A World of Travel Lies Ahead

The semester is coming to a close and I am not longer going to be graded on maintaining a blog. As much as I grumbled to myself about having to do a blog in the beginning, I honestly started to enjoy it. I will be extremely busy this summer, working as an intern reporter at the local newspaper, as well as my weekend job. And of course, I have travels planned throughout my summer.

Hello, Canada!

The week after finals week, I will be driving myself 7.5 hours to Toronto. I have rented a room in a beautiful house overlooking Lake Ontario, which is practically the backyard. There’s plenty of birdwatching and peaceful trails for me to walk on. And of course, one of the reasons I chose to book this place is the fact that the lovely hosts have three adorable kitties!

On the day with the nicest weather, I am utterly excited to take the 2.5 hour drive from Toronto to Algonquin Provincial Park. I’m probably just going to get out of my car and stand in one spot with my mouth hanging open, staring at how gorgeous everything is, but if I manage to move, I’ll definitely go hiking and maybe rent a kayak or something. Oh, and I’ll definitely keep an eye out for moose. (However, I will not have any self defense as I solo-hike because as I learned from firsthand experience last year, Mace is illegal in Canada! Sorry, border guards…) Of course I’ll visit the city of Toronto too, mostly to scope out some neat coffee shops and sushi restaurants, and perhaps take advantage of their lower drinking age.

First and Second Time in the Windy City

In June, I’m accompanying a friend to Chicago for a weekend. Our birthdays are 4 days apart, so this will be a “21st birthday celebration” trip. This time around, I’ll be able to tour Chicago a bit better than July because…

I am driving 10 hours each way to spend 3 days in Chicago to see the first ever Chicago Open Air. It’s a heavy metal festival and some of my favorite bands (Rammstein, Periphery, Meshuggah, Gojira) will be playing. I cannot wait!

But Wait, There’s More!

After my internship is over, I plan to make another trip or two with the remainder of my summer. I might go back to Montana/ Wyoming to visit Yellowstone again, but I also have found plane tickets to Alberta for very cheap, and it’s too tempting. Banff National Park is one of my top 5 bucket list places to go.

And of course, my love for Vermont cannot be quelled and I will probably end up spending a week up there as well. Solo, of course. There’s nothing like relaxing, finding amazing restaurants, hiking, and touring the city and countryside by yourself. It’s so peaceful and I definitely recommend it.

Perhaps I will update this blog with some of my adventures from this summer.

Silent Hill, PA

A lot of people don’t think Pennsylvania is much of an exciting state. Parts of it can be beautiful, especially up towards New York, but there is one fantastically unique place in the heart of the state: Centralia.

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So much color! The whole stretch of highway looks like this. 

If a certain event wouldn’t have taken place in the 60’s, Centralia would just be another mining town with not much to do. However, in 1962 a mine fire broke out underground, and to this day, it still burns. The town was evacuated, and in 1992 the Pennsylvania governor condemned all buildings there. Only approximately 10 people live there today.

I always have loved the horror movie Silent Hill, and was shocked to find out that it (and the video game) was based on an actual town within a couple hours’ drive from my house. Centralia has been used as a depiction for Hell in multiple storylines.

The most famous part of Centralia is the abandoned highway (Route 61) which was cut off and shut down. Today it is known as the “Graffiti Highway”. The entire 3/4 mile stretch of abandoned road is absolutely covered in graffiti. Some of it is insightful, some artistic, and of course, as graffiti can be, vulgar (yet hilarious).

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Ah, a sign of the times.

The history-lover in me took over for a bit and I began to think about how interesting it will be to go back a decade from now and see what graffiti is there. It is reflective of the times; I saw plenty of graffiti containing people’s Instagram and Twitter handles, as well as political statements, slang terms, memes, and television characters.

On this particular trip, I sadly didn’t see any smoke coming out of the cracks in the ground, but it isn’t always there. However, I did smell a distinct burning smell as I walked around.

There are a handful of cemeteries in Centralia, too. They seem to be kept up and visited, probably both by relatives of the deceased and tourists looking for more “creepy” settings.

 

It was  20-year-old Hannah Locke’s first time visiting Centralia and actually being able to walk around it.

“I went a couple years ago but didn’t think that there would be snow on the ground,” Locke said. “So I couldn’t walk around much and there was no chance of seeing smoke or anything. It’s such a cool place, though. There’s really nothing like it. I want to see the smoke someday, though.”

One of the coolest things about Centralia? Officials speculate that at its current rate, this fire is expected to last for another 250 years.

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Notice how the once-flat highway has risen and cracked due to the heat underneath.

A little town called Shepherdstown

Nestled between Boonsboro, Maryland and Harpers Ferry, West Virginia, lies a small town with a huge variety of restaurants, shops, scenery, and history. This little town is Shepherdstown, West Virginia.

Shepherdstown packs a large amount of worthwhile stops for someone looking to make a day trip. It’s approximately 40 minutes from Frederick, Maryland and surrounded by popular destinations like the Antietam Battlefield and C&O Canal.

It’s a college town, too, home to Shepherd University. While there is certainly a college-age presence, people of all ages and interests come to the town.

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A quaint little alley.

The People of the Town

Marianne Davis, the director of the Shepherdstown Visitors Center, has been working in the center for approximately a year. She was so sweet and didn’t hesitate to let me sit down and talk to her.

“I chose to work here because I adore the town,” Davis said. “I wanted to know more about the town and I wanted to offer my expertise about it to our visitors.”

Davis lives in Shepherdstown herself and is eager to share her love for the town with any visitor.

“It’s a 21st century town in touch with its past,” Davis said. “You can tell from the buildings and the interest of everyone here.”

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The upper end of the main street on a non-crowded weekday

For the Foodies

Shepherdstown has such a range of restaurants that “there are some fit for a ball gown and others you can go to in your pajamas,” Davis says.

For those who want a casual meal in a unique setting, Blue Moon Café offers plenty of choices for vegetarians, vegans, and carnivores alike. My favorite place to sit is the patio, which is shaded by large trees. If you’re lucky, you can get a seat right by the stream that runs right through the cobblestone patio.

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The outside of Blue Moon. The hidden patio is beneath the large green trees on the right. 

One of my other favorites is Kazu. This tiny restaurant offers Japanese and Thai food, and is popular with the college crowd and older visitors as well. It has fresh sushi as well as traditional Thai meals, including discounted lunch specials. Their Thai iced tea is to die for!

Oh, and of course there is a quirky coffee shop. Lost Dog Coffee has hilarious decorations, unique and delicious drinks, and a great vibe.

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Lost Dog’s sizes crack me up. You know you’d get the “Fat Bastard”. 

 

For the Nature and History Lovers

The James Rumsey Monument, completed in 1915 is named for the inventor of the steamboat. On December 3, 1787, Rumsey made his first successful demonstration of the steamboat on the Potomac River in Shepherdstown. Town historians speculate that this event took place near Town Run.

This monument sits overlooking the Potomac River, and nature lovers can hike on trails in the park, some which lead to scenic overlooks. If you’re brave, you can hike up to the train tracks and walk on the tall bridge over the Potomac. It’s a beautiful sight to see. Don’t tell anyone I told you to do it, though.

Residents and Frequent Visitors

Cary Smith, a nearby resident, has had fond memories of Shepherdstown ever since he started visiting it almost a decade ago.

“I first visited Shepherdstown when I was probably 14 or 15,” Smith said. “I skipped school and went with my dad. If I had to pick my favorite place, it’d be the hidden gem that is O’Hurley’s. I could get lost in that little general store. It’s a complete anachronism in the quaintest way.”

O’Hurleys is an old-fashioned general store with household goods, antiques, raw honey, coffee, and trinkets. On Thursday nights, visitors can enjoy free musical performances.

Natalie Stains, my former coworker who lives near Shepherdstown, loves everything about the town she has lived near for over two decades.

“I like going to Shepherd football games, especially the Homecoming game,” Stains said. “My parents met at Shepherd and I also attended Shepherd College Nursery School, so it means a lot to us. Shepherdstown itself is such a cool place where I made a lot of memories growing up.”

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Shepherdstown has plenty of furry friends, too. I met Marsala while walking in a back alley. 

 

 

On the Road to Yellowstone

The last day of my trip held probably the most exciting experiences of the entire week. Is that because I got within petting distance from a wild buffalo? Maybe… we’ll get to that later!

Luciano Gonzalez, a junior at Rocky Mountain State College, spoke with us briefly about our trip before we set out on our way.

“I’ve driven down there once and I loved it,” said Gonzalez. “My family and I went during the summer so the road through Yellowstone was actually open. I don’t know if you guys will be able to get in the (Yellowstone) entrance but it’s a really great drive.”

So Owen and I decided to see how far we could get to Yellowstone National Park with the knowledge that we probably wouldn’t be able to get too far into the actual park. We went through Cody, Wyoming (think: Buffalo Bill), and it really didn’t take long to get there. I was in love with it. It was just like the Wild West towns I had read about in childhood books and seen on television.

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The first image of Cody, Wyoming as we drove into town. 

Poor Owen is a vegetarian, but I managed to drag him to a restaurant famous for its steaks and ribs. I got a pound of ribs and a baked potato bigger than my hand, filled with chives, cheese, sour cream, and bacon. Owen settled for the huge potato, hold the bacon.

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Yeah, I ate it all.

With full bellies, we waddled to a genuine cowboy boot shop. Not really my style (I was wearing my typical Doc Martens that day so I didn’t quite fit in) but it was pretty cool to see so many of them with beautiful designs.

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Yeehaw!

There was also a “Whole Foods” market in a typical Western storefront. This was better suited to Owen’s diet, and while I bought buffalo jerky and dark chocolate covered cherries (for my mother!), he got some vegetarian jerky for himself. Don’t ask me how it tasted; I didn’t want to find out.

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Hipster and Western at the same time.

The last stop was a candy shop where I ended up spending $30 on homemade candy. Was it worth it? Absolutely.

From Cody, we ventured to Yellowstone. I cannot tell you how long the ride was, because all of it was so incredible that the time seemed to pass quickly. It wasn’t a boring ride through flat fields and suburban areas that seemed to take forever, it was a winding drive through mountains scraping the sky, a large lake/reservoir, streams, and tons of wildlife.

As we were almost to the entrance, I saw something on the side of the road and yelled for Owen to “STOP THE CAR”, which he obeyed. There, on the side of the road, was a huge, peaceful male buffalo grazing on the snow-covered grass. So what did I do? I walked up softly and quietly, speaking calmly to him, and got close enough that I could have pet him. He just grazed and looked up once in awhile, but didn’t seem too bothered. That was the moment I had been waiting for the entire trip.

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Owen and I named him Sir Fluffalo.

I didn’t even care that the Yellowstone entrance was snowed over about 3 miles up the road; I got to see a wild buffalo up close! 

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Damn it. 

When I asked Owen to reminisce about the drive and tell me what he thought of it, this is what he said: 

“It was nothing I’ve ever seen before. Even living in Billings the landscape was completely alien and foreign, almost as if I had been dropped into 12 different foreign nations at once. And of course I had the best damn person ever to keep me company along the drive which made the experience all the better!”

No, I did not pay him to say that. I had a wonderful time too 🙂 And this concludes my trip to Montana. I will be back, hopefully as soon as this summer!

Lodge Grass, Montana

The second day of Montana was as adventure-filled as the first one. Owen and I took a drive out towards the Pryor Mountains, looking for a mountain road to drive on.

On our way there, we took winding roads through fields surrounded by rolling hills. My day was already made when I saw a beautiful male pheasant run across the road! I had never seen one in the wild before, and since I’m a bird geek I got a little excited. We saw probably 10 more during the course of the trip, and each time I was just as excited as the first.

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I always manage to make animal friends. Two dogs on an Indian reservation.

We ended up driving through the Crow Indian Reservation, and curiously following a muddy, rocky, dirt road or ATV trail. We’re still not even sure if it was a road, but we took Owen’s trusty Passat a couple miles back into, quite literally, the middle of nowhere. Mud flew up onto the windshield and we passed multiple cattle grazing in their wide-open pasture. There were abandoned shacks off of the trail.

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We got out and explored one of the abandoned shacks. Cows had been in here!

Eventually, we ended up sandwiched in between two chains of mountains and decided to put the car out of its misery for a bit. We got out and partially climbed up one of the mountains for a beautiful view. No people, houses, roads, or telephone poles in sight. There was a small river running beneath the other tall, dark mountains. The trees were mostly pines and cedars. I couldn’t help but imagine the Native Americans using this exact same land to hunt and gather on. We were on a Crow reservation, after all, and all of the elementary school stories about Natives came to life for me. It was so peaceful.

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The view from halfway up the mountain we climbed.

After exploring a bit, we decided to go back and find the main road again. It was a long, straight road with cattle grates spaced out every few miles. The only vehicles we saw were the occasional pickup truck turning into a ranch. Cows had free range of the rolling hills on either side of the road.

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A view of the rolling hills, as seen from the main road.

As I read an article this week about Joseph Medicine Crow, the last surviving war chief of Montana’s Crow tribe and historian, I realized that we were in his territory. He died at age 102 in early April, and an article said he was raised by his grandparents in a log house in Lodge Grass. Perhaps Owen and I unknowingly passed his childhood home or current home on our adventures?

How I fell in love with the Wild West

Montana and Wyoming are two incredible states, like nothing I have ever seen before. It was fascinating how the landscape and geography changed after driving 5 or 10 minutes. And the weather! In the daytime it was 55, then one evening we drove through 4 inches of snow.

I’ll do 3 posts about my lovely trip, covering each of the full days I was there.

The first day, my friend Owen took me to get breakfast at a charming diner in downtown Billings, called Bernies. Naturally I was ravenously hungry and jet lagged, so I ordered a huge cup of coffee, scrambled eggs, sausage…and banana bread French toast. That French toast is probably the best toast I’ve ever had.

Owen returned to his college to attend a class, so I rested back at my lovely AirBnb private room until he finished. I told myself I would do homework, but I actually ended up playing with the owner’s adorable fat kitty and watching Netflix.

Owen picked me up in mid-afternoon and we took a road trip to Red Lodge up in the Beartooth Mountains. 30 minutes from our destination, it started to snow, harder and harder. Instead of cursing the snow like I would if it were in Maryland this late, I was able to appreciate the landscape in a completely new way. The towering mountains were obscured by falling snow, but I could still see the outlines of their peaks stretching up into the sky. Cedars and pines were blanketed with just enough white to lace their branches with a beautiful contrast.

We really wanted to drive on the Beartooth Mountain Highway, but unfortunately it is closed during the winter months. I intend to return in the summer. However, I was hardly disappointed, because the sights we saw below the mountains were breathtaking. We were the only people for miles. Owen and I decided to do a little off-roading, following a small road that was covered with snow a couple miles into the forest. His Passat did surprisingly well and we were able to get out a couple of times to walk around and follow the stream.

When we decided to start heading back to get some food, we turned off the car in the middle of a field and stuck our heads out of the sunroof. Everything was absolutely quiet. No cars, no dull rumble of the highway, no voices, not even any bird calls.

This fantastic day was ended with pizza and Willcoxson’s ice cream in the heart of Red Lodge.

Big Sky Country

Yesterday began my wild, raunchy, spring break adventure.

Well, not quite. Instead of jetting off to Cancun to go get sunburnt and drunk with 20 of my closest friends (ha!), I took off from the D.C airport and two layovers later, I was in Montana.

It’s pretty wild, actually. The Rocky Mountains make my hometown Catoctin/ Appalachian mountains look like hills. Then, The Rims are 500(ish) foot tall cliffs that hang above the city of Billings, and if you’re lucky and rich you have a house right on top of them. From the city, you can see them looming. You’re more than welcome to walk along them; there are pine trees, scrub brush, great overlooks, and according to signs, rattlesnakes. The featured picture for this post was taken earlier today at one of the clearings on the cliffs.

Since I’m a bit jet lagged, I haven’t done anything particularly crazy yet, but later this evening my friend Owen and I are driving up to Red Lodge, a ski area, to go hiking and sightseeing.

Other plans include plenty of food (I had banana bread French toast this morning at a local diner, and let me tell you, it was glorious), a possible trek to the tip of Yellowstone, lots of hiking, and multiple games of Magic: The Gathering.

Fun fact: people in Montana actually do wear cowboy hats, big belt buckles, and plaid shirts… and their accents sound similar to the characters in the movie Fargo. It’s great!

Stay tuned for more adventures once I get over this jet lag!