Crazy Trip™ 2010

Day One: Santa Barbara to Los Angeles to Arizona

South of Carpinteria, CA

Here I go! In my haste, I failed to photograph the train at the Santa Barbara Station. (I have no excuse for not photographing the station itself. It’s a lovely one, in keeping with the strict architectural guidelines of the city; plus, I had plenty of time there while I waited for the delayed train. Oops.)

This is one of my favorite stretches of coastline, but unfortunately it’s hard to photograph through a side-facing window.

Station Sign in Ventura, CA

Somehow I don’t think the images on the sign are really getting the job done…unless they’re not meant to have anything to do with the words above. To my mind, they suggest: “Curious? Have a Sloppy Joe!” (aka hamburger bun filled with ground beef in a tomato sauce), or perhaps “Inquire about Our Brick Handbag,” or even “Mental Confusion Possible, Super Magnet Nearby.”

Between Moorpark and Simi Valley, CA

Ah, yes. The lovely, crisp browns of summertime California. Is it really any wonder there’s such a danger of wildfires?

Simi Valley, CA

Coming out of a very, very, very long tunnel. Took a picture to celebrate.

Burbank, CA

Look what I had no idea I drove past every workday (and work-weekend) on my way from Laurel Canyon Blvd to the Technicolor Compound! One of many nice things about riding on the train is the height/different perspective. (And, yes, this allows for quite a bit of backyard-peeping.)

Union Station, Los Angeles, CA

Union Station in Los Angeles is not a bad place to have to spend a few hours. There are some pretty garden areas (all non-smoking) and interesting architectural details.

The Bagel Stop…or whatever it’s called (you get the idea)…has very nice bagel sandwiches and–as I later discovered–a large breakfast and coffee/espresso selection as well.

I have no idea, though, what the door in the picture below is all about. Set high above the Amtrak Ticket Counter and accessible … well, only from inside, I suppose, it seems strangely “Being John Malcovich.”

I suppose it’s for maintenance, but of what?

Door to Nowhere, Union Station

On my way again.

Ramp to Platform 11A

Go toward the light. Or, for a more coincidental interpretation, consider the old advice that the light at the end of the tunnel is that of an oncoming train. (Though in this case, it’s really sunshine and the stationary “Southwest Chief.”

Wow, that looks really tall. I bet there’s lots of room inside!

Oh. Okay. Maybe not so much.

It really looked bigger on the Amtrak website, but I see now that was from the clever removal of the door frame in the images.

As of this moment I no longer regretted the lack of a roommate to split the rather hefty cost of a sleeper.

For the curious, the two seats slide down, combining to form one bed. A second bed folds down from above.

(In the picture it’s in its daytime position, creating a slanting ceiling and greatly reducing headroom. Not that there is any space to move around in while standing. The hope of doing any sort of exercise in my “room” died a quick death here.)

And, with the “Emergency Procedures” card replaced by some (in theory) inspirational reading, I’m on my way again!

Sunset comes quickly, though, so rather than read the book, I occupy my time before being called to dinner by taking pictures. None of them succeeded, either with exposure, composition, or focus…but there’s a certain artistic quality to them, nevertheless (and one which I can in no way take credit for).

Day Two: Arizona to New Mexico to Colorado

Woke up to this view…

…and knew immediately I was back in my old home state. If only the window could’ve opened so I could smell the sharp, sweet scent of pine and morning dew on volcanic soil.  Ahh, the area of many happy childhood vacations and one completely insane junior high “Science Club” trip*.

*I feel the need to explain that, while I have nothing against science—or science clubs—per se, I joined because we were promised a multiple day hike into the Grand Canyon. This did not come about. We camped one night on the freezing rim, our campsite was invaded by youths claiming to be from a branch of the Crips…or the Bloods? I really can’t recall…while our adult supervision slept in the vans with the heaters running, and the hike we did manage to take for a few hours the next day took place on the Mule Trail amidst vast yellowish puddles. Ahem.

I’d forgotten how red the rocks and soil could be…

…or how many big-rigs are zooming along the highways at any given moment. And, with a speed limit of 85mph, I do mean zooming.

I don’t know exactly where in Northern Arizona this is, but I’d have really liked to wander around it a bit. Note the tipis above the…well, I don’t know what to call it. It’s not a cave, probably not a cavern. Anyway, there are tipis above the big, gaping hollow by the yellow things and the hand-lettered sign (and yet another big-rig).

New Mexico

Much as “birth state” pride would like me to claim this beautiful landscape is Arizona, too, it’s New Mexico. And, as the next batch of photos will show, definitely worth a more prolonged visit with a better camera/lens.

It wasn’t all red rock mountains, though. Sometimes it was relatively flat landscapes.

It started raining after lunch, and the train slowed to a crawl (and then stopped).

Apparently there were concerns of flooding ahead on the tracks, and possibly tornadoes in the area we were headed (Colorado and Missouri) which caused a chain-reaction of slowness on the tracks. For all of the big-rigs zooming around, there are freight trains rattling across America, too. Incredible, really. So much stuff to move around.

It was very beautiful, thankfully, as the train took 2.5 hours longer to move through the area than it was supposed to.

Dinner took place at a standstill in the middle of a verdant, rain-soaked plain, which allowed me to spot the critter pictured below. One of my dinner companions mused, “I wonder how long it took settlers to clear the land.” While the others nodded and said agreeable, thoughtful things I remained silent, though my face probably could’ve been interpreted to say something like, “what the hell are you talking about?” I decided later they all must have been from parts East, where land usually does come with things like trees and bushes.

Finally, we reached our stop in Raton, NM— which came as both a surprise and minor disappointment. Not that there was anything wrong with the place, but I’d assumed we’d reached Colorado by then, and this confirmed we were incredibly off schedule. I got out to enjoy the “fresh air” as suggested by the conductor and found it very fresh indeed until the crowd of deprived smokers poured from the train and began making up for both lost time and anticipated deprivation ahead.

Day Three: Colorado to Kansas to Missouri to Illinois

The next morning we stopped in Kansas City, Missouri. Why there needs to be the confusion of a Kansas City that’s not in Kansas, I don’t know. Wikipedia could probably tell me—or someone reading this could—but, really, I think I enjoy the mystery.

I also enjoyed the surprise, upon waking and looking out the window to find green trees, overgrown shrubs and vines, and lots of creeks, that my mother’s description of the state’s landscape was not at all accurate. For this part of it, anyway. 

I was reminded of the drive between Ashland and Medford, OR (along the old Highway)…but much more vivid a green and more water. (Okay, and a large industrial factory—though who knows, maybe the abandoned drive-in and nearby Adult Land have been replaced by a similar sort of industrial thing. It’s been awhile since I made the drive.)

After Missouri came Illinois, and if the state grows something other than corn, I didn’t see it out my window.   

Unfortunately, I didn’t see much of Chicago out my window, either. Though I tried, I really did.

I did have a few harried minutes to see Union Station, though — in between avoiding determined commuters and searching for the Amtrak Passengers Lounge (yet another reason to shell out the $$ for a sleeper: not only can you avoid the bulk of the passengers on the train, you can avoid them in the bigger stations, too).

Views on the next train, the “Capitol Limited,” weren’t much better.

This was taken while on a bridge. The darkness on the left is the wall of the train compartment and the window frame. The darkness on the right is a bridge support beam.

I know that technically I can say “I’ve been to Chicago,” but it just doesn’t feel like I have. It’s like my saying “yeah, I’ve been to Paris,” when really I sat in the below-ground bus terminal for several hours (twice), having arrived (and later departed) in the near-dark.

I’d hoped to have a great view of the great Lake Michigan, too, and that went all to hell as well. Mostly all I saw were trees and factories. Here is my one, mostly unadulterated glimpse of something my mother has mentioned in countless stories of her past.

Here is what I had really fantastic views of and was quite happy to take pictures of…until the camera battery died.

It’s Smiling at Me.

Day Three Continued: Illinois to Indiana to Ohio

This all took place either while the camera battery was charging or after the sun set, so I have no pictorial record.

Day Four: Pennsylvania to Maryland to West Virginia to Virginia to Maryland (again) to D. C.

I awoke to views of foggy, forested mountains and rivers…and knew it would be a good day, wherever it was. Turns out it was Pennsylvania, where I’ve got deep, thick roots on both sides of the family tree.

Much of the time, the train was moving too quickly past trees, making for such horrendous photos that I gave up and (selfishly) simply enjoyed the scenery sans camera.

I did manage a few shots while the train slowed, and it was during this part of the trip (day four of passing abandoned building after abandoned factory after abandoned building) that I began to wonder what had happened—or was happening—in this country that a.) so many businesses and industries shut down or went elsewhere, leaving their former residences vacant, and b.) so many architectural gems are left empty and, mostly, left to rot. It can’t be just me that wants to see buildings such as this restored; perhaps not exactly as they once were, depending on how best to make them useful, functioning members of their communities again.

Later, as the train moved out of the forests, it became easier (though subject to window-glare) to take pictures again. This is either Pennsylvania or Maryland. 

The East in late July seems to be a study in green. Pennsylvania’s green was dark and on the blue side of the spectrum, becoming a brighter and more yellowed green as it shifts into Maryland and West Virginia.

West Virginia into Virginia (and back into Maryland) seems a drier place, and one which immediately calls to mind images of the Civil War. (Odd that, since those images are black-and-white or sepia and, from what I’ve seen, rarely even tinted.) 

Martinsburg, West Virginia (where, I realized years later, I have Finley roots)

Thankfully, the buildings above had posted signs advertising an ongoing restoration project.

The greens became “more green” again as we moved through Harpers Ferry and into Washington, DC.

Never had I imagined that I would visit Washington, DC once let alone twice in as many years. Yet here I was, back again.

Union Station, Washington, D. C.

I know a lot of people complain about “having” to visit Washington, DC–especially in the middle of summer–but I enjoy it. And the city may have its problems, but architecture in the city center is not one of them. On my list of Union Stations visited, this one gets the award for Most Grand.

It’s ridiculously stunning, really, and I’m glad I had such a lengthy layover. Glad.

One of my favorite photo sets ever:

Birds, Birds, Birds
Oh, the birds. The birds.
“I’m ignoring you.”

This spot in a park is where I spent a simultaneously amusing and frustrating 20+ minutes trying to help my mother bring up Union Station, Washington DC on her iPad using either its Maps App or Google Maps. The iPad slogan “You already know how to use it” is not strictly accurate. If you’ve never dealt with an iPhone, iPod Touch, or indeed any computer since 2004, you do not intuitively, instinctively, or in any other way shape or form “already know how to use” an iPad.

Oh—there are millions (just a guess) of teeny tiny ants running around where a person’s feet might be should that person choose to sit on the bench while conversing with her mother.

It looks like a normal squirrel, right?


Try again.

Having given up on my mother’s iPad as far as finding out exactly where I was in DC, I decided to simply walk towards a fancy white building which I thought might possibly be the back of the Capitol Building. I was wrong…by one block. So, I happily walked around the entire structure, my camera in action far too often. I will try to restrain myself here and only post a few.

When I’d walked the Mall last year, I turned around three or four blocks before this in what would prove to be an hour-long search for a public restroom in the opposite direction.

As far as that search went, after hurrying past the White House, I found toilets near the Washington Monument. If you look on a map—perhaps on an iPad—you can see what a bizarre journey that was.

My compartment from DC to Orlando. Yes, it had the smallest seat space, but that was so there was room for a sink and toilet. There was also a window for the upper bed (so that’s where I chose to sleep) and a place across from it to stash all my luggage.

And power outlets I could use for my phone and computer. Luxury, indeed!

I’d looked forward to seeing Virginia and The Carolinas on my journey south.

Day Five: D. C. to Virginia to North Carolina to South Carolina to Georgia to Florida

Unfortunately, we passed through them in the dark.

I woke up for Georgia, though, and was excited to see hanging moss and other swampy looking scenery.

Picture-taking was mostly a waste of time, though, since the rising sun was hitting my windows. You can see the horrible glare (and the reflection of my hand) in the images.

My first impressions of Florida agreed with my  assumption that it was a place I never wanted to live, not even if I were paid to do so.

Jacksonville, Florida

It seemed hot, with bright and unforgiving sun and a huge disparity between economic classes (namely, that there were only two: those with money and those with none whatsoever).

Poor picture-taking conditions continued, so I don’t have any recorded images of very blah strip malls and blockish “looks like California suburbs” architecture.

Nor, more unfortunately, do I have any images of the lovely lakes and lush greenery. It was the latter that made me qualify my thinking. Possibly, if someone paid me to do so, I might consider living in Florida for a brief time.

I do have some shots of hanging moss, though, since not even horrendous window glare could keep me from snapping away at something I’ve had a fascination with since childhood. (Why, you ask? I’ve no idea. Crazy Desert Born and Bred Kid.)

Hopefully, if I were paid to live in Florida—and paid a lot—I would not be required to move around much or quickly. It’s very humid. And hot.

Amazingly hot, as I discovered when I stepped out of the train in Orlando.

Orlando, Florida

Yes, it was in the midst of a heat wave…but, still. Really, really hot.


Westward Bound, Day (or rather, Night) One: Florida to Alabama to Mississippi to Louisiana

I rode the bus, for one, and don’t like taking pictures out the window when some stranger is sitting beside me. For another, most of this ride was done at night. I could hardly see anything out there, let alone try to take a picture of it.

I suppose, had I wanted to draw even more attention to myself at the various Greyhound Stations I and my fellow travelers were forced to spend time in while our bus was “cleaned” for no reason at all (it was perfectly clean), I could have taken pictures then. I did not. These stops occurred at the joyous hours of 2 and 4 am. I had thoughts only for not interacting with anyone liable to come unhinged and to not missing the announcement to get the hell back on the bus.

New Orleans: The French Quarter

 This picture was taken around 9am. So…yes. It was very hot that day.

And, obviously, it was not a dry heat.

Please do not tell me the calorie or fat content of these delicious, fried hunks of sugar-coated dough. They are wonderful. Absolutely wonderful. (Especially when consumed from a paper bag while seated beside the Mississippi River…which is very convenient for cleansing one’s clothing and self of the inevitable dusting of powdered sugar.)

Day Two: New Orleans (Garden District and French Quarter)

Lafayette Cemetery No. 1

I got to the Cemetery an hour before closing. This was lucky for two reasons. One, I was able to go inside and wander around. Two, I was limited to an hour. Otherwise, it’s possible that I would have wandered around, sans lunch and water, all day…and into the evening taking hundreds of pictures. Like every place I went in the city, it is worthy of many, many returns. 

Do not do as I did and pay the standard fare when planning on taking multiple cars during the day. Buy an RTA pass from the “driver.” $5 in exact change.

Having gone to film school in Covent Garden, London and walked many times and many different routes through Soho and frequently ridden a bus through Camden Town, I found Bourbon Street more amusing than shocking. Amusing because of the facial expressions of various tourists when they realized what exactly those nubile young women were doing in the doorway and/or photo displays outside what were not, strictly speaking, bars.  

I was, however, amazed by the sound systems in the venues which were, strictly speaking, bars which allowed for the sounds coming out of one door to obliterate within a step or two, the sounds coming out the next.

Day Three: Louisiana to Texas

Leaving New Orleans well behind. And I’m once again West of the Mississippi.

All too quickly,  one more “thing I’ve always wanted to see”—a bayou—is zoomed past.


Here begins the train’s day-long journey across Texas. And, by “day” I mean 24 hours. Or more.

This being August, I was surprised to find Texas was green. I suppose I’d assumed that just past the Louisiana border, plant life would become brown, grass dry, and so on.

I stand corrected. West Texas is rather wet.

It is also rather flat.

Heck—it’s very flat…with streets like a Texas-sized bowling lane.

And so the sun set as the train chugged across Texas.

Day Four: Texas and Texas and Texas and Texas to New Mexico to Arizona

The sun rose on the train…continuing to chug through Texas.

Ahh, here are the browns I was looking for. Though, honestly, still more green than I’d thought it would be.

Too bad for me, the Rio Grande was on the other side of the train from my compartment; so when it was announced that we were going to be traveling alongside it for awhile, I balanced myself at the top of the stairs and tried to take pictures out a window I couldn’t quite see out of myself. I guess that’s one benefit to a compact camera with a view-screen.

I had a great view of the Pecos…though I suppose both sides of the train did. This was fantastic.

And, as I was now “West of the Pecos,” I was well and truly in The West. I found it surprisingly moving. Moving because other than two years in England, I’ve never lived anywhere but The West. Surprising because I’ve always thought I’d prefer to live elsewhere. I guess there’s something about it that gets baked into the bone.

Not only was the whole “hey, it’s kinda green here” thing surprising, but so was the variety of landscapes.

Texas has strange pointy mountains and soft, muted colors—as if someone had painted them with oil pastels.

It has reddish rocks that protrude from soft, grassy slopes dotted with round bushes and jumping cactus (cholla).

I’ve heard that “they grow ’em big in Texas.” That’s certainly the case with thunderclouds outside El Paso.

Texas has rolling green hills with large shrubs–or perhaps some sort of low-growing pine? It was hard to tell from the train.

And, continuing with the “varied landscape” theme, Texas has sandstone hills and mountains.

Growing in the foreground above are ocatillo cactus and creosote. One of the things I miss by living on the California coast is the wonderful smell of creosote after a rain.

And Texas has flat-topped mountains (aka mesas) surrounded by oh-so-familiar desert scrub.

My last view of Texas from my compartment before going to dinner. By the time I returned, the train had entered New Mexico…and perhaps left that as well. There was only a small corner of the state to get through before Arizona.

Finally! New Mexico and Arizona

Summer storms in Arizona make up some of my most vivid—and favorite—memories of childhood. The way the air feels; the smell of rain, damp desert soil, and (as mentioned before) creosote. It defies description…and must be experienced.

I have said it before (though probably not here), and I will most likely say it throughout the rest of my life: there is no sunset like an Arizona sunset.

And what a wonderful “Welcome Back” it was for me to be treated to both a summer storm and a sunset.

Or close enough to it. The train pulled into Los Angeles early in the morning of the next day, and from there it was a short trip home to Santa Barbara…in the midst of the Old Spanish Days equestrian parade, which made for a really fun welcome and walk home. (Written without sarcasm. It really was fun.)