The loneliest spot on earth

“Mono Lake lies in a lifeless, treeless, hideous desert, eight thousand feet above the level of the sea, and is guarded by mountains two thousand feet higher, whose summits are always clothed in clouds. This solemn, silent, sail-less sea–this lonely tenant of the loneliest spot on earth –is little graced with the picturesque. “

– Mark Twain

My first glimpse of Mono Lake was late at night. We had just driven up and over Sonora Pass, which had opened for the season a few days earlier. The road had been descending out of the snow covered mountains for quiet awhile when I caught a glimmer out of the corner of my eye. I glanced out of the window and saw nothing but thick darkness. A few minutes later we rounded a bend and there far below us was a glistening moonlit lake. The road continued down and ran alongside the lake. From this viewpoint the lake seemed to go on forever and it was impossible to tell where it began or ended. Then we rounded another curve and it was gone and we were left to stare into the inky blackness of night.

A few days later we made it back to Mono Lake, this time in daylight. Even in the light, we still felt a moment of surprise to round a corner and come upon the lake. A shimmering mirage in the middle of a dry, dusty landscape.

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Cairo, IL- the most desolate city in the US

We’d been one step ahead of the storm for a while.  Dark clouds piled high behind us, lighting streaking between them, as we sped on heading home.  It was late afternoon when I slowed the car as the road cut through a small city.   Or rather, what once was a city.  The wind picked up and large raindrops fell, splashing onto the windshield, adding to the moodiness as we drove through the town.  

Huge letters on a bridge announced to us that we had entered a city named Cairo.


I’ve always been fascinated with locations on the edge of something.  Places that just don’t seem to fit in anywhere or rather, maybe, are the beginning or end of the line.  Cairo (pronounced “Care-O” by locals) Illinois feels this way to me.  Cairo is just barely in Illinois.  It’s located on a small spit of land clinging to the bottom of Illinois and is bordered by Missiouri on one side and Kentucky on the other.  It’s also just barely out of the water with the lowest elevation in Illinois and is located at the confluence of the Mississippi and Ohio Rivers.  All of this makes Cario feel cut off from the world.  Not really belonging anywhere.

We drove into the center of town to its Main Street, Commercial Ave.  Something was not right.  The street was empty; abandoned.  Buildings here were in various stages of decay, crumbling in on themselves as weeds consumed them from the outside.  Many buildings were just gone, nothing more than an empty lot.  


The wind picked up, sending a whirlwind of leaves and litter across the street. A pack of dogs ran by, chasing the blowing garbage into an empty lot. But other than those dogs, there was no one around.  All was eerily quiet.  How could a town that was once obviously thriving become a virtual ghost town?  

Cairo was once a bustling town.  It’s location made it an important city in the Civil War where it was used as a supply base and training ground for the Union Army.  After the war it became an important steamboat port, then a hub for railroad shipping.  Mark Twain, in his book The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, even portrayed Cairo as the town Huck and Jim were headed to where Jim would be safe.  Cairo was soon an important , wealthy city of 15,000.


Then the steamboats stopped running.  Bridges were built to reroute railroads, and later autos, away from Cairo.  And there was always the water.  Despite levees and flood walls built to protect the city against seasonal flooding, the water kept overtaking the city.  Numerous floods have devastated the city throughout the years.  Jobs, then people left.


Racial tensions have been a major problem as well.  There were a number of lynchings in the late 1800s-early 1900s.  In the mid-1960s, the alleged police murder of a young black soldier led to protests and riots, and the National Guard was even called in.  In response to perceived threats from the black community, the white community formed a civilians’ militia called the White Hats (wow, does that name sound like something else?!!!).  Of course, that just made everything worse and more people left Cairo.  You can read more about Cairo’s history here.


The final blow was the creation of Interstate 57 across the Mississippi in the late 1970s. There was now no reason to enter Cairo. Hotels closed, restaurants followed, and soon even the hospital shut down.  Poverty skyrocketed and the population continued to dwindle. Cairo has, I think, the highest population drop of any city in the United States.


  I’ve read that that there are efforts to revitalize Cairo.  There’s so much history there, but I don’t know.  The jobs are gone.  The population has fallen to less than 2,400.  Poverty and a poor education system plague the town.  How do you recover?  Looking at pictures online you see that more and more buildings disappear each year.  The only tourists seem to be people like us, driving through, gawking at the devastation.  Snapping those pictures.  


But, I think the pictures show a certain beauty.  The architecture of many of the buildings is amazing.  Details you just don’t see today.  And there’s beauty in the abandoned and overgrown.  I think that you can feel more in an abandoned building.   These buildings literally expose, layer upon layer, their history.  The good, the bad, the changing world; all there revealed in the decay.  You just get a feel of how much has gone on in the building when you see it crumbling and slowly being overtaken by nature.


Before we left Cairo we drove down to Fort Defiance Park (a military fortification during the Civil War).  We walked up an overlook at stared out at the rivers.  The exact place where the Ohio and Mississippi met and became one was very obvious.  The waters slammed into one another and continued the flow south now as one; the mighty Mississippi.  Always moving forward, fast, stopping for nothing.

A bolt of lightning suddenly hit near us lighting up the murky evening bright as day.  

It was time to go.  Time to move on.

moving to nashville

It was time for a change; something different. It’s so easy to get stuck in a rut, letting life go by doing the same things in the same place. It was time to break free.

So we have moved to Nashville! It’s the result of a year plus of research and planning. It should just be a better quality of life all around.

But moving is never easy! It can be a pain and has definitely been for us. We’re more or less settled in now, or at least as much as you can be in a tiny apartment (our house hasn’t sold yet- know anyone who wants a great house in N NJ?). It’s what happened leading up to the move that was…um…an adventure.
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what do totem poles and cat statues and dragons have to do with the amish?

“I am not a tourist”.  This is my main statement in the About section of this blog.  I prefer to dig deep and really get to know a location.  Look beyond the chain restaurants and gift shops that pop up in well traveled places.  Travel to any natural wonder in America and next to it you’ll find mini golf and go carts and ice cream stands.  It’s as if the beauty of the Grand Canyon is not enough.  We need man-made forced fun to truly be entertained.
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Yet no place is more bizarre to me in its relationship with tourism than Lancaster, PA…Amish Country. 
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adventure on snake hill

The space between Christmas and New Years was gloriously empty! Nothing on the calendar, just empty days waiting to be filled.  So I decided it was time to take the kids on a little adventure.   But, our outing ended up with a little more adventure than I attended it to!

Secaucus, New Jersey.  Located in Hudson County just miles from New York City, it’s not exactly the wilderness.  Yet it is located within the New Jersey Meadowlands, a large area of wetlands.  Our destination was not the marshes that surrounded the town nor one of the factories that we passed.  Our destination was Snake Hill (aka Laurel Hill or Graffiti Hill or Fraternity Rock), a massive hill of diabase rock jutting 150 feet into the sky from the banks of the Hackensack River.  It’s a familiar sight to anyone who travels the NJ turnpike as it protrudes out over the eastern spur of the turnpike.

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the dreaded kid’s birthday party…or why my parties will ever make a pinterest board

My first mistake was opening Pinterest.  During my morning workout I suddenly remembered that I had not planned any games for my daughters 5th birthday.  A birthday party that was going to happen that afternoon!  So I cut my workout short (yea, an excuse) and went to Google “mermaid games”.  What appeared on the screen in front of me made me realize that 1) a mermaid party theme must be a common request for a  5 year old girl and 2) I was failing at the birthday party component of parenting. Continue reading “the dreaded kid’s birthday party…or why my parties will ever make a pinterest board”

a little dirt never hurt: a mud run for kids

It was early morning and the day was already warm.  I walked around the empty field, enjoying the stillness of the morning, yet nervous because everything had to be perfect.  I looked down and breathed a sigh of relief because of what I saw in front of me.  Soupy, wet, thick mud.  Perfect!

It all started when I convinced a bunch of my friends that we should sign up together for a mud run.  A mud run, in case you don’t know, is a race involving obstacles and, of course, mud!  These are extremely popular events right now!  In just 2 years these events have gone from 41,000 participants to 1.5 million! Most events are for adults only or have a kid version of the event before the actual event, but I realized there are virtually no for kid only mud runs.  And who loves mud and obstacles more than kids?  I decided to change that and create a kid’s mud run! Continue reading “a little dirt never hurt: a mud run for kids”

867 stairs down into history

Over Spring Break we took a trip to the Smoky Mountains.  In order to break up our 12 hour drive, we stayed a night in Fayetteville West Virginia and spent the next day exploring the area.  Fayetteville is a quirky little town that is home to the New River Gorge Bridge which is the longest arch bridge in the US and, at 876 feet above the New River, the 3rd tallest.

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how to break free from average (it might involve punching fear in the face)

What is that one thing that you’ve always wanted to do?  Always wanted to accomplish or be “when you grow up”?  We all have something.

There is some dream that you think of every once in a while.  You bring out the dream, maybe a long-lost childhood desire, and look at it.  You turn that dream over and over in your mind, studying all sides of it, and you smile so tempted to bring it out in the open.  But then you remember.  You remember that you are now an adult with commitments, a family, a mortgage, and a job.  So, once again, you shove that dream way back into the recesses of your mind, determined not to think about it again. Continue reading “how to break free from average (it might involve punching fear in the face)”

road trip

To anyone who has gone on a road trip or longs to do so:

It’s dark out as you pull your car onto your street.  You pass by neighbor’s blackened windows wishing, for a second, that you too are still in bed fast asleep.  But then you think of what lies ahead.  You remember the road trip and all thoughts of sleep vanish.  You reach for your coffee and punch the gas. Continue reading “road trip”