Each year, the Palisadian-Post runs a selection of Travel Tales composed by Palisadians who have journeyed both near and far, writing about their experience to share with the community. Though travel is currently on pause, we are running a selection of tales to take us around the world from the comfort of our homes.
One of my most memorable trips was in 1971 when I traveled with my new wife by car from Los Angeles to the Panama Canal zone in a period of a few weeks.
Two days before departing, I purchased a used 1969 Chevrolet Malibu with four recapped tires, since we were going to sell the car in Panama. We were joined by two friends: Franco Roselli-Lorenzini and his girlfriend Rennie. We met at the U.S.-Mexico border.
The first day when we were going through the Gran Desierto in Mexico, we saw a beautiful saguaro cactus, at least 30 feet high, off the side of the road. We stopped and walked over to take some pictures.
When we returned to the car, it would not start. We were really at a loss as to what to do. Franco decided that he should hitch a ride to the nearest town to seek help.
In the meantime, Rennie had a good idea to stop a car and try to jump start the car. We stopped another vehicle and asked them for some jumper cables, and lo and behold, the automobile started.
Now the problem arose as to how do we communicate with Franco. We did not dare stop the car. We drove ahead, slowly, until we spotted Franco in a vehicle coming our way. We picked up Franco and we were on our way again.
We saw many beautiful sites, including some Mayan, Aztec and Toltec ruins. We stopped and bought local fruits from the stores and then pulled off the side of the road to have a picnic.
We drove altogether to Merida on the Yucatan Peninsula, but since we had not made any reservations for anywhere along the trip, we had some difficulty finding a hotel, as it was the Christmas holiday season.
It is interesting to note that the later civilization of Central America took advantage of the pyramids already built by the earlier civilization. The various pyramids built by the Mayan and Toltec civilizations were built with very short runs (the ratio of run to rise is different depending on the civilization).
A low ratio was used to force the people going up to the top to go up sideways in order not to affront the gods at the top of the pyramid. Each civilization was not against the idea of using the previous civilization’s pyramid as a base to build their own pyramid.
The most beautiful Mayan ruin was probably Chichen Itza in the Yucatan Peninsula. Going up and down the pyramids of some of these wonderful archaeological sites was very difficult. The gods did not want the people to affront them as they climbed up to the top and consequently the rise to run ratio in the steps was very difficult to negotiate because you could not do it other than side step to the top of the pyramid.
Franco and Rennie left us in the Yucatan Peninsula. Another very beautiful archaeological site was Palenque. This site, lower in the Yucatan Peninsula, is in a more densely forested area.
We actually got to go down inside one of the pyramids to see how the burials were done by the Maya. Another beautiful archeological site was Monte Alban near Oaxaca.
We got back to the Pan-American Highway and stopped to sleep in Guatemala City, at which point there was a choice whether to go inland or along the coast.
Guatemala is a very beautiful country and we took lots of pictures. We did go down to the Lake Atitlan, which was off the main route but still a very worthwhile sight to see.
On the shores of Lake Atitlan, out of our hotel window, we could see four dormant volcanoes. We did not have the luxury of time to take a boat ride across Lake Atitlan, so we proceeded to go down the Pan-American Highway.
We did have time, however, to go visit a local market in a little village a little bit outside of the main the Pan-American Highway route. We bought several things at this market, including some very nice handmade blankets.
The next country, of course, en route was Costa Rica. Here the Pan-American Highway really deteriorated. Up to the capital of San Jose, the road was indeed asphalted but it had major potholes on it.
The ride after San Jose was really interesting because there is the highest pass of the whole route we had to go over. It seemed like we were climbing forever.
Just like when we went down, it seemed like we were going down forever. Here we did another one of the many things that we were told not to do and that was to drive at night.
Where San Jose is located, the landscape was really a much thicker jungle. The road at this point was no longer asphalted, but it was a good dirt road.
After we passed the Costa Rican/Panamanian border, I felt that we had to go on a little side trip up a valley known for its orange groves. We picked up a bag of 100 pounds for just a few dollars.
We then drove on to the Canal Zone where my sister, Bianca, and her family were living. My brother-in-law, Romolo, was a pilot for the Panama Canal, and he took me on one of his trips across the canal. This was a very interesting experience.
At this point in my life, I had an extended experience driving an automobile. I had driven across the United States from Washington, D.C., all the way to Los Angeles on the famous Route 66.
There is a certain principle of physics called momentum, which is basically mass times velocity. An automobile approximately weighs one or 1.5 tons but the ship that Romolo was guiding across the canal was several hundreds of thousands of tons. Consequently, the momentum of the ship was very large.
After several days spent with my sister and her family, we flew home to Los Angeles. I left the car in Romolo’s care and he subsequently sold it to someone within the Canal Zone at a very nice price—enough to pay for our trip home by air.
Jeanine Wolfenden Meunier
It is my duty, as the wife of a New Englander, to expose my husband to wonderful places west of the Mississippi. That means Yellowstone National Park.
A few years ago, we traveled to Salt Lake City, Utah, then buzzed over to the border to see Dinosaur National Monument in Vernal, Utah. It was amazing!
Ages ago, there was a river with a tight bend that trapped dinos and dried out. We took a shuttle up the windy road to the display building and walked in. It was the Disneyland of Dinosaurs!
Along and in a 500’ cliff, leg bones, spines and other pieces of dinos were closely packed together. It was nothing we had ever seen before. They were huge!
Then we zig-zagged through the northwest to Fossil Butte National Monument in Kemmerer, Wyoming. It was a museum way, way out in the prairie. It had many small fossils of every type of animal in the area, including trilobites.
Then onto Jackson Hole, Wyoming. It poured rain the entire time we were there. But we did get to pose under the arch of deer antlers and explore the bars.
We then drove through the Grand Tetons and into Yellowstone.
The first thing we discovered was that there was no internet. None. Nada. Then we started touring and discovered the geysers. Amazing again! There were geysers that were a hole in the ground, such as Old Faithful. There were glistening, slick geysers such as the limestone cliffs in the north with the “Orange Peel.” There were geyser spouts attached to rivers along the road. There were steaming mud holes on the side of a hill. There were geysers that were actually on edges of the lakes in the park.
One day that we were there, we saw herds of bison. Bison came so close to our car that they brushed the side mirror almost off. We also saw bear, elk and coyotes.
During our trip, there was a brown bear on the side of the road. We asked the ranger there if he was protecting the big group of people watching. Folks were trying to get close to take the huge animal’s photo. He said, “No, I’m protecting the bear.”
We continued across the state to the Wyoming Dinosaur Center in Thermopolis. It was a basic warehouse at the edge of a town. But what a sight inside! There were four or five gigantic posed dinosaur skeletons, a whole variety of fossils and a labyrinth of informational displays. I was really interested in the proto-mammal story.
We drove further to Devil’s Tower, an example of a “pushed-up” mountain. One of my friend’s husbands did not want to see it on a past visit and told her it was three hours from the main road. No. It was 20 minutes away.
We finished at the Rapid City, South Dakota, area. We saw Mount Rushmore, Crazy Horse and another fabulous museum. But the best was yet to come.
We stopped at the Mammoth Center, right in the middle of a town. We entered the building and saw a nice gift shop. Ho-hum. Then the tour guide took us through another door.
Wow! Back in the day, young male mammoths came to the edge of a lake to drink. It was slippery shale and they fell in and were trapped. As the years passed, the water dried up and the land was ignored.
Later, a developer came with a backhoe to dig out a plat for houses. He lifted the hoe to find a mammoth bone. The authorities were called, the acres purchased and it became the museum.
It was a football field-sized area, with openings down to 20 feet in the hard dirt. All around the room, researchers were digging, categorizing and sweeping with tiny brushes. Remains had been carved out. They had found complete heads, backbones and more. One of the rare skulls was called “Beauty.”
In all, an incredible trip. We encourage anyone to take this journey!
If you have an experience you would like to write about—whether it is recent or the distant past—please send 400-600 words plus a few high-res photos to email@example.com for consideration in a future installment.
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