It’s back to school week!! I don’t even have children (thank god) and I am excited. A couple of my nieces are in kindergarten, one is in grade THREE and my nephew is in pre-school… where did the time go?
I’ve said many times I grew up a little differently than most kids. My parents divorced (for the better, they are now good friends) when I was about 5 and I moved with my mom to this tiny town and eventually moved to an even tinier place called Keats Island. I would take a small boat over to town to attend school, day in and day out. It made for random stories that I look back on fondly. I could even say I miss island life. Being from a coastal city, I remember our gym classes weren’t the “norm”… we would actually have to go outside and RUN 2km each class. We had this forest that wrapped around our school and we would run daily. We would go on snowboarding trips, beach days and even big treks to the big city (Vancouver) for a day of rock climbing.
In about grade 5 or 6 (I can’t remember I had the same teacher both years) we would have Greenpeace come in and talk to our class about the importance of the environment and my teacher would explain to us the meaning of respecting nature and all living things. Ms. Russell was her name. She knew I lived on an island and, more often than not, I would have some weird story about the commute to school. She would do roll call and right before we started class she would ask me about my ride in. Some days there was nothing to report, others, like in the fall or spring, I would tell the class stories of riding the tiny little 20 passenger ferry when pods of orcas would come right up to the windows and peer in the boat. I would talk about the dolphins that played in the wake or that one time the ferry caught on fire (under my mom’s and my seat) or when the ferry hit a “dead head” log sticking out of the water and I went flying the length of the boat, thinking I broke my wrist… see? Different/weird upbringing. I wouldn’t have changed it for the world now that I look back on it.
She would be teaching us geography in class and asking us the capitals of countries and I would jump out of my seat to answer, eagerly waving my arm in the air. Normally I was a pretty quiet kid, but my obsession with traveling started in that class, in Ms. Russell’s class! I would dream of these far away places in other countries; the languages they would speak, the food I could try. I felt, even in Grade 5/6, I needed to see the world. I have only had ONE dream in my life that I hope to accomplish before my time is up and that is to travel to Nepal and set my eyes on Mt. Everest. I didn’t say climb it… I would like to just see it. 🙂
Ms. Russell took us on our first ever climbing experience to Cliffhanger Climbing in Vancouver. (I can’t believe I remember this far back!) I remember my instructor, a shorter girl with spiky hair who many, many years later both her and I learned we knew each other way back when. We became friends and played in a band together and toured North America. (Small world, eh?) Ms. Russell taught me to reach for the stars, to go forth and see the world and experience new things. The best education was to see the world and experience everything it could offer.
She told us of this place she used to kayak on vacation, it was called the “Bay of Fundy” in Nova Scotia. I’ve never been but you bet your ass that place has been on my list of places to see since I was 10 years old.
Ms. Russell, thank you for inspiring me to see and feel the world, to experience it on my own and with others. The best education you can give yourself is to immerse yourself in what you are truly passionate about. I am passionate about travel (we already knew this). I now get to travel the world, taking photos and collecting tattoos along the way!
I’m considering writing that book you always told me I should write. I hope you are well. 🙂
On our last road trip in the first week of September, Devon & I decided to do something we’ve never done before… we stayed in hotels the whole trip… sort of our own version of “glamping’. With four hotels booked for our annual trek down to Moab UT, we now had a time line & goals for each leg of our journey. No pressure at all for us since Devon is a champ behind the wheel & we always make good time. I shouldn’t be surprised but seeing her drive for ten hours straight is still impressive.
These stops, chosen randomly, allowed us to see & visit new places. One such place is the Old Idaho State Penitentiary, said to be the most haunted place in all of U.S. The prison, decommissioned in 1973, has been featured on several occult & afterlife programs. This was on our list of places to visit and it’s been on Devon’s radar for at least a year.
Driving down Old Penitentiary Road the area surrounding the prison is Mayberry-esk. It’s shocking to see how close to civilians the prison actually is. We were expecting it to be way out in some field surrounded by nothing. The manicured acreage & well maintained foliage belies the horrors behind the 17 foot walls. There’s a spooky feeling just pulling up to a parking stall. After asking a nice lady in a kiosk about the entrance, she points us in the opposite direction & we walk our way up the end of the road to the front doors. The hand carved stone gutters and sidewalks are a physical reminder of the hard labour the convicts were subjected to. Their punishment left behind a rugged beauty for visitors to enjoy today. Stepping up to & passing through the main entrance, you are greeted by two employees who welcome you to the prison. After visiting a small room on the left with well laid out poster boards & stories about well and lesser known prisoners, you enter the prison theatre where they’re viewing a short movie about the origins of the pen. Stepping back into the room & once again out into the main building you’re then given a map & are left to begin the self guided walking tour.
This is arguably the coolest & creepiest tour we’ve ever taken. Walking down a long pathway through a tidy green space we enter the first building on our right, cell house 2. Build in 1899, this housed cons in two-man cells. Each containing a “honey bucket” as a toilet. Upon our first look inside we can see that this was run down with obvious signs of a fire. The inmates rioted over living conditions & burned down several buildings in 1973. This was one of the few you were able to enter. The other side of the building was still condemned & boarded up. Devon stepped into the first cell & immediately felt an overwhelming sense of foreboding apprehension. When I stepped inside the cell, I was struck by a sense of unbearable sadness. There was definitely a chill in the air. We walked to the far side of the building & took some pictures of the burnt out upper tier then we made our way back outside & on to the next building.
This was possibly the eeriest building we entered. The only maximum security building on site, this was a place of great sorrow & a permanent place of solitary confinement. There was nothing out of the ordinary on the first level of the building. Considered to be one of the more modern buildings, it had running water. There was a shower built into one of the walls where prisoners were forced to shower out in the open, in full view of other convicts. It was only when we made our way upstairs that Devon & I both felt an incredible sense of intense creepiness. The hair on the back of our necks stood straight up. We both felt a temperature change when we ascended the stairs to the upper tier. To the left was the dreaded death row. Only seven cells, each one outfitted with the sole occupant’s worldly possessions: a pack of cigarettes, some chewing gum, a deck of playing cards, a small radio & a tv. This was all these poor individuals had. The stark contrast between their meager belongings & our seemingly opulent lives arrives like a hard smack to the face. Left of death row was the gallows, every bit as creepy as it sounds. Below that, the drop room. Although this building wasn’t in use very long & closed promptly after it’s first & only casualty of capital punishment met his end, a heavy sense of unending dread clung to the air as though it had stood the test of time ad infinitum.
Old Idaho State Penitentiary was in operation for 101 years and is home to more stories with sad endings than you or I could imagine. More lives ended in the famed rose garden (six in all) than in the gallows (just one). Building number one housed the two cruelest spaces on the pens soil, the Cooler & Siberia. These were solitary confinement. The cooler, meant for singular occupancy, had cells which held 4-6 men. Siberia, built in 1926 on the other end of the building, housed twelve 3′ x 8′ cells with one inmate per cell. I stepped inside one of these cells; cramped, damp, with crude drawings etched into the walls & no windows to speak of. These cells were so small I could touch both walls with my arms outstretched. They were pitch black when the doors were closed & offered no comfort. Siberia was the last place you wanted to do your time. An untimely death would have been met with open arms rather than time there. Although the penitentiary had walls just 17 feet high, very few prisoners attempted escape. One inmate made it over the walls & down the length of Old Penitentiary Road where he managed to remove his leg iron. Upon removal of his shackles, he promptly sat down & awaited his capture & return to the pen. His leg iron is now on display in the museum at the prison.
Devon & I enjoyed our visit to the penitentiary. It was worth the trip there with plenty of stories & sorrows. I can understand why photographers go there as each building offers a different take on prison life. Some colourful, some bleak. If given the opportunity, I would definitely visit the place again. Some sites deserve more time & in a prison, all you have is time.
That’s my question right now, Jade and I have had these dreams for 4 years to get an RV and travel. We’ve worked hard at eliminating our debt and saving our money, downsizing our belongings and getting things in order to hit the open road and be free.
A month ago I saw an article online about tiny houses built on trailers and you can tow them… WTH! Amazing right! I fell in love instantly, I could have all the comforts of a house and tow it behind me and travel. I started following a couple blogs about tiny houses and a few couples who travel the USA in them. It’s do-able. It makes sense.
Now I am at a cross road, RV or Tiny house. Each has its pros vs cons. I’ve made the list, it’s currently on my HUGE whiteboard beside my desk in the office. RV pro/con and Tiny house Pro/con, I add to it every day. I text myself things for the list when I get home.
My question to you is, have you experienced either? Do you live and travel in an RV or a tiny house?? I would LOVE to hear from you and hear your experiences. I would LOVE to ask a million stupid questions if you are open to it.
Please get in contact with me at: firstname.lastname@example.org I want to hear from people out there living it, living the dream they have. 🙂
We are getting down to the wire on what we want and making the necessary purchases. It’s a VERY exciting time in our lives and I can’t wait. I’m not one to jump into a big life decision quickly, I pro and con the hell out of it.
I had left SLC heading south to warmer weather and to a few other places AND surprises. At about 9:30am I hit a gas station for a fill up and was texting a friend about how warm it was outside. She was telling me it was raining back home so of course, being the douche that I am, I FB some photos of the sunny weather I was having and tagged her in them.
Not even one hour later karma was out for me. Driving down the highway from SLC to Vegas I noticed my car shake in a weird fashion then all of a sudden, BOOM, my back passenger tire explodes!! All over the highway is tire “guts” from my car. The car swerves left then right, I’m on the e-brake trying to get it under control. I manage to get the car off the NOT AT ALL busy highway. I flick on my hazards and start looking in my wallet for my AAA card… not there… I’m looking in my glove box when I hear a honk behind me. It’s a flatbed tow truck! YAY! I’ve been saved!
This little old man with an oxygen tank strapped to his back gets out of the truck and wanders over to me. “Seems you need some help, ma’am.” Uh, duh! ☺ I explain I don’t know where I am and DO need the help. It turns out Kevin, old dude’s name, has a shop in the next town over so we get Smelly car up and on the flatbed and off we go. 10 minutes down the road, we hit the town and his gas station/shop.
My car is put up on a lift and his shop hand, a lovely dude named Bruce, gets working. Bruce was an older guy, probably my dad’s age; he had 2 rescue dogs that I played with until the damn POM (with no teeth) bit me. The best part of this story is I had ordered a new credit card before I left for my trip that I had originally planned with a friend and of course it didn’t come in time. I ended up calling my friend Rhonda and she helped me out. I have kickass friends, yo!!! I found out when I got home my new credit card arrived that Wednesday afternoon… go figure!
Bruce and I exchanged road stories while he was fixing my car up. Sometimes you hear of women getting taken advantage of in these situations but Kevin and Bruce were AMAZING! Not only did they fix my car, they fixed a couple other potential issues for free, filled up my gas and when I asked what town I was in, gave me 2 free t-shirts saying where… BEAVER, UTAH!
So if you’re ever in Beaver Utah, stop by the Conoco and say hi to Kevin and Bruce, tell them Devon, the tattooed Canadian, sent you.
And also… NEVER EVER tease your friends about the weather and your travels or you’ll end up with karma hitting you back, sorry Ashley.
Leaving Crazy Horse we finally made our way to Wind Cave National Park where we would be camping out for the next 3 days. This place is easily up there on my top 5 places to visit. This was the only thing left on our list before we started the drive home. We decided to stay away from Custer State Park. Instead we drove along the outside of Custer Park into Wind Cave. The energy there… it’s something else. So calm, so peaceful. This was the perfect place to spend the next few days. We quickly raced to the visitor centre to ask a few questions before camping out. The rangers are SO nice at Wind Cave, answering all our stupid questions. The park is small and a small highway runs through the park. The park campground was near empty, only 3 other campers the first night. We quickly made a fire and settled in for the night knowing when we got up the next morning we would be seeing the famous bison 🙂 I was like a kid on Christmas, so excited I could barely sleep. Having the owls hoot me to sleep helped.
The next morning it was go time. I rushed J awake even before the sun fully rose, coffee and toast, check. Now, let’s go hiking. We drove down past the visitor centre not knowing where we would be going. We go up a hill, turn the corner, hang a right at the stop sign and BOOM there they are… The bison. Making their way across the green hills and up across the road to their daily mud baths, then into the Black Hills forest surrounding Wind Cave. Hundreds of them… everywhere!! It was like Antelope Island all over again. I was speechless and near tears. The bison just sauntered around like we weren’t even there, no other cars around us, just Jade and I along with HUNDREDS of these animals. They stopped in front of our car, two came right up to the window. I admit I panicked a bit and rolled up the window while J laughed at me. Once there was a break in the road we drove down a few miles until we accidentally left the park, turning around and re-entering the park we round the corner and BOOM again we are in grid lock with the bison. Can’t say either of us were upset by this. We pulled into a look out and turned off the car and just sat with them, for what seemed like an hour. Mothers and their babies walked past us. The leaders of the group, the big, huge males sniffed our car, they knew we were there to just sit with them, not causing any harm. We watched as they bellowed at other cars and jumped out of the way of some assholes who refused to slow down for them. We just sat with them and gave them our time, and respect.
I can easily spend all day talking about the bison we encountered on this trip. It was exactly what I needed for my soul. Sitting here, going through all the pictures, I feel a sense of calm wash over me, everything is going to be ok. Weird, those lyrics JUST played in my headphones. I guess it will be ok.
J and I went to Wind Cave just for the bison. We were greeted by more prairie dogs, deer, antelope, coyotes etc. all at once. We watched as a coyote stalked the prairie dogs, J telling me we need to let him know he will be eaten but no, this is nature doing it’s thing. The bison walked up and scared the coyote away all while ruining the prairie dog’s home by peeing in it and then rolling around. Prairie dogs have it rough guys. 🙂
We sat by our campfire just taking in the sights and sounds of Wind Cave. The owls in the forest behind us, the deer roaming the hills while the sun goes down, the crackling fire, the PERFECT rolling clouds and landscape. This was my favourite part of the trip, just sitting at camp with all of nature around us. We often get so side-tracked by life, we don’t get to experience or enjoy this. 3 days in Wind Cave I will remember forever, the bison everyday, greeting us with such delight, the final day we went to go say thank you and goodbye to them. They were doing their morning walk to the forest across the road. Today was a little different, we pulled off to the side of the road and just watched as the mothers and their babies walked up to the car. The babies playing right beside us, jumping and kicking in the air having the time of their lives while we watched. The mothers let this happen, they know, we knew. It was a peaceful moment we will both remember forever.
I drove out of Wind Cave extremely relaxed, ready to take on the world. I was commenting to Jade as we made the last uphill decent towards the gates that this trip really changed how I look at things. I then slowed the car through the prairie dog maze and stopped, yelling that there were TWO bison at the top of the hill just standing there. We both looked over and Jade said, “Oh yeah! There they are!”, then got out her camera for when we got to the top of the hill. When we got there, there were no bison to be found… I swear up and down they were there, in a park full of rolling hills and far away forests it’s hard to miss TWO 1500 lb creatures. Were they there?? Or was it another “Jessie” instance?
Maybe it was some of that “Canada Magic” we’ve been told we have. 🙂
For as long as I can remember, I have been an Elvis fan. When I was a child, my mum used to tell me stories about her & her sisters staying up past their bedtime to watch Elvis on the Ed Sullivan Show. In my teens, people started buying me Elvis collectibles for my birthday & Christmas. My mum gave me an Elvis calendar every year. I know what you’re thinking and the answer is no, I do not live in an Elvis shrine. Devon would kill me! I haven’t been travelling long, I only started vacationing six years ago. A dream trip of mine has always been to go to Memphis, to visit Graceland.
About a year ago, Devon started dropping hints about finally knowing where to take me & that I’d never guess where. She told everybody about it, constantly teasing me by withholding all clues as to the destination. Even my mum told her it was impossible to give me any hints without giving it away. When she finally told me that it was a trip to Memphis to go Graceland, it took all of my energy to not lose it & jump up and down with excitement.
With minimal planning, the only thing that was set in stone were our Graceland tour tickets, everything else was up in the air. Once we made the drive down to Memphis, we were a few days early so we took one day to rest and another to explore the city itself. Then, it was finally time to see the one place I’ve always dreamt of visiting… Graceland. While at dinner the night before, Devon was talking to her friend Lisa and they were trying to figure out why it was called Graceland and not “Lisa-land” seeing how Elvis LOVED his daughter. These two crack me up, but I prayed to the baby jesus Devon would not ask this the day of the tour.
Waking up early, we drove over to the parking lot & walked the pathway to the ticket office. Standing in front of the window, the very nice ladies behind the counter could not locate our reservations. Devon’s name was locked in the system. We had stopped by the ticket booth the day before and changed our tour time from 12:30pm to 9:00am. Devon understood the technical issue & the three ladies assisting her assured her that all would end well. Unable to listen to the conversation, I’ll admit, I panicked a bit. There was a small part of me that thought, “Amazing, we’re here & our tickets are lost. Crap.” If it weren’t for the televisions on the wall playing Elvis concert footage & Devon staying calm and knowing what was happening, I just might have pitched a fit.
Finally, the issue was resolved and we were handed our tickets & VIP passes. The well oiled machine that is Elvis Presley Enterprises was impressive to see in action. We get ushered into groups, then off to a green screen where an employee takes our picture. Back to the group, we’re then led out to another line where they do bag checks. Not having any bags, we once again returned to the group & were then handed our headsets for the audio tour. It was hard not to feel a little bit like cattle with the way the employees move you about. Devon insisted on mooing like a cow while this took place, at least she got a few laughs from others in our group. (Blue hairs LOVE Devon, she must be a Golden Girl at heart.)
We boarded a shuttle, drove across Elvis Presley Boulevard, through the famous music gates & up the long driveway to Graceland. Before the tour, years before, I had already known that Graceland itself is modest in size. Several people on the shuttle remarked that it was smaller than they thought.
Arriving behind the mansion, just before the groundskeepers garage, we unloaded and walked back around to the front. Taking a few photos of the famous facade, the tour guide started with some information about the property & the house itself. Then she opens the door and says “Welcome to Graceland” & Devon starts humming the Jurassic Park theme behind me and again has people in stitches. Whatever keeps her occupied I guess. You’re left to start a self guided tour with the headset providing you with facts & curios along the way. I must admit, I was a bit nervous that Devon would do or say something to embarrass me but the tour had just started, anything was possible.
The tour itself is pretty cool. You have access to the main entryway & are able to walk through the hallways freely. Each room is lush in colour & very distinct in individual design. Every room is roped off & you have no access to the second floor at all. This was the same when Elvis was alive. It was off limits then to all but a few and out of respect they honour Elvis’ privacy by keeping it that way. On the way down to Memphis, Devon kept telling me how she was going to try and go up to the second floor. Now standing at the foot of the stairs, I was beyond relieved when Devon realized that it was impossible for her to attempt ascending the stairs with all of the tour guides & guards around.
There’s no use of flash photography in Graceland & they use such low, yellow hued lighting that it’s actually quite hard to get good photos. That didn’t stop everyone from furiously clicking away though. I noticed a few minutes into the tour that my headset wasn’t working properly. Devon offered hers to me, she didn’t seem like she was paying much attention to it anyways. She was more interested in people watching and laughing at the tourists. (That’s love.) We stopped at every room, every hallway, every framed picture hung on the walls, taking photos each time. We got to see every cool room available to the public. The living room, the music room, the dining room, the kitchen & the jungle room. Then there’s downstairs. The tv room & the pool room. While standing in the pool room, we marveled at an older southern woman who was very serious when she remarked that Elvis had such style and flare and that she would love to do a room in the same fashion. The pool room’s walls and ceiling are covered in over 300 feet of fabric. The look on Devon’s face said it all. I had to bite my cheek to keep myself from laughing out loud. Devon was egging the lady on saying she SHOULD do it and she was in the design business, she’s seen it done before. That lady quipped to her husband that they would be doing this when they got home. I wonder if she really did it?… Once you’re done inside the mansion the tour moves outside to the back yard.
You get to see Elvis’ car port & Vernon’s office in the garage. There’s the smokehouse that Elvis converted into a firing range & then you walk along a path way to the corrals with his horses (one is an off-spring from Elvis’ original horses and the others are all rescues). From there you go to the trophy room, which is exactly what it sounds like. A large building displaying a massive amount of gold records & many more of Elvis’ numerous awards, including his three Grammy awards. Part of the building also houses some of his more famous outfits, like his wedding suit & several movie suits too. Once done there, you walk down another short path to the racket ball court. Built for $300,000 in the 70s when Elvis took up the sport, it houses a pinball machine & other parlour games. Then there’s a lounge area, where Elvis played two songs on the piano the morning he died. Inside the court itself, it’s been converted into more space for even more awards & recognition as well as some of his famous jumpsuits.
Walking out of the racket ball court, you get to stop & take more photos of the the horses in the paddock before making the final walk around the grounds, to the meditation garden & Elvis’ final resting place.
The meditation garden is beautiful. The air is tranquil, there with the marble statue of Jesus & the Italian themed marble fountain. This is the part of the tour that everyone seems to take the longest time getting through. Everybody wants a few minutes of quiet reflection with The King. There is a solemn marker in place for his stillborn twin brother, Jesse Garon. He is actually buried in Tupelo, MS, Elvis’ birth place. Next is the grave of his mother, Gladys, whom he adored. Then his dad, Vernon. Then Elvis himself. Finally, his paternal grandmother Minnie Mae, whom he lovingly referred to as Dodger. After spending some time in the meditation garden, we slowly made our way around the side of the house past the swimming pool & down the driveway toward the front of the house again. Along the way, there are memorials & fan art to view. Once done with the tour, you’re then told to go back to where the shuttle let you off so you can be led into a bonus room in the basement.
A tour guide opens the door to the bonus basement room and you’re immediately taken back in time to the late 60s/early 70s. This is a special exhibit designed by Lisa Marie, essentially, her father through her eyes. The dated yellow & white wall paper once adorned the walls of her nursery. Her crib & several other mementos from her birth & childhood are set up around the room along with some of Lisa’s favourite items of her Dad’s. She had his personal office brought down into the room and reassembled, as well as his wardrobe. Normally you wouldn’t have access to these things as they’re from the second floor and very much off limits. Walking around the rest of the mansion, you do get the feeling that a presence is around. You can feel an energy in the air. Looking through each display & room, you can see his taste in decor & style. And while the jumpsuits are beautiful, you also understand that they are costumes (Devon tried in vein to buy me one to walk the dog in, I was not amused). However, walking through the bonus room you feel something different. You’re viewing his wardrobe, things he wore every day. You’re looking at his personal tote that never left his side when traveling. You get to take pictures of his personal books that he took everywhere. This is definitely the most personal room. One could even argue that it’s as close to viewing his bedroom as you can get. I’m glad that they leave this bonus room for last.
It’s a good note to leave Graceland on.
Walking back out of the room you’re left in the covered carport where there is water, fans & chairs set up for you to wait in while a shuttle comes up to get you. Once on the shuttle, they take a quick tour of the back forty of the property. Explaining along the way the groundskeeping, some of the equipment, the horses, stables, the extra out buildings & a gate that Elvis used to use as a means of leaving the property in a big black panel van so as to go unnoticed.
The shuttle turns around and starts its way back down the long driveway toward the music gate. After crossing Elvis Presley Boulevard, the tour concludes. From there you continue onto six other exhibits on your own speed.
I am still incredibly shocked that Devon didn’t do or say anything to embarrass me or herself too much. I don’t know how she managed to make it through without a peep. One could argue that she even enjoyed herself. Right before we left for Memphis I had a friend, who we will call “Blanche”, dare me to wear a princess tiara made of Duct Tape outside the gates of Graceland… Challenge accepted!!
I could continue on with the remainder of awesomeness, but I really feel like I should keep this to myself in the hope that you’ll be intrigued enough to make the trek out to Tennessee and take the tour yourself. Whether you are an Elvis fan or not, Graceland is one of the most fascinating homes in the world. Everybody should see it up close at least once in their life.