Destinations · Uncategorized · US Travel · USTravel

Ft. Huachuca, Arizona

Morning snow cover on the Huachuca Mountains

We arrived at Ft. Huachuca early in February. After a week, we were off to Hawaii. Frodo and Sam (our truck and 5th wheel) went into storage for a month in a lot on post close to Apache Flats, our RV park. We were there another month after our trip to Hawaii. I was working on the Hawaii blogs the whole time, so none of the fun excursions we did were posted. Perhaps I will catch them up at a later date.

Ft. Huachuca is an old Army post that dates back to the 1800’s, when new trails were being explored across the West and the Indian wars were happening. Today, it is the home of Military Intelligence (MI). There is a training school for mostly new recruits fresh out of basic training and a handful of MI battalions, among other units. It’s tucked up into the foothills of the Huachuca mountains, and sprawls all the way down to the Sonoran desert. The whole post is quiet and relaxed, although maybe not for the students at the MI school.

Looking at the Huachucas from the historic side of post

The RV park on Ft. Huachuca is in the foothills on the edge of civilization before the road goes off into the brush. There was nothing but nature all around us, and we started to think of the mountain as “ours”, in all its moods.

We called Ft. Huachuca home for a couple of years back in the 80’s, and loved it here. It was the only military assignment Cal had, after we married, in which we lived in government family quarters. It was a quiet, laid-back place to live. We were at the end of a 6-plex row of homes, and became friends with several of the neighbors around us. There were game nights, dinners together, and plenty of chats on the driveways. I went to school on my GI Bill and was one semester short of an Associate’s Degree when Cal received a “can’t miss” chance for reassignment in Washington, D.C. I always thought we’d at least come back for a visit, but this was our first time here in all the years since.

The rows of 6-plexes are gone now, replaced by beautiful new housing, schools, and a daycare facility. There is a larger emphasis on taking care of soldiers’ families in the military today, and I’m happy to see that. Our quarters were old even when we lived in them. Two rows of the 6-plexes were saved from the bulldozer for use as maintenance offices.

Looking down the row of the 6-plex. The front yards would have been grassy with the occasional prickly pear cactus.

The “A” unit was ours, on the end. I checked the address on the side of the building and it was not the one we lived in. That would have been a huge coincidence. Since all units were identical, I stood on the front entryway of the “A” unit and felt just a touch nostalgic for what had been.

This was our view when we lived here, minus the new buildings. Our unit was on the edge of the desert.

Ft. Huachuca is home to a lot of wildlife. Deer are numerous, and we often saw javelinas. We had a sighting of a coyote one evening, and I stumbled on the huge flock of turkeys on one of my walks one day. I counted at least a couple dozen.

This deer and I had a stare-down contest. I lost the game.
Sort of reminds me of the Beatles walking across Abbey Road. But wait, there’s one missing!
Ah, there’s the little straggler.
They’re easy to miss because they blend in, but there is a whole row of turkeys behind the one in the front

The birds! There were so many of them. The mountains of southern Arizona are “sky islands” in the Sonoran desert. The birds migrate up from Mexico along the chain of mountains. Sierra Vista, the town outside of Ft. Huachuca, is known as the hummingbird capital of the U.S. for all the types of hummingbirds that come. For a while, a couple in an RV with three hummingbird feeders were parked across from us. They would be gone all day, and we could enjoy the hummingbirds from our lawn chairs when we were home. They told us they had seen 8 varieties while sitting at dinner one night. Even without the feeders there were plenty of them zipping around the park at any time. And this little red bird came to visit us often.

We took many hikes into both Huachuca and Garden canyons, right on the military post. I don’t remember this from when we lived here. We visited many beautiful places while we lived in Arizona; how did we not know this was in our own back yard? I guess it was a combination of the pre-computer era, and also the busyness of daily life, plus only having weekends for exploration. If we didn’t know anyone who hiked the canyons, we just wouldn’t have known about it.

Garden Canyon even had some petroglyphs.

Before getting deep into the canyons, we would pass multiple picnic areas which are no longer being maintained. I couldn’t understand why not, at first. I finally decided that they hearken back to an earlier era when government family quarters didn’t have air conditioning. Parents might’ve been happy to get up into the cooler canyons to let the kids play and have a picnic on a Sunday afternoon. I never saw anyone using the facilities.

We also attended a rodeo at the only rodeo arena in the world that is inside a military installation.

There was a competition in which four teams of military guys had to put panties on a bull. It was hilarious to watch their efforts!

Ft. Huachuca also has horse stables. Back in the day, you could go up to a window at the stables, show your ID card, give them a few bucks, and “check out” a horse. Cal and I did that several times, just riding the horses up into the hills by ourselves. We would always put a carrot or two in our pockets for them. Sadly, you can’t do that anymore. You have to go on a trail ride. We went on a sunset ride, and although it wasn’t the same, it was still enjoyable. We’ve heard that there used to be around 90 horses, and now there are only 16. They stopped individual check outs because too many people were getting bucked.

Back in the Midwest, spring was my favorite season. I loved the arrival of spring flowers and the budding and blooming of the trees. Here at Ft. Huachuca we have enjoyed a spring season also, but it’s just a little different. It started back in February when I saw a barrel cactus in bloom in Tucson:

The cholla cactus was in bloom throughout our entire stay at Ft. Huachuca. At Apache Flats, we enjoyed watching a bird building a nest in one of them on our evening walks.

This huge agave was sprouting inch by inch. I would’ve liked to have seen it when it reached full growth.

When March turned to April, the ocotillo went into bloom. Their flowers are only at the top. On a desert hillside full of ocotillo, they look like orange waving flags. Usually the rest of the ocotillo stems are black, but in spring they turn green.

Interestingly, I read on Wikipedia that ocotillo is more closely related to tea and blueberries, even though it is semi-succulent and a desert plant.

The trees by our site went into leaf a little more slowly than I would have liked. I think we need to stay an extra couple of weeks into spring the next time we are here, so we can finish watching everything come into full bloom. Yes, there will be a next time, but as always, we don’t know how many years down the road it will be. We’re on the road again!

Next time: Grand Canyon

Destinations · Uncategorized · US Travel · USTravel

Sabino Canyon

Sabino Canyon, Esperero Trail

After spending a month at Gold Canyon, we moved a little further south to Tucson. This is a city we were very familiar with years ago, but time changes things and we didn’t see much that was familiar. Several people we talked to told us to go to Sabino Canyon, which was not a place we had heard of.

The proper name for this place is “Sabino Canyon Recreation Area, Coronado National Forest”. It is not far from Tucson so it is a popular place to hike. There is a whole network of trails in here. In an effort to ease congestion, a shuttle service was installed years ago. There’s a one-hour narrated 7.4-mile roundtrip tour into the upper end of the canyon, with nine stops to get off sooner to hike various trails. There is also another shuttle route with service to Bear Canyon which is shorter and not narrated.

It is an error these days to think you can just show up and ride a shuttle. When we arrived at Sabino Canyon, all the shuttles for the day were full. We should have booked ahead on-line. They’ve recently converted the pollution-belching gas shuttles to electric – but several don’t work. However, a volunteer ranger was ready for us. He mapped out a route for us from the visitor’s center with several interconnecting trails – just over two miles, he said. I think it was further than that. I had 12,000 steps on my Fitbit at the end of the day, which is about six miles.

No matter, once we hit the trail we left everyone behind, and mostly had it to ourselves.

This little ledge overlooking a creek was a great spot to have a picnic lunch
An old dam is gone, but has left a pretty waterfall
Another great way to visit the trail!

Bear Canyon Trail to Seven Falls

We thought our first hike at Sabino Canyon was fun, but we actually missed the one that everyone talks about: the Seven Falls hike. It was a longer trail than we had wanted on our first visit: 8.6 miles. The distance can be reduced down to about 5 miles by taking the Bear Canyon Shuttle. We returned the next week to give it a go. The Bear Canyon Shuttle isn’t as busy as the Sabino Canyon Shuttle, but I still made sure to get tickets this time.

The sun was still coming up over the higher mountain peaks as we walked.

Soon we were following a creek–

And then, we crossed the creek. And then crossed back. And back again. The river got deeper, the rocks farther apart. Finally I consulted our trail map: there are seven creek crossings before reaching Seven Falls! Which means, of course, seven crossings back, since this is an out-and-back trail.

We looked back behind us, and saw an arch in the rocks:

On trails in the Southwest, I’ve learned that a sign like this means switchbacks are coming, which means going up. Shortcutting is going off-trail and climbing straight up, as opposed to the gentler zig-zagging on the trail. We did indeed hike upwards, and then around the edge of the cliffs, and the trail narrowed. It was a little treacherous, so there are no pictures on that part!

Our first glimpse of Seven Falls:

The view is breathtaking. I counted them and indeed there are seven waterfalls. The distance from top to bottom is of considerable length and couldn’t be captured on Cal’s phone or my camera well, especially with the sun in the wrong spot. Trust me…it was worth the hike and all the creek crossings. Looking at the above picture: from here, we climbed down to the right, crossed the creek, and then back up to the first rock in the sun on the left to enjoy the waterfalls and the view. In the picture below, you can see people in the bottom left, and that’s where we sat for awhile.

Coming out of the falls, we passed a group of young college students (judging by their t-shirts and ballcaps). By the time we reached the cliff above the falls, they had stripped down to bathing suits and had jumped into this pool (above) under the waterfall. This was accompanied by much whooping and hollering, as we could hear even from our vantage point! The water must have been cold!

Next time – Saguaros, and an announcement


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.


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


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


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


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


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


Summer in Denver

We have been in Denver for over two months and it’s been eventful and fun. Of course, one of the most exciting events has been the birth of our cute and adorable granddaughter, Josie. She is loved by her mothers, her big brother Teddy, and of course, us! We have also assisted with their move to a new house.

Denver’s commercial RV parks did not work out for us, so we have been residents of two different state parks for the summer: Cherry Creek and Chatfield. There is a two week limit to a stay, so after two weeks, off to the other park we go. It seems crazy, and it’s been interesting telling people I live in a state park. But it has worked for us. Each time we return to the parks, we go to a different site, and we’ve liked having that changing perspective all summer.

Cherry Creek State Park

Cherry Creek is very close to our family. It’s also closest to the places we have established for medical and dental care, and all of the associated places one needs to go. It’s an urban park, with the Denver suburbs all around it. This is very handy on the one hand, but on the other, it makes for more noise and less of an “out there” natural experience. On our second rotation to the park, it began being populated by lots of bugs – mostly miller moths and mosquitos. I was very happy I was staying at my daughter’s house, waiting for the birth of her daughter. A medical technician I talked to one day had this to say: “I tell my friends that if they are new to camping, or have new equipment to check out and set up, Cherry Creek is good for a night or two”. It’s also great for bike riders, boaters, walking, being close to the city of Denver, and to have a place to stay for the summer. We’ve seen animals – mostly deer, but also coyote, squirrels, rabbits, and different birds.

We had a flock of chattering magpies at our second site. I could hear them hopping around on the top of the RV.
These flowers came into bloom along the roadside and stayed in bloom for the summer.
On a hike through the wetlands area, this burn area had its own beauty.
Another hike, this time along the dam.
Our grandson enjoyed the beach.
Our second site at Cherry Creek

Chatfield State Park

We’ve come to look forward to our stays at Chatfield. It is a half hour away from Cherry Creek and closer to the foothills of the Front Range of the Rockies. It’s also a half hour away from our family, and just about the same distance from anything we need to do, but we relax and feel like we’re more in nature. On our first stay we were overlooking the lake and the marina. It was fun to watch all the activity on the lake from a distance – boats launching in and out of the water, sailboaters readying their sails and doing evening laps around the lake, and waterskiers having a grand time. But we have come to prefer the sites on the back loop, in the pine trees, looking at the foothills. We see deer going through our site so often that I no longer run for the camera when I see one. One day, we came back after being out for a bike ride, and a doe and her two fawns were calmly having their lunch, unperturbed that we had arrived. Chatfield is a great place to head out for all kinds of excursions into the foothills and mountains. It’s a very photogenic place – I have way too many pictures!

The “natural” part of our view from our first site
Chatfield Dam is connected to the South Platte River and protects the area from flooding.
We took a bike ride up to the top of the dam…
…got a great view of Denver from there…
…and were able to see look over at our site and the marina for a rare view.
The evening skies are ever changing
Our second site at Chatfield, one of our favorites for the summer
Chatfield has a hot air balloon launch and the balloons have become a regular sight.
One of the visitors to our site
Some of the residents of the prairie dog village outside Chatfield’s gate

We have also enjoyed having several human visitors this summer:

Kris, Rusty and Bailey were our first visitors. Bailey had a lot of fun chasing sticks in (the very cold) Cherry Creek.
We had a quick but enjoyable evening visit with my sister and brother-in-law, Gloria and Chuck.
Our daughter-in-law’s brother, Emmett, came to visit during the longest hail storm ever

Next time – one of our excursions. Which one? Hmmm…


To the Great Sand Dunes and Beyond

Our first stop in the state of Colorado. Look at those clouds!

I was excited to arrive in Colorado. We were both happier than I thought we’d be to put arid New Mexico behind us, and get a first glimpse of the Rockies. Every mile was taking me closer to my grandson in Denver, who I couldn’t wait to see, so there was that. We do love seeing the Colorado mountains, though.

First of all, we had to negotiate a Colorado-style traffic jam.

We were on our way to Great Sand Dunes National Park, in the southeastern portion of the state. They are the tallest sand dunes in North America, breathtaking to look at with the Sangre de Cristo mountains as their backdrop. Over thousands of years, sediment from the mountains blew down into a valley which contained several lakes. When the lakes receded, the sand was left behind.

The tallest dunes are 750 feet in height, and the entire dune area is about 30 miles wide. Standing and looking at them, or even hiking them, it doesn’t seem like they could be so large. On the morning we planned to hike the dunes, we woke up to snow. The soft white layer sat on the top of our truck and we could see snow on the dunes as we departed for our visit to the park. It was only 40 degrees and I really wasn’t sure about getting some outdoor time. There was no doubt in Cal’s mind that we were keeping our plans, so I layered up and we headed out.

View from our living room, the foothills covered in snow

The only way to visit the dunes is to first cross the sandy Medano Creek. There is no bridge. The fresh mountain water was a bit cold on the toes, but not as bad as I thought it would be. And I was already starting to shed layers.

Hiking the dunes was pure fun.
We blazed new trails–
–and took a lot of breaks just to enjoy the view.
Some people like to surf the dunes, and sleds can also be rented.

It warmed up to an amazing 48 degrees by the time we were off the dunes and enjoying our picnic lunch. We were at a high altitude so the sun felt good, and we were heated up from the hike, so a cool picnic was not an issue at all.

We enjoyed the views from all sides and at different times of day during our two-night stay near the dunes. On an earlier trip, we had passed this park up due to a shortage of time. I’m glad that we were able to give it a good visit!

In the same day, we visited Zapata Falls. The drive up the side of the mountain was 3 miles on a treacherous boulder and rock-strewn road. Our truck did the job just fine. We saw just one or two smaller vehicles at the top and weren’t sure how they could have done it – or what they did to their cars in the process.

Zapata was our second creek crossing in one day, but much higher on a scale of difficulty.

There were rocks, flowing deep water, and a small ice field to traverse
Then, a passageway between the cliff walls
First glimpse of the iced-in portion of the falls
Success! There’s the rest of the 25 foot Zapata Falls – a sight to see!

At this writing, it has been about 2 months since we visited Zapata, and looking back, it was one of the highlights of our trip so far. A slightly dangerous adventure that leads to success is always a cause for celebration!

Next time-Summer of 2021 in Denver