Category Archives: tour

The Beginning of a Road Trip: Exploring Northern California

Just last Thursday, I returned home from a nine-day road trip with my mom. Some days didn’t have too much going on, so I won’t bore you with details of the mundane. But some days were jam-packed with activity, warranting multiple posts to describe all that happened on the trip. The very first day was probably the most eventful day, so this post only covers Day One.

Oh, and one more thing before we begin: last month I finally got Instagram! Feel free to follow me (I’m @JessicaLippe, of course!), and to see all the pictures specific to this trip, check out the hashtag #roadtrippingwithmom.

We decided to leave early on Tuesday, April 21st in order to pack a full afternoon of fun at that night’s destination. And even though I think 6 am was a little too early, we’d often leave at 3 or 4 am when I was younger. Most of our relatives live in Southern California, so our family would usually make a straight shot of the 11-hour drive to get there. But I had a little treat for my mom this time around, so in exchange she agreed to take me to the Sundial Bridge, an attraction I always saw from the freeway but we never had time to stop at.

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The Sundial Bridge is a piece of art spanning a river in Redding, California. It is literally a giant sundial and has markings for telling time at certain times of day. The bridge itself has a walkway made of green glass. Even though it isn’t exactly see-through, our first few steps out on it gave us that shaky feeling!

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When taking these pictures, we both noticed that the cable was pulsing (possibly from the birds landing on it further up?). But somehow this inspired us to have me hang from one of the cables.

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The Sundial Bridge was not the only thing around. It was actually part of a very large park with several other attractions. We did walk around a little bit, but I would love to go back there someday, perhaps with a bicycle.

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The next stop was a place we used to always use when going on trips to California: the city of Corning. You may not have heard of Corning before, but there’s a good chance you’ve eaten olives from there. And our go-to place is the Olive Pit. It’s been about four years since I last went this way, so some of the things have been changed a bit, but I was comforted to know that they still have a wide variety of oils, vinegars, and jams to sample on. 055

One thing from Olive Pit that I had never tried before was their shakes. They have some typical shakes, but they also have specialty shakes made out of flavored balsamic vinegar. I chose the Dark Raspberry Balsamic Vinegar shake. Yes, it sounds weird, but it is so good. You’ll just have to try it for yourself to see what I mean!

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The next driving break we took was for lunch. It’s not right to go to California without stopping at an In-N-Out. There are two things I really like about In-N-Out: 1. There is a Bible verse printed on every cup and food wrapper, and 2. Instead of ordering frozen french fries like most fast food places, they get shipments of fresh potatoes and make the fries right there. (I also like their milkshakes, but since I just had a balsamic vinegar one, I decided to skip it this time.) I tried to convince my mom to dress up in their paper hats, but she refused, so the only picture I have is of a cup and food wrapper:

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Not too long after lunch, we arrived at the place where we’d stay the night. In order to make the most of this trip, I offered to introduce my mother to hostelling. She agreed to it, but since she can sometimes be particular about things, I wanted to ease her into staying in hostels instead of scaring her away. I found a hostel along our route in Sacramento that was originally a Victorian mansion, and I knew that would be just the sort of thing she’d love.

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Probably the best part of being in Sacramento was just looking around the hostel at all the Victorian-style things they had!

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And because there wasn’t much of a price difference between two dorm beds and a two-person private room, I sprang for the private room. I’ve been upgraded to private rooms at hostels before, but I’ve never actually paid for one, so I guess that was a first for me too!

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The one attraction we didn’t want to miss out on was touring the California State Capitol Building. We went in the travel clothing we had been in all day, but once we got past security, we realized that everyone else was wearing business suits and dresses. We stuck out like sore thumbs! We tried to make excuses, such as it was just because we weren’t from the state, but my mom was actually born in California, so that didn’t really work.

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We learned a lot of things on the tour. For example, for many years the building was not earthquake-safe (not a good thing for the building that represents California!), so everyone that entered the building during that time had to sign a waiver. Eventually they closed down the building for several years and a did a complete remodel. My mom then realized that when she had toured the capitol with her dad as a teenager, it must have been just a matter of months before it was shut down!

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We also learned that the dome seen on the outside isn’t the same dome that is seen on the inside. The outer dome is too tall for artwork to be seen from the inside, so a shorter inner dome stacked inside creates the illusion that they’re the same. However, there’s quite a bit of space between the two!

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And although there was no chance we could get inside, we did have to stop by the outside of the governor’s office. When Arnold Schwarzenegger was in office, he got a bear statue and let it stay at the Capitol. Our tourguide told us they had secretly named it “Bacteria Bear” because so many tourists rub it!

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The Capitol was our only planned attraction, but we decided to walk around and see the other sights too. We went to some of the shops in Old Sacramento and also looked over the Sacramento River.

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Before retreating back to the hostel, mom and I stopped at a Pho restaurant. We’ve enjoyed the soup made at home, and I was interested to see what it was like when authentically made. The spring roll was delicious, too.

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And although we got some sleep at the HI-Sacramento Hostel, we once again had to get up early the next morning (though not as early as the day before) and make it the rest of the way down California. But I’ll save that for tomorrow!

Jackson County One-Day Road Trip

When I lived in the Midwest, I would have gone crazy if I stayed even one week in the same county! In fact, going to different counties was an almost-daily occurrence. In Ohio, I lived and worked in tiny Morrow County, which didn’t have much of anything. I would go to surrounding counties to attend church, go shopping, and basically live my entire life! In Nebraska, I lived across the river from Fremont, the county seat of Dodge County. However, the Platte River was the county border, so I actually lived in Saunders county. Every time I went to town, I switched counties, even though it was the same city!

But since I’ve moved to Southern Oregon back in September, I have not stepped foot outside of Jackson County. Fortunately, it’s not the same as the Midwestern counties I lived in. It’s really huge, and there are a ton of things to do! I recently decided to take a day trip around just a section of Jackson County, and I realized that there is so much I still have not seen! (And I’ve lived here nearly 20 years!) So without further ado, here is my one-day road trip in Jackson County, Oregon.

The first stop was not a planned stop. But after going through Eagle Point, this house was on the side of the road and I just had to stop for some snapshots.

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You may have seen this house before. Do a Google Image Search for “retiring on a budget postcard”, and the first thing that will pop up will likely be a popular postcard picturing this house.

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It’s actually called The Wood House. Although the house is certainly made from wood, it’s actually named that because of the name of the family who built and lived in it.

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Everything except for a picnic and parking area is fenced off to visitors, but it is interesting to look at this longstanding house, as well as all the other old artifacts decorating the yard.

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The second stop also wasn’t planned, but I had considered stopping at Lost Creek Lake. I ended up going to Joseph Stewart State Park’s day use area, just to walk around and behold the scenery.

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The next stop was the highlight of the trip, and what I had planned the entire trip around. After driving to the little mountain town of Prospect and realizing that I had perhaps driven a mile too far, I turned around and ended up at the parking lot for Mill Creek Falls Scenic Area.

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After a decent-length hike through the hilly woods, I arrived at a lookout point for the 173-foot Mill Creek Falls!

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But after hiking a little bit further, I came to an even better site: Barr Creek Falls is 242 feet high, and the lookout for it was situated at a nice pile of rocks where I could sit and eat my lunch.

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The area also had a good view of the river below, and nearby were some spots where I could hang my feet over what looks like a death-defying ledge!

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When I had my fill of the falls, I took the trail over to another path that took me through an area filled with giant boulders and down to the bottom of this canyon. I saw what remained of the area’s first power plant, climbed rocks, and even did a TINY bit of splashing in the water! (Too cold to actually play in it!)

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My final stop before heading home was back at Eagle Point. The Butte Creek Mill is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, and is part mill, part free museum! A video near the entrance pointed all many fascinating facts about the mill, the surrounding area, and the items inside.

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After touring the mill, I walked along the path behind it downstream until I got to a covered bridge!

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Now I have been to half of the Jackson County covered bridges this year, and I hope to see the others soon!

This was a ton of sights to cram into one day, but oh so very worth it! And I still haven’t seen everything in Jackson County! Of course, my traveler’s heart will likely lead me out of this county very soon!

The Vexing Oregon Vortex

Have you ever been to a House of Mystery before? The slanted floor, uneven roof, and caving walls allow for lots of optical illusions and a playground for your mind. But what if some of these illusions continued even after you left the mystery house? You may discover that this is exactly what happens at the Oregon Vortex!

The drive to the Oregon Vortex provided beautiful fall scenery through the quaint town of Gold Hill and the rural area beyond. Even though it is remote, there are plenty of billboard-sized signs pointing in the right direction. We arrived at a historic mining shantytown where friendly staff were happy to greet us. Several of the staff members donned crazy costumes, but I’m pretty sure that was just because it was Halloween.

Because we arrived several minutes before our tour could begin, one staff member mesmerized everyone in the gift shop with the scientific magic of magnetism. He also demonstrated how non-magnetic metals can still react to magnets, and even how magnetism can slow the force of gravity! This was a great primer before we were introduced to the Oregon Vortex, which is believed to be a strong disruption in the Earth’s typical magnetic field.

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I decided to visit the Vortex a bit spur-of-the-moment. And since I went early afternoon on a weekday (and I guess October 31st is technically a holiday to some people), I had a hard time finding someone who was able to accompany me last-minute. Fortunately, my mom had a free afternoon, so I got to spend time with her on this tour! She was actually the first person in our tour group to demonstrate one of the odd features of the Vortex. In the center of the above picture is a brick line. Our tour guide on the left is inside the Vortex, and across the line, my mom is outside of it. It was strange to see their differences when they switched places, and it even felt a little different for them! I noticed that I got a bit of a “seasick” feeling when we started the tour, but after we left, it disappeared. Our guide said that happened to some people due to the polarization. We also noticed that there weren’t any animals around- no squirrels, no birds, nothing. That was strange since we were in the middle of a forest, but for some unexplained reason, many animal species avoid the Vortex.

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My mom wasn’t the only person in our group that demonstrated an anomaly. The guide made sure to include everyone in our group, even the young children. Since I was the tallest, I was picked on a lot. In the above picture, the guide and I stood a few feet away from each other and placed a beam on top of our heads. Everyone else noticed it was slanted since I was several inches taller. But when we switched places, the beam was almost level! IMG_20141031_152011_895[1]

After several experiments near the outskirts of the Oregon Vortex, we ventured further in where the House of Mystery was located. I’ve heard that houses like these are built to be used at fairs, amusement parks, and tourist traps. But this is the house that is said to have inspired all the other mystery houses, plus it has a 110-year history to boot. This was built to be an office and tool shed in the old mining town, but after it was abandoned it eventually slid off its foundation. No, it isn’t covered in cobwebs as suggested in the picture above. The staff just decided to decorate everything to celebrate Halloween, which is also their closing day. I did like their little ode to The Wizard of Oz:

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The demonstrations done inside the House of Mystery were even crazier than the ones done outside. Not only did the Vortex affect things, but now all the weird slants of the house confused us too. We all appeared to be standing sideways, even though we were trying to stand straight. There was even a broom that, when stood on end, would stay balanced! It looked like it was leaning into thin air, but it was actually standing straight up and down!

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The hovering broom was crazy enough, but it was even more insane when we saw a bottle seemingly roll uphill (because what looked like uphill was actually downhill). An ordinary golf ball was thrown down a slide out the window, but it also appeared to roll uphill as it returned to us!

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Is it possible that the golf ball was magnetized, or that the broom was fashioned specifically so it would stand up? I’m sure that’s what many people reading this are thinking, and there is that possibility. But after visiting here, I doubt it. The staff told us that, if we returned, we were welcome to bring our own levels, measuring tape, and any other objects we wanted from home. I may have to try that in the future, but all their tools looked exactly like what you would get in any hardware store. I even felt and shook the golf ball, and even tested it for magnetism before we rolled it out the window. I don’t believe it’s all a hoax, even though I can’t explain it all. There have even been scientists perplexed at what happens in the Oregon Vortex. I guess that truly makes it a mystery!

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After a few more demonstrations inside the House of Mystery, we exited from the uphill side to continue our tour. After the guide showed us some things, he gave us the opportunity, he gave us the opportunity to try some things out on our own, and even offered to take pictures!

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I am five inches taller than my mom. We stood on a level surface (we even checked it with a level several times) with a beam on our heads. At first we looked like the picture above. I was quite a bit taller than my mom, which is typically normal. But then we switched places and took the next picture…

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We were almost at exact eye level to each other! The change in the beam’s slant is a great indicator that this happened, but if you still don’t believe it, go ahead and measure us in each of the pictures. No one knows exactly what happens in the Oregon Vortex, but one theory is that our atoms are more compressed in certain areas.

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We went to one final area near the farther end of the Vortex for the last few demonstrations. On this level piece of wood, we could see the participants get shorter and taller as the walked one way and the other! We could even see size comparisons as two people on each end walked towards each other!

When the outdoor tour ended, our guide encouraged us to come down to the gift shop where he would show us pictures of significant changes that happened to people while in the Oregon Vortex. There were even some pictures where magnetic lines showed up in the film as a result of the strong magnetic force. As we walked to the gift shop, our guide turned to us and asked, “Does it feel like you’re walking downhill?”

After all the questions he had asked us, like “Does this look level?” “Does this look larger?” “Do you feel different?”, which he then disproved, we thought we might be in for one last anomaly. But we were outside, with normal reference points. It really did feel like we were walking downhill! “That’s because you are” he said with a smile. Yes, there might not be much education behind the Oregon Vortex (other than teaching us to keep an open mind to new paradigms), but the hilarious staff is guaranteed to entertain you!

Would you like to visit the Oregon Vortex? You can’t. Well, at least not right now. They close for the winter in November. But not to fear, you can line up at their door beginning in March, and experience the historical, entertaining, and most of all, mysterious Oregon Vortex!

Thank you Oregon Vortex, for providing admission for my mom and me! We truly loved your attraction, and our opinions were not swayed by anything other than the great service you provide for every guest! 

Throwback Thursday: Rafting the Rogue River

In honor of the ever-popular hashtag, this website will now celebrate Throwback Thursdays by featuring trips I’ve taken anytime in the past- from a couple years ago, all the way back to when I was a couple years old! It may be every Thursday, or it may just be on Thursdays that I feel like searching through my archives- I don’t know yet. 

School recently started for many colleges. That means an official end to all summer activities. No more summer camps, no more walking the beach in flip-flops… and no more rafting. The Rogue River in Southern Oregon closed to all rafters around the same time that the local colleges kicked off. But a few years ago, I found out I could go to college AND go rafting at the same time!

In order to get my college degree, I needed to get three health credits. These could come from traditional health classes, such as First Aid and Nutrition, or they could come from Physical Education classes. I decided that Phys Ed would be a stress-releasing way to break up the more rigorous classes. When signing up for classes for my final quarter, I still needed to get one more health credit. When I saw a whitewater rafting class among the course listings, I immediately wanted to go. Instead of a standard twice-per-week class, I could go on a three-day rafting trip down the Rogue River. It cost an extra $400 fee, but knowing I may never have this opportunity again, I decided it was worth the money. (I later learned that this was an incredibly good deal since the trip was comped by the school and volunteer guides. So if you’re looking for a less-expensive rafting trip, call your community college and see if you can join them on a trip!)

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The trip was in early May in order to align with the school’s schedule, and also so we could go during a legal rafting time without having to get a summer permit. That meant, in order to stay dry and warm, I had to bring the right clothes! I hardly ever shop for new clothes, but I spent an entire day buying under armor, a rainsuit, wool socks, water shoes, sunglasses, and a special poly-spandex fabric blend of pants to go with a rash guard suit I already owned. I never would have thought I’d spend so much money on such a ridiculous-looking outfit, but it was definitely worth it!

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Three days is a long time to be on the river, but fortunately the Rogue River is so unique, there are a lot of unique stops along the way. We stopped every day for lunch and a couple of other attraction/bathroom breaks. We stopped at a few hiking trails, historic buildings, and even farms! I never realized how much was along the Rogue, and so much of it is difficult to get to by car!

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One of the best parts of the trip was that we got to stay in beautiful lodges each night! The fed us such large meals and offered fun activities to wind down the day. At the lodge we stayed in the first night, I looked through a scrapbook they had, and learned that many celebrities had come to Southern Oregon to go rafting and stay at this lodge. Today I don’t recall any of the celebrities except for Laura Bush. The second lodge was so remote that it was only accessible by river! Some of us had a campfire that night, and the staff made sure we knew to put the fire completely out when we were done, because if a fire did start, there would be no way for a firetruck to get there!

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With so many people taking this class, we had quite a few rafts, each one owned by an experienced guide. I was in a small raft with two other students and our fearless leader Jen. She did an excellent job at getting us through the rapids, and when the water was calmer, she captivated us with interesting stories about her rafting experience.

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Jen rowed the raft most of the way, but she was nice enough to let us get some hands-on learning in the lower-class water. I was actually surprised at how little we were required to do, especially since this was a physical education class! Rowing was completely optional, and we were only required to take a short walk around some class 5 rapids, since our school’s policy would not let students raft over those. At the end of the trip, we did have to take a one-page test about rafting vocabulary and operations. Since I got an A in the class, I guess that proves I learned something!

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Even though we weren’t allowed to raft through the class 5 rapids, we were allowed to go on all the lower classes of rapids, including some pretty intense class fours. Looking back at these pictures, I realized I only took pictures in the calm water. That’s probably because high-class rapids require everyone’s attention in case something goes wrong. Plus, they’re just fun to ride over!

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While whitewater rafting was a fun, educational, new experience, the most memorable part of this trip for me was the scenery. I can’t think of a better way to end this post than with some snapshots of these gorgeous (not to mention completely unedited!) views.

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Across America By Bus: The Last Stretch to Oregon

Note: This is the fifth and final post of the Across America By Bus Series.

When planning my route, I knew there were a few cities west of Denver that would be somewhat interesting. But adding any more stops on my trip would push it to a nearly two-week-long trip, and I didn’t think I would have the energy to do that, especially with the lack of sleep and stress from moving. So I decided to experience everything west of the Rockies through the panoramic bus windows.

GPS on Bus Window to Oregon

At this point, I had gone to six of the ten states on the route, and I had about two days to get through the other four. We headed straight north from Denver and spent most of the day going through Wyoming. The only other time I’ve been to Wyoming was to go to Yellowstone National Park. Let’s just say this definitely wasn’t Yellowstone! It was surprisingly cold, and I had to wear my coat whenever I went out to walk around.

We switched drivers in Salt Lake City around midnight. Most people continued on the bus and slept until we arrived at Boise, where we switched drivers once again. This bus driver missed his calling as a tour guide, but that was good for us passengers because he was sure to tell us a bit about the cities we stopped in, and he also showed us the highlights of what we drove by! He even pointed out several things in an area that I would have otherwise assumed was just a plain desert! When he announced that we crossed into Oregon, and shortly after into the Pacific Time Zone, I finally felt like I was almost home. I was excited when we stopped in Bakersfield for breakfast, where my feet hit Oregon ground for the first time in nine months!

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Even though Washington wasn’t on the itinerary, part of this ride took us along the Columbia River, which separates Oregon from Washington. I admired the Washington scenery from the Oregon side, and thought it was pretty neat that I actually saw 11 states on this one-week trip!

View of Washington from across the river in Oregon

I think the best highlight from the bus ride was seeing Multnomah Falls! I had never seen Multnomah Falls before, even though I had been in that area (and even on the exact same road!) before. I was so glad the bus driver pointed it out, and I hope to see it up closer someday.

Multnomah Falls Oregon

Soon after seeing Multnomah Falls, the bus arrived in Portland! I had to transfer buses to head south, but I had a couple hours before that bus departed. That meant I had some time to explore Portland! I had done some research on the bus, and found out that the nearest Voodoo Doughnuts was a third of a mile away from the station. Since I was introduced to these doughnuts the day before in Denver, I figured it might be a good idea to pay homage to the city where they actually came from! My plan was to rent a locker at the bus station so I could store my things as I went for a walk. Unfortunately, none of the lockers were large enough for my big suitcase, so I put all my other belongings into the locker and decided to just roll the big suitcase behind me as I went around town. It may seem strange, but because I was in “weird” Portland, no one I walked by acted like it was strange at all! (I actually haven’t visited Portland since the show Portlandia began airing. I blame the series for encouraging more weirdness, because I don’t remember it being this crazy before!)

Chinatown and Homeless Town in Portland

To get to Voodoo, I ended up walking through Chinatown. This is also an area that has lots of inner-city ministries and organizations. I thought it was cool to pass by each of them and see the services they provided. Each one had something unique. I finally found the sparkly pink building, and had to wait in line outside. The line in Denver was incredibly short compared to this one, but I suppose the doughnuts are a lot more well-known here!

Voodoo Doughnut Portland StoreVoodoo Doughnut

After finally getting the prized doughnut, I walked back toward the bus station, and then decided to head to the Union Station next door. It had a fancy exterior, but inside, the train station looked about the same as the bus station.

Portland Union Station

It was getting dark by the time my bus finally took off, so it was perfect to try to catch up on a little bit of sleep. I remember as a kid that it took five to six hours to get to Portland, but because this bus had so many stops, it took a lot longer. I finally arrived after 1am in Southern Oregon, which is where I am today!

I hope you enjoyed reading about my bus trip across America through Chicago, Nebraska, Colorado, and finally here in Oregon. What crazy journey do you think I should go on next?

This post is dedicated to my parents. They made a great choice when they decided to raise me in Southern Oregon! 

Across America By Bus: Denver and Boulder

Note: This is part four of my “Across America By Bus” series.

Throughout my life, I have lived in four states in various regions. But no matter where I was, Colorado was a popular vacation destination for my neighbors. And why shouldn’t it be? It has the best of everything: big mountains, big cities, and small carbon footprints. I knew I wanted to make Colorado part of my journey across America, but I wasn’t sure what city to stop in. When I was reminded that I had a cousin who moved to Denver last year, I made arrangements to visit with her!

Colorado Mountain View

The bus from Omaha to Denver runs overnight, which meant that I didn’t get quality sleep. On the other hand, it was nice to hit the ground running as I started my day off in Denver. Cousin Sara picked me up from the station, and after stopping for a natural, vegetarian breakfast, she showed me to her downtown apartment and we made plans for how we would spend the day.

Red Rock Theater

After driving around the city where she pointed out the important and notable buildings, we headed to the Red Rock Theater. I have never seen such a large, lovely outdoor theater. I’m sure it’s a great experience to see a performance there under the stars, but because we were there in the morning, it was filled with athletes who all the steps, seats, and railings as intense workout equipment. There were also lots of great walking paths where we enjoyed taking selfies.

Red Rock

After that, we headed toward Boulder to see Flat Irons. There were also lots of joggers and runners there. (I never realized how many athletes lived in Colorado!) Although I felt a little too tired to go up the mountains, we took a beautiful natural trail between the mountains and a ravine.

Flat Irons Ravine

When we returned to the parking lot, we considered taking a tour. I was surprised at everything that went on in this area. There’s the State Capitol Building and a U.S. Mint, both of which offers tours. But when Sara mentioned that Celestial Seasonings offered factory tours in Boulder, I immediately perked up. I absolutely LOVE their tea! So we drove over to Sleepytime Drive where the factory is located.

Flat Irons Colorado

We arrived fairly early, so we used that time to sample several different flavors of tea, some of which I have never seen in stores! I was impressed by the high standard of health considerations at the Visitor’s Center. Tea was served in washable ceramic cups, all their teas were natural (and several were even organic, including their new kombucha!), and you could flavor tea with organic honey. I learned that Celestial Seasonings actually cares a lot about health and the environment, supported most notably by the fact that they save tons of metric waste each year by not using staples on their tea bags! The Visitor’s Center also had interesting art to look at, such as decorative teapots and even a tea dress made out of tea packaging!

Celestial Seasonings Tea Factory

Photos weren’t allowed on the tour, which was probably a good thing since everyone had to wear funny hair nets! After a quick video on tea history, we walked through a big warehouse-type building past all the pallets of ingredients, but there were two ingredients that had their own rooms. The tea room had its own room because tea easily absorbs other scents and flavors. I learned that most tea from Celestial Seasonings doesn’t actually contain tea! They’re technically called “herbal infusions”, and that explains why they’re caffeine-free. The other room was the Mint Room. As soon as we stepped in, my eyes watered up! Obviously, such a powerful scent has to be kept separate from the rest of the ingredients. The tour ended by walking around the assembly lines.

We went back to Denver for lunch, and Sara showed me some more sights downtown. The Packers played that evening, and being Sara’s absolute favorite team, we had to watch it. Unfortunately, it was not a good night for Green Bay.

Denver Voodoo Doughnuts

I was supposed to leave the next morning, but we had one more place to go: Voodoo Doughnuts. It’s a shop from Oregon, but for some reason I had never been there before. The only out-of-Oregon Voodoo is located in Downtown Denver, so of course we had to stop by there. After that, I cleaned up, packed up, and took a taxi back to the Greyhound Station. Denver was my last planned overnight stop, but I still had a few days of this trip left to go!

Across America By Bus: Chicago

This is part two of the “Across America By Bus” series. Click here to read part one, “Greyhound Perks and Pitfalls”.

I have wanted to visit Chicago since I was eight years old. Granted, I wanted to go to Chicago back then because that’s where the Veggie Tales headquarters were. Veggie Tales moved out-of-state several years ago, and most of the attractions I went to didn’t even exist when I was eight, but finally getting the chance to visit Chicago felt like a childhood dream come true. I made sure to make it the first stop of my trip across America.

The first place I visited in Chicago was, of course, the Chicago Greyhound Station. It was probably the nicest bus station I went through on my entire trip, but it still wasn’t anything too special. The next place I visited was the inside of a taxi cab. I was only staying a mile away, and normally I would walk that distance, but because I had several pieces of luggage, it was worth paying the seven dollars for a cab. Besides, riding a taxi through a big city is part of the experience! I wasn’t allowed to call a cab or ride the subway when I went to NYC in high school, and it always felt like I was missing an aspect of the city because of it. The third place in Chicago I visited was the hostel.

Chicago Hostel

Hostelling International Chicago is conveniently located downtown, within walking distance of everything I wanted to visit. It was the only HI-brand hostel I’ve ever stayed at, and by far the largest! This hostel was quite a bit more expensive than any other hostel I’ve visited, plus I had to pay a few more dollars because I wasn’t a Hostelling International member, but it was still a great deal when you consider that any other accommodation within several miles would be at least three times the price. I checked in and went up to my dorm for a tiny bit of shut-eye before I woke up with the excitement of wanting to seize the day. Since I usually travel slowly, cramming Chicago into just one full day was a challenge, but I think I made the best of it.

As I was heading down to the first floor of the hostel, I noticed a sign that said the hostel sold discount tickets for the Willis Tower Skydeck. That was on my agenda, and I’m always up for saving money, so I picked up a ticket from the front desk before heading out.

Chicago Willis Tower

Just a few blocks away was the Willis Tower, although many people still know it as the Sears Tower. It was the tallest building in America up until this year when the new World Trade Center was built. Unfortunately, when I got to the Skydeck entrance, employees were announcing to the crowd that there was a broken elevator and to come back later. I mentally rearranged my itinerary and headed towards what I thought was Lake Michigan.

Chicago Feet Statue

After walking for many, many blocks, I thought I should have been at the lake, but I wasn’t. I finally pulled out my GPS and discovered that I had been walking parallel to the lake the entire time! I turned and began heading the right way. It actually turned out for the better, because I hadn’t planned to go to the Magic Mile, but because I took this route I ended up at the very end of it. A race was going on that day, so I walked by the finish line and visited several of the vendors before continuing on by Lake Michigan.

Lake Michigan Chicago Harbor

I had flown over Lake Michigan before, but this was my first time seeing it up-close. For awhile, I enjoyed walking on the path by the harbor, with a few stops at interesting points like the Buckingham Fountain. Eventually, I made it to my intended destination: the Navy Pier.

Chicago Buckingham Fountain

Before leaving on this trip, I had asked for travel tips from people who had been to Chicago. The Navy Pier was a common recommendation. I enjoyed walking out above the lake, and going through the shops and art features, but I’m still not really sure why so many people told me to go here. I found a pizza shop on the pier where I ate lunch, and on the way out, I saw a Crave Bar truck where I grabbed my dessert. I then headed on to Millennium Park.

Chicago Navy Pier

Millennium Park is interesting in that is was created to celebrate y2k, but it wasn’t opened until several years later. I first found myself in a beautiful outdoor theater, but I was looking for the famous Cloudgate “Bean”. Something reflective across the theater caught the corner of my eye, and sure enough, it was The Bean! It was fun walking around and underneath The Bean for a fun house effect. My favorite part was trying to find myself in the reflection among the hundreds of other visitors!

Chicago Bean

After getting dizzy from the optical illusions of The Bean, I continued through the park’s art, including the Crown Fountain. I then turned back to downtown towards the tallest building I could find. I was going to see if the Willis Tower Skydeck had opened yet.

Chicago 2014 090

When I got there, the staff was still saying that it was closed. I went up to one employee and asked her if it would be open at any point in time that day.

“Nope, come back tomorrow.”

Knowing I wouldn’t have time since my bus left the next morning, I asked if there was any way I could get a refund. She scrunched her face up. “Refund?” I nodded. “Oh, you have a ticket? If you have a ticket, you can go inside!” I pulled out my ticket and went through the doors.

Because the staff hadn’t communicated very well that only ONE elevator wasn’t working, and that people could still come if they had bought a ticket elsewhere, there wasn’t much of a line at all. The trip started by going down to a basement floor, getting a security check, and then watching a video about the history of the tower. I then crammed with several other people on an elevator that went to the 99th floor. It felt really different on this floor. I don’t know if it was just in my head, but I’m convinced that I could feel the building sway! I then got onto another elevator to the 103rd floor, also known as the Skydeck.  It’s the highest the public can get in any building in the United States.

Chicago View from Skydeck

I enjoyed going around the building and looking through the panoramic windows. I was able to locate almost everywhere I went earlier that day. But the highlight of Chicago was definitely “The Ledge”. These are four glass rooms that stick out of the Skydeck, so you can see everything straight below you! Waiting in line allowed me to get the guts to walk out, but as soon as I stepped out, I felt like I was going to fall! I posed for a few pictures, and then stepped back onto solid, opaque ground! It was such a rush, I decided to go out on all four ledges. It never got any easier!

Chicago Skydeck Ledge

After coming back down to Earth, I walked around the Willis Tower and was amazed at how far up I’d gone. Because I was operating all day on only a few hours of sleep, I went back to the hostel to relax for a bit. I realized that I needed to find a Chicago pizza restaurant to eat dinner at, because the pizza I got at the pier wasn’t very good at all. After I had recovered enough, I asked the front desk for pizza recommendations, and I was sent to Lou Malnati’s. I didn’t realize until I got there, but this the most popular place for Chicago pizza! I had to wait outside for 45 minutes with a buzzer, but trust me, it was worth the wait! I ordered a personal pizza of their best deep dish, “The Lou”. I had always heard that traditional Chicago pizza had sausage, but this was vegetarian and featured a divine combination of spinach, mushrooms, tomatoes and three cheeses.

Chicago Lou Malnati

After finishing off with a cookie pizza dessert, I spent the rest of the evening exploring all that the hostel had to offer. After a somewhat restful night’s sleep, I woke up, enjoyed a full breakfast, got ready, and took a taxi back to the Greyhound Station, where I boarded the bus to my next destination!

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A big thank-you goes out to Hostelz.com! I found out about the HI-Chicago Hostel through this site, and there you can find thousands more!

Adventures in Moving

When I was little, I remember how fun I thought it was to move. After all, my family first moved out-of-state before I even turned one, so with all the subsequent moves, I thought it was just a natural thing to do. (Plus, being so young, I didn’t have to do any of the work!) But after I started school, we only moved once more to ensure that my sister and I could grow up in the same school district. But once I finished community college, I of course had to enjoy the adventures of moving once again!

I first moved at the age of twenty from Oregon to Nebraska. This was by far the easiest move. I didn’t have any commitments in Oregon, and I had an internship lined up in Nebraska that included housing. It turned out to be the basement of a camp chapel that didn’t even have kitchen appliances, but at least there were couches, bathrooms, and a squeaky bed to sleep in. At the time, the most obvious choice was for me to take the airplane. I hadn’t explored very many modes of transportation at this point in time. I looked into taking the train, but it only cost a little less and would take three days. (I did end up taking the train back for Christmas, though.) Because most people reading this probably have flown multiple times, I won’t bore you with details. It was a pretty typical flying day to get halfway across the country. I took two suitcases plus carryon items. It was enough to live on for a few months, but every time I went back to my parents’ house for Christmas, I would fill up another large suitcase with left-behind belongings. I ended up living in Nebraska for two years and one week.

I moved from there to Ohio next. I had bought a car around my first anniversary of living in Nebraska, and since I would need a car in Ohio, it was obvious that I would drive the 800 miles to my new home. Problem was, I did not yet have a home. I did have a job, though, and a couple of my coworkers-to-be let me crash at their place for a week. So I packed up my car and began my first-ever road trip. Since it was costing me vacation money to make this move, I wanted to make it as fun as possible. In Iowa, I stopped at an art park in downtown Des Moines and the future birthplace of Captain Kirk in Riverside. I stayed the night in Morris, Illinois, and the next day went to Michael Jackson’s childhood home in Gary, Indiana and to a park in Fort Wayne where Johnny Appleseed was buried. I also made sure to find at least one geocache in every state I drove through until I arrive in Ohio. After spending some time with the coworkers and having problems securing an apartment, I moved into an RV with a roommate for about a month before finally moving into an apartment. Well, it was actually a barn, but it was remodeled into apartments! If you total the time I lived in these three places in Central Ohio, I lived there for for one year and one week.

Most recently, I moved from Ohio back to Oregon. My adventurist self could have taken this negatively. After all, I wasn’t moving to a new place I had never been before like the two previous moves. But I set out to make the best of it. I first considered driving back, since I had accumulated quite a few belongings. But I knew that my car needed a lot of work, and even then it still might not make it all the way across the states, so I sold it. (And although I’m still car-less, I’m glad I can buy another car in Oregon- they don’t have rust here!) I considered having my things shipped, but after gettting estimates from shipping countries, I realized that getting everything shipped would cost more than replacing everything upon arrival. So I set to sell and donate most of my possessions. I ended up with two boxes of books that I would ship Media Mail, a 100-pound suitcase that I would ship Greyhound Package Express, and a suitcase, carry-on, messenger bag, and pillow that I would take with me on my trip. After considering flying and taking the train, I decided to go with the cheapest option that would allow me to see the most of this country: Greyhound bus. 

After having a friend drop me off at the Columbus Greyhound station, I went through Indiana to Chicago for the first time and spent two nights there. Then I went from Illinois, through Iowa, to Nebraska to spend two nights and visit coworkers. An overnight bus trip brought me to Denver, where I met up with my cousin for 24 hours of fun. From there, I took a two-night journey through Colorado, Wyoming, Utah, and Idaho to bring me back to Oregon, which included a several-hour layover in Portland where I went on a whirlwind self-guided tour. One thing about Greyhound is that there are rest stops and meal breaks along the way, so I really got to see a lot more of the country than I bargained for. This was a big plus, except when it was the middle of the night and I would have to wake up! Since I usually only travel with a backpack and maybe a small rolling carry-on, I did find it a huge hassle to schlep my own luggage at every transfer, but overall I think I had a much better experience moving like this than I would have any other way. If you’re still unsure that Greyhound is a good option, be on the lookout for a future post where I go over all the perks (and pitfalls) of riding the bus!

I’m not sure how long I’ll be in Oregon. I wouldn’t be surprised if I spend less than a year here. I know full well that moving can be stressful, but it can also be an adventure. The next time you move, see if you can find any interesting stops on the way there!

U.S. vs Canada: Who Has the Better Niagara Falls?

As much as I’ve traveled across the United States, I never seemed to make it to Canada. I had been to New York, but never set foot out of the Big Apple while there. This summer, I took an eight-day trip to Niagara Falls. This means I had the opportunity to see the other side of New York State, as well as finally enter Canada. And since I visited both sides of this international city, people often ask me “Which side is better?”

Now, when it comes to travel, I don’t play favorites. I sometimes say that because I’m not a mother, my trips are like my children, therefore it would be wrong to choose a favorite. And really, I enjoyed both countries very much, but for different reasons. Here are a few highlights from each side:

Transportation:

US: You can take a trolley around Niagara Falls State Park, which is a lot of fun and very inexpensive. Unfortunately, public transportation around the rest of the city isn’t so great.

CA: While there’s nothing fun like a trolley, you can buy a WeGo pass and ride any bus with the WeGo logo. It goes anywhere in town that a tourist would want to visit.

Sights:

US: You can get up-close and personal with the falls. There are spots where you can be about five feet away from the top of the falls. (Naturally there’s railing to keep you a safe distance.)

CA: There’s only one waterfall that spans from the US to Canada, but because you’re not so close, Canada is the best place for viewing the falls and taking scenic pictures.

Attractions:

US: My favorite attraction was Cave of the Winds, where you can walk a deck at the base of Bridal Veil falls and get drenched. Other attractions include the Gorge Discovery Center, Aquarium of Niagara, and the Observation Tower, all of which are packaged in the Discovery Pass. The most famous attraction is the Maid of the Mist boat tour.

CA: My favorite attraction was Journey Behind the Falls, where you literally walk in an underground tunnel where you can see the underside of Horseshoe Falls. Another attraction included on the Adventure Pass is an amazing theater experience called Niagara’s Fury. Canada has an identical tour to Maid of the Mist, but it is called the Hornblower Niagara Cruise.

Down the River:

US: The Gorge Trail system offers miles of paths along the Niagara all the way to Lewiston. I experienced it as a combination of hiking and biking, using a bike I rented from Gorge View. This takes you through three state parks, Niagara Falls (of course), Whirlpool (which is the best place to view the large Niagara whirlpool), and Devil’s Hole (aptly named because of the hundreds of torturous steps, but has a great view of the power plant). If you drive, you can go to Fort Niagara, which is a historic base where the Niagara drains into Lake Ontario.

CA: While you could walk downriver by foot on the sidewalks, the WeGo buses can take you all the way to Queenston Heights, with hop-on-hop-off stops at interesting places such as gift shops, aviaries, and a large floral clock by the power plant. The White Water Walk takes you on a long deck as close to the Whirlpool Rapids as is legal (there is also an Aerocar that takes passengers above the Whirlpool for an outrageous extra fee). This side also has a beautiful site where the Niagara connects with the Great Lake, and you can get there by paying an extra fee for a special WeGo bus.

City Life: 

US: This is the side where you’ll experience the most nature. Wooded forests, walkable islands, and dirt paths are hard to find on the other side of the Niagara. It also seems to be the quieter town, if you go a few blocks away from the park, there are only houses, restaurants, hotels, and one casino. If you’ve never had Indian food before, this is the place to try it. Authentic Indian restaurants are practically on every corner.

CA: This side has a lot more tourist flair. Clifton Hills is a Disney-Vegas mashup filled with quirky museums, flashy tourist traps, and casinos. There are elegant (AKA expensive!) restaurants that beautifully frame views of the falls, most notably the Seattle Space Needle’s twin, Skylon Tower. While the nature aspect is lacking, more tourists mean more shops and services are offered here.

Hostels:

US: I stayed at Gorge View Hostel, which is the closest hostel to Niagara Falls. My favorite aspects were that is was across the street from the aquarium, the bedrooms were spacious and comfortable, and the owner let guests go on the roof to watch fireworks.

CA: I stayed at Niagara Backpackers Hostel in the bed-and-breakfast community, so everything was pretty upscale and historic-looking. I enjoyed this family-run accommodation, and the free breakfast was delicious!

Names and Number of Falls:

US: There are three waterfalls: American, Bridal Veil, and Horseshoe. The American Falls span between mainland New York and Luna Island. From Luna Island to Goat Island is Bridal Veil Falls. Then from Goat Island (still part of New York) to Canada is the Horseshoe Falls.

CA: There are two waterfalls. The American Falls is the collective name for the waterfalls on the US side. Of course the largest waterfall is still a horseshoe, but it is referred to here as the CANADIAN Horseshoe Falls! I just found it funny that each side has different interpretations of what the falls are!

As long as you have a passport, I encourage you to visit both sides of Niagara Falls to get the full experience. After all, perhaps the best part of Niagara Falls is walking across the Rainbow Bridge, where you have one foot in each country! 

Note: This post was made possible in part by two hostels on opposite sides of the Niagara! Gorge View in the States, and Backpacker’s Hostel in Canada.

Mansfield Reformatory of Central Ohio

(Originally published July 6, 2014)

I got pulled over yesterday afternoon. And then I went to prison. No, the consequence for speeding isn’t THAT harsh; in fact, the whole reason I was driving in the first place was so I could go to prison. I guess I should explain…

Whenever I have an uninterrupted weekend off from my “real” job, I try to travel somewhere. Because of the holiday, I had a full 72 hours off, but in the midst of planning for some big upcoming trips and recovering from the adventures of the previous week, planning a Fourth of July trip wasn’t exactly on my mind. So there I was, on the birthday weekend of our nation, with nothing to do. After a bit of research, I decided to celebrate my freedom… by going to prison.

Mansfield, Ohio, isn’t too far away from my current home, but even though I’ve lived in the state for over 10 months now, this was one city I still hadn’t visited. It seems like there is lots to do here. There’s a Bible-themed wax museum, a carrousel park, and several beautiful natural parks and museums. But since this was only a spontaneous afternoon trip, I decided to choose one thing to be my main event in Mansfield. So of course, I had to choose the most unique thing I could find… the Mansfield Reformatory.

Since I was visiting a city that’s over 100 times bigger than the population of my current village, I decided to use this opportunity to run a few errands. (And yes, I got pulled over on my way there, and no, I don’t want to talk about it!) I found out where the bus station is, got gas that’s over twenty cents cheaper than anywhere else nearby, and scoured the clearance section of the Mansfield Kroger, which is what I always do whenever I’m near a new Kroger. Then I went to the Reformatory, which on the outside looks like a castle. The inside, however, looks much more grim.

The first part of the self-guided tour was of some offices and the warden’s living quarters. Because it hasn’t been used for years, It is very run-down. The negative thing about that is that there is chipping lead paint EVERYWHERE, making this tour unsafe for little kids and making me feel gross by the time I finished the tour. On the positive side, it did contribute to the historic charm, and for some, it allowed for ghost stories. Yes, they have lots of ghosts sightings and ghost hunts here, and there is even a “Ghost Hunt Manager” on staff! But of course I was much more interested in other aspects, such as the architecture. There were video kiosks situated around the Reformatory, and one mentioned how the staircases were stainless steel in order to be fireproof, but in order to look nice they were painted to look like wood. The videos also showed some scenes for Shawshank Redemption. That was one of the movies that was filmed largely in this building, along with Air Force One. In Air Force One, some of the extras were actual prisoners! I enjoyed going around the warden’s quarters to find scenes from Shawshank Redemption, which in the film was used as offices and conference rooms. Although I haven’t seen the movie before, this is the second place I’ve visited that was part of the set, so I kind of want to see it just so I can say “yeah, I’ve been there”. Here’s me recreating one scene from the movie:

After going through the offices and living quarters, which in itself took quite awhile, the tour led to rooms that the inmates were more likely to see. One of my favorite rooms was the chapel. It had some of the art preserved from when it was in operation, and although it looked fairly ugly now, you can tell that in its day it must have been one of the most beautiful rooms in the prison!

On the stage of the chapel, there was a window with the sign “photography through this window is strictly forbidden!” While I followed the rules, I was of course curious of what there was that I couldn’t photograph. You see, while the reformatory no longer holds prisoners, the newer correction facility right behind it certainly does. I spent quite some time just seeing what was going on, you could see hundreds of people in their uniforms spending time outside. I’m not sure why it was so intriguing, but it was the first time I really got a glimpse of a prison!

After peeking at the modern-day prison, I was soon led to an in-depth look at the old one. The Mansfield Reformatory has two cell blocks. The east one, also known as the world’s largest free-standing steel cell block, is six stories high with one hundred cells on each story- that held a total of 1200 inmates! The tour starts you out on the very top, and even though there was a fence to keep people from falling off (and perhaps preventing suicides back in the day), I was nervous the entire time! I was still frightened even as I went down the next couple of floors, but my longing to explore the cells helped me overcome it. Although all the cells look pretty much the same (except for the operator cells, where an employee would do things like open the cell doors), many of the cells are open to go inside, so of course I had to take some pictures of myself playing inmate!

Seeing the conditions that the inmates lived in was very sobering. I thought my bedroom was small, but the cells were half the size, with a toilet and sink, and shared with someone else! And there were thousands of people who lived here, and, according to one of the kiosk videos, some died here. They did have a library, which was way too small for the 1900 people staying there at any given time, plus it was used as a hospital when necessary. They could shower twice a week, but the public showers looked more like a sprayer you’d find in a barn. The original kitchen and dining area were oh so tiny, no way to make homemade food and certainly no time to taste it! After this I visited the smaller west cell block (only holding 700) and finally the solitary confinement, but that was certainly too saddening to take any pictures.

At the beginning and end of the tour, there were museum-type rooms that contained not only artifacts from the movies on the location, but from several apsects of the Reformatory. There were theatrical posters, cast scripts, a replica electric chair, and creative inventions made by the inmates using their limited resources. After nearly three hours, I knew that there was still so much to explore, but I was getting tired and the building would soon close. (Being trapped alone at night in this building is NOT on my to-do list!) Besides the standard gift shop, the tour ended with hand sanitizer (thank goodness!) and brochures for nearby attractions. I got some information for places that sounded interesting, and even found a coupon for a bulk food store I had heard of earlier. So I decided I would go to Pumpkin Seed, and I’m glad I did. They had all kinds of healthy food, and although some were pricier than what I’ve seen elsewhere, there were some very good deals. I bought discount peanuts and freshly-ground peanut butter, and then headed over to the Gorman Nature Center, where I enjoyed a bike ride/hike and contemplated whether or not I wanted to go the fireworks display that was in a state park fifteen miles away. When I realized that the reformatory itself made for a full day, I decided to head home, going exactly the speed limit the entire way. Besides, next week I’m going to a place where there will also be fireworks…and I’m sure the display will be much, much better. Stay tuned!