My New Travel App: Brochures

Travel brochures sound so retro in a world of travel apps and websites. But they’ve brought us a bagful of happiness.

IMG_1533IMG_1537Before we left on our extended cross-country journey, I visited the tourism websites for many of the states we planned to visit. Most of them offered free printed brochures, which I ordered online. Over the next several weeks, as the brochures arrived at our Durham home, I placed them in a plastic bag in chronological order of when we would need them.

As I discussed in a previous post, we don’t have a detailed itinerary, wanting to remain open to serendipity. Instead, whenever we’re about to enter a new state, I reach into the bag, pull out the next brochure and get ideas about where to go. Most of the brochures — a word I use here to include larger booklets and magazines — are professionally produced and filled with helpful information. Many cities offer them, too.

I still use TripAdvisor and other online resources, but the brochures have been a great starting point, especially when I have a bad Internet connection or don’t want to stare at my laptop after a long drive. When we finish with them, I just toss them in a recycling bin. Travel books are helpful, too, but generally more than we need for places we’re typically visiting for just a few days.

As someone who spent 14 years helping to steer a university away from print and into the digital age, and who is enthusiastic about social media, I am surprised to find myself using a plastic bag stuffed with brochures. But many of our country’s state and city tourism offices are producing nice work, and it’s free, so I’m using it. For me, travel brochures are the new app.

Washington State of Mind

Spokane riverfront
Spokane riverfront

Washington State is so much more than Seattle.

We’ve discovered that over the past couple of days as we drove west from Spokane to the Pacific.

Rose Garden at Manito Park, Spokane

I’d visited Seattle several times but had never ventured beyond the city to sample the state’s many other attractions.

In Spokane, we visited Riverfront Park, traversing several bridges across waterfalls that ripple through the heart of the city. We viewed the historic Looff Carousel and took a trip on the SkyRide cable car. Then we visited Manito Park, a magnificent botanical center with a Japanese garden, a rose garden and other attractions.

Grand Coulee DamNext we visited the Grand Coulee Dam, which lived up to its reputation as an engineering wonder. The visitor center did a nice job of explaining how the dam was built and of addressing the competing pressures it faces to provide irrigation, flood control, fisheries, electricity, recreation and other needs.

Pybus Public Market, WenatcheeThen it was on to Wenatchee, where we stopped at the Pybus Public Market, and to nearby Leavenworth, whose main street and shopping area are modeled on a Bavarian village.

Leavenworth, WashingtonLeavenworth was like a piece of Germany inserted into the Pacific Northwest — weird, to be sure, but nonetheless colorful and engaging. From there, we traversed Stevens Pass and braved the evening rush hour traffic to Seattle, where we are staying with friends in their wonderful condominium near the Space Needle, overlooking the city.

imageThroughout our journey, we passed wheat fields, canyons, cobalt blue lakes and other sites that reminded us anew how diverse our country is — and how beautiful.

Back in Cleveland, when we were at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, Champa and I watched a video of Billy Joel singing “New York State of Mind” along with Bruce Springsteen. It’s his love song to New York State, which is often overshadowed by its famous city. As we drove towards Seattle, I found myself thinking of that song, which perhaps applies here as well. In my own case, at least, I had never looked beyond Seattle to consider the state it’s in, even though the state shares its name with the city where I worked for more than two decades.

As Billy Joel might put it, I now know what I’m needing and I don’t want to waste more time. I’m in a Washington state of mind

Moose Drool in Montana

IMG_1226Moose Drool? Exactly. It’s a brown ale produced by Big Sky Brewing in Montana. Matt Benjamin, the owner of Sports Club, a restaurant in Shelby, served it to us when we dined there a few days ago. It had no hint of actual moose and was quite tasty.

IMG_1230We’ve been exploring local beers throughout our trip, such as at the Buffalo Cafe in Whitehead on Thursday night. It features beers from several local breweries, including Great Northern Brewing, located just three blocks away, and Bonsai Brewing Project, located a mile away. “The Buffalo is proud to serve as an outpost for our area’s best breweries,” the menu proclaims. It goes on to note that Montana ranks third in the nation for breweries per capita. Here’s their chalkboard sign listing the brews available the night we visited. Note the root beer option at the bottom.

IMG_1231Coming from Durham, with its vibrant and ever-growing beer scene, we’ve enjoyed checking out the competition in the cities we’ve visited. We love what we’re seeing and tasting, but our heart still lies with Fullsteam back home.

We’ll do more exploring as our journey continues west to Seattle, then down to San Diego, and back home via Arizona, Texas, Louisiana and other southern states. If you have suggestions, please post them on our Facebook site or send us an email ( We’re drooling already.

All’s Well in Glacier (Except for the Shoes)

FullSizeRender 249The fire burning in the eastern side of Glacier National Park has not deterred us — well, except for my shoes. With much of the park now closed there, we’ve shifted our focus to other sections.

Thursday we spent much of the day in the Two Medicine area in the park’s southeast corner. That’s where we shot this photo, standing tall for our hometown team, before hiking up to a scenic overlook.

FullSizeRender 251The fire has shut down part of the famous Going-to-the-Sun Road, which cuts across the park. As a result, we and others now need to drive around the park’s perimeter to get from one section to another. The hassle is worth it, though, to spend time in such a stunning place.

FullSizeRender 250We’re up near the Canadian border, which means it’s far cooler than in North Carolina. If we were back home, we would never have started a serious hike at noon. But here, we barely broke a sweat.

So all’s well for now … except for my shoes, a beloved pair of hiking shoes that I’ve owned forever. One of them finally died, disintegrating just as we ended the hike. I had no choice but to toss the pair and switch to my sneakers.

Rest in peace in the Glacier National Park trash bin, my leathery friends. I’ll treasure my memories of the paths we traveled together, concluding with this one:

Fire At Glacier

A wildfire has scorched our plans.

We just arrived at Shelby, east of Glacier National Park, where we plan to travel tomorrow for three day of hiking. We were greeted with the news shown below.

The park’s east entrance, where we were going to enter, is closed, as is much of the park. The west entrance remains open for now.

Scramble, scramble, and not in the way we expected. Stay tuned.

Screen Shot 2015-07-22 at 3.55.09 PM

Cattle, Statues and Lots of Miles

FullSizeRender 232The cowboy and cattle are real. We know because they strolled across our Montana highway this afternoon. We had to wait until they passed.

The stylized horse and rabbit are statues. We know because we saw them in a sculpture garden in downtown Des Moines.

IMG_0904We’ve seen so much since we left the Chicago area three days ago: The University of Iowa in Iowa City. The spectacular capitol building in Des Moines. A Lewis and Clark memorial overlooking Council Bluffs. A bustling evening scene in Omaha. The Corn Palace in Mitchell. Badlands National Park. Mount Rushmore.

What’s made an even bigger impression, though, is the land itself. Today we drove mile after mile through North Dakota and Montana, the blue sky towering above us, the range extending in every direction, the highway empty. Life in this part of America is so different from what we knew in Durham, much less in Washington. We just returned to our Big Sky Motel in Roundup, Montana, after eating at the Busy Bee Cafe, where the walls were decorated with cowboy art and Garth Brooks played in the background. Men wore cowboy hats in the booths. The cash register offered handicrafts from a local Indian tribe.

IMG_0992This is why we travel — not only to be surprised and awed by tourist sites that exceed our expectations, as happened at the Badlands (shown left). What stays with us even more is the the sensation of seeing life through new eyes, of being reminded that other realities exist beyond our own routines.

Tomorrow we finish this big stretch of the trip, ending up near Glacier National Park, where we hope to hike for three days. Then it’s on to Seattle.

Incidentally, our caption contest is now under way to write the funniest caption for our Blue Devil gnome, G, who we photographed this morning at Mount Rushmore. Get funny. Take a look at and submit your entry!

The Love Club and the Gnome

Meet Shashi and Peter, fellow members of one of the most exclusive love clubs in the world.

Peter and I may be the only people on Earth who can say they were Peace Corps Volunteers who served in Nepal and fell in love with a beautiful Limbu woman from the eastern town of Ilam. I was posted in Ilam during my first year of service, teaching in a school where Champa was also a teacher, which is how we met. Peter served several years later, in another town, and met Shashi, who grew up in Ilam near Champa. They married and have now lived for many years in the Chicago area, with two terrific kids.

imageWhen we visited yesterday, Shashi cooked one of her amazing meals. (I’ll be disappointed in my foodie friends back in Durham if they don’t post some comments about the spread she laid out, shown in the top photo.)

What was even more amazing, though, was her disappointment that we didn’t bring G, the traveling Blue Devil gnome. (He was taking a nap in our car and we didn’t want to disturb him when we left in another car.) Shashi’s niece joined in scolding us with a smile, saying she’s been following G’s adventures ( and wanted to see what he looks like in person. Shashi also hoped to introduce him to her own garden gnome, who you can see in the photo under her right hand.

In the video below, Shashi makes clear that we better not show up again without the gnome. (She calls me Binaju, or “Bina,” which literally means brother-in-law but is also used with close friends.)

Shashi, we promise. We’ll be remembering you and all of our Chicago friends as we embark on one of the longest drives of our journey, a four-day stretch across Illinois, Iowa, South Dakota, North Dakota and Montana, ending up at Glacier National Park. Off we go.

Science and Faith in Chicago

A temple of science, a temple of faith. That’s what we saw today in the western suburbs of Chicago.

Champa and Rekha tour the exhibits at FermilabThe temple of science was the Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory. It’s near the home of our Nepali relatives, where we’ve been staying. They’d been meaning to visit Fermilab but had never quite made it. Our visit changed that. As a long-time science writer who once worked on an article with Leon Lederman, the “God Particle” Nobel Prize-winning former director of the lab, I asked whether we could make a quick visit.

Even though it was Saturday and the lab’s welcome center was nearly deserted, we all had a great time touring the exhibits and beautiful grounds, which include a herd of bison. Muons! Neutrinos! Water fountains on a hot day!

imageThe temple of faith was the Sri Venkateswara Swami (Balaji) Temple in Aurora, which mainly serves the large South Indian community in this area. While we were there, temple members began celebrating Teppotsavam, a colorful ceremony in which devotees carry religious objects from the temple to a float on an adjacent pond. As you can watch in the video clip below, the procession was accompanied by drums, horns and prayers.

And so we wrapped up a great stop in the Chicago area, although you’ll see one more post tomorrow (Sunday) afternoon that involves a certain gnome. You’ll also meet a couple of friends who, along with Champa and me, may be the world’s only members of an extremely exclusive club.

Finally, a request: Even if you’re reading this blog via our Facebook site, we encourage you to subscribe to it here on WordPress. Likewise for our “gnome site” on Instagram ( Doing so will help us track our readership. Please sign up (twice) — and either post or send us comments about what you think. We’d welcome the feedback. (Being on the road, it’s really hard to know.) In advance: Thanks!

Mosquitoes in Indiana

IMG_0744Why didn’t anyone warn us about the mosquitoes in Indiana?

We enjoyed driving through the state yesterday. We really did. The lush fields of corn and soybeans, the picturesque barns … it all made for a lovely trip as we made our way from Cleveland to Aurora, outside Chicago, where we’re staying for a few days with Nepali relatives.

We decided to break up the trip with a picnic and hike. While flipping through a brochure at an Indiana rest stop, I found a listing for the Ropchan Memorial Nature Preserve in Steuben County. It was only 15 minutes off the highway, so we decided to give it a try. (Serendipity!) I entered the coordinates into our GPS and, sure enough, we soon ended up at a trailhead on a remote country road. Ours was the only car there. After a quick lunch, we set off on tIMG_0732he trail.

We hadn’t thought to apply insect repellant before we left. To quote Julia Roberts in Pretty Woman: “Big mistake. Huge.” Halfway into the hike, we passed a swamp and were attacked by swarms of mosquitoes. We walked faster and faster, flapping our arms, but still they swirled and bit us. (Possible caption for this photo: “Champa, take my photo for the blog!” “Forget your stupid blog! I’m not stopping!” You’ll notice she took one anyway; feel free to thank her with comments here.)

So, if you ever find yourself in northeastern Indiana and want an idyllic place to hike, check out the Ropchan Preserve. It’s off the beaten track but beautiful and worth the trip. Just don’t forget the mosquitoes. They’ll be waiting for you.