A Travellerspoint blog

Rescued with Coffee in Ladue, Missouri

After a fun evening of exploring St. Louis and getting mentally prepped for the long drive to California, I checked out of my downtown hotel the next morning and hailed a taxi in order to meet my sister at her conference center on the other side of town. The driver seemed a little bit confused at first when I gave him the destination address, but after a minute, he told me he knew exactly where to go.

For the first 20 minutes, we easily breezed through traffic westward toward suburban Frontenac, located 15 miles outside of St. Louis. Then, disaster struck. Upon approaching Plaza Frontenac, an upscale shopping center, the cab driver told me that we had arrived at my destination, which I knew was not true. Once again, I told him that the address for the conference center was on North Geyer Road...and that I was not going to the mall.

"Geyer? Are you sure you want to go to Geyer? On the mountain?" the cab driver asked me. I am not very familiar with St. Louis geography, but...a mountain? That did not sound right, or anywhere close to where I needed to go.

It increasingly became apparent that the cab driver had no idea where he was, so I asked him to make a U-turn to take me back to Plaza Frontenac. I (unhappily) gave him the $40 fare, which included an extra $5 for the last-minute U-turn, and then he dropped me off at Neiman Marcus. I knew I was only 1-2 miles away from the conference center, but I did not remember which direction to go. Lugging my heavy backpack, I walked around the parking lot of the shopping center trying to figure out if I could recognize any of the street names. After several minutes of looking around, I felt fatigued and flushed from the extreme humidity, which is saying a lot from someone who grew up in North Texas.

Then, I spotted a coffee shop across the street, and my sweaty, under-caffinated heart swelled with joy. I still had no idea how to get to the conference center, but I knew that iced coffee, air-conditioning and wi-fi would greatly help my situation. I felt much better after I got my large iced vanilla latte (with an extra shot of espresso, of course) and sat down at a table.

From the coffee shop, I called my sister to tell her that I either could walk the rest of the way (which would take forever), or she could come pick me up. Although normally I love to walk, I was so thankful when she chose the latter option because it was way too hot outside for a long hike. Never have I been so happy to see a Volkswagon Golf and the familiar face of my best friend. We gave each other a big hug, chatted for a few minutes inside the coffee shop and then formally began our long drive westward towards California!

Posted by rachwells 05.09.2014 19:14 Comments (1)

Through the Arch, and Westward Bound, Once Again

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Is my life like a Kerouac novel? An endless On The Road journey to-and-from the West Coast? Hey, I am happy to be along for the ride, even if just once more towards the lovely Pacific. My sister needed an extra driver to help her get to L.A., and I was happy to oblige. In preparation for the trip, I stuffed as many clothes, multi-media devices and bite-size toiletries as I could fit into my carry-on backpack. It was a tight squeeze and a slight strain on my shoulders, but I managed to pack "light" for the fast-pace, cross-country journey.

First stop: St. Louis. In the early evening as the sun waned across the lovely city skylight, I strained my neck as far back as possible to look up at the famous Gateway Arch. Known as the Gateway to the West, the 630 foot structure and the surrounding park served as a coincidentally fitting starting point for the impending long drive to California. I let my mind wander for several minutes, thinking about how many pioneers in American history began their own westward voyage just a few steps from where I stood. When I felt like I had sufficiently savored this unique moment, I took a deep breath and walked ceremoniously under the Arch, east to west. Don't laugh at me! It was a symbolic gesture to get myself mentally prepared for the long drive.

And so the exciting westward journey begins...again!

Posted by rachwells 04.09.2014 18:45 Comments (1)

Quirky Antique Charm in Jefferson, Texas (Part 1)

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As my sister Rebecca and I drove into town, I instantly noticed the 19th century brick road, the grand architecture of the main street buildings and the "Reindeer Rest Stop" sign near the year-round Christmas store. That's Jefferson. A historic riverport town in Far East Texas (almost to Louisiana), Jefferson proudly preserves and celebrates its classic, Southern heritage. We explored the local shops including antique stores like "Granny Had It" and the Jefferson General Store, which has an old-fashioned soda fountain and sells five-cent coffee and eclectic souvenirs. My sister bought a $5 mystery grab bag of vintage jewelry down the street, and we browsed early editions of classic books at Gold Leaf Antiques and Big Cypress Antique Emporium. One of my favorite finds in Bell's Books was a hardback story called How to Live with a Calculating Cat.

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For lunch, Rebecca had the turkey with coleslaw, while I ate the pulled pork sandwich with sweet potato fries at Joseph's Riverport Barbecue. Both of us thoroughly enjoyed our meals. I particularly appreciated that there are large squirt bottles of barbecue sauce at each picnic-style table so that every person can "sauce" his or her main entree the way he or she likes it. Even though our tummies were stuffed after delicious barbecue, we still stopped at the Jefferson Fudge Store for Rocky Road fudge and a Mint Chocolate truffle...because it was all too tempting to resist.

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And what did we do after getting sugared-up? We looked around at Scarlett O'Hardy's Gone With the Wind Museum. Located in a beautiful neighborhood barely outside of the main shopping area of the town, the museum is surrounded by magnificent, historic two-story houses (many of which are Bed & Breakfasts) and a pretty little park. The museum's incredible collection of items includes autographs of the cast, an exquisite miniature dollhouse, tons of themed-merchandise and much more. One of my favorite parts visiting the museum was seeing show posters and editions of the book in many foreign languages.

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Though I already knew that Gone With the Wind is a classic book and movie, I did not realize until this museum visit just how much the story became a pop culture phenomenon in its time and has had a lasting legacy. Apparently, the book has never been out of print since it was first published 78 years ago, which is quite amazing. After looking at each of the museum displays, my sister and I got our photo taken by the dollhouse, and we chatted with the very nice owner who answered our questions and spoke passionately about her favorite pieces in her collection. Overall, I really enjoyed my experience at the museum, and I would recommend checking it out. (Call ahead of time to inquire about the hours of operation.)

So, why is this blog post titled Part 1? Rebecca and I had a great time during our exploration of Jefferson, but we only scratched the surface during this afternoon visit. The town offers much more, including ghost tours, bayou tours, train rides and nearby Caddo Lake, and thus, we hope to return to Jefferson later this summer to experience at least a little bit more of the town's quirky, old-timey charm. Stay tuned!

Posted by rachwells 26.05.2014 21:23 Comments (3)

Chasing Marfa Lights in Pitch Black

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With a huge plastic flashlight clenched between my teeth, I continued fiddling with the legs of my tripod in a struggle to level my camera. I tried to shield the excess illumination of yellow light so that I did not disturb the other visitors at the Marfa Lights Viewing Center. Except for a few red lightbulbs on the wall, close to the ground, I could not see anything other than occasional car headlights speeding across the highway.

The camera set up process (in almost complete darkness) definitely frustrated me, but when I looked up to the heavens through my camera lens, I quickly remembered why I came to Marfa in the first place. Thousands of stars decorated the unspoiled desert sky. And what a spectacular sight it was. My heart softened, and I changed my game plan: Instead of putting pressure on myself to take the best possible photos of the mysterious Marfa Lights, I decided to just have fun with my camera, no matter how the results turned out.

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I started experimenting my camera settings, and I even purposely swiveled the tripod during 30-second long exposures in order to create artsy effects with car headlights and stars in the night sky. Hey, since I had not yet spotted the Marfa Lights, I decided to try to create my own special effects. Some photos came out grainy because I had to bump up the ISO very high in order to get stars to show up visibly in the shot. With some other shots, I felt pleasantly surprised by the cool swirls and streaks of light.

After a couple hours, my friend asked a man next to us if he had ever seen the Marfa Lights. A long-time local resident, the man said that, yes, he had seen the Marfa Lights, and in fact, he was looking at them right now. And there they were - my friend and I had been staring at them the entire time. Right in front of us. Low to the ground, three yellow lights (resembling stars or distant street lights) each seemed to subtly move in and out of the horizon (see photo below).

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The entire time, my friend and I thought those lights were from a regional airport or some other kind of facility, partially because we could see a close by flashing red light (which itself is not a Marfa Light). That is the thing about the Marfa Lights, though. For many years, people have looked at the night sky around this area, and wondered "What is that?". Car headlights? Pranksters with flashlights? An unexplained phenomenon? I will say this: My friend asked several Marfa residents if they had ever seen the mystery lights, and most of them said yes. They all seemed to believe in the moving lights as a real wonder (and these folks all seemed very down to earth, normal people).

As I looked at the Marfa Lights, I felt puzzled. I am very glad that I got to see them, but it was not what I expected. Not that I knew what to imagine in the first place. I wish I could have stayed out there longer, and/or listened a professional speak at length regarding the features of the Marfa Lights and theories about their mysterious occurrence. Perhaps someday I will return to the Marfa Lights Viewing Center with my camera (and a better flashlight) for another attempt to view and photograph the mystery orbs in the West Texas night sky.

Posted by rachwells 04.05.2014 20:54 Comments (0)

Did I See a Ghost...Town?

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Is it still considered a ghost town if there are a few houses directly across a narrow dirt road from the broken brick ruins of the Silver Capital of Texas? Not many people still live in Shafter, Texas (only 11, as of the 2000 Census), but it is obvious that a few residents call this (ghost) town their home. Located 43 miles south of Marfa and only 20 miles away from the Texas-Mexico border, it would be easy to drive past the town unless you really look for it.

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On Easter Sunday, my friend and I arrived at the town in the late morning. There were no other visitors in sight except for an occasional car or truck passing by on the dirt road or on the highway. While taking photos of the ruins, I could feel the uncomfortable silence around me. If I looked behind my shoulder, I could see residents' houses. Right there. Up close. Too close. I had a funny feeling about being there, but I tried to ignore it. In that moment, I had a flashback to when my sister and I visited the cemetery in the tiny town of Aurora where residents also lived surprisingly close (aka: across the narrow street).

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As a ghost town, Shafter seemed very different from Calico, the abandoned town in the California desert that I visited last summer on the way to Los Angeles. Calico clearly had been turned into a cute, roadside tourist attraction - no residents at all, just old-timey themed gift shops, eateries, a school, etc. Shafter has a couple of signs to mark its history in the area, but there is nothing flashy about this place. Other than a few modest homes, a cemetery (which likely has more residents than the living ones), a pretty church (which is still in use), you just see the broken remnants of a once-thriving mining town.

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I am glad that I got to see Shafter because I am fascinated by ghost towns. That said, I must admit, I also felt relieved when we left because of the weird feeling that I got while being at that eerily beautiful yet isolated site. On the way back to Marfa, we also stopped on the side of the road (still close to Shafter) to take photos of Elephant Rock. Does the rock formation really look like an elephant? That is up to interpretation. I saw a slight resemblance after really looking for it. If you already are in the area and feel like stopping to take a look - at the Elephant Rock and/or the Shafter ghost town - go for it, and decide for yourself what you see in the ruins!

Posted by rachwells 29.04.2014 20:52 Comments (0)

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