Posts about Adventures

Roadtripping to the Stanley Hotel

Sometimes a setting can grip our imagination so strongly a story grows out of it like a plant from the soil. Perhaps that’s what happened when Stephen King visited the historic Stanley Hotel back in the seventies. He stayed there one night, had nightmares (rumor has it), and wrote The Shining based on a single night within those walls.

I love travel because I love setting. I collect details like I used to collect rocks as a child; my pockets bulge at the end of the day. Edinburgh’s slick black paving stones take up real estate in my mind, and so does the sensory explosion of the Athenian flea markets, those blue and white evil-eye charms staring, the tall too-perfect pyramids of strawberries at the corner stall.

Is setting story? Not directly. But just as illustrators work from reference art writers draw from real-life places. It happens to me all the time. Just last week, P and I were walking through the city and I pointed at a bus stop. “That’s where Hostile Takeover starts,” I said. And I saw both realities, the one in front of my eyes and the rain-drenched night Jessica hurried through that same corner on her way to a meeting. Nor can I step onto a cruise imagining that Ellie Tappet is behind me, bustling forward with her shopping tote.

Place and story intertwine. That’s what I’m thinking about after visiting the Stanley Hotel. P and I were on our road trip when I remembered that the hotel that had inspired The Shining was hidden in the mountains of Colorado. We looked it up and it wasn’t far. Why not go? I wanted to see how the Overlook Hotel of my imagination compared with the place that story was born.

I wasn’t disappointed.

A stately white hotel with a brown roof. An old-fashioned black cab sits out front with the words The Stanley painted on the side in gold. Dozens of golden keys are arrayed on a black velvet backing behind the sign-in desk. An opulent wooden wall is topped with crumbling old wallpaper. A sweeping view of a hedge maze and forested mountains beyond. Clouds are roiling and dark. There's a hint of a masculine statue at the front of the maze.

The hotel has been updated over the years. They added a hedge maze and some props from the made-for-TV movie. But even stripping those things away I could see the connection between that place and The Shining. We saw the tall, eerie staircases flooded with light from old windows. Those long carpeted hallways. Brass elevators from a bygone age. A lonely ballroom with the piano. And beautiful bar with a long wooden counter. I didn’t mind that the owners of the hotel had added a hedge maze and some old props. Those things might be cheesy, but they were fun too.

Cheri smiles like a dork inside a maze of hedges.

We saw other tourists walking around, delighted, enjoying comparisons with the haunted hotel of their imaginations. I loved it! The magic of fiction is that it has the power to bring us all to the same location in our minds, to sync up our emotions and memories in a powerful way. In that sense, setting becomes a real place, durable and permanent. I’m thinking about the books I love most. How many of us have walked through the Gothic splendor of Mr. Rochester’s house in Jane Eyre? Millions, I expect. Those images and feelings are accessible, a shared experience that transcends time and all other differences.

If you’re a fan of The Shining and you find yourself in Colorado I recommend a quick stop at The Stanley Hotel. They give tours, but the slots were all booked up by the time we arrived. So we walked around the hotel, admired the grounds, and picked up some amusingly Stephen King themed lattes before heading out for our next destination.

Two lattes sit on a bronze colored tabletop. They are labeled 217 and RedRum.

PS: I did not look for the ghost of room 217. 😂

On the Road Again

Hello from Wyoming! I’m writing you from a roadside motel that has seen better days, my laptop propped up on my knees, my hair still damp from a shower, my eyes and heart full of all that I’ve been enjoying. The Pfizer vaccine is 95% effective seven days after the second dose, and pretty much the second we felt safe enough to travel, Patrick and I packed our backpacks, rented a car, and blew out of Seattle so fast that the Space Needle was left spinning in our wake.

Where do you want to go? Patrick asked.

Anywhere but here, I replied.

I’ve been missing my mother. We went to see her! Afterward, we headed east over a mountain pass and through rural Oregon. We needed to pin a spot on the map, a direction to aim towards, and we chose Colorado. Along the way, we let our curiosity and serendipity guide us. We marveled at the beautiful rock formations at Arches National park. And we clambered up the soft sand at Sand Dunes National Park at twilight. There’s so much I’ve forgotten. Ordinary things. Like tiny soaps in hotel rooms. (so cute!) Quirky roadside attractions. How good it feels to zoom down a lonely highway with the radio turned up. The unmitigated pleasure of observing the world not through a smartphone screen but through your own five senses!

Speaking of senses, I learned that resting atop a sand dune is a good way to get sandblasted in the eyes! Oops! 😂

Cheri grimaces as she's blasted in the face with sand atop a pale brown dune.

I’ll confess to trepidation about leaving my pandemic bubble. Our first indoor restaurant meal was nerve-racking! But on the whole we’ve felt quite safe on the road. Hotels and motels have been spotless. Fellow travelers have been courteous almost everywhere we’ve gone. We’re still avoiding crowds, and we’re still keeping our distance as much as possible. I know that 95% effectiveness is incredible. Still, I find myself easing back into the world, listening to my gut when it says “go ahead” or “no thanks.” It’s a process.

We’ve seen hikers in muddy boots, cars overflowing with kids and enthusiastic dogs, old men in folding chairs waving at traffic, and nomadic hippies bragging about their mushroom hunting skills. Park rangers are thrilled to be giving talks again! Tiny mountain towns are building patio seating for the upcoming summer rush. Nearly every small restaurant and shop has a Help Wanted sign posted. The wheels of commerce are spinning up, and all the doors are flinging themselves open. I sense the delight at strangers seeing each other’s faces and smiles.

The pandemic is winding down.

Filling the Creative Well

In her seminal book The Artist’s Way, Julia Cameron talks about creativity as a well that requires replenishment . And it’s true! For more than a year, I relied upon my memory and imagination to help me tell stories, and during the long and lonely pandemic I had very few opportunities to restock my well. What inspires and sustains me? So many things. New sights and sounds. The ability to talk to strangers or even eavesdrop on public conversations. Observation skills. So much of my inspiration is sensory and experiential. I suppose that’s why I took my well-crafted plans for the month of May and chucked them over my shoulder. When I set a deadline, even for myself, I tend to get cranky when I don’t meet it.

I’m not feeling cranky this time! I’m a good 3-4 weeks behind schedule right now, and I’m not even mad. Why would I be? I’m taking to the road like a thirsty plot of soil takes to the rain. This road trip is fun, yes, we’re having a good time! But it’s more than that. I’m filling that well, using my senses, and keeping track of all that delights me:

  • An antelope (Pronghorn)
  • A real cowboy in Durango
  • A nine-foot tall pink metal flamingo
  • A van painted with bright yellow sunflowers called the “Van Go”
  • A carpet store called “Totally Floored”
  • Huge solar arrays in the desert
  • A roadside “portal to another dimension” with UFO/alien statues (Admission fee: $5 per car)
  • Spooky blue mist
  • Beautiful evergreen forests and frosty mountain peaks
  • A famous haunted hotel (more on this later)
  • So much lightning!

The list goes on and on. 😎

Whether you’re a writer or not, you might be craving some new sights and sounds. We all need inspiration! My advice is this: when you’re ready, and not before, sit quietly and listen to what your heart wants. Maybe it’s a weekend roadtrip, or time with a friend you’ve been missing, or an experience that you’ve been putting off for too long. The world is coming back to life! And I bet there’s something grand, right around the corner, waiting for you.

A sunny highway cuts through rolling green hills. In the distance, a hint of brown mountains.

Death Valley Dreamscapes

Patrick stands on a white path made of salt looking at distant mountains. A panorama of a brown rumply mountain rising up behind a flat plain of white salt and brown earth A panorama of the salt flats of Death Valley. The salt has risen from the earth forming a lattice-like pattern of rough diamonds with flat centers and roughened margins of earth.

In Death Valley we walked across a sea of salt surrounded by distant mountains. We saw pink and green and purple mountains. Rippling dunes of soft sand. Martian hills dotted with angular black stones. Alien landscapes. Impossible vistas.

Was Death Valley a real place, or did I dream it? I have photos… but I still can’t be sure.

One Day in Zion

On the lower left corner, a section of road. Above the road and cars, a dramatic red wall formed of rock rises straight up. Chunks of rock are missing, as if someone took a huge chisel to the side of the cliff in places. A dramatic wall of red rock cliffs above a scrubby desert with large dry bushes. Another view of the red rock cliffs of Zion national park.

After a long drive through Utah, we spent a full day at Zion National Park. After dark, we went back to stargaze. We stood in the dark until our night vision improved, surrounded by rocky cliffs and a canopy of stars. Moonlight cast shadows on the ground. Mule deer grazed just outside the campgrounds, staring at us with wide-spread ears as we passed by.

I love the city life, but time in nature fills the spirit up like nothing else. ❤️ I’m so glad we came.

Yet it’s been a strange time to travel. When we left Seattle a week ago, the COVID-19 outbreak was limited to a small group of cases at a nursing home in a neighboring town. But since then, more cases have appeared and local governments have done a hard turn into mitigation strategies. It’s been shocking to see how quickly it’s all unfolded. Tens of thousands of workers are working from home, local events have been shut down, and I hear our always-terrible traffic has disappeared.

On the whole, I’m proud of my city and state. Government, business, and individuals are coming together to make things safer in an uncertain time. Emerald City Comicon is postponing next weekend’s event, prioritizing public health at what I assume is a high economic cost.

I see lots of good choices being made in Washington State in a time when good choices are difficult. It’s been too long since I felt anything positive about government and industry. So I suppose that’s a thin silver lining to come from all this.

Here on the road, we’re reducing risk as best we can. Every hotel room gets a thorough sanitizing with bleach wipes before we settle in, including all knobs, switches, and remotes. We wash our hands a lot, and carry hand sanitizer in our pockets. I wipe down our cell phones too, and we’re avoiding crowded areas. Our biggest risk comes from eating out, probably.

Over the next week, we’ll swing west, and then north, gradually making our way back to Seattle to hole up in our condo. There, we’ll dine on my stash of frozen burritos while I finish my book. And I’ll fall asleep thinking of Zion, shining silver and black in the moonlight.

This place won’t be leaving my heart anytime soon.

The World’s Largest Pumpkin Festival

We had a lovely weekend visiting with my cousin and her wife in Wiesbaden, Germany, and they took us to the World’s Largest Pumpkin Festival in Ludwigburg near Stuttgart.

I love pumpkins, so it was a perfect outing. The sugar-chili roasted pumpkin seeds were my favorite treat on offer, but they had pumpkin churros, pumpkin balls, pumpkin ice cream, and pumpkin pasta to name a few. It was pumpkin heaven! And the ornamental displays were super impressive.

According to the Internet, this festival makes use of 400,000 pumpkins per year.

A statue of an old man with long hair sits at the base of stone stairs leading up into the woods. A 12-15 foot high red Phoenix made out of small gourds. The enormous figure of a man (made of many types of gourds) lays on the ground, held down by ropes, a pumpkin version of the scene from Gulliver’s Travels. A 15-20 foot tall Pikachu made with yellow gourds is tall and angry looking with dramatic tilted eyebrows and an open red mouth.

The theme of this year’s festival was Fantasy, and while I’m not sure how an angry Pikachu fits in the fantasy genre, he was my favorite pumpkin creature for sure. 🎃