Accommodations, Architecture, ART, Attractions, DESTINATIONS, Restaurants & Bars, Road Trips, TRAVEL, Travel Books, United States

Multnomah County Poor Farm

McMenamins Edgefield, Troutdale OR
The Erstwhile Multnomah County Poor Farm


Welcome to Oregon! Well, sort of. This summer my husband and I spent twelve days traveling the state and now I’m sharing the experience with you. I’ll tell you about the attractions we visited, the meals we ate and where we stayed. Maybe you’ll decide you want to visit Oregon, too. Today’s focus is a slightly funky Troutdale resort caled McMenamins Edgefield.

Setting Out on the Road

Leaving Portland behind on the fourth morning of our vacation, Bill and I headed East to spend a day on the Columbia River Gorge.  I hadn’t anticipated some of our culinary challenges in Portland, but way back in Dallas I’d  decided that I wanted to start our tour of the Gorge with a special meal.  In my research, I depended heavily on DK Eyewitness Travel’s Pacific Northwest Guide.  On pages 90 and 91 is a two-page spread of the “Columbia River Gorge and Mount Hood Driving Tour.”  DK Eyewitness suggested that we could do the whole tour in a day.  Good thing I didn’t take them up on that one!

DK Eyewitness used Troutdale as the starting point for the tour, so I googled

McMenamins Edgefield, Troutdale OR
Taking a stroll around the resort

Troutdale to find breakfast.  That led me to McMenamins Edgefield.  “Historic Edgefield, built in 1911 as the county poor farm, is a destination resort in the Pacific Northwest that blends Oregon’s natural beauty with McMenamins’ signature whimsy: original buildings carefully restored with cozy interiors, gardens grown using organic methods, great food and drink, live entertainment and more,” read the home page.  (How could I resist that?)  “On the grounds, you will find an array of diversions. Enjoy our fine-dining restaurant, classic pub, numerous small bars and summertime grill,” continued the home page.”  That sounded like breakfast to me.

Even Frommer’s Portable Portland agreed, “With so much in one spot, this makes a great base for exploring the area.  The beautiful grounds give this inn the feel of a remote retreat, though you are still within 30 minutes of Portland.”  Sold!

McMenamins Edgefield, Troutdale OR
Delicious meals grown right here!

The GPS took us right to the resort and we immediately knew we’d arrived somewhere out of the ordinary.  As we turned on to the tree-lined gravel path, guests wearing terry robes and flip flops meandered along, chatting among themselves with the air of folks who were having a grand old time of it.  We found a parking lot and I pulled out a map I’d downloaded from the McMenamins Edgefield website.  There are ten (count them TEN) different eating and drinking opportunities on the property and you might want to stroll around and visit each one before settling on your venue, but Bill and I were hungry.  The first place we found was the Black Rabbit Restaurant, so we sat down to order breakfast.

Chicken Fried Steak and Eggs, Grilled Steak and Eggs, Poor Farm Biscuits, Smoked Salmon Hash, Corned Beef Hash,
Chilaquiles Tortillas and Challah French Toast Amaretto.  Toto we’re not in Denny’s anymore!  I had the Edgefield Breakfast: “Your choice of Canadian bacon, pork-apple sausage links, pepper bacon or veggie sausage patties; three eggs cooked to order, roasted potatoes and toast.”  Bill had the Challah French Toast Amaretto.  The next hour was blissful, but neither of us could clean our plates.  How does anyone eat three eggs?

“The next hour?” you ask.  I told you, this is not fast food.  I can also tell you that no one at McMenamis Edgefield has ever been or ever will be in a hurry.  So just sit back and enjoy yourself.

After our leisurely breakfast, we made a tour of the grounds.  Yes, there’s a nine hole golf course and also a vegetable

McMenamins Edgefield, Troutdale OR
An Edgefield guest enjoying the environs

garden where they grow much of what they cook.  Many of the buildings left behind from the County Poor Farm days have been re-purposed.  We discovered that all the terry clad guests wandering the property had been down to Ruby’s for their spa treatments.  Other folks were just sitting around enjoying the day.  There’s a sense that you’ve just joined some really retro commune when you’re at the resort, but it’s an utterly charming sensation.

I give a big thumbs up to McMenamins Edgefield.  Someday I hope to spend a few nights there, not just eat breakfast.  A lot of attractions claim to be a “must see,” but this is one you really must see (and taste) to believe.  Our pictures just don’t do it justice.  Come back next Wenesday and we’ll head out into the Gorge.

Architecture, ART, Attractions, Decorative Arts, DESTINATIONS, Gardens, Road Trips, TRAVEL, Travel Books, United States

Pittock Mansion in Portland OR


Welcome to Oregon! Well, sort of. In June my husband and I spent twelve days traveling the state and now I’m sharing the experience with you. I’ll tell you about the attractions we visited, the meals we ate and where we stayed. Maybe you’ll decide you want to visit Oregon, too. Today’s focus is is the Pittock Mansion in Portland.

Visiting the Pittock Mansion

It was raining as we pulled into the mansion’s parking lot and we didn’t want to lug around our new SLR camera, so I reached into my backpack and pulled out my old point and shoot.  That’s when I discovered I didn’t pack any batteries for it.  (So much for good intentions.)

I think Oregon needs to invest in some good PR.  Pittock Mansion is every bit as grand and glorious as the other grand and glorious mansions I’ve seen around the nation, but figuring this out without a lot of research is almost impossible.  On Portland’s own tourism site, it takes several clicks to get to the top attractions and Pittock Mansion is seventh on the list below a book store and a coffee shop.  There is something wrong with this picture.  And speaking of pictures, the photograph on the Portland site wouldn’t excite me to visit the mansion and the other travel guides I read didn’t do much better.

However, historic homes rate right up there with gardens for me, so I wasn’t satisfied with the information I was being fed.  I kept digging.  Still, even after I decided to make visiting the home a high priority, I really didn’t get impressed until I was inside the mansion.  There is no grand entrance as you climb the hill approaching the home.  After buying our tickets in what seemed to be a gatehouse, we were directed to a porte cochere where a nondescript side door provides access.  After a modest entry hall, we wandered into the grand Stair Hall.  Finally, I felt like I was in a mansion.

We were lucky enough to hook up with a tour which was only a couple of rooms ahead of us.  Maybe one of the reasons Portland doesn’t take this grand old lady of architecture as seriously as they should is because the owners didn’t take it very seriously, either.  According to our guide, this lovely Stair Hall was used by the Pittock children as a skating rink.

Another reason for the house’s less than spectacular reputation might be that the architect hadn’t quite figured out how to do homes when he designed the Pittock Mansion in the early 1900’s.  The guide told us the architect had only designed office buildings prior to his commission for the Pittock home.  The way the Stair Hall dominates the house on all three of the main floors demonstrates a similarity to commercial spaces.

Also very commercial is the way the house was set up in suites, instead of having a floor or wing of the house devoted to sleeping spaces.  Since Mr. Pittock was already seventy-five when he started planning the mansion, his girls were married and the children who skated in the Stair Hall were actually grandchildren.  Mr. & Mr. Pittock had one suite and then each of their daughter’s had separate suites which held their immediate families.

In spite of it’s odd configuration, this is a home you should see.  Sadly, Mr. and Mrs. Pittock only lived in the house for a few years after it was finished.  She died four years after the home’s completion and he passed away a year later.  One of their grandsons, Peter, lived in the mansion until 1958, but by 1962 the house had fallen on hard times – or you might say suffered a hard fall.  The Columbus Day Storm of 1962 had hurricane force winds which knocked down trees, which in turn fell on the home, threatening the integrity of its structure.  Had it not been for devoted Portlanders, the home would have been razed.  It took several years to gather the funds they needed, but restoration began in earnest in 1968.

Even if architecture and history isn’t exactly your thing, you still might enjoy the mansion.  Henry was an innovator and a forward thinker.  His bathroom rivals anything HGTV designers dream up.  The views of Portland from the lawn are spectacular.  And it’s only $8.  A ticket to the Biltmore Mansion can set you back $59.

You’ll learn more about the Pittocks as I share more information with you about Portland, but I’ll stop here for today.  Next week I’ll tell you about the Portland Museum of Art.

DESTINATIONS, Road Trips, TRAVEL, Travel Books, Travel Planning, United States

Decisions, Decisions, Decisions


Before the week is out, I’ll board a plane to Oregon. In December, Bill and I decided to visit the Pacific Northwest for  this year’s vacation.  A couple of months ago in this blog I explained how I arrived at that decision.  Well, since then I’ve been in travel-planning mode.

Doing the Research

As soon as we’d decided on a vacation in the Pacific Northwest, I started doing my research.  My first resource was Pacific Northwest published by Eyewitness Travel, something I picked up at the local Barnes & Noble.  It’s a delicious travel book and within hours of owning it, I’d already marked it up and had sticky notes hanging off the pages.  I like hard copy for travel planning.  Next it was a pair Frommer’s guides, one for Portland and the other for Seattle.  From there I started googling and my printer was red hot for weeks.

Ambitious soul that I am, I was trying to stuff Washington, Oregon and parts of British Columbia into a two week vacation.  Silly me!  Even though I planned to hug the coast and focus on major cities, there was a lot to see. Maybe if we had two months I could have made it to all the places on my wish list, but even then it would be tough.  I was faced with a dilemma.

Twice the Fun

So I planned two vacations.  One was for Washington with a few days devoted to the San Juan Islands and Victoria, British Columbia.  In the other, I focused on Oregon.  I hoped that one or the other of them would capture Bill’s imagination, but I did such a good job he liked both of them as much as I did.

My mother didn’t hesitate a moment.  She lobbied for us to go to Washington and British Columbia.  Her reasoning consisted of a list of all the people she knew who had been on Seattle-focused vacations and how much they’d loved it.  I asked her if any of her traveling friends had been to Oregon.  She didn’t know anyone who’d traveled to Oregon and that seemed to be all the proof she needed to provide in her case against the poor state.

The Road Less Traveled

I love my mom and I hate to disappoint her, but the more she tried to convince me of Seattle’s charms, the more I knew I’d be flying to Portland.  I loved the sound of everything there was to see in Seattle, Tacoma and Victoria, but I longed for the road less traveled.  As I weighed the pros and cons of both destinations, Seattle lost out to the Oregon Trail, Lewis and Clark, Sacajawea and a historic inn at the foot of a mountain with year-round skiing.  I live in a big city with great museums, but I don’t get much in the way of lonely stretches of beach, lighthouses, waterfalls and jet boat river excursions.  Oregon was my dream destination – this year.

Don’t get me wrong.  Washington has a lot of nature to run around in, but there are entirely too many other distractions.  I knew I’d be juggling ferry schedules with museum opening times and the hours at Pike Place Market.  I’d come home as worn out as I felt before the vacation.  It was all well and good for me to say I wanted to focus on nature and take a more relaxing vacation, but I know me.  If there’s a museum within striking distance, I think I’m supposed to go.

Washington, Maybe Next Time

Eventually, I had to share my choice with Mom.  She was not happy about it and she extracted a promise from me that I’d take that Washington vacation at some time in the future.  I faithfully promised that I would, but the more I learn about Oregon, I’m not so sure.  I may just have to keep visiting Oregon.  I’ve planned a twelve day excursion, but I think I’d need twelve weeks in each of the locales I’ll visit to really do the state justice – and that’s just the Western part of the state.

For the next two weeks, I won’t be blogging, but I’ll be thinking of you and I’ll gather enough memories to write a series of blogs that I hope will excite you enough to inspire you to plan your own trail through Oregon.

DESTINATIONS, International, Road Trips, Shopping, TRAVEL, Travel Books, United States

The Ubiquitous Souvenir Book

Buckhorn Saloon and Museum, San Antonio TX
Souvenir of another trip to San Antonio


What is your favorite type of souvenir to buy when you travel? Jewelry, clothing, Christmas ornaments and decorative boxes have come home with me from all over the world.  When I was a little girl, dolls were my favorite souvenir.  I have a denim jacket covered in travel pins which is sincerely coveted by someone each time I wear it.

Souvenirs of My Travel 

I try to focus my purchases on items which represent the handicrafts of a particular region;  carved wooden ornaments from Oberammergau, tole enamel work from Vienna and English porcelain.    One thing is for sure, if “souvenir of wherever” is stamped, embroidered or carved on it, it’s not going in my shopping bag.  I also look for “made in someplace else” tags and avoid them if I can.  I want authentic souvenirs.  The exception being souvenir books.  I can’t resist them.  I went over to my bookshelf and pulled off three random examples.Finest Legends of the Rhine , Wilhelm Ruland

Finest Legends of the Rhine

The first is a 3X5 hardbound edition of “The Finest Legends of the Rhine” by Weihem Ruland, still in it’s dustcover.  It begins, “To-day we are deeply touched, as our forefathers must have been, at the recital of the boundless suffering and the overwhelming concatenation of sin and expiation in the lives of Recken and Frauen of the Nibelungen Legend.”  I don’t know about you, but my travel journals don’t sound like that.  Gracing the pages of the book are charming line drawings, illustrating scenes suggested by the legends.  Stuck between pages fourteen and fifteen is a decal from Oberammergau wishing me “Gute Fahrt.”  Yes, I’m glad I bought that book.

Great Escapes for the Tower of London

Great Escapes from The Tower of LondonG. Abbot’s Great Escapes from The Tower of London was number two.  It’s a paperback, almost double the size of the Rhine Legends book, but about the same thickness.  The inside cover tells me the book was written by a Beefeater, Yeoman Warder Abbot.  This kindly Beefeater penned a poem to kick off each chapter, “A box of droughts is this the Tower of London./A whistling cage of weather/Set on the city’s edge.”  His entertaining narrative is highlighted with photographs he’s taken himself and historical drawings.

Footnotes of the Buckhorn

Finally, there’s the Centennial Edition of Footnotes of the Buckhorn.  I probably picked it up for a buck twenty five as I sipped an icy Lone Star Longneck in San Antonio’s old Buckhorn Saloon back in 1981.  The place has been gussied up since then.  It’s no wonder Fritz and Emile Toepperweins  put the little book together.  Their ancestors Ad and Plinky Toepperweins, who traveled as sharpshooters for Winchester, considered the Buckhorn their headquarters.  There’s a gallery dedicated to them in the Buckhorn Museum.  I know, not because I remember, but because Footnotes says so.

Amazon tells me I could get a new copy of Rulands book for $60, but several owners of the same book are willing to let it go for only a penny plus shipping.  If all I wanted to do was read it, I could do so for free at  But none of these options would bring back the excitement of finding the little book in a gift shop decades ago.  I would have missed the memories it evoked anytime I reorganized my books or packed them for a move or unpacked them in one of my new homes.  Nor would I still have a “Gute Fahrt” sticker.

The Buckhorn book is the motherlode.  A new copy would cost $217.25.  I wonder how their new edition would compare to the pristine copy on my shelf.  Surely I could get more than a penny for it, because you can’t read it for free on the internet.

Yes, I’m glad to have my souvenir books and I wouldn’t sell them on Amazon, but if you’re interested, I could let the Tower book go for about $96, which is a hundred less than one available copy.  The next time I find myself in a gift shop in a strange city, I’ll probably buy a few more.  How about you?

ART, DESTINATIONS, Performing Arts, Road Trips, TRAVEL, Travel Books, United States, WRITING

Traveling by Book


Do you have a favorite book that you like to travel with? I don’t mean a book that you like to take on trips with you. I mean one that takes you away with it.  I have an old favorite: Praise the Human Season by Don Robertson.  According to Wikipedia it’s just an also-ran among other more popular works by this author, but when you read the comments on Amazon, you have to wonder if there’s ever been a better book.  I’m with the commenters on Amazon.

My Favorite Road Trip Book

Praise the Human Season is a book about two elderly people who take off on a road trip without a destination.  Woven in between the their tales of the road are their memories of the past.  It’s hard to decide which is better, the road trip or the memories, but I’d like to recommend the premise of their road trip as a way to live.  They decided what the budget for the trip would be and withdrew the money from the bank.  When half the money was spent, they planned to head back home.  They took their cat along with them, because they had no idea when they’d return.

What a great way to travel!  On the first day of the trip they loaded up the car and then decided what direction to go.  Rather than head to the nearest amusement park, museum or popular attraction, they headed to a cemetery.  Now a cemetery might not be your idea of a great destination, but they had their reasons.  When they got there, they didn’t drive through and move on to the next entertainment.  They got out of the car, walked around and spoke to someone else who was there.  What a concept!  When was the last time you did something like that?  Today we’re more likely to sit in our car and text someone we already know.

Back on the road, though they’d already selected a direction of travel, they changed course when the wife recalled a relative who lived nearby.  On a whim!  Could you do that?  I find myself cutting down on my connections with people to satisfy my schedule.  I let the urgent block out the necessary.  Imagine tossing your schedule down the drain to visit someone who matters, but you haven’t seen in a while.

On the way to the relative, they see an old man next to a broken down car.  Instead of breezing past, they stopped and helped.  Now I know all about the trouble you can get into picking up hitchhikers.  I’m not suggesting we should throw caution to the wind, but what if the world had no Good Samaritans.  This being a book, the old man offered information critical to the plot.  The book couldn’t have gone on without him, but if we’re whizzing around our lives ignoring the people who need us, there’s a lot we might miss too.

The adventures continue and the end will break your heart, but it’s a read worth every minute you devote to it.  I suggest you get your hands on a copy.  I also suggest you travel through life with the same agenda as the protagonist.   Forgo the amusement park to visit a cemetery.  Talk to the people who wander through your life.  Don’t let your itinerary control you.  Be ready to take side trips.  Help people along the way. Above all, take your cat with you.  You’ll be glad you did.

DESTINATIONS, Road Trips, Shopping, TRAVEL, Travel Books, Travel Planning, United States

Texas Highways, My Favorite Magazine

Texas Highways


Texas Highways is the only magazine I subscribe to. Oh, I buy Poets & Writers with great regularity and I never mind spending a little time in a grocery store line, because I get a kick out of the celebrity-filled weeklies, but I can live without them. I can’t live with out my Texas Highways.

Other Magazine Loves

In my single days, when travel was not in my budget, magazines were a necessity.  I took Smithsonian , Gourmet  and Conde Nast Traveler .  Each page was a promise to the future.  Since those days, I’ve realized many of the dreams those slick magazine pages inspired. Now, my dreams focus on finding a literary agent and getting my novels published (something wilder than my hopes to visit the Taj Mahal), but I read Texas Highways.

Love of Hard Copy

Though completely connected to the digital world, I still love my paper.  I might enjoy my Kindle, but it merely feeds my ongoing addiction.  It couldn’t replace any one of my twelve Bibles,  my hardbound set of Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings trilogy or my Don Quixote with notes from Dr. Cotter’s class.  Nor will email ever replace the thrill of opening the mailbox.  Yes, I get snail mail rejections from agents out there, but more often the box is filled with coupons from Market Street, greeting cards and invitations or my latest Texas Highways.

Vicarious Subscription

For most of my adult life, I just depended on my parents’ copies of Texas Highways.  I can’t remember a time when their coffee table didn’t sport the latest three issues.  I was tempted to get my own subscription while I lived in California, but I feared the arrival of each issue would set off a crying jag.  I was already suffering from the world’s most severe case of homesickness and didn’t need any encouragement.

Once I returned to Texas, the joy of being home manifested itself with an uncontrollable desire to steal my parents’  Texas Highways.   Some picture of an attraction just an hour or so from home would make me think , “I could go there if I wanted to!”  I would never take the latest copy of the magazine, just something from their horde of old issues.  (We do not throw away Texas Highways in this family.  If you don’t believe me, check out my parent’s front bedroom – decades of Texas Highways fill the bottom shelf of a built-in bookcase.)  When I discovered the few issues I thought I’d borrowed had become significant stack of reading material, I decided it was time for my own subscription.

My Own Copy

Now one of my favorite days of the month is the day my magazine arrives.  I try to guess what the picture on the front cover will be, before I even pull it out of the mailbox.  When I’ve guessed correctly and it’s someplace I love, like the Riverwalk in San Antonio or the beach on Padre Island, my face can barely contain my smile.  And my favorite month for Texas Highways is March, because that’s when the April Wildflower Issue will arrive.

This April’s edition did not disappoint.  The cover is a field of bluebonnets taken in Washington County.  The contents page sports Black-eyed Susans and Indian Paintbrushes from Austin’s Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center.  Then page 30 starts an eighteen page orgy of wildflower blooms.  If wildflowers are not your thing, then there’s an article about ecotourism in East Texas, a Fine Arts Center in Granbury, bakery treats in Presidio and tales from a road trip to Wimberly.

Since I subscribe, I could already tell you what’s in my May issue, but you’ll just have to get your own subscription.  Like my parents, I horde away all my old copies.  Sometimes I just pull them out for entertainment and get as much comfort from them as I do from my own scrapbooks.  Or I might be writing about an area and need a reminder of the way it looks.  Another time I refer to my Texas Highways is when I’m planning a trip.  On my last vacation, I found articles that allowed me to appreciate the Texas Grasslands, find a place to eat in Amarillo, plan the most scenic route through the Palo Duro Canyons and add Cadillac Ranch to my itinerary.  One of the advertisements pointed me to a website where I found a Pullman Railway Car to stay in at Fredericksburg.  And those are just the articles that I actually used on the trip – I had others in reserve that we didn’t utilize.

Most everyone has a magazine they’ll read every time it appears, whether that’s a doctor’s waiting room, under the dryer at a salon or in line at the grocery store.  What’s your favorite?

Architecture, ART, DESTINATIONS, International, Museums, Restaurants & Bars, Road Trips, TRAVEL, Travel Books, Travel Planning

The Vacation I Carry with Me

Visit Fort Worth
The Fiesta Garden at Joe T. Garcia’s in fort Worth


The water laps gently against the pool’s edge. On my table, sun shining through beads of condensation illuminate a pitcher of margaritas. At the next table, a waiter delivers a sizzling skillet of fajitas. I’ve ordered the traditional dinner, so my large cheddar-covered tortilla chips will arrive soon and they’ll be followed by waves of other Tex-Mex favorites.

A wave crashing on the shore of Moonstone Beach reminded me Joe T. Garcia’s Mexican Restaurant was about 1500 miles away.  Around me, travelers from all over the world snapped pictures of seals sunning on wave-drenched rocks.  Cambria, California is a popular tourist destination, but I wasn’t on vacation.

Bill and I lived on the Central Coast of California for six years.  We built a beautiful house over-looking Pismo Beach and I’m proud to call a lot of people who live there friends, but it wasn’t home.  When life in the land of fruits and nuts closed in on me, I’d grab Precious, my darling Shih-Tzu, and drive to Moonstone Beach.  I hate to admit it, but I’d stand there on that beautiful beach and cry my eyes out, wishing I could be in the Fiesta Gardens at Joe T. Garcia’s Mexican Restaurant in Fort, Worth, Texas.


Visit Dallas
My Place by the Creek

So, now I’m back in Dallas.  Instead of staring into the Pacific Ocean from my rooftop patio, I sit in my office and look out at a leg of White Rock Creek making its way to the Trinity River.  Given my California tears, you’d be justified in thinking that I’m at Joe T. Garcia’s every Friday night, but I really only go there a few times each year.  It’s one of the places I save for special occasions – but from California, Joe T.’s seemed to epitomize every thing I missed about Texas.


Let me take a moment to tell you about Joe T. Garcia’s.  No matter where you live in the world, you need to put Joe T.’s on your bucket list.  The fact that it’s been left out of 1000 Places to See Before You Die is a crying shame.  Naysayer’s will tell you there’s better Tex-Mex in the world, but don’t believe them.  For an experience which transcends mere dining out, you need to go to Joe T.’s – but go early or you won’t get a seat.  (And bring green, because they don’t take credit cards.)   Since I’m making confessions here, I’ll tell you that every time I walk into the Fiesta Gardens these days my eyes tear up.  I’m tempted to fall on my knees and kiss the ground, but instead I order a pitcher of margaritas and that seems to help.


Joe T.’s Fiesta Garden is one of the vacations I carry in my head – along with sitting on rocks in Oak Creek Canyon‘s Indian Springs, riding a camel next to the Pyramids, watching ballet in Schonbrunn Palace and strolling through the pre-1991 Jeu de Paume in Paris.  There’s no airfare, no rental cars and no bags to pack.  I can just close my eyes and go there.  It’s OK, that they’ve built  a bunch of houses on my favorite stretch of Sedona and moved my favorite Impressionists paintings to another museum.  I can even be sitting at a stoplight and immediately escape to one of my favorite places.  Everyone needs to carry their vacations with them.

I go to Moonstone Beach often, now.  There’s a lot on my plate and the sound of the crashing waves, the smell of the verdant vegetation and the taste of salt on my lips can transform a bad day.  Now, I don’t even have to put up with all those tourists chattering in a polyglot of languages.  I just listen to the seals bark.  Where do you go on the vacations in your mind?

UPDATE January 1, 2015 – I took an actual road trip to Moonstone Beach in June of 2014.  Read about it here.  I also sold my creekside home and am building one in Heath.

DESTINATIONS, DFW Metroplex, Road Trips, TRAVEL, Travel Books, Travel Planning, WRITING

I Want a Map

My Favorite Travel Tool
My Favorite Travel Tool


National Geographic’s The American Road Atlas & Travel Planner is where my road trip planning  begins!  My copy is at least a decade old, but still does the job.  When I open it up, the smell of opportunity fills the air.  If I’m having a bad day, all I have to do is pick up my atlas and imagine my next trip – or follow a road I’ve highlighted to remember an old favorite.

Digital Travel Tools

Yes, I have a GPS for getting around and Mapquest is great for planning routes, but those travel tools are only useful when I know where it is I want to go or if I’m actually in the car.  Unfortunately, I’m driving my desk much more frequently than my car.


The front section of the book is devoted to regional guides.  If I need some help deciding where to go, I can browse the gorgeous pictures until one captures my interest.  Then National Geographic helpfully locates it on a state map and gives me  a quick description of the attraction.  Once I realize I’ve found the highlight of my next vacation, I go to the big two-page spread of interstate highways to imagine what other places I can include on my route.

But, I’m not going to spend all my time on the interstate.  Nosireebob!  As soon as I understand the general direction I’m headed in, I flip to the back of the book to find scenic drives anywhere near my potential route.  So far I’ve only made it to a handful, but once you’ve seen wonders like Oak Creek Canyon, The Adirondacks and the Natchez Trace, you know it’s worth going a day out of your way to enjoy them.  A list of National Parks is right next to the scenic drives and I insert them into my travels at every opportunity, also.

Eventually, I’ll actually look up the state maps, which constitute the bulk of the book.  The first thing I’m looking for are routes with red dashes next to them.  These are not necessarily scenic routes officially recognized and named by some entity, but all are lovely roads pointed out by the nice people at National Geographic.  I might not go a day out of my way to see them, but I’ll replace the interstate stretches with them every time.

Then I look for little red boxes.  National Geographic calls them points of interest.  Looking at a map of West Texas, I see “Caverns of Sonora”, “Judge Roy Bean Visitor Center” and “McDonald Observatory”.  (I wonder how soon I can head that way?)  Now I’m ready to start my research in earnest.  I’ll spend hours on the internet, browse my favorite bookstores and quiz all my friends, but if it weren’t for my trusty atlas, I’d be lost in cyberspace.


Recently, as I worked on a novel, I needed my characters to get from East Texas to Reno, Nevada in a motor coach.  Out came my atlas.  I figured out their route, found RV parks for them to spend the night in and likely spots for truck stops.  I guessed where they’d run into traffic jams, where they’d have poor cell phone reception and which bits would be the most exhausting drives.  For several days, my atlas stayed open next to me, pointing out what I should write next.  It was almost as much fun as taking the trip myself.

Technology is great.  I’d fight you for my GPS and my Mapquest page is bookmarked in my favorites.  But when it comes to planning a road trip, I want a map.  Which travel tools do you prefer when you make travel plans?

UPDATE January 2, 2015 – I still love my atlas!

Attractions, DESTINATIONS, Restaurants & Bars, Road Trips, TRAVEL, Travel Books, Travel Planning, United States

Off the Beaten Path

Off the Beaten Path Travel Guides – One of My Favorite Travel tools


Off the Beaten Path (OTBP) books have led me to destinations I wouldn’t have found any other way.  These books have become so much a part of my travel experience that I can’t even remember when I picked up the first one.  Though many of my travel books have long since been thrown away, I’ve kept my OTBP’s.  With them I’ve taken dirt roads not found on any map and waded beaches even the locals didn’t know – but like any travel resource, OTBP has led me on a few misadventures, too.


Take the steamed fish in Florida for instance.  According to OTBP, the restaurant in question was a series of frond-covered shacks along a pier and the specialty was steamed seafood pulled from the sea on the day of your visit.  Who wouldn’t want to go there?  The OTBP authors apologized for recommending this restaurant, because even though it was off the beaten path, it was well-known and reservations were needed.  So, before I left home I made a long distance call and reserved a specific table recommended in the guide.

The clerk at our motel provided the first clue that we might be making a mistake.  When asked how to get to the restaurant, the clerk responded as if asked for directions to the Congo – he’d heard of it, but had never actually known anyone who’d been there.  My traveling companions were momentarily daunted, but we reminded one another that the name of the book was Off the Beaten Path.  Besides we’d already followed a few of its suggestions on this road trip with great success.

After a scary ride through some questionable parts of town, we found the restaurant.  Yes, there were palm fronds, but not only were they mildewed; bare patches of darkened wood showed between their bedraggled remains.  Everyone was starving or I doubt they would have walked down the dark rickety pier.  OTBP promised,even with reservations, we’d spend some time at the quaint bar at the far end – only the bar hadn’t been open for quite a while – as in years.  Though it was actually too chilly to sit at the table I’d reserved on the pier, getting another table was not a problem; we were the only patrons in the restaurant.

Safely seated in a musty hut, we had time to grow beards before a waiter showed up for our order, even though we hadn’t needed all that time to look at the menu.  We were sold on the steamed fish before we left Texas.  But you guessed it,  the steamer was broken.  Perhaps it was merely my imagination, but the way the waiter imparted the information, I sensed the steamer had been broken for a long, long time.  We made other choices, and then we waited.  Probably almost as long as the steamer had been out of use.    We drank every drop of liquid on the table, none of it alcoholic, and carefully inspected every dish, utensil and glass.  I entertained my traveling companions with napkin tricks.  Then we got a serious case of the giggles.


We barely stifled our laughter as the meal was served.  Our appetites had long since dissipated.  The waiter offered to-go boxes and that was hilarious, too.  Just as our check was delivered, a couple was escorted to a table across the restaurant – the only other people to appear during this never-ending ordeal.  Someone suggested the couple had come for the steamed fish and fresh gales of laughter echoed through the restaurant, earning irritated stares from the newcomers.  Finally, sobered by our embarrassment, we left.  When we finally got back to the motel, we crawled out of the car and fumbled with our keys.  “Are we planning to eat at any other restaurants recommended by this book?” someone asked.  The hilarity returned.

Does your family have any of these cherished travel mishaps?