Category Archives: On the road

How to find the best backroads in Wisconsin

For some reason, we could not get a Wisconsin map at any of the tourist offices we visited while there last weekend – and we tried several. Perhaps it’s part of some budget cutback? Anyway, it forced us to rely on partial maps we found at the tourism offices – most notably a multi-county map of good roads for bicyclists.  The one we used was the West-Central Wisconsin State Bike Trails map, which includes “safe roads to ride,” “bike trails” and “Amish community.”  With it, we found a pretty series of mostly letter-named roads that went diagonally from Sparta northwest to Alma on the Mississippi. I suppose cyclists wouldn’t appreciate me sending car drivers on these roads but the fact is, they were great for both.  We took I-90 west to 108 north to Mindon, then VV (not to be confused with W, as I did) to Ettrick, then D, and T to Acadia, then 95 to E to Waumandee, then more E to 88 and my favorite named town – Cream, Wisconsin – and then E again to Alma. You do have to pay attention because these road names/numbers change pretty quickly.

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Filed under On the road, Wisconsin

Oregon coast: the downside of comfort

We are so cozy up here in our tree house near the beach in Manzanita that it’s tempting to just stay put.  The bed here is as snug as a nest — a wooden nook built into the rear wall of our room, with a low slanted wood ceiling that has a sky light and windows at eye level that look out onto the main street from top-of-the-tree level. I slept through the night for the first time during our trip.

Manzanita by night – at least last night, a Thursday in March just before the spring tourist season – was very quiet. At sunset, the few people around started migrating towards the beach and we joined the flow. Scattered up and down the beach, people stood quietly watching the fierce yellow sun sink slowly into the ocean, leaving behind bands of orange and pink. A couple of dogs leapt around near the water.

We found lots of people inside the San Dune Pub – most appeared to be locals. Good burger, local beer, fish and chips. Back to our tree house, where I tried out the whirlpool in our room and D caught up with some of his beloved basketball,sitting on a couch near the burning embers (not)  of our electric fireplace (the one goofy touch in this room.) Go Jayhawks!

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Filed under On the road, Oregon

To the Oregon Coast

On a spectacular morning, we drove north from Medford on Highway 5 to Sutherlin where we picked up 138 and then 38 west to Reedsport on the Oregon Coast. Beautiful scenery the entire way – through mountain valleys shrouded in fog and cloud, around mountains covered with evergreens (we saw our first logging trucks and clear-cut here) and along wide fast-moving river. The Coast from Reedsport to Florence was almost nowhere to be seen – thanks to a thick section of high sand dunes but by Florence we started to see wild waves lapping onto the shore and crashing into rocks as we drove on a curving road – highway 101 – way above the shore.

Mediocre food at Mo’s in Florence (we decided not to picnic because of intermittent rain) then great scenery en route to Newport – the whole drive took about 5 hours. We walked along the Historic Bayfront in Newport which turned out to be grittier than expected – kind of a mix between a real place (with fishing boats in the marina and big seafood-type warehouses with cool murals painted on the side) and tacky tourist stuff (a wax museum etc.)

We never would have found the restaurant we ate at down there had it not come recommended by some in-laws of my sister in Portland. Saffron Salmon – the restaurant – had superb food: calamari served unbattered with cabbage salad in a lemony sauce, Dungeness crab salad, a fantastic crab and shrimp cake served on wasabi-seasoned coleslaw, with thin, thin frites and Hebi, a fish we’d never heard of. Lovely place, great location with big picture windows looking out onto the bay.

The famous Sylvia Beach Hotel   was as charming as expected. A five or so story green wood frame historic building perched above the beach with individually decorated rooms, each honoring a writer (we’re in Emily Dickenson – small but sweet and reasonable – $97 – and an ocean view.) It’s a conspicuously bookish place – no tv, wi-fi (I’m the wonderful Newport Public Library right now), telephones. Just books, games, a third floor library-den with cozy worn chairs in front of big picture windows with full frontal ocean views. Feel a little sneaky using a Kindle there. Fantastic breakfast this morning – all kinds of fresh baked goods, fresh fruit, cereals, juices, granola – and a cooked entree of bacon frittata and grilled bread.  We shared a table with a guy from Portland and his sister and her companion from Texas.

Drove a little north to the Yaquina Head Lighthouse – well worth a visit. Climbed on a short trail cut into the green leafy vegetation on a mountain side for a superb view, then walked along a tidal pool laden, oddly, with black cobbles that became smaller stones and then gritty black and white sand resembling fresh ground pepper. I got nabbed by a “sneaker wave” – and left with soggy jeans and soaked sneakers. But the water wasn’t that cold, even though the wind was at times. Great view from atop the lighthouse where we got St. Patricks-day Green buttons announcing our successful climb up the spiral metal staircase.

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Filed under On the road, Oregon

Oregon is gorge-ous

I’m a bit of a gorge snob after all the time I’ve spent in New York State’s Finger Lakes but the Columbia River Gorge, just east of Portland is nothing to sneeze at. The waterfalls are very different from the ones around Ithaca (see the photo above) but just as spectacular in a different way. I think it may have to do with the scale. The waterfalls we saw yesterday during our drive along the old scenic highway30 were very high and a straight shot down, unlike the Ithaca waterfalls which meander, with the water spreading out across a wide rock face. The Oregon falls were very powerful, thanks to the snow melt and spring rain, kind of the effect you’d get draping a hose over a high mountain and turning the water on full force.  At Multnomah Falls and several smaller falls en route, the water came crashing directly downward with furious force, hitting the rocks and pool below with a steady crash that caused water and mist to shoot up.

It’s a sight I wasn’t sure we’d have time to see but I’m glad that rainy weather forced us to take to the car sooner than expected so we had some time to travel along that charming old highway, past heavily moss-coated trees – kind of looked like a green version of andora, or whatever that mythical land is in Avatar. There were surprises along the way including an old observatory with gorgeous marbled stain glass windows and a glorious view of the Columbia River gorge. We ate mediocre – as expected – food at the charming Multnomah Falls Lodge, in a high-ceilinged dining room with walls made of giant rough-hewn grey stones. We made it as far as Stevenson, Wash., crossing over the very cool steel Bridge of Gods spanning the river, and  had hot chocolate at a funky little coffee shop – Bahma Coffee Bar.

Our four-and-a-half hour drive south on Highway 5 to Medford turned into a white-knuckle journey about midway when we hit rain and then, all of a sudden, snow flurries as we drove through high curving mountain passes – we for some reason didn’t realize we’d be driving through mountains. Googlemaps doesn’t really fill you in on the topography – or maybe it does and we didn’t think to ask. But during our trip west to the coast, we’ll definitely have to take the mountains into account. And travel by day not eve.

Dirck’s sister D. lives in a lovely 1920’s bungalow on a quiet residential street – with hammocks on the front porch and a beautiful red-and-white camellia tree (bush?) in the yard. The sky is a flawless blue for the first time during our trip and the grass is so green it looks like the set of the movie “Blue Velvet.” A sight for sore eyes coming from grey snowy/muddy Iowa!


Filed under On the road, Oregon

Art along the Iowa interstates

Inspired by the fantastic new mural we stumbled upon inside a welcome center along Interstate 35 in northern Missouri last December, I started looking into efforts by other states to spruce up their highway pit stops with art. And lo and behold, I find out from several knowledgeable sources that the great state of Iowa – where I live – has one of the more impressive programs.

Which means an estimated 17 million people who stop at an Iowa rest areas each year may be in for a treat – if they stop at the right one. Thirteen rest areas or welcome centers – most along I-80 and I-35 – have been  redesigned as part of Iowa’s “art-in-transit” program to include site-specific, regionally-themed art projects during the past 10 years – the latest in 2009 and more to come. Iowa has even printed “rest area posters.” For more info see: (

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Filed under DESTINATIONS - Iowa, On the road, rest area

Unplugged on the Oregon Coast

Oops.  For anyone who was enticed by the title of this post and found it empty, I apologize.  A friend called just as I was starting to blog and I inadvertently pressed the “Publish” key rather than the “Save draft” key.  As it turns out, my friend was calling for some advice on starting a blog. (Not sure I’m the best source on that…)

Anyway…we are heading to a quaint inn in Newport, Oregon next month that is unapologetically unplugged – no radios, tvs, or phones. (There is apparently one public phone in case of emergency). Instead there are books, conversation, and really good food. All of which sounds very appealing to me – except that I do need to blog (God forbid you all go without my daily post) and I also need to be on call should my two teenagers – who won’t be with us (one will be in Spain, the other in Arizona) – need to reach us. So we’ll see how this works. Or doesn’t work.

I have never been one of those people who had to be plugged-in during a trip. Sure I need to be accessible to editors I’m working with on various projects and I am by cell phone.  But part of vacationing for me has been about NOT having to check my email constantly and NOT having to drag all my word files. Alas, this seems to be changing – in part because of this blog and also because new technology (like my new Netbook, I hope) makes being plugged in while on the road easier and even cheaper. Again, we shall see.

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Filed under On the road, Oregon, TECHNOLOGY/GEAR, Uncategorized

The BIG WELL/Greensburg, Ks: Takemewithyou

Fate (or chance or destiny?) has taken me to some unexpected places, sometimes repeatedly, and one of them is Greensburg, Kansas – a small town (pop. 1000) in the state’s windy west that was almost blown off the map in 2007 by a brutal tornado that killed eleven people and destroyed most of the town. (An event that ironically put Greensburg on the map.)

In the past 23 years, I have driven through Greensburg oh, maybe, 23 times, during our annual trips to visit my in-laws who live about an hour west in the even smaller wind-swept town  of Wright, Ks. (pop. about 100) near Dodge City.  Until the tornado struck, one of my favorite parts of our Kansas trip was going through Greensburg,  driving under – if my memory serves me correctly – an almost hand-written sign blowing in the wind over State Highway 54 (US 400) that read: “BIG WELL.”   With an arrow pointing due south.

I did visit the Big Well (aka “the world’s largest hand-dug well”….32 feet wide and 109 feet deep) at least once and don’t remember it being that Big a Deal.  But that Big Sign – way cool! Something about its no-nonsense, no frills, bluntness struck me as classic Kansas. It is what it is.

But after the tornado – which blew the sign to God knows where –  the sign never reappeared.

So I was pleased to read in a front page Wall Street Journal story yesterday ( that the Big Well may soon be an even bigger  tourist attraction – as Greensburg continues its valiant efforts to recover from a tornado whose devastation – flattened buildings, chewed-up trees, piles of random rubble – I’ve seen firsthand.

Apparently Greensburg is emerging as an eco-tourism hotspot ( environmentalists including Leo DeCaprio are helping to resurrect Greensburg as a “green city” ….geddit?) – and the city has plans to develop a $3 million Big Well museum, contracting with big shot New York museum designers.

Good for them. I just hope they remember to string up that Big Sign again.  (And maintain some of that low-key, quirky, Kansas charm.)


Filed under Kansas, Kansas misc, On the road

Trust me: the fantastic new mural on Interstate 35 in northern Missouri

I know, I know – I should be blogging today about the thwarted terrorism attack at the airport of my youth (my native Detroit). But I’m far more excited to share my latest unlikely discovery – a  beautiful new mural we chanced upon inside – of all places – the spanking new welcome center along Interstate 35 in the northern Missouri city of Eagleville.

Installed in September 2009, the mural fills a long wall inside the Eagleville Welcome Center (opened in February 2008) and is made of 600,000 pieces of multi-colored glass tile.  An homage to Missouri history, culture, and topography, the mural has all kinds of  scenes (the Missouri River, the Kansas City Jazz and Negro League Baseball Museums) and portraits (Jesse James, Harry Truman, Thomas Hart Benton) and cultural touchstones (from the American Bison to the Missouri River steamboat, Arabia.) Among other things, I learned that Walt Disney not only grew up on a farm near the small town of Marceline, Mo. (the Disneys’ barn is featured in the mural) but that the main streets in every Disney attraction are based on Marceline’s main street. Walt even recreated the barn on his home property in Los Angeles.

Apparently I am not the only one curious about the many images embedded in the mural, which was designed by a Washington State couple who won a competition to design the mural, funded through a federal grant. At the center, I picked up a very helpful 16-page pamphlet all about the mural – entitled “The Prairie Passage” – produced by the Missouri Department of Transportation.

I love finding art in unexpected places – and I love that someone bothered to  perk up my drive through northern Missouri. This rest area is a far cry from the dreary ones I remember from the family road trips of my 1960’s youth. Which leads me to wonder – how much of this is going on at other interstate rest areas and welcome centers across the country? Is this effort on the rise or in decline? Which states or rest stops have the best public art installations? I have seen some great examples of  rest area public art in Iowa  along Interstate 80 (funded by the Iowa Department of Transportation’s Art-in-Transit program).  Googling for more info, I chanced upon a terrific website about rest area history ( that may answer some of my questions.


Filed under DESTINATIONS - Iowa, Discoveries: trust me, Missouri, On the road, rest area