Saturday, September 8, 2012

Home Leave Part 1

It's been a while since I've posted - things have been busy. We started our home leave back in June, and I thought I'd share a little about what we did for home leave. I was going to make this a really long post, but the length of it has meant that I have been hesitant to post anything until it's done. So, here's part 1.

We successfully bookended our home leave with two weddings - one which I was in, and one which Sophie was in. We left El Salvador on a Thursday with the plan of dropping our bags off in Tennessee, and then heading up to Rhode Island on Friday for the wedding. It sounded like such a great plan, but never underestimate the pain of flying. Our flight out of San Salvador was delayed because Dallas had had bad thunderstorm the night before. This meant that the flight from Dallas to San Salvador got in late, which translated into our flight being late, since the flight crew had to have 8 hours to rest in San Salvador. The 2 hour delay wouldn't have been that big of a deal, except that it meant that we missed the only flight from Dallas to Chattanooga. American tried to route us through Chicago, but we successfully lobbied them to put us on a flight to Atlanta, where we would then board a Delta flight to Chattanooga. It all worked out, but we ended up getting home in Chattanooga at about midnight - just in time for us to fly out to Rhode Island the next day at 6am.

The wedding in Rhode Island was amazing. We got to see lots of friends from our time in Charlottesville and DC, the weather was absolutely perfect, and all the wedding festivities were fun. Good times.

After the wedding, we made a quick stop in Boston to visit my one-and-only nephew before heading back to Chattanooga for a few days. After a few days in Chattanooga and Birmingham, we embarked on an epic 7,100 mile road trip.

Our first stop on our road trip was the boundary waters of Minnesota. This is a large area of rivers and lakes that borders Canada. There are campsites (with latrines!) along most of the lakes, but you can only get in and out via canoe. Many of the lakes are connected via small, navigable rivers, but you also have to portage (e.g. carry your canoe and all your stuff) a fair bit. The timing worked out well, such that one of our good friends could join us for this 4 day excursion.

It took us around 20 hours to get up to Ely, MN, the gateway to the boundary waters. The timing worked out such that we were able to spend the night with a friend in Chicago. After Chicago, we had some time to burn before we had to meet our friend at the airport in Duluth, MN, so we took advantage of it. First, we passed through Madison, WI, so we decided to check it out. It's very pretty in the summer. After Madison, we were planning on just going straight to Duluth and hanging out there, waiting for our friend. However, when we started to pass through Wisconsin Dells, something caught our eye that we weren't expecting: water parks! After a quick 30 second discussion, we decided to turn around and spend about 4 hours at Kalahari, which boasts Wisconsin's largest indoor water park. Luckily, it also has a large outdoor waterpark. I love waterparks, and I've been especially itching to go to every waterpark I can ever since my favorite place as a kid, WhiteWater in Atlanta, was all but closed to us as kids after an Atlanta Braves player's son got ecoli.
Madison, WI
the outdoor park at Kalahari
It was raining hard when we got to Duluth, so we decided to spend the night in a hotel, which turned out to be a great idea since the rain never let up. From Duluth, it's about 2 hours to Ely. We woke up early in Duluth and were on the water by about noon. Boundary Waters was probably one of the most awesome outdoor experiences I've had. It's this awesome mix of natural beauty and relaxation. You have to reserve an entry date, but aside from that, you can do whatever you want. You just canoe until you want to stop. The campsites are already there, they have latrines, and you never has the prospect of sharing a campsite with anyone other than the people in your group. You can fish. You don't see that many people. Just great. Rather than go into detail on the trip, here are some pictures.

The crew before we headed out

Portaging in bug country

View Boundary Waters Trip in a larger map

After Boundary Waters, we took our friend to the Minneapolis airport. Before dropping him off, though, we took a quick trip to the Mall of America. We only had abou 15 minutes to check the place out, but that was probably enough. We saw the indoor roller coasters and the entrance to the aquarium, as well as the shops. It's worth checking out if you have a long layover in Minneapolis, mainly just to say that you've been.
Inside the Mall of America - roller coasters everywhere
Under our original road trip planning, our next stop was going to be Glacier National Park in Montana. However, when we looked at the map, we saw a little known national park situated at just about the perfect location for our road trip: Theodore Roosevelt National Park. I had never heard of this park, but it turned out being a great place to stop. We rolled in at about 4pm, but since we were so far north, we still had plenty of daylight left to explore. The main draws to this national park are the bison, the prairie dogs, and the landscape - badlands. I think this was my first time seeing prairie dogs, and they were everywhere, chirping (or 'barking') away. Much of the landscape has a really cool red color that is due to ancient coal-seam fires baking the ground around the seam. Apparently, up until the 50s or 60s, there were even some active fires and people would roast marshmallows over the wild, burning coal fire. We camped along the banks of the Little Missouri River.
prairie dog ruling his mound 

sunset at the campsite

The next day, we drove across Montana to Glacier National Park, where I'll pick up with part 2.

1 comment:

  1. Wow, what a busy home leave! I love the picture from the canoe at Boundary Waters -- so pretty and peaceful.