Archive for the Adventures Category

I spent the week before last in Washington DC for work. I “kind of” flew home on Thursday, attended a wedding on Friday, packed over the weekend and drove to Chicago, where I spent last week. It’s been a long two weeks.

The trip to DC began with a flight (yes, flight) to DC through Dallas. While trying to make my connecting flight in Dallas I got turned around and ended up in baggage claim, which forced me to go back through the TSA line a second time. The second time I had already filled my water bottle (and forgot about it), which led to a 15-20 minute diversion as I had my bag removed and searched and received the coveted “invasive pat down” from a genial fellow named Raul who, for all intents and purposes, is now my boyfriend.

I spent three days in DC. The first day was spent at an awards ceremony where my team was presented with an award by the FAA Administrator for our work on the e-mail migration project I’ve been working on for the past two years. The next two days were spent in a “lessons learned” meeting, where everyone shared what went wrong and what went right with the project in hopes of helping future projects.

My flight home on Thursday was scheduled (I thought) to leave Baltimore at 6am. To make sure I didn’t miss the flight, Super Shuttle picked me up in front of my hotel at 2:45am, and dropped me off in front of BWI at 3:45am. When I checked in at the gate around 4am I learned that my flight wasn’t scheduled to leave until 8:40am. I found a place to sit and killed 4 hours waiting to board. After the plane was boarded, the pilot announced that due to storms in the Dallas/Ft. Worth area, “we might be leaving in two hours, or not at all.” At that point we all exited the plane and awaited further updates. Around 10:30am we reboarded the plane and made it to DFW, only to find that all flights heading north from there (including Oklahoma) were either full or had been cancelled. Based on that knowledge I rented a car (it’s only a 3 1/2 hours drive from DFW to OKC), only to learn that I-35 (the interstate that connects those two cities) had received up to 14″ of rain in some areas and was closed. I upgraded my rental car to something big enough to sleep in and began working my way home. A couple of detours and roughly 6 hours later, I arrived in OKC only to discover that no one was home, my keys were in the house, and the garage door keypad no longer worked. Exhausted, I slept in the back of the rental from 6:30pm until 7:30pm, when Susan was able to get home and let me in.

On Friday Susan, the kids and I attended our good friend Jennifer Martin’s wedding. Susan and I served as unofficial photographers and documented the entire evening from beginning to end. Susan took almost 1,000 photos while I only took 400. Susan and I had a good time taking pictures and the kids had a good time eating cupcakes and dancing the night away!

Saturday morning, Susan, her sister, and the kids hopped into Susan’s car and headed out west to San Diego. That gave me the weekend to hang out and rest up for my own to trip to Chicago.

Monday morning Dad and I hopped into the Avalanche and drove north to Chicago. We had the traditional White Castles for lunch and some delicious Aurelio’s Pizza for dinner with my Aunt Linda and Grandma O’Hara. At 85, Grandma O is suffering from moderate dementia. From what I understand some days are better than others. I arrived on a bad day. I only see her a couple times a year and the change between the last time I saw her and this time was dramatic.

I spent Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday in Des Plaines, Illinois (near O’Hare Airport) loading servers. My small team loaded roughly 40 servers in two days. Each server weighed approximately 75 pounds and had to be moved several times. By the end of the week my hamstrings, arms, knees and back knew exactly how many servers we had moved. We ate lunch at Giordano’s Pizza one day and had dinner at Harry Carey’s Steakhouse another night, but for the most part we just worked and slept. And drank. A lot.

Friday morning at 5am I hopped in the truck and drove down to Springfield, IL to pick up Dad (who was visiting his cousin) before hitting the trail and finishing the drive. It wasn’t the fastest trip ever, but after slamming a few energy drinks and cups of coffee we rolled into my driveway just after 8pm. Susan and the kids got home from their trip around 10pm.

I slept in this morning and took two additional naps throughout the day. I’m almost caught up on rest now. Hopefully my back stops hurting before I head back to work on Monday.

Over the weekend I updated the States! section of the website. If you have not checked it out, it’s a list of every states I have ever visited with lots of pictures and mini-stories. In 2013 I added or updated Missouri, Illinois, Indianapolis, Ohio, Pennsylvania, New York, Toronto (Ontario), Vermont, New Hampshire, and Maine. In this weekend’s update I updated Louisiana, Alabama, Mississippi, Florida, Arizona, New Mexico, and Nevada.Check your state — maybe I’ve been there!

Link: robohara.com/states

Also last week I posted three new podcast episodes. Of the two for You Don’t Know Flack, one was technical in nature (“Networks”) while the other was non-technical (“The Creek”).

YDKF Episode 149: Networks
YDKF Episode 150: The Creed

I also released a new episode of Sprite Castle, on which I discussed the C64 game H.E.R.O. by Activision.

Sprite Castle 004: H.E.R.O.

I also had to rebuild a 4TB RAID5 container and recover my website from a backup. Maybe I’ll talk about that tomorrow.

Here’s a picture of a cupcake dessert bar I visited in Vegas that has nothing to do with any of this.

It’s not too often that a person can recall exactly where they were, who they were with or what they were doing twenty years ago to the day — but as for April 9th, 1994, I remember.

Half a year earlier on August 22nd, 1993 (the night of my 20th birthday) I moved to Weatherford, Oklahoma and moved in with Susan and another one of her friends. I had spent the two years following high school commuting to Redlands Community College, while Susan had spent her time 60 miles east in Weatherford attending Southwestern Oklahoma State University (SWOSU). Susan had recently moved into a three bedroom mobile home and offered me the master bedroom to rent. We spent the next eight months partying, working, and occasionally attending college classes.

Susan worked at the Wesley Foundation on campus and a local print shop; I briefly worked at a local pizza joint before landing a job at Long John Silver’s. I worked 40-50 hours a week there as a shift manager, a job I was by and large terrible at. Back then I simply didn’t have the maturity, experience or conflict resolution skills needed to manage anybody, much less a bunch of teens that didn’t want to be managed.

By the time spring flowers began to bloom, more than my allergies were suffering. I wasn’t doing well in school because I was working too many hours, and I hadn’t racked up too many “Employee of the Month” awards while slinging fish if you know what I mean. For her part, Susan was dog paddling just as hard as I was to keep her head above water. Late at night over styrofoam containers of leftover fish the two of us would plot our escape. All we had to do was make it one or two more months. If we could just make it through one more semester, everything would be fine.

The two years I attended Redlands I spent busting my ass in the journalism department. I had served as both the newspaper and yearbook editor and despite occasionally showing up late on the weekends, or hung over, or still drunk, or some combination of those things, my staff and I never missed a single deadline. Ever. I had a solid reputation for delivering there because I had earned it. As an overweight smart ass with a weird wardrobe and a worse haircut, I assumed that my reputation for always meeting deadlines (even if they showed up at the 11th hour) would follow me to Weatherford. It didn’t. My journalism professor at Weatherford got so sick of my antics that she fired me as the yearbook editor roughly a month before the end of the semester. From a previous blog post:

In the spring of 1994 after pushing the word “procrastination” to an all-time high, I was let go from my position as SWOSU’s yearbook editor, replaced by my understudy. A month before the book’s final deadline, I showed up to class to find everything from my editor’s desk neatly packed into a box for me to take home. My journalism professor pulled me aside and briefly explained her reasoning, none of which I could argue with. I wasn’t mad; I was embarrassed. I told her I would take my box of junk out to my car and then would come back that afternoon so we could talk about what needed to be done and how to proceed. But I didn’t. Instead, I dropped out of school via telephone and never showed my face on that campus again.

That last part isn’t entirely true. Nineteen years later in 2013, I took Mason to a basketball tournament there.

In a bit of “Rob and Susan Lore,” it was on that day in April of 1994 that I flipped a coin, declaring heads meant we would “try and salvage what was left of the semester” while tails meant “let’s go visit the Grand Canyon.” I really did flip that coin and it really did come up tails. We packed some clothes into a bag, loaded up Susan’s car, and drove west the following morning.

I don’t know that I’ve had another week quite like that in my life. We had no jobs, no school, no one to answer to and no real destination. After a few days of driving we did make it to the Grand Canyon…

…and Carlsbad Caverns…

…and Flintstone City, USA…

…and a dozen other places. Eventually we ended up in Tucson, where we ran out of steam and money at roughly the same time. We spent a night or two sleeping on my Aunt Eva’s fold out couch before we decided to go home. But not before playing one last round of mini golf!

On April 8th while visiting the Grand Canyon, it was announced that Kurt Cobain, the lead singer of Nirvana, had been found dead. Nirvana, along with Soundgarden, Pearl Jam, and Alice in Chains had ushered in the new wave of grunge music. In just a few short years, flannel and blue jeans had replaced leather and jean jackets. Hair metal was out and grunge was in. Nirvana’s breakthrough album Nevermind had been released three years prior in September, 1991. Three years later, he was dead.

That night as we began meandering back home we stopped in Albuquerque, New Mexico. When we pulled in to town that night we saw a long line of lowriders driving slowly around the block. We pulled over to watch the show and were soon informed by local police officers that this was not a parade; we were watching gang members. The police officers suggested we relocate to a safer part of town and so we did. We found a hotel that was painted pink and looked like a castle. My most vivid memory of the place was that there was a hole in the upstairs concrete sidewalk that you could see all the way through down to the ground. Susan remembers the roaches.

On the morning of April 9th, 1994, we rolled out of the hotel and had breakfast. We piddled around town a bit and around lunch time stumbled across Little Anita’s. If nothing else, Little Anita’s had the hottest hot sauce I’ve ever tasted. I was disappointed that the waitress had only brought each of us a small cup of sauce for our lunch. I dipped my fork into my cup and touched it to my tongue. It burned hotter than fire. I was just about to mention how hot it was to Susan when I saw her dump the entire cup of hot sauce on to her taco. Instead of warning her I decided to sit back and watch the show. After one bite, she immediately drank her water, followed by my water, followed by waiving down a waiter and drinking an entire pitcher of water. Hot stuff. Anyway, Little Anita’s has become a mandatory stop for us every time we drive through Albuquerque. We’ve driven through two or three times since then and we’ve eaten there every time. These days we go easy on the hot sauce.

On the way out of the restaurant I spotted a local newspaper with the headline NIRVANA SINGER FOUND DEAD. I bought it, and still have it out in my box of keepsakes. Crime scene investigators estimate that Cobain died on April 5th. His body was discovered on the 8th. We heard about it on the radio that day, and read about it in a newspaper on the 9th. April 9th, 1994.

On the last leg of our trip home the mood had changed. Susan and I both knew once we arrived back in Weatherford we were going to have to face the music, and the loss of Kurt Cobain made the trip that much more depressing. Not to make it sound like I was a huge Nirvana fan — I liked them as much as the next guy — but grunge belonged to my generation. Kurt Cobain was “one of ours.”

During the trip Susan and I convinced ourselves that if we called the school and told them we were withdrawing from school because our roommate had died they would be lenient on us — a hair-brained scheme I’m pretty sure one of us had picked up from a sitcom. Later, after arriving home and calling the school, the first question the administration asked me was, what was the name of our roommate? Not having thought that far in advance, I hung up the phone. For our part, each of us received a smattering of W’s (“withdrew”) combined with WF’s (“withdrew while failing”) on our transcripts.

April 9th, 1994 was more than just the day Susan and I read that Kurt Cobain had died. The week before we walked away from our school and our jobs, and when we got back, we had to deal with the consequences. April 9th, 1994 was the day we grew up.

Over the weekend, Susan, the kids and I drove down to Dallas, Texas. A little over halfway there the kids were getting hungry for lunch and I told Susan I knew of a nearby restaurant named MG’s. MG’s is hard to miss as they have the back half of an MG mounted to the front of the building, and the front half mounted over the front counter. I pulled up the address and a few minutes later we arrived.

Unfortunately it looks like MG’s closed some time ago, but in its place we found the Burger Time Machine. With a name like that, we had to give it a try!

The inside of the restaurant had a “time machine” theme, starting with six movie posters: Austin Powers, Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure, Hot Tub Time Machine, The Terminator, Planet of the Apes, and Back to the Future.

The menu had some interesting items including a Time Machine burger, the Terminator, the Star wars burger, the Star Track burger, the Don Quixote Burger, and the Plant of Ape burger. Susan talked about getting the Country Peanut Butter Burger and I considered the Planet of Ape burger with fried bananas, but we both settled on the Star Wars burger. Mason had the Star Track with pepperoni, mozzarella cheese and pizza sauce, and Morgan had the chicken strips.

While waiting for our food, we mingled with some of the Time Machine locals. While I was busy talking to the robot from Lost in Space…

…Susan was mixing it up with The Most Interesting Man in the World.

While we were doing that, the kids had their eyes on these arcade games.

The conversations made the wait for our food go quickly. Shortly before it arrived, I took this picture just to prove to the world that I’m not crazy. There’s a reason this place used to be called MG’s!

We still have no idea who would come up with a “time machine” motif for a restaurant, but I definitely have to say the food was great. I love a greasy burger from time to time, and this place hit the spot. The next time we’re passing through Denton, Texas we’ll be sure to stop back by and go Back… to the Burger!

At 5:15 A.M. on Monday morning, a Kansas state trooper pulled me over. By that time I had already been on the road for two hours, doing five over the whole time.

“The reason I pulled you over,” he said, “was because you were swerving a bit back there. Everything okay in here?”

“Oh yes sir,” I responded, “just a little tired. I left Denver this morning around 3 A.M. and I’m heading back home to Oklahoma City.”

“Mmm,” he said. “What were you doing in Denver?”

“Well sir, I just got back from attending the Kong Off 3, the only nationally sanctioned Donkey Kong tournament in the country.”

After staring at one another for an uncomfortable amount of time, the trooper suggested I pull over at the next gas station, have a cup of coffee and take a break. I told him I would and continued on my way, with the trooper and Donkey Kong both in my rear view mirror.

Due to a hectic work schedule I ended up with a few weeks of “use or lose” vacation to burn at the end of the year. Around the same time I was poring over a calendar looking for days here and there to take off I discovered that the Kong Off 3 was only a couple of weeks away. Under normal circumstances I probably wouldn’t have taken a few days of vacation to drive 600+ miles to attend a Donkey Kong tournament, but with time to burn and friends to see in Denver, I loaded up the Family Truckster last Thursday morning and hit the road.

My first stop in Denver Thursday night was to meet Mike Maginnis of the No Quarter Podcast and attend a screening of The Space Invaders: In Search of Lost Time, a 2013 documentary about people who love and collect vintage arcade games. Mike had purchased a few extra tickets to ensure the screening would happen and was gracious enough to give one of those tickets to me. Turnout at the show was low, which was disappointing as I thought the film was good and did a good job of portraying the passion many of these collectors reinvest into the hobby.

After the film ended, Mike and I got to chat with director Jeff Von Ward for about twenty minutes, and both Mike and I ended up purchasing the special collector’s edition of the film which not only contains a copy of the film on blu-ray, but also two additional DVDs containing 139 minutes of bonus footage, a director’s commentary track, and lots of other extras. Definitely worth the $30. My only regret was that I did not bring a copy of Invading Spaces to give to Jeff. In the future, when attending arcade-related events, I’ll bring a spare copy or two just in case.

The entire Kong Off 3 lasted three days, lasting from Friday until Sunday. Friday, noonish, my very good friend Robb Shewrin and I headed to the 1UP in Denver, the arcade where the Kong Off 3 was taking place.

Stepping into the 1UP was like stepping back into time. To be sure the place is a bar, except where most bars have booths or tables to sit at, the 1UP has games. Lots and lots of games. The entire left hand side of the bar has 20 pinball tables. The back side of the bar has arcade games, and the entire right hand side of the bar has a lot of games — at least 30, maybe more. Although the 1UP normally has a variety of games to play, most of them had been removed and replaced by Donkey Kong machines. I am quite sure I had never seen 22 Donkey Kong machines in one place until last Friday. As I stood before them, as a guy who owned 30 machines at one time and not once had all of them running all at the same time, I thought about the work involved in assembling and restoring 22 Donkey Kong cabinets.

The wires you can see being run in this picture were for the televisions and cameras. Every machine had its own camera which fed into a flat screen television mounted high above so that spectators could watch the action from afar.

Thirty-two of the country’s best Donkey Kong players attended with hopes of winning the tournament and possibly even breaking a world record. Because of their appearances in 2007′s The Kong of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters, Steve Wiebe, Billy Mitchell, and Walter Day are all easily recognizable. Despite the “good guy/bad guy” dichotomy that was portrayed in the film, both Billy Mitchell and Walter Day made a point of making their way through the crowd, shaking hands and talking to people. Both of them made a point of standing around and talking to us for a good five minutes.


Walter Day, Rob O’Hara, and Billy Mitchell.

If you haven’t seen The King of Kong then you might not know what a “kill screen” is. Because certain values in many classic games are stored in 8-bit registers, if you play them long and far enough, some of them will eventually crash. Donkey Kong’s kill screen bug appears on the 118th screen, which takes roughly 2 1/2 hours to reach. Thus, the essence of the competition becomes, who can score the most points before the game crashes.

Prior to the Kong Off 3, the 20th highest score achieved in Donkey Kong was 903,400. As you can see, ten of the 22 KO3 competitors beat that score.

Here’s a shot of current world record holder Hank Chien, a plastic surgeon from New York who scored a whopping 1,138,600 points on the game back in November of 2012. There are about 5 people on the planet who can break 1.1 million on Donkey Kong. Last weekend, I was in a room with most of them.

Robb and I did not stay at the 1UP the entire weekend. In fact, we spent a bit of time at the 2UP and a bit of time in Lyons, Colorado at a couple of different arcades. I’ll write about those tomorrow. It is a little exciting to get to see some of the world’s greatest game players “doing their thing,” but the excitement wears off fairly quickly when you realize you are standing around in a bar watching people play Donkey Kong.

As the tournament began to wind down, I stood in the middle of tired gamers, listening to their tales of battle. One fellow talked about how a game of quirky fireballs ended his run early. Another complained that he should have brought his own control panel, although another player was quick to point out that it wouldn’t have helped him.

Sunday evening the contest ended. Jeff Willms, the reigning Kong Off champion, successfully defended his title with a score of 1,096,200, taking first place a second year in a row. Hank Chien, the current world record holder, finished third with 1,056,900. King of Kong subject Steve Wiebe finished fifth with 1,048,800, followed by current MAME world record holder Dean Saglio, with 1,033,000. Billy Mitchell finished in 22nd place.

Thanks to Robb and Mike for putting up with me throughout the weekend. I’ll write some more about some of the other arcades I visited in Denver tomorrow.

Saturday, my drive home from Tempe, Arizona led me via I-40 through Albuquerque, New Mexico, filming location of the hit television show Breaking Bad. My GPS told me that by leaving Tempe at 6 AM, I would arrive home at 11 PM as long as I did not stop for fuel or food. (It’s a fifteen hour drive, plus an additional two hours in time zone changes.) Even though I knew it would be a long day in the car, I decided to spend 30 minutes driving around Albuquerque and visiting a few of the more recognizable locations from Breaking Bad.

The last time I did something like this was when I visited and documented a dozen or so filming locations from Weird Al’s cult classic UHF. Back then, I used the commentary track from the DVD to obtain the addresses used in the movie and physically found them using a laptop-based USB GPS and a copy of Microsoft MapPoint. That was back in 2003. Ten years later in 20123, to visit Breaking Bad filming locations I used my phone to search Google for “Breaking Bad Filming Locations” and punched a few of them into my car’s GPS. Things sure have gotten simpler. Anyway, on with the pictures.

The Dog House
1216 Central Ave SW
Albuquerque, NM

The Dog House has been featured several times in Breaking Bad. In the show, there are rarely cars parked out front. In reality, the Dog House was doing a bustling business when I arrived on Saturday. Because the parking lot was full of cars and car hops were busy running from car to car taking and delivering orders, I did not want to tie up the lone remaining parking spot since I was not ordering food. Instead, I snapped this single photo and drove on to the next location.

A1 Car Wash / Octopus Car Wash
9516 Snowheights Circle
Albuquerque, NM

In Breaking Bad, Walter White originally worked at the A1 Car Wash. Later in the show, Walt bought the car wash, which his wife Skyler ran (and used for laundering money). Other than covering up the “Octopus Car Wash” on the front of the building, the car wash pretty much appears in real life like it does in the show. With my DSLR camera I was able to get a shot almost exactly how it appears in Breaking Bad. My “selfie” photo turned out much worse. I am not very good at taking selfies, I’m afraid.

Saul Goodman’s Office / Hooligans Tavern
9800 Montgomery Blvd NE
Albuquerque, NM

When you find yourself in over your head in legal matters, what should you do? “Better Call Saul!” Saul Goodman’s legal office is in reality Hooligans Tavern, located in the core of a strip mall. Similar to “Spatula City” in Weird Al’s UHF, without the signage (or the inflatable Statue of Liberty perched on the roof) it looks much like any other strip mall. There wasn’t much to do here except take a picture and keep driving.

Walter White’s House
3828 Piermont Drive
Albuquerque, NM

On the television show, the White family lives at 308 Negra Arroyo. The house actually used for shooting exterior shots is located at 3828 Piermont Drive. The house is owned by Fran and Louie Padilla, who have lived in the house since 1973. (You can see a five minute interview with Fran here. Fran is known to come out and greet visitors, which she did while I was standing on front of her mailbox. I felt somewhat awkward standing around taking pictures of someone’s home so I didn’t stick around too long. I don’t know how many people have visited the Padilla’s home but while I was there no less than 10 other cars stopped to take pictures. I had to wait at least five minutes to get a picture of the house without anyone standing in the driveway.

Los Pollos Hermanos / Twisters
4257 Isleta Blvd SW
Albuquerque, NM

My final stop was at Los Pollos Hermanos, aka Twisters in real life. Much of the show took place at Gus’ chicken restaurant. In reality, Twisters is a “fast casual dining experience specializing in New Mexican foods as well as American favorites.”

In the show, a large “Los Pollos Hermanos” logo appears on the wall of the restaurant. The logo is still there, and based on the amount of time I was there, is a popular backdrop for visitors taking photographs.

Literally hundreds of Breaking Bad filming locations have been identified and documented, and there are also local tours that will drive you around and show them to you. I’d like to go back, maybe in the spring, and do a bit more sightseeing.

(Note: Those of you who follow me on Twitter and/or Facebook read about some of this in real time. Here is the full adventure!)

It started yesterday morning with the following declaration from Susan: “We are not going to spend Labor Day in this house watching television! Get up! We are going on an adventure! We are leaving at 9 AM!” (This was around 8:15 AM.)

My thoughts arrived in the following order: “Where are we going?” “Is the iPad fully charged?” “Isn’t everything closed on Labor Day?” (Spoilers: “Northwest, Yes, and Mostly.”) I grabbed my backpack and tossed in my DSLR camera, my iPad, two phone chargers, a couple of protein bars, and a bottle of water. Wherever we ended up, I figured I could both survive and entertain myself for at least a day.

As we hopped into the car we were told the first official point of business would be breakfast. So far, so good. Susan announced we were going to Tower Cafe, home of Old-Fashioned Cinnamon Rolls in Okarche, Oklahoma for breakfast. Even better!

“What are the odds this place is open Monday morning on Labor Day?” I asked. Boos and hisses were what I received. What kind of father would suggest such a thing? What a doubter! What a hater of cinnamon rolls!

Thirty minutes later we found ourselves having breakfast at the Sunrise Cafe in Kingfisher. I had the chili and cheese omelette with a side of “I told you so.” (I’m still not sure which one was responsible for my heartburn.)

As we pulled out on to the open road I rolled down my window and hung my arm out of the car. Almost immediately a giant bug hit me in the shoulder and literally exploded, sending bug guts and juice all over my shirt and face. We thought wiping the yellow goo off of my red shirt with a napkin would be the end of it, but a few minutes later the bug (or at least half of him) resurfaced, climbing up Susan’s leg. (She was driving.) Susan’s squeezing fist put a final end to the bug’s misery.

We continued northwest, driving through Hennessey, Oklahoma and stopping for gas. The kids had never seen one of these dinosaurs at a gas station before so we stopped to take a picture. Morgan tried climbing all over it and almost break the tail off, which I can only assume is why they went extinct. At the gas station we bought drinks, used the bathroom, and threw the dead bug into the trash.

As we approached Enid we happened across an antique/thrift/junk store on the side of the road. We decided to stop by. As we walked in the owner informed us that they weren’t really open on Labor Day (cough) but that since we were from out of town they would let us rummage around. I’m glad they did because there were so many cool things inside. The first of which was this still.

Susan asked them if it worked and they said… “maybe?”

Near the front of the store Susan spotted this box of Atari cartridges.

The lady said they were $5 each, but would take $3 each if I bought more than 3. I haven’t bought any Atari games in a long time and I don’t have my list online so I wasn’t sure what I have and don’t have anymore, but I spotted several “rare-ish” games that I decided to pick up. I got three Activision blue label carts and several other less common carts (lots of 4′s, according to Atari Age’s rarity guide).

Also, I bought this. I hate having to buy things and pretend like they are for my kids, but what can you do. Morgan looks sad in this picture because I just told her this paperclip is going straight to my desk tomorrow.

After all the shopping and a terrible Pizza Hut experience, we finally arrived at Susan’s planned destination: The Great Salt Plains. As we pulled in I explained to the kids that people from all over the world come here to set land speed records. Then Susan informed me that that was at the Great Salt Flats, in Utah. At that point I shut up.

The Great Salt Plains are a giant salt deposit, left behind from a prehistoric lake that once covered Oklahoma. (Wikipedia) According to the article, “The refuge is the only spot in the world where crystal enthusiasts can dig for hourglass selenite, a rare and fragile form of selenite, which is a form of gypsum.” Not only can you dig for crystals there, that’s pretty much the only thing to do other than look at miles of salt.

Susan had packed buckets, hand shovels, and an umbrella. With that, the kids began to dig.

Although your mind tells you you’re looking at snow, it’s salt. The 90 degree heat was made slightly more tolerable by the slight breeze, but unless you bring it with you, there’s no shade. The combination of salt and dirt is surprisingly easy to dig through. Dig down about two feet and you hit water, which I assume comes from the nearby lake. The designated digging area looks like a field of gophers took over, with dozens of holes left behind from previous diggers. I don’t know how the holes get filled back in.

The designated digging space was large enough that nobody was in our space. In fact, this was the closest person to us.

And so the kids dug and dug, and we all sweated. Nobody found a single crystal. Finally Morgan asked the girl in blue if she had found any crystals and she said they were easy to find — all you had to do was walk out another 50 feet where people hadn’t been digging and they were lying in the sand. The only reason to dig, it turns out, is to find the really big ones. The small ones are literally scattered across the salt a couple dozen yards from where we were digging. A few minutes later, the kids each had a dozen crystals in their pockets.

The unique coloring comes from the fact that the crystals often form around dirt, which gets locked inside. Also, I don’t know why but the areas where the crystals were were guarded by giant biting flies. I have never been bitten by a fly so hard before that it drew blood, so that’s another experience I can chalk up to this adventure.

After an hour or so of digging, we headed back to the car, brushed off our clothes and our shoes, and headed back home. We only stopped once, at a gas station station where the kids could wash their hands. While inside, I took a picture of this two-dimensional and highly patriotic fellow.

The Great Salt Plains was unlike anything I had ever seen before. Anyone wanting to film a movie set on the moon could do a lot worse than to make a trek out to this national park. The combination of white salt with vast open spaces gives the place an otherworldly feeling that really has to be experienced in person.

Unbeknownst to me, last night Susan made reservations at the Arcadian Inn, a local Bed and Breakfast roughly 15 minutes away from our home. It is always amazing to me how many wonderful things can be found by simply venturing out a few miles away from home.

Here are a few pictures I took over the past 24 hours. If you follow me on Facebook you may have already seen a few of these. Sorry.

The first few pictures are of the inside of our room.

That’s the bed and a bunch of pictures of old dead ladies. I had always wondered what it would be like to have a dozen dead people looking down on me while I am sleeping in bed. Now I know.

Here’s a shot of the television, sink, restroom, and shower:

And, turned slightly, you can see Susan reading by the front door.

The little table had a personalized message for us when we entered the room:

We actually found our name written all over the place. It was a nice and personal touch.

Speaking of personal touches, this morning the staff delivered breakfast to our room. Here’s our patio table and chairs. We had fruit, quiche, waffles, coffee and juice.

The entire house (which was built in 1908) was connected by wooden paths.

The front of the house had a large wrap-around deck with several rocking chairs to sit in. We took our coffee over there and enjoyed the beautiful weather before it got too hot.

The Arcadian Inn specialized in making people feel like royalty… literally. We will definitely go back and stay again.

I spent some time last night updating the list of states I’ve visited. There are 7 left that I haven’t stepped foot in, and a few more that I’ve only driven through.

Updates include Missouri, Illinois, Indianapolis, Ohio, Pennsylvania, New York, Toronto (Ontario), and New Hampshire. New entries include Vermont and Maine. All of the updates to the list include pictures.

While in Illinois, we got to stop and have Chicago with some of our family. Grandma O is always glad when we stop by!

One of the greatest things we saw last week on vacation was Niagara Falls. My Uncle Kenny (and several other people) recommended that we stay on the Canadian side of the falls, and I’m so glad we did. We stayed in the Hilton on the 49th floor, and the view was literally breathtaking.

There are, of course, two different falls. The Horseshoe Falls were to our right. Here was the view of Horseshoe Falls from our hotel room, which had floor-to-ceiling windows.

It was actually hard to see the entire falls as there was so much mist in the air. The American Falls, which were to our left, were much easier to see. Again, this was the view from our hotel room.

At night, they light up the falls with colored lights and set off fireworks above them.

I have seen an awful lot of this country and I have to say the Falls were one of the most impressive things I’ve seen. I’ve said before that the Grand Canyon didn’t hold my attention; perhaps it was too big to wrap my head around. At less than 200 feet high Niagara Falls are infinitely smaller than the Grand Canyon, but something about the motion combined with the roar of the water and the mist in the air made the Falls one of the favorite things I’ve seen.

The next morning, Susan, the kids and I walked down to the falls and rode the Maid of the Mist boat ride that takes you right down to the base of the falls. The view, roar, and experience was amazing. Cell phone pictures don’t do it justice.

Here are a couple of videos I recorded with my phone.

The blue plastic ponchos were free and highly recommended.