Roadtrip, Travel and Adventure

The Carpool Lane

I had never seen anything like it. At first, I thought that the smog had done something funny to my vision. The individual colors, blasted by the suns rays, were reduced to a shiny gray. It stretched out like the tail of a Diplodocus (after our stop at the Dinosaur Museum, I’m something of an expert on dinosaurs now), winding its way down into the valleys below.  And we were stuck right in the middle.

Continue reading “The Carpool Lane”

Roadtrip, Travel and Adventure

An Interview with Ten

Ten and I have spent a lot of quality time in the car on this road trip. He’s shared some of his fascinating experiences with me and has offered great insight. I asked Ten if he would answer a few interview questions for the blog and he readily agreed! Hope you enjoy getting to know him a little bit better…

Debby: Let’s start with the obvious: What is your full name? And how did you come by the nickname “Ten”?

Ten: My full name is Taentam Yangsirisuk, a mouthful I know. My nickname ever since I was small had always been Taen but when we left Thailand, my parents discovered that people who were not Thai had trouble pronouncing “ae”. They therefore drop the “a” and nicknamed me Ten. I was only three when this happened and so I didn’t have a problem with it and ever since then, I’ve introduced myself as Ten.

How did you get wrangled into this road trip?

You can blame Debby for wrangling me into this road trip. She is quite the cowgirl/wrangler and is very handy with a rope, lasso, whatever is around. And if that doesn’t do it, her personality and charm will definitely wrangle you in.

I kid of course, I have wanted to pursue a career in film production for a couple years now and knew that my paths would one day take me to L.A. It was only a couple months ago that a group of recent Wheaton graduates, myself included, decided to partner up and try to break into the film industry together. We had worked together on a film our senior year of college (The link to the film is: and all had a strong passion for the film industry. One of these people is, of course, the talented actress, super friendly, and blogger extraordinaire, Debby Bouzeos. From there it was a short step to deciding to road trip together. We both like adventure, we both like to be spontaneous, and we both love to explore… and the rest like they say, is history.

What have been some highlights for you on this journey?

There have been many highlights on this journey. How could there not be on such  great adventure. Seven different states in ten days. From the plains of the mid-west, to the mountains of Colorado, to the desert of Arizona, to the beaches of California… highlights seemed to be around every corner. I’m sure you faithful blog readers know exactly where we’ve been and what adventures we have had: Dinosaur museums, golfing in 110 degrees, chimney rock, camping, red rocks, garden of the gods, castles, sand dunes, cliff dwellings, grand canyon, watching the stars dance in the sky… how can one pick? Of course all these places are amazing and jaw dropping spectacular, but the highlight for me on this trip isn’t the adventures we had but the people, or person in this case, I shared these adventures with. So to Debby, thank you!

You’ve experienced a lot this past week. How is America noticeably different from other places that you have lived? (Culturally, visually, historically, etc.)

America is so diverse. I remember telling Debby that my image of America was the mid-west, but in reality, America is so much bigger than that. As we drove west, I began to appreciate the beauty of this nation and Debby was more than happy to tell me about the nation’s wonderful history, something which I was not too familiar with having grown up in Europe. Following the Oregon Trail, visiting museums, talking to various different people, all these things led me to deeper appreciate this great nation.

Why did you want to move to Los Angeles in particular?

Los Angeles has always attracted me because for the past many decades it has always been the home of motion picture. Like I said above, a couple years ago, I started to develop a strong passion for film making and storytelling through the medium of film. I have always been a storyteller my entire life, but not until recently did I discover that my preferred medium to tell such story is film. For a while, I wanted to be a writer/author and thought that was the best way to tell my stories, however, while I still enjoy writing, film has allowed me to become a much better storyteller. With all that in mind, it is not surprising that I wanted to be involved in the industry, and where’s the best place to be involved… Los Angeles. I know the competition will be much tougher in Los Angeles, but with bigger risks come bigger reward. It may be a word from the Lord that our graduation speaker, the Reverend Canon Andrew White, said these words, “Do not take care, take risks”. And so I’ll be in L.A. taking risks and chasing my dreams.

You’re a long way from home, now. Will you miss your family? Tell us a little bit about them.

Home is a very loose word for me. I’ve had seven homes, and will be moving to a new home. For me home is not a place, but people, and therefore I have many homes. My family and friends, the people I care about, are spread far and wide across the globe. But I’ll have a home in L.A. too, with people I care and love.

I will definitely miss my family though. They have been such a blessing to me. Both my parents have given me the blessing to experience and witness a multitude of cultures, they have both raised me and educated me to become the person I am today. For that, there are no words of gratitude. I also have one younger brother, Asa. He will be going into the eighth grade this fall and will have all his teenage years to look forward too. He’s a talented kid who is very mature for his age and will do great things I’m sure. That is my immediate family and while being so far from them does make me miss them, I know that I’ll find people in Los Angeles who will become family and friends.

Any final thoughts?

Final thoughts… At Mesa Verde, a park ranger said these words: “He who tells stories, rules the world…” I remember Debby and I looking at each other and sharing a smile. We were both storytellers and it was what we wanted to do. Tell stories, not rule the world, just to clarify. Debby and I do not have a plan of taking over the world, not yet at least =) But the more I think about that saying, the more I begin to realize how important stories are to the essence of humanity. Are we not after all in God’s grand story? As I head into this new chapter, I hope to never lose sight that the greatest story is not my story, but the Story of the Creator and that I should be content with whatever role the Author has for me. Pray for our group, the six of us who are wanting to break into the film industry, that we may be storytellers who contribute to His story.

A final word to those who have been keeping up with our road trip to Hollywood. Thank you so much for being so faithful and for holding us in your prayers. I know I can speak for Debby when I say that it has been a joy writing and sharing our experiences with you. Tonight, we rest, tomorrow… we’ll drive around the corner and seek the next adventure.

Roadtrip, Travel and Adventure

Day 9: Mesa Verde

We were camping again. After a nice long stretch of people opening up their homes to us, we found ourselves in places where no one lives. Places like Mesa Verde. The campsite for the park was only four miles from the highway, yet it took nearly 15 minutes to get there because the road wound through the mountains. The Visitor Center was another 14 miles, and then the actually cliff dwellings were 10 more miles after that! Literally. Middle of nowhere.

While slightly inconvenient, the remoteness of our site did bestow some special opportunities. For one, the stars were an amazing sight to behold. For another, I was able to get up early the next morning and run on a trailed that curved right around the far side of a mesa. I watched as the sun balanced itself on the horizon, threatening to rise and warm up the earth. I saw the clouds roll themselves out amongst the foothills until they vanished into mist.

And I also saw the smoke. Severe forest fires have been plaguing the entire state of Colorado, but here they were particularly in evidence. The very next range of mountains, some 40 miles from us, were ablaze. I counted four red globes hovering over the tree line, casting gobs of thick smoke into the deep, azure blue sky. It was frightening, yet somehow darkly beautiful to watch nature run its course.

I came back from my run and cleaned up. (It does seem a little pointless to bother with showers when you’re about to start a hike, but I never know when I’ll get a chance to have another out here!) We picked up tour tickets at the Visitor Center, then drove the long stretch out to the site.

The Ancient Puebloans (formerly called Anasazi… apparently that’s politically incorrect now?) built these amazing house structures right into the sides of cliffs. We toured the Longhouse, which contained over 150 rooms, 21 kivas, and even a dance floor! It was an incredible site to see, and I often found myself comparing the techniques of the Native Americans to the Ancient Near Easterners that I so thoroughly studied in college. The hearths, the food storage areas, the technology they developed to moderate the extreme temperatures: all of these were interesting points of comparison.

After scouting out two of the cliff dwellings, we called it quits and got back on the road. We were still taking back highways, but instead of mountains, we were now witnesses to a barren, desert landscape. Dust storms crossed our paths a number of times; miniature cyclones of sand that my car barely noticed. The only detectable change in the scenery was a gradual shift in color. The land turned redder as we neared the Four Corners.

Of course, we had to stop at the Four Corners. Who wouldn’t pay $3 to be in 4 places at once?

A line had formed just out of picture range. I waited in line while Ten positioned the camera on a balcony-type overlook. I balanced on one foot, my toes pinioned out into each of the states (Utah, Arizona, New Mexico, Colorado). As soon as Ten snapped a picture, I traded spots with him and laughed when he plopped down on the spot and smiled.

These kind of stops helped break up the long route through the barren waste. But something majestic was just on the horizon. Something resembling a grand canyon…

Roadtrip, Travel and Adventure

Day 8: The Great Sand Dunes

We were officially in the middle of nowhere. Colorado seemed like such a hopping place just a few miles back. Now, as we continued on the road south, we were left gaping at the barren landscape and the rickety old gas stations that appeared every dozen miles. I couldn’t help but wonder, Is there anything out here at all? It felt like the end of the world.

But, of course, it wasn’t. We had more adventures ahead! Our morning’s destination: the Great Sand Dunes. Many people do not make this place a priority on their family vacations. It’s rather out of the way, and it’s also hard to imagine why sand could be so exciting. We had recently heard from the Moore’s, however, that the place was amazing. “I wish we could have stayed there longer!” Sarah Moore had said.

It sounded like it had some serious potential. But, boy, it was really far out there. We turned off the “main” highway (relatively speaking… it was still a very small, little-used road) and followed the signs toward to the Dunes.

It wasn’t long until we spotted them in the distance. Low ripples of yellow-brown sand paraded in front of the mountain range ahead. They were noticeable, but not all that impressive. Of course, we were still twenty miles away.

Suddenly, as we approached the park, we realized that these were not simply rolling hills of sand. These were mountains. The sheer size and scale of the Dunes was unbelievable. There were no paths carved into the side; there were not even footprints visible on the windblown surface. Several dozen people traipsed up the Dunes in a long line.

We decided to pioneer our own route.

“So, Debby. Are you going to the top?” Ten asked me.

“Of course!” I shouted, running up one of the foothills. My feet sank into the loose sand, nearly stumbling me to my knees. “On second thought…”

We scrambled our way up the dunes, trying to find the flattest plains and the most packed sand. I quickly realized that the ridgelines were the most difficult place to walk, as your feet could easily be twisted to either side. Ten suddenly dove down into a sand crater, valiantly rescuing a lost inner tube. I prepared to slide, as Ten watched from behind his camera.

“Ready?” I asked him. He nodded and I made a flying leap. While I landed on the inner tube, I was unable to attain hardly any momentum. The tube slid a foot before unceremoniously dumping me into the sand.

“Please, tell me you missed that shot.”

Ten laughed, “Oh no, I got every second of it.”

We ditched the tube and resumed our climb. The sand grew more dry and packed, but the sun was getting hotter and the slopes steeper. Ten decided to wait below, while I continued the trek upward. I started setting goals for myself: Ok, just make it to that little scrub patch up there and then you can catch your breath. The air was noticeably thinner. I began to stop more and more often to rest. I set a new goal for myself: reach the peak of this immediate dune. It wasn’t quite the topmost spot on the Dunes, but it was pretty high up.

I made it (with much huffing and puffing). It was quite a sight to see. The nearby mountains were still capped in snow, yet here I stood, amidst my very own Sahara.

The decent down was a simple matter of sliding, tumbling, jumping, and running my way to Ten.

“I think one of the Dunes is trying to hitch a ride in my shoe,” I told him as I dumped the sand out by the car. He laughed and did the same.

Our drive got slightly more interesting after that. The landscape developed slowly: barren waste slowly transformed into a stubby, shrubby plain, then into a true mountainous area. We crossed the Rockies on a back highway, winding up and down and around. It was dizzying at times.

At one point, I could tell my car needed a rest. I pulled off at the next “scenic viewpoint” and we got out to see what was to be seen. It turned out to be “Treasure Falls”. Apparently, some old gold miners had buried their treasure in these hills and never come back for it! Unfortunately, we didn’t find much more than a few dozen chipmunks.

After a grueling mountain journey, I was looking for any excuse to take a break from the drive. And what luck! A sign suddenly proclaimed: “Archaeological site, next left”. Oh, I was excited. We drove up the road and pulled into the parking lot.

I should have known that something was wrong when we were the only car in the lot.

There was a park ranger at the station there who was very willing to tell us about the area. It was only after twenty minutes of listening to her ramble on about the Ancient Puebloans that she mentioned that the site was closed for the day.

I had to at least try. “Well, actually, I am an archaeologist. Is there any way we can just take a quick look at the excavations in progress?”

The ranger gave me a once-over and then said adamantly “No”. But, if we were interested in hearing the rest of her historical knowledge, she’d be happy to tell us!

One interesting thing we did learn, was that the landform nearby was called Chimney Rock.

“I thought we saw Chimney Rock in Nebraska,” whispered Ten as we hustled away from the park ranger.

“We did! This is just a fake one. No wonder they can’t get this place made into an official state park.”

We drove off, slightly jaded, but ambitious for our next stop: Mesa Verde (a real archaeological wonder). Camping for the night and then we’ll be on our way, bright and early!

(This is kinda a fun picture, just to give you some sense of the sheer size of the Dunes. Can you see me there in the middle?)

Roadtrip, Travel and Adventure

Day 7: Colorado Springs

“Okay, we’ve got the Garden of the Gods and the chapel at the Air Force Academy. Wasn’t there something else?” I said out loud to Ten as we drove I-25 S out of Denver. He shrugged and looked at the map.

“Looks like there’s some caves up in the hills?” he offered.

“No, no that wasn’t it. What was it??” I tsked, frustrated.

I was excited to visit Colorado Springs again. My family had vacationed there nearly ten years ago, but I still remembered the majestic chapel at the air force base, the kissing camels at the Garden, even poking my head through the Olympic hoops at…

“The training facility!” I practically shouted. “I wanted to go to the Olympic training facility. I bet it’s hopping right now, what with the Olympics right around the corner.”

Ten smiled, “I know.”

“What?” I looked at him.

“I just knew you’d figure it out eventually,” he laughed.

“Here I am wracking my brains and you’re sitting there laughing?” I would have chucked a shoe at him, if one had been handy. But nothing was handy in my packed-out car. I settled for rolling my eyes.

“Oh! Well I thought of something else, too. I’ll give Cotton a buzz!” Cotton was the nickname that our Wheaton friend, Kristian Otten, had been gifted with. He had just recently moved out to the area. This also continued our “Wheaton” theme for the day. Earlier that morning, we had met up with a couple other Wheaties: Jordan Chapman and Scott Roche. Both of them have jobs in Denver; it was a bit surreal to see Scott wearing a suit and realize that we were all in a new stage of life. Thankfully, I could still count on Jordan to be wearing an old football t-shirt and gym shorts. It reminded me that some things would never change!

So, I called Cotton. He seemed glad, but totally surprised, to hear from me. “What are you doing out here?” he asked, then quickly continued: “Oh wait, are you on that crazy trip right now?”

Ten and I have become legends already! (My dad would probably cut in here to say, “Yeah. Legends in your own mind.”)

We told Cotton we were headed his way and asked if he knew someplace we could meet him for lunch. He said yes, but had a few errands to run first. No big deal—Ten and I had places to go, as well.

Our first stop was the Air Force Academy. We didn’t have long, so we bee-lined it to the chapel. What an amazing structure! The building actually looks like a series of wings standing upright, their tips pointed to the blue skies above. The interior light is colored by stained glass. The cross up front looked as if it were about to take off. Quite a memorable sight to see.

We caught up with Cotton at Rudy’s, an absolutely fantastic barbecue joint. He then offered to give us a tour of the Garden of the Gods. “I often go for a run up there,” he told us. We followed his minivan up to the park and then got out and walked through the massive stone structures. There were the kissing camels that I remembered from years ago, still lip-locked. The stone edifices were crawling with climbers. I attempted a small one myself (and got one foot off the ground before falling back to earth).

After our tour, we asked our guide if there was a Starbucks nearby (to keep up with our faithful blog readers!). He suggested instead that we go to Glen Eyrie, a beautiful castle just down the way. We found our way over and seated ourselves in the courtyard just outside of the carriage house. It was a charming afternoon.

One last stop remained, however.

“Still want to go check out the Olympic training facility, Deb?” Ten asked. I’d forgotten again.

“Sure! We better hurry.” Alas, we were twenty minutes to late. The facilities were closed for the evening. But a kindly security guard allowed us to go in and take a few pictures at the Olympic rings.

Another full day. Colorado has definitely provided a variety of entertainment. We have two more major destinations in the state, though: the Great Sand Dunes and Mesa Verde…