before — Midway, with the clouds of steam hanging over Excelsior and Grand Prismatic.

Runoff looking back towards Grand Prismatic Spring.
Runoff looking back towards Grand Prismatic Spring.

Biscuit Basin, with its glorious Sapphire Pool.

Biscuit Basin's Sapphire Pool.
Biscuit Basin’s Sapphire Pool, which erupted in 1959 after the earthquake.

And Black Sand Basin, with Cliff Geyser, which is James’s geyser. The one where he finally found out where he really came from, in a brief timeslip one sunny October afternoon in 1959/1983 in Finding Home.

James's Cliff Geyser.
James’s Cliff Geyser and hot spring runoff into Iron Creek.

By then I was way overdue for a late lunch, so I waved farewell to my favorite place on the planet once more, already making plans for a hopefully longer visit next year, and stopped in West for KFC, where the manager was having her Chinese employee write something to do with the Fourth of July on the window in Chinese characters, for some reason.

Want some Chinese fried chicken for the Fourth of July?
Want some Chinese fried chicken for the Fourth of July?

I then headed northwest on U.S. 287 towards Earthquake Lake, which is, obviously, the site of the earthquake I mentioned yesterday that was part of Chuck’s time travel device in Repeating History. On August 17, 1959, a 7.3-7.8 (estimates vary) earthquake struck here and an entire mountainside fell, blocking the Madison River and burying a campground, killing twenty-eight people. The quake also did a lot of damage in Yellowstone, just a few miles east of the epicenter, and, incidentally, sent my hero Chuck eighty-two years back in time.

Today it looks very peaceful, although the slide is still strongly evident fifty-five years later, and there’s an interesting, recently redone visitor center, too.

The landslide triggered by the Hebgen Lake Earthquake, which created a new lake, and, unfortunately, killed 28 people in the process.
The landslide triggered by the Hebgen Lake Earthquake, which created a new lake, and, unfortunately, killed 28 people in the process.

By the time I got that far, it was midafternoon, and while I had a good idea of where I wanted to spend the night, I needed to get moving again. I drove down the Madison River valley and turned west on Montana 287 (as opposed to U.S. 287) at the town of Ennis.

The Madison River Valley south of Ennis.  You'll note that the weather improved drastically as soon as I left the Park .
The Madison River Valley south of Ennis. You’ll note that the weather improved drastically as soon as I left the Park .

I wanted to see Virginia City again. Virginia City, and the neighboring ghost town of Nevada City, are two of Montana’s earliest settlements, and I hadn’t been there since my Long Trip fifteen years ago. It’s a fun, touristy place with an interesting history as a mining camp (of course) where vigilantes dealt with the infamous Plummer Gang. Lots of false-front buildings and even a stagecoach offering rides, and plenty of historical markers. I spent a rather pleasurable hour or so there, before I climbed back in the car one last time for the day.

Boardwalks of another kind, at Virginia City, Montana.
Boardwalks of another kind, at Virginia City, Montana.
Charley hated detachable collars like the one in this Virginia City storefront.
Charley hated detachable collars like the one in this Virginia City storefront.
Want a stagecoach ride, little girl?
Want a stagecoach ride, little girl?

On my Long Trip (as documented in Cross-Country), I was desperate for a place to stay one night in this part of the world when I finally ran across the tiny town of Sheridan, Montana, and found a nice little place called the Moriah Motel. I was banking on it still being there, and it was. I think the same elderly lady was running it, too. It was reasonably priced and modern and that was all I needed.

So some things do work out okay. But if a friend and I do go back to Yellowstone as part of our WorldCon jaunt next year, we’re going to make our reservations in January.

Two weeks ago, Day 5

No sleep, and more mountains!

Well, that was the only night I camped on this trip. For some reason I could not get comfortable in my sleeping bag, and I finally gave up about four in the morning. So I pulled out my Kindle and read till it got light at about 5:30, packed up, and headed out.

Not very far at first — the Sunrise campground sits at the very top of the long, steep drop to Bear Lake, and a very nice viewpoint/visitor center, which was unlocked even at that gawdawful hour of the day (much to my pleasure, as the campground only had pit toilets and no running water), is practically next door to it. So I got cleaned up and then sat and watched the sun rise over Bear Lake. It was fairly spectacular.

Sunrise at Bear Lake, Utah.
Sunrise at Bear Lake, Utah.

I decided I deserved breakfast out after that, and after descending 2000 feet (7900 to 5900) to Bear Lake and the small town of Garden City, I started looking for somewhere that might feed me one.

Nothing, and I mean nothing, was open in Garden City at six a.m., though, so I went on, heading north along the shore of Bear Lake. Eventually I crossed the state line back into Idaho, and found the small town of Montpelier, which was just waking up for the day. The lady at the gas station where I filled the tank for the fourth time on the trip told me the truck stop just north of town was about the only place to go to get breakfast (I did mention that Montpelier is a small town, right?). So I went to find the truck stop.

It turned out to be a nice place, as such things go, and the waitress very helpfully warned me that I only wanted one pancake, not a short stack. Wow, was she right. That pancake was about twelve inches around and at least half an inch thick. It was good, though, especially with Bear Lake raspberry syrup (the berries are a local specialty). I ate a bit more than half of it before I gave up.

I headed north and east on U.S. 89, the same highway that I took all the way to Yellowstone. Up and over a pass and into Wyoming, where I noticed that I was not as alert at the wheel as I could be, so I stopped in a forest service campground, let my seat back all the way, grabbed my pillow and afghan, and crashed for a couple of hours.

Much refreshed, I arrived in the town of Afton an hour or so later, where I got stuck in a bathroom line with a bunch of French-speaking bus tourists, and saw what is purportedly the world’s largest antler arch across the main drag in town. I did not get a photo of it, but if you click here you can get a look at it.

My goal for the day was the ski resort of Jackson Hole (no, not Jackson’s Whole — that would be the wrong Nexus, thank goodness), where I was going to spend tonight, and Grand Teton National Park, where I would spend the rest of the day.

I’d spent about half an hour on my cell phone last night in the campground — I don’t know why I’m still astonished that I can talk on the phone in places that remote, but I am — making sure I had a place to sleep tonight at the hostel in Teton Village (at the base of the ski resort) and for the next two nights (they didn’t have space after that — last minute trip planning can be a bear) at the hostel in West Yellowstone.

I hadn’t spent any time to speak of in the Tetons since I was a kid. In 1999 on my Long Trip (see my book Cross-Country: Adventures Alone Across America and Back) I’d spent an evening on a dinner cruise on Jackson Lake with some friends, and in 2008 my friend Mary and I passed through, stopping for a few photos, on our way from Yellowstone to Denver for WorldCon, but that was pretty much the extent of it. In all the rest of my jaunts to Yellowstone, I hadn’t bothered to come south even that far. So I wanted to spend a little time here, at least.

The Teton Mountains, Grand Teton (13,776 feet -- almost as tall as Mt. Rainier) front and center.
The Teton Mountains, Grand Teton (13,776 feet — almost as tall as Mt. Rainier) front and center.

The Tetons are spectacular, I’ll give them that, but they strike me as a bit — aloof. It’s hard to get out in them without doing a lot more hiking than I’m capable of. I stopped along the roadside to take pictures and to look at wildflowers (which were everywhere), and then at the visitor center at Moose, which was fun. Then I drove out to Jenny Lake and decided on a whim to take a boat ride across the lake to a trailhead that led to a waterfall.

The Moose at Moose -- no real meece, alas, not on this trip.
The Moose at Moose — no real meece, alas, not on this trip.
Scarlet gilia, which I've always thought of as a California wildflower before.
Scarlet gilia, which I’ve always thought of as a California wildflower before.
Another view of the Tetons.
Another view of the Tetons.

The boat ride was fun. It was also a great way to cool off from the 80+ degree temperatures. And the hike to the waterfall, albeit with a boatload of my new close friends, was good, too. So that was worth it.

Jenny Lake.
Jenny Lake.
From the boat on Jenny Lake.
From the boat on Jenny Lake.
Hidden Falls, approximately 100 feet tall.
Hidden Falls, approximately 100 feet tall.
Waiting for the boat to go back across Jenny Lake.
Waiting for the boat to go back across Jenny Lake.

After the ride back, though, it was getting late, and I took what was supposed to be a short cut but turned out to be a goat trail back to Teton Village.

And I ended my day by scaring the bejeebies out of myself. There was this gondola, you see. It was free in the evenings. I thought it would be like the gondola at Crystal Mountain here in Washington state, which is a pleasant little ride. This was not a pleasant little ride. It turned out to be about three times as long and three times as steep, and by the time I got to the top, I was a gibbering idiot (I don’t do manmade heights, at least not ones like these). If you want to see what the view from the top looks like, click here. I left my camera in the car.

I almost couldn’t make myself ride it back down again, but a group with a baby(!) got in the gondola with me, and that happy little baby was a great distraction. Thank goodness. I’m not sure I’d have made it down sane without him!

And that was more than enough for one day.

Cross-Country garners a terrific review

Whilst doing some housekeeping on my Amazon pages this afternoon, I clicked on Cross-Country‘s page and discovered a really wonderful new review.

I am still new enough at being a published writer that when a perfect stranger writes words like these about my own words, it pleases me more than I can say.  I suspect I will always be new enough at this to feel that way when this happens.

Oh, and when I wrote Mr. Frauenfelder to thank him, it turns out he’s written a longer version of the review on his own blog.

Sometimes things are so much niftier than they have any right to be.

Cross-Country’s cover gets good press

I guess I know what I’m doing, after all.  Out of curiosity, I submitted Cross-Country‘s cover to the Book Designer, a well-thought-of blog which holds an exhibition of covers for indie-published books with commentary every month, with the following explanation:  “The
photo is one I took, on the travels that inspired the book. The dark is pulled from the color of the road. I’m strictly an amateur cover
designer, for my own books only because I don’t have a lot of money to invest, but I’d like to know what you think of this one.”

And he liked it.  His exact words were, “Simple but effective, showing that even with some carefully chosen elements, non-designers can create workable ebook covers.”

Maybe “workable” isn’t the highest praise, but I think “simple but
effective” is very nice.

Anyway, here’s Cross-Country‘s cover, for you to decide yourselves.  Do you like it?  Does it make you curious?

400T E cover

a new year’s giveaway

To celebrate our arrival in 2014, I am giving away five ebook copies of your choice of my books.   My only request is that if you’re one of the five winners, you post a review on Amazon when you’re done reading.

To enter, leave a comment talking about the best book you read in 2013. Make sure I have a way to contact you. I’ll draw five winners at random in a week or so.

Winners will receive a coupon for the free book through Smashwords, which provides plenty of formats, including for the Kindle. And since there’s no shipping costs, that means there are no geographic restrictions on who can enter.

Please spread the word, and start out the new year with a new book to read!

Cross-Country: Adventures Alone Across America and Back

400T E cover

I am proud to announce the publication of my new book, a non-fiction travel narrative entitled  Cross-Country:  Adventures Alone Across America and Back:

After a childhood of summers spent in the back seat of a car, and four months before the turn of the millenium, M.M. Justus decided to follow in the footsteps of her heroes John Steinbeck and William Least-Heat Moon, not to mention Bill Bryson, and drive alone across America’s backroads for three months.  Like the bear going over the mountain, she wanted to see what she could see.

The places she visited ranged from the homely to the exotic, from the Little Town on the Prairie to Scotty’s Castle, from New York’s Twin Towers to an ‘alien’ landing site in Wyoming.  From snow in Vermont to the tropical heat of New Orleans. 

After over 14,000 miles, history both public and personal, and one life-changing event, she finally arrived back where she’d started from, only to discover it wasn’t the same place she’d left behind at all.
It is available in print through Amazon and CreateSpace, and through other retailers coming soon, and as digital editions through Amazon and Smashwords, with other retailers coming soon:

You can read the first chapter for free here:  http://mmjustus.com/fictionCrossCountry.html

Thank you for your time.

M.M. Justus