Wednesday, June 27, 2007
After exploring Bloomington, Peoria, and Pekin on Monday, Randy's sister Michelle and her husband Joey gave us a tour of Springfield on Tuesday. Because Randy has family who live in Springfield, we are somewhat biased in its favor and kept our fingers crossed that we would like what we saw.
First we were driven to Lake Springfield to see the homes and lush, wooded parks situated on the large lake. We were impressed. Most of the homes are out of our price range, but we noticed a few seemed reasonably priced for us. Next we headed downtown to walk around a bit. When the sky turned dark and we were suddenly in the midst of a heavy thunderstorm, we ducked into one of the buildings for shelter. It just happened to be the Lincoln Law Office museum. Because the weather had us stuck anyway, we decided to take the free tour of of the building where Abraham Lincoln practiced law before becoming President. We definitely enjoyed the tour. Springfield, President Lincoln's hometown, is also the home of the Lincoln Museum and the Lincoln Library that we have visited and enjoyed on a previous visit. The Lincoln sites definitely add to Springfield's cultural interest for us and to the appeal of the already engaging downtown.
Afterwards we walked to a nearby coffee shop, then drove to the Washington Park area. The park and large, historic homes were absolutely beautiful. After driving around all day, we liked Springfield so much that we contacted a real estate agent who will show us the most affordable homes on the lake and in Washington Park on Thursday. We would like to see as much of Springfield as possible before leaving so that we can be better positioned to make our decision at the end of the cross-country tour. So far, though, Springfield has earned nearly the highest position on the list!
Tuesday, June 26, 2007
This twin set of towns came up as a Best Place to Live in some research. Almost everyone around here we mention it to immediately offers, "You could work for State Farm." The insurer is based in Bloomington as are Illinois State University, and Illinois Wesleyan. We found a decent downtown with some older houses for good prices ($110,000-$130,000). There is also a busy mall/retail drag with many office parks. On the edge of the area by the I-55 are new construction homes that run $200,000-plus. Overall, a pleasant place. We didn't see anything to dissuade us, nor anything to get us really excited.
As we came in from the East on I-74 the landscape dropped down to accommodate the Illinois River Valley and a skyline arose in the distance. As we drove through downtown, it looked healthy. There was redevelopment, including a new minor league baseball stadium that the Bradley University baseball team also shares. As we began to look at housing, we found a bluff overlooking the river with a handful of mansions. After that, everything we looked at was poverty-stricken. We kept searching for healthy neighborhoods but had little success. After initial hope, we added Peoria to the Not Interested list.
Just southwest of Peoria is a smaller town where I used to go with my Dad as a kid for his high school team's holiday basketball tournaments. Pekin has renamed its high school mascot The Dragons replacing an inappropriate moniker tied to similarity of their town name to Beijing, China's old name, Peking. There's a nice park on the Illinois River and a classic downtown. However, no college.
Today we'll explore more of Springfield.
Sunday, June 24, 2007
We really like Iowa City. Its Historic District homes are amazing turn of the century monuments. Near that area, we found a fixer-upper with potential for $89,000! Most homes were running in the $150,000-$215,000 range. The town is lush with trees and greenery. It looks to be dominated by the University of Iowa as there are many “For Rent” signs. There seemed to be some other industry, also. We really couldn’t find any area that wasn’t in order. There are a couple reservoir lakes to the north on the way to Cedar Rapids.
Ft. Madison, Iowa
We reached family - my mom’s sister, Pam, and her husband, Wayne. They live a block off the Mississippi River and can see it from the front of their house through the houses across the street. Ft. Madison has some huge old homes and a quaint downtown. It was built from the strength of the railroad, the river, the prison, and Schaefer Pen. Bic bought the pen plant and moved it out of town recently and it now remains unoccupied. The riverfront has a casino boat that’s up for sale and a park that features the Old Fort Madison. Wayne also took us up a steep winding road to a bluff that featured some mega homes that overlook the river. One was the home of a Ringling brother. As the new owners renovate it, the word is that it was nearly impossible to remove the cat smell… from the tiger he kept in the basement!
We were all hungry and went to a Dallas City, Illinois pub for Friday night fish fry. Sarah tried catfish for the first time. She was a trooper because she and I both don’t like food off the bone, especially when it still looks like the animal as her fish did. All went well until a bone got stuck in her throat. She was calm as she was instructed to rinse it down, and if that didn’t work, eat a roll. The roll did the trick. Although she initially ordered three catfish, she never requested the two additional servings.
Wayne gave us a great tour of both sides of the Mississippi River here. Much of his family has spent time living on the Illinois or Iowa side over the years.
This is the town Joseph Smith settled with his fellow Mormons before he was killed, which prompted Brigham Young to move the flock to Salt Lake City. Although this has been a tourist/pilgrimage destination since, recent investments have made it a jewel. The visitor center and the temple are immaculate. Commercial buildings, landscaping, and houses are all beautiful. We took the River Road north and saw many houses adjacent to the river. It looked like the mighty Mississippi also might work as a place to canoe and kayak.
We ate at The Big Muddy right on the Mississippi River bank. My aunts, Barbara and Penny, along with cousin Courtney and her friend Evan joined Pam & Wayne, Sarah and me. The restaurant had a mark about a foot up the wall marking the high point from the 1993 flood. This was a 100-year flood and we’ll make sure we live above that elevation if we choose a home along the river. The bridge across the river was recently replaced and is a fine example of contemporary bridge architecture similar to the bridge in Boston. Burlington has an unusual number of grand churches. One had burned down earlier in the month. Many nice old homes are there, including large ones overlooking the river at Mosquito Park. Wayne also made sure we saw the largest arcade I’ve ever seen, Fun City. It is a water park, arcade, sports bar, bowling alley, casino, hotel, and restaurant. I’m not sure how they’re defending being a place for kids as well as a bar and a casino, but it was huge and a lot of fun.
Quincy has a grand square with a view from one corner of the river. There are many 4-6 story office buildings that are empty now. There were some new funky businesses around the square but none from retailers whose research has shown it to be a good opportunity. There was a local art fair going on in the square. Quincy also had industry along the river. It looks like a good risk for urban renewal developers who know what they're doing. Converting the offices to loft living and making the square an art center with some sort of national attraction during the year to bring in new residents might be a good direction. However, we are not the people to make that happen.
All along the river, the setting feels invigorating and the views are restorative. Almost all of these towns look like they are getting along economically, but may have been stronger in the past. Sarah & I both really want a grad school in town so we have to put most of the river towns we have seen so far on the Not Interested list. We will be going up to the Quad Cities and Dubuque to see if they fit the bill.
Friday, June 22, 2007
Spirit Lake, Iowa
The first thing Thursday morning a real estate agent showed us various waterfront properties around Spirit Lake. He helped educate us about different types of lakes and factors that affect water quality and property values. We thought the lakes were beautiful and some of the houses were very nice, but otherwise the town of Spirit Lake generally lacked interest for us. Mostly, it seemed the town's economy is based too heavily on the tourism industry for us to be able to do the sort of work we would enjoy there. Also, it doesn't have a college or university and is very expensive. It makes the list, but not in one of the top spots.
Mason City, Iowa
I liked Mason City. The downtown seemed to be doing better than many of the other small towns we've seen recently in South Dakota and Iowa, and it had a lot of older homes that I liked. But it is missing some of our important criteria (college and lake), so we didn't stay long.
Cedar Falls/Waterloo, Iowa
We didn't see much of Cedar Falls or Waterloo. As we approached it, the sky that had been blue and cloudless when we left Mason City had turned gray and ominous and frequent weather bulletins on the radio reported the thunderstorm was headed directly our way. The clouds soon started to pour rain, and we waited out a noisy hail storm under an overpass with other vehicles. The weather bulletin then informed us there was a tornado watch in the area west of us. Then, while we were stopped at a gas station outside of town, the tornado watch had moved to our area. We didn't think we should be driving around during such a heavy thunderstorm and potential tornado, but we didn't have our bearings or know where to go for shelter.
While we sat debating our next move, we noticed the green-tinted clouds above us begin to rotate and swirl. As a native Arizonan, I've never seen clouds do anything like that in my life. It was fascinating, but mostly unsettling. We made the best of our few options, and quickly headed to the sturdiest building in sight - a brick bar across the street (the others were impermanent aluminum shed structures). The bartender had the weather channel on and we saw the red tornado warning zone was directly over our position on the map.
I believe the bartender and other weathered, stoic locals at the bar were amused to watch me, the tornado-inexperienced tourist from Phoenix, trying valiantly to conceal my anxiety. I was given a helpful tip about what to do if the roof was suddenly torn off and "debris" like flying chairs, tables, cars, and HOUSES were flying about: sit on the floor with my head down. Hardly comforting advice. When the tornado warning moved out of our range, Randy and I decided to risk the weather and drive south out of the storm. As we got up to leave the bar, I noticed a long stairway in the bar's dining room headed down to a nice, deep, sturdy basement. So the bartender had her fun and increased her alcohol sales by letting me be freaked out and think there was no tornado shelter. Ha Ha. :)
Cedar Rapids, Iowa
Cedar Rapids is the second biggest city in Iowa but is still a small enough town that we were interested in checking it out. The downtown area is really well done and looked like a place we could live, especially with the low-cost homes we had already checked out online. But as we drove around looking at homes, none of them looked interesting to us. The neighborhoods, even the lower-income ones, are mostly clean and well-kept but we couldn't find and of the historic sorts of homes we really like. We may have stayed exploring longer, but the storm that had chased us out of Cedar Falls had caught up again, so we tried to outrun it and quickly drove away towards Iowa City.
Iowa City, Iowa
We arrived in Iowa City last night pretty exhausted from the adventures of the day, but our brief drive through downtown and the surrounding neighborhoods showed that Iowa City is a beautiful town with a successful looking university, a terrific downtown and very cool houses. We plan to check it out some more on our way to Dubuque and Davenport today. This might be the place!
Yesterday was one of our most eventful days yet. Partially, because it was one of the first days we have gotten moving before 10am (we're suffering time zone lag). We had an 8:30am appointment with the realtor in Spirit Lake (Sarah describes above).
I've been driving with the cruise control the whole trip. I don't want any tickets (especially for going too slow!). Unfortunately, on the way to Mason City, I saw the cherries of a squad car and disengaged the cruise by habit. Sure enough, as we passed the officer, those cherries lit up and he was turning around. We pulled over and waited for him. He informed me I was doing 71 (I thought 69) in a 55 mph zone. Driving in the West most of the trip, I had gotten used to a speed limit on 65 mph on 2-lane roads. I explained this to him but he took a lot of time back in his car. When he walked back up, he handed me paperwork to sign. It was only a warning!!! Yeah! He told us to slow down, that Iowa 2-lanes are 55 mph, and asked how we're enjoying the humidity. He said the ticket would have been almost $100. I was feeling much better.
The storm, although serious, was enjoyable. I have missed the power of planet Earth in Phoenix. Sarah was even more entertaining to watch. Catching cloud rotation we knew it was time to get out of the car. The bar of locals in Cedar Falls got a big kick out of us as they nonchalantly drank on through the warnings of apocalypse on the local news.
Today we finish Iowa research and see the first of my family, Pam & Wayne in Ft. Madison, Iowa.
Wednesday, June 20, 2007
This morning we woke up in Sioux Falls, South Dakota. We first looked high and low for a car wash because we could barely see past the buggy windshield (eew). We found one across the street from a Culver's, so we stopped at both. We had heard Culver's is famous for - brace yourselves - butterburgers (eew). We ate there. The service was great and the food was... sort of unique. Afterwards we tried to find downtown Sioux Falls, but realized the town really doesn't seem to have a centralized area of activity. So we decided it didn't fit our criteria and moved on, since we had three other places on our agenda to check out today.
Vermillion, South Dakota
The next stop was Vermillion, also in South Dakota. Vermillion surfaced during our research because it is the home of University of South Dakota, which has several graduate programs we both find interesting. The University was nice and the surrounding neighborhoods were tree-lined and had cool houses. However, the town just felt too small for not having other points of interests like mountains or a lake or family nearby.
Sioux City, Iowa
So we moved right along to Sioux City, Iowa. At first Sioux City's downtown seemed to have potential. It has some tall buildings and several old, beautiful brick buildings. But few of the buildings seemed to be in use. We also drove through dilapidated neighborhoods (unfortunately, because the huge historic homes were beautiful but pretty severely rundown) near downtown before finding an area with well-kept homes. We left after determining Sioux City's economy didn't seem healthy enough.
Spirit Lake, Iowa
Finally, we made our way to the Spirit Lake area in Northwest Iowa. The lakes here are beautiful and many of the homes on them are lovely as well. Because living on a lake is our #1 preference, we called a real estate agent who is going to meet us in the morning and show us the most affordable waterfront lots and homes. Because this area seems to be a major vacation area for most of Iowa, we have a feeling the lake front properties here will be too expensive for us. But what we learn in the morning will provide an important point of reference for comparison with the value of lakefront areas we look at later on our trip.
Phew, four towns in one day! I'm ready for bed...
I'm excited as we get closer to family, friends, and familiar turf. However, we've seen some inspiring landscapes and cool towns. I'm worried Midwest small towns will seem flat in comparison (pun intended). Also, the West was amazingly cool. We can feel the heat (no big deal for Arizonans) and the humidity soar as we progress east.
We've really enjoyed the comments and e-mails while we've been on the trip. My friend Jim Sharpe called to congratulate us on our engagement because he heard from another friend, Eric Sorenson, who heard from his girlfriend, Sierra Ramm who read in the blog "She Said Yes!" So, I guess this Internet blogging thing works. Gary Kayne sent me live audio and a picture from the Roger Waters show. My sister, Michelle McLaughlin, tells me that she and her kids, especially my niece Sarah McLaughlin check a couple times a day for updates. Future brother-in-law, Zack Phillips, has sent a couple fun messages about the photo gallery. I've also been able to get back in touch with many old friends from WGN, like Kathy & Judy, Kurt Vanderah, Audrey Clarke, Lori Brayer, Joe Bartosch, and Mary June Rose. The Illinois swing is going to be a logistic tour de force as I want to catch-up and introduce Sarah to as many of you as possible.
We're looking forward to the next week or so as we've been staying in hotels and will be able to stay with family instead and use a hub and spoke strategy to evaluate some towns like Peoria, Bloomington, Champaign, Macomb, etc. We started the trip hoping to find hostels, camp grounds, or hotels to average about $35/night. We've found primarily hotels at an average of $70/night plus anywhere from $5-$15/night in additional tax charges. Gas has been what we expected, around $3.25/gallon on average. Thank goodness for Sarah's Civic. It's getting 35-40 mpg on average.
Spirit Lake, Iowa
I'd say today was disappointing, but its always good to narrow down options. The biggest realization is how important it is for us to find a place on a lake. The expected shock factor is that lakefront housing sells for a 400% premium, at least here in The Great Lakes of Iowa (not to be mistaken with The Great Lakes). The Okoboji area seems pretty cool. Lots of lakefront, boats, and a vacation feel. I wonder what it will be like in December. I also wonder if its economy is too dependent on vacationers. We read a local magazine at dinner that allayed some of my concerns with profiles on members of the community. Many came here with the same goals as Sarah and I and are still here and very happy with successful projects running. So here's a big question: WHERE ARE THE BEST AFFORDABLE LAKES TO BUY HOMES ON?
Mount Rushmore, South Dakota
We started the day out at Mt. Rushmore and it was worth more than a drive-by glance. Although there is no admission fee, there was an $8 parking charge. Once we got into the Monument and saw the studio, interpretive elements, and the hiking loop we were happy we paid.
Funny thing we realized at the gift shop: an artist and workers suspended from ropes working with jackhammers were able to create unbelievably detailed 60 foot+ likenesses of these four presidents, but novelty companies can't make a 3" x 2" souvenir that doesn't make them look like Simpsons characters.
Rapid City, South Dakota
We spent the afternoon in downtown Rapid City and had lunch at a great microbrewery in a converted fire station house. As we drove around town, we liked much of the housing and the general hilly landscape, but something did seem to be missing from town. By the time we got back on the road, we decided that we liked Rapid City, but that its economy might be too tourism-dependent for us.
Tuesday, June 19, 2007
Casper came up in some research as having potential. However, it is too Western for me. The town was clean, but very much like the dusty desert in Arizona we're looking to leave. The University of Wyoming mascot is The Cowboys, and the town seemed to be more into rodeo than I am.
Devil's Tower National Monument, Wyoming
Do, do, do, dooo, dooo... We were unexplainably driven to see this rock formation that seems to reach toward the heavens. It is in the beginning of the Black Hills approaching South Dakota. The landscape in Northeast Wyoming is more to my liking with many trees and rolling hills like Wisconsin. Native legend has it that seven sisters were in the forest when a bear pursued them. They prayed to be rescued, and their prayers were answered as the Earth heaved the ground below them up to the sky. The bear tried to reach them, leaving claw marks in the rock, but they remained safe.
I thought we might see it from I-90, but the geography is tricky. The tower was formed by volcanic forces underground and only emerged in the last few million years due to erosion of the land around it. Although it seems tall, it's only a little over 1,200 feet above the level of the nearby Belle Fource River. In other words, the top of the tower is even with much of the land in the region, its the area around it that has dropped into beautiful rolling woods.
Most of you know this monument from Close Encounters of the Third Kind. It is stark in its verticality. So much so, it is one of the top climbs in the country. Sarah and I waited around to hitch a ride but we must have missed this connection of the intergalatic transport. Where's Mulder when you need him?
We caught Mount Rushmore on the way to the hotel in twilight. We're going back tomorrow to see it along with the Crazy Horse project.
Wyoming and South Dakota
After the parks we drove to and stayed in Casper, Wyoming Sunday night and to Rapid City, South Dakota today where we will see the presidents carved into Mount Rushmore tomorrow. On our way to Rapid City we stopped at Devil’s Tower, the sight of the Spielberg film Close Encounters of the Third Kind. Randy and I both love sci-fi movies so it was a fun stop, and in a beautiful setting.
Monday, June 18, 2007
Yellowstone National Park
Finally, I got to see Yogi Bear and Boo-Boo's home turf. No wonder they put up with Ranger Smith. The park would take several days to fully explore, but we got the picture(s). Old Faithful, geothermal mud pots, lakes, buffalo, moose, and bears are worth the $25 admission per car. The ranger at the gate to Yellowstone confirmed what the Ranger at the Grand Canyon told us, save your National Parks admission receipts. Once we have $80 worth, we can get a credit for a full year pass to any park. We plan on catching as many as we can, so this is a nice surprise from Uncle Sam. On the way out of the park, rangers had to deal with a traffic jam as a bear and 2 cubs had emerged below a bridge and everyone was stopping to get pictures. There must have been over 100 cars pulled to the side of the road with plates from at least 15 different states.
Grand Teton National Park
Amazing, craggy, sharp, snow-covered peaks. Grand Teton N.P. is immediately south of Yellowstone N.P. It's worth the drive just to catch the panoramic views. It took us about an hour to drive through on the way to Jackson, Wyoming. We also caught sight of some bison herds and expensive houses.
This popped up in initial research a couple times and being 30 minutes south of Grand Teton N.P., I figured we should give it a look. Before we left the hotel, we checked on housing there. WHEW! We're out. The least expensive house we found was $600,000. We saw two listed for over $35-million!!!! Downtown Jackson is "money" with high-end shopping and a modern architecturally designed Western feel. We should have known we were going to drop it from consideration when we saw two Lear jets as the only planes at the Jackson Hole airport.
(More pictures have been added to the album.)
Yellowstone National Park and Grand Teton National Park
Friday night we stayed in Missoula, MT then drove to West Yellowstone on Saturday where we slept that night. We spent most of Sunday driving through Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks in Wyoming. The parks had incredible sights. We saw bison, moose, a bear, boiling mud pits, sulfuric steam pouring from natural hot springs, and several geysers including Old Faithful. We then drove by the Grand Teton’s jagged, snow covered peaks for miles. It was a great day of sightseeing. But the pictures of the weekend really speak of what we saw better than I can, so enjoy!
Saturday, June 16, 2007
I love Coeur D'Alene! We arrived sooner than I expected to (about forty minutes) after leaving Spokane. The weather was cloudy and mild, almost chilly, but would warm every now and then for a few moments when the sun would peek from behind the clouds. The lake area was beautiful and the surrounding park was well-planned for a variety of activities like boating, kayaking, water skiing, and swimming. As we drove further into town we saw cyclists, joggers, and rollerbladers enjoying the lakeside path. Then we parked and walked around downtown for about an hour. Downtown was clean and active, with lots of flowers lining the store windows. Afterwards we drove through a neighborhood between downtown and the lake, in walking distance of each, with very nice houses. Many were huge and clearly out of our price range, but we wondered whether we might be able to afford one of the smaller fixer-uppers. We will keep thinking about it, because Coeur D'Alene is now at the top of our list.
We drove to Missoula Friday afternoon after spending some time in Coeur D'Alene. I've always pictured Montana being mostly flat with a few impressive mountains. Not so, from what we saw. Our entire drive was through the tall, green, sometimes rocky mountains. The views kept getting prettier.
I wasn't expecting Missoula to be so geographically beautiful. I also wasn't expecting it to be such a cool town. I thought it would be mostly farmland and not a place where Randy and I could expect to make a life for ourselves. My first impression of Missoula was that it was clean and very nice looking; it has a lot of new commercial development on the first strip into town with plenty of popular chains where residents can eat and shop. But we were on a mission to find the University and see what it looked like. We found a pretty campus with impressive buildings. Nearby we stumbled upon downtown. I really loved the downtown area, which is filled with fun stores. Whereas several small towns we have recently visited have very touristy downtown shops like high end art galleries and expensive boutiques, Missoula offered the likes of funky coffee shops, several bookstores, both affordable hamburger dives and more expensive restaurants (even a Sushi restaurant!), and a comic book store.
The downtown population also seemed diverse. I noticed mixed ethnic demographics (a plus), granola-types, bikers (as in Harley guys), etc. while we walked around downtown. The Friday night crowd at the busy restaurant where we ate included men in cowboy hats, trendy college-aged kids, and regular looking people of all ages hanging out and talking with one another at the bar. Saturday morning on our way to breakfast at Bernice's Bakery we saw lots of pedestrians and bicyclists enjoying the beautiful weather. And did I mention the views? Missoula is almost at, or maybe at, the very top of my list.
Coeur D'Alene, Idaho
Bad mojo seemed to stick to us leaving Spokane. Luckily, only 40-minutes away, Coeur D'Alene was the perfect place to turn around our spirits. I'd been looking forward to seeing Coeur D'Alene since I first saw the golf course on my Xbox Tiger Woods 2005. Leading up to our trip, a number of people made a point to recommend visiting. Good advice.
It's a beautiful mountain lake, much like Whatcom Lake in Bellingham, Washington. There is a lot of recreational activity and the town is right on the lake. It's likely we can't afford this town. Part of our plan is to simplify and not have to earn a ton of money just to pay a mortgage. Coeur D'Alene reminded me of Lake Geneva, Wisconsin. Many large mansions dot the shoreline and the town on the lake has many pricey shops. However, there were what looked to be some attainable small houses a couple blocks off the water in town. Coeur D'Alene zooms to the top of our list. It will fall if we can find something like it in a more affordable range.
The drive to Missoula, Montana was another stunner. Dense pine tree covered mountains led into a clearing of a bowl-shaped valley. Every direction you look in Missoula, you see the hills. You also see a clean town of well-maintained architecture. There are new developments with model homes tracks much like most big city suburbs. Then there is the University of Montana neighborhood. It has many Victorian, turn-of-the-century homes that have been remodeled. Downtown was stunningly large and cosmopolitan. We found good restaurants, arts, shops, and more.
I look forward to seeing more of Missoula today. It may be pricier than I thought as we've seen a lot of high-level real estate activity in magazines here.
We had arrived at our hotel Thursday night in Spokane just as it was getting dark, but were impressed by the views of mountains and trees and looked forward to exploring the next morning. Friday we woke with one goal: Food. So we drove in the general direction of downtown to see what we could find.
We found traffic difficult to maneuver even though it was midday and morning rush hour should have been over; the traffic population seemed to be larger than the roads had been built to accommodate. We also noticed several old brick building of interest that would have added to a nice historic downtown atmosphere, but they were interspersed with businesses, many rundown, that lacked aesthetic appeal. We found a cafe, Rocket Bakery, where we ordered our (very good) food and coffee and found a seat on the outdoor patio. The cafe was situated on a corner across from a beautiful Carnegie library and what looked like a river park across the other street. But in the setting I had initially found to be ideal for talking over lunch, I quickly became annoyed with the noise in the area. I wrote it off to being in a bad mood and therefore sensitive to noise (I get like that when I skip meals, as I had breakfast that morning). However, we talked about it and noticed that even this little side street cafe had quite a bit of traffic passing, including an almost constant stream of noisy semi-trucks and buses. Randy pointed out that the city was possibly planned and laid out with downtown placed between manufacturing plants and industrial facilities and the freeway, leaving truckers no other route on their way to the interstate. I also laughed because while I was already being finicky about the noise, a bird perched itself on a ledge over my head and proceeded not to tweet (the day before we had talked about all of the pretty bird songs floating in the air in Boise) but to screech throughout the entire meal.
After lunch we walked across the street to take pictures at the impressive brick library and the park. Entering the park, we noticed garbage strewn on the ground and the "Lost Dog" flier taped to a street light pole, upon closer examination, read "Dog Stolen." It seemed to be just another sign that this place was not lending to a nice, warm-fuzzy gut sensation. So we agreed that Spokane wasn't feeling like "The Place," and followed the bumpy, poorly maintained road out of town.
"So, can we leave now?" It seemed like the unasked question between Sarah and I all day in Spokane. We drove around and looked for areas that might be fun to live but everything seemed just a bit off kilter. Spokane is predominately an old industrial town based on mining. It has a similar feel to Milwaukee or Pittburgh, but those cities have been very active in adapting to the service economy. Spokane didn't look like it had much active urban planning.
There had been a World's Fair in town in 1974, but we had a hard time finding much sign of it. A park still exists by the river near downtown. Gonzaga is the big school here. I understand why their teams are good at being the underdog. It seemed like there are many good people in Spokane, but this was the first town I sensed a biding of time toward moving away. We could be mistaken, but Spokane goes on the "Not Interested" list.
Friday, June 15, 2007
We've arrived at our hotel in Spokane, Washington at dark with plans to head to Coeur D’Alene tomorrow after exploring Spokane.
Today we woke up late. Our two all-nighters earlier this week shifted our sleeping schedules to where we fall asleep late and have trouble getting up and out before 10am. When we finally got showered and packed, we headed first to get breakfast at Rockies Diner, where all of the servers were on rollerskates. The staff was friendly, the food arrived extremely quickly - the service was excellent - but the food was so-so. Afterwards we immediately started the drive to Spokane.
The drive from Boise to Spokane was A W E S O M E, with a capital everything. No matter what else happens on our trip, it will have been worth it just to take that drive. Outside of Boise, the rolling hills became greener and larger until they became pine tree covered mountains that lasted for hundreds of miles. We drove alongside a white water river (Little Salmon) and passed two lakes on the way (Cascade and Payette). We stopped at one of the lakes to wade in the water on the beach for a few minutes. We also stopped at a park in Riggins right off the highway near the Little Salmon River that had gorgeous views of the river below and several tall peaks above it.
Maybe the best part was the view of the mountains and valleys we had driven through from a high point on the other side... (see photo in Randy's comments above). Once we entered Washington state we were surrounded by picture-perfect rolling green hills; they looked exactly like a familiar Microsoft desktop backdrop, where the hills look too green and the sky looks too blue to be real. Then we made it to our hotel in Spokane just as darkness was falling. It was another wonderful day!
Thursday, June 14, 2007
Boise (BOY-see locally pronounced, not BOYZ-ee) is one of the largest towns in consideration at nearly 200,000 residents. It was recently name #3 in Forbes best place for business/careers, Money Magazine rates it #8 in its best places to live list, and ranked #37 in affordability.
Being the first of the towns we're evaluating, how the heck are we checking them out in person? There are several criteria important to us:
1. Lake (homes available).
2. College (potential place to work, partner with in business, and/or conduct graduate studies).
3. Arts District (an encouragement of creativity and fun scene the community supports).
4. Gut Feel (this is why we're on the road; for all the research we've done, you just can't tell if you like a place until you're in the mix).
5. Seasons/Precipitation (Sarah has always lived in Arizona. We both like rain, snow, and the way seasons mark the passage of time).
Boise has done well. We hung out most of the day in the Historic District which has been renovated and is filled with cool coffee shops and restaurants in 100 year old brick buildings. It's near both the state capitol and the Boise State University campus. The energy was good as there were still many people strolling about as late as 11pm on a Wednesday.
We stopped first at a Moxie Java to access the Internet and to get brunch. Barista Brittanie was really good to us and shared her perspective on town. Although there's not a lake with housing on it in Boise, she explained there's a 17-mile greenway to a resevoir lake that is a rewarding bicycle ride on the weekends. Sitting in a coffee shop is a great way to get to meet local residents. Many have given us their considered opinions on the place they live. In general, Boise is a very friendly place. Although it appears very green, it sounds like it doesn't get much snow in the winter and the Idaho Statesman newspaper had a familiar story to us Arizonans about water rights battles.
We also drove into a neighborhood that wowed us just outside the historic district. Craftsman and other well maintained quaint homes were everywhere on quiet, bird-soundtracked streets. As we drove in the area we noticed some streets led up to a neighborhood referred to as the Foothills. Expensive, large homes overlook Boise's downtown, college, and capitol and also have access to a wilderness area in the dry grass covered mountains. In general, we found nice homes priced in the $180,000-380,000 range. Good values for a growing town but more than we'd like to pay. The Foothills looked to be million dollar homes.
At this point, Boise remains on the definite possibility list. We'll
have to see how it holds up as we visit other towns.
P.S. Check the photos and video we've added.
When we woke up yesterday morning we saw what a beautiful place Boise really is. There are green trees everywhere and the weather was heavenly. We also noticed a high proportion of small and independently-owned businesses as we drove around sight-seeing. We mostly needed a coffee shop with free Wi-Fi access, and found one we really liked downtown around 500 W. Main called Moxie Java. It was a great place to spend a few hours. I paid my bills and we posted our blogs, read the local paper, and received some great advice and Boise tips from the excellent barista, Brittanie Stuber (see Brittanie drinking on the job, right). For example, she gave us the heads-up on the correct pronunciation of "Boise" so we could try to avoid sounding like tourists for the rest of the day. Thanks to Brittanie for being so friendly and helpful!
Afterwards we walked around downtown to see the various shops and cafes. We noticed four to five coffee shops within a two block area! The downtown seems to be vibrant and active.
We decided we both really like Boise and that it will serve as a good point of reference, but we hope to find a similar place that is more affordable. It is definitely staying on the list of possibilities, though!
Wednesday, June 13, 2007
Yesterday was great. It felt like the first day of vacation. We slept until the ring, ring of the hotel desk calling awoke us. We requested a later check-out and they generously gave us 45 minutes. We took an hour and a half.
Rested and refreshed, we had to make sure we relaxed and we wanted to make sure we keep updating this blog daily. We stopped at a Starbucks near the hotel. It was one of those moments where you realize time is passing but you don't care. Three hours later, we had both made our blog entries and read-up on how to use our new camcorder. Then we had to go to Just Add Coffee to get free Wi-Fi and post the blog.
Bear with us as you will be the guinea pigs seeing the learning curve as we develop this site into a fuller multimedia experience (Ooo!). Today's mission is to post pictures. Right now, we don't have much video but will add some when we have a chance to edit it.
The drive from Salt Lake City to Boise was beautiful and seemed very quick. After getting through SLC's afternoon rush hour, I locked the cruise control at 79 mph and we we're in Boise within 6 hours. The mountains to the East of SLC are rugged Rockies with grassy hills at the base covered with houses that have awesome views of the enormous Salt Lake to the West. Near the Utah/Idaho border the landscape changed to rolling grass covered mountains/hills. The glaciers did impressive work here as the hills reminded me of a Wisconsin or Kansas with greater height.
Twin Falls, Idaho
On the way, we stopped in Twin Falls, a small town where I have a business opportunity. It looks like its growing. It has 2-3 commercial strips and an old early-60s downtown that was completely quiet at 8pm except for 1 restaurant/bar with a few patrons. The Snake River Canyon runs through the north side of the town and wasn't so impressive after being at the Grand Canyon the day before (Evel Kneivel should have made it). There are also two sets of waterfalls that we didn't catch as the sun had set. We agreed, Twin Falls is nice, but not where we're looking to live.
Boise looked interesting under cover of darkness. It's not exactly a small town but is has the feel and is often cited as a great place to live. We're going to stay here again tonight so we can explore today.
Yesterday, Tuesday morning, we slept in as late as the hotel would allow. We found a Starbucks first thing and spent several hours relaxing there. I started reading the manual and familiarizing myself with Randy's new video camera; we hope to video document much of the trip. We also discovered that Internet access is now quite expensive at Starbucks, so we saved our blogs to a Word document and waited until we found free access later to post the entries. Taking our time at the coffee shop was a nice and much-needed way to decompress from the evening before. Between our downtime there and the good night's sleep we had gotten, we both felt relaxed and energized for the drive to Boise.
When we left the coffee place, we saw that just around the corner was an independent coffee shop, Just Add Coffee, offering free Internet access. So of course we wished we had known about it and gone there instead. But we pulled into a parking spot and were able to use the access to quickly post our blogs.
The drive through Salt Lake City was gorgeous. The view of the Rocky Mountains is stunning, and the lake is beautiful and much bigger than I imagined. The city looked clean and the economy seems to be vibrant. It is a much bigger city than we are interested in finding for ourselves, but it seemed like a very nice place to live.
We also enjoyed the trip to Boise. The rolling, green hills and wide open spaces make for a beautiful landscape and an enjoyable drive. By the time we arrived in Boise it was dark, but even the little we could see of the town on the way to the hotel was enough to spark our interest. Boise is the first stop on our path that we are checking out for a future home. It is exciting and fun to be getting to the meat of our trip.
Tuesday, June 12, 2007
Phew! I am journaling about Day 1 of our trip around midday on Day 2, from a Starbucks in Salt Lake City. We planned to leave for the Grand Canyon yesterday at 5am, but didn’t start driving until 9am! I awoke with pink-eye a few days ago and have been fighting a cold all week. So I was low power and hadn’t finished all the necessary preparations in time.
Last week I had three major concerns: preparing to propose to Sarah, getting ready for our travels, and getting the house on the market. (These would have been an overwhelming culmination of tasks even if I had been healthy.) Because of having been overcommitted, Sarah and I ended up pulling an all-nighter Sunday night/Monday morning in order to get everything we needed done before driving away. It was bizarre, but I found I enjoy gardening at night; I was out in the yard planting flowers at 2am!
Sarah slept from 3-6am so she could drive the first leg of the trip. I slept for most of it, but was awake long enough to see it was a beautiful drive. The Navajo Bridge at Marble Canyon was stunning. We stopped and took some photos before making our final approach to the Grand Canyon.
We’ve been told the North Rim is gorgeous and I liked how it was lusher than the South Rim and not as flat. Also, the Grand Canyon Lodge had a great sun deck and cool lodge architecture and lighting. We enjoyed walking out to some of the points to see deep into the Canyon. Many fellow travelers were kind and offered to take pictures of us with the awesome backdrop. The sun had been about to set when we got there, so we made a decision we knew would have a physical cost: we stayed to see it. You have got to see the sunset at the Grand Canyon if you have the opportunity.
The price we paid for being behind on schedule was our first learning experience of the trip. We had already booked a non-refundable room in Salt Lake City via Hotwire, so we were committed to making it all the way there last night regardless of how tired we were. When we left the Canyon at 8pm the view looked like a painting as the remaining daylight pierced the recently burned, toothpick-like trees of the Kaibab National Forest.
We made it to 89A by nightfall. Driving at night is something I hope to avoid during the trip. My hope was that it wouldn’t be long until we reached Interstate 15 to Salt Lake City. The drive along 89A wasn’t bad as we passed several small towns that had rolled up for the night. We then needed to cut over a mountain ridge on 14 to get to I-15. As soon as we turned, we commented on how the various warning signs were ominous, basically saying, “Ye who pass here shant turn back!” Maybe we should have heeded the warning. This is likely a beautiful daylight drive, but at night was filled with dark edge curves, steep grades, and lots of deer. As we approached I-15, I had been so intently alert for wildlife that I was beginning to brake for bushes on the side of the road.
Sarah was kind enough to take over the drive at the interstate to SLC. She must have been edgy after the mountain drive because I suddenly noticed flashing lights behind us. When the officer didn’t pass us, we pulled over. He asked why in the world we were going 35 mph on a 75 mph freeway. I had no answer. Sarah handled the situation well, even after he told her, “You are so fired.” He eventually let us go without a ticket, after assuring himself we weren’t high. I offered to drive after that but Sarah was the maximum trooper and continued.
At 6am, we arrived at our hotel completely exhausted. Too aggressive; never again. Now, we’ll wait to look for lodging when we arrive in towns so we don’t have to push past fatigue because of a previously reserved room.
The bed was so welcome.
P.S. On our test trip to Washington State, we were able to use the fantastic service of free Wi-Fi at many coffee shops to make plans. It seems many Starbucks now have a deal with T-Mobile where you have to pay a $30 per month fee for access. No more stops at Starbucks. Just as well. We’d rather support independents. They’re just harder to find.
Of course we got a later start yesterday morning than we had planned. We basically stayed up all night finishing projects at the house. Randy and I worked together until about 2:30am, but then I took a (very) short three hour nap so I would have (some) energy to drive the first leg of the trip. Randy never went to sleep.
We finally left the house (in spic and span order) at 9am. We ate breakfast at Bagels, and then Randy slept most of the way to Flagstaff (don’t worry, he wasn’t driving!) where we stopped briefly for gas and continued to the Grand Canyon. My friend Sue from work warned me that the trip in and out of the North Rim is truly an all-day commitment, and she was absolutely right. We didn’t arrive until 5pm, and decided it would be a shame to have come all that way and miss seeing the sun set. So we walked around in order to see the view from various vantage points, took several pictures, and bought coffee to keep us warm (it was really chilly and we were both wearing summer clothes) while we sat on a bench at the rim and watched the sun set.
I love the Grand Canyon. This was my fourth visit, and I am still never able to prepare myself for way it makes me feel. Seeing the canyon is a sort of spiritual and incredibly awe-inspiring event for me every single time. Its vast size and the passage of hundreds of millions of years that it represents puts my life into perspective and has a calming effect on me. I am really glad we took time to make the detour and spend a few hours there.
By the time we left for Salt Lake City it was 8-ish. We naively expected to arrive around midnight… Ha Ha Ha Ha Ha. Don’t picture me smiling while expressing that “laugh,” because I wasn’t. After not sleeping the night before, another all-nighter was pretty challenging. The drive was SO dark (there didn’t seem to be any signs of civilization for hundreds of miles, except for fact that we were driving on a paved road) and very curvy, so we often wouldn’t see the deer (we probably saw about forty) in the road until we were very close, which of course is unsettling.
Our agreement that Randy would drive to Salt Lake had helped me endure my eight hour drive to the Grand Canyon yesterday. But he was feeling so sick a couple of hours into the drive that it only made sense for me to finish up. We were both fried by the time we got to our hotel this morning! I’ve never been so happy to see a bed.
TOTALS: 29 States - 62 Towns - 55+ Days - 13,707 Miles