The holiday season is upon us and it’s time to deal with the hassle of Christmas shopping. But finding the perfect gift shouldn’t be a hassle. The best way to to check off the people on your Christmas list, while enjoying some holiday cheer, is to visit local shops, holiday fairs, and open houses.
Not only do you avoid the crowds and chaos of the large department stores, and malls, but you help to make the holidays a little brighter for local business owners and artisans.
And face it, isn’t a beautiful, hand crafted gift more special than a mass manufactured item?
Here’s a wonderful opportunity for you to do just that this weekend!
Holiday Open House
December 5-7, 2014 (at most locations)
Join in and celebrate! With map in hand you’ll be guided on a driving tour through the historic Monches and Holy Hill area to visit artist studios, quaint shops, farms and inns.
Friday, December 5th through Sunday December 7th will mark the 31st year that artists in the tiny artist community of Monches, 30 miles northwest of Milwaukee, will open their doors and welcome visitors for a weekend of holiday cheer.
The 2014 tour will include a pottery studio, an art glass studio, an outdoor metal sculpture gallery and a rural inn and vineyard featuring seasonal wines. Monches Farm will be offering fresh handmade wreaths, holiday greens and a shop brimming with antiques, unique gifts and seasonal décor. A local church will also be hosting a craft fair on Saturday.
The drive-it-yourself tour will take visitors along rustic roads through the scenic area surrounding the renowned Holy Hill Basilica. Refreshments, seasonal music and outdoor bonfires will welcome visitors at several of the stops along the way. The tour runs from 9:00 am until 5:00 pm on Friday, Saturday and Sunday. Maps will be available at each of the tour stops and HERE.
I will be at Paul Bobrowitz Spectacular Sculpture talking about Charles Dickens, his book “The Christmas Carol,” and his influence on the Christmas we celebrate today. Signed copies of my books, including “Christmas Carole,” will be available for purchase.
What better stocking stuffer, or teacher’s gift than a Christmas book signed by the author?
I will have several yummy treats that you may have found in Dickens time for you to taste, along with wassail to warm you up.
Plus you will have the opportunity to purchase many beautiful items and gifts made by talented local artisans!
I truly hope you can make it to this wonderful holiday event!
At our house – well the one we’re living in – Christmas is a rather quiet affair. With moving boxes in every corner, it didn’t make much sense to pull out all the decorations. That didn’t mean we’re ignoring the holiday all together. We moved a little Arborvitae into our living room and put some lights and small ornaments on it. Add a star on the top, and we have a Christmas tree that can move to the mill house with us come spring.
We have finally closed on both the purchase of the Monches Mill House, and the sale of our current home. We’re renting from our home’s new owner while working on renovations on the mill house. That didn’t keep me from doing some decorating though! The day we closed, I ran over to the mill house to put up some outdoor decorations. I think I had a need to mark my territory. Mother nature added her own frosty decorations! Who needs fake icicle lights? Even unoccupied, the house looks like a Christmas card!
Not only is the work on the mill house, and the packing up of our belongings keeping me occupied, but I also launched a Christmas program that I’m doing at bookstores and libraries. It’s a presentation on the history of Charles Dickens, his book “A Christmas Carol,” and how it affected the Christmas we celebrate today.
Along with my verbal presentation, I put up a display.
I also served Wassail and a variety of Dickensian Christmas treats. The candied orange peel was the favorite of kids and adults, alike.
As were the Shrewsbury Cakes!
3/4 cup butter, softened
1 1/4 cup sugar
1 1/2 tsp. grated orange peel
2 tsp. vanilla
2 1/2 cups sifted all purpose flour
1/2 tsp. salt
Cream butter and sugar together. Add egg, orange peel and vanilla.
Stir in flour and salt to make a stiff dough.
Wrap dough in wax paper. Chill for several hours or overnight.
Roll chilled dough into 1 inch balls. Roll balls in sugar.
Arrange balls 1 1/2 inches apart on ungreased cookie sheet.
Flatten the balls gently with bottom of a small glass.
Bake at 350 degrees for about 8 minutes.
Makes about 3 dozen cookies.
Our Christmas may be quiet this year – but it’s still filled with traditions of old. Just wait until next year – I’ll be pulling out all the stops to celebrate our first real Christmas in the mill house!
I hope your holiday is a happy and healthy one, whether large or small, contemporary or traditional, and I hope your new year brings you all the best!
We are safely back in Wisconsin and, as enjoyable as the trip was for everyone, we are all happy to be out of a car and back in the comfort of our own homes.
I had great fun taking Mr. Dickens along on our journey. He gave me the chance to meet people along the way who were curious about the picture I was carrying around. I was also able to connect with people on the internet who share my enthusiasm for Charles Dickens and his works.
A special thank you to the Charles Dickens Museum in London for sharing our journey with their fans. If I ever achieve the dream of taking a trip across the pond, the museum is on my “must see” list. It was the museum that launched Dickens On Tour, which just happened to coincide with our road trip, and provided me with this fantastic opportunity. I even learned more about Charles Dickens as I looked for links between the places and sites we were seeing and the two trips Mr. Dickens had made to America.
So to wrap it all up. we took Mr. Dickens to many places far and wide. We went through small towns and big cities. We visited every environment possible. We saw the ocean, rivers, lakes, mountains, canyons, hills, valleys, plains, desert, even a salt lake and salt desert.
We experienced temperatures from the 40’s all the way up to 104 degrees Fahrenheit.
We traveled through 16 states: Wisconsin, Illinois, Iowa, Nebraska, Wyoming, Utah, Nevada, California, Arizona, New Mexico, Texas, Oklahoma, Arkansas, Missouri, Tennessee, and Mississippi. That is one third of all the continental U.S. states! Some states we went through more than once.
Along the way we saw some wildlife…
…and some not so “wild” life.
We saw architectural marvels, some modern, some old, and some ancient. Some were visitor sites, some were just huddled by the side of the road like these adobe ruins, almost invisible, camouflaged against the side of the rocky hills above.
We visited 24 tourist sites. We saw memorials to the celebration of life, and death. The Gateway Arch in St. Louis celebrates the bravery of the men who explored the west, the Donner Memorial is dedicated to the people who lost their lives on their westward journey. We saw where history was made, and where guitars were made. We were spectators at a funeral on Beale Street, and saw the final resting place of the King.
We visited natural wonders like the Grand Canyon, and man-made wonders like Alcatraz. We even got a feel for another country when we visited the London Bridge.
We followed or crossed the paths of the Continental Divide, the Mormon Trail, the California Trail, the Oregon Trail, the Blue Star Memorial Highway, the Lincoln Highway, Donner Pass, and Historic Route 66.
We saw the settings and inspiration for quite a few movies, books and songs – many of which brought forth memorable quotes or poorly sung lyrics (good thing the video camera didn’t come out).
We ate steaks in Nebraska and Texas, seafood and sourdough in San Francisco, and BBQ in Memphis. We ate some delicious spicy food in Albuquerque, but don’t call it Tex Mex – locals will take offence. It’s their own Albuquerque cuisine. Whatever it’s called, it was fantastic, even if we were still feeling it’s effects 48 hours later.
I even learned how to spell Albuquerque!
We stayed overnight in 9 cities: Cheyenne (Wyoming), Reno (Nevada), San Francisco (California), Barstow (California), Laughlin (Nevada), Albuquerque (New Mexico), Amarillo (Texas), Tunica (Missouri), and Collins (Illinois).
I personally took 537 pictures. I’m not sure how many our friends took. There were times when I refrained with the knowledge that they were getting the perfect shot and would share with me. We have yet to get together for our post-trip debriefing. Some pictures turned out spectacular, almost artistic, like the sunset over the Grand Canyon (see Road Trip Day 7) or this shot of the Bay Bridge with a sailboat seen through ruins of the warden’s house on Alcatraz.
And now for the biggest total of all! Yes we did 16 states in 14 days – but how far is that? The picture tells all – 5,555 miles! I do believe that is only slightly shorter than Mr. Dickens traveled by ship – round trip – to America, and that’s saying something!
I hope you (and Mr. Dickens) enjoyed going along on the trip with us!
This is the last leg of our journey across the U.S. We left Tunica, Mississippi, drove back through Tennessee, and north into Missouri. We only had one stop planned for this state – The Gateway Arch which is the centerpiece to the Jefferson National Expansion Memorial.
I had a feeling of nostalgia when we arrived. I’d been here once before. I was only two years old, but I have a distinct memory of my father holding me in his arms and showing me the newly built arch. I also remember that we couldn’t go up in the arch because it wasn’t actually finished. I was interested to find out if this memory was correct. It turned out it was. The arch was completed in 1965, but was not open to the public until the tram that takes visitors up the arch was installed in 1967. I would have visited in 1966.
I wasn’t the only one who had been here before. Charles Dickens visited St. Louis in 1842. The Gateway Arch a memorial to the westward expansion of our nation. It’s where Lewis and Clark started their expedition in 1804 to explore and map the west. To Mr. Dickens, St. Louis was the west.
Here are some of Dickens’ own words about St. Louis.
“In the old French portion of the town the thoroughfares are narrow and crooked, and some of the houses are very quaint and picturesque: being built of wood, with tumble-down galleries before the windows, approachable by stairs, or rather ladders, from the street. There are queer little barbers’ shops, and drinking-houses too, in this quarter; and abundance of crazy old tenements with blinking casements, such as may be seen in Flanders. Some of these ancient habitations, with high garret gable windows perking into the roofs, have a kind of French shrug about them; and, being lop-sided with age, appear to hold their heads askew besides, as if they were grimacing in astonishment at the American Improvements.”
During his stay, Mr. Dickens went on a jaunt to see the prairie (Looking Glass Prairie in Illinois, but in the end was anything but impressed.
“It would be difficult to say why, or how—though it was possibly from having heard and read so much about it—but the effect on me was disappointment. Looking towards the setting sun, there lay, stretched out before my view, a vast expanse of level ground; unbroken, save by one thin line of trees, which scarcely amounted to a scratch upon the great blank; until it met the glowing sky, wherein it seemed to dip: mingling with its rich colours, and mellowing in its distant blue. There it lay, a tranquil sea or lake without water, if such a simile be admissible, with the day going down upon it: a few birds wheeling here and there: and solitude and silence reigning paramount around. But the grass was not yet high; there were bare black patches on the ground; and the few wild flowers that the eye could see, were poor and scanty. Great as the picture was, its very flatness and extent, which left nothing to the imagination, tamed it down and cramped its interest. I felt little of that sense of freedom and exhilaration which a Scottish heath inspires, or even our English downs awaken. It was lonely and wild, but oppressive in its barren monotony. I felt that in traversing the Prairies, I could never abandon myself to the scene, forgetful of all else; as I should do instinctively, were the heather underneath my feet, or an iron-bound coast beyond; but should often glance towards the distant and frequently-receding line of the horizon, and wish it gained and passed. It is not a scene to be forgotten, but it is scarcely one, I think (at all events, as I saw it), to remember with much pleasure, or to covet the looking-on again, in after-life.”
Despite his disappointment in the area, Mr. Dickens had planned on visiting St. Louis again during his second trip to America in 1867/68, but poor health and weather prevented the excursion.
So, I’ve brought Mr. Dickens to St. Louis now, and I have to wonder about how the area, that seemed rustic and uninspiring then. would amaze him now.
Back to the Arch. It is a feat of engineering, and amazing to visit. The tram system is not for those who suffer from claustrophobia, and remind me of Star Trek style escape pods. The ride up is jerky as the pods need to travel in a stair step fashion to make it up the curve of the arch. Once at the top, the view is amazing.
In lieu of the recent tornadoes in the area, we asked one of the guides about storms and how they affect visitors to the Arch. The gentleman told us that they only close the Arch if there is a tornado warning, although the streamline aerodynamics of the Arch means it really isn’t affected by them. Only steady, sustained winds affect the Arch giving it a sway of nine inches in either direction. He told us that thunderstorms were fun to watch from up top and he had been up in the Arch during a lightning strike. Where as my friend was adamantly shaking her head no at that idea, I was thinking – cool! I just may have to plan a trip down there when thunderstorms are expected!
We were able to get a good look at the Mississippi River, now flooding it’s banks. At the bottom of the stairs there is a tree-lined sidewalk that is completely under water.
The white rectangle in the center of the picture is actually the top of a tent that normally overlooks the river.
After coming back down, we checked out the Lewis and Clark museum, and did some shopping. There is one store called the Levee Merchantile that features items that would be available circa 1870. I’m sure Mr. Dickens felt more comfortable here. I couldn’t resist picking up this feather quill. I also bought this Christmas cookbook – not for the vintage recipes, but because the cover looks so much like the cover of my book, Christmas Carole.
Did I tell you it looked just like my book cover?
How crazy is that? Not only does it look similar but there’s a quill on my cover and Charles Dickens within my pages!
Tomorrow we’re homeward bound.
Day 10 was a all day driving day. From Albuquerque we had driven to Amarillo, Texas for the night. From there we drove through the rest of Texas, Oklahoma, and Arkansas, finally spending the night in Tunica, Mississippi. Although we thought that this long leg across the panhandle of Texas and Oklahoma were going to be flat and boring, it turned out it was hilly and tree-lined. We could have been convinced we were back in Wisconsin.
Our only order of business once we arrived was to eat, maybe do a little gambling, and get some sleep. We ate at Paula Deen’s Buffet at Harrah’s Casino. We all agree it had to be the best buffet any of us have ever eaten at. But after eating grilled oysters, fried chicken, fried catfish, fried green tomatoes, cheesy grits, cheesy biscuits, and hoe cakes (just to name a few of the selections) I had worse indigestion than when I ate the spicy food in Albuquerque! It was worth it though.
We gambled a little (and actually won a little) then crashed for the night.
Day 11 started with breakfast and a drive across the river into Memphis, Tennessee. Our first stop – Graceland.
It’s funny how one can have false perceptions of the places they have never been. First, Graceland is tucked tightly into a pretty depressed neighborhood. In fact, if it weren’t for the iconic gates, and 101 large signs, you could drive right past it. It does have over 13 acres, but from the front entrance, that’s not obvious.
The Graceland Mansion, is certainly large, but by today’s standards, the rooms are small. One must also remember that Elvis lived in this home from 1957 until 1977, which leaves the decorating … let’s just say, if it wasn’t the home of the King, and it was just a house, almost any new owner would start gutting and updating the interior. But it IS the home of Elvis, so it’s unusual, outdated decor takes on a whole new meaning, and we couldn’t help but wander through it with a sense of awe.
I think Charles Dickens would have liked Elvis. In a way they had quite a few similarities.
Elvis, like Charles, came from poor beginnings. Vernon Presley, like John Dickens, wandered from job to job, without ambition. Both fathers spent time in jail.
This affected both Elvis and Charles Dickens, compelling them to do better. Both men were quirky and enjoyed music and entertaining. Both were driven in their careers. Mr. Dickens and Elvis were both a bit obsessive compulsive, and both would rearrange hotel rooms to suit their obsessive needs.
Both worried about the success of their careers, pushing themselves to the point of poor health.
Although cast in singing roles in movies, Elvis, like Charles Dickens wanted to be taken seriously as an actor.
Just like Mr. Dickens, when sales started to fall, Elvis decided to do something to boost his career. In Dickens case it was a Christmas book, for Elvis it was a Christmas television special.
Finally, despite failing health, and those around them imploring that they take a break, both men insisted on pushing themselves to embark on a tour of live performances, which inevitably added to the stresses that eventually ended their lives.
So, although time and culture made them very different people (I can’t imagine how Elvis’ gyrating hips would have caused an uproar in Victorian England) in essence they were in many ways the same.
Back to Graceland. Here are a few pictures from inside the mansion.
This first picture is the living room.
This is the kitchen, as I mentioned, not overly large by today’s standards of enormous granite-covered islands and restaurant sized stoves.
The ever famous “Jungle Room.”
This is the last piano that Elvis ever played. He performed “Blue Eyes Crying in the Rain” for his cousin, Billy Smith and Billy’s wife, Jo just hours before his death.
The resting place of “The King” is in his meditation garden, alongside his mother, father, and grandmother. There is also a memorial plaque for his twin brother, Jesse, who was stillborn. I’ve since found out that just one week before our visit, Sir Paul McCartney was here and left a guitar pick on Elvis’ grave.
After departing Graceland, we made another pilgrimage of sorts. We live in the Waukesha, Wisconsin area and are very proud to be the home of Les Paul, as well as the site of Gibson Guitar Town for the second year running (only Waukesha and Los Angeles have ever had that privilege). So we couldn’t go to Memphis and not stop in at the Gibson factory.
Although this plant is not the one that produces the Les Paul guitar, it was fascinating to see how each guitar is made individually, by hand. There are no stencils used – all paint jobs are done free hand which means there are no two alike.
Also, they do not mass produce any guitars. They don’t start building a guitar until there is an order placed. Each guitar is meticulously inspected. If there is any flaw, even if it’s undetectable to the average person, the flaw is either repaired, or the guitar (even if it’s complete) is cut up on the band saw. There are no seconds.
Our last stop of the day was Beale Street. On the way, we drove past the famous Sun Records, where Elvis got his start.
Beale Street, for those who don’t know, is a street that is known as the home of the Memphis Blues. It has been frequented by blues legends such as Louis Armstrong, Muddy Waters, Albert King, Memphis Minnie, B.B. King, Rufus Thomas, and Roscoe Gordon, to name a few.
It now has the distinction of having another famous visitor! I have to believe that Mr. Dickens would have enjoyed the intensity of the place and the liveliness of the people here.
We arrived just as a parade, or so we thought, was making it’s way down the street. A gentleman, overhearing us wonder out loud as to what the occasion was, told us it was the funeral procession for Silky O’Sullivan, a well loved and respected club owner. We just happened to be standing next to his club.
When Beale Street says farewell to one of it’s own, it’s anything but a somber affair. What we were lucky enough to stumble upon was a celebration of life – Mardi Gras style!
Beale Street is filled with music, food, and an energy that is tangible.
The smell of BBQ is enough to make your nose twitch and your mouth water. The soul-filled riffs of street musicians fill your ears. The spirit and vitality of the people and the place fill your soul. Beale Street was not created by someone to be a tourist attraction. As my husband said – what’s so great, and feels so special about Beale Street is that this place is real.
Of course we had to sample the flavors of Beale Street and sat down to eat a platter filled with barbecue ribs, smoked chicken, pulled pork, beans, coleslaw and onion rings at “The Pig”. It was a beautiful sunny day, so we sat outside where we could hear live blues being played right across the street.
After stuffing ourselves, we wandered up and down the street, browsing the shops. Of course we had to stop in at Schwab’s which is a Beale Street mainstay. The general store is the only remaining original business on Beale Street.
Established in 1876, the store has never lost it’s charm. We strolled the creaky wood floors and stairs to check out all of it’s quirky merchandise. I purchased two small charm bags, one for creativity, and one for success, from the Hoodoo section of the store. When on Beale Street, it can’t be wrong to buy myself some good juju!
Our last stop, was to get some fresh beignets . When I say fresh, I mean fresh! We watched as just enough dough for our order was made from scratch. Skilled fingers mixed, then kneaded the dough. Hot from the fryer and dusted in powdered sugar, they were the perfect finish to our visit to Beale Street!
On to Albuquerque. I must confess, this trip has been immensely educational. Not only am I learning about the history and stories of the places we visit, but I now can spell Albuquerque!
We arrived in Albuquerque late in the day, tired and hungry. Of many of the places we’d planned to stop along the way, we hadn’t done much research on what there was to see, and really only thought of it as a stopping point to spend the night. Sometimes it’s nothing more than how tired we are and how many miles before the next hotel – and in the western plains, it can be MANY miles before the next town, much less one that has a hotel.
We’d found a hotel on the iPad while in the car, and called to book a couple of rooms. We asked the person on the phone for a good place to eat. We always ask for a restaurant that will provide an authentic taste of the region. We were given three recommendations, and decided to stop at Church Street Cafe. We were so happy we went there. The atmosphere was fantastic. as was the food.
The restaurant is in Casa de Ruiz. The house was built during the founding of Albuquerque in the early 1700’s, which makes Casa de Ruiz the oldest residence in Albuquerque and one of the oldest structures in the state of New Mexico.
Unfortunately, I took some pictures of the courtyard we dined in, but I used my phone and had obviously (by the resulting blurry pictures) touched the lens with my enchilada covered fingers. Here is a link to their website: Church Street Cafe.
This is a picture which I found online. I’d give credit to the photographer, but it only came up as “unknown Google User.” This picture looks like it was taken from the table in which we were seated.
We arrived just as the sun was setting, and day was giving way to night. The courtyard was just the right size to feel cozy, and there was a comfortable breeze. The building and courtyard had adobe walls, with a rustic timber pergola over a portion. Plants and southwest antiques were perched here and there. As the daylight dimmed, strings of lights overhead gave just the right glow. The sound of water tumbling gently over a stone waterfall eased our road-weary minds. A mariachi band strolled between the tables.
The food was spicy, and the cause for many a pit stop for the next few days on our road trip, but it was delicious! I had a combination platter which had a chicken enchilada, a tamale, and a chili releno. I chose the squash (sauteed zucchini and corn) to accompany it. The meal was finished off with warm sopaipillas with honey. Although the food sounds like any Mexican fare, the dishes of New Mexico have a slightly different flavor, and a different type of spiciness to it.
After spending that little time in Old Town. We decided to shift our plans a bit. Instead of leaving first thing in the morning. We decided to hang around a bit and check out the many shops.
Old Town, is exactly what it says. It is the old town of what now is Albuquerque. It is comprised of historic adobe buildings that were built when Albuquerque was founded in the early 1700s. The buildings have been converted to restaurants and shops and surround a main central plaza. The oldest building is San Felipe de Neri Church. We spent half a day wandering through the shops before it was time to get back on the road.
On the way out of town we found a great roadside store. My husband and I had been looking for the perfect chiminea for our patio. We found a New Mexico version of Pots ‘R Us. Not only did we find the perfect chiminea, but we also picked up some beautiful Talavera pots.
We were all pleasantly surprised with Albuquerque, and glad we stayed, even if it was only for a little while.
Today we left Flagstaff Arizona, and went retro. Back on Historic Route 66, we saw all the kitschy fun sites. Our first stop was Meteor Crater which is in the middle of nowhere, Arizona. That would be about 35 miles west of Flagstaff. About 50,000 years ago, a piece of an asteroid, traveling at about 26,000 miles per hour, struck the desert floor. The result is a crater 2.4 miles in diameter, a mile across, and 550 feet deep.
Although it’s not quite as big as the “hole in the ground” we saw yesterday, this “hole in the ground” was impressive in it’s own right. There are guided tours, and a museum. It does have that kitsch factor, from the alien footprints painted on the ground to lead you from the parking lot to the crater, to the signs along the way and a radio broadcast as you drive up the road telling you to EXPERIENCE THE IMPACT!
We were actually glad we were listening to the radio broadcast, because they told us to stop in Winslow, Arizona, where we can stand on the corner next to a flat bed Ford. There was no question we had to take advantage of that photo op! If you don’t know the reference – it’s the Eagles’ “Take It Easy.” The lyric goes like this … “I’m standing on the corner, in Winslow, Arizona, she’s such a fine sight to see. It’s a girl, My Lord, in a flat bed Ford, slowing down to look at me. Click here for a video of the Eagles.
It was pure Route 66 kitsch!
From Winslow, we came to another Route 66 staple -the Wigwam Motel. We had hoped to stay there, however our timing didn’t work out. We couldn’t resist stopping to check it out though!
Next, we made our way to the Petrified Forest.
You may hear the word forest and think trees, but what you really see , are what look like logs made of stone scattered all around the desert floor. The logs are from trees that were knocked down by a volcanic eruption. The trees were buried by mud and ash, sealing them off from oxygen, thereby preventing them from decaying. Minerals from the soil replaced the cells of the tree, turning them to stone. The different minerals create different colors. Quartz is the most common.
I’m sure this Raven, who certainly didn’t seem fearful of us, reminded Mr. Dickens of his beloved pet, Grip.
From there we visited Puerco Pueblo. A site of ruins from farming homesteaders. The pueblo was inhabited between 1250 AD to the late 1300’s. The above picture is of the Keva. This served several purposes. One was as a general meeting place. Another function the structure had was as a way to settle disagreements. If two tribe members had a disagreement, a relative of each would go into the Kiva together, and couldn’t come out until they reached a settlement. It was like a time-out by proxy!
The main structure had many small rooms. Twenty people stayed in each room. I have to believe these people were tiny in stature.
There are also quite a few petroglyphs still clearly seen on the rocks. There is one rock face that was used as a calendar. The sun creates a line when it shines between two other rocks. When the line of light reaches a symbol they carved in the rock face, it was time to plant.
From here we will make our way to Albuquerque, New Mexico!
A special congratulations to Julie Westphal. She will be receiving an autographed copy of “Christmas Carole” for giving the correct answer to the trivia question in my last post!
Day 7 entails only one stop, but it was a biggie. We left early from Laughlin, Nevada and drove straight to the Grand Canyon. We spent all day there, because … well … it really is … grand. This post will have less talk and more pictures.
Scale is a difficult thing in pictures, but to help you with the one below – there are people standing on the outcropping. See those tiny little people? Now you may get a better sense of just how big this “hole in the ground” is.
They’re there, just left of center. On top of that flat rock. Do you see them? If you click on the pictures, you can make them bigger. Try that, then maybe you’ll see them!
Mr. Dickens was duly impressed!
Above is a picture of the fireplace in the cabin at Hermit’s Rest at the far west end of the south rim.
Above: Pretty picture!
Above: Another pretty picture!
We had some wildlife sightings including this elk.
The Desert View Watchtower is another structure in the park, both it. and Hermit’s Rest, as well as many other structures. were all designed by the same Architect. Mary Jane Coulter was one of a few female architects of her time. In the early 1900’s she came to the area and worked for Fred Harvey. For more information on Mary Jane Coulter: click here.
Fred Harvey was an entrepreneur who started out working for the railroad. With westward expansion, he saw a need for quality lodging and restaurants near the rail lines in the west. After being turned down by his own employer, he convinced another railroad of the potential of having clean accommodations for their passengers. Harvey House was born, and is considered to be the first chain restaurant in the country. Mr. Harvey soon found that the men he hired were not keeping his establishments up to the standard he desired, so he decided to hire women instead, which was quite controversial for the times. These women were called the Harvey Girls.
For more information on Fred Harvey: click here.
For more information on the Harvey Girls : click here.
OK, so I lied a little. I’m a writer and lover of history, I couldn’t really just post pictures without a little back story. Now back to the pretty pictures!
We stayed for a spectacular sunset over the canyon. It doesn’t get better than this!
Since I’m behind a day in posts, I can tell you what’s coming up next. Mr. Dickens gets to visit Meteor Crater, the Petrified Forest, and the Painted Desert! And we get to stand on a corner, in Winslow, Arizona next to a flat bed Ford. If anyone can tell me what that means, you get a free copy of Christmas Carole, starring Mr. Dickens, himself. So stay tuned!
The reason I’m combining these two days is not because I was too busy to post, or I forgot – day 5 of our road trip was nothing but road. Well – road and sand and dust and wind and sand and cacti and sand and … you get the idea. We left San Francisco and drove through the Mojave Desert to Barstow, CA. What’s in Barstow, you ask? Dust and sand and wind and sand and … yeah, not much. It had a hotel to sleep in and a Walmart where we could pick up supplies.
Day 6 was much more interesting. Not that we weren’t still traveling in the desert, but we actually had some points of interest along the way. Our first stop was Lake Havasu City, Arizona. There was a time when Lake Havasu had only one thing more than sand and dust and cacti, and that was water (Lake Havasu is a reservoir on the Colorado River).
Once owned by the government, the abandoned air strip was given to Robert P. McCullough at no charge, with his promise to develop it. McCullough, a wealthy oil magnate, was looking for a retirement spot and decided to develop the piece of land into a retirement village. One problem – it was in the middle of nowhere, and he couldn’t sell the real estate. So in 1967, with the encouragement of his real estate agent and partner, McCullough bought London Bridge. The hope was that it would become an attraction and would bring in buyers, and it worked. McCullough bought the bridge, had it dismantled and shipped at a reduced cost by a shipping company that needed to get a new vessel over and would have made the trip empty. He then had a concrete bridge built, and the London Bridge granite slabs which had been numbered, applied as facing to the new bridge. The reason London sold the bridge was because the 1831 structure was no longer sound to hold modern traffic and it had begun to sink. London Bridge really was falling down! Today the bridge does not span the Colorado River or Lake Havasu, rather McCullough put the bridge on a point, then dredged under the bridge creating a channel and an island. Despite spending $2,460,000 on the bridge itself, plus $240,000 to ship, plus another couple of million to rebuild, McCullough made back all his money and then some.
One fun fact – There were heavy import tariffs on materials like manufactured granite. To avoid adding to the enormous cost of the bridge, Customs declared that the 137 year-old London Bridge was not slabs of granite and iron lamp posts, but an antique, and therefore duty free. This decision set the standard that anything historic over one hundred years old is classified as an antique This standard is still recognized internationally. At the time, the bridge made the Guinness Book of World Records as the largest antique ever sold.
Although the dry heat was something Mr. Dickens was not accustomed to, Charles seemed to enjoy the stroll we took across the bridge. He had been feeling a little homesick and seeing the bridge he’d been so fond of made him feel right at home. For those of you who didn’t know this, Mr. Dickens not only liked to frequent the bridge himself, but it was the setting in several of his stories. In Oliver Twist, Nancy met with Rose and Mr. Brownlow on the steps of London Bridge to pass on information. She was seen by Noah Claypole which led to her grisly murder. David Copperfield, like Dickens, liked to sit on London Bridge and watch the people go by. Gabriel Varden, the locksmith, crossed London Bridge to visit Mrs. Rudge in the book Barnaby Rudge. We were honored to bring Mr. Dickens back to visit this familiar and beloved structure.
From Lake Havasu, we got off of the Interstate and onto historic Route 66. It was more desert, but somehow driving on such a historic road made it more interesting. I will say, I’m glad we didn’t break down anywhere along the way. Other than the occasional Road Runner zipping across our path, there was nothing or no one out there, as far as the eye can see.
Then we came to Oatman. Arizona. Oatman is a former mining town. It is named after Olive Oatman, an Illinois girl, who was kidnapped by an Indian tribe, made to work as a slave, and eventually traded to the Mohave Indian tribe, who adopted her as a daughter. She was eventually released near the site of the town. During the Gold Rush, Oatman was a thriving community. The town survived after mining operations ceased because of it’s location on U.S. Route 66, however in 1953 the Interstate was built to bypass the area. By the 1960’s Oatman had become a ghost town and it’s surviving buildings were all but abandoned.
Recently, new interest in the old Route 66 has brought Oatman back to life. Quaint old west buildings including the haunted 1902 Oatman Hotel, the oldest two-story adobe structure in Mohave County, and wild burros roaming the streets, bring in tourists from all over.
The burros are descended from pack animals let loose by early prospectors. Luckily the burros are gentle, albeit insistent, as long as you feed them. They even let Mr. Dickens take a short ride.
From Oatman we made our way to Laughlin, Nevada. There we had a steak dinner, did some gambling, then settled in for the night. We need our rest as there are more adventures on our agenda!