After walking through the Vietnam Memorial, we visited the Lincoln Memorial. Lincoln MemorialI have always admired Lincoln for bringing an end to the slavery but I learned this time that the abolition of slavery was a byproduct of the civil war. Lincoln had said, “I would save the Union… My paramount object in this struggle is to save the Union, and it is not to save or destroy slavery. If I could save the Union without freeing any slave, I would do it; and if I could save it by freeing all the slaves, I would do it; and if I could save it by freeing some and leaving others alone, I would also do that.” I was surprised but it was the right thing to do. It was important to keep the country together first then there would be time to take care anything else afterwards. We had him to thank for the strong America we have today.

Korean War Memorial was up next. Korean War MemorialThis was a war America and many other nations helped South Korea to fight off the North Korea. Although everyone may have defended the South Korea for its own reasons, it was still a noble cause. The memorial had a bunch of soldiers in their full military fatigues with their rifles. Korean War, if there is such thing as a good war, was considered a successful war. As a result, M.A.S.H. comedy was such a hit. There was also a wall with faces of 2000+ service men and women supporting the war sandblasted on it. It was not as a somber memorial as the Vietnam one.

Kadia at FDR MemorialRalph & Bryden at FDR MemorialThen there was another new memorial, Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial. This one was my favorite as it told many stories through statues and plaques. Back in the 30’s and 40’s, lives in America were not so rosy. Susan and Kadia at FDR MemorialI can only imagine what the Great Depression was when people lost their life-long saving and unemployment rate was over 30%. That was a difficult time for FDR and everyone. Then there was the World War II. If we had lost the World War II, the world would be very different now.

Another new memorial, George Mason Memorial, was just beyond the FDR Memorial. George Mason is called “The Father of Bill of Rights”. The original Bill of Rights gave us the first 10 amendments of the United States Constitution. George Mason MemorialThe freedom we enjoy and take for granted today came from the high price of American Revolution. We have so much to be thankful that sometimes we forget. All these memorials and monuments are a great reminder of past struggles. We all should come visit here every few years.

We finally arrived at American Museum of the Natural History. I was looking forward to spending some time at the museum but soon we discovered it was not a good idea. Kadia would run around and we lost the sight of her a few times. After about 30 minutes, we gave up and headed for our cousin Robby’s house. We will just have to come back to see all the museums when the kids are older.

Washington DC is a great place for students and people who like history. There are a lot to see at the National Mall and they are all free. It had been 9 years since I was last at Washington DC during the cherry blossom season that year. It has the highest concentration of memorials, monument and museums which can take many weeks to see them all. I was looking forward to going back there again to see great museums and memorials such as National Museum of Natural History and National Air and Space Museum.

Kadia at Washington MonumentWe arrived there by Metro on a Friday morning. The first place we visited was Washington Monument. I noticed there were as many people there as last time we visited when there was a long line to go to the top. Soon I realized that tickets were required to go up to the top. Unfortunately the tickets for visiting the monument was all gone for the day. I didn’t remember that we had to get tickets ahead of time for Washington Monument the last time I visited the place. Perhaps it was due to the impact of the 9/11.

Kadia at World War II MemorialAs we headed toward the Lincoln Memorial, there was something different from what I remembered. Right before the Reflecting Pool, there was something new: World War II Memorial. It was opened in 2004 and it honors the 16 millions who served in World War II and over 400,000 who died defending freedom. It has a pool in the middle with two half circles of granite columns enclosing the pool on two ends. Each stone column represents a state or a territory of United States who had people participated in WWII. It was a beautiful architecture piece and it was special because I felt peaceful there unlike many other memorials.

Vietnam MemorialWe next visited the Vietnam Veterans Memorial. A simple V shape granite wall with names of military people who died fighting the Vietnam War. One wall points toward the Washington Monument and the other points toward the Lincoln Memorial. There were over 58 thousand names on the wall and there were still many names listed as MIA (Missing in Action). I felt for all of them. It was a war that cannot be won just like the current Iraq war. I understand the need to defend freedom and hard to watch others suffering but we need to find a better way than interfering with the business of other countries. There probably will be an Iraq Memorial the next time we visited there with thousands of people dying needlessly and. So sad.

I remember the first time I saw Bryce Canyon 20 years ago I was completely taken back by its scenery: it was different from anything I had seen before. I didn’t know anything about it at the time and was there with a few friends. If I had seen a picture or a drawing of it, I would have guessed it was a prank. Nothing in this world could have looked like this: orange columns and walls stood like soldiers, menacing and impregnable, filled the canyons. I have been back a few times since and was amazed each time I saw it. Hoodoos

Again, we could not resist its magic and charm; we planned our trip so we could visit it again. Kadia and Susan at Bryce CanyonThe orange columns, called Hoodoos and the rest of the formations are made of sandstone. Over millions of years, erosion sculpted the landscape to form its current glory. The erosion continuously alters the landscape every day. Every time we went, the scenery was slightly different. Queen’s Garden Trail
Some columns or walls might have collapsed and some new arches might have formed. This time, the Wall Street section of Navajo Loop trail collapsed just the day before we arrived. It was unfortunate as I remember it well from 13 years ago and was looking forward to hike in it again.

As we were unsure what route we could take on Navajo Loop trail, we started our hike from Queen’s Garden trailhead at the Sunrise point. We slowly descended down the canyon as the trail snaked through hoodoos and spires. The color was more than just orange, a spectrum of reds, oranges, yellows, purples and almost whites in some places. We had to go through a few archways as we walked along the narrow trail in the canyon. Bottom of Queen’s Garden TrailOn the bottom, we saw a sign pointing to a hoodoo that was supposedly resemble a queen’s head, thus the trail name. Even with the description, I had a difficult time recognize it. The trail could have been named many other things as each hoodoo can resemble different things to different people. We had our lunch there with a Steller’s jay eyeing our lunch the whole time.Queen’s Garden Trail

We hiked along the bottom of the canyon with a number of trees. It felt like an easy stroll through the park. Although we carried two backpacks, one for Bryden and one for Kadia, Kadia seemed to enjoy this hike, running back and forth from time to time and didn’t ask for a ride. Eventually we reached the Peek-a-boo junction where the Queen’s Garden trail joined the Navajo Loop trail. One section of the trail toward the Wall Street was closed so we followed the other section to the Sunset point. Navajo Trail

There was a steep section with many switchbacks up a wall (see left) and, when we finally emerged from it, we were treated to the famous Thor’s Hammer (see below), still proudly standing and seemingly sparkling, Navajo Trailand a canyon filled with a high concentration of spires and pinnacles. Along this final climb up to the Sunset point, we marveled at them all, every angle is a perfect shot. The picture on the right shown the Sentinel in the background. I hope it will still be there next time we visit. Finally when we reached the Sunset Point, we hiked back toward the Sunrise Point along the rim and continuously savior the fantastic views beneath us. We ran into a bunch of rangers walking excitedly and hurriedly toward the Sunset point so I asked them what was going on. One ranger told me that they were heading down to the Wall Street to look at the collapse. They were like excited kids going on a field trip. This was Kadia’s longest hike, 3 miles, a record that she would top many more times on the trip. We will be back.

Appalachian Trail is one of the famous trails in the United States. It goes from Maine down to Georgia for 2,175 miles. Each year, thousand of hikers attempted to hike the whole length and about 1 out of 6 would succeed after months of toiling on the trail. When we were in Vermont’s Green Mountains, we had a chance to hike a section of it and we would not miss the opportunity. Deer Leap MapThe AT Trail passed through the Green Mountains where the trail crossed a busy road, Route 4, near the hotel we were staying for the week. We packed up some lunch and parked at a trailhead off the Route 4 for the hike. Unlike Pacific Crest Trail and Continental Divide Trail, Appalachian Trail goes through many densely populated areas so it has to cross many roads.

The trail started out flat and went through a dense shaded vegetation Dense Vegetationarea with many bugs. There weren’t much to see so we quickly walked through that area to escape bugs. After about 1.2 miles, the trail branched off and became steep as we started climbing toward our destination, Deer Leap Overlook. Hiking up a ladderWe had to climb a little section of a ladder (nothing like what we did at Badlands National Park) and finally arrived at the Deer Leap Overlook, a big chunk of rocks. We had a great view of all the surrounding areas. Deer Leap OverlookWe had our lunch there.

Instead of going back the same route, we made a loop back to our trailhead even though it meant that we had to hike along Route 4 for a little bit. We got back to the van and put Kadia and Bryden back in their car seats to get ready to go back to our hotel. I went to the glove compartment to get my wallet that I had decided to leave in the car the last minute before the hike as we didn’t need it. But it was missing! I knew right away something was wrong but there wasn’t anything else looked out of place or any evidences of the van had been broken into. Susan thought I might have misplaced the wallet but I was pretty sure. Susan had her wallet in a bag in the van as well and when she looked for it, it was gone as well. Then I knew, someone somehow got into the van and took our wallets away.

I held on to the faint hope that whoever took our wallets might have discarded the wallets outside somewhere after taking the wallets out of the van to take the important things: cash and credit cards. I searched and searched in vain but there was no luck. They were gone for good. We took a quick stock of our things and it appeared that nothing else was obviously missing, not my cell phone and telephoto lenses that were laid near the glove compartment nor were our passports and our van’s spare key that were stored underneath my wallet in the glove compartment. It could have been much worse.

Soon I noticed something was weird with the rear side window on the driver side. When I shut any door, the window would open slightly then close again. Actually I didn’t even know that it was a window that can pop up slightly to vent, I thought it was a completely closed window. I checked it and found out it had been pried opened, the locking latch was broken and someone had forced it open wide enough to get inside of the van through it. What a bad design to have such a weak latch.

Here we were 3000 miles away from home and both of our wallets were gone with all our money, credit cards, and IDs. What a costly hike! What were we going to do?

I remember seeing Mount Rainier for the 1st time and was smitten ever since. We were in Seattle just made a right turn looking for a freeway entry and there was Mount Rainier stood majestically right in front of us. Mount Rainier and Sunrise Visitor CenterWe were at least 100 miles away from it and it was still huge like someone painted a half of the horizon with it. It came out of the blue and seemed so surreal that I had to rub my eyes a few time to confirm what I saw.

We had been to Mount Rainier a couple of times but we wanted to go again. We decided to camp at the Sunrise campground on the east side of the park. We soon realized why it was called the Sunrise because it has the best view in the morning. In the afternoon, with the sun in the back plus haze and smoke from nearby fire, it was hard to make out the mountain.

Mount Rainier is a beautiful but deadly mountain. Mt RainierMany people have died from climbing it. I remember looking at it on a clear day thought to myself, “It doesn’t look difficult to reach to the top” because it was so big that it distorted the perspective. In reality, it is a difficult mountain to climb and it usually takes 2 to 3 days for people to summit. When we set up our campsite, we noticed a warning sign about the area being a pyroclastic flow zone that we could be in danger anytime. Mount Rainier has not erupted for over 100 years but it is still active and when it does erupt again, it can be devastating. We made a mental note to run if we felt any earthquakes.

We hiked to Dege Peak in the morning starting from the Sunrise Visitor Center. Last ClimbThe visibility in the morning was great. We hiked away from Mount Rainier and were able to get many good views of the mountain. The slope of the mountain that we hiked on was green and beautifully decorated with beargrass. The hike had a gentle climb along a ridge with valley on both sides until the last 100 yards where it steeped (see right) before we reached the top. At the top we had panoramic view of the surrounding. To the north, it was a valley (see far below); To the east, it had layers of mountains (see near below), reminded us of Smoky Mountains; and to the west, it was the Mount Rainier, peacefully capped with glaciers, enticing mountaineers to go. Perhaps next time we will attempt to climb it.

Hazy in Horizons
North Side

We are hardy hikers so whenever we want to hike a trail, we will complete it. Bearfence Mountain Trails However there was one trail we had to turn back earlier than we would like; it was the Bearfence Rocks trail at Shenandoah National Park. The trailhead had a sign with a warning that the trail was not suitable for small children who have to be carried. The trail was only about 1.5 miles so we decided to give it a try. However, we overestimated Kadia’s ability and expected her to hike the trail as it was relatively short. We set off on the trail with me carrying Bryden on our dependable child carrier.

The trail started out relatively flat on hard compacted dirt. We quickly ran into the Appalachian Trail. The Appalachian Trail (A.T.) is a 2,175-mile long footpath stretching through 14 eastern states from Maine to Georgia. We hiked 3 small parts of the Appalachian trail on this trip: near Killington of Vermont, Harpers Ferry of West Virginia and Smoky Mountains NP. It is amazing that every year people can hike the whole trail. Susan carrying Kadia on Bearfence Rocks TrailI think we probably hike on an average of 150 miles a year so it will take us 15 years to complete this trail. Wow! About 300 yards in, we started encountering many rocks protruding from the ground but it was still manageable as we navigated around them. Eventually, it became just rocks and the trail disappeared with occasional blue blazes as trail markers. The rocks were big and we had to scramble over many of them. Ralph with Bryden on Bearfence trailSome of the rocks were taller than Kadia so we had to carry her across.

Eventually some rocks we had to scramble over were taller than me. With that, we decided that we shouldn’t proceed with Kadia anymore. I scrambled up to the top with Bryden while Susan and Kadia rested on a big rock below. Susan on a rock Shenandoah is known for its Skyline Drive which runs for 105 miles along the crest of the Blue Ridge Mountains. For many people who think driving through the Skyline Drive is equivalent of seeing the park are missing the real Shenandoah. At the top, I saw a panoramic view of the area. It was gorgeous with forested mountains everywhere. I went down to the rock where Susan and Kadia was to stay with Kadia so Susan could go up too see the great view.

Soon we headed back the trail with Kadia bravely climbing over, sliding down and jumping on many rocks. She probably think this was like a playground with ladders, slides and levels. She was a good sports and never complained. I had to admire her willingness and ability. I learned a lesson on this trail: if the trail sign indicated that it is not good for small children, there is usually a good reason.Kadia on Bearfence Rocks trailKadia on Bearfence Rocks trail 2

There are interesting things to see in Nebraska but we didn’t make a priority to search them out on this trip; it became a state we were just to pass through from the West to the East. As usual, we drove until it was late in the afternoon to look for a place to stay. On this day, we just entered Nebraska and based on the AAA campground book,Lake Ogallala campsite we decided to try out this place near Lake Ogallala State Recreation Area. It was Saturday afternoon and the campground was nearly full I believe and we were given the option of staying at primitive camping area.

We drove to the area and had a look. It was interesting: it was like a neighborhood park, wide open and no designated camping site. We were told to just find any place we liked and pitched a tent. This was highly unusual in a park setting. There was no water but it had a couple of portable johns seen often on a construction site. Because we had enough drinking water, thanked to our collapsible water jug which we often kept full, Sunset at Lake Ogallala, Nebraskawe opted to stay to experience something different. The area was right next to a lake and across on the other side, we could see many RV campers where the main campground was. There were only a couple of other campers in the area. We found a place close to the lake, set up and quickly cooked a dinner as the day quickly came to an end. It was a beautiful sunset as the west horizon was filled with red and orange. We had an unforgetable dinner there.

The next morning, we packed up and decided to drive around Lake McConaughy before heading toward Iowa. haystacks in NebraskaThe country side was a little what I expected with haystacks and cornfields, although corn were still small. There were a few boats in the lake with people fishing from them. We also passed a few beat-up houses, perhaps vacated a long time ago. I remember reading about how some Midwest towns are offering a free house as an incentive for young couples to move there as they are losing populations. Acres and acres of available land laid unclaimed whereas coastal cities are swelled with population explosion. As we passed a river, Fly Fishing in Nebraskawe saw a couple of fishermen standing in the river, enjoying their weekend fly fishing perhaps. It seemed to be an enjoyable place. The lake was bigger than I expected and it took us more than 2 hours to circumnavigate it.

As we were almost ready to get back on Interstate 80, the driver in a car behind us honked at us repeatedly. I thought perhaps I drove too slow (which I doubted) and upset the driver. I chose to pull into a gas station and hopefully the car would pass us by. Instead the car pulled into the gas station with us and the driver got out and started walking toward us. This might seem innocent enough to many but I had a scare. When I was much younger, I had an incidence where other drivers had followed me and wanted to fight with me and another incidence I was front ended by a car backing up to escape another driver with a baseball bat. I rolled down the window and braced myself for the worse. The driver told us that something blue had fell off our cargo box on our van’s roof about a mile back.

I got out of the van and checked the cargo box on the top. He was right; the cargo box was not shut properly and a few things had flown off, not just the blue thing. I thanked the guy the quickly closed the cargo box so we could go back to retrieve the missing things. A couple of minutes later, we saw the blue thing, the portable infant bath tub, sitting smacked in the middle of other lane. I was surprised nobody had hit it. I pulled off to the side and rescued it from the road. But there were still many other things missing: our camping tarp, sleeping pads, a bag of diapers, a folding chair and maybe others. We continued our search as we retraced our route and looked for our things.

Instead of looking at the scenery, we were looking for garbage this time. There were a few false alarms as the country side wasn’t as pristine as we thought but eventually after about 10 miles, we found our things scattered on the side of the road, apparently undamaged. I quickly retrieved our things and stuffed into the van. I should have taken a picture of them as they laid on the side of the road. Later on we realized one thing was missing but it was not a necessary item. We were lucky that this happened on a country road as opposed to an interstate highway where it would be almost impossible to recover. Also luckily the side which we opened and closed was on the passenger side therefore things fell off the side of the road instead of into the oncoming traffic.

I learned that although the Yakima cargo box had a big level latch to indicate if the top was properly closed, that was not sufficient. The latch could close but the top could still be unsecured. From then on, I learned to check and double-check the cargo box to make sure it was locked properly by pulling on the top to make sure it wouldn’t come apart and it never did again for the rest of the trip.

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