30 June 2007

Last Video: Summer Snowball Fight

I know what you're probably thinking by now: enough already with the video! You traveled. Great. We want more theological musings!

We left Great Sand Dunes on Tuesday morning. We had just one more day of fun before the gruelling, two-day drive back to Tennessee. We decided to complete our tour of Southern Colorado and headed north to Leadville.

Along the way, we got some great vistas of the Rio Grande Valley, took a tram to the top of the Continental Divide at Monarch Pass, and got to indulge Jonah with the one and only goal he had for this trip from the very moment he spotted the snow-capped Spanish Peaks rising out of the prairie: he wanted a snowball fight, and he wanted to hit me!

Video: Great Sand Dunes

Elevation is a killer. Taos was at 7,000 feet, but I hadn't really noticed any tiredness while I was there. Of course, I didn't really do any demanding physical activity there.

Great Sand Dunes, at 8,100 feet, really took something out of me. Our campsite was about 1/4 mile from the dunes, separated by a broad, shallow, sandy creek that carried snowmelt down from the mountains. The kids played there before we tried to climb the dunes--eventually stopping about 1/3rd of the way up the first, 500-foot dune.

Video: San Luis, Colorado

Julie and her family left early Sunday morning to fly back to their home in Savannah, Georgia. We spent some time in Taos after they left, purchasing some art on Main Street and visiting the Kit Carson Muesum, along with an Internet cafe (we hadn't had cell phone or Internet service at our condo in the mountains--alas).

One thing I discovered on this trip is what a wimpy traveler I am. If I can't get wireless Internet, I get really grumpy.

It is important to Road Trippers like me to stay off the interstates. You don't really get to see the country that way. We stick to the federal highways, and if we're really feeling it, we take state and county roads: the out-of-the-way routes.

Well, we took highway 522 from Taos into Colorado's San Luis Valley en route to Great Sand Dunes National Park. Shortly after we crossed the state line, we spotted an amazing, domed, white-walled building. On our arrival in San Luis, we learned that it was a shrine. The only way to get there was a 30-minute hike that passed statues celebrating the 13 Stations of the Cross. Extraordinary is the best word I can find to describe it.

Here is the video:

25 June 2007

Video: Cumbres & Toltec Railroad

The week ended with a bang on Saturday. We took a day trip on the Cumbres & Toltec Scenic Railroad. This was one of the most amazing experiences of my life--and I know it was incredible for the four boys, ages two through six.

The locomotive was an old-fashioned steam engine that slowly tugged us from our starting point in Chama, New Mexico, up into the mountains across the border in Osier, Colorado. We sat in old-fashioned passenger cars, and then moved around to a dining car and an outdoor viewing car on which we could walk around and look in all directions. We saw snow melting in the woods, mountain waterfalls, high trestles, and even a beaver dam. Simply incredible.

Video: A Walk Along the Stream

I don't have any video of our arrival in Santa Fe! Thursday was eventful. We began at Bent's Old Fort, an old trading post in eastern Colorado, at which Cheyenne Indians, American dragoons (calvary), mountain men, and Santa Fe wagon trains met to do business and socialize.

Then, it was a mad sprint to pick up our loved ones. We rushed to Taos first, crawling up over the Sangre de Christo Mountains in order to pick up Julie's husband, Don. Along the way we spotted bison, pronghorn antelope, and coyotes out on the range. Outside the airport in Taos is a pretty busy prairie dog colony, and that just about filled out our wish list of prairie animals (no one really wanted to see a wolf, mountain lion or rattlesnake).

We then raced down to Santa Fe to meet Jenny, who was waiting on the square. We paused for photos at the marker which identified the end of the trail, but the plaza was full of marijuana smoke and hippies, so we darted into Santa Fe's sidestreets for some great food and fun shopping. The next day, I was tired of shopping, but the others weren't: Julie, Ellie & Jenny went into Taos to hunt for stuff. Don and Jacob went to the airport to fix some things on their plane. I stayed with Owen, Jonah and my nephew and namesake, Jacob Donald, for a hike along the mountain stream that rolled down beside our condo.

This is what it looked like:

Video: Beyond Dodge City

Wednesday was a big day for us. After the morning in Boot Hill (below), we set off into western Kansas. Along the way, we got our last dose of wagon tracks near the Cimarron Cutoff, a place where many wagons took a shortcut through the sands of the Cimarron--a 60-mile trek with no water for the livestock and regular Comanche attacks.

In Garden City our trip found one of hits highlights: the Sandsage Bison Range, a bison sanctuary through which we drove in a Chevy Suburban. I had never been so close to a bison herd, and my imagination was filled by the up-close views of bison bulls, cows and calves.

23 June 2007

Santa Fe Trail, Day 4, Dodge City!

Our final day in Kansas was an eventful one. We awoke at the Dodge House Motel in Dodge City, surrounded by western brikabrak. Just down the road, we toured Boot Hill, a small theme park at the heart of Dodge City, which celebrated the town's heritage--western notables such as Wyatt Earp and Bat Masterson had to bring the town's anarchy under control in the 1870s.

The visit featured the kids getting deputized. Julie, Ellie and I learned the "can-can" dance at the town saloon. It ended with a gunfight right on Front Street!

Dodge City provides a fascinating study of the American West. It began as a town supplying whiskey, gambling and other vices to soldiers stationed at Fort Mann to protect Santa Fe wagon trails from Comanche Indian attacks. Later it was a center of the bison fur trade, which nearly destroyed the vast bison herds that had wandered the Great Plains. When the railroad arrived, it became a cow town, full of wild and raunchy cowboys (in need of Earp's famous Frontier Justice). Finally, it settled down and became the dusty farming town it remains today.

Santa Fe Trail, Day 3

This was the day we really got into Kansas. We had arrived in Council Grove late Monday night. There we at at the Hayes House Restaurant, which billed itself as "the oldest continually operating restaurant west of the Mississippi River." Indeed, it celebrated its 150th year of operation this year.

We camped beside a lake in Council Grove and awoke the next morning to showers (this always seems to happen when I camp). Still, Council Grove was a fine little town that supported its history as a stopping point on the Santa Fe Trail.

On the west part of town, we found the Last Chance Store, a building that had sold supplies to caravans and which, at the time, had been the last such store for the next 750 miles.

The video captures Council Grove. I regret I messed up the shot of the wagon ruts through the stream, but I felt that I just had to include it!

20 June 2007

A Bit on Immigration

It's one of my favorite issues. I've been debating it with a few college friends, and I've developed some ideas that I hope to work into an op-ed piece in time for the 4th of July holiday.

Don't worry, I have plenty of video from my trip to share with you. I'm planning to edit it and post it on the web when I get home, which should be this weekend.

Until then, tell me what you think of the ideas below:

Listen, nothing is given to immigrants--NOTHING--except the chance to work for the American Dream. That's the only reason why they're here, and that's why they will give our children a run for the money when they enter the workforce. They don't qualify for public housing. They don't get welfare benefits. If they receive health care, it is through the generosity of doctors and hospitals (notice that I used the words "generosity," "doctors," and "hospitals" in the same sentence!)

I have a Albanian friend, Toni, who would give his right arm to come to America and work 15 hours a day washing pans in a pizza kitchen. He registers for the visa lottery every year. He prays. He begs me for help. Frankly, I wish he would come.

You see, guys, if we were to move to Germany or Saudi Arabia or China and worked real hard, kept jobs, raised families and participated in society--even if we legally immigrated--we would never, ever have the chance of becoming Germans, Saudis or Chinese. We would always be considered foreigners, even our children.

The cool thing about being an American (unless you're a racist), is that it isn't really something that you're entitled to, it's something that you earn. The Ditteses were immigrants once. Racists tried to imply that we were terrorists during a time of war (World War I) and attacked our neighbors who had more German-sounding names, but we kept our heads down, we worked, and we gained the right to be called Americans.

(Honestly, can anyone provide one example of a terrorist from 9/11 or any other case coming across the border with Mexico illegally? There was the one that the Clinton Administration caught coming in from Canada, but the speculation of such an occurrence is race-baiting, I believe.)

Frankly, I think citizenship should be merit-based, mainly so I can get Toni into the country. If ungrateful, wealthy Americans don't like paying taxes, having them turn in their passports and move to Brazil or Bolivia, where taxes are lower. If a kid chooses to drop out of high school, give his/her place to an ambitious Nigerian girl and let them move to a country where the dropout rate is above 50%. If someone quit their restaurant dishwashing job because they had a hangover or didn't feel like getting out of bed, we should push them over the border with Mexico in a fair exchange for someone who will work.

It's a sign of the decline of our society that we are falling back on useless standards like race and legal status to define what American citizenship really is. The future doesn't belong to those who whine about immigration. It belongs, as it always has, to people who are willing to work hard and build this country into something better.

Incidentally, I'm a day away from the end of my trip now. We did the long, 600-mile drive today from Leadville, Colorado, to Lawrence, Kansas. At two points along the way (once in Colorado and once in Kansas) I spotted billboards advertising "Free Land" to people willing to emigrate there and farm/work!

What would someone from Albania or Nigeria think of this? They would think they had died and gone to heaven. What did this American think of it? I thought, "Who would want to live all the way out there? I don't even know how to do anything with my hands."

13 June 2007

Santa Fe Trail, Day 2

St. Louis was just an appetizer, the real fun would start in Independence, Missouri, the point from which all trails west lead across the western United States--to Oregon, to California, and to Santa Fe, New Mexico.

Our stop at the National Frontier Trails Museum revealed a mother lode of experiences for the kids: they rode in a covered wagon pulled by a mule, they loaded up a wagon of their own for a trip across the prairie...there was lots of hands-on stuff to do (just what I like in a museum). Ellie would want me to add that there was a pretty good gifts shop, too.

Here's the video:

11 June 2007

Video Blogging Updated 6/13

We're on our road trip now, after eight months of saving and planning. I write this from a motel room in Boonville, Missouri. Just across the Missouri River from here in New Franklin is a plaque honoring William Bucknell, the father of the Santa Fe Trail.

In 1821, Bucknell--facing bankruptcy--took a load of goods and camped out on the border with Spain, which at that time was the Arkansas River. He had heard a hint that Mexico might soon gain independence. Under Spanish rule, the borders had been sealed from American aliens--and all men trying to trade in Santa Fe had been imprisoned or had their goods confiscated.

Bucknell was lucky. He scooted across the border just as he heard the news, and he returned to New Franklin with bags full of silver dollars. An important new trade route had been opened: the 950-mile-long Santa Fe Trail.

I'm shooting some video on this trip. It's not much, and I'm shooting it with my Canon digital camera. Let me know what you think of it (below).

05 June 2007

Summer Plans

It was the same question over and over again before school ended May 24: what are you doing this summer?

I've had an exciting summer so far (almost two weeks, so far), and it's about to get a whole lot better.

First, I am on a self-imposed teaching embargo. I'm not thinking about it, I'm not reading school-related books, I'm skipping all the professional development opportunities I signed up for during the school year. I need to detox from failure...and there was a lot of failure in my classroom last year, mostly on the part of my students. I had about 80 students, and I handed out 19 failing grades...not my greatest semester of instruction in the least.

The good news is that the action at Point Pleasant is about to heat up because my 2nd Annual Father's Day Road Trip is upon us. This time we will follow the Santa Fe Trail from St. Louis through Kansas City and Dodge City into Colorado and into New Mexico. It gained its reputation in the middle 1800s, when the vast American prairie was a 900-mile frontier between the United States and the newly minted nation of Mexico. There are about 29.5 million fewer bison roaming the plains than there were then...bummer. But the trip should be fun nonetheless.

Some of you may remember the trip I took last summer to Arizona. This one should be better in a number of ways:
1. We actually have a theme. I've been reading up on the Santa Fe Trail for six months now, and I'm really ready to be a wagonmaster.
2. My sister, Julie, and her awesome sons will join us. Instead of being one dad for three kids, the ratio of adults to kids will be 2:5. You have to like those odds! Jenny and my brother-in-law, Don, will join us in Taos, New Mexico, where we will spend a weekend in the most beautiful corner of the Rocky Mountains.
3. I'll have video. I'm hoping to do a lot of editing and uploading on the trip so everyone can see video on my blog. I'll have at least two videos on YouTube, I promise.

It's getting late. I'll provide more information on the itinerary later this week. We leave on the 8th for Santa Fe!