The entrance to the Oklahoma City Memorial is inscribed with these words:
We come here to remember those who were killed, those who survived, and those whose lives changed forever. May all who leave here know the impact of violence. May this memorial offer comfort, strength, peace, hope and serenity.
We came here at night, and when we arrived, there were no other people, just our small family of three, come to pay our respects. We didn't expect to find comfort and wisdom. We didn't expect to find solace for our own grief. We didn't expect it, but it was there.
The story of the Oklahoma City bombing in 1995 is embedded in the American psyche, a jarring reminder that violence and tragedy can visit us at any moment, in any circumstance. On that fateful morning, the men, women and children in the Murrah Federal Building went about their daily lives, going to work and school, just living. They had no idea that a group of crazies would decided for them that this was their day to be visited by violence, changing not only their lives, but ours as well.
Frank and I were in Japan when this happened. We turned on CNN international and were horrified by the images of destruction we saw in America's heartland. I think as Americans, we had become immune to seeing images of devastation around the world, whether from terrorists bombs or natural disasters. This image made us pause. A typical office building in a typical city on our home turf, not some faraway place. I spent the better part of the day glued to the television in our hotel room, waiting for more news. In Japan, the reports were sparse and showed the same images over and over, unlike in the US, where the news coverage was relentless (or so I'm told).
We walked around the reflecting pool, with the moonlight reflecting on the water, and stopped to note the names of survivors inscribed on a granite wall. Alongside the reflecting pool are 168 empty chairs, representing the people who died that died that day, each adorned with a wreath for Christmas. It is a beautiful, thoughtful memorial. I'm glad we made it there.
Ever hear of Cambria Suites Hotels? No? Neither had I until a representative from their PR company contacted me a few months ago to offer me a free visit to one of about a dozen locations nationwide. I looked up the hotels, and although they looked fabulous, there were none close enough to drive to in California so I passed. When we decided to drive across the country from California to Ohio, I contacted them again. They generously offered us a free night in their Oklahoma City property, one of the stops on our Christmas Roadtrip.
The Oklahoma City Cambria Suites is conveniently located right off I-40, near the Oklahoma City airport. It's on a row of hotels, motels, and restaurants, and is set back from the main drag, so it was easy to miss it. We were a little lost in the dark, but found it without much problem.
On entering the hotel, I was immediately wowed by the lobby decor, which had a tasteful, modern appeal, like many posh urban boutique hotels. It reminded me of the W Hotels, but without the annoying hipsters in the lobby. I checked the prices online for this particular Cambria Suites, and rooms start at around $89, which makes it both luxurious and affordable.
The desk clerk told us that there are meeting facilities in the hotel, and showed us the boardroom conference room, and a meeting room large enough to hold about fifty people. Just off the lobby area is a small indoor pool and jacuzzi, and a well-equipped fitness center that is open 24-hours.
We visited the famed Cadillac Ranch near Amarillo, Texas on our way to Oklahoma City. The tradition is to leave your mark on the old Cadillacs buried nose-down in the ground. Unfortunately, we left our spray paint at home, so we just had to take photos.
Cadillac Ranch is located on a wind-swept portion of I-40 (not Route 66) and is like the ruins of some ancient civilization dotting the landscape. I suppose it could be a pop-culture homage to the car culture of 1950's, or just a quirky Texas joke. Either way, it's quite a sight to see.
After our Best Day Ever in the Mojave National Preserve and historic Route 66, we to Arizona. We entered the Grand Canyon National Park with high hopes for more gorgeous vistas. We arrived in the afternoon, and as we entered the park, we noticed a light dusting of snow on the ground and the trees covered in mist. It was actually quite beautiful and like some kind of Christmas card with snow-dusted pines and elk standing in the forest.
As we went up higher, visibility got considerably worse. We stopped at one of the numerous visitor's center, to check out the view, and could see exactly nothing. It was as though the entire Grand Canyon had been filled in by a giant serving of cream-of-mushroom soup. The wind outside whipped through the canyon and chilled us all to the bone.
We checked into the Miswak Lodge and headed to the El Tovar Hotel Dining Room for dinner. We had a wonderful dinner, but even though we were seated near a window that allegedly overlooked the Canyon, we couldn't see a thing. It got dark soon enough, which was a blessing, since looking out at the fog was getting depressing.
On top of that, I had a disturbing phone call from my brother before we lost cell and internet service. My dad had taken a nasty fall off a ladder and broken his back and collar bone. I wanted to rush home, but my brother informed me that there was nothing we could do, so it was best to just carry on with our trip. For the next day or so, we had no internet access and limited phone service, so I couldn't do much besides worry.
The following morning, we checked out of the Miswak Lodge and visited Hopi House. I normally go nuts for Native American pottery, jewelry and knicknacks, but I really was not in the mood to shop, so we decided to try another viewpoint, but no luck. If anything, the fog was worse, only now the snow had melted and left a layer of mud everywhere.
We decided to cut our touring short, and headed toward the park exit. Frank suddenly shouted, "WHOA! WHOA!" and Alex and I thought he was having some kind of seizure or something.
"What was it? Mountain lion? Elk? Mountain lion eating an elk?" I inquired.
"No! I thought I saw the canyon!" he replied.
All I could see were trees, but I did notice that the fog on the road had cleared.
"I think we're below the cloud now," Frank remarked.
We drove about a hundred yards to a scenic overlook, and after blinking a few times, we saw it: The Grand Canyon. Alex and I clapped and shouted. Frank pulled over and we got out to take a few pictures. We didn't know how long this parting of the clouds would last, so we snapped quickly and asked someone to take a photo of the three of us. We were afraid the fog would encroach at any second and we would be out of luck.
The further we descended, the clearer the air got. We pulled into the Watchtower viewpoint, and got a pretty spectacular view of the canyon and the river below. We could look up and see the cloud above, right where we had come from.
The Watchtower is an aptly-named , tall, round, brick building that looks like a lighthouse without a light. It reminded me of a rook from some Cowboys vs. Indians chess set. You can walk up to the top, and one of the rangers told us you could walk up 80 steps to the top. Frank decided to pass on this little adventure, but Alex and I hiked up to the top.
There are actually four levels up, and each level is painted with what looks like Native American petroglyphs or early graffiti. There are some scratched-up windows of varying heights and sizes to view the canyon all around the walls of the circular ediface.
When I finally huffed and puffed my way up to the top of the tower, I caught up with Alex, who was dancing around like he was at Rockettes try-outs or had to go to the bathroom really, really badly. "Look, mom! TA-DA! The Grand Canyon! From high up!"
He was so excited, he was vibrating. He insisted that I take a picture, so I did. I have to admit, despite the scratches on the window pane, the view was pretty spectacular. I think when I was a kid I had a paint-by-numbers set of the Grand Canyon, so the colors and the shapes were familiar to me. No photo or painting could ever capture the intense beauty of the place, and words fail me. You'll just have to go and see it for yourself, hopefully on a sunny day.
Photos: Copyright Glennia Campbell 2010, All Rights Reserved.
When the Clever Girls asked me to write about the best gift I've ever given, I knew immediately what I wanted to write about...A gift I gave to my mother about ten years ago.
In Korean culture, when a person turns sixty, the family celebrates with a big celebration called a hwan gap. Sixty years is an important celebration because the person has completed an entire cycle of the lunar calendar, and because in the old days, not many people made it to 60. The party is like no other, and involves a feast, every living member of the family, and a bowing ceremony in which the children prostrate themselves on the floor in front of the parents, as a sign of respect and gratitude.
According to my mother, the traditional gift for the children to give the parent is jewelry. I'm not sure if that is actually true, or if it is one of those made up traditions my mom likes to pull on us from time to time because she likes jewelry. I picked out a piece of jewelry that I thought she would like, but that didn't seem to quite capture the importance of the occasion, or celebrate how much my mom means to me. In fact, I don't even remember what I gave her.
What I do remember is the months I spent making what I thought was her real gift: a hand-made scrapbook of her life. I purloined one of her old photo albums on a visit to Ohio at Christmas, and set out to work on her life story in pictures.
You might think making a scrapbook means just assembling pictures into a photo album, but to me it was an artform and near-obsession. I carefully laid out and designed each and every page, adding text and descriptions to each page, and my own designs made out of paper cut-outs. I decided on a cherry blossom theme for her early life in Korea. I made cherry blossoms using tiny hearts punched out of pink paper and carefully glued together hundreds of these, place a small circle in the center. I think it took me about 3 weeks just to punch out all the paper and assemble it. My husband thought I had lost my ever-loving mind as I sat for hours on end gluing these little pieces of paper together. After I finished the paper-punching mania, I cut out branches and glued them on various pages showing her life in Korea, her 11 brothers and sisters, and the time when she and my dad were dating.
After that section was complete, I highlighted her life in America with the birth of her three children, family trips, her work, the time she was selected to be Mother of the Year by the local newspaper, and the ten-pound bag of rice she won at a Korean Karaoke contest. You know, all the major life events.
We traveled to Korea for my mother's hwan gap, so that all of her surviving brothers and sisters could attend, as well as my zillion or so cousins. I was a little nervous about presenting this to her, since this didn't seem like a terribly "Korean" thing to do. I didn't know if the aunties and uncles would approve. But when the big day rolled around, she loved it. At first she looked puzzled, wondering why on earth I had given her a book of all things (she's not a big reader). Then she opened it, and the tears flowed.
During the party, after the bowing and kow-towing, eating, massive drinking, and generally merriment subsided (and before the big family Karaoke showdown), I saw my aunts and cousins huddled over the scrapbook, pointing at various pictures of themselves and family members. My younger cousins translated the text from English to Korean for them, and they laughed and cried. One of my male cousins, the eldest son of the eldest brother, asked me to send him a copy of a photo of his parents from the 1950's, both in Korean Army uniforms.
"I don't have such a picture of my mother," he tearfully explained. I was more than happy to oblige.
One of my aunts was looking through the scrapbook with her daughter, turned to her and said, "For my hwan gap, forget the jewelry. Just make me one of these."
I laughed along with the crowd, but in my heart, I knew that this was probably the best gift I could have given to my mom, and our family.
After our barrelling-through-the night strategy to kick off our Christmas Across America Tour, we woke up in Barstow and were ready to hit the Mother Road, Route 66. Barstow didn't look like much at night, beyond a strip of chain hotels and fast-food joints (or at least to the weary traveler). Barstow's primary claim to fame seems to be it's location along the historic Route 66, the way west for dust bowl refugees in the 1930's. Barstow has clearly seen better days, and let's hope for better days ahead.
Our first stop was the Route 66 Museum, one of six Route 66 Museums dotting the historic road. The museum is housed in basement of the old Harvey House Hotel, sitting beside a row of a dozen or more parallel train tracks. In its heyday, the Barstow was a prime stop for the Santa Fe Railway, and Harvey House was renowned for its hospitality. The museum has a few old vehicles, like a Model T Touring Car, and displays on the various eras of Barstow's history and on Route 66 generally. The gift shop of every kind of trinket imaginable emblazoned with "Historic Route 66" was nearly as big as the display. Since my son is a fan of gift shops, we spent as much time there as we did looking at the memorabilia.
After learning all about the importance of Route 66,we set out to find it. Some of it is subsumed under I-40, and then it diverges off through the Mojave Desert. We took the interstate for parts of the trip and went off on side trips down Route 66 from time to time, depending on what we wanted to see. I was struck by how incredibly pristine both the interstate and Route 66 were--not a single piece of stray litter in sight. I remember the famous commercial in the 1970's of the Native American chief character looking out over a landscape filled with trash and a single tear running down his face. Anti-litter and highway clean-up programs over the years must have worked, because the desert road was amazingly clean.
We headed down the historic part of Route 66 to Newberry Springs, California. We stopped for lunch at the famous Bagdad Cafe, location of the 1988 film of the same name. Both Frank and I had seen the movie many years ago, and decided this was as good a place as any for lunch. It's not the most luxurious place by a long stretch, and what you might expect of a roadside stop on an otherwise deserted stretch of highway in the desert. The food was good, the staff was friendly and accomodating, and it has a certain nostalgia for many tourists traveling on Route 66.
Our main stop of the day was at Kelso Dunes, part of the enormous Mojave National Preserve. We had to veer off Route 66 for a while and drive several miles down a dirt road to find the trail, but it was worth it. I wrote a little about it yesterday, but none of the pictures I took really capture the magic of watching the light change on the desert. The shadows on the dunes took on deep pools of color, turning the normally beige landscape into a breathtaking display of sand and sky.
We made it to Needles by around six pm, but couldn't decide on a place to stop for dinner, so we forged ahead to Kingman, Arizona. We dined on hearty, delicious Mexican food at El Palacio on Route 66, then made our way to the Springhill Suites for the night. Springhill Suites is a very modern, upscale motel near I-40 that we were able to use some of our Marriott frequent-stayer points to score a free room.
Road Trip Tip of the Day: Visit natural landmarks and parks an hour before sunset for the best light for photos. You will get some amazing results, even with a simple camera, if the lighting is right. These were taken with a Nikon D90, but my husband got some gorgeous results with his point-and-shoot as well.
We stopped off at the Kelso Sand Dunes in the Mojave National Preserve today. Alex and Frank hiked up to the base of the dunes, but I stayed behind to take pictures of the incredible scenery.
The light changed the color of the sand from beige to gold to pink to purple in a matter of minutes. It was achingly beautiful and serene. We were the only people on the trail for most of the time we were there, lost in a sea of desert brush, waving like sea coral in the breeze.
We're on a two week roadtrip across America this week, checking out how Christmas is celebrated from California to Ohio and back again.
This year, my mother insisted that we come home to Ohio for Christmas. After checking flight prices for the three of us, and hearing about the virtual strip-searching going on at airports across the US, Frank suggested that we drive from Palo Alto to Ohio. I was worried about the weather in the Rockies and the plains states, but Frank had another idea: a trip south and across historic Route 66. Alex and I both have two weeks off, so we said, "Why not?" and started planning our reverse-Joads-across-America tour, with stops in Barstow, Kingman, Albuquerque, Oklahoma City, Branson, and St. Louis, en route to Indiana and Ohio to see the family.
After a frantic last day at work yesterday, we loaded up the car with presents, snacks and clothing for all kinds of weather and headed out. The most difficult part seemed to be getting out of the driveway, after running back in time and again to get some other essential item we had forgotten.
Finally, I said, "We've got our wallets and our kid. We have everything we need. We're in America. Whatever we forgot, we'll buy."
That is, after all, the American way.
For me, no southbound trip can begin without a stop at the Casa de Fruta in Hollister, about an hour from hour house. It's a legendary roadside complex that started as a farm fruitstand and has grown over the years to include a restaurant (Casa de Restaurant), candy store (Casa de Sweets), wine story (Casa de Wine) and a mini-train ride for the kiddies (Casa de Choo Choo). For some reason, I love this place. Maybe because it has been the launching point for some really fun roadtrips to Los Angeles and Disneyland in the past. Maybe I just like dried fruit. Who knows?
Stopping at Casa de Fruta is like a talismanic ritual for me; in my mind, I have associated purchasing over-priced dried fruit with sunny skies, no traffic, and no grumps in the car. I was devastated to find that by the time we arrived at 8:30 pm, the fruit stand was closed. We had to settle for the Casa de Restaurant, and got some hearty, down-home grub to sustain us on the long drive ahead.
The forecast for the Bay Area called for rain, but Frank assured me that we would be heading away from the storm, so we were good. He was obsessively checking the Weather Underground app on his phone to see when we would get out of the drizzle. The annoying drizzle didn't stop until we reached Colinga, unfortunately. Couple that with spells of the infamous tule fog on I-5, and you have less than ideal conditions. If only that fruit stand had been open...
It was actually not a bad drive, and we crept into Barstow at 2:30 am. We didn't have a hotel reservation, so we pulled in to a well-lit Quality Inn, crossed our fingers, and lucked into a room at a super-cheap midnight walk-in rate of $59. The price included a full breakfast (not the usual coffee and stale donuts affair) and free Wifi (hey Marriott Hilton, take note of that).
So, we're off, on what I am calling our "Christmas Across America Tour," where our intrepid little family will be seeing some natural landmarks, historic sites, goofy roadside attractions, and lots and lots of highway for the next two weeks. We plan to wind up at my parents' house in time for Christmas Eve.
Check back here and follow me on Twitter (@glennia) for updates and photos.
Road Trip Tip of the Day: Don't reserve rooms for every night of your trip. Many fine motels have cheaper rates for walk-ins to fill unused space.