A Visit to Salvation Mountain

Salvation Mountain

This gigantic folk art mountain lives about 3 hours south of LA, out in the middle of the desert. There’s not much else out here

Slab City

and it’s not on the way to anywhere, except the Mexican border, so you need to be specifically determined to see it. Which I was. And I found it remarkable.

Salvation Mountain

This abandoned structure lives on the outskirts of Salvation Mountain and it’s proposed purpose is a place to leave baggage. I found the implications of that act very moving.

It hard to capture the Salvation Mountain scale in a decent picture so this will have to do

Salvation Mountain

Built by one man., Mr. Leonard Knight, between 1984 and 2011. Apparently Leonard lived with his many cats in the back of one of the trucks scattered about the property, which is no small feat in the desert. It was approximately 107 when I was there yesterday. From what I can gather, all the art materials were found or scavenged or donated and even though Leonard died last year, there is a small army of volunteers who are keeping the place up with help from visitor donations.

That upkeep is no small task because the place is vast with archways

Salvation Mountain

And little altar spaces

Salvation Mountain

Containing plenty of gifts left by visitors

Salvation Mountain

Folk art has charm and humility, qualities that pervade this creation. However, this creation also has the feeling of a ward or a sanctuary, perhaps against a greater evil. The sinner’s prayer is repeated incessantly and throughout the mountain is this reminder

Salvation Mountain

That God is Love, that love is universal and in the words of Leonard himself “Love God and keep it simple.”

Wherever Leonard is now I hope he’s surrounded by love. I also hope his Salvation Mountain creation survives for quite some time. It’s well worth a visit.

Tomorrow: East Jesus sculpture garden, which has nothing to do with Jesus.

Rain and Chianti

Chianti Country Italy

Sarah again had the quote of the day when she said “Look Kaitlyn! It’s so pretty! Ok, just imagine the sun.”

Yes indeed, it rained ALL DAY today.

But to back up, our day started in a particularly Italian fashion with a parking job that can only be described as “creative.”

Silver bullet parking

This is the kind of parking that happens in a country with no parking. I.e. Italy. We came in last night and the hotel parking lot was full. They have an alternative parking lot we couldn’t find and after driving down dirt roads into the wilderness, we came back into the city and asked the guys hanging out and smoking in front of our hotel where we should park. They waved at this crosswalk and said “Here. it’s fine. no trouble.” Sarah looked at me, shrugged and said “we have full coverage right?”  and we left our silver bullet to the mercies of the carabinieri and went to bed. Lo and behold, it was indeed fine when we woke up. Thanks guys!

We got up early today with high hopes of tooling around lovely Chianti country, all the postcards of which have rolling hills of greenery, scenic hay bales, red poppies, stunning sunsets and golden light every which direction. Doesn’t that sound like fantastic road tripping?

The good news is that we did get poppies (flattened into some modern impressionist version of themselves by my iPhone and the light…)

Poppies Chianti land

And definitely the greenery

Chianti country Italy

And I saw some hay bales. Through the rain. All these pictures were taken in rain and through rain while I was getting wet and stomping through mud because rain. All day. Rain. It persisted all day. ALL DAY! Doesn’t this weather know this is my last day in Italy (for now)? I mean, have some respect!!!

The entire floor on my side of the car is mud from getting in and out of the car. Sarah, bless her, stopped a million times for me to take pictures, although it wasn’t completely altruistic since her phone quit working yesterday and I’m “taking pictures for two” today. However, even with only rain and greenery to photograph, I still wanted to stop about 20 times an hour to get just the right… whatever… and finally Sarah said “Are there any more pictures in your head that I should know about? I just want to be prepared.” I finally said, “Nope, I’m done. I’m just looking at scenery now.” and she gave me the side eye and said “I give you 10 minutes.” I think I lasted 15. The joke for the rest of the day was “That’s beautiful. I’d take a picture but we can’t stop.”

Our first real stop though was this little walled medieval city called San Gimignano. I have tried to pronounce those words all day and I still can’t spell it without help.

San Gimignano

That walled fortress is still a city

San Gimignano

full of shops and restaurants and arched walkways

San Gimignano

And the remains of this little well with a stone frame like a picture. So we took one.

Sarah and Kaitlyn in San Gimignano

Look at me wearing red! I actually bought that red dress for Europe and brought it to Italy thinking that if ever I were to wear a red dress… Also, the good news about cold rainy weather is it cuts down on the number of tourists so pictures can be taken with minimum of interference.

That’s our first “nonselfie” picture so we celebrated with tiramisu and coffee on the prettiest table in all of Italy

San Gimignano

And then it was still rainy and even colder so we left and got back into our warm car and sped off towards Chianti country.

Chianti land

Oh, that’s hilarious. Actually, we sped off in the wrong direction away from Chianti country on a tiny little one lane/two way road that nearly gave Sarah a heart attack as it twisted and turned into the high hills and required us to scrape the edges of the ditch every time someone passed us. The first several times that happened were stomach clenchers and then Sarah started just gritting her her teeth and saying “full coverage!” before lurching the car into first gear again as we took off.

We could have used better maps or an actual onboard navigator in the form of (perhaps) a handsome dark haired man named Paolo, but we did get to see olive trees on our wrong way road

olive trees Chianti

And then we turned around and came back down the hill, back through Poggibonsi for the third time (although a town with a name that odd deserves at least a couple visits) and into Chianti country and our first vineyard.

Casale della Sparviero

It was good. The tasting was free! but Montagliari had better wine plus this cool display of bottles dating back to 1948 and a vineyard history dating back to 1720.Montigliari Winery

We wanted to stay there overnight but they were full so we pressed on, through Panzano with this most appropriate fountain for wine country

Panzano in Chianti

And then into Greve in Chianti where after a long search, we found a cute BnB for the night with this view over the vineyards of Chianti country (or ChiantiLand, as Sarah calls it).

Greve in Chianti

Dinner in the square at Ristorante Enoteca for our last night of antipasti and prosecco

Ristorante enoteca Greve

And pasta that was good but nothing like last night. In fact, we talked about the food from last night through all of dinner tonight. Reliving the glory.

And so ended our last rainy day in Italy. We have one more morning. I promise a parting shot of Italy, even if it rains. Buonanotte. XOX

Driving, Pisa and the Med

Breakfast Florence

Today’s synopsis is brought to you by Sarah who, in a moment of extreme frustration today said “Some days you make all the right decisions and everything is good and you have a great day, and then there are those other days…”

Today started as one of the other days when our apartment internet connection was painfully molasses-y while I was trying to upload 1000 pictures to finish the post from yesterday. It took forever this morning. I can’t even talk about it. It didn’t put us behind but spending a couple hours glaring at my computer with gritted teeth and saying “U P L O A D!” wasn’t the best start to the morning.

I have to give props to Sarah and all my friends and family who travel with me and have the utmost patience to sit with their hands in their laps while I photograph all their food and wait patiently (and quietly) while I blog and write every day. You’re the best and I love you all.

I finally finished and we packed, left the house, had the breakfast above, which was great and also had a view of the Arno river, and then the sun came out! And so did all the tourists!

Florence from the ponte vecchio

We walked over the Ponte Vecchio for the last time (lovely), tried to take a picture with no people in it (unlovely)  and then tried to find a taxi to take us to the airport to get our rental car.

Things we didn’t know: you can’t hail cabs in Florence like you can everywhere else in the world. Instead you need to go to a taxi stand and act like you don’t care and you don’t need a taxi and then one shows up. Indifference, apathy and the correct location are the only things that get you cabs in Florence. We didn’t have any of those things because it took us a long time to figure that out, multiple cabs passed us by and we really really wanted to get out of Florence.

A couple strangers finally took pity on us and explained the system and we finally got a cab that took us to the airport only to discover that the airport rental cars aren’t at the actual airport, they’re accessible only by shuttle bus. So again with the indifference, apathy and finding the correct location for the rental car shuttle bus. Finally we got our car, finally Sarah figured out the clutch, a rather harrowing business, after which she said “You know what I need now? Chocolate.”

One piece of chocolate later we lurched our way out of the airport parking lot, started out going the correct direction and then it started raining and then we got lost, at which point I remembered a conversation we’d had the night before about whether or not to get a GPS for the car and Sarah said “How much is it? 27 Euros? No! Let’s just get extra glasses of wine instead.”

Perhaps we’d have been less lost if we’d had the glasses of wine before we got in the car. I’m sure we would’ve cared less. As it was, my lap looked like this:

maps of Tuscany

And none of those maps included all the cities we drove through. The next two hours of our lives were small skinny two way highways

Driving through Italy

Leading into one roundabout after another with multiple signs listing cities I’d frantically try to find on the map while Sarah circled the roundabout, I’d find none, we’d make a guess as to our exit, repeat repeat repeat.

We finally gave up on the scenic route and took the “expressway,” a slightly less skinny highway system and then also stopped for lunch when we realized that low blood sugar wasn’t helping.

So, this pizza from a road side stand called al Molinacci in Uzzano was awesome.

Sarah pizza

Can we talk about that wood fired  crust?

Al Molinaccio pizza

We certainly can. And it cost 1 euro! Our whole lunch including beer and a package of nutella cookies (we needed them) cost us 7 euros. And then the tide changed.

The sun came out, Cyndi Lauper came on our radio singing “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun” and we got to Pisa in record time with blue skies and good parking.

How precious is this little wedding cake of a complex?

pisa italy

You can just see the famous tower behind it. And speaking of that tower, I’ve never seen so many ridiculous selfies as I saw in Pisa. Here’s a small sampling, Can you see everyone with their hand out?

Leaning tower of pisa

It’s almost impossible not to play along though, especially on a day with such blue skies. So, here’s Sarah

Sarah in Pisa

And me

me in pisa

And us

pisa selfie

And one more just for good measure in case you can’t remember what it looks like.

Leaning tower of pisa

It’s simply so photographable we couldn’t help ourselves. And unlike everything else in Italy, they plunked it in a huge green open field and made it so easy to take pictures! Thanks Pisa! We could have paid 18 euros to climb the tower but we didn’t. We climbed two yesterday. We’re good.

Instead we took a tower break to photograph gelato (carmel) and cafe (macchiatto)

Gelato y cafe

And buy postcards and jewelry and then we got back in our little silver bullet and zoomed our way to the coast. In what seemed like .3 seconds, we were at the sea.

The Med in Italy

So gorgeous, the Mediterranean.

The Med in Italy

We’d decided to spend the night at the shore and head into wine country tomorrow so after climbing up and down that cliff and watching the waves crash for what seemed like hours, we continued driving down the coast looking for hotels. We swung off the road in Castiglioncello at the first hotel we found that overlooked the ocean to ask if they had a room.

They did. Would we like to see it? Yes. She takes us downstairs and turns to the sea side of the hotel, opens the door, says “and there’s a balcony” and then she opens that door to this view.

The Med from our balcony

Are we interested in the room?  ARE WE INTERESTED IN THE ROOM? Can I live here? Perhaps forever? Just for tonight? Ok, yes. We’ll take the room.

We moved in and stood on the balcony to take in the view and then only ripped ourselves away because we were starving and it was getting late. And then we tried to find an open restaurant in a small seaside town during off season… not easy. Sarah finally accosted a little old guy on the street to ask him about anything open and he said “Sto pensando… pensando…” and then gave us directions up the street to a place he was sure was open and promised we would eat very well. He actually kissed his fingers, God bless him.

The place he recommended was Scolapasta, a white table cloth place that looked very shi shi but starving beggars can’t be choosers so we went in and sat down… and then proceeded to have the best meal I’ve had since I got to Europe, perhaps one of my best all year.

Bread and wine

Ristorante Scolapasta Italy

Fresh handmade pasta so thin I could see through it

Ristorante Scolapasta Italy

Fresh grilled seafood

Ristorante Scolapasta Italy

And a yogurt mousse dessert so light it was the texture of whipped cream.

Ristorante Scolapasta

Sarah and I couldn’t get over ourselves or this food. I’ve never had Italian pasta that good ever. Not once. And if I’d left Italy and not eaten food like this, I’d have been so sad. I’m also so glad it was by the sea because the seafood was so fresh. Outstanding. All around.

Ristorante Scolapasta Italy

Cheers Scolapasta. You’re magnificent.

And then we bought a bottle of wine and went back to our balcony because.. views.

Sarah and the Med

And that’s how a day turns around. Thank God.

Tomorrow: wine country.

Route 66 through Arizona

Route 66 through AZ Yes, I’m accumulating a collection of street signs taken by the side of empty roads. Let’s say it’s on purpose. Route 66 Everyone who road trips thinks about Route 66. The Mother Road, famous for it’s cross country sprawl from Chicago to Los Angeles and equally famous for the touristy kitchy statuary and paraphernalia that sprang up to attract tourists to stop for gas and hamburgers. Now Route 66 has been absorbed by many cross country highways – like highway 40 in Arizona – but some of the kitsch still lives. Here’s what I saw between Kingman and just past Flagstaff.

Old roadside relics just barely maintained Route 66 Twin Arrows I think these twin arrows used to be part of a gas station. Now Twin Arrows is the name of a nearby casino and these arrows are behind a concrete embankment just hanging out.

Gregg Arnold added to the roadside memorabilia with this sculpture he calls Giganticus Headicus, an Easter Island head far from home.

Kbarrett Giganticus Headicus

Hackberry General Store.

Hackberry General Store

A quasi museum/gift shop of Route 66 memorabilia along with vintage gas pumps, Burma shave signs, and old red corvette and many photo ops. Bikers like to drive up here and hang out on the picnic benches, adding their own picturesque quality to the scene.

Williams

The entire town of Williams is a tribute to Route 66 with a historic main street packed with gift shops and 50s style diners. I ate at Cruisers 66, a restaurant attached to the Grand Canyon Brewing Company.

Cruisers 66

I had a stout, cuz i’m on a stout kick at the moment, and a salad that wasn’t really picture worthy. I thought the beer was decent but nothing to write home (or here) about and the whole restaurant is the kind of place you eat when you’re determinedly doing the Route 66 thing, which I was.  If you want good food you probably want to go elsewhere in town. I hear Cafe 326 is good.

2 Guns Arizona was my sad Route 66 finale

Two Guns AZ

I think it was once a tiny thriving settlement of a gas station, a store and an inn called Kamp (only slightly kreepy) but now it’s a bonafide ghost town

Two Guns AZ

Full of graffiti and just enough of a weird vibe to keep me checking over my shoulder as I took pictures while the car was still running. I hope that Route 66 kept this little place alive for awhile but it’s definitely wreckage now. And probably won’t even be that for much longer as the desert and the sun take their toll.

I don’t know, ya’ll. I love the romantic idea of Route 66, all those bright shiny cheeked parents and kids seeing the USA in their Chevrolets. And I love the genuine old relics like Twin Arrows and the new ones in the same spirit like Giganticus Headicus. But the museums and the 50s diners and the endless gift shops? Those can go anytime.

I say bring back the spirit of Route 66 by bringing back the American Road Trip. Create new kitschy roadside stuff to give drivers an excuse to stop and take pictures. Let’s all get in our cars and see the USA in our Nissans and Hyundais.

It’s pretty cool out there.

Route 66 Betty Boop

Aliens in Rachel Nevada

Nevada Mountains

Nevada State Motto: Take your pictures from the middle of the road!

Rachel Nevada

And speaking of that, this is Rachel Nevada. By that I mean that this is the sign signifying the entrance to Rachel and in the background is the village of Rachel. Squint. There’s not much to it but I promise it’s there.

Rachel Nevada is famous for plane crashes, UFO sightings, proximity to Area 51, and for just simply being a teensy tinsy speck of habitation in a wide flat array of empty desert.

Rachel and the surrounding countryside remind me strongly of X-Files episodes where green flashes light up the sky, the cars stall out and all the clocks stop (at which point Mulder gets out his can of orange spray paint and puts a huge X in the road so he can further investigate). I drove through Rachel during the day but I can only imagine that driving through at night begets stories of bizarre happenings. The desert in this area is so alien and uninhabited and the most remarkable thing is this place.

Little Ale Inn Rachel NevadaSome detours are worth taking all by themselves – Escape from Dinosaur Kingdom – and some places are better visited en route to somewhere else. I’d put Rachel in the second category except that it’s not really en route to anywhere and I might think differently if I had stayed the night at the Little A’le’Inn (so bewildered by the apostrophes, btw…).

Little Ale Inn Rachel Nevada

Little A’le’Inn is the only bar/restaurant/inn for 80 miles in any direction so everyone stops here. I came in on a Saturday afternoon right after a memorial service that had turned into a happy hour. The locals were nicely dressed in cowboy hats and button down shirts, sitting outside at the picnic table getting tanked on Coors Light and Black Velvet. That’s a story rich environment if ever I’ve seen one. Had I more time, I’d have joined them and heard every UFO story there is and some besides.

Little A'le'Inn Rachel Nevada

Sadly, I didn’t have that kind of time so I ordered my Alien Stout, brewed for the Little A’le’Inn and quite delicious, and a grilled cheese sandwich. There’s nothing fancy here at the Little A’le’Inn but the food is good, all the locals are friendly and the gift shop and accompanying alien merchandise have to be seen to be believed.

Had I to do this detour over, I would plan to stay overnight in one of the Little A’le’Inn’s double wide trailers ($50 a night, I hear), I’d make sure I had plenty of X-Files episodes loaded on my laptop and while the sun went down, I’d order another Alien Stout and say “Tell me about the woman who got advice from an alien named Archibald…”

Rachel NevadaBye bye Nevada! You’ve been a picturesque treat.

Tomorrow AZ.

Hanging out in Elko Nevada

When you get to Elko, go outside. Preferably to the Ruby Mountains.

Ruby Mountains

There’s snow on the mountains out here until summer. Sometimes as late as July. But there’s an extensive network of hiking trails and camping spots all through this mountain range. We found a delightful half mile nature walk around a river and a beaver dam, definitely the best place to take an almost three year old who loves running

Casey

And jumping

Casey

And giant sticks

Casey

His little brother dressed appropriately gangster but did a lot less running

Kyron

After an afternoon of herding kids, throwing snowballs and collecting a million rocks to throw into the river, my sister and I finished the evening with a picon punch at The Star Hotel, Elko’s best Basque restaurant

The Star Hotel in Elko

Basque sheep herders came to Elko during the gold rush of the mid 1800s and The Star Hotel opened in 1910 to provide a boarding house for these herders and ranchers. It’s been open ever since, serving picon punch made with brandy and a Basque digestif called amer picon (those drinks will knock you over so have some respect…)  and huge family style dinners

The Star Hotel in Elko

The Basque have a love affair with garlic. The Star serves excellent steak covered in sliced garlic, their salad comes with creamy garlic dressing and many of the side dishes like the cabbage soup, spaghetti, chick peas and sausage and green beans all have garlic in them. Give in, eat it up. It’s delicious and good for you. Just bring with you all the people you plan to kiss later.

Dinner was fun and the company was excellent.

I’m going to miss this little rascal whose favorite words are “come here!” and “Watch!” and loves to be tickled and cuddled

Casey and Kaitlyn

And his squeezable blue-eyed little brother

Ky and Kaitlyn

I’m so lucky that my favorite girls have had such great babies. I never see them often enough.

Tomorrow, my last day in Nevada.

 

 

Alien Roadside Attractions in Nevada

Dusty Nevada

Nevada isn’t my favorite road trip state because there’s so much nothing.  It’s just hours and hours of driving without even a town in sight and multiple signs warning me that the next gas station is 100 miles away. All that nothing has a bleak dusty beauty to it but seriously… there’s literally no one around while I’m driving for hours. Close to zero supervision, is that a good thing? I just know if makes me want to do about 100mph and I probably shouldn’t.

Fortunately, I found the extraterrestrial highway on my way up to Elko

Extraterrestrial Highway

How can this highway can have existed since 1996 without my knowledge? Probably a conspiracy by this big guy

Alien Research Center

He stands guard outside a gift shop… which seems like a relatively important task. And across the way is the research center

Alien Research Center

I always thought Area 51 had something to do with Roswell but apparently I’m confusing my UFO crash sites with actual government work. Or something. And what all that has to do with this research center is another mystery. I didn’t go in. Didn’t seem like a good day for probing.

Most people passing through Nevada have seen Alien Fresh Jerky, but now there’s also ET fresh jerky

ET Fresh Jerky

The website takes pains to clarify that the jerky is neither alien flesh nor made in outer space, both of which are a considerable disappointment to me and probably all other visitors. But perhaps they think the abducted cow is misleading…

Probably the aliens are too busy planning a stagecoach robbery to make jerky…

Alien Mariachi

I think there are more UFO sites to be had. I’ll check them out on my way back down to AZ.

nevada sky

Nevada, I have to give it to you. When you break up the nothing, you go all the way.