National Parks Birthday – 100 This Month! (Oregon Trail – Register Cliff)

Tomorrow – yes, tomorrow – is our National Parks’ 100th anniversary. (And all National Parks are free admission for four day. Happy birthday!)

Although not part of the National Parks System, I felt the need to include in this series some shots of Stu Patterfoot along the Oregon Trail in Wyoming. Because it’s history. Because it’s Stu. And because it’s so interesting.

During the mid- and late-1800’s, wagon train emigrants stopped overnight along the nearby North Platte River, and many recorded their names and dates in the soft limestone bluff, which has come to be known as Register Cliff.

Registration Cliff is a rock face where travelers could record by carving into the soft rock that they had made it that far. But today if you try to record that you, too, have passed that way, you’ll be arrested for vandalism. So acknowledge the history, sense the history, look at the history, but don’t touch. The near-barren landscape (trees only grow because of the nearby river) gives one a desolate feel of what early emigrants may have felt.

Most impressive (to me) at this spot was the worn rock made from thousands of wagon wheels heading for a new life further west. The sides of the prairie schooners must have scrapped the walls as they passed through here, with each wheel cutting deeper into the rock.

There are also thousands of cliff swallows guarding the wall. (Look above Stu’s head on the Register Cliff sign.)

As you write your stories, visit your settings. See the flora and fauna, and smell the history. Gather hundreds of ideas for future stories. Keep on writing.

 

BB & Register Cliff02 Good Rut Shot BB & Register Cliff03 BB & Register Cliff01

National Parks Birthday – 100 This Month! (Cumberland Gap National Historical Park)

In celebration of our national parks 100th birthday this month, here is Stu at the historic Cumberland Gap (National Historical Park).

This is a natural break in the Appalachian Mountain Range giving early American frontiersmen (and women, and bunnies), a Wilderness Road to “the West” (i.e., Kentucky and beyond). It is located near the conjunction of Kentucky, Tennessee, and Virginia.

(Also, naturally, American Native Indians lived in the area long before the white man showed up in history, and were familiar with the gap’s secret.)

Cumberland Gap also played a part in the US Civil War, but alluded any battles.

Today you can hike the old Wilderness Road through the Cumberland Gap, but the wide and long tunnel for cars makes the journey far shorter.

As a writer, merely sitting in locations where I know much history took place is inspirational. Where are your inspirational spots?

 

IMG_4200 IMG_4231 IMG_4255 IMG_4246

 

National Parks Birthday – 100 This Month! (Wind Cave National Park)

In honor of our US National Park’s 100th birthday later this month, here are some shots of Stu Patterfoot visiting Wind Cave National Park in the southern Black Hills of South Dakota. This was the first cave in the world to be named a national park. (Thank you, Teddy Roosevelt.) The park is nearly 34,000 acres on the surface with plenty of wildlife, but below ground it includes one of the world’s largest cave system. It is famous for the calcite boxwork formation which is quite rare and stunning.

Visit our national parks this month.

P.S. Towards the end of August, all national parks will be free for four days!!!!

BB on long white road BB at Entrance 02 IMAG0027

Summer Reflections — San Diego, California Conference/Trip

As Labor Day nears, this is the last of my Summer Reflections for this year, with each new experience fodder for future book scenes or characters. With back-to-school movements, I, too, shall return to regular writing blog posts. I do have my tween fantasy sequel nearly ready to submit, and my time travel has already gone through my content editor. On to California…

Last month, my husband and I spent four days in San Diego, California, for a conference. Well, three for the conference and one day to play. Here are some reflections of that time.

 IMG_4755

(Bird of Paradise Flower)

 Our Hotel

 It was right on the bay, with a balcony, and we were on the 12th floor. Very nice. We had two bottles of water in our room our first night. My husband used one, it was never replaced our next three nights. Just odd. There is also on top of the hotel rate per night, a 10.2% occupancy tax. Was not expecting that…but we had a very nice view.

IMG_4804 (2)

Walking To and From the Conference

We had a 1.3 mile hike through parts of Little Italy to the conference location; so we walked nearly three miles a day just getting to and from the conference. The first morning we passed four homeless men and women, one still in a sleeping bag, on a bridge overpass, and another in his sleeping bag on the sidewalk, head on his sack, with two umbrellas covering his head. Returning one night, we passed what DH thought was a hooker. On my part, I’m quite ignorant about spotting suspected woman like this. But neither of us had difficulty labeling the 25-year-old beggar. At 10:30 PM, nearly back to our hotel, two corvettes raced down the street from behind us. If we would have taken just two more steps in the crosswalk, while our walk light said it was clear to walk, I may not be sitting here today writing this post. One of the corvettes spun off to the left, exactly where we would have been had we not stopped at the squealing tires. There are also a whole lot of dogs and dog-walkers in that area of town. At first I thought the urine-smelling streets were because of the homeless, but owners allow their dogs to relieve themselves right on the sidewalks. Now, you mustn’t think (I don’t) that all people are like this in San Diego, for we only caught some of the night life on the back streets.

 Seaport Village

We also walked the bayside sidewalk, past numerous pedicabs (carriage pulled by bicycle), down to Seaport Village, a lovely, quaint, quintessential California shopping area. We enjoyed refreshments in the foodcourt area while listening to two instrumental guitarists whom I found rather good. I watched a dragon chase a small girl around on the merry-go-round. And I purchased items from three shops.

IMG_4772 (2)

 

 The USS Midway Museum 

In the same area as our hotel is a “retired” aircraft carrier, now a museum. We could see it from our hotel balcony. I went along because my husband really wanted to see it, and we could walk there. We ended up spending nearly five hours there, and I was surprisingly, totally engrossed. It was my first time on an aircraft carrier. We took the self-guiding audio tour and followed the arrows and noticed the ship’s maps (pictured in yellow and black code). I was first impressed by how huge the ship is, and later with some of the interesting facts, like how planes would land on the flight deck every 45 seconds. Impressive teamwork. I could have spent much longer aboard.

 IMG_4602   IMG_4662

Our Military

On the Phoenix to San Diego leg of our flight, there were about fifty young men who boarded with us. (DH thought they looked like middle school kids). None had carry-ons; all held only a large manila envelope. My guess was that they were heading to Boot Camp. This was confirmed by an announcement on board. Two of them sat behind me, both born in Mexico. One traded seats with the other because he had never flown on an airplane before. He exclaimed “Wow!” several times as we lifted off. I knew he had many more new experiences to come.

 For our first two mornings, a group of young men jogged/marched with purpose past our hotel window on the bayside sidewalk below. Only on the second morning did I notice that these young men were also accompanied by policemen on bicycles. I found it ironic for people who will be defending the world against terrorists to be escorted and protected in our own country by civil law keepers.

IMG_4573 (3)

 

(Thus ends my 2015 Summer Reflections. On to writing writing posts next week.)

Summer Reflections — TVA, Blue Ridge Parkway, the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and Pigeon Forge — Whew!

Day Four of our vacation was packed with science (U.S. Space and Rocket Center), heavy traffic (Chattanooga) and incredible natural beauty.

Day Five was a taste of the Blue Ridge Parkway and Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

1) I was not expecting such a gorgeous drive! Eastern Tennessee and Western North Carolina are spectacular. We even stopped serendipitously at the site of the 1996 Olympic kayaking river as well as several TVA spots;

IMG_3911   IMG_3913

2) The traffic in Chattanooga was 6 lanes of bumper-to-bumper, stop-and-go on the Interstate. It took us a long time to get through. I didn’t know if this heavy traffic was normal or not. I still don’t know. From Chattanooga to our hotel in North Carolina, we went from six lanes of traffic to four, to two, to a shared one lane for about a mile along a river which had claimed half the road earlier in the season. That evening, at our hotel in NC, we learned of the horrid killings at the Chattanooga military recruitment centers, just 3 hours before we passed through. Perhaps there was that unusual reason for crowded roads that afternoon.

 The Blue Ridge Parkway!

I rode on a stretch of this highway once before when our family drove back from Florida. What I remember of it as a seven-year-old was my father cursing the entire time that there were so many curves and hills that he couldn’t go faster than 45 mph. He got off it at the first possible opportunity. Me? It is one of the most beautiful roads I’ve ever been on.  Besides the spectacular mountain views, there were tunnels and a mile-high marker through the Indian reservation and history! We stopped at several of the overlooks where we both clicked away madly on our iPhones. At one stop, Jeff finally commented, “Oh, look. More shots of hazy mountains and lots of trees.” Yeah, but gorgeous hazy mountains and lots of trees!

IMG_3967 IMG_3980 IMG_3987 IMG_3995

 The Great Smoky Mountains National Park!

There is only one paved road through Smoky Mountains National Park. If you come at it from the west in Tennessee, like we were, then when you land at the eastern entrance (North Carolina), you must either do a U-turn or go around the outside of the park by secondary roads to head back north. However, with our southern side trip from Nashville to Huntsville (U.S. Space and Rocket Center), there are roads you can wiggle along to get to the eastern entrance. Gorgeous roads.

We spent the night in Sylva, NC, surrounded by hazy blue-green mountains. I had planned for one day to see the Smoky Mountains. I know. Right? Impossible. But knowing how long to drive down there from our home, and how many other things we wanted to see during this trip as well, one day was all I could reasonable schedule for a taste of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. We were at the park at the height of tourist season. Hiking on one of the Quiet Walkways was not in the least quiet. Even though the trail moved perpendicular to the road, ho-boy: the traffic noise! It was also hot and humid, and loaded with mosquitoes. Only one day in mid- July was a good enough taste for the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. I’ll return someday where there are less people and less mosquitoes…oh, and less heat.

IMG_4051 IMG_4074 IMG_4094 IMG_4115 IMG_4145

Pigeon Forge, TN

To end our day, we drove through the western entrance and through the town of Pigeon Forge. Now, if you knew anything about this place, you’d know to either avoid it or stay for a few days. We knew nothing. It took us longer to get through that town than it did Chattanooga. There must be 10,000 dinner theatres along that strip. And to think (oh, horror), I almost got us a hotel in that town. So if you’re looking for a place with cars for kids to drive, water parks, or 10,000 different themed dinner parks to choose from, Pigeon Forge is your destination spot. If you just want to get through the town — find a way around it!

Summer Reflections — Nashville, Tennessee, Surprise

Although I personally prefer to head north to the cool sand beaches of Michigan, ANY time (might have something to do with my name), this summer Hubby and I decided to go south for a change. We’d never been to Kentucky or Tennessee, except me, as a kid of 7. I gave in even if it was forecast to be in the mid-90’s, high humidity (99% is high), and thunderstormy. It was a new summertime someplace adventure. We picked six highlighted places to go. Our second highlight was Nashville, Tennessee.

Nashville was a surprise! (Although, next time we go to Nashville,I believe we’ll fly v.s. driving the nearly ten hours to get here.)

I’d envisioned it as a small, redneck town. You know, like one you could walk into one of the many tiny recording studios along a hilly street, cut a record, and become famous. (I spoke to Elvis the other day, and he told me so.) But, not true! Nashville today is almost 700,000 in population. That ain’t no hick town by any standard. The music industry (Nashville is called Music City) has made this place very cosmopolitan.

IMG_3793 (2)

Our hotel had shuttles every thirty minutes to the impressive downtown area. Very convenient. The honky-tonk “Lower Broad” (Broadway) was fun. It is packed with bars and eateries, each with their own stage (in some cases, several) for musicians to perform. Our son who works in the music industry and has been to several conventions at the huge Nashville Convention Center, advised us to just walk down Broadway, listen for a band we liked, go into that bar, have a drink, tip the band, and move on to the next place we heard and liked and do the same. We walked “Lower Broad” in broad daylight, but even with the early time of day, there were music groups playing in some establishments as well as street musicians. We walked some of the Cumberland River bank, had ribs and local beer, and shuttled on back to our hotel.

IMG_3768   IMG_3749   IMG_3753   IMG_3778

That evening we drove out to the Grand Ole Opry House. This is the third or fourth location for the Grand Old Opry stage. This most recent auditorium has 4,372 seats. The House is conveniently located next to the Opry Mill Mall, and where Opry House ticket holders are encouraged to park. There must be a symbiotic relationship between Mall and Opry House. We went into the mall and bought things. It was very interesting to see a vivacious, populated mall when malls throughout America seem to be dying out. It even holds a 20-theatre movie theatre.

I must confess I’ve never been much of a country music lover, but listening to the variety in one night, I can’t quite say I’m a country fan, but sure am willing to listen. The slick-run two-hour show held each of the individuals or groups to three songs each, whether they were newcomers, current hit makers, or legends. We expereinced two standing ovations the night we went. Amazing.

IMG_3925 (2)   IMG_3829

Naming Nashville “Music City” is no lie. There are literally thousands of venues for artists to perform, for free, for tips, or for pay. The really big trouble is there wasn’t a single musician or group I heard that didn’t play really, really well. However does someone make it in the music world these days, to not just recording tI must confess I’ve never been much of a country music lover, but listening to the variety in one night (the musicians could perform three songs only), and even recognizing some names and tunes, and hearing new artists, I can’t quite say I’m a country fan, but I’m now sure willing to listen to their music, but to getting music industry people to listen and like it, and then to have the public do the same?

It got me thinking of unpublished writers I know who are excellent writers, some even with agents (someone besides family and me believe in them!). In the writing world, too, it is really, really hard to break in and get published; and then after publication, noticed and read and liked by strangers.

Trying to be published or recorded can be so depressing. Luckily, Nashville also is home to the chocolate bar, Goo-Goo Cluster. They are worth every nibble of the 240 calories in a single bar, whether you’re depressed over not getting recognized or just in a sweet mood. I never had them before. I sing and play guitar well enough to go on some of the Nashville venues (even though that won’t happen), but, oh, yum; now I’ve got a new favorite candy bar. Thank you, Nashville.

IMG_3790

 

Michigan Signs (for the balance)

After my post about British Signs and Street Crossings, I started thinking how someone from another country coming to upper Michigan would react to some of our signs here. For example…

There is the infamous Michigan no-brainer: “Do Not Pass When Opposing Cars Present,” a sign I always go by too quickly to whip out my iPhone for a shot. It is for a two lane road opening to a three land road on a hill. The third central lane is for passing coming up the hill. But if no one’s in that lane, feel free to go into it to pass your slow downhill car in front of you.

IMGP9533

There’s the caution sign that the road ends…before you drive into Lake Michigan.

IMGP3745

 

There are the “Icy Bridge” or the newer “Bridge freezes before road” signs.

Hotels up north warn to be on the lookout for falling icicles (even in summer?) or instructing guests to not use hotel towels to wipe down sleds, or no snowmobiles allowed through the parking lot.

IMG_3612  IMG_0268
A central Michigan truck company placed this sign on the back of their truck:

IMG_9156  But you had to drive up real close in order to read it.

Is this sign for a zoo? Or to be on the lookout for mating wildlife (X-ing)? Or is it a misspelling and polite way of indicating a nudist camp crossing ahead?

Cadillac, MI

Other states have their own peculiarities. When we lived in South Dakota there were official signs like, “Next Rest Area 365 miles” or “Do not cross road when flooded” or my personal favorite, a series of old pickup tires hung on fence posts in the Black Hills with the white words painted on them: “No Hunt.”

In defense of signs in England, we’ve all got our own local signs which may bring a smile or questioning look to outsiders. Mostly they’re used to keep us safe, I suppose, or on the flip side, not get sued.

So when you are writing your real or make-believe worlds, be aware of your region’s culturally different signs intended to help or guide, not confuse people.

Samsung  IMG_5262

 

British Signs and Street Crossings

Before we headed to England for our first time this summer, Friend Mary who frequently travels there, told us when crossing the street in the UK, do the opposite. American rule: Look left, then right, then left again. British rule, she said: look right, then left, then right again. As we would depend on foot or public transportation for the entire stay, I felt it an experienced and helpful suggestion. Or so I thought. It only took me that first day walking in crowded-busy London to realise her rule needed some modification. Sandy’s 4-part rule for crossing London streets: Always use the crosswalk; look all four ways before stepping out onto the roadway; keep on looking as you cross; and watch out for that occasional driver in his mega-expensive car to run the red light or spin around the corner. And for a self-reminder, every time I crossed a road, I actually pointed my arm out at a 45 degree angle to the right. Easy-peasy-lemon-squeezy. Using my method, we only nearly got run over about forty-five times — not bad for a 10-day stay. There were also the safety islands in the middle of busy streets, and the squiggly lines painted on the roads. Look 4 ways and point to right (except when you’re on one of those safety isles, when you’d point left).

IMG_6781

Signs in Britain are different from in America, too. When we arrived at Gatwick Airport, “Toilets” was a welcomed if somewhat blushing sign to spot, but then there was this running man on a green background with an arrow to a white rectangle.

IMG_6793

My mind ran some possibilities: fire escape route (with up-pointed arrow), hallway to bomb shelter (with down-pointed arrow), or maybe “Run for your life! There’s a tiger loose in the terminal!”

I’ve always felt the best thing to do when you can’t conveniently look things up is to ask questions of a living person.

“Way out,” came the answer. I must have blinked as I went through my mental files, because he quickly added, “What you would call the exit.”

I hadn’t even said I was an American!

A sign of a white man going down steps on a blue background and the word “Subway” did not mean to public transportation, but a way to cross the street underneath the street: stairs down, cross beneath, stairs up.

There was one sign near St. James’s Park in London which took me a day later to figure out. Of course, when you’re in a hurry to get across the street, looking all ways, and pointing, and then look up and notice this sign — the only one I’d seen like it in our then-8-day stay —  you don’t really have time to think what it means.

I wonder, if you hadn’t had this set up in the blog post, given just one second of time, can you figure it out?

 

 

 

 

DSC01990

Little England. Big America.

It was only upon our return to the United States that I realized how big America is. I mean, I knew ahead of time that England was about the size of the state of Michigan, but everywhere I looked on our return was . The driver’s lanes here are wider. The sidewalks here are wider. Even the wastepaper baskets and toilets are bigger. In England, it was obvious who were Americans by their big (loud) voices. Yards, if they exist, are tiny.  Distances between major cities are shorter over there. Semi trucks are shorter in the UK, and even on the motorways for several days, I saw no doubles or scary triples like in the USA. And upon our return, I was surprised to notice how physically big Americans are. I guess my eyes had merely overlooked that fact before, or been adjusted to the sights. But coming home, it seemed that every store I entered, I found big people — big compared to thin Englanders. (Of course, you can find some skinny Americans, and you can find some plumb Brits.)

Therefore, it’s my casual observation that England is little and America is big.

Relating this information to writing…what is the feeling of your setting? Is it large and roomy or elbows-tucked-in small? How would your main character respond growing up in a roomy land v.s. a crowded one? Or feel visiting one the opposite type of setting?

Play with your characters. Play with your setting. Write, rewrite, tweek.

Tower of London, London, England

We are now back in the States, but our trip to England for the first time is still in processing mode. One of the last places we visited in London was the Tower of London. Very stupidly, I’m embarrassed to admit, I used to think that the Tower of London was Big Ben. I never saw the big deal that people made of climbing this tower. Oh, silly, ignorant American!

Our first plan was to see the Tower of London on a day when we were touring seven other London sights. But by the time we arrived there, we only had an hour to see it, and since it wasn’t just a tower, we didn’t think that would give it justice. We decided to spend our one “flex day” entirely at the Tower of London. I am so glad we did. It’s not your hour tourist stop. We spent four hours there and still didn’t see everything.

Even though it’s a museum (and so much more), it is not a free museum like most museums in England. There is a cost, with lots of tourist shops nearby.

We followed Rick Steve’s advice and bought our tickets near the tube stop instead of at the gate, saving several pounds by doing this. I don’t understand it; it’s just a fact. By stopping by the establishment the day before, we knew it was going to be crowded. In fact, ALL of London is crowded. But we figured if we got there right when the gates opened, it might not be quite so crowded. It was a good choice, but by the time we left, I felt downright claustrophobic.

The Tower of London is not a single tower as I used to think. It is a fortress with history and numberous buildings, and today there are actually people living within the walls. This is the land of the Yoeman Warders, a.k.a, Beefeaters who are dressed in black tunics and hats, although today their biggest role is opening the gates, giving tours, and locking the gates. There were also, however grenadier soldiers (in red uniforms and tall, fuzzy hats) on the grounds, standing or marching in front of two buildings. They carried heavy guns, similar to AK17s. One grenadier guarded the building where the crown jewels are kept; the other was at the Queen’s House. These are not toy soldiers to please tourists. The are true soldiers with real weapons protecting both the royalty and riches of the country.

You cannot take photos inside the building where the crown jewels are kept, and to get a close-up view of it in its glass case, you step onto a moving walkway. Look fast! I was impressed with the giant diamond rock, fist-sized, no: larger. But I was also impressed in an entirely different way with the four-foot golden alter plate for serving holy communion at the coronations. There were lots of sparkles in this building of the Tower of London, but as a fantasy writer, I was actually more interested in the White Tower with its 500 years of armor inside the White Tower (a separate building within the Tower of London). Why there was even a 15′ tall dragon made of weapons, armor and shields.

Prisoners are no longer kept in the Tower of London, neither is the armour used. But there is something about the grounds which caused me to know this was not a normal tourist stop. I felt quiet, respectful, even a bit scared. Perhaps it was the serious guards with their modern-day weapons. Perhaps it was from the ghosts of the many who were beheaded within those walls. Perhaps it was because of the legend of the ravens staying on the grounds (or England would fall). Or maybe, as I stood on the wall and overlooked Tower Bridge (often mistakenly called London Bridge), I knew hundreds of years of history and millions of lives passed right over the very stones and bricks upon which I trod. I was in the ethers of history itself.