Sunday, July 19, 2009

Road Trip

Monument Valley

Our family is used to summer road trips, usually to Wisconsin and Indiana to visit family. This summer has led us in an entirely different direction. Ellen and I drove from Dallas to southern California to visit Scott in Pasadena, where he's a grad student at Caltech. And, different from our usual long hauls on the Interstate Highways, we took our time getting there.

First stop was Amarillo, Texas, where we attended the long-running musical play "Texas" in Palo Duro Canyon State Park. We intersected historic Route 66 and, appropriately, we paid homage by visiting the offbeat roadside attraction "Cadillac Ranch." It's a row of junker Cadillacs buried nose first in a west Texas wheat field.

Next day, we stopped for lunch in "Old Town" Albuquerque, New Mexico, where we ate in a building dating back to the early 1700s. Then it was on to "Four Corners," the only spot in the United States where four states meet at a single point. We spent the night in Mexican Hat, Utah, in a hotel whose directions were "Highway 163 and the river." Like we were told, you can't miss it.

A highlight of the trip was a drive through Monument Valley in the Navajo Nation Tribal Park on the border between Utah and Arizona. It offers the quintessential landscape of the American West, thanks in part to being the filming site of classic John Ford westerns starring John Wayne.

The Fourth of July found us in the Grand Canyon, as grand as ever. Touring the south rim, each lookout seemed more breath-taking than the last.

Now, for something completely different, we spent two nights in Las Vegas. Whereas the Grand Canyon is a wonder of nature, Las Vegas is a wonder of man-made glitz. Highlights were seeing the size and scope of the World Series of Poker and attending the Penn & Teller show. A side trip to Hoover Dam gave us a personal experience with the traffic logjam the dam has become and the need to finish that new signature bridge over the Colorado River below the dam.

Finally, on the seventh day of our trip, we made it to southern California, where we met Scott in Pasadena, had dinner outdoors at the Athenaeum, the Caltech faculty club, and toured the campus, including Scott's office and lab. Caltech has a beautiful campus. Pasadena has great shops and restaurants in Old Pasadena. Southern California has an ideal climate. I'm ready to move.

Our first excursion was to the Huntington Library, Museum and Botanical Gardens just a few blocks from Caltech, where could we soak up more of that southern California climate, environment and culture.

Next day we made sure to make it all the way to the Pacific Ocean, where there's a plaque on the beach in Santa Monica marking the end of historic Route 66, officially completing our odyssey through the great American Southwest. We visited Santa Monica Pier, where Ellen and I added the largest Ferris wheel on the Pacific coast to our lifetime list (Dallas Star, London Eye, Vienna Riesenrad, Chicago Navy Pier). If you happen to catch a movie called "Ant Farm" later this year, know that we saw a film set on the Santa Monica Promenade and scored a croissant from the cast and crew's buffet table.

We visited Warner Brothers studio, where we learned more about the back lot filming locations for "The Gilmour Girls" than we ever thought possible. Catering to all ages, the tour guide also showed us the street where the Paris flashback scene in the movie "Casablanca" was filmed. The highlight of the tour had to be when we got to sit on the couch on the set for "Central Perk," the coffee shop of the long-running television series "Friends."

No trip to southern California is complete without a trip to Hollywood, where we saw the Hollywood sign, the Walk of Fame, the Kodak Theater (home of the Academy Awards ceremonies), and Grauman's Chinese Theater (site of countless handprints and footprints of the stars).

Finally, we museum-hopped by visiting the Getty Villa on the coast in Malibu and the Getty Center in the hills above Los Angeles. Both offered great art in dramatic settings.

Photos from all our stops can be seen here:

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