GAI remember the time Kay and I took a ride up the world’s steepest incline railroad up the old Confederate stronghold of Lookout Mountain, just south of Chattanooga, Tenn. From the summit we witnessed a panoramic view that encompassed 7 states: Georgia (of course), Tennessee, Alabama, Kentucky, Virginia and both Carolinas. Rock City is a nice touch for the top of the mountain, with all its lush garden foliage, rock formations and waterfalls, as well as its featured attractions like Swing-A-Long Bridge, Lover’s Leap and Fairy Tale Cave.


The Appalachian Foothills that cover north Georgia are scenic all right, and we found in town after town that down-home feel that makes you want to duck into an air-conditioned roadside cafe for some fried catfish and hush puppies or fried chicken and cornbread, all washed down with a mason jar full of brewed iced tea. That’s exactly what we did in Rome when we worked there one summer.  One Easter Sunday as we rode along just north of Macon, in the sleepy little Southern burg of Forsyth, we were moved to drive around town looking for one of those lively black churches we’d heard about.  And who can resist screeching to a halt at a roadside stand in rural Georgia to wait for a good ol’ boy in overalls to dip into his steaming brine for a cup full of dripping hot boiled peanuts?

Kay stands in the middle of the central park in the middle of charming Old Savannah, Georgia 

Kay stands in the middle of the central park in the middle of charming Old Savannah, Georgia

Backwoods Georgia is not all charm and hospitality, however, as we found out one day in Clayton. We pulled into town square just in time to spy a redneck shop owner straightening out his Ku Klux Klan T-shirts that had blown off the rack.



Backwoods Georgia is not all charm and hospitality, however, as we found out one day in Clayton. We pulled into town square just in time to spy a redneck shop owner straightening out his Ku Klux Klan T-shirts that had blown off the rack.



Kay smiles from Peachtree Street in Atlanta, Ga. 

Kay smiles from Peachtree Street in Atlanta, Ga.


We found the real flavor of the Old South in Savannah, Queen City of Southern Charm, with its weeping willows and spanish moss. In Columbus we found the feel of an old, black working class city and in the melting pot of Atlanta, the crossroads of most of our travels through Georgia, we found your basic hustle and bustle big city that necessarily lacked the same kind of character found in smaller locales.



Ok – technically Kay was gone before my first sighting of the Aloha State, but chronicling 49 states instead of 50 just bugged me somehow.  So, I’m including it.  I seem to believe she was with me in spirit, nonetheless.Nature neatly divided Hawaii into neatly packaged parcel components for the sake of my narrative, as I’ll go island by island, starting chronologically with the one I visited first until I cover all five islands that I explored.



On the island of Oahu, I pressed my way driving all over Honolulu, the state’s biggest city and major hub.  I got greeted at the Honolulu Airport with a lei and a heartfelt “Aloha, sir” and was there in my role as tourist from the mainland.  But while there, I had to do paperwork in the state capital and took in “normal” things such as shopping and taking in a movie.


Near Honolulu, this dude learned some surfing at Waikiki Beach, did some splashing around as Diamond Head loomed overhead and   I did a little bit of evening strolling along Waikiki Beach, where at twilight the tiki torches come aglow along the beachside walkway and the place is devine.  I actually took the drive to Pearl Harbor and started to turn in, but changed my mind when I noticed the Nazi-style military check station I’d have to go through in order to enter and see the monuments.


Gary tries to master riding the crest of the waves at Waikiki Beach 

Surfs up: Gary tries to master riding the crest of the waves at Waikiki Beach

I actually did drive all over the island, literally, as I did all of the islands I hit.  Oahu has quite a few things to see outside of the Honolulu area, and I obliged myself to check most of them out.


On the leeward (dry) side of the island, I see rocky Kaena Point, while on the windward (wet) side, I take in the lagoons at Kailua, after driving across the island on the Pali Highway.


On the north shore, I scope out the real surfer haven of Haleiwa (where my breakfast table was shaped like a surfboard) and witnessed the Banzai Pipeline.  On the southeast side of the island, I peered down from the cliffs onto the underwater marine park at Hanauma Bay. And in the middle of the island, I satiated my taste for all things pineapple at the Dole Pineapple Pavilion.


On the diverse Big Island of Hawaii, I made sure I soaked in the main attraction – the fiery, smoldering volcanoes.  The main active one is Kilauea Caldera, and although I tried to reach its lava flow oozing into the sea by foot at Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, I hurt my foot and did it aerially via helicopter instead.  The inactive ones were Mauna Loa, which I saw, and Mauna Kea, which I not only saw but drove atop in my rental car.  It’s the tallest mountain in the world by one measurement and it’s also 13,792 feet high.


on foot and by helicopter 

Two ways to see the active volcano lava flow in Hawaii: on foot and by helicopter

Gary in Hilo


Elsewhere on the island, I spent quite a bit of time in rainy Hilo where I sampled all kinds of macadamia nut dishes, hung out in the bustling tourist hub of Kona, tipped my hat to the vast Parker Ranch and dipped down to Kalae, the southernmost point in the United States.


On the “friendly island” of Molokai, I witnessed that incredible cliffside view of the leper colony of Kalaupapa, took a long hike through the lush jungles of Halawa Valley and looked around at the coconut groves near the island’s only town, Kaunakakai.


Maui is where I did much of my “typical” Hawaii vacation activity.  I just had to drive that world-class Road to Hana which, of course, ended up at Hana.  But not before the ribbon of road notched up hundreds of hairpin turns and too many soothingly inviting waterfall-pools for me to count, the most renowned of these being Seven Sacred Pools.  But I digress; I did my obligatory luau feast of the kalua pig, my very first dunking inside a submarine and my first snorkeling outing to see the fishies through my goggles while on Maui.  Lahaina was my base of operations for all these, being the primary tourist hub of the island.


The Road to Hana, on Maui 

The Road to Hana, on Maui

waterfall pool

Finally, on the “garden island” of Kauai, I logged a jungle cruise up Hawaii’s only navigable river, the Wailua River, where I got to hear a rendition of Hawaiian Wedding Song in acoustically-perfect Fern Grotto and did some kayaking myself.  I also taxed my panoramic vision abilities at what Mark Twain called “The Grand Canyon of the Pacific”, Waimea Canyon.  And I found Hawaiian Paradise in and around Hanalei where the beaches are so tropically idyllic that several Hollywood movies were filmed on location there.



IDKay and I have seen Idaho in a couple of different contrasts.


In southern Idaho, we’ve traveled from the high altitude of the Teton Range around the Snake River just across from Wyoming and witnessed the gradual leveling off into semi-arid brushy land that runs through the town of Soda Springs and all the way to the Utah line.  We’ve gone through the main cities of Idaho Falls in the east and Boise in the west.  And we’ve examined the bumpy ground at Craters of the Moon National Park.


In northern Idaho, we were soothed by the beauty of green forested Rocky Mountain terrain that held sparkling blue lakes and eye-catching rushing rivers all along the route between Washington State on the west side and Montana on the east.  This included the rustic towns of Bonners Ferry way up in the wilderness and scenic Coeur d’Alene off of Interstate 90.  Enormous Coeur d’Alene Lake is a sight to behold, in all its wooded, watery panorama.


View of Coeur d’Alene Lake in northern Idaho out the RV window as Kay keeps her eyes on the road (above); 

View of Coeur d’Alene Lake in northern Idaho out the RV window as Kay keeps her eyes on the road (above); Kay stands beside the eagerly-flowing Lochsa River in central Idaho (below)

Kay in Idaho  


More in the center, there’s that time that Kay and I took our very first RV trip together, which ended up in Lewiston.  But that drive coming down from Missoula in full-blown prime springtime with birds chirping, trees filling out and with the rollicking full and gurgling Lochsa River following alongside us all the way was something I’ll always hold in my memory banks.


ILKay and I have driven across the Prairie state in all different directions, but almost always passing through the major crossroads city of Chicago, on the shores of Lake Michigan.

Kay contemplates the steps leading up to the Bahai Temple in Wilmette, Ill. 

Kay contemplates the steps leading up to the Bahai Temple in Wilmette, Ill.


Illinois is a really good state to go through, not so much to.  I think there’s more interstate highways in this state than any other.  By the numbers:  if we’re doing 94, we’re probably taking it on in to The Loop in Chicago – to the worst traffic this nation knows.  If we’re doing 24, then we’re down on the complete other end of the state, in hilly, rural southern Illinois, so far away from Chicago that it’s not uncommon for there to be a 30-degree difference in wintertime temperatures.  57 connects the two extremes, the best way for Kay and me to get from the Windy City down to Memphis, when we needed to.  The tip end of that interstate is Cairo, on the confluence of the Mississippi and Ohio Rivers.  We always liked the intriguing view from that big bridge.  In humdrum trips from Iowa to Indiana, we’d just take 74 from the Quad Cities (Moline on the Illinois side) through Peoria, Bloomington and Champaign and on to Indianapolis.  72 on the other hand, is always what we picked up in Springfield to get us into central Missouri.  88 was a toll road we tried to avoid, but couldn’t always, that connects Chicago to the Quad Cities with little fanfare.   Avoiding 90 was never really an option if we were going to shoot into and across Wisconsin, and go through Illinois’ second-largest city.   Whenever we’d take 64, it usually meant that we were already in Kentucky and wanted to cut across over to St. Louis (but first going through East St. Louis).  Often we’d travel between the major points of St. Louis and Indianapolis, and whenever that was the case, we’d take 70.  39 was what we’d take if we had the luxury of extra time on our hands and wanted to take a LARGE detour around Chicago traffic, adding 50 miles to the trip.  And that doesn’t even include the two major artery interstates:  80 and 55!  80 being primarily the country’s “main drag” which Kay and I rolled across ad nauseum, like getting into the hundreds of times.  That’ll take us through Joliet and Peru.  And 55 is Chicago-to-New Orleans but 250 miles of that is the boring Illinois stretch across mostly monotonous land.


Yes, we’ve sailed down Illinois byways from the green, hilly landscape in Ohio River Valley towns such as Mt. Vernon, Marion and dilapidated Cairo, to flat land burgs such as Quincy on the muddy Mississippi River, to farming communities like Kankakee and factory towns such as Rockford.   And in suburban Wilmette, we saw the landmark Bahai Temple, shrine of worship for those of Bahai faith.


INOur favorite part of the Hoosier State was southern Indiana, which is lush, green and hilly.  The back roads there in springtime we found to be nice.   In spots, the bluffs overlooking the Ohio River can almost be described as magnificent.


Although we spent a lot of time in the big cities of Indianapolis and Ft. Wayne, we didn’t think they were anything to write home about – just your average urban sprawl.


Gary smiles on a bluff overlooking the Ohio River in southern Indiana. 

Gary smiles on a bluff overlooking the Ohio River in southern Indiana.

Elkhart is known as the “motor home capital of the world”, and so it happened that nearby Goshen became Steering Wheel Central for us as we started driving some of the motor homes out of the factory to dealers all over the country.  We noticed curiously how big RVs share the road with clomping horse & buggies driven by the ubiquitous Amish.

Kay is raring to go in an Indiana-manufactured RV in Elkhart, Ind. 

Kay is raring to go in an Indiana-manufactured RV in Elkhart, Ind.

Our least favorite area of Indiana is the polluted steel mill cities of Hammond and Gary, which can pass for Chicago suburbs.  There’s not much scenery there, so we never really tried to sightsee.


There was one interesting find that merits mentioning.  We were at this little town of Fairmount looking for a room late one September night, and found all of the motels completely full in the one-horse town.  The reason?  It was James Dean’s hometown, and they were having their annual shindig of James Dean Days.


IAIt’s hard for Kay and I to separate the words “cold” and “Iowa” out of the same sentence.  I can remember so many times traveling through Iowa practically freezing our tails off.  This is punctuated by the time we were going through Des Moines in December driving two motor homes…and had “his and her” breakdowns.  Yes, you read that correctly:  both broke down, in the bitter cold, no less.  It’s even worse up in northern Iowa.  As Winnebago has its factory in Forest City, Kay and I did a lot of driving in the area, and got to know that town and surrounding locales of Mason City and Clear Lake too.  Clear Lake, of course, is where “the music died” – Buddy Holly’s plane went down in (you guessed it!) a frozen cornfield outside of town.  Kay and I drove around and finally spotted the Surf Ballroom, last place Holly played before his death.

It can get hot in the summer, too.  I definitely remember that time we poured ourselves back into Iowa from Nebraska at Sioux City, dripping with sweat.


Kay as we go into the Hawkeye State of Iowa 

Kay as we go into the Hawkeye State of Iowa

 Due to the Winnebago motor homes, Waterloo, Cedar Rapids, Iowa City and Davenport became mainstays on our U.S. travel.  Helping to facilitate that fact was the world’s largest truck stop, Iowa 80 Truckstop, in Walcott, which we stopped in a time or two.  Out on the road, Iowa basically consisted of driving along, past cornfield after golden cornfield.  If looking at corn all day ever made us hungry, we could always stop in one of those riverboat casino buffets in suburban Council Bluffs on the Missouri River just a stone’s throw from Omaha, where we liked to fill our plates.

JAGuadalajara is Mexico’s 2nd largest city, and Kay drove through it with mastery.  Not to say that we always knew where we were or how to get to where we were going, mind you, as Mexican cities can be a jumbled mess for drivers, especially cities this large.  We did stop at a restaurant in Guadalajara to eat and see a mariachi band.  They call this city the “most Mexican” of all of Mexico.



does Kay look nervous? 

Driving in Guadalajara: does Kay look nervous?

 Guadalajara sign


Kay in tropical Puerta Vallarta, on the Pacific 

Kay in tropical Puerta Vallarta, on the Pacific

Puerta Vallarta, on the other hand, is just the opposite.  It’s such a world-class tourist destination that most people walking its cobblestone streets are English-speakers.  The most interesting aspect for us, though, was knowing that such a distant city is almost always arrived at by either cruise ship or plane, yet we got there overland.  It’s a nice, shining city on the Pacific coast; but I’m sure it’s been written about so much that no further elaboration is needed from me.  But I will note that our trip to Puerta Vallarta was a day trip, through the monkey-screeching jungles and around curves, down from where we were staying in Tepic, a day which was sandwiched between each of us getting horribly sick with a stomach bug.


KSI remember Kay and me slowly moseying on around Dodge City in our car, checking out what it must have been like to sit in the Long Branch long ago and hear tales of cattle drives out on the trail and gunfights on Main Street. But after an overnight stay and a few minutes of sightseeing, we got the hell out of Dodge. 


One time we came into the Sunflower State at greater Kansas City and then took the Kansas Turnpike over to Lawrence and Topeka. After that, our westward journey would take us through Salina and then become an endless expanse of straight highway as we rolled along looking at nothing but cattle and open western Kansas rangeland.  We hit Hays and Colby before hitting the Colorado line.


Kay, on the Kansas plains 

Kay, on the Kansas plains

The times that we headed out of Kansas City bound for Oklahoma or Texas, we’d cruise down to Emporia, where we’d pick up the Kansas Turnpike and go through Wichita before making it out of the state.


KYI can remember seeing the endless waves of Kentucky bluegrass stretching out across the horizon and the thoroughbred horses grazing on a hazy morning in western Kentucky as we’d pass near Paducah, Frankfort, Bowling Green or the Land Between the Lakes.


 I can also remember all the caves in central Kentucky, especially spelunking down inside wondrous Mammoth Cave, the largest cave in the world, as we’d play around Cave City or Horse Cave.

Gary there (above), while Kay cautiously approaches the entrance to Mammoth Cave in central Kentucky (below) 

The largest cave in the world: Gary there (above), while Kay cautiously approaches the entrance to Mammoth Cave in central Kentucky (below)

 Kay at Mammoth Cave

I can’t ever forget our maneuvering through one of Kentucky’s cities – Louisville, Lexington or Covington – so we could head out across some scenic byway carrying us to a more beautiful corner of the state.


Gary at Cumberland GapHow could we ever forget Appalachia? Camping out under the stars high up in the mountains on a chilly April night? Cumberland Gap and Dan’l Boone? The echoes of the Hatfields and McCoys? Poor mountaineers and grannies rockin’ on the old front porch? The classic hillbilly country we appreciated as we’d wind around steep mountain curves and through deep wooded “hollers” as we’d steer around Pikeville or Hazard? I’ll tell you one thing – I won’t ever forget the dark moonless night Kay and I came upon Breaks Interstate Park, on a night when it was so dark I couldn’t tell what was down there.  Was it a big body of water?  Was it a parking lot?  Was it some kind of complex?  Was it playground structures?  To this day, I have no idea and that was one spooky feeling.


LAKay in LouisianaIn 1995 I took a little trip, along with my wife Kay to the town of New Orleans…fortuitously on the day after Mardi Gras. Yes, we missed the big celebration, but we still got to see some vintage Crescent City: Bourbon Street in the world famous French Quarter, riverboats docked on the Mississippi River, the Louisiana Superdome and more.


Kay and I had the pleasure of driving across the longest bridge in the world, the 24-mile long causeway that spans Lake Pontchartrain – and for 8 miles we couldn’t even see land on either side!


Gary on the Mississippi River in New Orleans, La. 

Gary on the Mississippi River in New Orleans, La.


One time we took a back roads trip across mostly rural Louisiana, rolling past miles and miles of tall pine forests and rich delta soil all the way from the Texas line on Toledo Bend Lake through the central Louisiana town of Alexandria and over to the Mississippi River.



Gary in HoumaThe most memorable experience we had in the Pelican state, however, was the time we ventured down into the swamp. That’s right – we went deep into Louisiana bayou country, down around Houma, where we feasted on crawfish and gumbo and other Cajun delights.   We had some good Cajun food in Lafayette too, before trucking on over to Baton Rouge and then The Big Easy.  We actually drove around New Iberia one time, that’s New Iberia of Tabasco sauce fame.  Speaking of driving around, I can’t forget that morning we were driving around Lafayette and Kay found Cajun music on the radio – in French.


We even got really brave and wandered down a backwoods road that took us to what we referred to as “The End of the Earth” – the point where the road dead-ended in the outer reaches of the delta of the Mississippi River, just short of the deep blue waters of the Gulf of Mexico.  There’s not much beachfront in Louisiana, believe it or not, but we found what little there was at Holly Beach on a cross-Louisiana trip between Florida and Texas once.


Gary in the Lousiana swamp (above); shrimping boats down on the bayou in Louisiana (below) 

Gary in the Lousiana swamp (above); shrimping boats down on the bayou in Louisiana (below)

Boats on the Bayou






Speaking of Texas, does anyone else besides me think that Shreveport, Louisiana’s second-largest city, seems more like it belongs in Texas than in Louisiana?


METhe Pine Tree state is where Kay and I have been headquartered, but it’s easy to forget that for most of our first year together on the road, we hadn’t even gotten to share one of the prettiest states in the country.

A jovial Gary poses near the tranquil waters of Boothbay Harbor, on the Maine coast. 

A jovial Gary poses near the tranquil waters of Boothbay Harbor, on the Maine coast.

Our very first joint appearance in Maine was on a cool and rainy November afternoon, well after the last autumn leaf had fallen but well before the howling winds that portend the first snowfall of winter.


Before long, Maine was the epicenter of our business activity, and now we’ve come to know Maine, both geographically and politically, better than any other state, including our own respective birth states of Texas and Wisconsin.



We eventually became familiar with all the attractions in and around Portland, Maine’s largest city on Casco Bay. Among them: the most famous lighthouse on the East Coast, Portland Head Light in Cape Elizabeth; Portland’s Old Port District; camera-ready Deering Oaks; Munjoy Hill and the Eastern and Western Promenade; Monument Square downtown; and Peaks Island out in the bay.



The twin Cities of Lewiston and Auburn, on the Androscoggin River, became our home, while Portland has served as our national headquarters while on the road.  Maine turned out to be a good choice to return to time and time again because the state certainly has a lot of pretty scenery and Kay and I just about did it all in Vacationland.

Gary strikes a postcard pose on a quiet Christmas morning in the snow at Deering Oaks in Portland, Maine. 

Gary strikes a postcard pose on a quiet Christmas morning in the snow at Deering Oaks in Portland, Maine.

We’ve seen the quintessential fishing villages of Boothbay Harbor and Kennebunkport, all quiet and tranquil on a still winter’s day.


We’ve seen sandy beaches and rocky Maine coastline coexist at Reid State Park on the mid-coast of Maine, where the powerful waves of the cold Atlantic Ocean come crashing against the rocks.

Kay and Gary getting sprayed on the rocky coastline of Maine 

Kay and Gary getting sprayed on the rocky coastline of Maine

We’ve seen rocky shoreline at perhaps its most perfect at Acadia National Park, when we drove “Downeast”. It was there we witnessed a sweeping view of the ocean and much of the coastline from high atop Cadillac Mountain on Mt. Desert Island. Nearby we enjoyed Maine in all its summer glory at the little tourist town of Bar Harbor.


Farther “Downeast”, we stood at West Quoddy Head near Lubec and had the distinction of being on the easternmost point in the United States.


We stood shoulder to shoulder with the crowds at popular Old Orchard Beach, everybody vying for their turn to play in the water, walk on the pier, ride the carnival rides and eat fried clams and funnel cakes. In roughly the same vein, we once made an appearance at the king of all Maine summer festivals, the Maine Lobster Festival in coastal Rockland.


Yes, the Maine coast is superb, but Maine has a lot of fine inland scenery as well.


Kay and I have been to Fryeburg, in the western Maine mountains to one of New England’s premiere autumn harvest fairs. To walk around the Fryeburg Fair is to see, hear, smell, feel and taste autumn in New England at its best: to see the the hills aflame in a patchwork of fall colors, to hear the screams of the midway blend with animal bleats and grunts and squeals, to smell the smoked italian sausages and fried dough and corn dogs from the concession stands, to feel that crisp autumn air and to taste the fresh apple cider and cotton candy.


Kay and I have splashed around at Maine’s prettiest inland lakes, including Lake Webb in the Western Mountains, forested Sebago Lake in southern Maine, and the enchanting, forever-wild Moosehead Lake in the wilderness reaches of northern Maine, where Kay and I experienced one of our few moose sightings. It was also where Kay, my daughter Jenny and I took a boat across the waters to the sheer cliffs of Mt. Kineo and explored the really nice scenery at a place not even accessible by motor vehicle.


Even farther north, deeper into the wilderness yet, Kay and I have seen Mt. Katahdin, the highest point in Maine and the northernmost terminus of the famous Appalachian Trail that winds through the highest of the Appalachians from its starting point in Georgia. Mt. Katahdin sits in wild and rugged Baxter State Park which contains some of the wildest beauty seen in Maine. Even farther north still, Kay and I have taken our car as far as we could while doing our own exploration of the Allagash Wilderness Waterway in the remote northern Maine woods.

Gary experiences the Allagash wilderness of northern Maine. 

Gary experiences the Allagash wilderness of northern Maine.

In the “civilized” part of northern Maine, Kay and I have toured the hub of Aroostook County (largest county in the eastern U.S.) at Presque Isle, deep in potato farming country. We’ve been to the very end of important national highways at Houlton (Interstate 95, which starts in Miami, Fla.) and at Ft. Kent (U.S. 1, which starts in Key West, Fla.). And, of course, we zipped through the infamous wintertime trouble spot of Caribou, Maine…in the good ol’ summertime, just to be safe.


We’ve done business in all of the principal towns up and down Interstate 95, including Brunswick, Bangor, Waterville and of course, Maine’s little capital town of Augusta, on the Kennebec River.


Turn the page:









Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s