Vacation 2017 Days I & II

Yesterday morning, my family and I departed for our vacation. While I originally planned on writing a blog post for that day, it was so uneventful that I figured I’d consolidate the first two days into a single entry.

Our vacation is primarily to Yellowstone, though we are seeing some other places as well such as the Big Horn Mountains and the Tetons. We have made this trip before in the summers of both 2008 and 2013. However, I still look forwards to making the journey again.

The first day of driving was from our home to Oacoma, South Dakota. We left at about 9:15, a bit later than anticipated but not late enough that we would drive deep into the night. We attempted to stop as little as possible, though we did take time to see the Corn Palace in Mitchell, South Dakota. It had been remodeled since our last visit in 2008, though the concept was the same and the experience didn’t differ much. When we arrived, we ate at a restaurant known as “Al’s Oasis”, located right off of Interstate 90 in Oacoma. It was our third time visiting, and it was not as good as I remembered it being. However, my parents seemed to really enjoy it.

Today, we left at a similar time to yesterday, and drove about two hours to the Badlands. There is a place just outside of there where you can feed prairie dogs peanuts, and it was rather fun. My sister really enjoyed it in the past, though she is not travelling with us this year. Afterwards, we made our way into the actual park.

The visitor center has a lab in which you can watch technicians clean real dinosaur fossils. I personally thought it’d be annoying to work in a room full of loud tourists, though they did have headphones on and seemed quite engaged in their duties. They also had a gift shop, with the usual items which you would expect from such a place.

We drove through the park on the main road, making a stop where I attempted to walk up a steep trail. However, I did not have the proper shoes on and the trail was slippery with gravel, so

The exit road of the park deposits one in the small town of Wall, best known for the famous “Wall Drug”. I only explored about half of it before it was time to go, and didn’t see “dinosaur” or six foot tall “rabbit”. I purchased 0.29 pounds of M&M fudge, which was a bit expensive but of great quality. I also got a scoop of butter pecan ice cream, which I neither enjoyed nor finished. Besides food, I made no purchases and took little interest in most of the merchandise being sold, though some of the historic objects on display were interesting.

An hour west of Wall is the road to Mount Rushmore, which we took most of the way down before turning onto Iron Mountain Road, a scenic route in the Black Hills of South Dakota. The road was built to be scenic and winding, having the road take bridges over itself and through tunnels which frame the faces of Mount Rushmore. We did not visit the monument proper but did see it from a distance.

After taking the road over the peak of Iron Mountain, we then went down the Needles Highway. We had to pay an entrance fee to go into Custer State Park, but it was worth it. The road was a bit boring yet relaxing at first, but eventually we reached the needles, giant pinnacles of stone that rise out of the mountains. I’ll include photos here once I get them off of my phone.

We eventually came out of the hills and into the state of . We were getting hungry , so I decided to search for restaurants along the route. I found a place known as “Wayback Burgers” on US 16 in Newcastle, Wyoming. Apparently, it’s a nationwide chain, though I had not heard of it till earlier today. It was a rather nice place for a town of 3500 in the middle of Wyoming. I figure it probably got a significant portion of its business from tourists heading to and from the Black Hills, since it is one of the only places to eat on the stretch of road. I got a double cheeseburger, and the chipotle mayonnaise I got on it was quite good. The burgers were not cheap, but I thought it was better than comparable restaurants Five Guys and Meatheads. However, my parents did not share the sentiment.

Driving across Wyoming was fairly bland, with the population fairly spread out. It was a few more hours to get across the state to Sheridan, where I am currently writing in the Super 8 motel. It’s not the nicest hotel I’ve been in but It’s nice to finally have a bed after a day in the car. Tomorrow we traverse the Big Horn Mountains on US14 and US14A, which is one of my favorite drives. There are breathtaking views that I look forwards to experiencing again. We are staying by Old Faithful tomorrow, which should have usable internet to update this page. I look forwards to letting you know how it goes.

Day VI: Into the White Mountains

I slept in a bit since we arrived at the Holiday Inn Express in Hadley at about 2 last night. My Dad got me a bit of breakfast to eat from downstairs, but I went back to bed after eating it. My brother and mother toured Hampshire College, which they said looked really nice. It’s definitely an interesting place, and my brother shared the sentiment.

When we stopped at McDonalds this morning, I noticed that they served a lobster sandwich. At $8.99, they are a bit costly, and when I got one, I sort of viewed it as one of those weird things that exists but probably shouldn’t.

We took I-93 up the valley of the Connecticut River, towards Franconia where my family spent the night. I could finally see the New England scenery, and it was nice being around the hills and small towns.

We arrived at the Franconia Best Western at around three, and took a few minutes to settle in. My cousin Susan lives just down the road and let us spend some time at her house. She ordered pizza for us from a local place, and it was good. We also picked up some candy from a local store called Chutter’s, and baked goods from the French Sisters’. All of us sat around for a few hours talking about life until about ten when we went back to our hotel to sleep.

Days III & IV: Washington, DC

We woke up at about 9:30, since we had to figure out how to use the Metro and get to Ford’s Theatre by 11:00. Our current hotel does not serve complimentary breakfast, and we did not have time to get anything on the way to the Metro.

The Rosslyn Metro platform is in a tube roughly 40 feet tall and a bit wider, located at an elevation of 97 feet below ground. The reason for such depth is the location of the entrance on a bluff overlooking the Potomac, which the train tunnels under. An escalator heads down to the station, and the depth left me in awe since I did not expect it. My father purchased cards for us, preloaded with a bit of money. I liked the cards, due to ease of use and convenience. The only problem is that we had to be careful not to have any money left on them at the end of the trip.

While I enjoyed seeing the interior of Ford’s Theatre and the exact place where Lincoln was shot, I did not find the museum in the basement as interesting. My parents purchased the audio tour, which continued for a very long time. The two hours we spent in there and the Peterson House felt like forever to me.

To anybody interested in the history of Ford’s Theatre or the Lincoln assassination, I recommend reading the National Park Service’s report on the Theatre’s design. It can be read online for free, or purchased cheaply.

We went to a Chipotle at the edge of the Chinatown neighborhood, and I got a bowl. The prices for food in DC are quite high, but we had to eat somewhere. The city was OK for a city, but being from the suburbs, I tend not to like crowds and crowded streets. Our family typically goes to quieter areas, but it wasn’t too bad doing something different.

Afterwards, we travelled down to the National Air and Space Museum. I saw quite a bit in the museum, but don’t feel like describing it in detail. After all, anybody can go down their and see the exhibits, and there are certainly countless accounts, photos, and videos of the exhibits.

We headed back to our room and rested a bit before getting dinner at a small bar known as “The Sign of the Whale”. It was located Northwest of the city, and served the usual burgers and beers. I liked the urban hole-in-the-wall feel of the place. Most of the customers were in about their 30’s, though I imagine they get more college students when school is in session.

The second day was another day mostly dedicated to visiting museums and other tourist attractions. We toured the Holocaust Museum, and proceeded to walk to the Washington Monument and Lincoln Memorial. We also saw the Capitol and White House from the outside, but did not have time to arrange for tours.

On our way back we went to a place on the campus of Georgetown University known as “FoBoGro”, which is short for “Foggy Bottom Grocery”. Upstairs is a convenience store for local students, and downstairs they serve hot sandwiches. I got a Cuban-style sandwich, and we all enjoyed the quality.

We got back to the hotel early, since the constant walking gets rather exhausting. My brother went down to the swimming pool, but I wanted to just relax.

The Best Western we stayed at had a number of problems. We switched rooms for the last night since our AC unit was not working, though the replacement room wasn’t too much better. The artwork was also poorly chosen. Each room contains two pictures: “Kissing the War Goodbye” and a stock photo of the Iwo Jima memorial. There were various photos of the Iwo Jima memorial everywhere, some taken from slightly different angles but a lot being repeats. One of the hallways even is overlooked by a six foot wide painting of the memorial. I could even see two copies of the same poster from some positions.

It was nice to be in DC for a bit, but I couldn’t wait to get out and explore the rest of the East Coast.

~Bob

Day II: Pennsylvania

We had to get up at about 8:30 for the tour that my brother had scheduled. The campus of Juniata College is situated at the north-western end of town, and is composed of a mixture of both old and new buildings. I did not stay with my parents for the information sessions, since I have sat through quite a few of those during my own college search. I did give myself a little tour myself, and found the facilities to be of a high quality. They even have a business incubator, where students can receive capital in order to launch their ventures.

I walked about a mile down the street from which I came, to visit the shops and other attractions of the old downtown. The Motor Inn had a brochure for that area, and given my curiosity for small town gift shops and adventurous spirit, I had to check it out. The streets were lined with fine nineteenth century architecture, many buildings having plaques noting a National Register of Historical Places designation.

not remember the name of but will try to find, was a small antique shop. I walked in shortly after it opened for the morning, and saw a number of various items. The variety of books especially interested me, such as the old Arabian Nights edition with stunning illustrations, the Swedish translation of the Book of Mormon, and the fake book that had a secret compartment. But what interested me the most was a book, printed in 1897 (though initially published about ten years prior), used by a German immigrant to learn the English language. It contained over 2,000 engravings (sketches) of English word meanings. Considering the effort required to produce a book with so many engravings, it must have been an expensive book when it was new. I purchased it and after minor repairs will add it to my collection.

“Mary’s bargains” largely dealt in entertainment and video games, but also had hotwheels cars and various toys for children. The lady who was working (presumably Mary) told me that students would often patronize her store. A staff member at the college later confirmed this, claiming students utilize it as a source for bicycles and DVDs. Her husband avidly enjoys video games, especially for older systems, having “every single system” according to her. Boxes sat under the counter of various games for systems of bygone generations, with a significant collection of NES and Genesis cartridges. As the name implies, the pricing is bargain in nature, but demand has grossly inflated prices of older games and even bargains are more than I am willing to pay.

I also checked out the library and historical society. A prominent citizen of the town donated two grand houses next door to each other for them many years ago. The library seemed popular among the local children spending their break, though there were also adults. Two clerks manned the desk, and I figured that while the collections couldn’t have totaled more than ten thousand volumes or so, it was still significant for a town of such a small size.

The historical society had several exhibits outside on the lawn, such as a parade float from the late 19th century, a canal mile marker, and an old train station sign. I decided not to go inside due to time constraints.

After being done seeing the town and college, we drove down to Gettysburg to see the battlefield. We followed the recommended driving tour route, and saw a large number of monuments and signs. The Pennsylvania monument was the most amazing, being a hundred feet tall with stairs to the top.

We made it to the hotel at about ten, and wanted to go to Chili’s afterwards. We drove to one in Arlington, but due to the lack of parking, continued on to the next closest one to our hotel in the suburb of Bailey’s Crossroads. The restaurant was understaffed, and the staff present did not do a good job. For instance, I did not get the item I ordered. I got a similar item, though they charged us for what I got so I wasn’t too upset.

We got back at 11:30, and went straight to sleep. We had an exciting day ahead of us, and couldn’t wait to see the city.

~Bob

The “Wild” Ride

Yesterday, I rode across the endless flatlands of the Midwest and into the hills of the East. We left at about 2:20 yesterday, among heavy traffic leaving the city. My mom and I ate at Chipotle (because Chiptopia of course!), while my dad and brother ate at Chick-fil-A off of US 20 in South Bend. We also saw in Elkhart a McDonalds with a castle-esque exterior, though it possessed a typical interior.

We drove into the night, across Ohio and half of Pennsylvania. I tried to get a sundae in the McDonalds at the Brady’s Leap Service Plaza near Youngstown, but ten minutes after I paid, the cashier informed me that the machine was not operating at the time. In addition, I received extremely sluggish service – during my wait, they called only one customer’s order, and they still had several to go before reaching mine. Despite being left unsatiated, I enjoyed the relief of not having to wait for an even longer time.

I find the Ohio Turnpike’s Service plazas peculiar, in that their similarities trigger a feeling of déja vú. Yet I am often left uncertain as to whether I had actually been to that plaza or if it’s another location I’m reminded of. I even once remembered an event having occurred at a plaza, then after remembering a detail, recognizing it could not have been the same place.

We descended into not only the valleys of the Allegheny range, but also a dense fog. My father driving could only see a few seconds in front of us, and we had to slow down on the interstate.

At 3AM, we arrived in the quaint town of Hundington, nestled in an Alleghanian valley bisected by a picturesque river. Located within the town is Juniata college, a liberal arts college which my brother is considering attending. We stayed at the Hundington Motor Inn for our short rest, due to its status as the cheapest lodging near the college. Despite detestation of the place from my parents, I found the room acceptable, though the pillows were quite thin.

I am uncertain if I will finish the post about today this night. Nevertheless, I look forwards to telling you about exploring both Huntingdon and the site of the sanguinious Battle of Gettysburg.

~Bob

Family Vacation 2016

Tomorrow, my family and I are leaving on a vacation to the East Coast. My sister is not coming with, since she is employed back in Grinnell, but the rest of us are driving all the way to Washington DC.

I got quite a few books to read during the trip. I checked out a copy of Pynchon’s “The Crying of Lot 49” and James Joyce’s “Dubliners” from the library to read during the drive. I also am bringing a science fiction anthology I picked up at a thrift shop in late May.

Unlike last year’s vacation, I should have reliable internet throughout my travels, and intend to update this blog every night.

Feel free to subscribe to my blog. If you enter your email on the left side of the screen, you will recieve updates whenever I post.

I look forwards to sharing my adventures with you,
Bob

Yet another update

The last semester went well. I wish I updated this page a bit more during it, but I guess it’s good that I at least write a post once in a while.

I’m going to be this busy this summer, working a full forty hours each week. I am thankful that I have an internship through which I can gain development skills that are directly applicable to my career and interests.

I’m studying this summer to hopefully pass out of differential equations (MATH 286) and discrete structures (CS 173). I’m currently signed up to take algorithms (CS 225), Thermal Physics (PHYS 213), Quantum Physics (PHYS 214), and should I pass proficiency tests, Analog Signal Processing (ECE 210).

I also plan on doing some projects this summer besides my work and studies. I have a few good ideas, and will post about them once I get started.

Next semester, I look forwards not just to my new classes to living in an apartment. I’m renting a private room, and while I prefer not to state the exact location here, it is within 1000 feet of the ECE building, which works well for me. It’s much better than last year, when I lived about 1.2 miles away at LAR. Another reason for moving out was my desire to make my own food, and while I have little cooking experience, the campus dining options will no longer restrict my freedom.

Also, I’ve thought about starting another blog to provide a more casual place for me to post about my small thoughts and other stuff not important enough to make it here. I make no promises, but might get that up in a few weeks.

Life at College

Hello,

It has been a while since I have had a chance to update this blog. I have been busy as of lately, and to be honest, have sort of forgotten about this page. What follows are a few notes regarding the past few months of my life.

  • As many of you probably know, I am majoring in Computer Engineering. In addition, I am now considering a minor in physics.
  • I really enjoy the Computer Engineering curriculum at UIUC. Even though I have a decent amount of experience, I am still learning a lot through the courses I’m taking.
  • I’ve also been involved in various extracurriculars as well, when I’m not doing homework.
  • I’ve been working full-time coding over this break, as I have in the past. However, I still work a bit on side projects and reading in my spare time.
  • Next semester, I’m taking ECE 220, ECE 110, FR 103, PHYS 212, and PHYS 225. I look forwards to taking some more advanced classes.

I’m really excited about what the future holds for me, and that 2016 may be even greater than 2015 was.

I still have a few more weeks of break, and hope to enjoy them, though I’m also excited for school.

I hope to see  you all soon,

Bob

Another Update

Hello,

I am currently in a hotel room in Grand Forks, North Dakota. Despite being the third largest city in the state, it is still pretty small, having about 54,000 residents according to the Census Bureau. After spending several days in the park with limited internet, sleeping in a small cabin room with primitive accommodations, it is really nice to be in a spacious queen-sized bed with air conditioning and wi-fi. However, I still miss the relaxing feeling of sitting by Lake McDonald late at night, looking across at the faint mountains on the other side, quite except for the soft breath of the wind. I will attempt to briefly go over what has happened on each day of this vacation between my last blog post and now.

July 28 – We slept in a bit, leaving the hotel at about 10:30. There was a bit of debate over which hike to do, but after much argument, we agreed upon the Apgar Lookout Trail. It’s located in the far south-east corner of the park, so close to the edge that we could even see houses, trains, the road, and even a golf course below from trail. It was about 7.1 miles round-trip with 1900 feet of elevation gain. Despite the steep hike of about three hours up and two hours down, I found it to be well worth the view of Lake McDonald from the top. We made it to the Lake McDonald lodge, where we would spend three nights. I did not like the cabin, since it was extremely small and the bathroom door did not lock or close properly. However, the main lodge building, constructed in 1914, was quite grand, and was a great place to relax in late at night after a day of hiking.

July 29 – Being still tired and sore from the hike up to the Apgar lookout, we decided that we would take it easy for a day and head over to the Two Medicine region. This was one of the areas of the park which we had not visited at all during our past trips, and my mother was very interested in seeing it. It was extremely crowded, and we had to park in the campground. I purchased an elk sausage from the store, since I was really hungry. After checking out the area and stopping at the ranger station, we decided to walk to Aster Falls.

While the hike was not long, it was a bit longer than we intended to hike for. Still, we managed to completed it without significant difficulty. I personally feel as if the falls were not too impressive and ultimately not worth the hike through the forest. After cooking a dinner at the picnic area, we made a stop by Running Eagle Falls. Along with being a shorter hike (less than 0.6 miles round trip), I personally thought they were more impressive. Along the route back, also stopped by a general store and hostel named “Brownie’s” in East Glacier, where we got ice cream. It was well worth the price, and trying the huckleberry flavour was an interesting experience.

July 30 – The original plan for the day was to at least drive up to the Highline Trail. While we did not think that we’d be able to hike the entire distance, it was thought that we would at least be able to take a look. Unfortunately Going to the Sun Road, the main route through the park, which the trail access was located upon, had partially reopened just the previous day. Therefore, many people were rushing to get the the areas they previously could not access. As our car approached the Avalanche Creek Campsite, the road was already backed up, with a line of cars as far as we could see. We therefore decided that we would check out Bowman Lake in the remote North Fork region of the park, and possibly check out the Highline Trail later.

The route to Bowman Lake required leaving the park and passing through the national forest. We went on a mixture of paved and unpaved roads, through both forest and ranches. Despite not seeing many other people on the way there, the lake was rather busy with a number of visitors. There were a few hikes in the area, such as the one over the ridge to the Quartz lakes; nevertheless, they were all rather long and we were not in a hiking mood. After spending some time eating, we began the drive back. A stop was made at the Polebridge Mercantile, the only store in the North Fork valley. They had various goods that were rather expensive – expected given the remote location. I did not buy anything since I figured I could wait until I got back into town.

Once we made it back, we decided to try making it up Going to the Sun Road again. The ranger at the entrance station claimed that the road was less busy. While there were quite a few people at the parking lot when we first arrived, it turned out that most of them were leaving, since the visitor centre had just closed. We only hiked for a few minutes on the trail, but still managed to get a great view of the valley below.

July 31 – We had wanted to go to the Many Glacier area, where we planned on spending a night before the fire changed our plans. However, we saved it for the last day, since it was on the way out. While the plans were originally to hike to the Ptarmigan Tunnel, we eventually decided to hike to Grinnell Glacier instead. The decision was made because guidebooks suggested it was both easier and more scenic. While looking back, they were probably the same difficulty, I do think that seeing a glacier that is slowly melting and won’t last forever is more impressive than seeing a man-made tunnel that will remain for generations. It was the sunniest day of the trip, and the trail had very little cover for shade. We ran out of water fast, and had to drink from a waterfall. Luckily, none of us have gotten sick yet. The way down was slightly easier, not only because of not going up, but because the sun was lowering and provided shade from the cliffs. While it felt a lot more difficult due to conditions, it probably was not quite as difficult as the Apgar Lookout trail. Once we made it back to the car, we couldn’t wait to eat dinner, and while it was sad leaving the park, it was exciting to finally go into town.

August 1 – As the car sped across the wastelands of northern Montana along U.S. Route 2, I looked  back on the fun I had. It was great being with my family, and especially seeing my sister for a week. We drove taking as few breaks as possible, making it all the way from Shelby, MT to Grand Forks, ND where I am now – a distance of over 750 miles! However, about 11 hours remain, including the detour to drop my sister off. It’s going to be sad getting rid of her, since it’ll be a while before we see each other again.

It is currently 2 AM and I should be sleeping now and not blogging. Therefore, I am going to sleep now. Stay tuned for photos and (possibly) a final post about the ride home.