As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, I always seem to be attacted to locations on the water. Maybe this is the result of growing up in a beach town on the shore of Lake Michigan. As kids, the beach was the center of our lives from early summer to the end of September. I remember many years heading to the beach after the parade on a warm Decoration Day only to realize that 58 degree water was way too frigid to swim in. During the summer, there were lazy days on the beach, walks on the pier, trips to the amusement park followed by picnics on the beach. (Bob’s first summer job was making cotton candy at the amusement park!) Fireworks on the 4th of July were best enjoyed by lying on a beach towel and staring upwards as the explosions created a magical ceiling. I particularly recall going off to college and being surprised that everyone didn’t kick off the new school year with class beach parties. I think these experiences created an unconscious draw to the water wherever we travel. And when we finally were able to get on the road again, It seemed like a great idea to join thousands of others spending July in Rehoboth Beach, Delaware.
It was less than a three hour drive from DC to our new place but it felt like a million miles away. We were pleasantly surprised when we got to Annapolis and found no back up on the Chesapeake Bay Bridge. (Some day I want to do a blog just about the spectacular bridges we’ve crossed in our travels!) The weather was definitely beach weather…in the 90’s for most of the month. But we did have a great little patio for cooler evenings.
Stephen and two of the grandkids came for a few days over the 4th. The complex where we were staying had a great swimming pool and we could enjoy a morning swim with absolutely no other people there! Nothing like having your own pool! Then we’d trek off to check out a beach. The Rehoboth Beach boardwalk itself was fun: lots of restaurants, beachy shops and a great place to watch the 4th of July fireworks. The blue and orange umbrellas that permeate the sand seem to blend into a single mass. And our grandkids loved playing in the waves and sand! The Delaware coast has so many great places to swim that each day we tried out a new shoreline locale.
My favorite and one that Bob and I returned to on our own was Cape Henlopen State Park just a couple miles north at the mouth of the Delaware Bay. In addition to pretty ocean views and a wonderful sandy beach, this is also the site of Fort Miles, which was a World War II Army installation. During the cold war the Navy constructed a terminal for the Sound Surveillance System there which continued to operate until 1981. Today the Biden Environmental Conference Center is housed in what used to be the headquarters. Top off all the history and sunshine with lots of seafood (Nobody loves raw oysters more than our youngest grandkids!) and well, life is pretty great!
Delaware is definitely proud of being the first state. The reminders are everywhere: on their license plates, street signs, restaurants and hotels. Not knowing much about the state Bob and I decided to make the short drive up to Dover and check out the capital. William Penn’s surveyors laid out the city in 1711. There were two main original sites that are on the Green, which is the lovely historic square in the center of the town. The first was the Meeting House for the “Dissenters” (the Presbyterians) and the second was the Church Square, reserved for the Church of England. (The Meeting House is today the State of Delaware Museum.) I particularly enjoyed moseying through the old churchyard at Christ Episcopal Church. This is the church where Caesar Rodney, a signer of the Declaration of Independence, worshipped. The city has a much slower vib about it with a population of only about 37,000 but because of its location between large metropolitan centers, there still was plenty of traffic. It was a hot and humid day so we didn’t wander too much. But I felt a definite sense of awe as I thought about the people who had once strolled here and the conversations they had.
Knowing the weekends are the most conjested on touristy highways, we chose to drive to Assateague National Seashore on a weekday. It was only a bit more than an hour drive but we were amazed by the almost continuous stream of touristy shops along the way. We tried to count the number of mini-golf courses we passed along the way but lost count somewhere around 20. And surprisingly, they all seem to stay busy.
We had visited Chinoteague Island, a similar place about an hour further south years ago when the kids were small but not Assateague. We stopped at the information center as we entered the national seashore. Assateague is an interesting combination of beaches, marshes, folks crabbing, and wild horses. Like most islands in the ocean, it has been defined by currents, winds and waves. But on this island there are five different natural zones which include: coastal bays, salt marshes, maritime forests, dunes and upper beach and of course, the ocean. It’s difficult to explain how strange it seems to come upon wild horses naturally wandering along the road or the beach.
On our last weekend in Rehoboth we enjoyed a lazy weekend with Patrick and his friend Ryne, revisiting many of the same places while adding in a trivia competition at a local bar as well as a few games of euchre.
Then it was time for us to head to Nova Scotia. We were thrilled; finally, for the first time since Covid began, we were going to be able to leave the country. The Canadians have set up a website with protocol for crossing the border. I completed all that I could but had to wait until closer to our arrival to finish the process. This turned out to be far from easy. The Canadians wanted to know which crossing we’d be using and what time we would arrive! Wow! I wrote down an estimate and crossed my fingers.
We decided we’d take three days to drive the 1100 miles or 18.5 hours Google estimated it would take. Our first night would be in Nashua, New Hampshire. I had just finished reading The Engineers Wife, the historical fictional account of Elizabeth Roebling’s involvement in the building of the Brooklyn Bridge so I wanted to see it with my own eyes. And lucky for me, Bob is always very accomodating when I add these incidental sidetrips to our itinerary. (Note: The Engineer’s Wife is way too fictionalized for my liking. As a result, I added David McCollough’s, The Great Bridge: The Epic Story of the Building of the Brooklyn Bridge to my “must read” list.)
From the first glimpses of the skyline, the drive through New York City was amazing. We went from Jersey City through the Holland Tunnel, into Manhattan turning onto Broadway up to 5th Avenue just as we came to Madison Square Park, down through Lower Manhatten, across the great bridge, continuing through Brooklyn and Queens and even made a wrong turn or two in the Bronx. It was a wonderful drive, one neither of us will ever forget! I can’t wait to go back and check out theatre and musical performances and the museums.
We were however, exhausted when we finally got to Nashua and were very pleased to find that our hotel had a restaurant. We could eat and crash! Early the next morning we headed on to St John, New Brunswick. When we got to the Calais, Maine/St. Stephen, New Brunswick crossing Google took us to a small two lane bridge on a little-traveled city street. We were one of four or five cars in line. When we got to the window, I explained to the border guard that we had passports, our vaccination verifications as well as the code on my phone from the app, and asked which he would prefer. His response was quick, “Your passports would be wonderful!” He looked at the documents and asked a couple of routine questions. Then sent us on our way. No mention of the details on the app, just a routine crossing! What a relief!
When we crossed into Canada we entered the Atlantic time zone, an hour later than the eastern time zone, we changed from miles to kilometers (as well as pounds into kilograms) and signs were written in both English and French. In little more than an hour we had reached our destination for the night, St. John.
It’s only about four hours from St John to Haliax so the next morning we decided to take another sidetrip, this time to Shediac. Shediac is right on the North Umberland Sound which boasts the warmest waters north of the Carolinas so I shouldn’t have been surprised when we found lots and lots of traffic as we drove into town. We hadn’t eaten breakfast so when we saw a Victorian style home/restaurant with people eating on a large front porch we decided we needed to give it a try. The name, The Lobster Deck, says it all!
Yum! The lobster rolls were truly amazing with more lobster than imagineable! After lunch, we visited the giant lobster sculpture and of course, browsed through the gift shops, before heading on down to Halifax, the thirteenth largest Canadian city, and second largest port in eastern Canada.
This will be our home for August. And while this our fifth trip visiting this beautiful province, we look forward to revisiting many places as well as discovering new ones.
For those of you who are following my blog, my apologies. I realize my last post was more than eight months ago. Late last summer our family was challenged by a major illness and just before Christmas, Bob and I headed to the DC area to help out with grandkids. I am happy to report everything turned out fine! Now we’re back on the road.
As soon as I knew we were going to DC for an extended period of time I began searching high and low for a reasonably priced stay. I finally came up with one. Bob and I generally prefer cities to suburbs but in this case we wanted to be close enough to the kids that we could help out at a moment’s notice. I found an affordable place on Airbnb that really was close, and had great reviews. But from the moment we opened the door, we knew this was going to be a challenge. The host was very gracious, but I have never seen so much stuff piled into such a small space in my life! Even the furniture was overwhelming with a couch placed directly in front of the fireplace, enough dishes that I think we could have gone for weeks and not run out. One locked closet and the other was overflowing with pillows. Oh my goodness! This was not going to work!
So in addition to getting ready for the holidays I was faced with locating a new abode. Luckily, one of the property managers I had talked to early on had his apartment still for rent. It was no longer an Airbnb but instead a regular rental and the owners were not thrilled with less than a year’s lease but somehow he talked them into it and even though we still couldn’t get into it until after the holidays, the end was in sight. Whew! All we had to do was use this small space for 10 days. Cary got the second bedroom and Patrick, who was staying with us, so he didn’t have to make the hour trek out from the city every day, got the couch. We felt fortunate that we could get settled near family and offer support when we were needed.
We enjoyed having more family together at Christmas than usual. Stephen and Sadie and the kids don’t usually join us for the holidays because little kids just want to be home on Christmas morning to see what Santa brings.
Cary had flown in from Rome, and isolated herself in a separate area of Pat’s house for a week before we all got together. Patrick had purchased tickets for all of us to go to a Christmas event in the city. After everyone tested negative for Covid, we were finally able to get together! On the evening Cary’s isolation ended, we all met up at Nationals Field on a relatively warm evening (for December) and enjoyed lights, food and just generally making merry!
Patrick hosted Christmas Eve at his home in the city. We watched a movie, had traditional Christmas Eve snacks (and of course, lots of beverages!) and Stephen read aloud the Night Before Christmas.
On Christmas Day, we slept in and then headed over to Sadie and Stephen’s and while the grandkids played with their Christmas toys, I, with the help of our four kids, cooked a prime rib Christmas dinner.
This year, our Chrismas holidays were extended when son Kris drove out from Michigan with our granddaughter, Allison and her boyfriend Lewis. Unfortunately, our daughter-in-law, Andria was unable to come because as a PA she couldn’t get time away from her very busy office. Andria is an enthusiastic fun person and was definitely missed! But we did find many activities to enjoy our time together. They included ice skating,
games, lots of good food and fun just being together!
After testing again and masking up, we went to the Kennedy Center and enjoyed Beautiful–The Carole King Musical. On a different night, we had a wonderful walk around the White House area taking in all Christmas decorations.
We drove to Baltimore and went to the Aquarium. We spent an afternoon at the Museum of African American History.
Stephen and Sadie invited us to their home for New Years Eve where there were more fun games, karaoke and a great smorgasbord of food.
After the holiday excitement, we settled into a slower pace but still found time to do some day trips. We drove across the Chesapeake Bridge one sunny day in January and explored smaller towns like historic Easton, without all the summer crowds. On a different day we went to the Smithsonian Portrait Gallery, always my favorite museum in DC.
One particular plus of our longer stay was the opportunity to get to know our youngest grandchildren through routine everyday interactions. We had spent time with our older grandchildren when they were growing up in the same town we lived in. It was fun having opportunities to interact with our younger grandkids doing everyday things. Sometimes it was getting manicures or or making Valentine’s together.
Sometimes we’d chill in front of the tv or do jigsaw puzzles on a snow or professional development day…
Sometimes it was a school festival…
Once it was taking Hazel to her community service job and having time for a treat beforehand.
Whatever the activity the focus was on fun!
In March they surprised me with a special party to celebrate my 75th birthday complete with a video they had put together with many many dear friends and family!
Both Meta’s and Hazel’s birthdays occurred during the time we were there and so we had time for sleep overs and special trips. Patrick and I took Meta to the Baltimore Zoo, which she had chosen for her special day. I got tickets for the King Tut Exhibit at the National Geographic Museum for Hazel’s special event!
Springtime also brings cherry blossoms to DC. We’ve seen them many times but never tire of them. Besides the historic capitol area, I have many favorite parts of DC, although I really only know the northwest quadrant. I love Cleveland Park, Columbia Heights, Adams Morgan, Mt. Pleasant. This spring we added Catholic University to our list of explorations as it was described as one of the best places for cherry blossoms. Not sure why we’ve never been there before. Also, as the winter began to thaw our daughter in law, Andria, was finally able to get some time off and we were thrilled she chose to come out and bring our grandchild, Brija with her. We see them so rarely. Andria really is an incredible aunt, always engaging her nieces and nephews in fun activities.
In April to celebrate Pat’s and my birthdays, we headed to Pittsburgh to see the Pens play in the NHL playoffs. We first met up with my good friend Rita, and we also visited the National Aviary and of course, the Penguin exhibit. And the game was so much fun! Our seats were great and the excitement was beyond description. With the 7-4 Pens win over the Rangers the whole city came alive! You’d have thought they’d won the Stanley Cup! And before we left town we had to stop and have one of Jake’s shakes (named for Jake Guenzel, #77) at the Milkshake Factory.
Whenever we drive into the DC we marvel at the the iconic Morman steeples towering over the beltway. To me it appears very Disneyesque . We were thrilled when they announced a rare open house during our stay. We definitely wanted to do the tour. Usually Morman traditions require you be a Morman, in good standing, to go inside the temple so we were fascinated. It was interesting and tour guides were everywhere to answer our questions. But truly I don’t understand much of their doctrine or the appeal. Still it was a beautiful building! I’m definitely glad we went!
For Father’s Day, Stephen got tickets for everyone to go to a Nationals Baseball Game. The weather couldn’t have been more perfect. It was in the 70’s and sunny, just a great day for baseball. Patrick had a favorite restaurant in his neighborhood so after the game he treated us all to dinner. Definitely, a Fathers Day to remember!
Bob, I believe, is ready to settle down, but I’m not; there’s still so much I want to see and do. So as a compromise, in March we purchased a condo, we call it our beach house, in Manistee. We’ll stay there a couple of months each year and when I want to go to destinations he has no interest in I’ll travel with a family member or friend and he can stay put in Michigan. Manistee is not far from Big Rapids and Kris and Andria. And our dear friends, Ken and Ginny have a place there too.
But for now we’re headed to Rehoboth Beach, Delaware. Then, if Covid will allow, Nova Scotia, then Michigan and Florida before heading back to Europe in December. I feel so fortunate to be able to define retirement the way we want to. We are very very lucky! Until next time…
After spending a month on the road it feels nice to stay put for a bit. I recently read a blog that described various types of travelers. Destination travelers was the first group listed. I think those are the ones we most often encounter and until we retired I think we fell into this category. We generally aimed for a destination and then checked out all we could see in that area. When the kids were little we camped a lot. This was definitely the most economical way to go but also the kids had chances to explore and make new friends on their own in a way they never could have if we had been in a hotel. We did try a couple of summers traveling in an RV but because neither Bob nor I is particularly mechanical we gave this up. Now in our seventh year of nomadic life style I think we fall into the category of slow travelers. We like to see what we want to see and on our own time schedule. We generally aim for a couple of days a week of sightseeing. There are generally two responses I hear again and again when folks first learn of our peripatetic lifestyle. The first is, “You’re living the dream.” And no doubt for me that is true. I have yet to find the location where I want to “settle down.” After seven years, Bob would like to slow down and finding three or four locations where we could return each year may be the best compromise for us. At least that’s our thinking for now. The other response is, “Wow! You are really big risk takers.” This is definitely not true. We do what we are comfortable doing. I like to look at travel guides and see what’s out there. When folks offer suggestions as in, “Oh, you’re going to (fill in the blank), you must …” I generally write it down and check it out later to see if that’s something that would interest us. I believe everyone has their own style of travel and there’s no one way that works for everyone. For me it’s important to follow our own path. I definitely don’t consider myself an adventurer. There are so many things that I would never consider as we travel: No small boats, few amusement parks (Tivoli Gardens being an exception) no helicopter rides, definitely no down escalators. And public baths? No way! When I plan (and all the planning generally fall to me), I plan what I know we both will enjoy at a pace where we can relax as we go. I look for opportunities to: interact with the locals and learn about their culture, experience the natural beauty of the area, visit gardens and museums of all types, try restaurants featuring the local cuisine. And of course. spend time with family and friends!
Through Labor Day weekend we were in suburban DC. This was something new for us. We like cities: the excitement, the things to do, the opportunities to meet interesting people. And especially because we don’t drive after dark, we like that we usually can find interesting places to walk for dinner. If not walk, then a short Uber ride. The big plus with the suburb was we’d be within a ten minute drive of our middle son’s family and three grandchildren. And because it was summer the kids were out of school! This was going to be especially nice given that we’d not seen them in over a year!
An extended stay allowed us lots of time to enjoy being together. We visited the Palisades Library branch in DC.
A second plus to being in the suburbs was the cost. Staying outside DC is considerably cheaper than being right in the city. A big drawback, however, was being tied to our car. We had to drive everywhere and because this is metropolitan DC there was horrific traffic everywhere, regardless of the hour.
One Saturday we decided to venture into Baltimore with Patrick and the grandkids to visit the National Aquarium. Even with the trip into DC to pick up Patrick before heading to Baltimore it was still less than a 60 mile trek. (Although it took nearly 2 hours!) As we were coming into Baltimore and passing near Fort McHenry, Uncle Patrick, attempting to add a bit of history into the conversation, asked the kids if anyone knew what famous song was written in Baltimore. Without missing a beat, Desmond, at age six, shouted out, ” We Will Rock You?” Hmmm…
The National Aquarium is the largest tourist attraction in the State of Maryland. From many of our travels I’ve learned the advantage of buying tickets on line. This was particularly helpful on this busy weekend. Three adults accompanied by three kids proved a very enjoyable way to see the aquarium, allowing us to view exhibits in pairs, not rushing anyone along.
The stated mission of the aquarium is to promote water conservation. There are more than 2,000,000 gallons of water in the aquarium and the facility is laid out with the water in the middle. Visitors follow a path around and up the five levels. It was a really fun afternoon. So many things to see and experience. We all enjoyed petting the sea creatures.
As we were leaving, Uncle Patrick asked if anyone wanted to take a boat ride in the harbor. We knew the kids were excited when there wasn’t one complaint as they waited for more than an hour in the hot sun for a 30 minute boat ride. The woman at the ticket counter shared her bottle of sun screen with me so we could ensure that we didn’t all end up looking like lobsters we had just seen in the aquarium! The boat tour was followed by a stop at Mr. Belal’s ice cream truck and then 3 very tired kids and 3 very tired adults made the trip back home. What a great afternoon!
When we weren’t spending time with the grandkids we found other things to entertain us. Rock Creek Park is an amazing green of more than 1700 acres making it an oasis right in the middle of all the hustle and bustle. We found this to be a relaxing place to spend an afernoon.
There was one more jaunt we wanted to make. This time to the Barnes Foundation in Philadelphia. It’s a bit farther but still only a two and half hour drive. It’s the private collection of Dr. Albert Barnes who had wished for it to remain in his home (about six miles from Philadelphia) but after much controversy, involving many lawsuits, the collection was moved to downtown Philadelphia. I tend to get overwhelmed by huge museums and generally prefer smaller collections and this one was perfect. It was also extremely easy to get to and we had no issues finding a place to park.
We had arrived on the first Sunday of the month, when it was free. We hadn’t known this when we planned the trip, but were amazed that it wasn’t crowded. When we first went in I was disappointed to learn that none of the paintings had descriptions next to them. Instead you had to use an app on your phone. Aim at the picture and then the description would pop up. After about 10 minutes I was sold! Using the process eliminated the need for everyone to squeeze up near the painting and read the sign (usually in very small print) hanging next to the painting. As we toured we could select any that we wanted to know more about and spend as long as we wished reading and viewing.
There are many paintings by Renoir, Cezanne, Monet, and Matisse. There are 181 Renoirs in the Barnes Collection, it’s the largest single collection of Renoir paintings in the world. A perfect museum for me; I love the Impressionists! I also discovered a painter I really liked but who I hadn’t heard of, Edith Dimock. I think it’s her droll style that I like so much.
We spent a little more than two hours in The Barnes taking it all in at a leisurely pace. On our way back to DC we decided to stop in Wilmington, a city we’d never visited, to get something to eat. I had found Big Fish Grill on Yelp and it turned out to be a great choice. It had a lovely covered patio where we were protected from the rain that had started to fall. And it had a great view of the river to accompany the wonderful food. It provided a great end to a lovely day.
Labor Day soon was upon us and our time in DC was winding down. We had one last day to spend with Stephen’s family. In previous blogs I’ve mentioned my husband’s family’s connection to Rachel Carson. And on a recent visit to the DC area we had tracked down her gravesite in Rockville. But what we didn’t know was that she also had a home there that has been turned into a national landmark. Stephen explained all this to me and said he would love to show it to us.
When we drove up to the house, we were surprised to find an older gentleman standing in the driveway. He looked at us curiously as if to ask why we were there. He explained this was a national landmark. I quickly jumped in and explained that my husband’s grandmother had been a friend of Rachel Carson’s mother, and we were here to see the where Ms Carson had lived. His demeanor immediately changed. He walked us up the driveway and explained that while it had been her home, now it was an education center, a place to share her work. He asked us to wait outside for a moment and then disappeared into the house. A few minutes later he came out and asked if we’d like to tour the home! Wow! This was far more than we had expected. He introduced us to his wife, Dr. Diana Post, who welcomed us and began to explain the changes in the home since Ms Carson had lived there. The high point for me was the room, the actual room, where she wrote, Silent Spring. Everything in the room, from the typewriter, to the pictures on the wall, was just as it had been when she wrote it.
I had no idea she had received the Presidential Medal of Freedom. After visiting for more than 45 minutes, we thanked them for their kindness. As we went to leave, Dr. Post asked the kids if they’d like to pick out a book about Ms Carson. It was definitely an afternoon none of us will forget.
The next morning as we made the drive from the east coast back to the shore of Lake Michigan we knew we had to make a stop in Springdale, just to take one more look at the Carson homestead there.
Our next stop is Manistee, Michigan, right on the shore of Lake Michigan. It’s a small town of about 6,000 but lives much bigger in the summer. We think September and October is the perfect time to be here. The weather should still be nice but the summer crowds have pretty much disappeared.
Any place along Lake Michigan is a place we like to be. It brings a peacefulness and sense of wonderment that’s not surpassed by any place we’ve ever visited. Manistee is extra special because we have good friends here, and it’s also only an hour and a half from our oldest son’s family and the city we called home for twenty years.
It was definitely nice to be here during the off season and fun to have lots of opportunities to catch up with family and friends.. We found great places to eat, went to a home football game. There was even a boat show in town.
Because Patrick hadn’t “been home” in several years, he decided to fly in while we were here. I had suggested that the closest airport would probably be Grand Rapids, but that he could try Muskegon, just an hour and a half south of us and perhaps that would be better. Imagine my surprise, when he texted me that he had a flight directly into Manistee. I couldn’t believe it. We had gone out to dinner on the night he was to arrive and because he was in a puddle jumper we couldn’t track the flight online. We decided to head to the airport a little early, just in case… The airport is small to say the least, but there he was standing right by the parking lot as we turned in. He had flown from DC National into O’Hare and then got his connecting flight. He said when he approached the gate, a woman asked him if he were Patrick. When he acknowledged that he was, she told him well, we can get on our way. “You’re the only one on the flight!” Nothing like having your own private plane! He even said the pilots asked him as he was waiting for us, if he needed a ride. And as soon as he got in the car, the lights inside the airport were turned off.
One of the best things about being on the east side of Lake Michigan is the dunes. They are beyond description. We took a drive up to Sleeping Bear Dunes. We hadn’t been there in more than a decade and were amazed to see how much it had changed in that time. There used to be a board walk out to the an overlook but that had since been buried beneath the sand. There’s a sign at the top of the more than 400 foot dune indicating what an arduous process it is climbing back up the dune and warning anyone thinking of trying it just how expensive their adventure would be if they needed help returning to the top.
The drive along the lake continues to offer beautiful views. The size of the sailboat shows just how massive the dunes are.
It was great to have time to spend with our oldest son and his family. Their home also serves as our address while we travel. We found out early on that you have to have a home address. While we were In Michigan we had all sorts of maintenance activities to complete: dentist appointments, renewing our drivers licenses, getting a new license plate, getting our Covid boosters, all those mundane things that we take for granted in our everyday lives.
Our condo is across from the marina and has several outdoor balconies. It was especially nice that the condo sleeps six so we had room for family to spend the night after nights of cards and fun!
Patrick returned to DC. This time he was on a fully booked flight with seven other travelers. And we got ready to move on. The weather is beginning to turn cool but then it is late October. We’re headed back to Florida until the middle of December. Not ready to head to Europe just yet. We’re a bit nervous but figure we’ll return to the same place in Port Charlotte where we have our own pool, can entertain ourselves reading and playing cards on the beautiful lanai and even order our groceries. We should be able to stay safe! That’s the plan at the moment. So one last trip to watch the sunset over Lake Michigan! Then we’ll be on our way!
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!