Wednesday, October 12, 2011

An Incredible Journey

The 2010 Spring issue of the CAA magazine invited any member to share a tale
about a memorable trip or a car story that needs to be told ...for a chance to be featured in the magazine. Stories would be edited for space. In this writing I have omitted several references to the benefits of CAA.

An Incredible Journey

My son, Andrew, was working by contract in a few US cities. His family 
remained in Hamilton due to often limited-time project work. Once a month he flew home on a weekend to spend quality time with his wife and 3 children. I was a self-employed sales representative, occasionally capitalizing on opportunities to not only spend a week with him, but to explore the attractions of his locale.

In October 2001, calling from California, he discussed the possibility of
sending home his Honda Odyssey van by train. With Ontario plates
and his birthday in mid-November, the vehicle required an emission test to have his licence renewed. This state already had mandatory testing for years,
however, Ontario stated this was unacceptable. He considered driving his Odyssey to British Columbia on a long weekend...this too,
was not acceptable! Due to the cost of rail transportation, Andrew proposed
that he would pay my flight to San Jose if I would drive his van back to Ontario.
He knew that I would welcome a “holiday opportunity”, free of business appointments, pagers, telephones...just the road before me, the radio
and maps to guide. Relaxation gave me time to reflect on many things!

I asked any one of several friends to join me in California...view the scenic coastal Highway #1, desert lands, high plateaus and mountains, open country
and side excursions. With only a couple weeks' notice, no one was free to 
commit to this vacation me, it was a “Once in a Lifetime” opportunity 
to view the Grand Canyon (Arizona), Zion National Park and Bryce Canyon (Utah), Mesa Verde National Park (Colorado)...the latter would fulfil my impressions based on the cultured life of the Cliff Dwellers...the Anasazi who were the forerunners of the Utes and Navajos and other tribes as portrayed by Louis d' Amour in his novel, “The Haunted Mesa”...a book well worth 
2nd and 3rd readings...very compelling and intriguing!

Yes! I accepted my son's invitation! Next day, the CAA in Burlington
was the target of my enquiry for maps, brochures and State Tour Books
which gave me clear concise travel information.


With the Spirit of Adventure, and undaunted, this Senior Citizen flew to
San Jose. Andrew and I spent the weekend revisiting Yosemite
National Park...indescribable, the drama that Nature has carved.
Then further south is King's Canyon and the many sequoia forests.
Crossing 2 or 3 mountain ranges westward, we dined at a coastal
restaurant near Big Sur. From our patio table, we were mesmerized, viewing
a mountain stream as it tumbled, then gently flowed into the blue Pacific.

During the week, I explored the mountain areas and coastal towns including
Half Moon Bay, Carmel, Santa Cruz, Monterey Bay, the market gardens
of Watsonville, immense artichoke fields and pumpkin harvest. Bonus,
was a leisurely drive through the famed and elite Pebble Beach
Golf Links...undisturbed by tourists, golfers and park attendants.
Spectacular was the Ocean panorama...the wind-twisted cypresses...
so synonymous with the California landscape as are the mighty redwoods and
sequoias which grow ocean side of the mountains which thrive on the morning
mists that roll in off the Pacific.

The following weekend, we ventured north along the coast to the
Redwood Forests as far as Klamath (near the Oregon border).
We located two redwoods whose trunks we drove through
with the van and “pictured ourselves” as in the old Geography Books
of Public School exciting! Returning, we sauntered
through the Napa and Sonoma Valleys, amazed at the numerous
lush vineyards...some with recognizable names.

It was during these weekend treks that we purchased a National Park us entry to any US National Park for one year which became
very valuable in my travels.  Upon return to Hamilton, this Pass
became my son's to own and use for his job locales south of the border!

Twice, while there, I drove to Pleasant Hill, adjacent to Oakland,
to visit my nephew Jimmy and his ballerina wife, Marcela (only a
couple years here from Chile). Each time he accompanied me to
“The California Ballroom” in downtown Oakland for a Rotary Club
luncheon. The members warmly greeted us with the formal exchange
of our respective Club banners.

Prior to my early morning exodus from California, we discussed
a tentative itinerary for each day with arrangements that I telephone
him each evening. He had no concerns, nor did I, as we parted
company on Monday at breakfast time. With directions beside me,
I headed to Yosemite Park to take the upper route  which crosses
the stony mountain top before descending on the eastern side into
Nevada. My Travel Books and maps were my “constant companions”.
...even to consult motels and hotels for the best rates...always a discount 
of either ~ off season, Senior or CAA Membership. Each evening 
my son was my Lifeline to whom I reported...experiences of the 
day, the behaviour of his Odyssey and review of the next day's 
destination. He computer-checked to advise me of road and weather 
conditions. Never before had I experienced mountain top deserts 
where the road gently winds through barren landscape for miles 
and miles, where the tumbleweed grows to the road's edge, 
where seldom is another vehicle seen, where the sun warms the day 
and the frost ices the night!

Imagine my elation to tour Zion National Park! Incredible is the
grandeur of mountain monoliths and a tributary of the Virgin River
flowing through the valley at roadside level. Then Bryce Canyon
with its brilliant red sandstone hoodoos and mazes...a
fantastic (almost moon-like) rockscape of eroded pinnacles.
Unlike Zion's views from the valley level, this “look-into-the-valley”
wonder is totally Awesome! So much to See...
however, I must guard my time...and head to Jacobs Lake for the night.

Standing on the North Rim of the Grand Canyon (1,000 feet higher in
elevation than the South Rim) at sunrise, was an “out-of-world-experience”! Stepping into the morning chill, my breath almost froze! So Quiet!
One could hear the rustle of leaves in the trees! Then the occasional
bird tweet welcoming the day, as the “stillness came to life”.
I felt spiritually moved! Late in the afternoon, I was impressed anew
with the much touristy South Rim with its many stopping points
and viewing platforms...observing the Colorado River deep,
deep down as it snakes and tumbles and churns its way through
the rugged canyon. (Friends from Burlington had a 2-year wait list
to hike from the North Rim with a guide, circumventing the boulders,
observing the condors as they swoop and soar their canyon habitat;
an overnight motel stay  at the base along the bustling River, rested them
for the South Rim climb next day...each hiker carried only a backpack
on this arduous trek).

The Four Corners"  was Indian-operated attraction. 
Crafts were available to purchase from the numerous artisans 
 including sandstone paintings often with hand-scripted Indian  philosophies. 
I met the artist who autographed a few pieces I bought. Various foods 
...including “elephant ears” were very tempting with their inviting aromas. 
Where Utah, Colorado, Arizona and New Mexico intersect, one can 
place feet and hands in each of the four States. In Cortez, I located 
a comfortable  motel and an excellent Mexican restaurant. I happily 
fell asleep at day's end!

Honourable mention must be given to my Fuji Camera which was in
great demand as I pictorially captured events of the day; each evening
as I chronicled  my journey, I'd anticipate the development of my photos
which would recall memories of these wonderful times.

I was reliving history as I drove through Durango and other now-cities
in Colorado that once upon a time were bustling silver mining towns
throughout the West (including Leadville...later in this narrative).

Mesa Verde National Park intrigued me greatly! In long-ago days,
Life was vibrant with the various Indian tribes inhabiting the mesas.
How they hunted, grew vegetable gardens, carried water often
a difficult distance, fashioned their clothing and protected their tribal homes
from warring tribes for many years is amazing! Although I did not
venture to do so, many visitors here joined tours to ladder-climb
and visit these cave-like cliff dwellings. The native Indians, in both
Arizona and Colorado, I found very friendly...always a “smile greeting”
and kind kind gesture as I viewed their wares...buying jewelery pieces
magnificently crafted from local stones...turquoise, jade, amber,
red carnelian, hematite. These I still wear today and admired by many.

For many years, I was an avid skier. Colorado is a ski-mecca! With great desire,
I longed to see Aspen, Vail and other recognizable Rocky Mountain resorts...
Telerude and Steamboat! Driving north toward Montrose, then eastward
through Gunnison and beyond to Hwy. 24 toward Leadville,
I was definitely in Rocky Mountain country! Off Hwy. 24, I left-turned
on the road to Aspen...deep, deep into the mountains I drove,
past Twin Lakes. Reaching Independence Pass, the road was
“closed for the season”! This was early November...the weather
can be most unfavourable for road travel! As another van stopped,
the Japanese family and I conversed....How sensational the mountains!
How still the thin air at 12,095 feet elevation! How deep the views
to the valley floor! This Pass is also titled The Continental Divide.
There was a bench or two where one could rest a few moments to
regain some easy breaths....entranced with this glorious scenic environment!

Returning to Hwy 24, I observed beavers building lodges on small
ponds and streams...also a flock of Bighorn sheep (or were they goats?).
They suspiciously studied me until I opened the door for a closer picture...
then hastily  scampered into the shrubbery well-hidden behind the rocks.

Leadville, at 10,430 feet elevation, is North America's highest incorporated
city amid 14,000 ft. snowy peaks! It was a booming city with over 400
silver mines. In 1879, it was “the place to go in the American West”.
Even today is a yearly 3-day Mountain Festival and historical celebration
of the Old West with gunslingers, burro races, mining skills contest,
a motorcycle rodeo and a street fair with over 100 food and craft booths.

Vail is a quaint, quiet town until ski season opens. With a cup of hot
coffee and sitting on a deserted outdoor patio, I took note that the
weather is cool and sunny...sometimes frost overnight...the only visible snow
is on the peaks. I'm soon going to miss these Rocky Mountains!
I congratulate myself and God that my drive-conditions have been superb!

North of Denver, I decided to exit at Estes Park. Due to the November season,
I discovered the entry was closed...the booth windows showing black and white
photos of immense volumes of expected snow as per other winters!
The mountains here range from 8,000 to 12,000 feet. I consulted my map for an
alternate route...I must now return to the main highway and drive north to
Wyoming. At Walden (Colorado), I located the last available motel
room, discovering this was hunting season. The manager recommended
The Coffee Cafe for dinner. This family-owned restaurant was a haven
for the yearly hunters who invade the community for its vast hunting
and fishing opportunities. They advise me that an easterly Route 14
at the south end of town, would probably still be open...which will
wind along well-paved  country roads and rural landscape toward
Fort Collins and the Interstate into Nebraska.

This meandering scenic road was a treasured delight! Springs
and streams abound, skimming over rock-strewn azure
blue sky and billowy white clouds. Along this road, something sparkling
and glimmering came into view. With a dense green forest backdrop,
stood a lonely evergreen, roadside, adorned with Christmas ornaments
and decorations. The gentle wind and the golden sun gave Life
to this small stately tree...waiting to be photographed.
At Fort Collins and its high flying American flag, the message was clear....
end of The Rockies!

Ahead were the Plains States! The adventures continued (stopping occasionally
to visit noteworthy attractions) as I crossed the corn state of Nebraska, 
the open country of Iowa's extensive farm lands. In Davenport, I bridged 
across the mighty Mississippi River into Illinois with its mix of farms 
and cities. Chicago loomed ahead ...then into Michigan. 
My last and 12th night was Ann Arbor. The final day of this grand journey 
was an easy comfortable drive...crossing the Detroit River into Windsor, 
Ontario. The Odyssey and I arrived in Hamilton by noon! No scratches, 
dents or rattles on his van....the sage green Honda Odyssey had arrived home!

Yes...the emission test was accomplished, 
 resulting in the renewal of the needed driver licence.
In the fall of 2009, she had clocked over 500,000 k...
truly a Great Lady...deserving...Retirement in Honda Heaven!



A. During this lengthy Journey of over 7,000 k I observed only 2 accidents...
both minor. One was outside Zion National Park...a 5 pm fender-bender
at an intersection. The other in Windsor...a truck semi had crushed the trunk
of black sedan at a stop light.

B. Bighorn sheep are indigenous to the Rocky Mountains. (Each can weigh
up to 300 lbs. and with horns to 30 lbs). Bighorn sheep originally crossed
the Bering land bridge. In recent years, these sheep entered into mythology 
of the Native Americans. In recent years, Conservation efforts have restored 
the population. Their habitat ranges from British Columbia to Arizona.
  1. Canada, also, has a Four yet unrecognized. 
    Visualize a map of our country: consider North West Territories, Nunavut, Saskatchewan and Manitoba. Let Us Promote This Fact!


For me, this Journey was much more than a scenic tour:

It was a Cultural Experience...meeting the native Navajos, enjoying their foods,
appreciating their contribution and gift to the World of tradition and beliefs.

It was the Spiritual Moments...undisturbed by people and noise.

It was the Challenge of Mountain Driving through narrow passes at dusk,
along roads that cling to precipitous cliffsides, viewing canyons that plunge
into the deep valleys.

It was a Geography Revelation...the diversity of landscapes...from soaring
snowy mountains to scorching deserts...from cypress trees to the unsurpassed
redwoods and sequoias...from busy intersections to winding country roads....
from major cities to rural hamlets.

It is Nature's Gift for Us to Appreciate....the phenomenal creations  and
artistry...the dramatic vistas of the mountains....the woods, golden with
quaking aspens in valleys...numerous wildflowers and mountain daisies...sightings of moose, elk, deer , beavers, sheep....the sudden swoop
of the condor whose home is both  coastal range and canyon...the significance
of National Parks with their invitations to tour these protected landmarks!


As the World grows ever more confusing,
the Canadian and American National Parks
remain simple natural pleasures;
pleasures where Friends and Family Assemble to Enjoy!

Merle Baird-Kerr
written February 21, 2010

Comments appreciated below
or ...


  1. As Life grows so Abuntantly I must say this is such a special diary on this once in a lifetime travel experience with a loving son who was available to experience this magestry with his Mother & himself which has povided a link to why we are all here together and what God has provided for us to discover....and pass on to others to discover !

  2. Thank you for these very appreciative words about this "Once in a Lifetime" opportunity upon which I capitalized
    ...accepting the challenge of the invitation!...and benefiting so much from it together with the daily connection with my son discussing "progress" through
    the many states. It was wonderful!