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Home > Close-Ups > Best and Worst of My Trip



The Best and Worst of My Trip Around the U.S.



(December 3, 2001 -- Bellingham, Washington)

  • Best Experience:  I've had a lot of good experiences on this trip, including visiting numerous friends and relatives around the country.  The single best experience, though, was meeting an 87-year-old woman in North Dakota named Hester Bailey.  As I discovered, Hester was a former student of my grandmother Helga's when Hester was in Kindergarten in 1921.  Hester told me a lot of stories about my grandmother Helga.  I never knew Helga, who passed away in 1964, so it was really interesting to meet Hester and to talk to her about my ancestors.

  • Other Great Experiences:   Doing genealogical research in North Dakota, Massachusetts and Michigan and meeting a lot of wonderful people, including an ebullient woman in Bismarck named Bernie Swang whom I may or may not be related to.  Also, receiving e-mails from folks I've never met but who are following my website, and getting a full-day tour of the Civil War battlefields in Mississippi from Tommy, a historian I met in Corinth, Mississippi.

  • Most Pleasantly Surprising City:  Knoxville, Tennessee.  I had never been to Knoxville before this trip and discovered that it's a real gem.

  • Most Pleasantly Surprising Town:  Jonesboro, Tennessee.  This is the oldest city in Tennessee and it's lined with lots of interesting old historic buildings.  Second place goes to Webster, South Dakota.  I spent a week in this area and the people there were incredibly friendly and helpful.  Greeneville, Tennessee was also a very interesting town with lots of nice folks.

  • Most Interesting City Boston, Massachusetts, a place I'd like to move to... if only it were out West!

  • Most Disappointing City:  Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge, Tennessee (tie), near Great Smoky Mountains National Park.  These are the tackiest cities I've ever seen in my life.

  • Most Disappointing National Park:  Great Smoky Mountains in Tennessee and North Carolina.  It wasn't nearly as beautiful as I had imagined and, even worse, it was jammed with tourists.

  • Worst Frustration:  Not being able to spend more time updating my website because I've been traveling so much.  I promise to do better in Australia! 

  • Best Night:  Camping in my truck while overlooking the beautiful and desolate Clay Canyon in southeastern Utah, and being the only person within hundreds of square miles.  Second place:  Camping on my great-great-grandfather's former homestead, on the desolate prairies of northeastern South Dakota.

  • Worst Night:  Sleeping in a pool of sweat during a hot and steamy evening in mosquito-filled Harold Parker State Park north of Boston, when the temperature dropped only to 82 degrees. 

  • Biggest Regret:  Not visiting Colorado, where I worked for 6 years as a ranger during the 1980s.  It was just getting too late in the season and I was anxious to get back to Washington.  Maybe next summer?

  • Best E-mails:  I enjoy getting e-mails from everyone, but the best e-mails I get are probably from those people who don't know me and have written to tell me how much they enjoy reading my website.  The website is a pain-in-the-neck sometimes, but it's worth it when I get nice, unsolicited e-mails (or even solicited e-mails).

  • Most Pleasantly Surprising Campground:  Beartree Campground in the Mt. Rogers National Recreation Area, Virginia.  Without a doubt, this is one of the nicest campgrounds I've ever stayed at.  There's lots of privacy between sites, small creeks run throughout the campground, and, at 3,000 feet in elevation, it's high enough so you can avoid the sweltering summer heat.  Runner-up:  Fort Sisseton State Park near Lake City, South Dakota.  It's fairly small and open, but affords sweeping vistas of the prairie and, best of all, is usually empty.

  • Creepiest Experience:  Visiting the desolate, 19th-century Rocky Springs cemetery along the Natchez Trace Parkway in Mississippi one rainy morning, and then hearing a conversation in the nearby church only to find, upon opening the doors, that the church was empty.  Second creepiest experience: Hitting my golf ball and watching it stop 20 feet from the hole at a San Diego golf course, then when I got to the green discovering that the ball was gone.  Third creepiest experience:  Hearing Navajo chanting and drumming at Muley Point Overlook in southern Utah, miles from the nearest person.  Too many donuts, I guess!