As I mentioned at the end of part 1, when I think of North Dakota, I think of flat plains and endless winters and not much of interest besides hockey. But Theodore Roosevelt National Park was a new find for us and that became our next destination. While Theodore Roosevelt was not the first president to establish a national park, he spent a lot of time hunting bison in this part of the country and that along with his commitment to conservation, is the reason for its existence. This is the only national park named for a president and although it has been around since 1978, we had never heard of it.
The park is divided into two parts. We arrived in the northern section in the afternoon and followed the winding road through the park.
We had arrived when the light was just right for showing off the varigated layers of rock caused by millions of years of erosion. The Little Missouri River flows through the park, and at one lookout we realized we could see a large herd of bison along the edge of the river in the distance.
We had learned somewhere along the way that there are no buffalo in the United States; instead, they are all bison. Buffalo are native only to Africa and Asia but bison are found in both North America and Europe. Bob insists that Buffalo, New York, should be renamed Bison.
We spent the night in Dickinson, North Dakota, a college town of about 25,000, and then returned to the southern section of the park the next day. The landscape in this part was much different from what we had viewed the day before. Here the erosion had still created a lot of interesting formations but the road was flatter. We found ourselves in the middle of a traffic jam created by a herd of very slow moving bison crossing the road in front of us. In another location, a bison appeared just off the side of the road. The animals were so close that I didn’t need the zoom on my camera.
And we continued to see other wildlife as well. There are several sites along the drive in the southern section labeled Prairie Dog Town. And the prairie dogs stood up and posed for my camera.
According to the park literature, there was a horse roundup in 1954 after the park had been fenced, and the horses were removed. But a few escaped the roundup, and these horses live free-range in the park making it one of the few national parks where we can actually see free-roaming horses.
Because this national park is off the beaten path, we didn’t encounter crowds. It was definitely the highlight of our trip back east.
We went on to make a brief stop in Bismark, another capital we hadn’t seen. The capitol building struck us as unusual.
We then continued on to Minot. I read about the town’s history of illegal drugs and its connection to Al Capone’s bootlegging activities during Prohibition, leading to the town’s nickname, “Little Chicago.” But because Bob is Swedish and I am Danish, it was the Scandinavian Heritage Center we wanted to see. Here the state’s immigrants from Norway, Sweden, Denmark and Iceland are honored. The morning we visited was in the middle 90s so we spent a short time touring the grounds and seeing the highlights including the replica stave church. Then after a stop in the gift shop, we headed on.
We spent the night in Grand Forks and even though we’d been there before, we still had to take a second look at their nifty ice arena. Since our previous visit, they’d had a name change from the North Dakota Fighting Sioux to the North Dakota Fighting Hawks.
We had hoped the Canadian border would be open by the middle of the month but that didn’t happen so instead we decided to spend a week in Duluth, Minnesota, a port city on the shore of Lake Superior. We had traveled the never ending Great Plains across eastern Montana, all of North Dakota and now we were in western Minnesota. We continue to be amazed by the number and length of the trains we see.
Again in Duluth the only place I could find to stay for the week was a hotel. This one also had a separate room with a kitchenette and couch. In the lobby they even had a small bar area, almost like a closet, with a delightful host. In the middle of one afternoon as we were playing cribbage in the lobby, she plied us with cheese, summer sausage and crackers as well popcorn to go with our beverages.
On a sunny day we decided to drive part way up the scenic trail following the Lake Superior shore. We passed through many small towns with indications we were in the land of deer and winter activities.
There were spots to pull off with views of the lake and ships. We also stopped at Gooseberry Falls which even with less water than usual was still a pretty sight.
We also happened on Bridgemans, a restaurant that we knew when we lived in northern Wisconsin more than 40 years ago! Its specialty is ice cream so of course we had to have dessert, just to ensure their treats were just as good as we remembered. They definitely were!
We made a return stop at the Mayo Clinic for Bob to get his pacemaker checked. The Mayo brothers believed that the arts have a healing aspect and that exposure to them improves the quality of the experience for their patients. Throughout the buildings there is much to take in: Chihuly glass exhibits, a Rodin model of the Burghers of Calais, silk screen prints by Warhol, among others. There are grand pianos placed throughout the clinic with signs inviting folks to sit down and play. It all creates a peaceful and contemplative environment. In our case Bob’s visit was all about technology, and everything checked out perfectly. This was his three month check. We were surprised to learn he doesn’t have to have another in-person check for five years!
While we were definitely disappointed that we hadn’t been able to return east via Canada, we had learned a lot on our trek across northern United States. And we had one last stop: Milwaukee. We had invited our good friends of more than 40 years, the Terwalls from Kenosha, to come visit. How fun to be able to pick up with friends right where we left off last. We visited the Mitchell Park Botanical Domes which turned out to be a great spot to escape the continued heat.
Two more days of driving and we would arrive in DC. We stopped for a quick lunch meeting up with my friend Rita in Pittsburgh. Then finally, we arrived at our Airbnb for August, near our kids in Rockville and our son in DC. Since we left Seattle, the Delta variant has continued to grow in severity and we’re now back to wearing masks inside and even outside where we are in close proximity to others. But it’s been a year since we’ve met up with our youngest grandkids and we were definitely in need of some hugs!
We’ve spent the past five months in the West: Texas, New Mexico, Oregon and Washington, the longest we’ve ever stayed in one region of the country. It’s the end of June and our next reservation is just north of DC in Maryland but we don’t check in there until August 2. So we’re ready to leave Seattle with no definite plan for the month. This is something we never do. I usually try to plan five or six months out. But Covid has created quite the challenge for us this year. We had hoped that by the end of June, the Canadian border would be open and we could return east via the big cities of Canada. And while we were still hopeful that we might be able to do that in the middle of the month, it hadn’t opened yet. We thought about exploring the peninsula of Washington; we’d spent a little time there before but thought there was a lot left to see. Unfortunately, when I searched the Airbnb and VRBO websites I found that there was actually nothing available except for some campers which came with a price tag of more than $300 a night. We considered driving down to Boulder but there were several wildfires between us and there. I didn’t think we were being choosy. I was looking for somewhere that came with a price of not more than $100 a night and that didn’t come with 100 degree temps or a wildfire. Finally, we decided we’d head across the northern US and see what Montana had to offer.
It’s a scenic drive from Seattle across Idaho into Montana. Even stopping in the drive-thru at McDonalds provided us with a pretty view. We were struck by several empty mountain sides, the result of logging. And while we’d traveled this same road east to west previously, we realized, just as we have noticed elsewhere in the world, driving the route in reverse provides a totally new perspective.
Helena, Montana, was our first destination. We’d never been there before and I had found a Victorian Airbnb where we could spend a week. Helena, is the state capital of Montana. Its population is 32,000 which ranks it number six of least populated state capitals. (I found it surprising there are five state capitals with fewer people!) But because there isn’t much around it, it lives much bigger than most cities its size.
Our Airbnb was really an interesting home. The house was built in 1883 by John B Sanford. Mr. Sanford along with his partner, C.G. Evans owned the local feed store. Later Mr. Sanford moved out and Mr. Evans moved in. Although Mr. Evans signed his name C.G. and many called him Chris, his full name was Christmas Gift Evans, thus the name, The Christmas Gift House. We spent a lovely couple of hours with Dina, our host, and Dallas, the man who purchased the house more than 25 years ago and has lovingly been restoring it since that time. They told us story after story about the house as well as Helena and its history. Dallas’ talents are amazing. He has redone stairways, searched for and purchased period appropriate pieces as well as hung wallpaper of the time. The home has both a front and back stairway. In addition, the kitchen and baths have all been redone with modern day conveniences. We truly felt like we had been transported to a previous time. The hot weather had followed us to Helena and we were ecstatic when Dina and Dallas showed up with an air conditioner to make our stay even nicer. If you’re ever in Helena and looking for a place to stay I strongly suggest you check it out. https://www.airbnb.com/rooms/47749514?source_impression_id=p3_1628787130_aGOel2qd43Gcrps1&guests=1&adults=1
Most mornings I would sit on the front porch reading and enjoying my morning coffee as people would walk past on their way to work. One morning I looked up to find a large deer running down the sidewalk, obviously in a hurry to get somewhere.
Despite the fact that Helena is the capital, the focal point of the city is The Cathedral of St. Helena. It dates from 1914. It was designed by A.O. Von Herbulis, an architect from Washington DC and modeled after the Votivkirche in Vienna, that Von Herbulis had seen during his time studying in Vienna. The stained glass windows were designed and installed by a firm in Munich.
There are many interesting buildings in Helena. The state capitol is a pretty complex and is nicely landscaped.
In addition, we saw many beautiful Victorian homes: some are private homes, some businesses and even the original governor’s mansion.
A particularly interesting building was constructed in 1919 as the Algeria Shrine Headquarters. After suffering earthquake damage in 1935 the city purchased the Moorish revival style building and converted it into the Civic Center.
After a week we headed just up the road to Great Falls. We hadn’t eaten breakfast before we left Helena so we were starving when we got there. I checked out Yelp for a place to eat and we hit pay dirt with The Roadhouse Diner https://www.roadhousegf.com/#menu While I opted for something more traditional, Bob ordered the PBJ Burger. Yep, it had peanut butter on the cheese and burger and it was served on a grape jellied bun. Bob said it was delish. He added that he had to order it. After all, when would he ever get the chance again.
The only place I could find to rent here was a hotel room, but it turned out to be a perfect fit. It was just on the edge of town, and it had a kitchenette, and sitting area. In addition, sliders led out to a patio that faced a pedestrian walkway along the Missouri River and we spent most evenings sitting out there.
Fort Benton is about a thirty mile drive from Great Falls, about 27 miles of which are under construction, the old fashioned kind that shake you to the bone as you drive over unconstructed roadway.
Definitely not a pleasant experience. Fort Benton was established as the last fur trading post on the upper Missouri River in 1848. In 1850 it was formally named Fort Benton after Thomas Hart Benton, senator from Missouri. (Not to be confused with Thomas Hart Benton, the artist. The former was the artist’s great uncle.) This was a busy port for many years as it marks the end of navigable water on the Missouri River.
Lots of interesting stories abound. As we approached the town we saw a statue of a dog on the mountainside. Near the river is a memorial to the dog, Shep. It seems that in 1934 a sheepherder fell ill and when he was taken to the hospital, his dog sat outside the hospital door. A kind nun, who worked in the kitchen, fed the dog each day. When the herder died, they took his casket to the train and the dog appeared at the platform. From that day on for the next five and a half years, through bitter winters, and hot summer days, Shep met every incoming train. At first he was shooed away as a mongrel but eventually railroad employees saw to it that he was fed. People tried to adopt him, but Shep continued to return to the railway station. On one icy morning, he slipped on the icy rail and fell into the path of the outgoing train.
This is Lewis and Clark Country. Since grade school we’ve read about their incredible three year journey but it never really struck us before just how challenging the obstacles were that they overcame. We visited the Lewis and Clark Interpretive Center; we stopped at serveral pullouts along the road that explained specifics about their journey. No devices except compasses, stars and rough maps to guide them and then add in the weather, the animals and adversarial conditions they must have encountered. There were about 45 men total who began the expedition. That conjures up visions of many arguments along the way. And if it hadn’t been for Lewis and Clark establishing relationships with several Native American tribes who showed them how to find food, and survive the horrific heat of the summer and the cold of the winter, they never would have made it. It’s beyond anything we can imagine today. How strange we study them as explorers. It seems to me they’re more like American Heroes!
A staff person at our hotel had told us about a park just north of town where we could see the Great Falls. We had seen a smaller falls on our way to the Interpretive Center but were anxious to see the big one.
So before we headed further east we again drove part way up the construction area and then turned off on smaller roads to get to the Great Falls. Imagine our disappointment when we were met with a sign that said, “Road Closed Beyond This Point.”
The drive across Montana is a barren one. We were careful to monitor our gas consumption whenever we entered a place of significant size. (Significant size was any place that had a stop light, a gas station, a place to eat and maybe even a motel.) This is also big wheat country. Some of the counties in this area produce the most wheat anywhere in the country.
We spent a night in Glasgow, which is defines itself as “In the Middle of Nowhere!” Glasgow, Montana, is a town of 3,000 people and is located more than four and a half hours from any town with a population of more than 75,000. Glasgow was determined in 2018 by a group at Oxford University together with the Washington Post to be officially the “Middle of Nowhere.”
Leaving Montana we still had nearly 1900 miles left to get to Washington DC. North Dakota was next and while it’s difficult to conjure up anything in my mind but plains and hockey when I think of North Dakota, I just knew we’d find some surprises along the way!
It’s a short drive from Portland to Seattle, less than three hours. It was a pretty day and not too warm so we decided to drive through Olympia, have some lunch and check out the capitol. The capitol building is traditional and nicely landscaped.
Driving into Seattle we are immediately reminded that a major drawback to this metropolitan area is the awful traffic. As pretty as the skyline of Seattle is, it seems like no matter what direction you’re headed I5 is the major road to get you there.
As a result we generally asked Google to route us off highways. It usually didn’t take us much longer and we got to see a lot of the city neighborhoods. As I mentioned previously we were in Seattle to check in on my sister who has dementia and lives in a lovely memory care unit at Aegis on Madison. I spent the better part of the month sorting out details for her. But with most of the tasks under control, we were thrilled when my friend Rita came to vist at the end of the month and we could relax and take in the sights.
Our Airbnb was about 45 minutes north of downtown in Edmonds. Located right on the Sound, the view was spectacular. When the weather wasn’t too hot we enjoyed spending late afternoons on the deck and watching the traffic on the sound as well as Washington state ferries travel back and forth Kingston to Edmonds.
Unfortunately we also were there for their heatwave. We’re not sure what we’ve done to anger the gods but we’ve managed to experience weather extremes in an incredible way for all of 2021. First, we were in San Antonio for the great power outage and for most of the spring and summer we were in parts of the country with severe drought and now we can add the Northwest heat wave to that list. We didn’t even consider visiting California where the wildfires and drought are having major impacts on the locals. Seattle, we read, is the least air conditioned city in the country. We’ve noticed in the past that when the weather pushes 60 people are out in tee shirts and shorts, and when it gets to the middle 70s, folks complain about the heat. This stretch of weather in the high 90s and in some places exceeding 100 was unheard of! We were among the fortunate, however, our airbnb was air conditioned!
So what to do for fun? We had hoped to go to the Seattle Art Museum but as luck would have it there was a special exhibit coming the very week we wanted to go. So next on the list?
Feeling disappointed, I thought we needed to find something else uniquely Seattle. I had it! Let’s show Rita the troll. There is a legend in the Fremont area that a troll has lived under the Aurora Bridge ever since its construction in the early 1930s. In 1989 a competition was held to rejuvenate the area under the bridge that had become an area for dumping and drug dealing. The result was an 18 foot troll who is crushing a Volkswagen Beetle in his left hand. He is awesome!
The Washington Park Arboretum at the University of Washington has a lovely tranquil Japanese garden that folks had suggested we visit. It was a lovely place to stroll on a warm morning and surprisingly not real busy.
From there we decided to take in the Hiram Chittenden Locks near Ballard. I find locks fascinating. These go from salt water of the Sound to fresh water of the ship canal at the end of Lake Washington. Not having a science background it is difficult for me to understand why, after more than a hundred years of boats going between the two bodies (Lake Washington and Puget Sound), that the water is not all the same level of salinity. The afternoon we were there we saw pleasure boats, a tug and even a coast guard cutter go through.
There were lots of workers who eagerly answered our many questions. It seems hard to fathom that boats continuously use the locks 24/7. Knowing how expensive it is for many boats to travel through the locks at the Panama Canal, I inquired about the cost folks have to pay to traverse these locks, the response was, “Nothing. Passage is free to all boaters!” Wow! It’s also amazing how so many boats are able to move in and get tied up in such an efficient matter. I saw online there are videos for boat owners to watch explaining the process. I think it would be pretty intimidating for a novice. I was also fascinated by the safety gear worn by those working directly with the boaters. they were teathered to the railing protecting them from accidental falls in the water below.
Mountains are a big part of everyday life in Seattle. We were reminded of that on most days when we drove into the city and Mount Rainer loomed in front of us.
The Washington State Ferry System carries more vehicles than any other ferry system in the world! And given the heat we figured a trip over to Kingston from Edmonds would be a nice way to spend a Saturday. It’s quite a wait to board the Edmonds ferry anytime but especially on a Saturday. I read this past week that the ferry we rode, the Walla Walla, was taken out of service for mechanical issues so I guess we were lucky to only have to wait for an hour and a half. These ferries are large. Ours carried 206 vehicles and 2000 passengers. It’s was a short 20 minute ride and we could see Mt Baker to the north!
The ferry docks in Kingston on the Kitsap Peninsula. We continued on to Poulsbo, a charming town of about 11,000, known as Little Norway to the locals, honoring its immigrant history. There we found the main street, next to Liberty Bay Harbor, lined with a variety of shops with the main emphasis on all things Scandinavian. Of course, Rita and I found many items too good to pass up. The ferry ride back was a welcome break from the continuing heat!
The Seattle Center is a touristy destination built for the 1962 Worlds Fair. We decided we’d first visit the Seattle Sculpture Garden because of its close proximity to the Center. There we found several interesting pieces but were surprised that they all seemed very modern in nature and few in number.
We purchased our tickets for the Chihuly Exhibit on machines outside in the bright sunlight and were surprised when we realized we had purchased tickets for the Space Needle as well. This was something that interested Rita so Bob and I told her to go ahead and we would meet her in the Chihuly exhibit. Dale Chihuly is from Seattle and his work was greatly influenced by Native American tribes. We’ve seen Chihuly’s glass in Minnesota, North Carolina, Michigan and it all begins to look the same to my untrained eye. But what I really enjoyed in his Seattle exhibit were the baskets. These were all made by Native American weavers from Pacific Northwest Tribes. They are absolutely breathtaking.
Snoqualmie Falls is a scenic destination about 30 miles southeast of Seattle. The Snoqualmie Tribe believes this is where life began! And today the 270 foot high falls produces hydroelectric power for the Puget Sound area. There’s a walkway that takes you down along the side of the falls and of course, as we returned to our car, we found the ubiquitous gift shop!
We find that whenever we are near the sea we have to check out seafood restaurants. We have a couple of favorites in Seattle: Arnies in Edmonds and Chinooks in Salmon Bay both for their selections and their views. But we also really liked Ivars Mulkiteo Landing. It was a hot afternoon when we were there and there was no place inside, but we were able to sit at a table under an umbrella and had a wonderful meal with a great view.
It was time for Rita to fly home and the sun is soon setting on our time in Seattle. It’s been a lot of fun to have a good friend to share some of our explorations with us. The Canada border remains closed, at least for the next month, so instead of heading to British Columbia and the great cities of Canada, our next destination will be Helena, Montana.
Driving into Portland the profusion of color was beyond belief! It’s as though the earth had burst open with color! Never had we seen so many rhododendrons in such variety of colors! We weren’t sure we’d meet our host but she was just getting ready to leave as we pulled up. She showed us through the house and the lovely back patio and garden area, a perfect place for a glass of wine and a game of cribbage in the afternoon. In addition the home came with a friendly squirrel that provided us entertainment with his maneuvers on the bird feeder!
After five days of what seemed like endless driving, it felt good to finally be able to stay put for the next month. And for the next couple of days we pretty much did nothing but get settled.
Because of the mild year round climate Portland is a perfect place for gardens. We had planned on visiting the Japanese Garden but then later eliminated it because of its extensive uphill and down dale walkways. I enjoy walking but perhaps that wasn’t the best choice after Bob’s recent pacemaker surgery. Instead we chose the International Rose Test Garden just across the road. During World War I there was a great fear that Europe’s hybrid roses would be lost. The English sent many of their roses to Portland and The International Rose Test Garden was established. The roses bloom generally between April and September. And although we were there in early May, there weren’t many. But what we did see were rhododendrons. Wow! Rhododendrons have long been one of my favorites but I had no idea they grew so large or that there were multicolored varieties. And we had come at their peak! The garden was amazing. And it was free.
A week later we visited the Crystal Springs Rhododendron Garden. This garden which dates from the early 1900s was started by William Ladd, who was Portland’s mayor at the time, and the garden was part of his farm. There are bridges and picnic areas and ponds. I felt like I had been transported into a Victorian novel.
There are innumerable gardens in Portland, but like cherubs in the churches of Europe, I find after a couple, I’m saturated. And plus, as I mentioned at the beginning of this post, every street we turned down was absolutely stunning with its own blooms, so many we had never seen before! And we saw countless types of dogwood!
One of the things we like best about Portland is the nonconformist philosophy of the city and the way the area seems to march to its own drummer. We love the neighborhoods of craftsman homes dating to the early part of the twentieth century with their low pitched roofs and lovely covered front porches. What a safe way, during Covid, for residents to interact with neighbors as they walk down the street. Neighborhoods are diverse in age and race and in our interactions with the locals, we found people to be friendly and enthusiastic about their city.
We were saddened by all the stores boarded up in downtown Portland as well as the thousands of homeless people trying to figure out how to survive another day.
The city, like so many others, is wrestling to find a solution. It seems to me that because there are so many reasons why a person becomes homeless, it’s overly simplistic to think we can come up with a one size fits all solution. Perhaps the fact that the situation has become so visably apparent to all will force us as a society to begin to address the inequities of life in our country.
The Columbia and Willamette Rivers seem to be the heart of Portland. The Willamette (rhymes with Damn It) has its source near Springfield, Oregon, and flows north for nearly 200 miles before emptying into the Columbia just north of Portland. The Columbia begins its flow at the base of the Canadian Rockies in British Columbia and eventually enters into the Pacific at Astoria, just 95 miles northwest of Portland. This was one of our first day trips. Astoria, the oldest city in Oregon, was founded by Jacob Astor in 1811, the first American settlement west of the Rocky Mountains.
We had hoped we’d be able to see its mouth where the Columbia River flows into the Pacific but were unaware that at that point the river is five miles wide. Astoria is located on the border of Washington and Oregon with a long wide bridge over the Columbia connecting the two. Still the ships and the majestic river took our breath away. The huge Victorian homes gave us a feel of what the city must have been like in times past. The states of Washington and Oregon were still restricting a lot of activities until a majority of its citizens were vaccinated so we found most establishments closed.
From Astoria we drove down the coast as far as Cannon Beach. Here there was a lot more activity than in Astoria but still folks were taking precautions seriously. Both masking and social distancing were observed. But even with the cool windy weather, we found lots of people out walking and enjoying the springtime. Rock formations, including Haystack Rock, is an iconic sight as the basalt rock emerges 235 feet high from the shallow water; however, we were disappointed that we were a little too early to see any tufted puffins.
Portland has a lot of street art. Some murals focus on the environment; others on the different cultures. There’s always more going up. There are lots of lists online so I plotted out a trek across the city on my phone and we spent an afternoon enjoying. Here are a few we saw.
Just as we were returning to our home, we came upon a poignant memorial in the yard of the United Church of Christ, just across the street from our Airbnb. The next day was the anniversary of George Floyd’s death.
Our weather was really perfect the entire month of May. So on one beautiful day we decided to drive down to Mt. Hood. We found we could avoid the interstate and still do it in about an hour and a half. We drove through a lot of small villages with lots of pretty views.
We were amazed when we got up to the Timberline Lodge that although it was in the 60s and we thought, by midwest standards, the snow was pretty patchy, folks were still skiing and snowboarding. I guess those addicted to the sport will go out every chance they get.
Late one weekday morning we set out for Multnomah Falls, but lots of other people had the same idea, and that combined with the fact that the largest parking lot had been closed, there was absolutely no place to park. We were disappointed but we had been lucky to visit a couple of times previously. We were still able to drive through the park area that took us up close to the Multnomah Falls as well as Horsetail Falls.
Okay, so what should we do instead? We’ve visited all but a few of our state capitals but Salem was one of those few. We checked Google maps and found it was less than 80 miles south of us so we decided we’d drive down to have a look. Salem is a city of about 175,000 located on the Willamette River. It’s also on the 45th parallel, halfway between the equator and the North Pole. The state capitol is known for its gold leaf pioneer statue on top.
Most interesting was the park across from the capitol that has markers in the ground explaining the history of Oregon, many of them excerpts from pioneer diaries. The Kalapuyans and their descendants, part of the Confederated Tribes of the Grand Ronde Community of Oregon, have lived in the area for more than 10,000 years. The first Europeans, like most of the northwest, were fur traders and missionaries.
Before we left Portland we wanted to check out its Saturday market. We’ve found that lots of the markets, both in the US and Europe have mostly mass produced items with locally made crafts few and far between. We were pleasantly surprised that this one featured lots of original items for sale.
After four wonderful weeks in Portland we were now heading to Seattle for a month. Because I have a sister in Seattle, we have been there more times that we can count. This wouldn’t be a city where we’d do a lot of sightseeing. We are going there for family business. But at the end of the month, my friend Rita, is coming out to spend a week with us and since Seattle is new for her, we’ll have fun showing her the sights. So we leave Mt Hood behind and look forward to seeing Mt Ranier.
Since we began our travels seven years ago, we’ve rarely taken the most direct route. Instead we tend to see what there is to see between where we are and where we are heading and then zigzag among the sights! Ah, the luxury of having all the time in the world. We have reservations for the month of May in Portland followed by June in Seattle so our detour to Minnesota from southern New Mexico was going to add a few miles. Next question was what’s to see in between?
The landscape continues to change as we head north, leaving the desert and moving into the high country. New Mexico is a really interesting state. But for me, it would take some time getting used to all the open space. I think you’d have to be pretty self-sufficient to live here. Unless your home is in one of a few cities, you definitely can’t make a quick run to the store.
We had planned to spend a couple of days in Santa Fe and the surrounding area but then I read that high elevations increase demands on the heart. Doesn’t seem to be a smart decision to dawdle here given that our whole purpose of the Minnesota detour is to get Bob a pacemaker. So we made a quick trip through the downtown, enough to make us realize we definitely want to come back to experience more of this beautiful city and check out the historic mountain pueblos as well.
Leaving Santa Fe we continued our trek north. After driving through hundreds of miles of barren land we decided to make a stop in Trinidad, Colorado, an old mining town with a lot of history. In the early 20th century the owners of the coal mines made a lot of money and the town has many huge Victorian homes reflecting that wealth. But life wasn’t quite so good for the miners and in 1914 the horrific Ludlow Massacre was the result of the conflict between the two sides. https://www.britannica.com/event/Ludlow-Massacre There are several monuments honoring the minors including the iconic canary! The last local mine closed in 2012 but an Australian company was trying to buy the mine and reopen it in 2020. Then the pandemic hit so I’m not sure where it all stands today.
Just a couple hours beyond Trinidad we came to Colorado Springs, a pretty city, made all the more beautiful with Pikes Peak hanging as a backdrop. We spent a morning driving through the Garden of the Gods.
The altitude was still high but we figured we’d not be doing a lot of walking and only spending a few hours there. We’d visited several times but it never fails to impress. We were thrilled by all the bighorn sheep that came down to greet the park visitors!
From Colorado Springs we headed east and into the flat endless plains. Throughout the plains we were nearly blown off our feet whenever we stepped out of the car. No wonder there are so many windmills!
There are currently 13 presidential museums and libraries. We have sort of seen seven of them. I say sort of because while we visited Jimmy Carter’s Museum and Library in Atlanta last November, because of Covid we weren’t able to do more than tour the grounds. We also have visted Jerry Ford’s Museum in Grand Rapids, but he is the only president to have his library and museum in two different locations. And we have not been to his library in Ann Arbor.
President Eisenhower’s Museum and Library are located in Abilene, Kansas. So that became our next destination. Again, because of Covid we could only wander through the grounds. But in this case I thought it added to the provenance. It was a cool drizzly Sunday morning in this little town that pretty much defines itself as Eisenhower’s home. Trees and bushes were just beginning to blossom and the grounds are spread out among his childhood home, his library, several monuments and his burial site. With the exception of a lone security guard we were the only ones there.
The silence enhanced reflection on the world and how it evolved during Eisenhower’s lifetime: from his earliest years in Abilene during the late 1890s (less than a decade after Abilene was known as part of the “End of the Chisolm Trail,”) continuing through his years as commander of the expeditionary forces of the allied troops during World War II, on through the years when he was president of Columbia University, and continuing through the years when he was president of the United States and finally during his years of retirement on his farm in Gettysburg. I don’t think we’ve had many presidents whose greatest has been defined outside of the presidency, a few perhaps but not many. I definitely believe Eisenhower’s was. And the fact that the statue of him has him in his military dress suggests that perhaps others believe this to be true as well! I think about all the streets and boulevards we’ve seen in Europe named after him. Ah, but I digress!
Driving on to Manhattan Kansas, we stopped long enough to drive through the campus of Kansas State University. We were pleasantly surprised by this lovely campus. The grounds are hilly and nicely landscaped and definitely have the feel of a collegiate atmosphere.
Those of you who know me and my connection to literacy will not be surprised when I say the library facade is my favorite. The books are each 25 feet tall and 9 feet wide. I thought it was a wonderful idea that they had community members and library patrons vote to decide which 22 book covers should be included! Again, Kansas City is a city I want to return to after things open up. Truly, had we not had a taste of it on our cross country odyssey I never would have considered it a destination!
We were nearing Minnesota but we still had one last place to visit. That was West Branch, Iowa, a tiny hamlet of 2,000 people that was the home of Herbert Hoover. Just like Abilene, Kansas, this is a town that totally identifies itself with its famous native son. In a much more modest fashion, but similar to Eisenhower’s complex, an area has been preserved in much the same way it was during Hoover’s time there. The graves of President Hoover and his wife are atop a hill that overlooks the town. I could remember seeing Hoover occasionally on TV when I was a child but couldn’t conjure up any memories of his wife. When I looked it up I realized that’s because she died before I was born. And he lived twenty years more, until 1964.
After more than 1700 miles we reached Rochester, Minnesota. The weather had cooperated and while we had encountered a bit of rain, we’d not had anything horrendous. But it was cold! When it began to snow just a couple of hours south of Rochester, I realized how optimistic I had been when I chose to wear sandals that morning!
Bob had his preappointments at the clinic and then his surgery to get his pacemaker. I continue to be amazed by the Mayo Clinic. This quote of Dr. William Mayo, posted on one of the clinic walls, reflects the institution’s philosophy still today!
Bob’s surgery took a bit more than two hours but throughout his operation I received updated text messages. First he had gone into surgery. Then the surgery had begun. Next the pacemaker was inserted. The wires were being attached. It was really phenomenal. About 7 hours after we had arrived we were headed back to our hotel room. And the next morning at 9 am we had a meeting with a “technologist” who charted the data received from the pacemaker. We were told that there was an app we could download on his phone that would transmit the data back to his doctors periodically. He doesn’t need to return for three months. We were good to go. One catch, he can’t lift anything heavier than 5 pounds for 4 weeks nor can he drive for 10 days. As a result you’ll notice there are fewer pictures than usual for the remainder of Oregon Trail trip. It’s difficult to drive and take pictures at the same time! But Portland here we come!
Our reservation in Portland was scheduled to begin Monday, May 3. That gave us three full days and two half days of driving. We’ve have to travel about 450 miles a day; that seemed doable. We decided to follow I 90 which is the most direct way. This interstate roughly follows the path of the Oregon Trail. We’ve traveled to Seattle more times than we can count so there weren’t a lot of stops we planned to make along the way. But when we approached Badlands National Park we couldn’t just drive on! There’s a loop through the park that starts at one exit on I 90 and then about 35 miles later we met up with I 90 again at Wall Drug and yes, we made a stop there too, for an ice cream cone!
More than 30 years ago when we first visited the Badlands our oldest son commented that he thought the landscape looked like he envisioned walking on the moon. And I think of that whenever we return. Like so many other places we’ve visited, it’s hard to imagine what the pioneers must have thought when they first came upon this unusual landscape! Even today visitors are warned to watch out for rattlesnakes and stinging insects and not to get too close to wild animals noting that bison can run as fast as 30 mph. But the views are amazing and there were plenty of places to pull off and contemplate all that we were seeing.
I 90 across Minnesota, South Dakota, and cutting up through the corner of Wyoming and then into eastern Montana is pretty flat. We found Spotify to be a welcome addition to our travels across this barren countryside, and we chose western music to complement the scenery. We half expected a group of cattle rustlers to come riding in but with the exception of a few pheasants and a couple of pronghorn antelope, we didn’t come across any other wildlife, human or otherwise!
But the rest of Montana? This was worth the wait! Just as we approached Butte, the landscape began to change. This is where we met up with the Rockies! As we first glimpsed the mountains, we found ourselves, saying, “Wow! Look there! And there!” And the fact that the Rockies are snowcapped this time of year makes them all the more beautiful.
We continued across Montana passing through Bozeman and Butte and Missoula. And the scenery only got better. Crossing into Idaho we went over the Shoshone Pass at 4,725 feet that climbs through the Coeur d’Alene Mountains, part of the Bitterroot Range. Not only was the scenery magnificent but the 80 mph speed limit allowed us to make really good time.
We had planned on stopping in Spokane but it was still early so we drove on to Kennewick, Washington, and the Columbia River. Kennewick is the largest of the tri-cities of Paseo, Richland and Kennewick. Archeologists have found evidence that Native Americans have lived in this area for thousands of years. The population increased considerably in the 1940s when people moved here to work on the Manhatten Project. Richland is the location for the Hanford Site, part of the Department of Energy and in the middle 1960s the Pacific Northwest Laboratory (also part of the Department of Energy) was constructed in Richland and is now the major source of employment. Until we drove into Kennewick, we hadn’t realized how big a city it was!
On our final section of our drive we followed the Columbia River from Kennewick all the way to Portland.
As we continued down I 90, Mt. Hood came into view directly in front of us. I find the Cascades really interesting since they have so many iconic volcanoes lined up in a row from California nearly to the Canadian border: Mt Shasta, Mt Hood, Mt Saint Helens, Mt Rainer, Mt Baker!
We started our trek less than 40 miles from the Mexican border, traveled to the midwest and are now in Portland, Oregon, where we’re approximately 300 miles from the Canadian border. It’s been a journey of nearly 4,000 miles since we left Las Cruces less than two weeks ago. We’ve had fun, and we’ve seen a lot, but I have to admit, I have no desire to get in a car for a few days!
We’ve rented a condo for six weeks in the Old Mesilla, just on the outskirts of Las Cruces, New Mexico. The steps to the second floor are a major chore when unloading the car (and will be again when we pack up; this time without Patrick’s help!) but the view from the balconies is worth the effort. From one balcony we have a view of the courtyard and pool of the complex and from the other balcony we can see the mountains and watch the sun set. It feels very Mexican here. We hear lots of Spanish everywhere we go; signs are in both Spanish and English; radio stations are often in both languages and the food, oh the wonderful Mexican food! We are about 50 miles from the Mexican border. As an added bonus all the trees were beginning to bloom just as we arrived! What a great March surprise!
We’ve passed through New Mexico on several trips but never spent a lot of time here. I’ve always sort of lumped it together with Arizona even though I’ve been told the two are very different. I chose a location in southern New Mexico because the temperatures would be warm. But the first thing that hit me was the history…
I remember studying the Gadsen Purchase and The Treaty of Guadalupe in school but there’s something about actually seeing the markers in person that makes it all come to life. The Treaty of Guadalupe Hildalgo ended the Mexican American War but left the possession of the Messilla Valley in question. The Gadsen Purchase, signed in 1854, resulted in the US paying Mexico ten million dollars for more than 29,000 square miles of what today is part of Arizona and New Mexico. Even after the treaty was signed, tensions still existed as a result of differences in maps and surveys but the purchase did establish what today is still the border of the southwestern United States and Mexico.
We’re definitely not used to the desert climate. When we first arrived we were shocked to learn the humidity was seven per cent. We lather up with cream each day but still find that our skin often feels dry and itchy. We can’t figure out why the temperatures feel warmer than the same temperatures do in Michigan. For instance, it was 68 degrees one afternoon when I was sitting on the balcony reading, and I finally had to go inside because it was so hot. Perhaps it has to do with the direction of the sun? On the other hand, we often experience very windy conditions, sometimes making it feels downright wintry! On my birthday weekend we had planned on going north to Taos and Los Alamos, but the weather refused to cooperate and we decided we didn’t want to encounter the snow predicted for that area. So we chose to sightsee in Mesilla. It was really chilly here as well. But the upside was we didn’t have to face any crowds when we spent the afternoon in Mesilla Square wandering through shops. We stopped for a drink and a snack in a local hotel and opted, because of Covid, to sit in the courtyard. Thankfully, they had heaters above and next to tables making it tolerable.
We also drove out to Organ Mountains Desert Peak National Monument. So bleak but beautiful. The wind was so strong we could hardly get the car doors open! But we we stayed warm and toasty in the car. We got back to the apartment and enjoyed a birthday cake Stephen and Sadie and the kids had surpised me with! Yummy!
The Organ Mountains provide a beautiful backdrop to the city of Las Cruces. On one of our first weekends we decided to visit White Sands National Park. Patrick had been there once before while visiting a friend. But for Bob and me, who grew up familiar with huge sand dunes on the southern shore of Lake Michigan… well, we weren’t sure what to expect. It’s only about an hour’s drive from Las Cruces to the park across the mountains. It appeared, when we arrived, that a lot of other people thought this was a good outdoor activity as well.
At the gate of White Sands we were greeted with this sign. It was absolutely huge and the date made no sense to us. Why wouldn’t it be year round? Bob suggested perhaps Spring Breakers?
The line to get into the park went quickly and we found families hiking, picnicking, even sledding in the sand. It isn’t really what we think of as sand but gypsum. And it’s snow white. In fact it looks far more like snow than sand! There is one road that meanders through the park with lots of places to pull off. We walked out on a boardwalk for perhaps a quarter mile but I couldn’t get used to the idea that it was just dunes and more dunes. I kept expecting to see a body of water appear!
Pat decided it was time for him to head back to DC. One plus of the pandemic has been the opportunity to be able to spend time with at least a couple of our kids. First, back at the start, now more than a year ago, when Cary got stuck in the US for a couple of months. And for the past few months we’ve been able to enjoy Pat’s company as working remotely has provided him the opportunity to travel with us. Having extended periods of time with two of our adult kids has truly been a gift! We found that Patrick could get a direct flight from Phoenix and since it’s not like we have a busy social schedule, we decided we we’d make the 5 hour trek and that way, he’d be back in DC a few short hours after leaving us.
By staying off the interstate once again, we saw some great Arizona countryside. And even some saguaro cacti!
Since we are big Cubs fans and also grew up near Chicago we really wanted to see the Wrigley Mansion. There’s also a great view of the city of Phoenix from the climb up to the residence.
Finally, we made a stop at the Japanese Gardens but were interrupted by rain. We also encountered rain on our drive back to Mesilla the following day. It only rains about 43 days a year in this part of the country, and they count the precipitation if it measures as little as .01 inch. We found it disconcerting to read about the fire warnings repeatedly. It appears that if something caught fire it would be difficult to contain it, particularly with all the wind!
And the state license plate, doesn’t instill a lot of faith in the understanding of US geography by its citizens. Really? You have to add the country? No other state on any of our borders needs to!
Like many places we’ve visited Las Cruces has a local market. There’s not a lot available in March and April, a few handmade crafts and of course, the the ubiquitous chilis. What huge sacks! And I was amazed to see how the heat level of the chilis was marked on each. (We’ve learned that the Scoville Scale measures the heat or spiciness of chili peppers!)
But while we weren’t surprised with the presence of all the chilis we were astonished at the number of pecan groves we saw. They seem to be everywhere! We couldn’t help but wonder where all the water came from to irrigate them! According to the state of New Mexico website pecans are the number one commercial food crop in the state. More than 67 milion pounds of pecans (in the shell) are sent to market each year. The website says that’s more than the combined weight of 67 Boeing jumbo jets. And it accounts for nearly 41 million dollars in sales! Who knew? We always thought of Georgia as the pecan state!
Sometimes we find we just have to make a trip to check out locales with unusual names like Truth or Consequences, New Mexico. It seems in the 1950s Hot Springs became Truth or Consequences, as part of a publicity scheme to celebrate the tenth anniversary of the radio show, Truth or Consequences, hosted by Ralph Edwards. Evidently, Ralph Edwards, who was popular in days past, used to visit the town annually to celebrate the Truth or Consequences Fiesta. And while Edwards passed away many years ago, the Fiesta celebration continues to this day. It’s a town of only 6,000 and they definitely make the most of the name year round.
Wikipedia describes Truth or Consequences as a small resort town in New Mexico. That seemed like a stretch to us! The town has an ancient hot springs but the biggest draw is the dammed up resevoir on the Rio Grande where people come to boat and swim. We drove out to the resevoir and Elephant Butte Lake State Park. As we paid the fee to get into park, we asked about what to see in the area. We really stumped the guy. He didn’t seem to know how to respond. I guess all the residents don’t seem to think of their locale as a “resort” area.
When I think of the Rio Grande I think of the border between the United States and Mexico and frankly, I didn’t know much more about it than that. We were surprised to learn that its source is in western Colorado and it gets much of its water from the snow runoff of the San Juan Mountains. It flows through Las Cruces as well as being the source of the resevoir described above. I always picture the Rio Grande as providing a welcome respite from the hot sun in the arid desert areas of the southwest. In reality most of the places we met up with it, the river looked very little like that description and more like the picture below. And we were visiting in March and April not during the heat of the year. But I did read that southern New Mexico is affected by the North American Monsoon Season (NAMS) from June 30 – September 30. I had no idea there is a monsoon season in the United States!
We’ve spent quite a bit of time in the southwest over the past few years, southern California, Arizona, Texas and now New Mexico. We are often befuddled by the number of border security stations we encounter. No where along the northern borders have we seen anything that resembles that. As I’ve mentioned in previous blogs, I continue to be confused about their purpose. If it’s to prevent human trafficking that’s one thing, but it sure seems like the quick way the authorities do a visual scan as you pass through, that it’s more like profiling. And again as I’ve mentioned before, if I weren’t caucasian, I’d be really frightened.
We’ve had a wonderful six weeks in New Mexico. The weather has been great and we’ve had a lovely stay in a wonderful spacious condo. Our original plan was to head from here up the west coast of California ending up in Seattle for June but we’ve decided to take a detour. Bob has known for a while that he needs to get a pacemaker so we’re going to head from here to the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota, just a slight detour and then continue on our way west. Hopefully, the weather will cooperate as we make our way across the plains!
From the moment we arrived in San Antonio we were impressed with how seriously everyone was taking the pandemic. Signs on local businesses all required masks and people were following the rules. We wanted to investigate the local area so it seemed like a great idea to check out sites where we could socially distance. We began with San Antonio Missions National Historical Park. In 2015, the five missions: Mission Concepcion, Mission San Jose, Mission San Juan, and Mission Espada, Mission San Antonio de Valero were declared a World Heritage Site, one of only 24 in the United States. Four of the missions are still operating as churches, part of the Archdiosis of San Antonio. I was particularly interested in Mission San Jose, because I have a picture taken with my mother in 1948 in front of the Rose Window. La Ventana de Rosa was completed in 1755 and thought to be one of the best examples of Baroque Architecture in the United States. Little is known of its sculptor. The Missions represent a living history of the blend of cultures of the Spanish and the indiginous communities.
Our Airbnb is in the historic King William neighborhood of San Antonio. We have a great front porch, a perfect place for people watching, reading a good book or a conversation.
This neighborhood was quite the place in the 1800s as we could see by the many palatial homes. Today this is an area of gift shops, a craft brewery and many restaurants. But we didn’t visit any because of Covid.
As I reflect on our years of travel, (We’re beginning year seven.) I realize that travel for us is different from most of the full time travelers’ blogs that I follow. I’ve mentioned before that our pace is far slower. I find myself exhausted as I read the frenetic schedules that many follow. Because we’re not limited by time I think we’re allowed a different perspective. While I read about an area both before we arrive and while we’re there, our stays don’t follow a long list of must do’s. Those play a small part of our day-to-day lives. Instead we’re trying to get a feel for the part of the world where we are currently residing, always comparing it to places we’ve been and experiences we’ve had. Our travels have enabled to us “live” for a month or so in many places where we would never move full time; we’ve learned a lot. Because we are both love history, I think we look less at specific sights and more at the impact those sights or events had on the lives of people who live there. I’m sure many would find our approach boring but it works for us. And I believe that’s a key to happy traveling…doing things the way they work for you. A day at the beach reading a book. A drive through the mountains. A trip to the grocery store. A random conversation with a person I meet in the post office. These are all things that I enjoy. I often ask locals for their ideas about what to see, where to eat, interesting sights, particularly those off the beaten track. And we’ve had many interesting adventures as a result.
Just a couple of days after we arrived I began to check online to see what Texas procedures were for getting the Covid vaccine. I couldn’t believe my eyes when I found a site that showed many openings for the following week. No residency requirement was listed. As I began typing in my information, I yelled to Bob, and soon we had two appointments for our first vaccine at the UT Health Center in San Antonio. I was stunned! I still wasn’t sure what was going to happen when we showed our Michigan drivers licenses for identification, but I shouldn’t have worried. All went smoothly.
We arrived on the appointed day, and I’ve never experienced a more efficient process. Our names were checked against the appointment log. Then they moved us to the next location where we showed our IDs. Then we were directed to individuals who gave us our shots. We each were given a proof of vaccine card with our follow up appointments listed. Finally, we were asked to sit for 15 minutes to ensure we didn’t have any reaction. That was it! The entire process couldn’t have taken more than 45 minutes. Very impressive. Thank you, Texas!
Then there’s always the unexpected. And one of the most daunting experiences of our travels happened during this stay in San Antonio.
We woke up on the Friday before Valentine’s Day to a thermostat that read 53. We cranked it up to 90, turned on the oven and put a pot of water on the stove to boil. We managed to get it up to 57 but it didn’t budge beyond that. I contacted our Airbnb host who didn’t seem too concerned but said she’d try to get someone to come out and look at it. Finally, about 4:30 a nice young man appeared and after climbing into the attic (where the furnace is located!) told us that the back of the furnace had come off and that all the heat was staying in the attic instead of coming down the vents into the living area. He said things should warm up shortly. We were ecstatic! Ah heat! Life was good again!
As mundane as it sounds, one of my favorite things to do is to check out local supermarkets, and for the past year this has been a real challenge Since Covid, I generally make grocery lists and then use the curbside pick up most supermarkets offer. I had done the same thing this time but when the app said I couldn’t pick it up until Monday, I decided I might as well go in. I’d be masked as would everyone else! And I’d never been in an H-E-B supermarket. I wanted to check it out. I wouldn’t be in the store long. Wow! I couldn’t have been more wrong! I should have known when I went into the store and couldn’t find a cart that maybe this wasn’t a typical day! I quickly went through the store picking up just the items I had on my list and then headed to the line! The place is absolutely huge! The line at the check out the longest I’ve ever seen anywhere!
Holy moly! An hour and 45 minutes later I had my order paid for and was on my way out of the store. I think it must have been a combination of Valentines Day weekend and the wintry weather forecast that caused the craziness. But as I was soon to learn, it was a good thing I hadn’t waited to pick up the groceries on Monday.
We had planned on venturing further away from the city over Valentines Day as Pat had a three day weekend. Then we saw there were predictions for really cold temperatures. It wouldn’t be much fun to walk along the Texas shore in freezing temps so we decided to postpone our outing until another weekend. The weather forecast continued to deteriorate over the next few days. When we woke up on Valentine’s Day we wondered if someone had moved San Antonio to Michigan. We couldn’t believe there was several inches of snow on the ground.
The heat in our Airbnb continued to work hard to keep the temps tolerable. But as Sunday turned into Monday we had to set the thermostat to 90 to get it anywhere close to 70. Wearing sweatshirts and wrapped in blankets as we watched television kept us pretty comfortable. I had just made a second pot of coffee on Tuesday morning when I noticed Alexa was black. Then I realized our power had gone off. The news was saying that because Texas is on a separate grid from the rest of the country, the entire state would be experiencing rolling blackouts in an attempt to ensure that everyone would have some power. From what I understood, these rollouts were anything but efficient. Some people who had lost their power on Sunday were experiencing a couple of minutes of electricity every few hours. Who knew how long this could last? And in the meantime temps were down in the teens. Time to find a hotel.
I texted our host for suggestions but she came up with nothing. She mentioned one high end hotel downtown but as I began to search various chains I realized hotel rooms were few and far between. I finally found a room at the Doubletree. We grabbed a few things for the night and headed to the Doubletree just a few blocks away. When I checked in, the woman at the desk explained that they had rooms, but they were very cool, had no hot water and it was possible that they would lose power during the night. But what was our choice? This seemed to be the only game in town. We checked in and yes, the room was very chilly but certainly better than an indefinite time back at the house without power. Little did we realize when we checked in that this would be our home for the next three days.
The first night we were able to get pizza delivered to the hotel. For breakfast each day we had coffee we made in our room. Few restaurants were operating after the first day because in addition to the power outage, they had received no deliveries and anyway, most folks couldn’t get in to work. Patrick went out to scour the area and amazingly, found a seafood restaurant not far away. As he carried our treasured meals back to the hotel he was stopped by many who inquired where he had found the food! How lucky we were to have a hotel and the resources to pay for food when we found it.
Then suddenly on Wednesday morning the fire alarm went off! Unbelievable. Already wrapped in our warmest clothes, we tied our shoes and headed out the door. Right next to our room were the stairs. As we headed that way, the housekeeper stopped us saying, “No, no! Don’t go that way! The stairs aren’t safe!” Then she went on to explain she was sure it was a false alarm. What to do! She called down to the front desk and yep, an announcement shortly followed apologizing for our inconvenience. Later the housekeeper showed Bob the stairs she was referring to. They were outside. The snow on them had melted and then refroze resulting in a sheet of ice. We never could have maneuvered them from the fourth floor down to the street. For the next two days we watched the unfolding horror stories of people throughout Texas having no heat, no water, burst pipes, all accompanied by record low temperatures. We watched another catastrophic event become polticized as the governor tried to blame the problem on renewable energy. By Friday, San Antonio was still cold but power was on at our Airbnb. We had hot water, no pipes had burst and while we’d still have to boil our water, that would be a small inconvenience compared to how others were faring. And the sun was shining! It’s crazy how much we learned about energy in Texas in those few days!
There was more fallout from the storm as well. As I walked through the King William Neighborhood I realized that the orange tree I had previously admired had lost all its fruit. How sad! I don’t know enough about citrus fruit trees to know if it was just this year’s crop that was lost or if the tree itself is dead.
Because of the size of Texas we found we could take a lot day trips. Each very different. It appeared the temps were going to continue to warm up over the weekend. It was predicted to reach 73 on Sunday so we decided to drive to Corpus Christi, a little more than two hours south of us. Gas stations were open along the way, and we even picked up a couple of cases of bottled water not knowing when the boil water notice would be removed. We really enjoyed Corpus Christi. We first tried to track down the church where Bob’s parents were married in 1944 when his dad was stationed there in the Navy. The church has since been torn down but we found the general area and found it interesting to walk where they had walked more than 75 years ago. From there we drove just a couple of blocks to see the USS Lexington, an aircraft carrier, docked there since the 1980s. It’s now a museum which obviously isn’t open during Covid. As large as it looks in dock, I’m thinking it still must appear just a speck in the water when trying to land a plane on its deck. So impressive.
We followed the water south, past street after street of luxurious homes, then the University of Texas, Corpus Christi, until we came to the JFK Causeway that took us out to Padre Island and Port Aransus.
We stopped to take a walk along the beach. Hard to believe earlier this week we had been stuck in a hotel because of a power outage caused by winter weather! I asked the clerk in a gift shop in Port Aransus if they had been affected by the storm and power outage. She said they hadn’t but she seemed a bit disappointed. She went on to say she had hoped to make snow angels but they turned out more like mud angels. Hmm…
A favorite part of travel for me is local food. On our way back to San Antonio we were looking for a place to eat. Patrick commented on how we used to select restaurants based on their menu. Now we select them on the basis of safety. Is there an outdoor dining area? Are staff masked? Are people socially distancing? I looked on YELP, my ever handy app, to find places locals liked. There appeared to be an outdoor barbeque about half way between Corpus and San Antonio. Would it be open? Well, we’d have to find out. We had discovered an outstanding Mexican restaurant, Rosarios, not far from our Airbnb when we first arrived in San Antonio. And although Uber Eats would deliver, if we picked our order up, we could order half gallons of margaritas.
Not a tough decision which way we’d go! We decided Rosarios would be our back up plan. But we were thrilled when we arrived at Choke Canyon Bar-B-Q and found they were open! They had a patio dining area and only one table was occupied. When we entered the restaurant we found staff were masked, and there was a hand sanitizer dispenser next to the walk up line where we placed our orders. We each got a barbque sandwich with a side. Food was amazing! Pat and I had a beer and Bob had sweet tea. The total bill came to less than $36! What a find!
Five of the largest fifteen cities in the country are in Texas but I never realized before we got here that San Antonio is the seventh largest! Along with the metropolitan parts of Texas, we’ve seen the gorgeous shores of Padre Island and Corpus Christi. We’ve seen desert. But I think my favorite is The Hill Country. The winding rocky hills set it apart from the rest of Texas. We had decided to venture to this part of the state so we could see the Lyndon B Johnson National Historic Park. The Johnsons donated the ranch to the federal government reserving the right to live the rest of their lives there. This is the ranch where LBJ was born, grew up and spent much of his free time. After the President died in 1973, Lady Bird continued to live there part time until her death in 2007. While the individual buildings are currently closed, there is a road that guides visitors through the working ranch. There were various historical markers along the drive. Upon entering the park, we first passed the family cemetery and also the small house where LBJ was born. This building was later converted into a guest house for friends and dignataries who were invited to the ranch.
Across the road from the cemetery we could see the church where the first Head Start Program was housed. Of particular interest to us was the landing strip LBJ had built so he could fly home directly from DC. The road ends at the homestead that overlooks the Pedernales River. LBJ was the first vice president to have a plane. The Lockheed 13 seater plane is housed in the hanger near the Johnson Home and is affectionately referred to as the One Half.
As we were leaving the ranch, we stopped at the giftshop where I asked the ranger for a suggestion for a nearby eatery, again with outside dining. He directed us into Johnson City (named after one of LBJ’s ancestors) to the Pecan Street Brewing Company. This turned out to be another great restaurant with lots of outdoor seating and people socially distanced. The food was great although we did find it a bit disconcerting that the guy at the next table was carrying a pistol on his belt. Guess we are in the wild west!
Probably the most iconic San Antonio spot is the Riverwalk. We especially liked it at night. There are lots of shops along the river which because of Covid we were very selective about entering. But it was fun to sit at an outdoor cafe, and people watch while sipping on a margarita. Note the band of seranaders who are fully masked! Pretty cool!
We really enjoyed our stay in San Antonio. It’s a beautiful city. We met lovely people. It’s very definitely bilingual giving us the feel of a foreign location. Even when times were toughest during the power outage we found people gracious. The city far exceeded our expectations.
The size of Texas is almost beyond understanding. Our next stay is in Las Cruces, NM. That’s only 40 miles beyond the Texas border. But the West Texas border is still 500 miles away. And we decided we wanted to add another 150 mile side trip (one way) down to Big Bend National Park. I mean, who knows, when and if we’ll be this way again?
About 200 miles west of San Antonio we came to the The Pecos Canyon High Bridge, the tallest bridge in Texas. It’s over 270 feet high and the first span was constructed in the late 1800s. That’s hard to even imagine! We stopped at a pretty overlook for great views. It’s said that on the west side of the Pecos is where the Wild West begins!
We continued on a couple hundred miles to Alpine, Texas, where we spent the night. These were the closest accomodations to Big Bend National Park I could find. The hotel clerk suggested a restaurant that had take out. But Patrick and I were stunned when we went in to pick up the order. Not only was it crowded, but there was no socially distancing. We didn’t see anyone who was masked including the staff! We picked up our dinner and high tailed it out of there as fast as we could.
Probably one of the things I liked best about West Texas was the dark skies which makes it possible to see stars and stars and more stars, so many in fact that it was hard to discern the major constellations. It was beyond description.
The next morning we drove the 72 miles to Big Bend National Park. The park is a combination of mountains, desert and various landforms. We followed the Ross Maxwell Scenic drive through the Chihuahuan Desert ending up at the Rio Grande River. We took the short walk down to Santa Elena Canyon which is the iconic view from all the Big Bend posters. We were suprised that the water was ice cold.
We saw some really scary yellow flood gauge signs on the roads throughout the park.
After spending a second night in Alpine, we headed to Las Cruces the next morning. We still had a 220 mile drive to El Paso and another 45 miles from there to Las Cruces. Even though we’ve been to the southwest several times before, I hadn’t realized how much the landscape of the desert varies from place to place. Not long after we left Alpine area we came to Marfa, Texas, a small artsy town with a population of less than 2000.
And just beyond the town, we encountered what we had been looking for, a Prada storefront! My reaction when I first read about it was, “WHAT?” The storefront is a permanent sculpture built in 2005. Prada furnished the items in the windows. A few months after the sculpture was completed it was broken into and six handbags and 14 right-footed shoes were stolen. A security system was then added. When we pulled off to the side of the road to take pictures, we were among more cars than we were to see in the next 300 miles!
As we continued our drive toward El Paso, we were awed by the desert views and the few cars were on the road. We continued to be amazed by the size of the state!
Thinking we’d like to be in a blue area for election day, we headed from Indiana to Washington DC on November 2. On the evening of November 3 (also Bob’s birthday) we stayed glued to our television. It turned out just as we had anticipated; no results on election night. I found myself getting up every couple of hours to check the results on my phone, and while it appeared we were headed for a positive result, it was far from over. We tend to be political junkies and consequently, found ourselves continuously switching between MSNBC and CNN for the next 72 hours. We decided the gene must have passed on to the next generation when our son, Stephen, sent us a video of our grandchildren parading through their neighborhood.
As we left DC early on Saturday, November 7, we were horrified to see so many storefronts boarded up downtown. On the other hand, we were relieved that all seemed quiet, and we hoped it would continue when the results were all tabulated. About six hours into our journey, Biden was declared the winner and jubilation was felt throughout DC. (Little did we dream what was ahead!)
We had decided to spend the winter back in Port Charlotte, Florida, waiting until the end of January to make further plans not knowing what to expect from Covid. On top of the pandemic and a very contentious election, the hurricane season had been a record breaker. Not only was Tropical Storm Eta set to deluge the Port Charlotte area but it appeared that it was going to cross the peninsula just as we were headed down. We’d never spent much time in Atlanta so we thought now might be the time to explore the city before moving further southward.
Always thinking about Covid and wanting to stay safe, we only considered activities we could do outside, masked while observing social distancing. While the Jimmy Carter Presidential Library was closed, it was still a pretty place to wander the grounds. We look forward to returning and touring the library.
Martin Luther King National Historical Park takes in a whole neighborhood. Here we saw the home where he was born and also Ebenezer Baptist Church. This is the church where Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was baptized, ordained and also served with his father, Martin Luther King, Senior. It is also interesting that this is the church where Raphael Warnock served until recently being elected as one of the new Georgia senators. (An event that hadn’t yet occurred as we walked through the area.)
Our Airbnb was in Roswell, Georgia, just north of Atlanta. The area has many antebellum homes. The one building that struck me most interesting was Bulloch Hall. The building was built by James Bulloch who made his money in cotton and was the father of Martha Bulloch who married Theodore Roosevelt, Sr in 1853. Martha Bulloch Roosevelt was the mother of the 26th president and also the mother of Elliot Roosevelt who was the father of Eleanor Roosevelt.
After a few days in Atlanta it appeared the coast was clear and we continued on to Florida. Here we were again in a familiar home with a wonderful lanai and pool. We truly spend as much time outside as we do inside when we stay here We also particularly enjoy our friends, Bob and Art, who we’ve rented from on four occasions. Days became routine and I spent a lot of time on jigsaw puzzles, baking and knitting projects. I also continued my efforts writing postards for the Georgia senate campaigns. In spite of the lockdown, time continued to fly by.
We also enjoy all the birds we see: ibis, egrets (although I always confuse these two). Turkey vultures really do look like turkeys. And I used to think pileated woodpeckers were unusual, but we’ve seen them on several occasions in Florida.
Like most others, Christmas was different for us this year. We usually meet up with parts of our family and often in destination locations. One more “unnormal” 2020 occasion. Everyone was staying put. We did manage to meet up with Patrick. We weren’t comfortable with him flying so we drove to DC to pick him up. (It’s not like we had a booked social calendar!) Bob and I stayed right downtown DC and went for a walk along Black Lives Matter Plaza before heading back to Florida with Pat the next morning. We took two days driving up and two days driving back. We had limited contact with folks, ordering meals in at our hotels and only stopping along the road for gas. Truly one of the positives about Covid for us is having more time to spend with some of our kids.
Lake Okeechobee is about a two hour drive east from Port Charlotte so we decided to drive over on a cool weekend to check it out. The lake is the largest freshwater lake in Florida and according to Wikipedia, the eighth largest in the country. Two devasting hurricanes in the area in the 1920’s resulted in horrendous storm surges that killed hundreds of people. There are now more than 200 miles of levees that the Army Corps of Engineers built to protect the area. Because of these levees, the lake isn’t usually visible as you drive around it. But where there were wayside parks we pulled off to enjoy. This is also a very different part of the Florida. While it’s not far from the touristy spots, it’s very much an agricultural area with lots of sugar cane and the factories that process it. We learned that 50% of the sugar in the US comes from Florida with most of it grown around the southern tip of Lake Okeechobee. The sunset on our drive back west was gorgeous!
We had read online that Saturn and Jupiter would be visible to the naked eye for several nights. We were amazed that we could actually see them from our driveway.
Soon it was the end of January and we said goodbye to Port Charlotte and started our journey to San Antonio, Texas. We had been there a couple of times before but never for an extended stay. It won’t be quite as warm as Florida but hopefully won’t be too cold. We had several things we wanted to see along the way.
Montgomery, Alabama, was not on our direct route west. We had visited many of the historic civil rights sites there more than thirty years ago. But now not knowing when, if ever, we’d return to this area there was a memorial I wanted to see. The National Memorial for Justice and Peace (informally known as the Lynching Memorial) was opened in 2018. More than 4400 lynchings took place, mostly in the South, from 1877 and 1950.
The memorial took my breath away. On a grassy knoll not far from the entrance, the memorial consists of 800 steel monuments, each in the shape of a rectangular casket, each representing a specific county. On each monument is listed the name of the county and state and the names of those who were hanged along with the date the lynching took place. Many have no names but are listed simply as, “Unknown.” As I walked among the individual monuments, I couldn’t begin to imagine the terror with which people of color lived their daily lives. There are many plaques describing the insignificance of the accusations that led to the victims’ murders along with various sculptures throughout the memorial both which add to the memorial’s poignancy. The project was constructed on six acres in the same neighborhood where the Montgomery Bus Boycott began.
Before leaving Montgomery we wanted to see Dexter Baptist Church. This is where Dr. Martin Luther King began his first fulltime pastorship. Dr, King was pastor here during the Montgomery bus boycott in 1955. He insisted all his parishoners become registered voters and members of the NAACP. Dr. King remained at this church until 1959 when he joined his father as pastor at Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta.
While we had been there once before we decided we would continue our travel through Selma so we could cross the Edmond Pettus Bridge. There’s a certain irony that the bridge that is so synomous with the civil rights movement is named after a man who was a champion of the confederate cause and slavery and served as the Grand Dragon of the Ku Klux Klan in Alabama.
Leaving Selma and heading to New Orleans we crossed Mississippi, a state we’d been in a few times before but always on the interstate. This time we were going over some back roads before we met up with the main highway. As we travel, we’re always looking to learn facts about the state: what are its biggest cities, and how does the state’s area rank in comparison with the other 49.
We learned in our search about Mississippi that it’s the only state in the union not to have an open container law. And if that weren’t unusual enough, it’s also legal for the driver to be drinking. She just has to remember that her blood alcohol has to be under .08 legal limit. (A fact that made us wonder how one goes about checking that as she’s driving.) Evidently it’s also common to measure distances in beers. For instance, how far is it from Jackson to the Gulf? Answer: About six beers. Some people argue they need the law because many folks want to have a beer on their way home after a long day of work! The article I read said that Mississippi has an unusually high rate of alcohol-related fatalities. REALLY?
New Orleans was our next stop. We splurged on a night in a fancy hotel in the French Quarter. At the end of the hall on our floor was a really nice outdoor terrace. It was absolutely huge and there were only two other couples out there. Both really far away from us. A great place to converse with a beer, enjoy the view and feel perfectly safe!
Sunday morning we checked out Jackson Square and while there were people out, it was never crowded. We had hesitations about eating at an outdoor cafe because of the close proximity with walkers but we found the Cafe Pontalba that had open windows from ceiling to ground. (Check out the picture below. The cafe is the left side of the last photo.) The table felt like being outside but was removed from the people. After lunch we stopped to get a bag of beignets for the road and were on our way westward.
On the way out of town we drove past the Super Dome. Then we headed across the Lake Ponchartrain Causeway, the longest bridge in the world. We read that it’s so long (more than 24 miles) that for 8 miles in either direction you can’t see land. We didn’t think that was the case as we crossed perhaps because it was such a beautful clear day. I don’t think I’d want to cross it on a stormy day!
The drive from New Orleans to San Antonio is about 540 miles. It was early afternoon and we hoped to make it into Texas before stopping for the night. As we passed Baton Rouge, we got a good view of the capitol from the interstate.
Early the next afternoon we arrived in San Antonio. Our Airbnb is in the historic King William neighborhood not far from downtown and with a great front porch complete with a view of the Tower of the Americas which was built for the San Antonio World’s Fair HemisFair 68. We’re impressed with how nearly everyone we see is masked. And we had great Tex Mex take out for our first night here. We look forward to exploring the area.
This year doesn’t seem to make any sense; we keep time by how long since the beginning of Covid. There doesn’t seem to be any future or past just a blur of days running together. We left Virginia just before Labor Day weekend and headed to Michiana about an hour east of Chicago and right on Lake Michigan.
This is an area with which we are very familiar but because we have to carefully consider the risks before leaving the house, we didn’t have the usual anticipation of things to do after we arrived.
I found a house in what we feel is a perfect location, in the woods, just a couple of blocks from the lake. Unfortunately because of high water levels the steps to the beach are blocked off. So many gorgeous homes line the beach road from here into Michigan City, a distance of about four miles; unfortunately many are at risk for tumbling into the water.
Our house would be a great beach house for a family summer stay…with nice kitchen appliances and a cozy sitting/dining area. There’s a large screened in porch that was a great place to read and enjoy my morning coffee when we first got here; however, fall quickly arrived and the mornings became too chilly for sitting outside. The house is VERY old, has metal cabinets and although there is an upstairs bed and bath because there is no railing on the steps, we haven’t gone up there except to initially check it out. The owners have done a good job of adding coats of fresh paint and the place is clean but the floors are uneven and much of the house could use a lot of renovating. Again, it’s a good choice for a family looking to get away for a week near the beach but definitely not a good choice for a long term stay. It takes me back to the 1950’s and the weeks I spent at camp! We’ve spent previous summer months near the lake in year round homes which were far more comfortable and cheaper. I thought it would be nice to try something new and this looked great on Airbnb…but pictures don’t always tell the story. We’re lucky, however, the furnace is good. And on this rainy morning with the thermometer reaching only 41 degrees, that’s huge!
Besides our routine trips to the grocery store, we don’t venture out much. We do like to drive down to the city park right on the shore of Lake Michigan and sit in our car and people watch. It doesn’t seem to matter if it’s cold or warm, windy or calm.
We’ve seen folks kite surfing, folks chasing seagulls. The beaches seem to draw people no matter what the weather. And if it’s a fairly clear day we can even glimpse the skyline of Chicago. It’s definitely a calming meditative place to be!
When we first arrived here, it had been more than a year since we had seen our oldest son, Kris and his family. We really wanted to see them and were considering making the two and half hour drive up to Big Rapids but weren’t sure. Would it be safe? We definitely didn’t want to put anyone at risk. Our daughter in law’s parents are our good friends and have a home on a lake just outside Big Rapids. So Andria (our daughter in law) suggested we meet up there where we could visit outside. Sounded perfect! And it was! Lovely warm weather, great food and wonderful company!
Our oldest granddaughter is a sophomore at Central Michigan University but she’s studying virtually. As I think back to my days in college I can’t even fathom what it would be like to not interact with others face to face, to take classes online, and to not have all the fun outside of class! We were really excited when we learned she was going to have a solo performance and we could watch it on zoom. Had this occurred during a more normal time, we would have never had the opportunity to see her perform! So I turned on the computer, got my glass of wine and settled in to listen to Alli and her oboe and felt a lot like I was at the Kennedy Center!
It’s incredible how many words have entered our lexicon in the past eight months. In early March we first became familiar with “social distancing.” Recently our five year old grandson was getting ready to go back to his Montessori preschool. I asked him if he was looking forward to it and his response was, “I don’t even know what 6 feet is!” So obviously the concept has permeated all levels of our society! Another grandchild explained last week in a telephone call that she was going to an outdoor sleepover at a friend’s house. This friend’s family is one with whom they “bubbled.” All concepts don’t appear to be so commonly understood. For instance, I was flabbergasted when some folks believed that Covid 19 referred to the 19th version of Covid instead of Covid in the year 2019.
Recently our youngest grandson turned 5. We had a birthday celebration online! Aunts and uncles from Michigan to Rome to DC were all able to join in and wish him a Happy Birthday in Rockville!
We have been genuinely lucky so far during the pandemic. Our inconvenience pales in comparison to those who have lost family members or contacted the virus themselves and have become victims of a lengthy illness and an uncertain future.
Or those who have lost their source of income! We are thankful for all the first responders who help keep us safe as well as keep our lives fairly normal. We recently completed our annual medical treks to the Mayo Clinic and were amazed at all their protocols in place to keep folks safe: from the special markings in the elevators to individual check ins at all the entrances, to the numerous volunteers who help guide patients to their appointed destinations.
My major project these past couple of months has been to volunteer for the Democrats. Like most Americans I can’t believe the lies and misinformation that have permeated our society for the past four years. And the negativity and divisiveness is almost more than a body can tolerate! I feel extraordinarily lucky to be an American but I also believe that democracy is a fragile institution that requires thoughtfulness if it is to remain viable. With our citizenship, I believe, comes the responsibility for every American to be informed and become involved in the democratic process. To this end, I have participated in a variety of activities. Bob and I started out making phone calls while we were still in Florida, but we soon became disillusioned with the few times we actually reached a real person. Then the nastiness with which so many people responded was discouraging. But when I was asked to participate in a texting campaign, I realized that was something I could do. I sent more than 5,000 texts and while there was still a lot of negativity, there was also the occasional validating response! In addition, I found Postcards for Voters so I ordered 100 postcards online, as well as stamps online, and started writing. If I make the difference in 1 vote I feel my time has been well spent! Our absentee ballots are mailed routinely to Patrick. He mailed them on to us the day he received them and then we mailed them on to Big Rapids the day after they arrived. We then checked online to make sure they got to Big Rapids!
Now that we’re only a couple of days away from the election I feel like I’ve done all I can do. But wow! Waiting is hard! I vacillate between being optimistic and being scared!
We now are packing up and getting ready to head for Washington DC where we’ll spend a week before heading to warmer temps for the winter. We decided we want to be in a “blue” location for election night. I’m crossing my fingers that citizens will feel compelled to get out and vote if they haven’t already.
Election Day is Bob’s birthday and so I wrote him a little diddy for his birthday.
Home After Deranged
(Sung to the tune of Home on the Range)
Oh, Give me a land
With Biden in command
Where Kamala stands by his side.
Where once more is heard
An intelligent word.
And the truth is no longer denied.
The voters have all had enough.
We're fed up with all Mitch's guff.
With Trump & Barr in jail.
The rule of law will prevail.
And we'll move on to doing good stuff!
This election isn’t about party. It’s about returning our country to its values. This yard sign seems to sum it up pretty well!
At the end of June we escaped Florida, Covid free, and headed north to Winchester, Virginia. It took us two days to make the 720 mile drive. We’ve made the trip from Florida to DC many times but we still enjoy it because of the lovely scenery as the marshes and water vistas change into rolling hills.
We stopped just south of Fredericksbug, Virginia, for the night. The hotel was very clean but I still wiped sinks, doorknobs and light switches down with disinfectant just to be extra safe. Dominoes delivered pizza to our door without any interaction. And from our hotel window the sunset was spectacular as a result of the huge dust storm that had crossed the Atlantic from Africa.