Sunday, June 24, 2007

Well Played, Leland

Don't get me wrong, the University of Michigan has a beautiful campus, but... well, Stanford wins in the aesthetic department. Note that these aren't just a few special buildings (like the Law Quad at Michigan), but these pictures are from all over the campus.

Even the gutters at Stanford are pretty!

Yay, School of Education!

This is the Center for Educational Research at Stanford (CERAS)--pretty much my home away from home (away from home) for the next year. It's proof that not all buildings on Stanford's campus are stunningly beautiful.

I can't believe I go to school here.

Friday, June 22, 2007

Ah, California

I couldn't stay in Reno a minute longer than I had to, so I left at 6:30 am. I have never been so glad to see California. Especially when this is the form it came in:

Even though I hadn't had a proper breakfast, I somehow managed to refrain from eating anyone at this rest stop.

They say mountain air is refreshing, but it's especially wonderful when it's partnered with a departure from the worst city on Earth, a (relatively) short drive, and an awesome three year old cousin waiting for you at the end of your journey. It was a fun cross country trip, but it was more fun to actually arrive.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Words Cannot Express How Much I Hate This Place

Just over a year ago I visited Alice Springs, a small city dead in the centre of Australia. It's hot, it's in the middle of the desert, the landscape is barren and gravel-y. Even though it's a major tourist destination, the buildings are all pretty rundown and there's not that much to see. Everyone seems angry and unhappy, the people of colour are disenfranchised and exploited, and there are huge drug and alcohol problems. I quickly deemed it the most depressing place on Earth.

Then I got to Reno. It's hot, it's in the middle of the desert, the landscape is barren and gravel-y. Even though it's a major tourist destination, the buildings are all pretty rundown and there's not that much to see. Everyone there seems angry and unhappy, the people of colour are disenfranchised and exploited, and there are huge drug and alcohol problems.

Oh man, Reno is depressing. It's the diametric opposite of creepily perky Salt Lake City. Reno is just creepily creepy. The buildings alternate between casinos and pawn shops. The people are unattractive in that very American way involving fanny packs, tapered jeans, and scrunchies holding back perms--on all genders. The children look sticky. For $1.50 you can get a hot dog and a beer. Or for double that there are 32oz margaritas that come in tubular fluorescent green cups. The souvenir shops offer rack after rack of your name (but never my name) on trinkets you never knew you wanted personalized.

Even the National Bowling Stadium could't cheer me up.

Please never let me get married anywhere that has a neon "Open" sign in the window.

I'm pretty much at a loss for words in describing my feelings about Reno. Maybe pictures will be more explanatory. It should be noted that these pictures were not staged; I just couldn't bring myself to smile.


My first stop after Salt Lake City was--what else?--the Great Salt Lake. It's definitely a lake and it's unquestionably salty, but I can't really say it was all that great.

All those little black dots are actually little flies. They don't bite, but they made me really not want to follow my usual beach protocol of going barefoot.

For a brief moment I was excited to see black sand again. But let's face it: this is no Piha.

I next continued along I-80 through what are very appropriately named the Great Salt Flats. Check out how you can barely tell where the land ends and the sky starts. Yeah, that was fun driving. It totally didn't make me think I was dying in the middle of a desert and that the car was just a mirage.

Close to the Utah/Nevada border is a sculpture called "The Tree of Utah," as in the one tree in western Utah. Quite a sight.

The Tree was pretty sweet in that I got to get out of the car and actually walk around the salt flats. It maybe wasn't the best day to do it considering that it was in the nineties and I thought I was going to go blind from the glare of the cloudless sky on the sodium crystals. But yes, that really is salt. It made my skin all dry just from being out there for fifteen minutes

And I picked up a little souvenir on my shoes, in case I start to get lonely for the salted roads of Michigan.

If I ever had the fear that this country might one day run out of salt, it has now been completely alleviated.

Salt Lake City

Since I spent the night in Ogden rather than Salt Lake City, I almost skipped going into the city. But I figured I could stop by in the morning and I'm definitely glad I did. It was a city worth seeing: very different from any other city I've ever been to, and I learned a great deal about Mormons and their history. I can't say it was something I wishing I knew more about, but I also can't say that it wasn't worth learning.

The approach:

The Salt Lake City Temple. Unfortunately visitors are not allowed inside.

The Tabernacle, as in the Mormon Tabernacle Choir. Unfortunately they're out on tour now so I did not get to see any performances.

Here is the Conference Center, built only a few years ago to create a larger space for their twice yearly conference. It used to be held in the Tabernacle, which seats about 6,000; the Conference Center seats 21,000 (I think). I got to take a tour of the Conference Center--definitely the only way to really see how huge and impressive it is.

Here's the auditorium that seats the masses. Check out (1) the skylights and (2) that there are no columns holding up the second or third levels. Very

Now here we are on the roof. Those pyramid skylights are the skylights from the auditorium.

Here's a prairie full of Utah wildflowers they planted on the roof. Glad to see the Mormons are building green.

A shot of Temple Square:

One of Joseph Smith's houses. I missed the tour, but apparently it has multiple rooms for all the wifeys.

I would definitely have been interested to stay longer in SLC and see all the stuff in Temple Square, not to mention the rest of the city. But I had to get going to the most polar opposite place I could find: Reno.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Something's Wrong with Wyoming

Today was supposed to be my exciting day of driving. After two days of flat flat flat farmland, I was excited to make my way through the scenic Rocky Mountains. The last time I drove through the Rockies (via Idaho), I was blown away, and after the beauty of Denver I was ready to be stunned.

Taking I-25 north was great, with the Rockies to my West the whole way. Then I got to I-80 and the cool rock formations started.

I paused briefly at the "Gateway to the Rockies," which also happens to be the highest point on I-80 and home to the Largest Bronze Bust in the World. The view was beautiful, the bust was large, and I was ready for the hills to turn into mountains.

I kept driving. And driving. And there were no mountains. So I drove some more, and still no mountains. I saw some mountains in the distance and, as you can see, it looks like the road will run right into them. But no. No mountains.

I knew there was something amiss about Wyoming when I saw a sign with a pretty glaring typo: "Exxit." Really? That might be the most common word on highway signs, so it takes pretty amazing oversight to not only print up a sign with that error but to actually plant it in the ground and leave it there. Then--according to the signs--I crossed the Continental Divide twice. A quick internet search tells me that this is acceptable and that for the 52 miles in between the signs the water just sits in a basin, but it was still weird.

I am still confused by the lack of mountains. I know I've crossed the Rockies north of Wyoming (in Montana and Idaho), and yesterday I was definitely in the Rockies south of Wyoming, not to mention that every map of the Rockies I can find seems to include the entire western half of Wyoming. So where were the mountains? All I can say is that I hope that for the sake of their oxen, the Oregon Trail-ers were able to find I-80 and skip climbing any massive peaks. On the other hand, a trip through the actual mountains would have at least been entertaining.