Friday, September 2, 2011

Road Trip, Part III

Steve, Dogs & Topeka Capitol

OK, so I'm a little behind here, but that, above, was me on the steps of the Kansas Capitol on Topeka on Tuesday. This is where, in the summer of 1993, my fascination with statehouses began. As an intern at the Topeka Capital-Journal, I used to sit on those steps at sunset and write letters. The steps were as lovely and broad as I recalled, and I did sit to write some letters there, too. But holy Christ it was hot out, so the recreation of a younger self's romantic habit was sort of rushed so as to not kill my dogs. They lived, by the way, as seen here with my travel companion, Amy:

Amy & Pups at Kansas Capitol

All this said, it seems appropriate that I'd discover upon my return visit to Topeka that I'd been doing the state capitols thing all wrong all this time. I chatted up the visitors reception desk lady, told her of my hobby and how it all started here, and she says to me, "Well, do you have The Book?"

Uh, what book?!?

Turns out, there's a book. And hobbyists are supposed to get them stamped when they visit different capitol buildings. Yes, there's a frigging stamp, too. See?

Kansas Capitol Stamper

I kinda wish someone had told me about this, say, 18 years and 35 capitols ago. Grrr.

There are plenty of interior photos of the Topeka capitol in the Flickr slideshow for days 5 and 6 of the big road trip to Michigan, the player for which you'll find at the end of this post.

But the big revelation of this leg of the trip was the sensational Missouri Capitol in Jefferson City, which was simply so impressive. I was blown away from the entry to the gorgeous dome and meaningful artwork throughout, but then I also got sort of lucky.

You see, I always ask if there's any way to climb to the top of the dome. This worked in Providence, you may recall. And here, the word from the visitors reception folks was that you could do it only if you were escorted by "someone with a key." Who have keys? Every state representative. One fellow on an elevator -- I asked if he was a state rep! -- told me to just go into any rep's office and ask. So I stepped in here...

Missouri Rep. Mary Nichols' assistant took Steve up Missouri Capitol Dome

...and the wonderful lady who works with Rep. Mary Nichols, D-Maryland Heights, Mo., was happy to do it. That meant walking me behind the upper edge of the House chambers, which resulted in this Death Star-esque photo:

Death Star-like lattice behind Missouri House chamber

Then she unlocked a padlock, came with me part of the way to shoot this...

Steve in Missouri Dome, 2

...and told me where to go before letting me climb up there by myself. There's a little walkway that encircles the very top, and I got some wonderful shots of Jefferson City and the Missouri River it straddles.

Many more images of this adventure are in the Flickr show. But it was interesting to spot this sign:

Tornado Shelter in Topeka

It was surprising to see such explicit art on the grounds of the building once overseen by ex-Gov. John Ashcroft, who had the Department of Justice cover up naughty bits of statues in DC when he was the Attorney General. Go ahead, enlarge this to see that the sculptor clearly gave this stone statue some, uh, wood:

Sexy Statue at Missouri Capitol

People ask what the attraction of capitols is. I'm not terribly interested in museums, but I think I enjoy learning about history and seeing great art in buildings that continue to function and where history continues to be made. In other words, it's a living, breathing edifice. And I find out all sorts of tidbits I didn't know, such as that both Lewis AND Clark were once governors of Missouri:

Ex-Govs. Lewis & Clark Portraits @ Missouri Capitol

And yes, I got The Stamp.

After Jefferson City, Amy and I headed east once more, this time en route to Springfield, Ill., to spent the night. We stayed almost entirely off the Interstates, which gave us some wonderful opportunities for diversions and discoveries. For instance, we headed through tiny Louisiana, Mo., a town right on Mississippi River. Before we got into town, we happened to drive past...

Jewish Cemetery Gate, Louisiana, MO

...a 140-year-old Jewish cemetery?!? It was an awfully unlikely find, so we stopped and browsed the 40-odd graves. As you can see in the Flickr slideshow, most of the stones are very well kept up, even though only one is even remotely new. Here's a website on this cemetery, proving we're not the only ones fascinated.

After that, Amy and I got some take-out -- it's very difficult to eat in with dogs when traveling in hot weather -- and sat in this gazebo having lunch as we gazed at the mighty Mississippi.

Lunch gazebo on Mississippi River at Louisiana, MO


Meanwhile, I'm getting closer to finishing my capitols tour -- down to about 14 or so left, mostly in the northeast and the mid-Atlantic states -- and I'm going to need something else. As we made our way through Kansas and I saw this...

Steve's next hobby, presidential libraries

...and realized the next thing should be Presidential Libraries. Miles' reaction was, and I quote, "Zzzzz." But who cares? I just wonder if there's a Book.

More tomorrow on the last couple days of The Trip, including Springfield and Indiana capitols. But for now, here's the slideshow. It opens in Colby, Kan., on Monday, takes us to Topeka, then on Tuesday to Jefferson City and Louisiana, Mo., before we crashed in Springfield for the night. Enjoy.

Monday, August 29, 2011

The Road Trip, Part II

After the big party Hunter and I attended in Sun Valley on Saturday, Hunter flew back to Vegas on Sunday from Salt Lake City to check out -- and be summarily unimpressed -- with the reopened Plaza. Check out brutal Tweet 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, and 6. The Plaza is in big trouble if they don't get their act together asap.

Anyhow, I left Hunter and stopped by the Utah Capitol. I know I've been there already, but I couldn't find the picture, so I took another one. Then, on the way out of SLC, I saw this:

Bye, Vegas

Yes, I was tempted to stay on I-15!

The next leg of the road trip awaited, though. I headed to Dinosaur National Monument, which straddles the northwestern Colorado-northeast Utah border and evidently is where loads of dinosaur fossils have been found. It's sorta schticky, as seen by this by the visitors center...

Dinosaur Natl Monument

...but also a rather scenic 10ish-mile drive. You see vistas like this:

Dinosaur Dogs

There is a dinosaur artifact area but it was closed when I was there. Either way, there's great camping and hiking land up there, and the rocks have gen-u-ine petroglyphs, see:

Dinosaur Petroglyphs (1)

There's more from here in the Flickr slideshow at the bottom of this post. But this awesome bit of neon from Steamboat Springs, Colo., was just wonderful:

Awesome Steamboat Springs Neon

I didn't stay there because the Fairfield Inn was cheaper and I got Marriott points, but I was surprised on Monday morning to find that the resort-fee concept has spread:

Resort Fees In Steamboat Springs!

It was only about $3. I guess it included Internet service, but I wasn't warned and it didn't actually work. I didn't complain, though, because for reasons I do not know, the front-desk dude gave us a massive room upgrade to a gigantic, gorgeous room.

Meanwhile, a subplot of this trip is that it's Black and Jack's first major road trip and their bodies aren't taking it all that well. They've had a rough time, but I've been coddling them a bit extra and feeding them carefully and finally, today, they're not as miserable, see:

Happier Puppies

Today, I drove through the sensational Rocky Mountains through the Rocky Mountain National Park route, aka U.S. 34, with John Denver's Greatest Hits playing on the iPod, of course. Here's the best shot:

Puppies Mount The Rockies! (2)

There are loads of other awesome pictures in this Flickr slideshow, which starts in SLC, goes to Dinosaur and Steamboat Springs and then into the park.

And, yes, this shot...

A very dangerous shot

...was a little dangerous to take. But then I got to Denver and picked up Amy, who flew in from Vegas to accompany me for the rest of the trip. Next stops: Topeka, St. Joseph, Mo., Jefferson City and Springfield.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

The Road Trip, Part I

I made my tearful farewells on Friday morning, then picked up RateVegas.Com's Hunter Hillegas at McCarran for the first leg of my road trip to Ann Arbor. We drove north from Vegas on U.S. 93 through Pioche, Ely and Jackpot, Nev., where we spent the first night.

Here's something funny that happened:

I had been to Ely a couple weeks ago on my Eureka sojourn and have had a separate slideshow ready to go from that whenever The Daily runs my Eureka-gold piece. Thus, I'll hold off on those shots, and the shots in the slideshow below are only from this trip. Hunter's got a bunch, too, but he hasn't posted them yet. I'll link when he does.

I had routed us to Panaca for lunch because... I'm not sure why, actually. I'd heard of it and included it in my Vegas Bucket List column. Turns out, there's truly nothing there. Pioche, on the other hand, was utterly lovely and quaint and we stopped for gas and lunch there. There are shots of that in my slideshow.

After lunch and Ely, we drove to Jackpot, a border town on the northern edge of Nevada intended to lure gambling dollars from Twin Falls, Idaho folk. But this place surprised both Hunter and me as being far more built-up and legit than we expected. Cactus Pete's, owned by the same folks as the Stratosphere, was a real place with a decent all-night cafe (on weekends) and a busy casino floor. Our hotel, the West Star Hotel "Casino", by contrast, was just sad. I'll update my slideshow with Hunter's shots later in the day.

Then it was on to Sun Valley, Idaho, where we attended a massive party hosted by Elaine Wynn for four Sun Valley friends who turn 90 this year. They included Vegas financier legend E. Parry Thomas, California real estate mogul Harry Rinker, California accounting giant Ken Leventhal and Chicago industrial park developer Marshall Bennett. I'm working on at least one significant feature on Elaine Wynn, so I really wanted to attend this for the color I needed to place Elaine at the center of Sun Valley high society.

The pictures reflect the party. Vegas bigwigs in attendance included Irwin Molasky, the Thomas and Mack clans and Janie Greenspun Gale. Also, Idaho Gov. Butch Otter gave a toast.

Here's a whole slideshow from Flickr:

Today I take Hunter to Salt Lake City, from whence he flies back to Vegas to check out the new Plaza before heading home to California. I'll have a day on my own through the Rocky Mountains, then I'll pick up Amy in Denver for the rest of the drive. We'll hit three or four state capitols I've not seen, including Jefferson City, Springfield and Indianapolis. If we have the energy, we may carry on to Columbus, too, before heading north to Ann Arbor.

Miles decided he wanted to drive on his own for some post-Vegas catharsis, so he has Aces as his co-pilot and I have Black & Jack.

Gotta go! More later. Also, check out Hunter's stuff on Twitter.