Thursday, July 30, 2009

New York City Baseball -1

Perusing the baseball schedules early in the spring, I got the idea of an Easterling-guy trip to New York for a weekend of Yankees and Mets games. Both teams are in new stadiums this year, so that was an important part of the draw.

All parties were enthusiastic, so, Saturday, July 25, Jeff, Mike, Jason, and I rendezvoused at LaGuardia airport. (Actually, I rendezvoused with Mike and Jason in Cary, NC a couple of days earlier, then flew to NYC with them -- for logistics and plane-ticket cost reasons.) We had lucked out in lodging because Mike's brother-in-law, Jeff Nauman, has an apartment in NYC that was available -- he's in Interlochen, Michigan for the summer, instructing and performing in their theatre summer camp program.

Jeff's apartment is on the upper west side of Manhattan, in an area called Washington Heights. It's the sort of NY apartment and apartment house you see on Seinfeld, Taxi, Rhoda, or in the movies. One feature is its art-deco lobby, which had been listed as one of NYC's most notable/attractive/interesting apartment house lobbies. Jeff's parents told me that the day the story appeared there were lots of people peering in the lobby windows (there's no Carlton the doorman, but you have to have a key to get in) trying to see what the fuss was all about.

For us, the main attraction was that Jeff's apartment had one bed, a fold-out couch, and an air mattress, and was free. Had good subway access, too.

One nearby attraction that I wanted to see is the Cloisters. My vague, erroneous impression was that this was a former monastery converted into an art museum. Actually, it was built as an art museum, largely with Rockefeller money, styled after medieval monasteries in Europe. Rockefeller even bought New Jersey land across the Hudson River to preserve the pastoral view from the Cloisters. We got there late Saturday afternoon, late enough not to have to pay admission, and took a quick 30-minute walk-through. As they say, Expose yourself to art! Really some beautiful and historic paintings, carvings, and sculpture, dating back to the 1100's and 1200's.

With medieval culture under our belts, we then subwayed downtown to see modern culture - the lights and sights of Times Square.

On weekends the city closes some of the streets in Times Square and provides folding recliners and folks sit around just like any ole backyard.

On Sunday morning it was back downtown to go up in the Empire State Building. Went all the way to the 102nd floor, 1224 ft. up, just beneath the lightning rod on top which extends to 1454 ft. It was a hazy day, so not the best pictures. One oddity: bumble bees flying around at that elevation.

The 102nd floor observatory is enclosed with plexiglass. The 86th floor is not, so you can get better pictures. Looking down from there ...

Then it was on to the new Yankee Stadium for an afternoon game.

The new Yankee Stadium cost $1.4B. It has many of the features of old Yankee Stadium: the facades and the same dimensions of the playing field. However, it seems to be producing more homeruns than were hit in the old stadium, for unknown reasons. The new stadium is adjacent to the old, which is shrouded in scaffolding as they prepare to demolish it.

Jason said right away, The new stadium is not as big as the old one. That looks to be the case height-wise (couldn't find the data right away). The old had three decks essentially stacked one over the other, meaning it was hard for many to see balls hit into the air. The new sweeps back in a flatter slope and the upper two decks are further back from the playing field. The new stadium actually seats about 6000 fewer people, 51,000 vs. 57,000. One reason is that the seats are larger and with more legroom.

One of the controversies about the new field is the ticket cost. Single game tickets were priced at $2600 for behind-home-plate seats. That meant that TV watchers saw largely empty seats, which was embarrassing. They reduced prices a bit. We thought maybe they would pay us to sit there for PR sake, but No. We were in the third level, about even with third base.

One big ticket item is a huge HD screen behind center field. Here's Mariano Rivera warming up as he prepares to efficiently nail down the Yankees' 7-5 victory over Oakland. Any bluriness is in my camera and skill, not the screen.

I came away impressed, but feeling a bit underwhelmed. I think it was the limestone and concrete construction. Felt like I was going into the Pentagon, not a baseball park.

After the game it was back downtown, with two destinations in mind. A friend had suggested the Carnegie Deli to Jeff, so we went there for an early dinner. Sandwiches were mind-bogglingly thick. Here's my BLT and Jason's ham sandwich in the background.

Central Park, our second destination, is just a couple blocks north of the Carnegie Deli. Before we got there, though, it started to rain. More than rain, we had thunder, lightning, and wind. We found shelter under construction scaffolding just across the street from the park. Here, a couple of carriages wait for the storm to pass. As the coachman driving the white coach came down the street (to park at the park), the wind whipped his umbrella out of his hands and it disappeared down the street to our right.

The storm passed, so we went on into the park.

The gold-trimmed building is one of Donald Trump's.

Cheers to all,


Monday, July 20, 2009

Goin' Home

In the week since we left Billings, we've had very limited internet access, so no postings for you anxious readers - we know you're out there. Well, we're b-a-a-a-ack.

We left Billings on Monday, 7/13, bound for Denver. Wyoming was in between (actually, it's a very nice state, but we had another agenda).

Our main excursion was to Story, WY - several miles off of the interstate, for lunch. Our Road Food book lauded the Waldorf-a-Story (get it?) General Store and Cafe. Well, the Waldorf had been sold and renamed and the "restrunt" subsequently closed (see picture), but the store was still an interesting visit. They did have a deli crammed into this over-crowded store and we got some good soup for our evening meal.

With our typical last-minute advanced planning, the campground at Chatfield State Park, near where Jeff and family live in Highlands Ranch, was booked solid for the weekend. No other campgrounds in the area. We did spend Wed and Th nights there and had a day with Malia with us at the lake. Here's Malia wearing one of Susie's shirts for apres-swim wear. We found out she's quite the UNO player.

Tried to get a night or two in the motel closest to Jeff's, but no room there either. So, we had to cut our Denver stay short and then decided to spend the weekend at one of our favorite Colordo places, Westcliffe. Usually we go there for bluegrass festival weekend. We were a week late for that, but this was Rodeo weekend. We kept seeing sights in Montana that reminded us of Westcliffe (lush valleys, towering mountains), so this also lured us. Some pictures:

The view from the campground.

Some beautiful old barns in the valley (officially the Wet Mountains Valley) also:

The rodeo parade had horses

and more horses

and ...
Fire trucks spraying water were a lot of fun.

We went to the rodeo on Saturday, then Cowboy Church at the rodeo grounds on Sunday. There were make-up rounds of calf-roping happening at the time. How about this setting?

Sunday afternoon we were treated to mountain showers sweeping across the valley and into the mountains.

So, we had a nice, relaxed Westcliffe weekend, then drove on home Monday - six weeks and nearly 5000 miles since we left. Lots of great sights seen and memories made.

Here's the traditional Almost Home, Ah New Mexico, There's the Sandias picture, shot through a bug-specked and rain-dropped windshield.

Cheers to all,

Susie and Rob

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Billings, Custer, and Clark

The Billings KOA is the world's first KOA and it is really a nice one: well laid-out, equipped, and maintained. Clean restrooms, nice store, friendly staff. Given our KOA-centered choices of campgrounds, we had to stay here. We've stayed at some old KOAs that have not been kept up to date, so we really appreciate this one. The location is nice, too, right next to the Yellowstone River, not too close to a highway or RR tracks.

Here are a river scene and a campground shot. Lots of tall cottonwood trees to provide shade and pleasant sounds as the wind blows through them.

Anyhow, after we got to Billings late Friday morning, 7/10, after a grueling 60 mile drive, I went downtown for a history walk, which led to an interesting connection. When we visited with my classmate, Ken Tiahrt, a few days earlier in Bozeman, he had mentioned his interest in old highways, in particular the Yellowstone Trail. That highway came up in my history walk and then the tour guide pointed out this marker for another named highway, the Glacier to Gulf Motorway.

That highway ran from Brownsville, TX to Calgary, Alberta, with a spur from Galveston. These named highways were established soon after automobile travel became popular, before the government came up with numbered highways in the 1920s.

I sent Ken this picture. He wrote back that I had made his day. A great discovery for Montana car buffs. He would post it on his old car club's website and acknowledge me for its discovery. Ain't history fun.

Our main reason for coming to Billings was to visit the Little Bighorn Battlefield, located about 60 miles SE of Billings. We went there Saturday. Started with a bus tour put on by students from Little Big Horn College. Our guide was great, very dramatic. She made us feel like we were there on the battlefield, trapped between soldiers and warriors. (I should note that the National Park Service on its website sniffs that they cannot vouch for the accuracy of presentations by organizations other than themselves. Our guide said there are 5000 books on the battle and none of them agree. Nobody in Custer's immediate command survived to tell the story, so there is room for much speculation.)

Here's the hillside site of Custer's Last Stand.

When troops from another cavalry force came on the scene a day after the battle (which was June 25, 1876) they marked the locations of the bodies they found in this horrific scene - more than 200 deaths. The marker with a black shield is Custer's. The bodies were initially buried where they were found. Subsequently they were disinterred and some 220 soldiers who died here are buried in a mass grave at the top of the hill from where this picture was taken. Bodies of the officers were moved elsewhere, including Custer who is buried at West Point.
Here's the memorial to the soldiers, and some civilians, who died on this battlefield.

The Little Bighorn River is in the valley below. That's where there was an encampment of around 8000 Indians from various tribes, 2000 of them being warriors. Custer, with his force of 600, was either unaware of how large the force opposing them was or was overconfident in their ability to defeat it.

In 1997 this Spirit Warrior memorial to the Indian warriors in the battle was added to the battlefield displays.

It was a very somber thing to be here. You ask Why? and How (could things have been handled differently)? but no satisfactory answers come.

Returning to Billings, we made our last stop on the Lewis and Clark trails. Pompeys Pillar is a prominent outcropping on the banks of the Yellowstone River about 20 miles east of Billings. Clark and his party stopped there on their return journey -- it's recorded in Clark's journal. He said he wrote his name and the date there and there it is - the first graffiti west of the Mississippi?

The rock was named for Sacagawea's son, who made the whole trip. Pompy was the boy's nickname and Clark actually called this place, Pomp's Tower. When you google Pompeys Pillar you get a pillar in Alexandria, Egypt, as well as this National Monument in Montana .

Here's a view of the river from the top of the Pillar. A board stairway has been constructed which gets you to Clark's signature and to the top.

Hail and farewell to you, William Clark.

We had planned to leave Sunday noon, after church, to head south through Wyoming. However, the campground was practically deserted, a pleasant breeze was blowing, there was no one in the swimming pool, and we didn't have a need to rush, so we stayed another night. Was a blissful, totally relaxed afternoon -- no agenda, no place to go.
In late afternoon, while we were dining at Cracker Barrel, a strong thunderstorm went through the area. At the KOA it knocked out power and blew down a few limbs, but there was no damage. There was a prominent rainbow as we drove back to the KOA. This is what remained by the time I got my camera out and clambered up the river bank.


Susie and Rob

Thursday, July 09, 2009

Red Lodge and Fishtail

As of July 8, we've been on the road for a month -- seems longer to us. You, too?

Anyhow, we marked the occasion by spending a night in the Red Lodge Comfort Inn. Susie misses having a bath tub, so she's catching up -- three baths during our stay. That should get her home.

I had been thinking of surprising her before our trip to Cody and saying, Pack an overnight bag. But, when I tried to get a room in historic Irma Hotel and couldn't, I went to Plan C. Plan B was to get a motel in Billings this weekend. However, when we left Cody, Susie saw a Comfort Inn and said, I want ... . I didn't say anything then, but the next morning (yesterday, 7/8) when I got up, Susie said she hadn't slept the whole night. She went to bed and I went in to Red Lodge for the morning. While there I made a Comfort Inn reservation (Plan C). Went back to campground in late morning and told Susie, Pack an overnight bag. We had planned a loop drive from Red Lodge and I was going to finish that by driving up to the Comfort Inn. Well, she wanted to know where we were going, in order to choose the proper wardrobe, so I told her.

Our afternoon activity was to take the aforementioned loop drive. The main objective was to visit the General Store in Fishtail. Just before we left Cedar Crest, Susie saw an article in Country magazine about the oldest continuously operating general store in Montana. It's known for its monster cinnamon rolls and friendly, wide-ranging service. Their motto is "A Little Bit of Everything Since 1900." Stuck that article in our folder of things to do on our trip and luckily looked in the folder in time to plan a visit to the store.

Here's a picture of the magazine one-page article. We took that page with us and had the staff all sign it. They were tickled. They had had a few visitors since the article was published, but nobody had asked for their autographs. The owners, Katy and Bill Martin, were away on a rare vacation. A friend of theirs works in the store as a volunteer and just raved about what fine people the owners are and how much they do for the community. E.g., miners on their way to work stop in for burritos and to pick up sandwiches for lunch.

We had the cinnamon roll -- took us two days to finish it. Lots of cinnamon and brown sugar, covered with creamy frosting. Here's Susie with the cook.

Thursday, we 'did' Red Lodge. Walked both sides of the five blocks or so of shops. Had lunch at one of the locals' favorites - a combination organic grocery store and cafe, mostly the latter. Then we took another loop drive in the afternoon. Managed to find some barns and other scenic shots on these drives.

The brand represents the Broken Horn Ranch.

Couldn't miss with this road sign: Red Barn Lane.

Which led to this barn:

One more entry in the barns of Montana sweepstake:

This picture combines a barn with a rushing mountain brook for a twofer.

Then there's mountains and pastures.

Big day planned tomorrow: driving 60 miles to Billings for the weekend. Main attraction: Custer and the Battle of Little Big Horn.


Susie and Rob

Wednesday, July 08, 2009

Buffalo Bill

After descending the south end of the Beartooth Highway, we caught the Chief Joseph Scenic Highway, running east toward Cody, WY. It follows the Clark's Ford River, named for our intrepid explorer, William Clark. When Lewis and Clark returned from the Pacific, they divided into two parties in SW Montana. The Lewis party went north to the Marias River and followed it down; the Clark party went east to the Yellowstone River and followed it to its confluence with the Missouri where the two parties met and continued on down the Missouri to enduring fame. Clark only saw this fork when it entered the Yellowstone, but he still got the honor of having the river named for him.

Some pictures:

Along the way the road crosses a deep, narrow canyon via the Sunlight Creek Bridge, shown here from an internet picture.

Here's the view looking down from the bridge.

We got to Cody for a late lunch at the Irma Hotel, Buffalo Bill's favorite, then spent the rest of the afternoon at the Buffalo Bill Historical Center. As they say, it's five museums under one roof. Lots of great exhibits and information. We spent three hours there and could have easily spent more.

From the banner behind Bill, you can see that the Center, serendipitously for us L&C fans, had an ongoing L&C special exhibit. The Lewis and Clark party made sketches along the way, but the expedition had no professional artist along to capture the scenes and events. Charles Fritz is a Montana artist who has tried to fill that void and his paintings are now on display. They're great.

The banner is from a painting depicting Decision Point where they had to decide between the Marias and Missouri Rivers. L&C look pretty dapper, compared to what they probably really looked like after a winter in North Dakota and then pushing on up the river in a Montana summer. The exhibit has 100 expedition scenes. You can't take pictures, but you can buy a book. I'd like to get a print of the Beaver Head Rock scene, but it doesn't appear to be available yet.

You can take pictures in much of the rest of the Center, though. There are a lot of traditional Russell, Remington, Bierstadt, ... western art pieces. For contrast, there are some modern paintings that got my attention. Here are two famous Bills: Wild Bill Hickock and Buffalo Bill.

A dramatic statue of Sacagawea in the sculpture garden:

There's all sorts of Buffalo Bill memorabilia.

Even his boyhood house has been moved here from Iowa.

There is a diplay of, Susie's hero, Annie Oakley, a star of the Wild West Show, who Susie played (way) off-Broadway.

The Buffalo Bill story is a mix of fact and legend, but it's clear that he was quite accomplished in many areas -- soldier, scout, hunter, showman. For one thing, he was a Medal of Honor winner. The Wikipedia article says he won the award as a scout for the infantry and the award was revoked, then reinstated. Must be an interesting story there. This museum in his honor does a fine job in telling the story of the west and his role in it. I like the mix of art and historical displays and info.
From Cody, it's about a one-hour drive back to Red Lodge. Couldn't turn down one more of those sky-mountain-green grass scenes we keep coming across. Hope you dear Readers are not tired of them. Anybody?


Susie and Rob