Birthday Waterfall Trip 2020

July 8, 2020 marks my hubby’s 65th birthday. In the midst of a year of the Covid 19 corona virus pandemic, the challenge has become what can we do to honor and celebrate this unique milestone. Many institutions are closed and those that aren’t have limits on occupancy – even the state parks and outdoor recreational areas. I have come up with a set of four waterfalls within driving distance that we can visit in one day.

We leave at 7:15 a.m. on a hot muggy morning. The weatherman is predicting temperatures hitting ninety degrees today with heat indices near 100 degrees. We drop Claire, the golden doodle, off at the doggy daycare in Elgin, MN and then head northwest on Hwy 42 towards Wabasha. We have skipped breakfast at home and hope to find the little café, The Eagle, open for dine-in eating. One never knows these days as many restaurants are still not fully open due to the Covid 19 pandemic. We have brought face masks along in case we are required to wear them as is mandated in many bigger cities. But this is Wabasha, MN and not only is The Eagle Café open but no one is wearing a mask – not even the wait staff. One table is taped off to comply with the six-foot distancing requirement of the health department. We choose a table in the far corner all by ourselves. There are only two other gentlemen patrons and they are seated at what I would call “the bar.” We enjoy a country breakfast of hash browns, sausages for Gordon, and an omelet for me. This is the first we have eaten out at a dine-in eatery in over three months. Our appetite is satisfied, and we are ready to start our journey.

Crossing the bridge over the Mississippi River places us in Wisconsin. We turn north and follow Hwy 35 toward Hudson. A few miles into our scenic trek, I plug the address for Willow River State Park into the GPS. I expect that it will lead us north on Hwy 35 for most of the trip and then guide us to the state park when we get closer. Therefore, it surprises us when the mechanical lady tells us to turn right on County D. We make several turns and maneuvers before we finally come out again at – you guessed it – Hwy 35. Now what was the purpose of that jaunt?

We do arrive at the state park around 10:30 a.m. Prior to arrival, we drove under a very dark cloud that looked like it might dump buckets of precipitation on us. Instead it produced only a brief shower. The temperature is just a hair over 80 degrees and with the lingering clouds, the atmosphere, though muggy, is actually quite tolerable. We head towards the path that the few others that are here are headed for. We expected an overpacked parking lot but surprisingly, there are still empty patches of ground not being utilized for parking.

The path leads steeply downhill after a short stretch of level terrain. Ten minutes into this downhill coast, we look at each other. We are both thinking the same thing. “Are we going to make it back up this mountain?” After about twenty minutes of moving sharply downhill, the path levels into a more gradual descent.

The Path

“I hear the roar of water,” announces Gordon. There is hope then. We traverse the last few steps and there it is. The water thunders over a series of three or four drops as it cascades towards the lower river. Overall, the total drop of the various falls is about forty-five feet. The river is about one hundred feet wide as it flows through the gorge of rock and trees that border both sides. Various people in swimsuits attempt to wade in the rushing water. One young man tiptoes his way across the tumbling whitewater over and over. There always has to be one with a death wish.

Willow River Falls

At this fall, there is a special little platform on the bridge upon which to place your cell phone and take that unique photo of you and the falls together. I have never been much into selfies, but what the heck, I am open to trying something at least once. First, I have to figure out how to set up the phone camera on the timer. I notice some young amused teenagers eyeing us intently while we oldies fumble about on this fan-dangled device. We do finally get it set up and manage to snap two shots of ourselves with the falls in the background. Gordon spends a fair amount of time shooting scenes with a real camera before it is time to go.

Neither of us look forward to the return trek to the parking lot. At least it is not as hot as the weatherman predicted and the trail is shadowed by a canopy of trees. With regular rest breaks on the climb back up, it does not seem as far as feared and we soon emerge from the woods into the brilliant hot sunshine.

Our next stop is to be St. Anthony Falls in Minneapolis, MN. I type the address into our “trusty” GPS. Soon we are sailing westward on I94. The device somehow knows that there is road work being done and a detour. It recalculates a different route but then seems confused by its recalculations. We are instructed to exit at Exit 234B. It then instructs us to turn right at the first intersection onto Hiawatha Drive. But the first intersection is Snelling Ave, not Hiawatha Drive.

“Keep going,” I instruct Gordon, “There, the next intersection is Hiawatha.” We cruise just a couple of blocks and I see a sign for Mill Ruins Park.

“It has to be around here somewhere. There’s a parking lot.” I direct him to a lot with several openings. Here in the cities, they seem to have automated parking fees machines. We struggle to figure out the directions for using this one. Our fumbling around ends up with us paying twice for what we planned as a two-hour time allotment. Well, now we have four hours to wander around.

Stone Arch Bridge

How are we going to find a waterfall in this inner-city bustle? Is the question. We are beside the Mississippi, so it has to be here somewhere. We begin our stroll alongside an enormous curving stone arch bridge that winds gently southward and across the river. Its surface has been converted into a bike path in the middle flanked by walking paths on each outer edge.

“Let’s go down the steps and under the bridge. Maybe we can find the falls by walking along the river.”

The sun beats down on us as we stroll along but there is a stiff breeze that reduces the blistering heat to a tolerable level. Off to our right is an ancient stone opening to the old flour mill ruins. The water in the aqueduct is green with thick algae. Ducks with goslings paddle lazily around the pool while a putrid odor wafts up at us from the dead animal floating on its surface. As we move on downriver, we pass the lock and dam operated by the Army Corp of Engineers. Tours of the facility are canceled, and the gates are locked tight due to the pandemic. Along with all these closures goes the access to any bathroom facilities. There are no boats going through the locks either- all is quiet. Once we get past the lock and dam and turn to look upriver, I spot the waterfall. Actually, there are several smaller falls to the sides of the river and a larger one situated across the full length of the river. It almost looks manmade but according to the literature and posted signage, it is a natural occurring phenomenon. Our view from this angle is partially blocked by the lock and dam.

“I bet if we go up on top of the stone arch bridge and walk out over the river, we will have an unobstructed view,” suggests my hubby.

We retrace our steps under the arch and up the stairs.

“Why don’t we eat something before we go for our walk?” I suggest. There is a food truck (Green plus the Grain says the sign on its side) parked along the edge of the parking lot. It seems like an easy and healthy way to fill our bellies without a lot of driving around. They are offering various salads and wraps and drinks and frozen yogurt. That frozen yogurt looks really tantalizing on this hot day and I order one with strawberries. I also order a Classic Caesar salad with ranch dressing while Gordon orders a Cowboy Salad with jalapeno dressing. It all seems relatively benign as menu choices go.

“I bet getting that salad dressing was a mistake,” mentions Gordon as we walk away to the only picnic table which is situated in the sun.

“You can eat mine if you don’t like yours. I have way too much,” I offer.

One bite of his salad and he is finished. I reach out and take a forkful to taste. Whoa! That is hot in a way different from the sunshine that blazes down on us. Guess neither one of us is eating that. There goes eleven dollars into the garbage. My lips and tongue burn even with frozen yogurt to cool the flame. My Caesar salad is edible but even that is spicier than we would normally consume. We eat it together. It is part of our adventure.

St Anthony Falls

We finish our visit to St. Anthony with a slow trolling meander along the top of the stone arch bridge. Midway along, the angle allows for photographing the full length and beauty of St. Anthony Fall. It is now close to two in the afternoon and time to move on to the next falls on our list, Minnehaha, just a few miles away. The GPS makes the same mistake on the way out as it did on the way in but this time we are prepared. Don’t turn where it says – just keep driving.

After a short drive, we arrive at the 170-acre Minnehaha Park located in the midst of the city of Minneapolis. We are in need of a bathroom. We are so hoping that the park restrooms will be open. But there are those familiar signs on the door, “Restrooms closed.” Ugh! Now what do we do? Off in the distance we notice a line of porta-potties. I guess that works. But I’m confused by this system. How is having to use a porta-potty more sanitary and less likely to spread the corona virus than just cleaning a regular bathroom properly? I just don’t get it.

Next, we wander back across the park wondering which way to go to find the fall. People seem to be going through an opening in the shrubs. We follow them. Concrete steps lead downward and make a few turns. At least it is semi-shaded as rivers of perspiration have begun to pour off of us with even the smallest activity. We can hear the rushing water and soon the falls comes into view. Minnehaha Fall spills fifty three feet over a ledge and under a stone bridge to the river below. It is flanked by green foliage on all sides. The beauty of this place is striking – a hidden gem in the middle of a major metropolis. The water of the Minnehaha River eventually spills into the Mississippi. We make our climb out of the gouge up some steps on the opposing side. A short walk through the opposite side of the park brings us back to the car. We are hit by a blast of oven air as we open the car door.

Minnehaha Falls

“I want a milkshake,” I declare.

“I don’t know where to find a Dairy Queen,” responds my driver.

“Not a problem,” I say as we start out towards our next destination. Right around the round-about at the end of Minnehaha Drive is a Dairy Queen. Gordon waits in the car while I go in to purchase the ice cream as only five people are allowed in at a time and everyone has to stay six feet apart. Here our masks are needed too. When I finally come back out fifteen minutes later, Gordon points to the thermometer on the car dashboard – one hundred degrees Fahrenheit. It’s time for a cool ride to our last waterfall in Nerstrand, Minnesota.

We are soon headed south on Hwy 55. I think this part of our trip should be a cinch as this is a familiar route for us. I have again plugged the address for Hidden Falls State Park into the GPS and faithfully follow its directions. We do fine until we need to exit the expressway. The “lady” tells us to go right at the end of the exit ramp, so we make a right turn. As we travel west, the device tells us to turn right and then right again. This makes no sense. We have just gone around in a circle. We pause at the stop sign. We are both confused.

“Just turn right and keep going on this road that we were on,” I instruct overriding the machine. As we travel a few more miles west, the GPS again instructs us to turn right. “Alright, just do what is says once and see what happens.” Two turns later, we emerge onto the expressway again north of the exit we got off at.

“OK. Let’s try this again,” I exclaim, “I think we need to follow Hwy 56 and we weren’t doing that.”

As we approach the end of the exit ramp this time, the machine again tells us to go right.

“No. Hwy 56 is straight ahead. Go straight,” I instruct. A few hundred feet later, we realize that now we need to veer off to the right. Now it makes sense what the GPS has been trying to tell us. It just forgot to instruct us with what to do at the stop sign. I don’t think we have had this many blunders from the artificial intelligence before. No wonder people end up driving down railroad tracks and doing stupid things while following its instructions.

We arrive at Hidden Falls State Park around 4:45 p.m. We need to head for home no later than six so that leaves us just an hour to find the falls. The sauna like atmosphere hits us as we step out of the car. I am glad it was not like this all day. Here there is a bathroom that is actually open. Such joy over small things. After a stop at the restroom, we start our slow trek down the angled trail. This path is not as steep as the one at Hudson, Wisconsin but losing altitude none-the-less. After all, I guess one does need to go down if he is going to come out at the bottom of a waterfall. I keep glancing at my watch, thinking that this might be a mistake in this heat. Thirty minutes later, the trail finally ends with a boardwalk and some wooden steps designed to protect a sensitive area where the endangered Minnesota dwarf trout lily grows. And there is the falls. It is not especially dramatic as it is only twenty foot tall but is still gorgeous. The water slowly trickles over the edge like water running off a table displaying a sparkling reflection in the afternoon sun. Several people frolic in the water below the falls. A father and young son stand beneath the falls holding out their arms and allowing the water to tumble over them. This calls for a few photographs before it is time to head back. A sign along the path indicates it is about a half mile back to the parking lot. That is not so bad if we could ignore the fact that it is all uphill and heatstroke weather. Gordon and I pace ourselves and step off to the side for frequent rests. Rivulets of sweat run down our brows and into our eyes. One step at a time. Ah we are back to the parking lot. It is time to head home. Happy 65th Birthday to my Hubby.

Hidden Falls

Sedona, AZ: ATV Riding, the Pink Jeep, and Travel Home

            Friday, September 20, 2019  

            Hubby gets up at 5 a.m. and leaves the hotel. I am awake anyway so I might as well get up. I wander over to the conference early and eat my breakfast alone outside on the patio. Our scheduled adventure for today is an ATV ride at 1 p.m. I had a little panic attack this morning while looking at one of the maps. I see an Arizona Off-Road Adventure company located close to Camp Verde. My ticket has an address in West Sedona. Did I make a mistake? If we show up at the wrong place, we have thrown away a bunch of money.

            I head back to the hotel room after the next to last lecture and meet Hubby in the hallway on his way back to the room as well. We hurriedly throw together a lunch as the GPS says it will take us a ½ hour to our destination. “The traffic is terrible this morning,” is Hubby’s report for the morning.

            We arrive with time to spare and my anxiety about showing up at the wrong place is not justified. We sign the usual, “This is a dangerous activity and we are not responsible if you die” paper before being fitted with a kerchief to cover our mouth and nose, a helmet to protect our brains, and googles to protect our eyes. Now we look like bandits. We settle down to wait for other people to arrive before being taken to a small track outback to practice driving. “For how many people is this the first time they have driven an ATV?” asks our instructor. All four hands in our group go up. Well at least we are not alone in needing to look like beginners.

            “Who wants to go first?”

            “I will.”

            After some instruction on how to push the throttle and how to apply the brakes, I am off. Slowly I crawl around the track. They purposely made it with deep holes and rocks and short turns. Turning the machine seems to be my biggest problem but I make it around without any significant problem. Hmmm! Maybe I can drive this thing. Everyone else takes a turn before we are ready to leave. Hubby does his trial run without any problem either so soon we are piling into a van to be hauled to the Coconino National Forest. Contrary to my preconceived notion, national forests in Arizona do not necessarily contain trees. This one has short scrubs, mostly dirt, cacti, and stones.

Me and my machine

I am a little apprehensive but also a little excited. This has the potential to be smashing fun. We are soon lined up behind our guide. We will be riding 25 miles of dirt trails covered with rock and holes and twists and turns. It takes a little getting used to the throttle which needs to be operated with one’s right thumb. The temperature is only about 80 degrees but the helmet with the face kerchief makes for a smothering sensation. I soon ditch the kerchief over my face. It doesn’t seem that dusty. As I get more used to the machine, accelerating in short burst is a thrill. We travel down a forest road first and then turn onto a path through the “forest.” It is more like a cow path through a dry and barren land. We eventually climb higher on the Sawtooth Ridge and stop for a break. We gaze out over a vast valley below to the red rock formations miles away. Then we begin our ascent back down and back to our starting point. The last few miles takes us on the gravel forest road, and we step up our pace. With the wind in our face, we throttle the machines and sail towards the drop off spot. Whee! A little taste of risk-taking enhances the thrill. Our ride takes about three hours and before we know it, we are back to the truck and heading back to Sedona.

Sedona area landscape

Our plan for the evening is to watch the sunset from the airport above Sedona so we pick up some Subway sandwiches to picnic there. The person working in Subway is sullen and inattentive. I think she would just as soon have not been there. This is our second attempt at buying Subway in Sedona and neither one has turned out particularly well. The last time, the bread on the sandwiches was hard and the cookies stale. This time the sandwiches were good, but the cookies were still stale. Time to give up on Subway here.

The drive up airport road is one of twists and turns. It cost $3 to park in the parking lot there but the view is awesome. We wander down a trail along the ridge and settle ourselves on a bench there. Hubby sets up the camera to get some pictures. The wind is getting cool as the sun goes down. We keep expecting the rocks to turn red with the sun sliding below the horizon but the color changes little. Hubby is somewhat disappointed as the hype has been great that it is such a spectacular view at sunset. It is still a great view. It just doesn’t meet what we have been told to believe. Oh well, time to get back to the hotel.

Sunset over western Sedona from airport

                         Saturday, September 21, 2019

Today is my last day of the anesthesia conference and our last day in Sedona before we fly back tomorrow. Hubby left early to explore so I thought I would get up and visit the Pink Jeep concierge desk at the hotel before the conference starts. We made a last-minute decision last evening to see if we could get reservations for the Pink Jeep trip to the Honanki Indian ruins in Boyton Canyon. I walk up to the concierge desk, but no one is staffing it.

“When does the concierge desk open,” I ask the hotel desk attendant.

“They don’t start until 8 a.m. on the weekends.”

Well that’s weird. Why would one have less coverage on the weekend when it is busier than during the week? Oh well, I guess I will have to come back between conference sessions.

When I return at 8:30, a gentleman is available to help me. And I am in luck. They have a 2 p.m. time slot for the venture we are looking at. That should be perfect. I can attend the whole conference on the last day, maybe get in a nap, and still make it to uptown Sedona by 1:30 p.m.

            I arrive back to an empty hotel room as Hubby has not yet returned. I spend a few minutes gathering our things together for travel home tomorrow before he appears.

            “We have to go right now,” he announces.

            “Why?” I ask. I was planning on a nice little nap. “Don’t we at least have time to eat?”

            “There are thousands of cars today with a two- mile backup on route 179. I don’t know why it is so busy, but it took me ½ hour to travel just a few miles.”

            “Well, let’s at least try to eat first. We still have an hour and ¾,” I implore.

            We hurriedly eat our usual cold cut tortilla lunch in the hotel room and set off on this beautiful day. Traffic is slow but there are no extended periods of traffic stoppage. I try to relax. We will be just fine. The sun is shining brightly with no clouds in the sky. The temperature is about 80 degrees. We have had no cloudy or rainy days since we arrived here.

            We reach Uptown Sedona where the Pink Jeep headquarters is located with time to spare. The next order of business is finding a parking spot. The town is flooded with people. I don’t know if this is business as usual for Sedona or if this is extra ordinary. We decide to try out some back streets and do find one parking spot in front of some mailboxes in Lot B. Is this a legal parking spot, we ask? We look high and low for any signs indicating our car will be towed if we park here. There are none. Next we need to figure out how to get across the street. The one thing the designers of round-abouts forgot to address was pedestrian crossing. When there is wall to wall traffic with no breaks in the continuous flow of speeding vehicles, how does one get across? Soon I notice that some traffic control people have been called into service on this busy Saturday. One activates a traffic signal that was dark and dormant and another stands at the next round about up the street and stops traffic periodically to allow safe crossing.

Us in front of the pink jeep

            We have arrived with an hour and a half to spare. We do some shop browsing before settling down in the waiting area of the jeep company. At 1:45, we are given some basic instructions on our trip. The most humorous one is the instruction on how to fasten a seat belt. Then we are assigned to our driver. There are six of us in the open-air pink jeep with overhead roll bars. And yes, the jeeps are pink. The first part of our journey is on a hard-top road. It then turns into dirt as we again enter the Coconino National Forest. The roads are of the same status as the ones we traveled on the ATVs. They are strange uneven rock underlay and are full of potholes. We bounce around as we wind through more red rock country with tall mesas off in the distance. After about an hour ride, we arrive at the Indian ruins. The sun is hot as it beats down on us. We have a fairly short walk through the “forest” to the ruins. A slight breeze blows and we get intermittent shade from the scrubby trees. One lady in our group is almost 80 years old resulting in a rather slow walk for the rest of us not-quite-as-old folks. There are some rocks and tree roots to stumble over and a short section of natural stone steps to traverse.

            We are told the walls built of stones mortared together with mud that connect directly to the cliff wall are left over homes or community buildings from a people that lived there in the 1400s. On the cliff walls, in some places barely visible, are various sketches and drawings made by these people. It looks like a rather unique place to live – hidden up against the 1000-foot-high cliff walls.

Indian ruins

            A lady in our group is unable to take the pictures she wants as her batteries have reached their useful life expectancy. Noticing her predicament, my always generous husband offers her his backup batteries. She graciously accepts. Hopefully, his will last until we get home as they are rechargeable.

            We soon return to our pink jeep. There are two elevated seats along each side and one in the back. Hubby and I squeeze into the back seat for the ride back. It is a little like riding in the back of a school bus, but we enjoy the cool breezes as we head back to town. There, we decide to eat in a restaurant along Sedona’s Uptown streets. There are many to choose from. First, I remind Hubby that we were going to stop at the chocolate shop. I saw a tasty looking bar there earlier that reminded me of the peanut butter bars I used to love. They have a peanut butter core covered by chocolate. My mouth has been watering all afternoon. The chocolate covered orange sticks are attracting my hubby. As we check out, the smiling young lady with flowing long pigtails greets us cheerfully, “Thank you for coming back. I gave you a 20% discount for stopping again.” She remembered us from earlier even with the multitude of people flowing through the shop.

            Hubby’s mouth is watering for a hamburger, so we pick a restaurant called the Cowboy Café. The waiters are dressed like cowboys with one even having a gun on his hip. I am not sure if that is just for looks or if it is actually loaded. Afterall, Arizona is an open carry state. I about fall over after previewing the menu. I was hoping for a reasonably priced meal, but this is anything but that. It looks more high class. We finally decide to order a plate of appetizer for us both. It includes rattlesnake sausage, buffalo skewers, breaded fried cactus, and some type of spicy “bread.” Each item comes with a sauce. I keep forgetting that we are close to Mexico and finding food that is not spiced up is a challenge. We will need to get out the Gaviscon tonight.

            By the time we finish eating, it is time to head for the Red Rock Rangers station where they are holding a View The Stars Party. The hour-long astronomy presentation is following by star viewing through several different telescopes outside in the dark. The sky is cloudless and the stars shine brightly. The air is cool enough to require the addition of a sweater. All the rocks and things to trip over are lined with red lights which supposedly does not affect one’s night vision. I soon realize that I will have trouble navigating in the dark as my balance since my stroke in February seems to be dependent on having visual orientation. Hubby’s primary interest is photographing the stars and the milky way. By 8:30, we are both tired and head back to the hotel.

The night sky from the Ranger Station

            Our last evening is spent packing up and getting ready for a quick departure in the morning. Our flight is not until 12:15 (noon) but we have a two-hour drive, a need to return the rental car, then catch the rental car shuttle to the airport and get ourselves through security. We get all this accomplished with two hours to spare to eat a leisurely breakfast. “Traveling would be so much fun,” I comment to Hubby,  “if there just weren’t any people.” Take a deep breath, I tell myself, and take it one step at a time. Maybe by the time we are too old to travel, we will have this travel thing figured out.

            The first segment of our journey to Chicago from Phoenix goes quite smoothly. There are some thunderstorms in the Chicago area with rain pouring down on arrival. This leads to some turbulence and rather panicked instructions to stay in our seats and buckle up, but we arrive a ½ hour ahead of schedule. We have a three-hour layover here so there is no need to hurry. Our text message from American Airlines gives up a gate number of L1A. We settle in to wait. I spend the time catching up on my writing and do some reading.

            At 5:58 p.m., our cell phones ding to tell us that our flight has been moved to gate L3. We gather up our luggage and move a few gates down. The board still says this flight is on time for takeoff at 8:45 p.m. At about the time the electronic board indicates we should be boarding the plane, the cell phone asks for our attention again. Time for takeoff has changed to 9 p.m. Five minutes later, the next message says the gate has changed to H3A with the takeoff time still being 9 p.m. We get up and begin our walk across the airport this time to a different wing. We have no more started our walk than the next message informs us the gate has been changed to H1B. Seriously people! Is it that hard to figure out what you are doing? And now departure time has been changed to 9:30 p.m.

            My head is spinning, and I am beginning to doubt that we will be arriving home tonight. Finally at 9 p.m., another arriving load of travelers deplane and we almost immediately begin boarding. Maybe there is still hope. Once everyone is comfortably seated, the captain announces, “We will be pushing away from the jet bridge in just a few minutes but expect a 40-minute wait for takeoff.” I groan. But as promised, by 10 p.m., we are airborne and headed for Rochester.

            We walk into the house at midnight. “Kitty Kitty Where are you?” Several times while in Sedona, I wondered if I had put her food out and I couldn’t remember but I convinced myself that I couldn’t have possibly forgotten something so important. I look up at the shelf where I put her food so that I could just set it down before we left. OH NO! The bowl of food still sits high up on the shelf. I never gave her the food on the way out the door six days ago. Poor Snowflake. She greets us with her usual “Meow Meow Meow Meow!” She does not seem any the worse for the situation. I am not sure if she is protesting that we left her alone or that she is starving. I quickly feed her, but she doesn’t seem particularly over hungry. She is just happy we are home and wants us to know it.

Sedona, AZ Days Two and Three

                                         Wednesday, September 18, 2019

            This morning was my first day of the anesthesia conference. My night last night was not restful. I woke up several times with the feeling of sour food pushing against my throat. The shrimp scampi I ate for supper must not have set well. Finally, I take a Gaviscon and am able to drift off. But I wake up every hour or so and check the clock. And so the night drags on.

            I walk back to our room from the seminar about noon. Hubby has gone shopping for lunch staples, so we have tortillas and chips before heading out. We start out going north on Hwy 179 through Sedona. We make several stops at scenic views. The Chapel of the Cross on the top of a high red rock is the highlight. We drive as high up as we can and then decide the last option is to walk the rest of the way up.

            “Do you want a ride?” inquires a voice from a golf cart just as we are starting our climb. This is too good to be true.

            “Sure,” I respond as I make a dive for the back seat of his vehicle. I do notice the tip box prominently displayed upfront. Oh well, it was worth not having to walk up the steep hill.

Chapel of the Cross

In Sedona, we go around the umpteenth round-about and head south on 89A. I thought Minnesotans were in love with round-abouts but here, there are almost no traffic lights and a round-about every time one blinks their eyes. Nobody seems to care much about being polite either. They would just as soon run over you as not.

            One of my goals for this day is to find the Verde Valley Railroad while sightseeing which we have a reservation for at 1 p.m. tomorrow. Then I will know how early to leave the seminar. As we drive along viewing the countryside, I develop my plan of attack. I surmise that if we turn right at the upcoming Catholic church, we should be able to wind our way up to the Railroad Terminal in Clarksdale. What I have not accounted for is that the map I am following is a rough estimation and not to scale. I think the Catholic church is located at the light by Mingus Avenue. It is not. But there is a sign just before the church pointing to Old 89A and mentioning the towns that we are searching for. Oh well, we have missed that, so we turn right on Mingus Avenue at the light. This should still lead us to our destination. After a few minutes of tentatively driving onward and intuitively turning where is seems the map would direct us, we spot the road to the train depot. Now, we just have to come back out and turn right on 89A again and I conclude that it should bring us back around by the Catholic church. Imagine my surprise when we see a sign pointing to Jerome ahead. Jerome ahead?

            “We don’t want to go to Jerome,” I exclaim. “I don’t understand what just happened. Don’t we want to go south?”

            “No, we want to go north,” counters my hubby emphatically, “We need to turn around.”

            “Then just follow 89A south,” I instruct him, “and hopefully we will come back around.”

            The town we enter as we drive is totally unfamiliar. “We can’t be going the right way. I don’t remember any of this,” insists Hubby over and over.

            “You don’t remember it because we didn’t come this way,” I respond several times. Now I am becoming frustrated by his insistence that we are going the wrong way simply because he doesn’t recognize anything we are driving by. I am pretty sure this will work out though not absolutely certain. Soon I spot the road I was hoping to find.

            “There it is. Turn right there,” I direct.

            “I have no idea what you are doing. I am totally lost. You are going to have to drive back here yourself tomorrow as none of this makes any sense,” is his final declaration before lapsing into silence.

I eye the Garman GPS sitting on the dashboard that we stowed into our suitcase so tenderly. Maybe we really should plan ahead to use that little thing. But then, we are still old-fashioned enough to think that we can navigate by a map- even a map that is missing most of its landmarks and highways. The rest of our drive back to the hotel is uneventful. We decide to call it a night as Hubby is not feeling up to par physically.

Sedona

      Thursday, September 19, 2019

            Hubby got up at 5:30 a.m. this morning after his phone rang – must be 7:30 a.m. back home. I lay in bed another hour before time to get dressed for the conference.

We have a 1 p.m. reservation for the train ride on the Verde Canyon Railroad so I leave the conference a little early. By 11 a.m. we are on the same road again that we traveled yesterday. Today’s ride goes smoothly, and we know exactly where we are going. It is a sunny, pleasantly warm day as all the days here have been. The train depot is bustling with activity and people milling around.

“You look like you need tickets,” a gentleman greets us. “Head right over there.” He motions to the right.

As we exchange my receipt for actual tickets, I address the ticket agent. “Where do I get our lunch?” I have already paid for a lunch to go with our ride.

“You can either get your lunch at the restaurant or choose to eat outdoors. We are having a German-mashed-potatoes with sauerkraut lunch and brats special today.”

Hmmm! That sounds like a nice change of pace. I haven’t had mashed potatoes and sauerkraut since my mother used to make it for my birthday years ago. We enjoy our lunch in the semi-shade of a tree while we wait to board the train.

Verde Valley Train

We are assigned to the car dubbed “Tucson.” It is air-conditioned, clean, and well cared for. The seats are bench seats like a school bus but can be flopped over when the direction of the train is changed since they can’t turn around. Between each of two cars is a train car that is open and available for outdoor riding. Our car attendant is a man in his late fifties or early sixties who is extremely jovial. He welcomes us to our car and takes the tickets when it is time to board.

            I urge Hubby to join me on the outdoors car for the first hour of the trip. It is hot, probably in the upper 80s but it is breezy and there is a small shade canopy. The land we travel through is, to my eyes, a land of desolation but also of great beauty. We clickity clack along the rail laid along the side of the mountain on the left while a canyon falls away on the right. Deep in the canyon flows a small river or what we Midwesterners would call a creek. The river is lined with lush green trees. The walls of the canyon beyond the river rise magnificently to meet the sky. They are a beautiful red color. Scattered over the steep boulders are blooming cacti and small scrubby trees. We descend a twisting turning path of switchbacks over the next 38 miles to Prescott, now a ghost town. Then, the engines are brought around to the back of the train and reattached. And the climb back through Verde canyon begins.

            We spend part of our time in the air-conditioned coach car and enjoy the scenery out the window. I even fall asleep for a 10-minute nap. Ice cream sandwiches appear, and our host makes an offer, “I have ice cream sandwiches on special. $1 for one, $2 for two.” This is followed by laughter. Just the kind of afternoon to enjoy ice cream. Soon, we venture back outside to enjoy the last hour back to Clarksdale in the great outdoors.

            Since we are so close to Jerome, AZ, the town with the reputation of being the wildest town in the west, we decide to travel there before heading back to the hotel. The road winds with tight curves up the side of the mountain. As we climb higher, a fantastic view appears. The valley below falls away with an awe-inspiring view. The town of Jerome, itself, gives the impression of the houses clinging to the hillside. The streets are narrow and close to the side of the cliff as well. The back doors or maybe the front doors too of the houses overlook the cliff. It is a beautiful scene and provides some photographic opportunities.

Jerome, AZ

            Then it is time to head for the hotel. We decide to make our own supper when we get there. The route we planned to take back to Oak Center is closed because of an accident. “Take alternative route,” says the sign. Great! The only alternative route we know is a little further but probably just as fast. We settle in for an evening at the hotel.

Travel to Sedona, AZ 2019

Bell Rock close to our hotel

Tuesday, September 17.

“Let’s go to bed an hour early tonight,” I implore my husband on Monday evening. We need to get up at 2:45 a.m. if we are going to make our 5:45 a.m. flight. As is usually the case, I find that I can’t fall asleep. I am afraid that I won’t wake up in time. I set my regular alarm clock, my travel alarm, and Hubby sets his phone alarm. That should be enough to get us awake on time.

            “Bling, Bling, Bling!” over and over assaults my ears. I roll over and peer at the clock. It is 1:45. I groan. Why is the phone going off at this time?

“Your phone is an hour early,” I grumpily mumble to my spouse.

“It’s not my alarm,” is the response. “It’s the airline texting to say our flight is on time.”

“Seriously? You have got to be kidding me.” Now I am awake and irritated. I could have slept another hour. I roll over and snuggle back in. Maybe I can fall back to sleep. A few minutes later I hear Hubby get up and go downstairs. Then. . . brring, brring, bring! Now my travel alarm is going off. It is now 2 a.m. I had set it for 2:45 but it is going off at 2 am. Is someone trying to tell us something? Any hope of sleep is now gone.

Our trip to the airport goes without incident though I am anxious and wishing I had not turned down Hubby’s offer for me to drive. When did we turn into the old couple cautiously peering out the window and approaching every obstacle with trepidation? The traffic lights in downtown are all green because it is still the middle of the night, but my dear spouse slows down as he approaches each one. Doesn’t green mean go, not slow down? We creep along ten miles under the speed limit on the deserted streets. I bite my lip to keep from being the dreaded back seat driver. We do arrive just as the airport is coming to life.

We sail through security without any issues and settle down to wait for our flight which is still on time. I have not bought an upgrade for this “short” 1 ½ hour flight to Chicago so Hubby tucks his lanky frame into the standard issue seat. His legs have begun to numb even before takeoff. But before we know it, we are safely on the ground in Chicago. A fairly long walk to concourse K is the next order of business. I am learning not to schedule tight connections for our flights because we are way too old for this running business. We have quite a leisurely morning stroll and even some time for breakfast before it is time to board our flight to Phoenix, AZ. This time we have hit pay dirt with our seat choice. Not only does Hubby get an exit seat but he gets one right where the plane narrows leaving his window seat with no seat in front of him – all the leg room he could ever want is within his reach.

Out of the airplane

Another beautiful touchdown in Phoenix ends the air flight part of our journey. Then it is on to boarding a bus to take us to the rental car terminal. I reflect on the fact that it is only 11 a.m.  here in Phoenix but we have been up for ten hours already. My head hurts and I need a nap.

This time when I rent a car, I decline all upgrades even though we are told that means we will have to ride in a VW bug. When we pick up the car though, it is not a VW bug but a Ford Fiesta. Our butts are almost sitting on the ground and we need Hoyer lifts to get ourselves up out of the car every time we stop but it does successfully perform the task of transporting us around. We soon discover that the left blinker doesn’t work, and the tires are bald. It does have 43000 miles on it, so I think it needs some loving attention. Hubby just cannot live with a car that lacks a working signaling system, so he buys a bulb the first day in Sedona and replaces it.

Driving in Phoenix is like driving in any big city. The speed limit says 55 but it is like we are a beetle crawling up the road while everyone else catapults by. Phoenix is a dry and barren landscape with some beautiful cactuses scattered here and there. What do these people do here for a living? We wonder. As we get north of the city and the elevation begins to increase, the landscape begins to change. It now looks more like the grasslands of Africa. The grass is brown and dry, but it was once grass. Short stubby trees are struggling to grow and the tall stately cactuses of earlier have disappeared. The land begins to take on a reddish hue as we get closer to Sedona. Once we turn off the main interstate 17 onto 179 north, the beauty of the landscape becomes apparent. The red rocks of Sedona rise in stately spires towards the skyline. We end our day by previewing the landscape in preparation for our coming days.

A Camping Adventure 2019 – Boone, Iowa

Butterfly garden At Reiman Gardens

I love camping but putting up a tent and sleeping on the ground is good more for groans than a fun time when one reaches 60 years old. So I get brave and ask a friend if we can borrow their tent camper for this year.

            “I have to tell you the lights don’t work,” she informs me.

            “Not a problem,” I declare, “Do you care if my husband fixes it for you?”

            “That would be fine.”

            We pick up the camper on a Sunday afternoon a couple of weeks before our planned trip in order to have time to make the repairs and test out our pop-up tent raising ability. Our friends and Hubby struggle to get the camper trailer hitched to the truck. The latch doesn’t want to drop over the ball hitch and as stated, the lights don’t work – not even one of them. But the hitch finally cooperates and snaps into place.

            At home, my Hubby who is wearing a neck brace after obtaining a C4 fracture from falling down a customer’s stairs, has the privilege of backing the camper up by the shed. He accomplishes this with ease in spite of not being able to turn his head. That little camera on the tailgate in back of the truck is a nifty addition to the backing up task. But when we go to unhook and crank the stand down, the hitch has no intention of releasing the ball on the truck.

            “How about a little WD40?” I suggest.

            Even after a soaking in the magical fluid, the hitch remains tightly locked. Looks like we are going to be attached to this truck from this day forward.

            “Maybe if I drive the truck ahead a little,” is Hubby’s thought.

            He coasts the truck a few inches. With a snap, the hitch rotates down and the ball releases. Oh Wow! It might have worked better if we had thought of that sooner.

            A couple of days later, we decide to make sure we know how to put up the camper before we set out on our journey. My hubby gets out his electrical handyman – his voltage tester. All the electrical connections test out as working and when we put the connections together, all the lights work except the right rear one. What was wrong with it? Maybe the connections were a little corroded from sitting around and that WD40 did its magic there too. At least there doesn’t seem to be a significant problem.

            We start the process of cranking up the popup top. We make quite the pair. My hubby in his neck brace and stiff me trying to crawl around under the bed ends to insert the stabilizers and under the camper to put the feet down. I peer inside the camper as the roof moves skyward. A small rivulet slides down the inside screen and pools on the kitchen counter. A larger pool gushes off of the expanding canvas into the front bed.

            “Stop,” I holler, “We need to catch the leaks.”

            I sop up all the unwelcome water with 2 blankets close by. Still, the dampness meets my hand as I touch the bed surface. The same dampness is present underneath the mattress. Time to set up the fans and dry out the interior. We are not really sure where the water actually came in. This could be a rude awakening if it drips on us in the middle of the night. We are hoping it just came from the unsecured opening in the top. At least our excursion has resulted in us feeling proudly confident in our ability to set this thing up even as cripples.

            The next order of business is to change the hitch on the truck that we will be using to one that allows the camper to tow more levelly. It soon becomes apparent that the current hitch has been on the truck far too long. It is rusted into place. The WD40 can is emptied and the hammer is swung over and over. The hitch does not budge. I craw under the truck and try to hammer from the backside. Soon I am covered in rust stains and WD40 spatters. Light beige colored pants really are not a good choice for this job.  Hubby soon goes off to town to buy another can of WD40 and we begin our efforts again. Was that a little movement that I see? After over an hour of spraying and hammering, the hitch begins to move with each bang of the hammer. “Hurrah!” I cheer. “You have done it.” Now we are ready to camp.

July 11, 2019

We get up at the usual time of 6:30 am. Hubby makes a trip downtown with instructions for his help and I feed the cat, move the calves around, and get the rest of our stuff together.

We have no problems with hooking the camper and soon are on our way. I think I have done well this time, but I am sure there is something that I have forgotten. Even with his neck brace, Hubby feels he can drive with a little assistance from me. We do have to stop at the shop and pick up his sunglasses.

We make several stops during our travels and realize that the camper trailer lights only work sporadically. Oh well! It pulls well with the pickup with being able to use the truck trailer braking system. The last time we towed a popup camper with our Toyota RAV 4, it made us extremely light in the front end and difficult to handle. That time we had to stop and move our bicycles to the top of the car to distribute the weight more evenly.

Garden Gnome

We decide to stop at the Reiman Gardens in Ames, Iowa run by Iowa State University. We wander through flowers and vegetables and butterflies- paths that twist and turn amongst beautiful waterfalls. It is a warm day but not totally uncomfortable.

Around 3:30, we head for Ledges State Park by Boone, Iowa. We miss the entrance on our first pass through. I am expecting a well-kept, well-staffed entrance booth. The sign that points towards the “Park Office” seems misleading. It looks like a maintenance building, not what I think of as a park office. After realizing we have passed the park, we swing around in the middle of the road and head back again towards what I think looks like a park entrance building. It is the right place but there is no one staffing it. It seems to be a “register yourself” kind of thing. Well, we have reservations, so we decide to just go set up our campsite. And there is the green reservation card waiting for us.

Our trial run of setting up the camper at home pays off as we are efficient and competent. Starting our little Coleman camping stove does not turn out quite so efficient though. It has been probably five years or longer since we have used it and Hubby just can’t get it to light. He pumps and he pumps and he pumps but it just won’t light. Of course, when all else fails and it looks like there will be no supper, one should read the directions. Reading them slowly and carefully is helpful too. It says “turn lighting lever up, with a lighted match over main burner, open valve completely and light. After flame turn blue, turn lever down.” Clear as mud. Which is the light lever, and which is the valve? Hubby does vary his technique and at least we get flame- leaping dancing orange flame but it is flame, just not blue flame. After some more fiddling around, he finally gets the flame under control and supper is in the making.

And I now discover what I have forgotten – the water jug to carry our water. It wouldn’t be camping without a major forgotten item. I search through the camper and come up with a shiny blue covered cooking pot. That will work dandily.

We sit outdoors in the warm evening glow and enjoy the birds singing, the mosquitoes chomping on us, and the myriad sounds of nature. We do realize that the bathroom is quite a distance from us. Around the circle, down the road, turn right, walk another ¼ mile and circle again. Bummer. Don’t think I will be going over there in the middle of the night.

July 12, 2019

Scritch, scratch, scratch, scratch… I am awakened in the dark of night. What is that scurrying in the grass outside of our camper? Hubby is awake too and hands me the flashlight. I press the light against the screen of our sleeping area. Two sets of shadowy eyes glare back at me from the top of the picnic table. Ugh… I had left one empty package from our supper on the picnic table as I forgot to take it away with the garbage. It was weighed down with the water kettle. But those little bandits have found it and are busily chewing away on the smell of chicken and noodles. At least it is not a boogie man.

The night cools off and the air becomes deliciously cool. We snuggle down in our sleeping bags, but I still have a hard time sleeping. Hubby rolls over every hour or so, rocking the camper like a ship on the wavy sea. I briefly wonder if those cheap metal poles designed for holding up this extended sleeping end of the camper really are strong enough. I have visions of us awaking looking at the ground.

We finally slide out of our bed around 7 am and begin the routine for the day. Our breakfast consists of fried sunny-side-up eggs cooked over our gas stove. This morning, the lighting of it goes much more smoothly. Hot chocolate, Italian bread, and donuts complete our meal. After cleanup, we are soon on the road to the Boone and Scenic Valley Railroad in Boone. We have tickets for the 11 am train ride. Or at least, that is what I thought. The gentleman at the desk looks at me and says, “Do you have reservations for the 1 pm train?”

            Huh? I pause. “No, we have reservations for the 11 am train.”

            “Well, there is no train at 11 am on Friday. Your reservation is for Saturday.”

            I stare at the ticket and then I stare at my watch and back at the ticket. “Ah man. I must be mixed up. I thought today was Saturday.” Anyway, its nothing new to me to be confused. OK, I guess we will come back tomorrow.

            Hubby and I wander around the museum for a while and then decide to head out and explore. One of the items of interest that I had come across on the internet and in travel brochures was the Kate Skelly Memorial Train Bridge. I could not find an address for it and one person who had commented said that he had to travel some country roads to find it. Google had marked it on a map for me as being east of Boone at about U Ave off 190th St. We leave town driving east. I do like the coolness of the truck in the 90-degree heat but as we drive along, Hubby questions our direction. “We have to go down to the river. There is nothing but flat farmland here. There would be no reason to build a railroad bridge here.”

            Finally, I pull out a bicycle map Hubby has picked up and study it. Maybe our underlying information is wrong. The Des Moines River runs west of Boone and for the railroad track to cross it, the bridge needs to be on the west side of the city. We turn around and head west. There are no signs anywhere indicating where this bridge might be. First, we follow a major route west from Boone. Once we cross the Des Moines River with no sign of the bridge, we realize we have gone too far. Time to turn around again. I remember a road that we passed earlier that indicated it was a dead end. Maybe that is the one that goes along the tracks and will give us a view of the famous bridge. As we drive along, the road gets curvier and rougher. We bounce down the hill over rocks and washouts until we reach the end of the road.

            “Well, that was a waste of time,” remarks Hubby.

            “Wait, Look,” I point through the trees. “There it is.”

            And sure enough, the tall stately bridge is visible in the distance through the trees. We tiptoe through the flood ravaged backwaters to the edge of the De Moines River. What a magnificent view! We are only wishing that a train would come over the bridge about now and Hubby would have the perfect photographic opportunity. But it is a hot day and the mosquitoes think we are tasty, so we do not linger long. We make our way back up the rock-strewn path and turn down another washed up road that has the potential to take us maybe to the other side of the bridge further downstream. This road does take us over the double railroad tracks on our path downward to the river. “Look for Trains,” says a big sign on a trailer. There are none to be seen.

This gravel road does give us a different vantage point, but the bridge seems further away, and we soon retreat to the coolness of the truck. As we drive back up and make the turn to again cross the tracks, I state the obvious, “Look for the train.” The words are no sooner out of my mouth and whoosh, an engine whizzes by followed by a second one just a few seconds later on the second track. Together the trains hurdle towards the Kate Skelley Bridge. “Ah Man! I wasn’t ready for that one,” blurts Hubby.

It is obvious that this tourist attraction is not advertised and only accessible to those who seek diligently. Hunger and heat soon drive us back to the campgrounds though, where we throw together a lunch of spam sandwiches, chips, and Oreo cookies. Then it is nap time.

We spend the afternoon driving around checking out Madrid and many back-country roads. We locate another high bridge, the High Trestle Trail Bridge, just out of Madrid that is used for a bike trail. The easiest access is a mile walk from the parking lot to the bridge. We shake our head that no, we do not want to walk a mile in 90-degree heat. We will come back later this evening when the sun is going down and it is getting cooler.

High Trestle Trail Bridge

Later in the day, the sky has clouded over, so we decide to leave the campsite around 8:25 pm for the drive to the bridge parking lot. The sun is orange in the sky and sinking toward the horizon. We will be too late for a sunset picture at the bridge, but we are hoping with it now being cloudy that it will not be so hot. The trail slopes gently downward through the trees- not a hard walk. Even so, the sweat bubbles out on my brow and soon is making rivulets down my back. The mosquitoes decide to check us out as well and we soon slather more Deet on our already coated arms and face. Hubby keeps saying, “I don’t know if I can do this.”

            “Aren’t you glad we didn’t try to walk this at 2 pm this afternoon?” is my comeback. It is only a .4-mile hike to the actual bike trail. There we are met by masses of people moving rhythmically toward the bridge – like worshippers drawn to the object of adoration. We melt into the flowing crowd. Bicycles with lights and loud music blast past us while the slower walking people meander along. Now that we have reached the trail, it is only another .5 miles to the bridge. However, with sweat running places you don’t want to know about, it calls for fortitude and the persistence of putting one foot ahead of the other. The air is still and hangs heavy in the slowly darkening sky. The moon sits high in the sky and thrusts lengthening shadows for the silhouettes now moving on the path.

Des Moines River From Bridge

            As we near the bridge, we can see the white light that illuminates the entrance pillars. The bridge itself is another .5 miles in length as it spans the Des Moines River from 130 feet in the air. Part way across, it is lit by blue LED lights. This is the spectacle we have come to see. It provides a photo opportunity for my hubby’s hobby. Below us, the river flows lazily along illuminated by the light of the moon. We spend about a ½ hour on the bridge and then turn to trudge our way slowly back to the parking lot on the now dark path through the maze of ambling people and speeding bicycles. A moonlight walk on a hot July night does hold some romantic essence to it.

July 13, 2019

The fans in the camper keep us cooled down enough to sleep. We get more rest than the first night. I awake to rain splotches on the canvas. But it doesn’t last long. The weather is cloudy providing some measure of relief from the heat. It is actually quite comfortable this morning. Hubby cooks some pancakes for breakfast and then we decide to head out to the Kate Skelly Bridge again to see if we can catch a picture with a train crossing the trestle. Rain drops splatter on our windshield as we drive, and we decide that we do not want to be drenched for our train ride later. Rather than going down by the river, we stop on top of the hill where the trains pass by before entering the trestle. Soon it stops raining. Then I notice the railroad signal has changed to green on one track and to red on the other.

Train coming off Kate Skelly Bridge

“I bet there is a train coming on each track. One going one way and one going the other,” hubby deduces.

            “I bet you wish we had gone down below,” I respond.

            “Yes, but it’s too late now.”

            Within ten minutes, we are graced with a train horn and a speeding train. And then another one. Bummer. We should have gone down to the river and waited. We have missed the opportunity.

            We head back to Boone for our lunch train run at 11 am – the one I thought we were supposed to do yesterday. It is an 11-mile trip to Wolf, IA and back in the comfort of air-conditioned reconditioned train cars. For some reason we are the next to last ones called to board and they need to ask us who we are.

Boone Scenic Railroad Train

            “We have room for you. Don’t worry,” says the conductor.

            As we are seated at our table, he brings us two tickets, “Here are your tickets.”

Hubby and I raise our eyebrows at each other and shrug. We already have tickets. Did we mess them up by picking up our tickets the previous day? We will never know.

            The ride is pleasant. It is hard for Hubby to turn to see out with his neck brace and to top it off, he is the one going backward. They stop the train at the trestle so that we can look out and take pictures. There are no guardrails on the tracks. It is straight down from the railroad tracks to the valley below- a little too freaky for this “afraid of heights” person. But the scenery is magnificent and when we think we have been forgotten with the food; it arrives. We have pulled pork sandwiches, baked beans, and scalloped potatoes. Our ride ends around 2 pm and we head back to the campground for a nap.

From the top of the railroad trestle

            During our morning drive to Boone, we had discovered the canyon and sandstone cliffs that are part of the campground. We decide to return in the afternoon. There are several places where the water flows over the road and we need to drive through it. This morning, no one was around but now there are crowds of people picnicking and frolicking in the water. The sweat again pours out of us with little exertion and to walk seems like a huge effort. But I am drawn to the water and I take off my shoes and socks and go wading. I expect a shock from the cold of the water, but it is warm like bathwater – hardly cool enough to cool one off. But it does feel sweet to the feet. Then I remember I probably should not be wading with my cell phone in my thigh pants pocket – just in case I fall in.

Children line the sides of the road where the cars drive through the flowing water and cheer for each car, “Faster, Faster, Faster.” Many drivers comply but Hubby just smiles and waves at them. I wonder how many cars end up with flooded engines from this practice.

We head back to the campsite mainly because we are not tolerating the heat very well to relax some before our supper. We struggle with the camp stove again as we do at every meal. Beef stroganoff is the food on the menu followed by Smore’s. It is too hot for a fire, but one cannot go camping without roasting marshmallows over a fire and making finger licking smore’s. The fire is soon crackling away. We settle into our camp chairs to read until our one bundle of wood burns away and the mosquitos are urging us to “take it indoors.” I decide to leave the garbage on the table until we make a trip to the wash house before bed. Then we will go by the dumpster and dispose of it. We are only in the camper an hour before we decide to make our last trip to the bathroom and turn in. I pick up the garbage bag and realize it has two huge holes in it and the garbage is spewing out on the table. Son of a biscuit! In that hour, the racoons have stealthily made their visit. So much for delaying the delivery of the garbage to the proper place of disposal.

            As we prepare to get ready for bed, we try to figure out how to get undressed and redressed without flashing the community around us. We don’t have privacy curtains. Last evening, there were no neighbors around but tonight, we have neighbors on all sides. The solution we decide upon is to turn out the lights and change in the dark. It really is not that dark as the moon is moving towards full and there is light reflected from the adjacent campsite. I am confidently washing up and feeling quite secure when out of the door of the camper next to us comes a man with his flashlight. It hits me full in the face. Really? This is annoying. And then he sits down or so it seems, and it continues to shine into our camper. Is he watching? Is this entertainment? He probably doesn’t even know that it is pointed our way. But I do. I end up having to crouch down behind the stove to be insured that I am not providing a peep show.

July 14, 2019

We climb out of our bed around 7 am and Hubby cooks our breakfast of biscuits and gravy. Then it is time to tear down and head out. The temperature is already climbing, and rivers of water pour off of us. Our plan is to visit the Iowa Arboretum just south of the campground before heading home. The day is beautiful, and the flowers are magnificent, but Hubby and I move slower and slower. The heat has sucked all the energy out of us.

“I think I am going to throw up,” he says. Time to get ourselves to the cool truck and start our journey homeward.

            We make one last stop in Clear Lake, Iowa looking for the Guardian Wayside Chapel which Hubby has seen advertised. The ad says it is located on South 24th St. There is no house number. I type a random 620 into the GPS. We follow our guide’s instructions to exit the freeway and take the second left. We drive maybe a ¼ mile on 24th street and the GPS announces that we are at 620. No more than it has said that than Hubby declares, “There’s the sign.” I don’t see any sign but good thing his eye caught it as it is weather beaten and peeling. That was way too easy. Maybe it is the guardian angel that has led us to it.

We walk back a grassy path into a secluded area of the woods in the middle of this city and there it is – a beautiful white chapel. It is quiet inside and peaceful and we spend a few minutes meditating as I read the story of the chapel’s history aloud.

Then it is time to find a place to satisfy our hunger and travel the remaining miles home. Our journey into nature has been successful. Our creaking not-quite-as-bendable bodies say, “thank you” to the popup camper and its owners for putting an extra few feet between them and the hard ground.

Coldest Minnesota Weather in Decades

I am hit in the face by a blast of cold air as I step out of the elevator and into the fifth level of the parking ramp. The weatherman has predicted temperatures of -15 to -20 degrees for this evening with 30 mile per hour winds. I am hoping to make it home from work without a problem. My 2016 Subaru Forester protests as I turn the key but pops right off. The dashboard thermometer shines out a chilly -14. Every part of my trusty chariot creaks and cracks with stiffness but soon we are rolling homeward. The air is saturated with tiny particles of blowing snow making for a hazy backdrop for the street lights.

            As I approach the stop sign at the top of the hill behind the hospital, I step on the brake as is considered appropriate to do at a stop sign. The brake pedal is stiff and refuses to be depressed. The car keeps creeping forward. Oh no! I press harder on the pedal as a sense of helplessness washes over me. I then let up and press again. This time the brake pedal responds. What was that all about? I ask myself. A memory from this past Sunday comes back to me. My hubby was driving on the way to church. As he braked for a stop sign, he had declared that the brakes didn’t work.

            “Well, I haven’t had any problem with them,” I had declared brushing off his concerns. He must have been mistaken, I had thought. Now, I understood what had happened to him.

            I pump the brakes a few times. They seem to be working again. This is not a night that I want to be stranded beside the road requiring walking but then moving forward is not the problem, it is only the stopping. At least, there are not many people on the road, so I make the decision to continue my journey towards home. The wind driven snow hurtles across the road making for whiteout conditions in spots. This makes travel slow and tedious. The brakes seem to now be working properly. Soon I am making a left turn onto main street in Elgin and then a right to stop at the post office. Well, maybe, I will stop at the post office as it is happening again. I apply the brakes. They are stiff and do not respond. Is this just because it is so cold outside? I have no idea but this is getting scary. I need my car tomorrow, but I am going to have to call the garage.  I can’t drive like this. It is a lot like playing Russian roulette, never being sure which stop will become the deadly one.

            We are greeted the next morning by frost coating the windows and creeping around the edges of the doors of the house. The little snowman on the wall is bundled up and declares that it is -28 degrees. Hugh beautiful sun dogs grace the sky. I have no desire to leave the house, but I have a tax appointment at 10 a.m. and I need to drop my car off at the garage afterward. My hubby has decided to not even try to go to work so he can at least pick me up.

            That little Subaru groans as it does a slow turn of the engine but then sputters to life. She always starts. I test the brakes gingerly a few times as I drive away but all seems well. My trip to town for the completion of taxes is without incident and I continue on from there to the repair shop in our little town that sports our address. As I roll up to the garage, it happens again. My foot firmly stomped on the brake is having no effect. Horrified, I have visions of crashing through the closed garage door right into the service bay. Hello. I’m here. Now wouldn’t that be embarrassing. Thankfully, my anticipation of the possibility of such an event has caused me to come in slower than I normally would, and we roll to a stop just shy of the door.

            “Just drive it in,” instructs the repairman, “and we will check it out quick.”

            We turn off the car while he tears off the engine cover and peers at the various contraptions under there. He then steps around and drops into the car. A turn of the key producing a cranking of the engine, but it refuses to start. After several tries, the battery has given up and a turn of the key produces only a clicking sound. OK, we are going from bad to worse. I wasn’t having any problem starting it.

            “All I did was take the cover off the engine,” he insists.

            “Your hubby is here,” adds his brother.

            Yes, it is time for me to walk away. There is not going to be a car for me to drive by tomorrow.

            “Should we drive to the shop while we are out and moving and try to start your other pickup, so I have a vehicle to drive to work tomorrow?” I question Hubby.

            “It hasn’t been run for a week,” he counters, “but now is probably better than at 5 o’clock this evening.

            My hubby’s shop is not heated and the cold seeps into our clothes and bites our fingers and toes. The truck does not think it should have to wake up today in the cold either. It makes a gallant effort at cranking sluggishly five or six times and then it is done. Jumping it is not an option due to its forward position in the shop parking bay. The charger and the portable LP heater are at home, five miles away but there is nothing to do but go get them. At least we have one vehicle that has not been defeated by the bone chilling cold.

            Soon we have the heater pouring its warmth into the truck engine and the charger putting new life back into the battery. We hole up in the running work truck while we wait. Thirty minutes later, hubby decides to give it a try again. Vrrrmm!! What a delightful sound.

            “Hurrah!” I shout. My hubby who doesn’t realize I have followed him back into the shop half collapses to the floor in fright. Oh dear! “I didn’t mean to scare you,” I laugh. “I was just so happy it started.”

            “Hello, this is Gary from the garage. Your car is ready.” Begins the phone call at 5 p.m. “I couldn’t find anything wrong except the battery is weak.”

            “Really! How is it possible that the brakes don’t work because the battery is bad?”

            “I couldn’t find anything else and so many things are electronic these days, the ABS system could be being affected because of it.”

            As I drive home from the shop, the thermometer on the car still reads -18 degrees. Who would have guessed that a stressed and weak battery from the cold could cause the car brakes to fail? Could we just turn the heat up now, please?

An Adventure in Domestic Flying

We leave the hotel in Bar Harbor, Maine at 7:15 a.m. We soak in the beautiful fall colors during the peaceful drive to Bangor where we return the rental car without any difficulty. Our flight is not scheduled to leave until 1:10 p.m. so we nourish ourselves with food from a gas station with the plan to eat lunch when we arrive in Newark, NJ. We have plenty of time to kill and settle in for some people watching and internet surfing.

We overhear other people talking about having been put on this flight as United canceled the 6 a.m. flight that morning. No one knows why. I question the desk attendant around noon as our flight is not on the board. “It is delayed ½ hour,” she states but confirms that there is still a flight UA4299. It does appear on the board around 12:30 p.m. and indicates that it is “on time.” However, the boarding time passes and then another ½ hour and another ½ hour, and a third ½ hour. We are starting to get antsy along with all the other passengers. We only have a two-hour time frame in Newark and then we will miss our connecting flight to Chicago. No one has made any announcements or tried to update the waiting people. I finally wander over to the desk attendant again, “What is the holdup?”

“Traffic control issues in Newark,” she responds, “The wind is very gusty there and they have had to change runway directions.”

About this time, they announce that we will board in ten minutes. Finally, around 2:50 p.m., we begin boarding. I breathe a sigh of relief. Maybe there is hope yet. Boarding goes smoothly and soon we are taxing to the runway for takeoff. The captains voice comes on the loud speaker, “Sorry folks, I have bad news. We have just been delayed for another twenty to thirty minutes.” I groan. Will we ever get off the ground? Finally, twenty minutes later we lift off into the air.flying1

I do some quick calculations in my head. We should arrive in Newark around 4 p.m. Our Chicago flight starts boarding at 4:10 p.m. How can I expedite this process? Hmm! Those magazines in the back of the seat pocket always contain drawings of various airports. I tear out the one for Newark. We will be landing at the B terminal and need to cross the airport to get to the C terminal for our next flight. “What is the best way to get to the C terminal?” I question the stewardess.

“Take the stairs at B28,” she instructs, “and get on the bus to terminal C.”

I am ready. Now I have a plan. Dave is seated further back in the plane, so I cannot discuss anything with him. My instructions on boarding to him were, “I will find out where our next boarding gate is until you can catch up with me.”

C95 is the gate listed for UA 1180 and it is currently boarding. Great! Down the stairs we go along with a bunch of others. The bus is waiting. Within a few minutes, we arrive at terminal C. We keep moving and arrive with a few minutes to spare. They haven’t gotten to Group 3 and 4 yet. Made it.

flying2I soon realize after boarding that we are also going to have a problem in Chicago. This one is my fault. I didn’t look close enough at the times when buying the tickets. It seemed like we had an hour between flights but now I realize that the distance between landing and boarding is only 35 minutes. The time is quoted for takeoff, but one needs to be on the plane long before actual takeoff. Oh dear! I hope our departing gate is close to our incoming one. If it is, we might have a chance. We do leave Newark on time and the pilot initially indicates that we will arrive in Chicago fifteen minutes early. Hurrah!

My cheers and feelings of hope are soon dampened when the pilot announces, “We have been doing some S flying to delay our arrival in Chicago.” This results in a loss of fifteen minutes. It is very windy and cloudy in Chicago we are told, and this is affecting flight times coming in. My stomach is tight, and I breathe shallowly as I alternate between hope and gloom. I do not have the boarding gate number for Chicago making it impossible to do any pre-emptive planning as I did with the last flight.

The pilot is still hoping to arrive by 6:30 p. m. The clouds hug the aircraft as we descend. We cannot see the ground for the thick white that surrounds us. All of a sudden, our downward projection is reversed and the engines roar as we begin an ascent. Now what happened? The captain’s voice soon comes on the loudspeaker, “We have aborted our landing. An animal was hit on the runway and they have to clear the runway before we can land. We will be circling until they are able to make sure the runway is safe.”flying3

Noooo! What else can go wrong? We might as well give up any idea of making the next flight. We might as well plan on driving home. We fly, what seems to us aimlessly, in the thick soup around us for what seems like an eternity but in reality, is probably about fifteen minutes before we get the OK to land. The clock reads 6:50 p.m. I search frantically for an electronic board to see what gate our Rochester flight will depart from. We are in C terminal and the board indicates our departure is out of F27. You have got to be kidding me!!! The only thing that gives me hope is that it doesn’t say that they are boarding yet. The problem is this is in another terminal as far to the end as is possible. We decide to give it a try anyway.

Down the escalator we go, taking steps like a regular stair along the moving steps. Then I am trotting. I glance back at Dave to make sure he is keeping up with me. Through the tunnel and up the next escalator we speed. Next is the moving walkway and we hurry along it. Dave is puffing. I am getting hot and feel like I am burning up. My mouth turns dry and feels like it is full of cotton balls. Onward we race, as fast as two over sixty-year-olds can go. I am running out of breath and slow down to a more sustainable pace but there is no time for a bathroom stop. Where is F27 anyway? Of course, it is the last gate at the end of the terminal. We roll up just as the last two people are boarding. I need to get rid of some clothes before I melt.

“I bet you $100 our suitcase won’t make it,” I comment to Dave. But we have MADE IT!

flying4The flight to Rochester is uneventful and we soon stand back from the luggage conveyor and watch others collect their baggage. We do not expect ours to be there. Soon the bags have all disappeared and the conveyor stops. We stand there along with another young man.

“That’s it,” I say to no one in particular.

“You’re joking, right?” the young man responds.

“Nope.”

“But my clothes for the wedding tomorrow are in there,” is his anguished assertation.

Well, at least all ours contained was dirty clothes and a few personal items. Soon we are filling out forms documenting our lost luggage.

“It should be here by tomorrow at noon,” the airline agent assures us. “Where do you want it delivered?”

“My house??”

At 11:00 a.m. the following day, the med-city taxi glides to a stop outside our house. “Here is your suitcase.” I’m impressed. Now, that is service.

 

Zipling on Big Mountain

690Today is the last day of the conference. They decide to start 15 minutes early so one of the presenters can catch an early flight. We are done by 12 noon. Since I am not expecting Hubby until 1, I lay down for a nap. I never get to sleep before he arrives. We decide to take off at 1 pm for the Big Mountain Resort just north of our hotel in Whitefish. We plan to ride the gondola to the top of the mountain and have lunch at the restaurant there. We choose the enclosed gondola as Hubby is not sure he is able to ride in the open one. It is a little dizzying as we climb higher and higher up the mountainside and hang above the treetops. What a view out over the Whitefish valley below. To the north, once we get to the top, are the majestic peaks of the Glacier Park mountains. We have a leisurely lunch at the restaurant. My meal consists of a Portabella mushroom sandwich and a huckleberry shake. Huckleberries seem to be a local delicacy in Montana. After spending a few minutes drinking in the spectacular scenery, we head back to the chair lift for the ride down.705

“Can we ride in the open chair lift?” I beg my spouse.

“I don’t know if I can do it,” is his response but he goes along with my plan.

“We want the bar down,” we tell the chair lift operator. Sometimes, they don’t even put the bar down and one sits there swinging freely in space. With the bar down, we begin our ascent high above the world below. The things I drag my hubby into.

At the bottom, we realize that the Alpine slide begins where we get off and goes down to the main building. We also realize that the main building is where I need to be in about 1 ½ hours to begin the zip-line tour that I have signed up for. The package I bought also contains 2 rides on the Alpine slide. 736I really have not had any interest in going down the Alpine slide but there it is, right in front of me and it takes me right where I need to go next. So, I get in line for a shot at the slide. One sits on a little car, something like the bobsled racers, and careens down a long twisting tube. There is a stick in the middle of the car that slows it down or allows it to go faster. I look around at the other people. There are old people and young people and no one has been issued any protective gear – no helmets, no knee pads, or elbow pads. How dangerous could this be? I decide to give it a try. It turns out to be a rather mellow controlled slide down the mountain. Perfect! Now I am where I need to be.

The next adventure of the day is to go zip-lining. I am starting to have second thoughts about this venture but I am not one to chicken out so I head on in and sign my name. I sign the standard “you could be killed but we are not liable” form and then I am issued a safety harness and a helmet. None of this is making me feel exactly secure about what I have contracted to do. Once everyone has assembled we head out for some practice runs on some shorter runs of cable.Z01_5823

We are to line up by twos and I quickly realize that I am the lone man out so I wait until everyone else has gone. I get to go at the same time as our guide/instructor. She throws a set of trolley wheels over the cable and snaps me onto it with some large carabiners that are attached at each hipbone. Then it is time to push off. We are supposed to start out by leaning back in a “pencil point” position, transition to a spread-eagle position, and then draw our feet up in front of us for landing. I, personally, like to hang on but during the two smaller practice runs, I am able to do the first two. Being able to tip back and get my feet up for landing is a bit more of a challenge. When coming in for a landing, one first hits a gymnastics type mattress backed up by a spring. The landing is somewhat of a shock.

Our third run, we are told is 2000 feet long. As I look at the cable stretching off into nowhere, I can feel the panic rising. Can I do this? I make a conscious effort to slow down my breathing and talk to myself. You can do this. Just take nice deep breaths and take it one step at a time. Soon it is time to make the leap. I hold on for dear life as I step off the platform into the nothingness that runs 200 feet above the trees. I think I am holding my breath. By the time I am approaching the platform, I am able to relax enough to look around. Then I am hitting the stop. I made it.Z02_7980

Each run is similar. There are seven runs. In between each run, we hike uphill in the heat to the next one. I am puffing and can hardly keep up. But there are two children who are overweight that keep lagging behind the group. I guess I am not doing too bad if I, as the old woman of the group, can out hike the young things. I am ready to be done by the time we sail down the last and fastest section of cable. Maybe God did not intend for me to be a bird.

Our evening is spent in our hotel room eating the last of our food, packing, and getting showers in preparation for our early morning departure the next day.

Drive Along West Side of Glacier

 

The day starts out with the conference occupying the morning. We don’t have big plans for today so we leisurely make our sandwiches and eat when I get back at 1:15 pm. We decide then to check out the gift shop here at the hotel and then the beach on Whitefish Lake. It is sunny and scorching hot so I really have no desire to sit on the beach. Behind the hotel, there is a 30-acre wildlife preserve that sports a walking trail through it. At least the trees there shade the sun some. As we wander through the preserve, we feel water drops hitting our head. At first, we think it is sap off the trees. “But it is not sticky,” I proclaim. “Well, it can’t be raining. The sun is shining. Maybe they are shooting water up over the trees from that truck we hear,” is one of our differential conclusions. As we walk along, though, more huge drops hit our heads and the ground. “It IS raining.” The clouds above us are slightly darkened but not at all like we would expect rain clouds to look. It is very dry here, having not rained for most of the month so we are shocked by the wetness coming from the sunny sky.

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Town of Polebridge – just south of Canadian border

Not knowing what else to do in the heat, we decide to hop into the car and drive up along the west side of Glacier. This is an area that is not highly traveled by tourists and most of the road is gravel. It is still beautiful countryside and follows the North branch of the Flathead River. We have a leisurely drive to a little town called Polebridge. It is the last town before the Canadian border which is closed. Polebridge reminds me of an 1800s town. It has a café, a bar, a store, and some cabins and I notice some solar panels outback which is the only thing that doesn’t fit the 1800 motif. We buy some delicious homemade pastries there and some drinks for the road. We take a different road into Glacier Park from the west. The entrance is not even staffed due to the low number of tourists who enter from this direction.

Of course, I need a souvenir from this trip to Montana so we make a quick stop at a gift shop near the entrance to West Glacier. I soon spend almost $100 for a t-shirt, a sweater, and a book. Then it is back to the hotel to kill a couple of hours before we drive back to the Hungry Horse Dam where Hubby would like to take some night pictures.

I think somehow, we ended up renting a car with limited driving miles of 750. I didn’t think anyone did that anymore but I guess I will find out when we return the car. We crossed the 750-mile mark yesterday, Wednesday, already.

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Sunset at Hungry Horse Dam

We leave around 8:30pm for our foray to the dam. We stop at McDonald for our supper with plans to eat on the way. The sun is just starting to slide towards the horizon as we begin our climb up the dam access road. A beautiful orange sunset extends up from behind the mountains. Hubby is looking for a good place to set up his camera equipment where he can take some night pictures of the road over the dam and then when it is dark enough, try to take some star pictures. I find a flat rock to lay on and absorb the warmth of the sun. Hubby is able to get some good pictures of the dam as night falls but the stars are slow to appear as the light seems reluctant to fade into total darkness.

Grrrrr! Grrrr! Reaches our ears. “What was that?” Grrr! Grrr! Again. “That sounds like a bear to me,” we both say at once. I am instantly on my feet and peer into the darkness. “Do you mind if I bring the car closer?”

“That’s OK. We’re leaving,” Hubby replies as he begins disassembling his camera equipment. I think our night time picture taking is over. It is time to head back to the hotel.

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Hungry Horse Dam at night

 

Whitewater Rafting – Glacier

 

IMG_6583I am off to the conference this morning at 7:15 for my breakfast before the meeting. I have yogurt with fruit and granola like at home. I leave class at 12:15 pm so that we can have time to eat lunch and get to the Glacier Rafting company in plenty of time. I did not wish to have a repeat of yesterday. We end up being about an hour early. We unload everything from our pockets and I reluctantly remove my hearing aid. The rafting company has lots of stuff to hold our glasses and caps on and they really want to sell it to us. Hubby buys a device to hold his cap and another device to secure his glasses. I decide to risk it. Right at 2:30 pm, we are loaded onto a school bus for our ride to the put-in site for the rafts. The guide talking to us on the bus is silly and entertains us while we wait to get by at another road work site. She counts us out for four different boats and goes through how to put our life vests on. Soon we are on our way again.

We pile out of the bus into the hot 90 degree Montana sun and are directed towards “our” raft. Derrick is to be our guide. He loads our raft from the front and then pushes it out further. Well, my shoes are wet before we even leave the beach. One person needs to sit in the middle and not row as there are an odd number of people. As the oldest and least interested in rowing, Hubby gets that seat. That leaves me in the back with the guide. He informs us that the people in the back are most likely to get pitched out while navigating rapids. Oh great!IMG_6581

We start out floating through some fairly calm water on our journey to the middle fork of the Flathead River. During this time, the guide gives us instructions on how to row together and how to respond if we end up in the water. There is an awful lot of emphasis on what to do if we end up in the water. Is this an omen? Maybe this is a really bad idea – too late now.

We make it through the first rapid with little problem. In the raft behind us, one man gets tossed out. The second rapid contains rougher water and in an effort to keep from ending up in the water myself, I grab the “chicken” rope that traverses the middle of the boat. I end up in the bottom of the boat but that is preferable to ending up over the side. Hubby grabs the lady beside him to keep her in the boat. She is terrified of ending up in the water. Once one gets the idea of riding with the waves, hanging on when necessary, and being prepared for getting soaked, this is quite fun. It’s a little bit like riding a horse. If you get the hang of riding with the motion, it’s simple.371

By the time we land for supper 2 ½ hours later, I am completely soaked from mid-chest down but I have not taken any dunks. It is 5:30 pm and our guides grill chicken and steak for us at a picnic grounds by the river. I am hoping my clothes will dry in the warm heat. We feast on raw cauliflower, carrots, and chips with salsa. The meal is topped off with a small cheesecake. Then it is back on the bus and back to pick up our car. As we head for the hotel, we cap off the evening with a Dairy Queen treat. It has been a fun and daring day.372