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Big Bend National Park – Chisos Mountains and Santa Elena Canyon

Chisos Mountains, Big Bend National Park

We were in Big Bend a full week, and it was barely enough to cover the highlights. Several people we talked to opted for a couple of hikes a day. Owing to the direct afternoon sunshine, and the fact that a lot of hikes necessitated a drive down bumpy rocky roads or hiking in open desert, one hike per day was enough for us. We visited the Chisos Mountains area after our Balanced Rock hike.

The Chisos Mountains go around in a circular fashion and in the middle is a slightly hilly area called “The Basin”. Big Bend operates another campground, a lodge and restaurant, and a park visitor center in the Basin, and many trailheads begin here. We didn’t even look around the Basin when we first arrived, because after the Balanced Rock hike we were looking for lunch. Several tourists were admiring this tarantula outside the restaurant.

I was opting to be cool, pretend I’d seen a lot of tarantulas in the wild in my life, and eat my lunch, but Cal had to go have a look.

There is a break in the Chisos Mountains circle called “The Window”. There is a 5.6 mile round trip trail that can be taken to it, but that would have been our second hike of the day. We opted for the quarter mile paved “Window View” trail. The view through the Window and out to the western part of the park was spectacular.

View of “The Window” from The Window View Trail, Big Bend

On another day, when we were fresh, we returned to the Chisos Mountains to hike the Lost Mine Trail. This trail is 4.8 miles round trip with an 1,100 foot elevation gain. It was one of those straight-up trails, but despite that, it is one of the most popular trails in the park.

There were several switchbacks, and at one point the trail was nothing but pure rock.

The trail left, and the trail right

Once we gained elevation, we were rewarded with gorgeous views of the Chisos Mountains.

I saw this same view on a postcard, and said it was a view of “Elephant Tusk”. That might be the formation in the top center of the card. It doesn’t look like an elephant tusk to me, though.
Being at this altitude and looking down on the mountain peaks was pretty exhilarating!
At the top
The only wildlife we saw was this lizard, perfectly matching the rocks it lives on.

At the top, I inched my way around the corner of the rock we were on, and dangled my feet while I looked at the view below. There was nothing but air straight down. It was a bit dizzying, so I didn’t stay for long!

In the western side of the park is another “can’t miss” hike, the Santa Elena Canyon. It is at the end of Ross Maxwell Scenic Drive, which in itself was a treat. There were many places to stop on the way, a nice way to see the park if one wasn’t inclined to do a lot of hiking. We visited the ruins of Sam Nail Ranch, an oasis of green sunk into the hills. It was supposed to be great for birding, but we didn’t see birds.

The Nail family once called this their home

Another stop-off, this time to see “Mule’s Ears”, below

We admired the purple cactus on the way. I had never seen purple prickly pear cactus before, and there were areas where there were more purple than green.

And, a blooming ocotillo. These usually bloom in the spring, so this was a surprise. A whole area of blooming ocotillo in the desert is really a sight to see.

The rock behind the ocotillo is called “Cerro Castellan”, and was a landmark for those traveling along the way. We had stopped for a look at Tuff Canyon, which we ended up hiking in for a bit. The area we were driving through had seen major volcanic activity millions of years ago. There were over 20, and some minor ones, which created the landscape we were seeing. “Tuff” is hardened volcanic ash. This canyon was an unexpected surprise and I would have loved to explore it further.

Santa Elena Canyon lies at the end of this scenic drive. At the beginning of the canyon, we had to figure out how to get around the creek that feeds into the river. The other hikers showed us the way.

We had arrived at Santa Elena Canyon. The walls on the left are Mexico, on the right is the US, and the Rio Grande River is in the middle. I had a mistaken impression we could wade over to Mexico, but it was too deep at this point.

The trail to get up and inside the canyon
Sadly, the end of the trail. We could go no further.
With Cal down the trail a bit, you can get a little perspective on how large the canyon is.
With my back to Mexico and the Rio Grande. I touched the bushes with my walking stick so…I was there

A woman we crossed paths with several times on this day seemed a little disappointed with the size of the river. “Rio Grande”, she said, “The word means big! Where is it big?” She had tried several paths on the river, and none panned out for her. Indeed, at times in the park, it seemed like no more than a trickle. It seems to me that at times when I’ve crossed over into Mexico further east than Big Bend that it was wider and deeper. Or maybe “Grande” refers to the length. Or maybe it used to be bigger? Who knows, but it was grand enough to me.

The Twosna Travelers at the very bottom of the USA

Big Bend is one of our least visited US National Parks. It’s a distance to go, even for Texans. There aren’t a lot of paved roads except for the main connectors through the park. With its combination of river, desert, and mountains, it was an amazing place to visit and I’m glad we were able to spend a week there.

Next time – Big Bend Ranch State Park

Destinations · US Travel · USTravel

Big Bend National Park, Texas

Blessed are the curious, for they shall have adventures.

-Lovell Drachman

Sierra del Carmen mountains in Mexico, Big Bend

From Denver, down we went to escape the coming of winter just as fast as we could: Raton Pass and Roswell, New Mexico; Guadalupe National Park, Texas. The weather stayed in the 40’s, fog and low hanging clouds. I was excited to return to the Guadalupes and thought we’d have a picnic lunch and maybe a little hike there. It was windy and cold so we ate a quick lunch in the truck.

Guadalupe Mountains: there’s a mountain out there somewhere!

Then Van Horn, Marfa and Alpine, Texas. The towns kept getting smaller and the scenery by the road more beautiful. Marathon, Texas; then 39 miles to the gate of Big Bend; 26 miles from there to Panther Junction in the park; and then, finally, 20 miles more to our RV site in Rio Grande village. It took us 4 days driving an average of 200 miles to arrive. That sign looked pretty good.

I was hoping this tunnel would be fine for our RV and luckily, it was.

You can see the Sierra del Carmen mountains peeking over the top of tunnel on the right. A picture of them is also at the top of this post, and brown/grey is their normal color. They are at the far east of the park, and at their feet is the Rio Grande River. That means that these mountains are actually in Mexico. We were closer to the mountains in our site, and the beautiful thing about them is that the sun turns them a beautiful pink as it sets. We enjoyed this show every evening while we were there.

We took the “nature hike” at an adjoining campground for our first look at the Rio Grande.

That’s Mexico over there behind Cal and the Rio Grande
A peek at the Rio with the Chisos Mountains behind
I discovered I really, really like to take pictures of all the various cactii

When we returned to our RV area, there was a coyote yapping in the parking lot. I don’t know what its problem was, but then we saw a few javelinas grazing just beyond our RV. Then, walking just beyond the RV’s over to an adjoining meadow, horses grazing! We were very excited to see all the wildlife and were hopeful this would continue every evening, but that was the best show. We learned from a ranger later that the horses weren’t wild, but belong to Mexicans just over the border. They just let them wander and graze until they want them. Unfortunately, the only good picture I got was of the javelinas.

These two javelinas posed nicely for me, although they wouldn’t stand right next to each other!

Boquillas Canyon, in the Sierra del Carmens, was also close to us so we took a hike there.

Along the hike to Boquillas, the Mexicans across the border had items left for sale in many places. Most everything was $10, and you would leave your money in a container. Near Boquillas, you could cross the Rio Grande over to a little village called Boquillas del Carmen in a rowboat for $5. Once there you could shop for a handmade item, or have a lunch in a couple of restaurants. Sadly, this operation was shutdown for COVID when we were there, and this cut off a good source of income for these people. But they are very enterprising, so this was their way of keeping a little money coming in. This fellow let me know his wife’s tamales were very delicious, so we purchased a couple of bags. He was right, they were excellent. And I’m happy to report that the Boquillas del Carmen crossing has been reopened since we left the Big Bend area.

I watched these guys, over in Mexico, setting up a volleyball net. I think they were surreptitiously keeping an eye on their merchandise.

Also close to us was Hot Springs. Cal got his first experience on the Big Bend side roads in getting there.

It was a one way loop with steep dropoffs.

Hot Springs was actually a little resort from the 20’s to the 40’s.

The old “motor court
Petroglyphs on the way to the hot springs
An immense yucca tree; you can see how large it is by looking for Cal on the left.
Here I am, taking a soak in the hot springs. It was very hot! The resort had built a spring house around it which is gone now, but the foundation of it is good for sitting on.
The hot springs, and the Rio Grande next to it, was a popular swimming hole and an enterprising woman over on the Mexican side was taking advantage. This was a large group of partying Americans who were suddenly hungry for tacos and tamales.

Many people who love the national parks bemoan the fact that sites which were once little-known are being publicized by influencers on social media. They are becoming more crowded and, in some places, becoming literally trampled over by excessive usage. I see this as a double-edge sword. It’s not great that we couldn’t find a parking spot just to take a hike in Rocky Mountain National Park. But necessity has led the Park Service to create a park shuttle service. The overusage in the parks is leading to some pretty creative and innovative ideas. Social media, namely a National Parks Facebook group that I am in, led me to this next spot in Big Bend. Park literature didn’t show a picture of it, only to name the trail. It is this spot: Balanced Rock, on the Grapevine Hills Trail. Once I saw a picture of it, I wanted to find it.

Cal usually obliges my curiosity about things, but heading to this trail necessitated a 7-mile drive down a dirt road in the desert which became more “washboardy” the farther down it we went. After a lot of bouncing around I was relieved when we finally arrived, since his good humor was just starting to dissipate.

“THAT ROAD”

The trail was 2.2 miles and very easy except the last 1/4 mile, which was straight up. We enjoyed the scenery along the way.

Breakfast time-this deer only momentarily stopped its munching
I think this is a claret cup cactus, sitting way up high on the rocks

The last 1/4 mile involved clambering up rocks with hands and knees in places. It was an accomplishment to arrive at the top!

We had to climb up this trail, and then back down

What a grand adventure. I will continue our exploration of the park in my next post, because there is still so much to see!

Next time: Chisos Mountains and Santa Elena Canyon in Big Bend National Park

Destinations · USTravel

Fall 2021 – Nebraska, Kansas and Colorado

Cherry Creek State Park, Denver

I last left my readers in Duluth, Minnesota, but we have been back in Denver since that trip. This autumn season has been packed with things going on each day. It’s been interesting and entertaining, but it hasn’t left a lot of time for blogging. I’m still finding my way through the slowness of the internet and my computer. In these beautiful fall days, I’d rather be outside, pursuing non-computer related activities, or enjoying the little time we have left here in town with my grandchildren!

But to pick up that trip just a little, we had back-to-back stays at state parks in two states on our way back. The first was Platte River State Park south of Omaha, Nebraska. We were here for a family reunion some years back. My oldest brother had to stay at an RV park down the road because there were no RV sites at Platte. That has changed with the addition of a new RV campground, with full hookups, just completed in the last handful of years. This time, we were there to spend some time with my sister Gloria, who rented a cabin in the park. We also went in to Omaha to catch dinner with her husband Chuck. This waterfall is an easy hike, and is one of the centerpieces of the park, besides the Platte River. I also caught a pretty picture of the little fishing lake early one morning while walking over to Gloria’s cabin.

It’s always fun to have a “girls day” (if you identify as a girl, that is) and Gloria and I did that with a day in Lincoln, Nebraska. We toured the Capitol Building. It’s different than others I’ve seen. The original building, which was built like typical domed capitol, actually crumbled while sitting on ground that was too soft. This one was built in the 1920’s and looks much like that era to me. There was a lot of beautiful artwork meaningful to Nebraska laid in the architecture. A guide took us through and pointed out many things I would have missed.

Gloria, looking quite lovely in the sunshine

After walking through downtown to a Mediterranean restaurant for lunch, we finished our day with a visit to the International Quilt Museum. This quilt was one of my favorites.

On another day, Gloria drove us through the Lee Simmons Wildlife Safari, which is just down the road from Platte. I was happy to see this sandhill crane. From late February to early April, over 600,000 sandhill cranes migrate on the Platte River valley before heading farther north. That is something I’d like to see some day – but I don’t know if I’d want to be in Nebraska at that time of year!

After leaving Platte River SP, we headed directly southwest to Tuttle Creek State Park just outside of Manhattan, Kansas. Manhattan was a place we called home for four years and both of our daughters were born at the hospital at nearby Ft. Riley. It is the kind of small university town with huge leafy trees that you would expect to find somewhere farther East, and we loved our day to day life here. We have traveled down memory lane several times in Manhattan, so our purpose this time was to catch up with our friends Gayle, Roger, and Gayle’s niece Annalise. All of the roads around Gayle’s berm home on a hillside are dirt, so they have ATVs. Of course we all had to go for a ride. Cal and I have been on many conveyances in our life, but this was our first for ATV riding.

Here we are with Annalise, who at eleven has her own ATV and rides it around her neighborhood like other kids might ride a bike. We rode to the top of a hill for a great view of the Kansas countryside.

Gayle and Roger are big Chiefs fans, and it was game day.

Gayle kept us on our toes, so we didn’t have a lot of time at Tuttle. It is a pretty park which could use a little TLC. They are building a new RV area, though. It was odd to be overnighting at a park we had only driven around in our former life here. It was too close to home, back then, to camp in.

Early morning view from our site at Tuttle Creek SP
Turkey vultures getting in a little beach time

Back here in Denver, Cal and I have been homebodies this fall, enjoying our grandchildren and keeping busy with day to day life. But we did get in a day trip to Rocky Mountain National Park. The rumors are true – this park is busy and we had to make an advance reservation. Arriving early morning, the parking lots were already full and we had to use the park shuttle. Sort of makes me miss the days when we would go to a park on a whim and just tool around. We’ve been to Rocky Mountain several times, so on this day we just headed directly for the trail. We took an eight mile hike to “The Loch”, a pretty mountain lake. It was straight uphill all the way with an elevation gain of 950 feet. The Loch was at 10,190 feet. The beauty all around us was incredible.

An aspen glade, about a week before peak fall color
Alberta Falls
This sign, after we had been steadily climbing. “Really? Another 1.3 miles to go???” Needless to say, Boulder Field was out of the question.
Cal giving the thumbs up: “We made it, it’s the lake!”
This stellar’s jay perched right in front of me as I was eating my lunch. It didn’t seem like it was looking for food as much as it just wanted to say hello.
Loch Vale, Rocky Mountain National Park

Back here in Denver…

I’ve been part of a group of ladies called Wonderful and Witty Women. The forming of this group coincided with my arrival in Denver. We are mostly grandmothers who have moved to Denver in order to be closer to our grandchildren. There is a Monday morning walk at City Park with breakfast on the patio at the golf course, another morning socializing at a community garden, a new book group is forming, and there are other activities depending on whatever someone dreams up. Some days several people might be missing, but then there are always a couple others I haven’t met yet who show up. It’s been a great way to stay connected and I will miss my new friends when we leave town. They know I’m a full time RV’er and there are no rules here, so I can just show up again in the spring.

Walking on a summer day in the park
Breakfast on the patio another day
Last walk with the group
City Park, Denver

Other events:

Our daughter-in-law’s parents came for a visit; this is Marion and Josie
We all bought zoo memberships and enjoyed Friday mornings at the zoo
Lots of great RV breakfasts in our DLH attire
Goodbye, Cherry Creek. We’ll be back when spring comes again.

There was also an awesome trip to New Orleans to visit another one of my sisters and her daughter, but that will be blogged another time.

Next time well, I’m not sure about that yet!

Destinations · US Travel

Duluth, Minnesota: Part 2

The marina at sunset

Once my husband and I started a family, we tried hard to come to Duluth at least every 18 months. One year we’d come in the summer, another year we’d come after Christmas. In between all the family visiting, we found things to see and do. The snow was a novelty in the winter, since we did not receive much snow at home in Missouri. We would snowmobile and tramp around Canal Park in negative temperatures with a cold wind blowing. Ships would come in with layers of ice piled up on them and dripping down the sides. There would be light displays and we would put on layers of clothing to go see them. In 2013 we came up after Thanksgiving for a family celebration, and got snowed in with an epic storm. Well, it was epic for us but typical for Duluth. It had never happened to us before, and we have never been Up North since, in the winter.

Duluth also has the Great Lakes Aquarium, the aforementioned Maritime Museum, a railroad museum and various rail excursions, a zoo, the William A. Irvin ore boat and the mysterious Glensheen mansion to tour, plus sightseeing cruises of the harbor and the lake, just to name a few. We’ve done all of these over the years, plus hiked and biked on various trails. We’re always on the lookout for something new. We found two new places to hike. Cal probably ran through these woods when he was a boy, although he doesn’t remember.

Trails converging in Chester Park

For our Chester park hike, it was getting ready to storm and hardly anyone was out. The woods were hushed, verdant, and damp. We had no idea where we were going, so that added to the feeling of mystery. We turned around and retraced our steps as soon as we felt the first drops hit!

Chester Park trail
The trail followed Chester creek though some pretty waterfalls, although the water was low from an unusual summer drought.

We also hiked Chester’s twin, Lester Park, with its aptly named Lester Creek:

All things are possible! Climbing this rock was my little challenge for the day.

Seeing the Lester Creek bridge did trigger a memory for Cal: one night he was in the same parking lot where we parked the truck, drinking with his buddies. A cop came by and didn’t make trouble for them, but they all had to pour out all their beer. He was really mad about the wasted beer!

In both Lester and Chester parks, we really felt away from it all. You would never know you were in the middle of Duluth. They were substantial walks and we never saw any houses.

Near Lester Creek is Seven Bridges Parkway, which really does have seven pretty little one-lane bridges. It dates back to the days when people enjoyed getting out in the horse and buggy for a Sunday afternoon ride.

At the end of the road from Seven Bridges , someone’s yard was lined with these beautiful flowers:

We also took a drive along Superior’s North Shore to the town of Two Harbors. I can’t remember ever having been to Two Harbors when it wasn’t foggy and cold. For this visit we had a beautiful day, and a picnic over looking the breakwater. We had almost finished when the Edwin Gott came into view.

Of course we had to watch it park! We sat for awhile and admired the captain’s expertise in parking such a huge ship along the ore dock. The great hopper on the left of the dock will come down and deliver the load of iron ore.

It was such a nice day, we walked on the breakwater:

From there, we could see the Two Harbors Lighthouse, which is the oldest working lighthouse in Minnesota. A pilot house from an ore ship sits in front of it.

What a day for a daydream…

We had seen the Edna G tugboat on the evening news, so we went to look for it. She was sitting on the other side of the ore docks. The Edna G is celebrating her 125th birthday and is now a museum ship.

Of course, it was time for some pie, and Betty’s Pies delivered. Mine was strawberry-rhubarb, and Cal’s was apple. Delicious, and too good to share just one piece! This will be a new favorite place to go.

There are a number of places for dining and treats that we always like to visit while in Duluth. Sammy’s Pizza is one, as well as Bridgeman’s for ice cream. Grandma’s down in Canal Park is good but we didn’t eat there this time. A trip to Coney Island cannot be missed.

The problem with Coney’s is that one Coney is not enough. So I tried two, and forgot that it comes with this huge plate of fries! Waaaaaay too much food, but oh so good. It’s the only place and time where I ever eat hot dogs.

Cal’s sister Jane and her husband Dan gave us the royal treatment. They showed up with breakfast in hand for our first morning at the marina. They invited us to their cabin on a lake for lunch another day. It is fun spending time with them now that all four of us are retired.

Enjoying a ride on the lake in their pontoon boat
The lake level was low due to the drought, but the lakeshore was beautiful
What a lovely, idyllic place to come and relax. Dan is always fixing or improving things at the cabin.

We also visited our niece Sarah, at her store – DLH Clothing – in the up and coming Lincoln Park area of Duluth, and were able to have some private shopping time even though the store was not yet open for the day. We just happened to run in to her and her husband, Mike, on the boardwalk while we were riding bikes. They were trying out some e-bikes. They let Cal give it a try, which he thought was pretty cool. I wasn’t brave enough.

Of course, here is the reason for our trip – Cal’s Mom! We had lots of time to visit, and I really appreciated the fact that now that I’m retired, we don’t have to squeeze a trip to Duluth in just a handful of days.

This blog has been longer than I would have wished, but there was so much to pack in. So many pictures, and plenty that I had to leave out. For multiple reasons, we truly are looking forward to the next visit.

Next time – Anyone’s guess…

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Duluth, Minnesota: Part 1

On Lake Superior’s shore

Duluth was the farthest northern and eastern point on this trip, and was the original reason for the whole journey. We wanted to see Cal’s family, particularly his mother. It had been a few years since I’d been there, less so for Cal, and COVID conditions finally seemed to be right for visiting her in her senior citizen’s apartment.

Home is wherever we are

Would you want to stay in an RV spot like this? How about if this (below) were your view? We were at the Lakehead Boat Basin Marina, and our nine days here flew by. In my limited experience of RV’ing so far, I can say that there is no where else I’d want to be stuck in a parking lot, but it’s where we’ll return whenever we come back!

Lakehead Boat Basin Marina, with a view of the lift bridge

Cal was born and raised in Duluth, except for a few years when his Army Dad moved the family to various assignments. He started bringing me here the year before we were married. That was more years ago than I’d like to say, but I loved it from the start. I hadn’t been to a whole lot of places in my life yet, although I thought I had, and it was unlike any other place I’d been. I can still say that there aren’t many places like it, and every time we return, it feels like coming home. It has a 50’s and 60’s feel to it, a hearkening back to days when life was simpler.

The center of focus is Canal Park. At its core, there is a lift bridge that takes cars and pedestrians to Park Point, a long spit of a peninsula lined with mostly older summer homes, but people do live there year round. A canal leads from Lake Superior and under the bridge into the harbor, where the Big Lakes ships receive ore from the northern Minnesota mines and head back out again. The lower platform of the bridge raises when the ships are coming through. The ship blasts its horn (called a salute), the bridge operator returns with blasts of its own, and it has been nothing but pure family entertainment for decades. Cal’s Mom reminisced about his grandpa loading up whatever grandkids were around, and heading down to the lake whenever a ship was sighted. His Dad would also ferry all his siblings down, and there would often be ice cream for a treat afterwards.

The Arthur Anderson coming in to the canal

Whenever we heard a horn blast, we would drop what what we were doing and hightail it down to the bridge. It was only 5 minutes from our site, which is why we chose to stay there. There were two different occasions when we were out grocery shopping, saw a ship in the lake when we drove back over the bridge, and scurried around the RV to toss the groceries where they belonged so we could go see.

Arthur Anderson under the bridge, with a view of Duluth on the hill beyond

I was very excited to see the Arthur Anderson. It was the last ship to have contact with the Edmund Fitzgerald, which famously sunk in Lake Superior in November of 1975, and was the subject of a hit song by Gordon Lightfoot. It was the first ship on the scene when the Fitzgerald sank, looking for survivors, but there were none. It’s hard to believe that a ship this old would still be plying the Great Lakes, but we saw some that were even older.

On a good day, and particularly on the weekends, the canal walkway is lined with spectators when a ship is coming or going. Behind them is the other part of the hill that Duluth is built on, which includes the downtown area. Tourism has grown in the years since I’ve started coming here. The Lake Superior marine museum has been next to the canal since the early 70’s (which does predate my arrival). The old warehouses behind Canal Park have been torn down or rehabbed and replaced with hotels, restaurants and shops. That’s either a good thing or a bad thing, depending on your point of view: local, or tourist. Before RV’ing, we depended on hotels or bed and breakfasts for our stays in Duluth. We saw prices rise astronomically, and availability decrease, over the years. But the tourism has kept a city which used to depend on the steel mills afloat. A lot of the visitors come up from Minneapolis/St. Paul on the weekends.

Sometimes it got pretty chilly out there on the canal!

Some ships are quite long, such as the Mesabi Miner. It stretched all the way from the front of the canal, at the lighthouse, almost all the way back to the bridge.

There are other boats that use the bridge. Sailboats usually come in or go out together, so the bridge has to only be raised once, and then it only needs to go halfway up.

The disadvantage to staying on Park Point is that you have to build a possible wait on a ship or set of sailboats, if the bridge is up, to your travel time. In this picture, it was time for all the sailboats to go out to the lake and we waited a half hour. If you look carefully to the left of the bridge, you can see the mast of one of the sailboats going through. We were lucky and didn’t have this happen often.

We had an anniversary celebration at the JJ Astor restaurant on the top of the Radisson hotel, which revolves. Cal took a picture of a ship in the harbor while we were up there. Afterward, we walked around the bridge area, which is beautiful lit up at night.

Some of the folks living on Park Point have the harbor as their back yard. One resident had a beautiful garden that we could enjoy on our way out to the bridge.

Sometimes we could see a ship going in or out in the harbor right from our marina
Enjoying a harbor view with the company of another RVer’s dog

In Canal Park, along Superior’s shore, there is a boardwalk that the city has lately rebuilt after the last bad storm wiped it out. They’ve had to do this before, so this time they erased the beach and built it up with a lot of rock. That has caused a lot of controversy, but hopefully they won’t have to rebuild it again. From the boardwalk, you can see something called the Ice House. Cal says it’s been called that his whole life. In doing some research, I find that other people call it Uncle Harvey’s Mausoleum. Harvey Whitney built it in 1919 as a sand and gravel hopper, and it was in use until 1922, when Lake Superior claimed it for its own. Its entertaining to watch people swimming to it, and playing on the rocks, from the boardwalk.

We took a long ride on the boardwalk one day
We were lucky to catch an excursion train going through. Fitgers, on the smokestack, is a local brewery.
Looking back at Canal Park and the bridge from a stop on the boardwalk.
Stormy skies
We enjoyed some amazing sunsets

I thought I’d put all of Duluth on one blog but it didn’t fit! We just had too much fun.

Next time – all of the other fun that we had in Duluth area, but probably no ships.

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Medora, North Dakota and Beyond

A black coal seam in the cliffs above the Little Missouri River

Medora Musical and Pitchfork Steak Fondue

The gates to Theodore Roosevelt NP were less than a quarter mile from our RV park in Medora, and the town itself was right on the other side of the gates. We heard from several people that we should not miss the Pitchfork Steak Fondue dinner and the Medora Musical during our stay in Medora. Steak Fondue evoked visions of steak smothered in cheese for Cal. The fondue part was actually a vat of oil, with steaks plunged into it by the pitchfork full. I wouldn’t normally be up for a deep fried steak, but it and the dinner was actually very delicious. They serve hundreds of people six nights a week.

The dinner was at the same place as the musical, which performs six nights a week. We had some time to look around between dinner and the show. We were on top of a plateau, so there was a great view.

These elk tried in vain to get into the show for free

The amphitheatre reminded me of the Muny back in St. Louis, but this only seats about 2,800. We had a long way down to our seats, close to the front, and there was still time to check out the set before the show started.

Theodore Roosevelt, of course, is a favored son of Medora. But there was also a Frenchman, Marquis de Mores, who founded the town and named it after his wife, Medora von Hoffman. A benefactor of the Medora Musical, and the town, was the Mr. Bubbles creator, Harold Schafer. All of these people were portrayed in the musical, which told the history of Medora. There was even a reenactment of Roosevelt’s charge up San Juan Hill. In between all the show-stopping songs, there was an acrobatic group called “The Chicago Boyz”. They were truly amazing but, unfortunately, I was so enthralled by them that I didn’t get any pictures. We both greatly enjoyed our evening.

Hiking on the Pancratz Trail with T. Roosevelt

Medora is very proud of all the new additions that are constantly being added to the town. One such item was their new hiking trail, the Pancratz Trail. Guided hikes on the new trail are offered, you guessed it, six days a week. Three days a week the hike is a moderate 30 minutes, and the other three are a 90 minute strenuous hike. I wasn’t sure which day was which and, as luck would have it, we were on the strenuous day. At the trailhead, we waited for our guide, and who should show up but Theodore Roosevelt himself? He is actually Joe Weigand, a Roosevelt impersonator. He has speaking engagements, performs a daily show in Medora as Roosevelt, and is an all-around Medora enthusiast and promoter.

One of Roosevelt’s favorite games was something called the “Point to Point” game, in which he would pick a point in the distance and a player had to get from Point A to Point B as quickly as possible. A player could go “over, under, through, but never around”. Jogging was not a sport back then, but Roosevelt was known for hiking very briskly and Joe seemed to have adapted Roosevelt’s philosophy. He kept up a running banter even while going up hill, while we huffed and puffed behind him! He talked about all things Roosevelt and Medora, as well of the geological aspects of what we were seeing. Joe hikes this trail 6 times a week in the summer unless he has out-of-town speaking engagements, and only twice this summer has no one showed up for his daily hike.

If I was expecting a nice concrete and boardwalk trail, I was sadly mistaken. Pancratz Trail is a narrow dirt path and at times it was precariously on the edge of the cliffs. We had to climb up and down some rocks. At the speed we were going, it was all I could do not to tumble over the sides. To which I say, using Roosevelt’s own word, “Bully!” It was great fun. I could appreciate all they had to do just to create the trail, after Joe explained about its construction.

I love holes in cliffs. When we drive by, I want to fly up and explore them. Sometimes they are almost ground level, and I want to see if there’s a cave in there. In our drive through T.R.N.P, Cal made sure to let me know he wasn’t stopping for any holes. Well! There was a hole on the Pancratz Trail, and Joe stopped. The rock in this area is in a constant state of erosion between wind, rain, and drought, he explained, hence all the holes.

A view of Pancratz trail, from Pancratz trail

I didn’t take any other pictures on the trail – no time to stop!!

One thing that Joe, and the town of Medora, are very excited about is the construction of the new Theodore Roosevelt Presidential Library on a plateau near the Medora musical. The opening is slated for 2025.

The Enchanted Highway

Gary Greff had a dream: to find a way to keep his beloved town of Regent, ND, from completely dying out. He decided to build huge sculptures and place them along the 32 mile stretch of highway south of I-94 leading to the town. He learned how to weld, and used cast-off farm implements, and the Enchanted Highway was born. Regent was a 75-mile drive from Medora, but we needed to sit after our hike anyway. After we saw the sculptures, we were on the highway, and then had a 40 mile drive back.

Here are some of them:

Tin Family to get a little perspective, see if you can find Cal!
Pheasants on the Prairie
Fisherman’s Dream

The local school closed while Gary was building his sculptures. He transformed it into the Enchanted Castle, a medieval style hotel with a tavern and a steakhouse. The latter two items were closed until evening while we were there, and I still think Regent has a long way to go. But kudos for Gary for living his dream.

This sculpture had a button you could press, and the whirli-gigs would spring into action
North Dakota country

Next time – we arrive in Duluth, Minnesota

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Theodore Roosevelt National Park

Coming north from Wyoming, we went through a sliver of South Dakota, giving Sturgis a wide berth. It was the day after the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally ended, but I wasn’t taking any chances. We did see a lot of motorcycles – and vehicles carrying motorcycles – heading south, so our timing and location was good.

Well, there it is, we have offically entered North Dakota. After taking our pictures, I turned around, and there was the South Dakota sign, shot full of bullet holes. Great target practice on those faces, I suppose. There was a big pullout by the signs, which was a perfect place for a lunch stop. Then I noticed another signpost:

We were sitting smack dab on the Great Western Trail, which was a famous trail that herded millions of cattle from Texas to Canada between 1874 and 1893. Because of the trail, the ranching and livestock industry received a huge boost, and the trail also was a big part of North Dakota heritage. I tried to picture all the cattle and cowboys coming through as I ate my lunch.

It was still a long road to Medora, our destination for the day, and the hills were shrouded in forest fire haze.

I have seen pictures of Theodore Roosevelt National Park, but I was totally awestruck by our first glimpse of it. This picture is of Painted Canyon, which also includes a park visitor’s center and rest stop on the highway.

It’s hard to understand why this park was given Theodore Roosevelt’s name without understanding the history of his involvement here. He originally came out to North Dakota to hunt bison in 1883. He invested in cattle operations – the Maltese Cross Ranch. Then, in a terrible double whammy, he lost both his wife and his mother on the same day – Valentine’s Day of the next year – and came back to heal and to find solitude. He started the Elkhorn Ranch, but ultimately lost a lot of money on the investment. He witnessed – and actually had a small part in – the threats to the environment caused by overgrazing and overhunting. Conservation became one of his major concerns, and as US President he created parks, forests, and federal reserves with over 230 million acres of protected land. In Medora, the town bordering the national park, he looms large.

“I have always said I never would have been President if it had not been for my .experiences in North Dakota.” – Theodore Roosevelt, 1918

We started our day in TRNP early, with a hike, on the hopes of seeing more wildlife and less people. The visitor center at the South Unit wasn’t open yet, and neither was T. Roosevelt’s Maltese Cross cabin, but we checked it out upon our return. This is the original cabin, but it was moved here from another location.

On our way to our chosen trail, we saw a flock of turkeys and many prairie dogs. Prairie dogs have huge “towns” in several areas of the park. There was a turnoff where some young ladies were saddling up for a horse back ride. This prairie dog was irate that they were near his turf, and was “barking” up a storm. The comical thing was that, every time he barked (which sounds like a chirp) his tail would go up and down. I’m sure he thought he was being very fierce!

We hiked through fields of sage, and along and through the (mostly dry) small canyons created by Jones Creek. Then we saw them – bison!

We thought this was exciting, until we realized there was a herd, and they were commencing to cross our path. There was no going forward. This created a little bottleneck of hikers: two who had been ahead of us, and then some others came up behind us. We all oohed and aahed at first, taking lots of pictures. Mainly it was enjoyable to watch the herd just going about their day. We then discussed our dilemma: at what point would we be able to go forward?

The baby bison decided to have breakfast right on our path

This large male seemed to be the gatekeeper for the herd and stood on the path for quite some time, eyeing us and chewing on what looked to be dirt and rocks. He did slowly move off. Cal and I were the first of the hikers to move past. We decided he was not really interested in us unless we proved to be a threat to the herd.

When we saw a second herd off in the distance, possibly intersecting with the trail ahead, we decided it was time to turn around. This ended up being a 5 mile hike.

There is a scenic drive in the park, so we spent the rest of our time exploring in the truck, with a few short hikes at points of interest.

We climbed to the top of Buck Hill – it was windy!
Lunch with a view

We had an additional treat in store – wild horses!

It didn’t look like the colt had been long on its legs
A TRNP-style traffic jam

Next time – Medora, ND happenings, and a visit with Theodore Roosevelt

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In the Footsteps of the Pioneers

Photo Credit: Wyoming State Museum, Cheyenne

I am a huge fan of any book having to do with pioneer stories. It probably started long ago with the “Little House” series by Laura I. Wilder, which I read several times over, although I remember reading others. I no longer see these stories through rose-colored glasses. The last one I read recently was a sad diary by one woman whose family had been killed by Indians. I know that the story of the development of the frontier is a complicated one and can be looked at through several lenses, but it is still very interesting to me.

So, I thought it might be fun to see Oregon trail ruts. My interest was piqued on this idea several years ago when we were horse riding in Estes Park, Colorado, and the picture above is from that time. Our trail guide casually mentioned that the trail that you can see at the top of the mountain in the center of the picture was made by wagons going west. Fact or fiction, it made me wonder what else I would be able to still see.

My search led us to Guernsey, Wyoming. This picture was our first sighting of wagon ruts. The area is a state historic site. We walked down the trail for awhile and found more. The ruts were in rock which had been worn down by so many wagons going through. Nearly 400,000 people traveled the trail, an approximately 2,000 mile trip to either California or Oregon.

It was such a thrill for me. Once again, I had that “history beneath my feet” feeling. I could hear the heavy snuffling of the horses, the bawling of the cattle and oxen, and the clanking of the pots and pans inside the wagons. I could see people walking, on and on down the trail, because there wasn’t room to ride in the wagons unless one was very young, old, or infirm.

This picture shows the countryside around the trail, looking much as it did 150 years ago.

Despite the latest book I read, Indian attacks were rare. Many people died of cholera or some other disease. In the Oregon Trail computer game of the 90’s, which my daughters played constantly, their characters frequently died of dysentery – true in real life as well. People also drowned in river crossings. Below is a picture of the Platte River near the ruts, which would have had to have been crossed. It still runs swift and deep.

In my prior post I added a picture of mastodon bones from the Wyoming Welcome Center on I-25. Here is a fully loaded wagon from that same museum.

The emigrants were not the only ones on the trail. The first to come, besides the natives who were already here, were the explorers and fur trappers. There were miners seeking gold in California. The emigrants were lured by free land in Oregon, but many stopped along the way and made their home where they were. Others, such as the Mormons, were seeking freedom from religious persecution. A little further down the road from the ruts, some of the passers-by left their names on Register Cliff. The natives were the first to leave their mark, but many of these have been obliterated either by time, or by the newer visitors who also left their names. Many times the travelers wanted to let family and friends know that they had made it thus far. There are over 350 names on the cliff.

Some of the markings are right next to newer ones.
Swallow nests in the cliff above the signatures

A rest stop for the travelers was to be found at Ft. Laramie, which was just east of the ruts and Register Cliff. This was a major stop for bathing and washing clothes, replacing worn-out draft animals, and making repairs to their wagons. They could find replenishment for supplies, letters from home, and protection if it was needed. It also became a dumping ground for overweight wagons. After Ft. Laramie was decomissioned, many of the buildings fell into disrepair and are lost to time. It was a much bigger fort than I had thought it would be. Eleven structures were restored and furnished to the way they had been.

The building directly to the left of the wagon was the post trader’s store, where everyone would have loaded up on provisions, and the residents of the fort could add to their home furnishings.
Typical supplies that would have been available. There is actually no one strung up from the ceiling – those are just new boots for sale!
The enlisted cavalry barracks
It seemed like everyone would be returning momentarily, with beds made and all of their personal items on the shelves and hooks
Time for dinner!
One of the officers’ homes can be seen on the far left.

In between the sight seeing, we took time to drive through Guernsey State Park. We had a picnic lunch in an old CCC shelter. It was a very hot day, so we were glad for the shade.

Our modern-day Conestoga

Unfortunately, we couldn’t get a site at the state park. The RV park we stayed in was just a little farther down the road and in Wyoming farm country. We enjoyed some walks nearby.

These cows were way off in the distance when we started walking, and then we realized they were all coming to greet us!

When I was searching for an RV park, the one we stayed at received negative reviews for the frequent trains that go by across the road. To make matters worse, it is near an intersection, so the train whistle blows several times as it goes by. It is a well-known fact that many RV parks are built near train tracks, but the whistle just added an extra dimension. We rather like the sound of trains going by, and the lonely sound of the whistle, but on the second night the whistle volume seemed to increase by several decibels. I was glad this wasn’t more than a two-night stay!

The trains have been a common sight for us so far, both in our stays in southern Wyoming and now here, where I’m writing this in North Dakota. Mostly they are loaded with coal from mines in the Gillette, Wyoming area and are headed to power plants that are fueled by coal to produce electricity. The trains run frequently and constantly. It amazed me that so much coal is still being used.

I found the Platte River again about a mile and a half down a country road from our RV park, and it was beautiful on one of my early morning walks, so I’ll leave you for now with that view.

Next time – Medora, ND

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Cheyenne, Wyoming

I’ve been singing the old Willie Nelson song, “On the Road Again.” As happy as we were to be with our grandchildren and their parents, we are about as happy to be on another journey. This one will be a month in duration, with our last destination to be Duluth, Minnesota before turning back in a southwestern direction. I’m going to try (the operative word here being “try”) to post our travels a little more timely. Of course, I’m also at the mercy of the foibles of the internet wherever we go.

For being a capitol city, Cheyenne’s population is only roughly around 63,000 souls. It has the feel of a small town, and getting around was relaxed and easy. Either that, or we have been in Denver too long. It was great to not fight the traffic everywhere.

I took this picture from the rail depot in Cheyenne at high noon on a Friday, looking down to the Capitol building. In the picture it looks closer than what it is; the distance is about a half mile.

There was a time long ago when I thought it would be fun to visit all of the capitols in the US. I’ve since lost that ambition, but I have been inside many. As capitol buildings go, Cheyenne’s architecture wasn’t overly ornate and there wasn’t a large amount of art pieces. Wyoming has the lowest population of any state in the Union, so I suppose that follows. Their legislature only meets 40 days in one year, and 20 in the next.

A docent who was eager to talk to us was proud of a renovation that was done not too long ago. It was the first one since the building was completed back in 1888. They don’t rush into things in Wyoming. There were 4 niches built into the walls for a statues, and these were finally added in 2019. Together, the 4 statues are “The Four Sisters” and they are Truth, Justice, Courage, Hope. Courage is pictured below. I guess it does take a lot of courage to hold a snake.

Here is Hope, and this picture shows some of the fresh renovation as well.
The ceiling in the House of Representatives

When we first crossed over into Wyoming, we stopped off at the Welcome Center off I-25. It was probably the nicest Welcome Center I’ve ever seen, with a beautiful building that reached up and over the prairie, and a museum. This mastodon skeleton greeted us as we entered.

Wyoming has a lot of prehistoric fossils, and there are dig sites all over the state. After we were finished with the capitol building, we ambled over to the Wyoming State Museum. The first part of the museum was an exhibition on the excavations of the fossils. Since I had taken a picture of the mastodon bones earlier, I had to take another one in this museum. This one was a Camptosaurus, which lived 150 million years ago. It was 23 feet long and was a plant-eater.

Another exhibit that caught my eye was native embroidery and beading. I like to do embroidery work, so I could appreciate all the detail on this Lakota vest.

THE way to get around Yellowstone National Park, back in the day.

Painted boots are quite the thing in Cheyenne, and we saw many of them around town.

This boot was in front of the train depot
A statue at the train depot called “New Beginning”. Maybe she just stepped off the train from back east?

The train depot had a museum that was interesting, but the thing that got my attention was a huge model train set on the second floor, one man’s 35-year labor of love. He constructed all the buildings and hand-painted the backdrops. This picture just shows one small part of it. The train was running through the whole thing.

We walked quite a bit through F.E. Warren Air Force Base, which feels more like a living museum than a base. Officers still live in the historic original red brick houses, and any new construction has to also be done in red brick, in the same architectural style. There was a cemetery on base, which was a little unusual, but many graves went back to the air base’s early days. In 1867 the base was constructed as Fort Russell, an Army outpost on the Great Plains. There were a lot of pronghorn antelope lounging about, mostly on the green grass of the officer quarters. I guess that is a lot more cushy than the brown tall grass of the prairie!

Next time – moving on up to Guernsey

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A Steamboat Springs Interlude

In June we left our RV resting comfortably in the state park, and took an overnight trip to Steamboat Springs, Colorado. All I knew about the town was that it is a very popular winter skiing destination. We headed out on I-70, turned off, and took state route 40 all the way up. It’s a two-sometimes-three-lane road with some mountain passes, and part of our plan was to see if it was OK to traverse with the RV on some future trip. The interesting thing is that as I am writing this now, a portion of the I-70 highway is currently closed because of mud slides due to a large forest fire. Route 40 northwest, and another road back south, is the designated detour for the highway. It adds 4-plus hours to a trip. I’m sure we wouldn’t want to be on Route 40 now!

Berthoud Pass, on the Continental Divide, was the gateway inside the beautiful Rockies.

There was amazing scenery to behold around every turn. The picture below shows our very scenic lunch spot.

Steamboat Springs got its name, so the legend goes, from 3 French trappers who found the spring. As it was spouting, it made a “chugging” sound, which reminded them of the sound a steamboat makes. Ironically, although the town carries this name, you can no longer hear the spring. When the railroad was built, changes to the area around the spring obliterated this sound. The spring is still there, though, along with a sulphur spring, and both feed into the nearby Yampa River.

Steamboat Spring
Black Sulphur Spring was a little bit stinky
It looks like the sulphur spring flowed directly into the Yampa at one time, and may even have come straight out of this big rock.

Far from being a sleepy town in the summer, Steamboat Springs was bustling. We had a difficult time making our way down the main street at the dinner hour because of all the traffic. Tourist shops, restaurants, ice cream parlors and breweries were all doing a brisk business. Maybe it was because of all the pent-up isolation from Covid. But also, there is so much to do here. In the picture above, you may see a bridge on the upper left side. That is a biking and walking trail that went all through town alongside the Yampa River. There are trails up in the mountains for hiking as much as anyone would want. There are also fishing and other water sports in the river. The town has a couple of interesting-looking museums, but we didn’t get to those in the short time we were there.

An evening stroll took us to Fish Creek Falls, which descends at a height of 280 feet.

A stand of aspen trees in a glade on the walk to the falls

We paid a visit to the Yampa River Botanic Park. For a small town with a short growing season, the garden was beautiful with many blooming flowers.

I know, I can go a little crazy with the flower pictures. But the lupines are my favorite, always.
I was very tempted to join this yoga class as we walked through the park. Maybe another day.
This osprey nest could be seen from the gardens. I had to use my longest zoom on this one.
I didn’t know ospreys would attack drones. Good for them, I say.

We enjoyed a short walk on the trail before heading home. I love Steamboat Springs’ bike culture-there were numerous bikes parked outside of the garden for the yoga class, and many on the trail. People were using them to get from one place to another instead of cars. I’d love to live in a town like that, but I wouldn’t like the winters here!

A backyard on the trail with a ski fence
More aspen trees, and a bike basket flower garden

Next time – we head off on a journey north