Thursday, July 14, 2011

Bed Bugs Bite and more fun at Marriott Residence Inn

My son was at scout camp this month and my wife and I decided to make a romantic outing out of picking him up in Charleston, SC. We arrived on the 1st and spent the afternoon on Folly Beach, dining late at Locklears on the pier. The good food, sea breeze and panoramic view of the ocean made for a lovely evening. In the morning we picked up our son and grabbed breakfast at the Boulevard Diner on Maybank Hwy, which was also quite nice! In between the two meals was unfortunately a different story.

It was a holiday weekend and rooms were a little hard to find. We booked a room online at the at the Residence Inn North Charleston, at 7645 Northwoods Boulevard. It was farther from The shore and camp, but right on the highway. My wife and I arrived about 11:30 PM. We checked in to room 1023, grabbed a shower and immediately turned in for the night. The accommodations seemed adequate, although the air conditioner rattled loudly.

About 12:30 there was a loud knock at the door. I called out but received no response. We then heard the sounds of a key card being inserted in the door. I called out again and there was still no response, so I prepared to call 911 on my cell phone. I also dialed the front desk on the room phone. After explaining the situation to the night clerk, I was told that the knocking was the security guard at the door. She said that our room was listed in the system as "dirty." She told me she would contact the guard and we wouldn't be disturbed.

I explained this to my wife and we tried to understand what it all meant. How was the room dirty? Why would a security guard be dispatched to a dirty room? Why didn't the guard answer me when I called out?

The room seemed like it had been serviced and there were no further knocks at the door, so we eventually went back to sleep. The next morning by wife woke me and pointed out little red bugs in the bed. We identified these as bedbugs using our Ipad (we had never seen them before) and took photos and even captured several in a zip lock bag. There were fresh spots of blood on the sheets and older stains as well. Was this what the clerk meant when she told us the room was dirty? Had a security guard been sent to catch us before we settled in? We showered thoroughly and went to the lobby to ask some questions.

(Pic-My blood from one of the bites!)

(Pic -Lots of similar stains, some fresh and red, some old. I think the red spot on the pillow may be one of the bugs, but my camera isn't great with tight detail.)

A desk clerk who identified herself as "Momma" took our complaint and looked at the bag of bugs, which she stapled shut and set aside. She expresses concern but told us we needed to speak to the manager. We were told that because we had booked online through Priceline she couldn't offer us a refund. I called the number she gave me for the manager. I got a recording and left a detailed message along with my email and phone number. I asked the manager to call me about the incident.

We were too disgusted to trust Residence Inn continental breakfast, so we left to pick up our son. On the way we discussed the strange stay. Did the staff know the room was dirty? The sheets certainly had enough stains to indicate that someone should have been aware of the problem.

After picking up Sean, we spent the day at the beach before heading home. Aside from the Marriott it had been a pleasant trip, but we had to inspect everything and sanitize all the clothing and luggage on our return. I was a little surprised that the manager had not returned my call.

After the holiday passed with no word, I began to write emails. I filled out surveys from both the booking agency and Marriott on the condition of the Residence Inn. I sent a "customer concerns" email from the Marriott website. Another day went by and I began to get a little annoyed. I would think a customer complaint of this kind would prompt a response. I did receive a reply from Marriott that they would forward my concerns to the hotel, but the hotel did not contact me. I decided to email the Board of Health for North Charleston. They replied that they had no authority over hotels but they would take my information and contact the hotel to urge action. I sent them a detailed account and photos.

A word of warning to travellers in SC--it seems there is no government agency with oversight over your hotel being sanitary. Restaurants are inspected, but not hotels. I emailed Marriott again to let them know that I had no word from the manager of the Residence Inn North Charleston. They replied again that they would forward my concern on to the hotel. At no time during my correspondence with Marriott did I ever feel any sense of urgency on their part. At most, I would describe the reaction as ineffectual sympathy.

Six days after my request to speak to someone about the problem, the General Manager finally emailed me. She regretted that my stay was "less-than-satisfactory." She told me that pest control was being called in (good!) and that the staff who sent the guard to my room was receiving additional training. What she was receiving training for or why the guard was sent was not addressed in her email, so we'll likely never know if the staff had been told not to rent the room with the bugs. She added that she wanted to restore my faith in Marriott hotels, so she was sending me a coupon for a free stay.

I discussed this with my wife--who has a long history in customer service--and some friends. It seemed to me this was a very minimal response to my complaint. Everyone I spoke to agreed. I felt that this was a situation which might have been salvaged by a quick response from the manager (even a note saying they were looking into the problem and would get back to me later in the week would have been nice.) Instead, I waited six days to get a "thanks for bringing this to our attention" letter and a coupon to drum up more business for Marriott. The final straw was when the coupon arrived and I discovered it was not an offer to stay the night at any Marriott, but a coupon to return to the Residence Inn North Charleston!

In my 48 years on Earth I've visited Charleston only three times and have no plans to return any time soon. If I do, I certainly will not share a room with parasites at 7645 Northwoods Boulevard! I replied that the level of customer service from Residence Inn was not satisfactory, nor was my stay, and I requested a full refund of my money. I copied Marriott customer care on the email.

It's been several days since I sent my response. Marriott has since told me they have forwarded my concerns to the local hotel. The Residence Inn North Charleston has said nothing.

PS: I contacted Priceline about my problems, and they promptly got me a refund.

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Monday, May 23, 2011

I will gladly pay you Tuesday...

I experienced a revelation today which was so sad, I nearly fell out of my chair laughing. I've been on a number of freelance sites today looking for new clients. There are plenty of jobs out there, but I was struck--as I always am--by the ridiculously low pay scales offered. One company needed a 50 page graphic novel illustrated for a budget of $500. At ten dollars a page, even Jack Kirby in his prime would only be making minimum wage, while most artists would be pulling $10-20 a day on that project. I kept searching.

While most projects on the site were offering $20-30 dollars per assignment, one job involved illustrating a poster for just $5. I have recently completed 8 posters for an educational company--a job which took 3 weeks of long days and weekend work to deliver--so I was wondering what sort poster the client was hoping to commission for this astronomical sum?

I read the description. The illustration was of a hamburger with a variety of topping options. The idea to be conveyed was that a certain restaurant served a burger any way you wanted it for only...

wait for it...


That's right readers, my commission for for illustrating this poster won't buy me ONE of my client's hamburgers. My new advertising slogan could be, "CHRIS APPEL--I WILL WORK FOR FOOD--ALMOST!" The irony of the job posting was so great, I wonder how they had chutzpah to put it online.

On a vaguely related note, I was recently contacted by an old client of mine. I did a ton of work for this company back in the day, and though they never paid the best rates I did enjoy the work. I was considering accepting a job from them, so I looked over their terms. I would have a month to turn in my preliminaries and another month to revise the art and create final images. The company would then spend eight months preparing the publication. After publication they would pay me.

Payment on publication is a way to obtain no interest financing for a project from the contractors who work on it. In a nutshell, "I will gladly pay you 26 weeks from Tuesday for artwork delivered today." That's assuming that the project sells as well as the client is hoping..if not, the artist is not likely to be paid at all. I've found it a very expensive way to do business over the past twenty years.

Particularly since the guy who sells me hamburger always wants his money now.


Thursday, April 22, 2010

Error 1925 - workaround

I was trying to install a program from an MSI file on a Windows 7 machine. I had so much trouble and such a hard time finding the solution that I thought I would post it here to help anyone who might be Googling for an answer.

The install seemed fine until it reached the end (and tried to write to the Program Files (x86) directory.) Then I'd get a 1925 error, claiming I did not have administrative privileges. I was logged into my admin account when this happened. Since the installer was an MSI file, I couldn't right click and "Run as Administrator" like you would on a exe file.

I contacted the program vendor and Googled this for two days. A lot of programs that use MSI installers can produce this error. However, most frustrated users never seem to get a solution. Most people write it off as a registry problem or a user who doesn't know what an Admin account is.

Here's what I learned: Even though you're logged in as an Administrator, you may not be installing with full admininistrator authority. If the installer doesn't give you a request window asking you to elevate your permissions to Administrator, odds are you don't. This gives you the 1925 Error. Since the msi file doesn't give you the option of "Run as Administrator", you have to run the installer from a command prompt which has admin rights set manually.

Go to Start-->All Programs-->Accessories
Right click on Command Prompt and select Run as Administrator
type in the path name to the installer (e.g. C:\Users\Name\Downloads\install.msi, or whatever it might be) and hit return.

The program should now install with Admin permissions. Many msi installers run into this problem for reasons I can't imagine. I hope this helps solve your problem.

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Monday, July 20, 2009

Goodyear, Bad Service

For a number of years I've taken various cars I've owned to DW Campbell Goodyear at 1291 Powers Ferry Road, not far from my home in Marietta. When my Jeep when on the fritz in April, we decided it was important to make sure my wife's car was in perfect working order, so we took it in to DW Campbell.

The back tires were badly worn on the outside edges, so I asked for a new pair of tires and an alignment check. John, the front man, came out and looked over the vehicle, as he usually does. He agreed that the back outer edges were in awful shape, but pointed out that the front tires were also below the wear bar. He wanted to sell us four new tires. We debated about this, since money is very tight, but finally decided to keep the Buick in top shape. We were leaving for the mountains for a cub scout trip and I didn't want to skimp on tires. John wrote up the order.

My wife recalls taking the call when the car had been checked out. She was told that the car did not need an alignment job. We picked the car up and went on our way.

As you know--if you read this blog--we then went on a 6500 mile trip to Yellowstone and back. When we arrived home, the back tires were ruined. They were only three months old. I would be hard pressed to replace them at the moment, but somehow we have to. I took the car into the Powers Ferry Goodyear shop again. As before, John walked out with me and looked at the tires. He agreed that the front set looked new, the back set was ruined. I pointed out that when we bought the tires we had asked for an alignment check and were later told the alignment didn't need adjusting. He took my keys and sent the car into the que to have the alignment checked.

An hour or so later I get the call from John at the Marietta Goodyear. The alignment is way out of whack on the car. I asked why it didn't show up before. John tells me that they have no record of the alignment being checked before. I point out that I asked for it to be done, that the previous set--which he had inspected--was ruined in the same way, and that my wife was told by phone that the car didn't need an alignment job.

"It's not in our system. Even if we had just checked the alignment, it would be in our system."

But, I counter, the previous set of tires was ruined and my wife was told that the car didn't need an alignment job. I had asked John specifically to check the tires when I showed him the uneven wear. And he should have recommended such a check even if I hadn't asked. And I certainly didn't plan a 6500 mile drive on tires I believed to be unsafe--I trusted them to check the alignment as I had asked.

"There's no documentation of that in our records," says John. Of course, it was John's responsibility when he checked the car in to log my request. Since he didn't, the request does not exist in the eyes of DW Campbell Goodyear.

I had planned to have the car alignment fixed in April when we purchased the tires. I told him I had no problem paying for it now--no difference to me--but was there anything that could be done about the two ruined tires?

"What do you mean?" asks John. I ask if there some guaranty or warranty?

"It's not the tires fault they failed," says John, "The wheels were out of alignment."

But he was asked to check the alignment. And someone called my wife saying there was no need for an alignment job.

"There's no documentation of that in our records," says John.

Again, I point out it was his job to see that it was in the records--per my request and the evidence of his inspection--back in April. I also point out that I have been a customer for decades and have spent tens of thousands of dollars on my vehicles in that time, but ignoring my request to fix the alignment when it was clearly a problem to both of us as we inspected the car in April, telling my wife that the alignment was not a problem, and sending us out on new tires that have now been destroyed and expecting me to shell out money without complaint was a deal breaker.

There's a long silence. John tells me he has already spoken to the owner (DW Campbell?) and there is nothing I can do but pay for yet another set of tires and the belated alignment job.

Probably, but I'll pay for them somewhere else. DW Campbell Goodyear at 1291 Powers Ferry Road has seen the last of my dollars.


Monday, June 29, 2009

It's humid and the cat is crazy

We're settling back in. The adjustment to the southern heat and humidity is tough--we've never been away long enough to acclimate to something else. MarKay wants to move.
I put a dehumidifier in the living room. It seems to pull about 2 gallons of water a day out of the air we are breathing. We turn it off at night for fear that it'll overflow.
There are more photos posted at I had to stop halfway through Grand Canyon. My monthly upload had been reached.
The neighbor's kitten seems to have moved in with us. He was hanging out here before we left and now he is here full time. The neighbor is not asking for him back. The kitten is a small tornado of destruction and he's driving the beagle and older cat insane.
He seems to have been taken from his mother too soon. He wants to nurse all the time, frequently on the neck of someone who's holding him. Having a kitten kneading at your jugular is a little disturbing.

But when he's sleeping, he's cute...

Saturday, June 27, 2009

It's a bird, it's a plane, it's a beagle!

Day 24

We got an early start out of St. Louis. As we exit the air conditioned Marriott, our glasses fog from the humidity. We are in the south again.

The Garmin is still showing us in Topeka.

Nothing is scheduled for today except the 8+ hour drive home.

We crossed over into Illinois without a sign of a visitor center. Lacking a map, I scrolled around on the Garmin to see what route to take back to familiar roads. Suddenly the Garmin woke up and started working again. I guess it just hates Missouri. We'll see if this lasts.

The drive is pretty uneventful. We picked up water samples on the Big Muddy and the Ohio River. I think that'll do for the trip. We stopped in Metropolis, IL for a photo op and leg stretch. We missed their big Superman festival by a few weeks. Noel Neil, Lois Lane to both Kirk Allen and George Reeves, was there. She's quite popular here; they are fund raising for a statue of her as Lois Lane for the town.

By law, you must assume this pose as you stand here. Not even the President is exempt.

We took in the Superman store and a state park with a reconstructed revolutionary era fort. Back on the road.

We cross over into Kentucky and, at Sean's insistence, eat ate a KFC. It's an exciting last day. It's well into the afternoon and still 2 hours to Nashville. I never want to drive anywhere again. MarKay takes over a shift.

In Clarksville, a convenience store clerk greets me cheerfully and hopes I'll come back after I buy Butterfingers. Am I still in America?

Ben calls. Michael Jackson and Farrah Fawcett are dead. We turn on the radio for news.

Nashville, Monteagle, (we're in Georgia, we're back in Tennessee!) Chattanooga, back in Georgia and we hit Dalton at sundown.

My turn to drive. We count the last of the 6,500 miles of this trip. Our county, our exit, our neighborhood, our street, our driveway. The door opens and our beagle, Penny, utters a cry I thought only dolphins could make.

We're home. We'll unpack tomorrow.

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Missouri loves company

Day 23

We left Kansas City behind and drove toward St. Louis. We made a late start, so we had a quick brunch at Micky D's on the was. Checked into the Marriott and then went off to the Arch.

St. Louis has a ton of things for visitors to do, mostly free, but we're running a bit late and the Arch is the MUST do thing on our list. We arrived at the arch and went through a security checkpoint to enter (welcome back to civilization.) This is a National Park, so our pass saved us a few dollars on tickets up the arch and an Imax movie on Lewis and Clark (which finished out our Lewis and Clark theme for the return trip.) The Museum of Western Expansion is also here, with a timeline of western history. The entry for 1881 regarding the OK Corral is inaccurate, claiming Billy Claiborn was killed there, not Billy Clanton. I considered pointing it out, but just let it go.

The arch trams remind me of the Pods from 2001, only smaller and with 5 people packed in. The wait to get on is long even with timed tickets. Then you pack into these tiny boxes and clank your way to the top. The observation room is like being on a small jet, only the floor curves in an unsettling way. Sean did not enjoy this.

By the time we got down and grabbed the last souvenirs of the trip, it was dinner time. We grabbed some fast food on the way to our real destination in St. Louis--Ted Drewe's Frozen Custard.

This dessert stand sits on Chippewa St (AKA 366, AKA Route 66 in St. Louis.) It has been in business for 80 years, and I believe this is the original location. The photo may not make it clear, but there are lines all across the front, about 15 customers deep, waiting for these frozen treats. It actually blocked one lane of the busy street.

The thing Ted Drewe's is noted for is a hard frozen custard, usually mixed with some cookie or treat. This is called a "concrete," presumably do to its hard freeze. They brag that you can turn the cup upside down and it won't fall out. No one was juggling cups in this crowd, however. The parking lot was packed, so we retreated across the street to our car to eat. It was worth the line.

We were parked nearby in the Catholic Supply Company's lot. This is a supermarket sized store featuring vestments, school uniforms, tapestries, statuary, gifts for baptism, first communion and confirmation, and, of course, Webkinz. Our favorite was a statue of Santa Claus adoring the baby Jesus. I've never seen the like, but they have a web store at

Back to the hotel. We're staying at the Marriott, which boasts high speed Internet. It costs $12.95 (the first time we've been charged on the trip for Internet.) I'm not on an expense account. I guess I'll be posting all these blogs when I get home...

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I'm going to Kansas City, Kansas City here I come...and come..and come....

Day 22

We left Colorado with continental breakfasts in our bellies, a a full tank of gas, a freshly washed car. The western drive put so many bugs on our windshield we could hardly see. We're a bit disappointed to be leaving Colorado without passing through mountains, but home is calling.

Kansas is a drive we've been dreading all trip. The first impression is good, however. The visitors center is the most impressive we've seen, with tons of brochures on things to do. Strangely, we didn't find anything of interest to do here when we searched on the Internet. We grab some brochures and head out. We won't hit Kansas City until almost sundown, despite an early start.


Most states out west let you drive 75 mph, but Kansas slows you to 70. You need to slow down and see the corn...

I-70 stretches on forever...endlessly straight...

They're experiencing a heat wave today. It's hot in To-pe-ka...

At least the Garmin is working. We're heading East....

This makes east Wyoming scenery seem fascinating...

Suggested Slogan, "Kansas! We're in your way!"

We're changing drivers almost every hour. The scenery here just numbs your mind...

We drove across a stretch of highway where the stripes had been recently painted. The lines in the center were warped into s, comma and c shapes along a curving path. Whoever was running the painting machine clearly wasn't paying any attention to the road. Even the DOT falls asleep on this road...

There are signs here advertising free land for industries. They're giving this state away just to get people to come here...

See the five legged calf and the world's largest prairie dog...

We pass a camper towing a model T with a sticker that says, "Pike's peak."

Rest stop. Change Drivers...

Scanning brochures for things to see, we come across an advertisement for the biggest mall in west Kansas, with 25 stores!...

We pull off in Hayes for lunch. We're hoping for a nice local place, maybe some Kansas BBQ. The town is very quaint and picturesque. We drive all over looking for places to eat and end up at Long John Silver's...

Get me off of this highway...

Suggested motto, "The 'Oh my God I'm in Kansas' State!"

Still driving to Kansas City...

MarKay reads from a newsletter we got at the visitor center. A visitor talks about how much he loves coming to Kansas. He is a storm chaser...

Our windshield is covered with bugs again...

We pass a camper towing a model T with a sticker that says, "Pike's peak."

The whole state smells like cows...except where a skunk has died on the highway...

Rest stop, change drivers...

Actual brochure quote; come see the house Eisenhower was born in, "you'll be surprised how small and humble it is!"

Lot's of historical markers about pioneers and settlers. I wonder how many of them died trying to cross this state...

Every brochure advertises locations with "big city amenities, small town charm"...

A small change in scenery occurs ad we approach banks of wind generators. Like Texas, these are just west of Abilene. How I miss the spectacular scenery of west Texas...

We pass a camper towing a model T with a sticker that says, "Pike's peak." I'm driving on some kind of Mobius strip that loops back on itself without a noticeable beginning or end...

Rest stop, change drivers...

This state is so unnaturally and inescapably non-euclidean in its lack of dimension...

MarKay finishes the Lewis and Clark book Audrey gave us. Their long journey is at and end, but ours drags on...

This state is an argument for bullet trains. My soul is dying...

Keogh's horse, Comanche--lone survivor of the Little Big Horn Massacre--is here in a museum, stuffed. He survived Crazy Horse and Sitting Bull, but he couldn't survive Kansas...

Rest stop, change drivers...

MarKay reads a road sign; This section of I-70 was the first piece of the interstate system completed in the US. Of all the places people wanted to get through quickly, they knew Kansas was the top priority...

Visit the Museum of Independent Telephony...

Leaving the highway at last! Garmin is going to route of north of Topeka to the airport in Kansas City, where are hotel is booked. Scenery at last!

Garmin lost satellite signal as soon as we left the highway. We are now lost in Kansas...

An hour later, we are still driving east toward Kansas City on back roads. The Garmin has not found signal in all this time. I will die in this state...

MarKay and I will soon fight to the death over what route to take...

Kill me now...

We arrive at the hotel at last. Garmin acquires signal long enough to announce that we have reached the hotel. If I owned this machine, I would smash it...

Wireless not working, won't be able to post tonight. What did I expect?

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Starting home

Day 21

We left the next morning after breakfast. We won't soon forget the meals at Eileen's house. Sean and Jonathan exchanged email addresses and then we headed off to Denver.

The day was largely uneventful. We drove by the Appel ranch as we headed south from Gillette. We played state trivia in the new game Sean had received and MarKay read from the Lewis and Clark book. We marvelled out the huge coal cars heading out of town on multiple tracks. Ironically, some of them appear to head toward a town called Newcastle.

Eastern Wyoming is very green this year. Usually the semi-arid rolling prairie is a brown color. There's enough moisture here for scrub grass to grow and feed cattle. You couldn't grow a crop successfully without lots of irrigation. Unless rhubarb becomes the latest health fad.

We got caught in road construction in Cheyenne while trying to grab dinner. It took forever to reach the local Perkins. We had a relaxing dinner, surrounded by James Bama and Bev Doolittle prints on the walls. We saw the capitol building. On the road again...

Or path through Colorado doesn't take us through the mountains, so we have to content ourselves with a distant view this trip. Boulder has been highly praised by Brett and Kristine. Maybe next time.

For time and weariness sake, we are just grabbing hotels on Priceline on the way back. Each city we'll stop in has an airport, so you can negotiate a good deal in that part of town. We're heading through town to the Hyatt (and a pretty town it is.)

I wish the Pig 'N' Whistle was still here to show Sean. Eddie Bohn, my dad's maternal first cousin, was a local prize fighter back in the Jack Dempsey era. He retired and opened a restaraunt, bar and motor lodge called the Pig 'N' Whistle on Colfax which was a stopping point for celebs and boxing fans until the highway passed by the old main drag downtown. Both Edie and the motel are gone now, but I remember visiting as a kid and seeing all the boxing photos on the wall. Cousin Eddie gave me a piggy bank I kept for quite some time, but it's gone now, too.

The Hyatt is fantastic. We got in early enough to swim. The room is really nice, with a big screen TV and a pull out bed for Sean.

We'll rest well tonight.

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Days 19 and 20

The weekend is a feast of food and family. Sean is about the same age as his cousins one generation junior to him. Their were nine altogether, all boys. Saturday was too Windy for boating, so they had to content themselves with sports, electric ATVs and Nintendo.

My generation was represented by Audrey, Eileen and Bill. The next generation down is closer to my age. Bill and Eileen Suchor's son Brett and wife Christine (or is that with a K?) were also staying at the house, as I mentioned. His sister Jennifer is just married and honeymooning in Fiji. Bill Appel's girls, Angie, Melanie and Tiffany are all married with boys. Audrey and Charlie Reeds boys couldn't make it.

Food and Wine came in waves throughout the day. Angie's husband John filled us in on the problems with wind power in Gillette. Brett and I discussed the business of electronic entertainment. Family stories were told by all.

We went to bed knowing we didn't have to go anywhere the next day, which may have been the best part.

The wind was a little better the next day. Bill Suchor, Brett and his family and all us Appel's went fishing. The fish weren't biting in the Key Hole Reservoir, but a good time was had trawling for walleye. By the time we returned, lunch was ready and a full compliment of cousins had arrived.

The nine boys went out on the lake for tubing behind the boat. MarKay and I stayed behind, which allowed Sean to be adventurous and join in with his peers. We talked about this over bear and wine and that for hours. In the late afternoon my cousin Mary arrived. She is one of my uncle Leonard's girls, a branch of the family that we don't see often at get togethers. I hadn't seen her in forever, so the tow of us ended up talking until late in the evening.

Mary and Bill Appel both think that the coal companies are moving more quickly than expected, so we might see an offer on the ranch land before we're all in nursing homes. That would be nice.

Audrey and Charlie bid us farewell. They presented us with a Lewis and Clark cookbook and some local jams and treats that we look forward to sampling. Sean got a history game for the road. Bill and his family had to leave a little later.

As the evening wound down I got caught up in a CNN report on Iran. I was amazed to see all that had been happening since we had left Georgia. We've been living in a vacation bubble that the outside world doesn't penetrate. It was surreal to see how much we had missed.

Tomorrow we start back towards reality.

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Little big drive

Day 18

We lingered over breakfast. Conversation with family after so long in a vacuum was something worth hanging onto. But Audrey and Charlie will be joining us at our next stop, so we finally got on the road for Wyoming.

We opted to skip a local Lewis and Clark land mark so we could get to Gillette at a decent hour. We wasted some time looking for a Starbucks to check email. Garmin failed to find one again, making it 0-8 on Starbucks. We pressed on toward the Little Big Horn. Custer Battlefield was right off the highway, but I didn't realise that it was RIGHT at the exit. I overshot and knew something was wrong when I didn't see an entrance. I programmed Garmin to find it for us. Garmin told me to drive 12 more miles. This turned out to be the first cross road, where Garmin told me to u-turn and drive 15 miles back. I couldn't have u-turned on the empty country road before then. Garmin is dangerous out west.

We arrived tired and a half hour late. We caught the film and museum, then went up Last Stand Hill. We tried to explain to Sean what happened here. His main reaction was horror that the desperate cavalrymen had shot there own horses in an attempt to create cover to shoot from as they waited for the relief column that never came. I told him that Keogh's horse Comanche survived, but it didn't seem to help.

Back on the road, we headed through Wyoming to Gillette. Gillette is now a city of 40,000, which is amazing to me. It's changed drastically since we were here just a few years
We pressed on to my cousin Eileen's house. She no longer lives in Gillette, having moved to a house on the Keyhole Reservoir near Moorcroft. She and her husband Bill have made an amazing home there. I asked if we could buy a timeshare. Her son Brett was also there with his family. I haven't seen him in nearly 40 years. His two sons are close to Sean's age, so the boys kept themselves entertained (much to out relief--Sean has relied on us for company since we left Lanny's house.)

Food and wine flowed freely from Eileen's pantry. We won't be missing McDonald's this weekend...


Leaving Yellowstone

Day 17

We packed the camp for the last time today. We're once again in Mammoth for the morning. Sean earned his junior ranger badge from Matt and then we had to choose between visiting the hot springs north of Yellowstone or heading out through the scenic Bear Tooth Highway. The scenery one, so we grabbed a shower again at the hotel. Female elk here are like pigeons by day three.

Gas was $2.99. Sean predicted the price as we drove up. Sinclair is the only option in the park and they are always overpriced, even when there are competing stations.

The NE exit takes you out through the most heavily populated wildlife area of the park. We encountered Back Bears, Big Horn Sheep, Pronghorns, Buffalo and male elk. We played bingo on the park brochure, crossing off wildlife we had seen.

We left the park without ever seeing the south east portion of Yellowstone, or most of the geysers, hotpots and other volcanic features. If you come here, plan four or five days just to cover the distances.

The Cooke City exit was torn up, so it took quite a while to reach the town. I had promised Sean a McDonald's visit, but Cooke is a little town of locally owned shops. We grabbed lunch at the Bed and Bun, which served one of the best burgers I've ever tasted. Whistler, the owner's beagle, jumped into the empty 4th chair, put its chin on the table, and looked soulfully at us as we ate. A husky also works the tables there, howling softly for scraps.

We grabbed some souvenirs for the road and headed up the Bear Tooth. The road is lined with 12 ft poles. After much pondering, MarKay realised these were guides to keep the snow plows on the road and off the shear cliffs.This highway takes you up a series of switchbacks to an altitude of 11,000 ft. It's still frozen up there and there are some breathtaking views of the Montana mountains.

We dropped back down and made our way toward Billings. Suddenly we had cell phone service again. Ben's messages came flooding in. He had last spoken to us in Jackson, when we had nowhere to stay. Then we had dropped out of the civilized world and phone contact. He didn't know what had happened to us. He kept scanning for news of deaths in Yellowstone (there were two while we were there) but they didn't match our descriptions.

My cousin Audrey and Charlie also tried to reach us, so we got straight with everyone and made our way into billings. Garmin was well behaved. We arrived in time for dinner and conversation. We had a fantastic time, I met my cousin Jeff for the first time (he reminds me of Bruce Campbell), and we caught up on laundry before bed. Audrey even has the same sheets as we do at home. A real bed and home cooked meal is priceless tonight.

And there are no more bears....

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Yellowstone, Day 2

Day 16

We weren't eaten by bears again. Or the coyotes we heard howling.


It rained last night and the small tent is also leaking now. Our bedding was wet, so we rigged clothes lines for it. Fortunately, the air is dry out here. In Georgia we'd be up the creek.

We headed into to Mammoth again to grab breakfast and a shower. More elk. Then it's back to camp to arrange for a second night of camping. A deer carcass was found gnawed by a bear on the campground that morning. Swell.

We swapped out tents, putting an extra tarp over the big tent, finished drying everything out and greeted our new camp neighbors, and English couple with a springer spaniel. By noon, we're ready to actually see the park.

We headed around the north side again, through Mammoth, then around to the south over Mt. Washburn. MarKay is not enjoying the switchback roads overlooking cliffs, which are a recurring theme on this trip. We grabbed a mediocre lunch and checked out the visitor center at Canyon Village, then down to the south rim of the Yellowstone River. We went on a long walk to Artist's Point, which has an amazing view of the Lower Falls of the Yellowstone. It's incredibly scenic, but the 1 1/2 mile hike was more difficult than it looked on the map. After navigating the steep grades on the trail, we stepped out into the Artist's Point parking lot. MarKay was not happy to realise we could have taken the car. The road has no shoulder and curves a lot, so walking back along the side wasn't safe, so we hiked back to the upper falls. MarKay and Sean were about done in by then.

And that was our day. Everything in Yellowstone is so far apart, that you can spend most of your day driving to things. A late start and just a few stops later, it was time to go back to camp and cook dinner. The steaks we bought back in Utah finally made it to the grill--best meal of the day.

We carefully packed everything into the car. Everything, that is, except the water container we dowsed the fire with. In the middle of the night a ranger woke us to stow the water bottle to avoid attracting bears. Any container is verboten overnight. The rangers were really patrolling that night, which was both reassuring and a source of concern.

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Friday, June 26, 2009

Yellowstone bound

Day 15

We were not eaten by bears.


We drove into Grand Teton on 89. This is really beautiful. I'm still wishing for that panoramic camera lens. We can't stop for a ranger badge here, but we did pick up some souvenirs for Sean. Unfortunately, were rushing through here to get to Yellowstone before the camping fills up. We'll want to come back and do this are justice. There's supposed to be great wildlife viewing opportunities just off the main roads, but it'll have to wait until next time.

We continued north out of the park on 89 (you don't have to pay if you stay on 89, but we had the pass and took a more scenic route.) There was some slow traffic from road work, but after a bit we reached the Yellowstone gate (here you pay.) We traveled into the park to the first campground and discovered a few surprises.

The first was that this campground was still closed for the winter. We knew that some campgrounds were closed, but the website had not indicated that this was one of them. That's bad news for us.

The second was snow on the ground. We don't have real winter clothes with us, but it's still wintry here. Also bad news for us.

The third is that Yellowstone doesn't have plumbing in most of its restrooms. They're just latrines at the camp sites (and we didn't have a shower in the Tetons campsite.)

We drove north to the first camping area that we could reach. They told us there was still camping to the north. So we drove some more.

We reached Old faithful just in time to see the steam dissipate from the eruption. So we grabbed a snack and prepared to wait 92 minutes for the next eruption. Sean enjoyed the spectacle, but the adults are starting to feel like they are at Six Flags.

Back in the car we drove north to the next possible site. I'm told here that there is now only one site left with camping, and it's near the North gate. So now we bypass more sights as we travel slowly along mountain roads just to insure we have a place to sleep. There's a good bit of Spring construction in progress and any animal sighting brings the road to a halt. We're here for a day and we're missing everything. Stress is building.

The road parallels the Gibbon River as the drop down a long series of hills. The river runs along right next to us. But it's flowing the other way. I stop and confirm this. I swear the river flows up hill. Like the house of magneto at Six Flags. Stupid river.

We reach the campsite in time to get a spot. We set up camp and head out to Mammoth (the northern village within Yellowstone.) There are places to eat and a Ranger lecture here (Sean needs one as a badge requirement.) We sight a crowd watching a grizzly bear on the way. It's a little too close to camp for my taste.

As we look over the ranger schedule, we have a revelation; we've had the date correct but not the day. We've been thinking it was Wednesday all day and couldn't understand how we were short a day. We actually have two days in Yellowstone (as planned) but somehow are brains are so muddled we had lost site of our schedule. The mood lightens instantly.

We enjoy a nice tour of the old cavalry HQ at the park (thanks Ranger Matt!) and then had a sit down dinner. Mammoth is full of female elk. We also spotted a horned owl o the tour. When we return to camp, we are told that a grizzly has been sighted on the campground. At least we're in the middle of the camp tonight.

I sense a theme developing...

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Bear Country

Day 14

We slept in the next morning. This is a first for the trip, we're usually up with the dawn, but we need some rest. We had planned to show Sean some of Salt Lake, but we just need to press on if we're going to have any time in Yellowstone. MarKay doesn't think we can make it to the Tetons tonight, but I think we can do it.

Northern Utah is very impressive. We travelled up the Rockies through Logan. A rushing mountain stream followed the road an threatened to wash it out if the water rose much higher. MarKay got excited as we started to see green pastures nestled in the mountain valleys. She's a sucker for a green valley in the mountains. Soon we came out or the mountains overlooking Bear Lake. The Lake is very large and the sort of light aqua blue you see in Caribbean postcards. The area seems to be famous for its raspberries. Tourist season hasn't started there yet, but we stopped to admire the view and sample raspberry ice cream and shakes.

We pressed north to the Idaho side of the lake. We stopped at the Oregon Trail museum and stretched out legs. It was late afternoon, but the young lady at the museum spent her last quarter hour showing Sean exhibits and telling him stories. We grabbed a Wyoming map there and headed into my Dad's home state.

This part of Wyoming is very different from the area I've visited my whole life. It's green and framed by the foothills of the Rockies, with rougher, snow capped peaks in the distance. The scenery is fit for a postcard. MarKAy and I passed the drive fantasizing about owning property here.

North of this we found a KOA campground. It was $38 + 8 per person just to camp here--more than our 4 star Salt lake hotel cost us (thanks, William Shatner!) It's difficult to dream about owning land somewhere that you can't afford to camp. The lady there told us there was primitive camping closer to the Tetons, so off we went.

As we passed trough Jackson, we called Ben to try and Priceline us a deal for the night. That trick doesn't work in high demand tourist areas, though. We pressed on into the Grand Teton National Park and found the campground we had been directed to. After getting our tent set up (the smaller, cozier one) we talked to some of our neighbors and learned that a grizzly had been seen on the property that morning.

We're on the edge of the campground. In a camp full of RVs, we're the soft, chewy treat. As we head to bed, I'm reminded of the Farside cartoon with the polar bears munching on the igloo...

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On to Salt Lake

Day 13

Bryce is cold at night. We were in the bigger tent, which is not as warm. Also, it leaked and there was a small leak (hail damage?) which didn't help. The altitude here is also making tasks like setting up and breaking down camp more difficult. I'm having to take breaks to catch my breath. The charm of camping is wearing off. We got stuck at the general store most of the morning, showering and getting caught up on laundry. It was lunch time before we escaped the park.

We pressed on up 89 to Salt Lake. Not much to say about the drive. Today is our first mandatory arrival time since leaving Ft. Worth. We have a room at the Hotel Monaco booked as a break from camping. It's quite an change from the places we've been staying.

This is the city MarKay and I began our honeymoon in. We had eaten at a fun tex-mex place in town and attempted to find it again. Several people we asked assured us that it must be the Blue Iguana, which we eventually found. It wasn't. The place we ate must be gone now, replaced by something called the Sand Bar. Our meal was okay, but everyone was tense and tired, so we ended up just heading back to the hotel. More blogs posted before bed. I'm still way behind.

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It's raining ice in Bryce

Day 12

After a continental breakfast. We drove through the Dixie National Forest. It looks a bit like Dixie, with tree covered mountains (mostly firs, but there were some pines). In places, the trees were so symmetrical that they seemed to have been stamped down in photoshop. Parts of this area are also volcanic, with black lava flows breaking up the forest.

We arrived at Bryce Canyon, which is not actually a canyon, since it was not carved by a river. Ice and rain have carved the sandstone here into intricate sculptures called hoodoos. These are really amazing at first glance, but the long term effect of exploring the park is a bit like Grand Canyon...another overlook with a variation of the last view. Also, the Rim walk has a steep drop off with no railing, which is annoying after a bit.

I should mention that most National Parks in this area have bookshops which feature titles like "Death in the Grand Canyon," or "in Bryce," etc, detailing the grisly deaths of those who have fallen in the location you are touring. So there's a perfect gift to bring back to that goth friend back home.

The danger in Bryce is not flooding, since you are on the rim looking down, but lighting and wind are a problem. As we walked along the canyon walls, a storm started brewing, Just as we reached the rest area, a bolt of lighting hit the rim behind us. We jumped on the tram as a shower of pea sized hail buffeted the the foreign tourists we left behind. The hail was so thick it left a dusting of white on the park.

MarKay pointed something out about the tourists we were seeing; you can spot a European traveller by their shoes. Euro style shoes are from fitting with almost no soles, like a more stylish version of bowling shoes. They stick out from American shoes. In Zion we had lots of Germans, but several buses of French tourists were in Bryce during our visit.

We had a campsite in Bryce so we head back to cook dinner. The tent had survived the hail. We then headed over to the visitor center for a program on astronomy. It was not the light fluff for families I expected--it reminded me of a college seminar. Sean struggled through it and then we went outside to look through the big telescopes they had set up. Sean got to see Saturn and the Galilean moons, plus a globular cluster of about a million stars.

It was a fine end to the day.

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The Elders of Zion

Day 11

We continued up 89 today into Utah. No visitors center--or even a sign--marked the transition. In fact, Utah did not respond to MarKay's emails requesting visitor information, so we are mapless as we drive through the state. If Garmin or the road signs let us down, we'll have to purchase a map. Unthinkable!

We passed a number of towns nestled under mountains which bear the town's initial in white (Page Arizona's P was the first example of seems to be universal in Utah.) I'm not sure what the significance of this is.

We're seeing signs for a town called Freedonia. This is not named for the country in the Marx Brothers movie (although my MP3 of "We're Going to War" is handy.) This was founded by a polygamist group objecting to the reversal of Mormon policy on plural marriage. The name means "free women." Judge the irony as you will.

We stopped at a little town on the edge of the Grand Staircase with a visitor center. Sean proclaimed it as having the nicest restrooms he had ever seen. We are now armed with a map. We grabbed some groceries for camp meals. Next we visited a tourist shop which boasts a collection of sets from western movies. The adobe house with the cross shaped gun ports from the end of "The Outlaw Josey Wales" was among the attractions. It's actually made of fiberglass. Who knew?

Back on the road, we passed the Big Rock Candy Mountain...and yes we had the song and we played it. O' Brother Where Art Though is a good soundtrack for southern Utah.

89 heads right into Zion Canyon National Park. This seems to catch some tourists by surprise. Suddenly the highway costs $25 to travel on and the Road turns into a series of scenic switch backs that slow you to 5 miles an hour. Our park pass is really paying off on this trip.

Zion is a great park with tremendous views. This is LDS country, and the formations have names like the Three Patriarchs, The Altar, The Temple, The Sacrifice, The Pipe Organ, etc, etc, etc. Squirrels pose for photos on the trail and the occasional deer can be spotted if you're lucky. They have an excellent tram system that cuts traffic inside the park.

We are fortunate to be here in good weather. The entire park is at the bottom of the canyon, and flash floods can be a problem. The river was calm today, however, and we followed it toward the narrows of the canyon until we would have had to start wading. We also caught another interesting water feature, Weeping Rock, A section of porous sandstone sandwiched between layers of slate, creating a channel that forces water to pour through the rock wall in a continuous rain.

Unfortunately, there was no campsite availability today, so after Sean earned his badge, we had to head on to our next option, a pair of nearby state parks with campgrounds.

As we passed through the town of Hurricane, we saw billboards for cheap hotel rates and a movie theater, so we jumped to plan C and looked for a hotel room. But the cheap rates were only on weekends, and the motels were mostly booked. The state parks were completely filled as well (triathlon tomorrow, we were told) so we headed up the interstate to the next exit.

The next several exits had names like "ranch exit" or signs telling us there were no services. After 40 miles we arrived tired and very hungry in Cedar City, on route to our next park. We had a coupon for the Knights Inn, but we had to take a smoking room. We got back on the street looking for dinner. I saw some signs in the distance, but in my effort to dead recon my way toward them I found myself on the highway ramp going back south. It was 10 miles back to an exit we to turn around. We were starved by the time we hit Denny's. The smoking room was no problem by the time we got back; MarKay and Sean just crashed. and I made use of the WiFi to post a few blog entries.

Off to bed.