Whitewater Rafting Desolation Canyon – The Rest of the Trip

Me in the raft

The wind is quiet, the stars twinkle in the heavens, and the night is calm. I sleep like a rock and do not wake up until 5:30 a.m. The sky is cloudy but the air feels invigorating. I am feeling refreshed and ready to tackle the tent packing task. This morning, I have twelve rocks to throw out of my sleeping abode before we even begin. The thought was that they would keep us from blowing away if necessary. It seems like a whole day’s work before breakfast.

            Bananas with blueberries, French toast, and sausage is being served. Along with my hot chocolate, it hits the spot. By 9 a.m. and launching time, the sky has begun to clear. Everyone is in the big rafts today as there, apparently, are larger and more numerous rapids on this stretch of the river. It also seems warmer temperature wise with a cloudless sky allowing for sustained hot sunshine.

            The guides start out rowing and every so many minutes, we navigate a new rapid. Dodging rocks is the main activity necessary in maneuvering through these low water rapids. Several times throughout the morning, we get hung up on a rock in the churning rolling water. This leaves Marla with the necessity of coming up with a strategy for getting off the hindrance. Marla is a 46-year-old high school English teacher during the school year. She is thin and of a slight build – not at all your body builder type. Soon instructions are issued to haul heavy objects to the opposite side of the boat and then more instructions for jumping up and down. Colin has been recruited for our raft as he is a big helper in getting us unstuck.

Lunch on the beach

            It is right before lunch when we beach our rafts along the shore just above the class III rapids known as Joe Hutch Canyon Rapids. The purpose of the stop is to allow Haden and Marla to scope out the rapids and develop a plan of approach. They confer for a few minutes and then we push off again. The dips and rolls are a thrill for me, and our raft makes it through the rapids with no issues. Marla is delighted when she looks back and realizes that Haden is stuck on a rock and not her. Haden is much more experienced and almost never gets hung up, so she feels accomplished.

Coming into a rapid

            Once we are through these rapids, it is time for lunch on another sandy beach. Some of the group jumps into the river to cool off. I opt to dump water on myself instead. The water is muddy, I can’t swim, and hearing aids don’t do well in water. I tell myself all these reasons but mostly, I just don’t want to be soaked all the way to my underwear. While everyone cools off in the water, Marla and Haden pull out a makeshift table and throw together a taco salad wrap. It is scrumptious. They are wonderful cooks.

            Once our stomachs are full, our guides make a decision to lash our rafts together again and put the outboard motor back on. We stop at a very muddy beach for this task. Jumping off the boat lands one in a thick black mud that sucks off my sandals. Getting the motor back on seems to be a struggle and then it doesn’t want to start. Haden and then Alex pulls the start cord over and over before it finally sputters to life. Through calmer water, we motor along at a faster pace than rowing allows. A quick decoupling occurs at the head of a rapid before we tumble through it. From there on out, each guide rows his own raft until close to supper time. Marla is tired and slowing down from exhaustion. Two other groups are closing in leading to concern for getting a campsite. Therefore, a decision is made to have Haden motor on ahead and claim the next site. We will catch up later.

Our last campsite – Hayden and Marla (our guides)

            We roll into the campsite around 6:30 p.m. This evening the sun is shining, at least, but the wind has picked up. The site is located on a sandy hill and our choice for tent placements appears limited. I sigh as I consider the work ahead to erect our tents. Dawn and I drag our fifty-pound waterproof bags up a steep sandy hill. My breath comes in huge gasps and my feet slip back in the sand each time I take a step forward. There are little thistles growing sporadically and I manage to kick a couple during my trek. Ugh! Each time requires sitting down and pulling out the thorns. As we pull out my tent, the wind howls and it threatens to blow away into the great beyond. While Dawn hangs on for dear life, I collect ten rocks to weigh it down. Even that is not enough. Beads of sweat roll down my face and into my eyes. This is exhausting and frustrating. I am already dehydrated and becoming more so by the minute. Inside the tent, the temperature is like an oven. The sand which has collected the heat all day radiates it back to me like a floor with radiant heat. Finally, everything is situated, and I flop into a lawn chair to wait for supper. I am so glad this is the last night as I have had enough fun erecting tents.

            With a little hydration, I recover enough to enjoy the tasty evening meal of mashed potatoes and steak. Then it is time for bed. The night starts out wild and noisy again as the wind picks up more shortly after flopping out on top of the sleeping bag. It whistles across the canyon and the tent rocks back and forth. Will I and my ten rocks hold it down. I hope so! Off in the distance, I hear the clattering sound of some of the kitchen equipment flying freely across the beach. I lay there awake for a couple of hours listening to the gale and the roaring water of the rapids close below. I finally decide I probably won’t blow away and drift off to sleep.

Me and my tent

            It is light when I awaken at 5 a.m. Dawn and I soon begin our last day task of taking down the tents and stashing our gear in the waterproof bags. We have become experts at creative stuffing. It goes much faster this morning, and I am soon ready to lug my bag down to the raft staging area. In my early morning wisdom, I decide to roll the heavy bag down the hill instead of carrying it. I aim for the open area between the tables and give it a push. But instead of rolling where I expect it to, it makes a left curve towards the liquids breakfast table. Oh no! I see horrified aghast looks on the faces of everyone on the beach as I make a running dive after the runaway bag. I catch it just as it touches the table leg.

            “Good catch,” Alex comments, “That was the save of the day.”

            Breakfast for me is the last of the hot chocolate, some grapes, and a bagel. Our guides are pushing to get moving this morning and soon have the boats loaded and ready to go. The sun has topped the canyon wall and it promises to be a sweltering day. The family of three starts out in the kayaks while Dawn and I each choose a raft. I decide to spend the day on Hayden’s raft for a change. Hayden is the lead guide on this trip and the one with the most experience. He is tall and thin and sports an unruly brown beard and matching hair. I learn Hayden is the son of a Mission Aviation Fellowship pilot having been born in Africa. He loves the outdoors and doing these trips. On Hayden’s raft, I actually have a backrest and spread out in the scorching sunshine. This is our last day and we have twelve miles to go.

            Hayden and Marla methodically row through calm water intermingled with short rapids. The water today is extremely muddy indicating a stream entering from storm runoff in another canyon. We stop for lunch on a sandbar around 12:30. It consists of a tasty wrap of lettuce, tomatoes, and other goodies.

            After lunch, Haden makes the decision to strap the two rafts together again and start the outboard motor. The kayaks are strapped to the sides, and everyone jumps aboard the extended boat. Soon we are tootling along at a nice clip. The sun beats mercilessly down on us. It is hot. I am guessing it is close to one hundred degrees and everyone is eager to make some time towards our takeout location. Pouring water over myself does help but it dries in as little as ten minutes. We cover five miles in record time. Then our guides break the rafts apart again for the last 2 ½ miles. Alex’s family resumes their trip in the kayaks.

Our strapped together rafts with kayaks on the side

            “Look, some mountain sheep,” someone points out. Along the riverbank are a couple of ewes, a ram, and a couple of babies. We have been rewarded at the last minute with spotting one of the animals we have been looking for our entire trip. Then around a few more curves, through a long rapid, and there is the concrete ramp for our takeout. As we drift up to the shore, an elderly man with a PFD on is standing in the water.

            “Sir,” Marla calls, “You need to move so we don’t hit you.”

            The man takes a step and falls right over. He floats in the water. It is evident that he is unsteady and unable to get up by himself.

            “Do you need help?” Marla inquires.

            “No,” he responds, “I’ll just float over here to the dock.”

            As I watch him, he struggles to get on his feet. He grabs a stick floating in the water and tries to stand up but can’t. I can just see him floating through the rapids just beyond the dock and drifting down the river.

            “I think someone needs to help him before he floats away,” I implore Marla.

            Is he not with anyone? Is the question. She finally goes looking for someone who might be family or friends. Eventually, two men do appear and haul him out of the river by his flotation device. Talk about leaving someone in a perilous situation.

            A cool air-conditioned spot right now will feel really good. But nothing surpasses a few days in the vast wilderness God has created. It was a trip of solitude away from the chaos and craziness of the everyday world.

Mountain sheep

Desolation Canyon Whitewater Rafting – Day 2

Campsite with dish washing buckets

I am up by 6:30 a.m. because of a need to visit Grover. Grover is the portable toilet that gets placed in the great outdoors usually with a lovely view of the Green River. There is a 5-gallon bucket to balance upon for urine only and another little toilet shaped canister for number two. The instructions for disposing of human waste out here in this wilderness seems rather strange to me. The urine gets put in the river and the stool gets hauled back to headquarters. And yes, one is supposed to pee in the river in front of one’s companions during the day. Privacy is forgotten as someone of importance has decided that this helps the environment.

            The next task is to take down our tents and stuff everything back in the big blue watertight bag for the day. Dawn and I each have separate tents, but we find that performing this task is much easier as a team. We drop and roll each tent and then do some creative stuffing. The tent goes in first with our personal duffle bag stuffed down beside it. On top is positioned the sleeping bag and any extra items. One person can hold the bag open while the other person reaches in and guides the items past each other. Lastly, we roll the top down three times and fasten the fasteners. This will keep everything snug and dry until we need it again tonight.

            Breakfast is waiting by the time we are done our morning chores. Mine consists of an English muffin with fried egg, Canadian bacon, and cheese, along with hot chocolate. It takes our guides 1 ½ hours to get all the supplies and utensils stowed back in the rafts. I watch Haden for a while and realize he is pumping air into the rafts. Is that a bad omen?

Marla cooking for us

            “Is there a leak that you need to pump air into the raft,” I question.

            “No,” he says, “The air expands during the day but at night when it cools off, the air contracts so we fill up each morning” Whew! That’s good to know.

            The sun is coming over the top of the ridge by the time we push off. The rafts have been broken apart today and the motor stowed away. Haden will be rowing one raft while Marla rows the other. Dawn and I hop onto Marla’s raft. Alex, Colin (14 years old), and Casey (17 years old), the other members of our party, are trying out the inflatable kayaks. They will paddle between the rafts.

            The sun is bright today as well with a smattering of clouds. As we start out this morning, the wind is gusty and in our face. Marla struggles to keep the raft moving downstream. At one particular bend in the river, the wind catches the 2000-pound raft and spins it into an eddy, or an area where she rows and rows and rows without making any progress. Finally, she is able to get us out of our predicament and continue the slow paddle.

The inflatable kayaks

            Rapids are intermingled with areas of calmer water that require full body powering of the oars by Marla. A roar announces the arrive of a rapid and the water bubbles and churns over the rocks submerged beneath. These hidden rocks present a challenge with the entrance into each rapid. At one of these rapids, Marla enters in an area that looks to be obstacle free but as we bounce over the rolling swells, the raft scrapes over a huge rock and comes to a halt in the rushing torrent. Marla tries to bring the craft around, but we are stuck. Before I know what is happening, Colin has bumped into the back of the raft with the kayak and flipped. He is left clinging to the side of the raft. His water bottle and paddles have floated away downstream. Marla’s priority now becomes hauling Colin in by his PFD. Once everyone is safely on board, it is back to the work of freeing ourselves. Dawn, I, Colin, and Casey, who came on board earlier, are instructed to move to the front and jump up and down. Now jumping up and down on a rubber floor for two old ladies is a hazardous activity and isn’t about to happen unless one wants more people in the river. Dawn and I mostly bounce while grasping the side. Colin and Casey are left to do the jumping while Marla gets out in the rushing river and tries to pull the raft off the rock. Several versions of this procedure occur repeatedly throughout the day as we hang up on various rocks. As an alternative to jumping, I decide to grab both sides of the raft and rock back and forth. Amazingly, this actually has better results than the jumping.

            Further down the river, a voice calls out, “Did you lose a paddle?’

            “Yes, Colin did,” we shout back.

            “The park ranger has it up ahead,” we are informed.

            Thankfully, the Bureau of Land Management ranger has caught Colin’s missing oars and returns them to him as he rows by.

Haden rowing

            Just as yesterday, around 3 p.m., the sky darkens, and a downpour begins. Today we planned for this, so I have my rain jacket. And no ice balls clunk on our heads either. But the water still wets our heads and trickles down into my pants and underwear before ceasing twenty minutes later. The sun comes out and the canyon wall sparkles with the moisture. We soon pull over and proceed to hike to an old abandon homestead from the early 1900s. Swedish immigrants who were given free land in the new world made an attempt at farming in this hostile climate before abandoning the efforts after just a few years. There are the remains of a stone roofless house, a wooden shop with star gazing potential, and a small stone chicken house. The fences were constructed with pieces of tree branches positioned at various angles. Soon we are drying out and warmed up and we tromp back to the rafts to continue on to a camping site.

            A couple more hours bring us to our overnight camping spot. The sky is again clouding up and the same mad scramble ensues to get the tents up in the wind before the next downpour. I am getting rather frustrated with this crazy weather every day. Casey has come up with a new name for Desolation Canyon. She calls it Bipolar Canyon.    

The abandoned farmsite

Desolation Canyon Whitewater Rafting – The Journey begins

Captain Dan of our airplane flight

The alarm is set for 4:50 a.m. but we are awake by 4:40. We have been told to meet at the airport at 6:30 a.m. for our air flight to the put-in site for Desolation Canyon. As I walk out our hotel door at 5:15, I am met by wet payment and the smell of rain. Light sprinkles touch my face. I didn’t know that rain was expected but it has cooled the atmosphere from the prior day’s heat. By the time we arrive on the north skirts of Moab, it has stopped drizzling. The cloud cover is starting to move on, and the sun’s rays are peaking through. It is sixty-eight degrees – a beautiful day.

            We arrive at the airport shortly after 6 a.m. and settle down on a bench outside to wait. The airport lobby door is locked and there is no sign of any other passengers. The air is cool and the morning pleasant but as the minutes tick by, butterflies begin to awaken in my stomach. Did we misunderstand? The clock ticks slowly by 6:30 and still no one has arrived. Two small planes sitting on the tarmac fire up, taxi away from the hanger, roar down the runway, and disappear into the sky. Now our anxiety has spiked, and we begin to pace back and forth. We have no cell phones and no way to contact anyone. Did they leave without us? Are we at the wrong airport? There is really nothing we can do about our situation, and we feel helpless. We check all the doors again– still locked. Finally, a car pulls up to the Redtail Aviation Maintenance building. We rush over to the gentleman who emerges.

            “Do you know anything about a flight leaving at 6:30?” I question anxiously.

            “There is a flight scheduled for 7:30,” he responds, “I’m the pilot and my name is Dan. I will be taking you today.”

            Whew!! What a relief. They haven’t left without us after all. I let out a huge sigh. Now that our panic has been eased, we settle down again to wait some more. Right around 7:30, the remaining people arrive. There is a dad, Alex, and two teenage kids, Casey and Colin. We are soon led out to a small eight-seater airplane. Decked out in red and white, it greets us with an open door. There is no ID required. After a short orientation, I am soon strapped in with a seat belt and shoulder harness. Headphones finalize the ensemble and the pilot throws instructions our way while revving the engine. Soon we are speeding down the runway and lifting into the air.

The Green River below us with a view of the launching site

            Below us, the dry barren land of Utah gives way to the sandstone cliffs of Desolation Canyon. The land east of the Green River in the canyon is part of the Utz Indian reservation so we will only be able to camp in the wilderness area on the western side. Our route takes us north along the canyon’s course just a few thousand feet above the ground. A forty-five-minute flight later finds us bumping along the pebble strewn ground of the makeshift landing area of a flat mesa above the river launching area. Soon we are bouncing along a rocky dirt trail in a pickup winding our way around and down to the river.

            We have been informed that the river is extremely low this year due to a small snowpack last winter and little rain. The river is at 800 cfs (cubic feet per second) which is the lowest level they have ever rafted at. The two rafts that we will be taking have been lashed together and our guides, Haden and Marla, will be using a small outboard motor to move us along in the slow flow and calm water. Any rapids today will be class 1 or 2. Dawn and I clamber into the front of Marla’s raft. The first thing I notice is that there is water seeping into the boat at my feet. Having water coming into out floating home doesn’t seem like a good way to start out a water trip.

            “There’s water coming in,” I point out to Marla.

            She chuckles. “These are self-bailing boats,” she proclaims, “They have openings to let the water drain out if we get swamped in the rapids. Otherwise, we would have to hand bail.”

            Oh, that’s an interesting concept I never thought about. At least I know we will not be sinking in the first hour.

            The sun is bright and warm. With a little breeze, the day is not uncomfortable. We move along slowly, not unlike a barge and a pusher on the Mississippi River. We weave this way and that attempting to navigate in deeper water. Sand bars extend into many areas of the channel. Several times, we get bogged down in the sand and Marla and Haden jump into the water and push our stranded vessel out of its predicament. Then we motor onward.

Everyone but me in the picture, motoring the first day

            Around noon, we glide onto a sandbar purposely and our guides set up a table to serve us a meal of pita bread with fixings. The temperature is quite warm, and I wade into the water to wet my feet while simultaneously trying to clean the mess off my pants that I have made from being a sloppy eater. The afternoon starts out much like the morning though clouds have now started to obscure the sun at times. This makes for a much more comfortable temperature. But as the afternoon progresses, the sky continues to darken and over the next couple of hours, the dark clouds advance. By midafternoon, lightning flashes occasionally and rumbles of thunder punctuate the silence.

            “Should we be getting off the river?” is the question being asked. We are from Minnesota and electrical storms mean “get off the water.”

            Our guides seem unperturbed, “With the canyon walls being ¼ mile high, there is little chance that we will be struck by lightning” is the sentiment and we continue with our water journey. Soon splashes of water touch my skin and bounce off the raft. But what starts out as sprinkles soon turns into a pouring deluge. Then those raindrops begin to feel rather hard. Ouch! Ice balls bounce off our heads, collect in the raft, and create large ripples in the water. It is hailing. I hunch over miserably as the water and ice creeps down my back under the personal flotation device and into my underwear. All our raingear is packed away in the dry bags which is not at all helpful. Haden and the other three guests grab helmets to protect themselves from the onslaught. I am too wretched to move. Marla comes to join Dawn and I bringing a six-foot long by three-foot-wide seat cushion which we hold over our heads while we huddle together shivering. Marble size hail balls sting the skin on our hands and legs. Dawn develops bruises from them. It seems like this ambush from the sky goes on forever. Is this ever going to end?

            Just as quickly as it began, the torment stops, and the sun comes out. But we are cold, wet, and shivering. Haden makes a decision to land at the next campsite so that we can move around, dry out, and warm up. We are led along a trail through the desert sand in the sunlight to a cliff with petrographs. This is just what the doctor ordered. The sun warms our torsos and begins the drying process of our clothes. My scrub pants and underwear are still soaked but at least I am no longer hypothermic once we jump back into the raft.

            A few more hours of navigating lead us to our campsite for the night around 6 p.m. The sky has again clouded over and thunder rumbles. We grab our dry bags with all our possessions and scramble up the sandy hill. The race is on to get our tents erected before the rain begins again. Then we dive in while the downpour cascades from the heavens. I am exhausted. But soon this shower too has passed and the sun shines on us for a pleasant evening.

Hailball (size)

            As we sit in lawn chairs waiting for our supper, someone spots a small brown head gliding just under the water in the river. As it emerges on the opposite bank, we are able to identify the creature as a beaver. He or she splashes merrily around for our entertainment. The Bureau of Land Management ranger who visits us the next morning reports that a bear was also spotted across the river on this evening. I am so disappointed that we missed this appearance.    

            Our guides cook and eventually serve us a scrumptious meal of shrimp alfredo pasta along with a salad. It is topped by strawberry shortcake for dessert. By 9:30 p.m., we are stuffed and ready to crawl into the sleeping bags and tents for the night. I discover after I arrive in my tent that my carefully checked and battery replaced flashlight does not work. Great! Just great! There will be no light to find anything in my tent and no light to stumble my way to the bathroom in the middle of the night. I also brought along an air mattress and a small battery-operated air pump. The air mattress is waiting for me positioned on top of one of the seat cushions from the raft. This arrangement will work out splendidly. It cushions my body perfectly as I lie there trying to fall asleep. The wind has picked up outside and the tent begins to rock back and forth. These tents are designed to sit on top of the ground without staking corners into the ground. Here stakes wouldn’t stay anyway due to the loose sand that covers the landscape. In the escalating wind, my tent begins to rock back and forth. It bows almost to the ground on one side. As it bends over, everything on that side of the tent gets dumped up on me. Flaps flop up and down like a bird with wings. I lay there in the pitch dark wondering if I am going to be trapped inside this enclosure. I finally fall asleep after I decide I probably won’t smother if it does totally come down on me.    (to be continued)

After the flight

Whitewater Rafting Moab, Utah – Preparing For Our Trip

Main Street, Moab Utah

            My traveling partner, Dawn and I arrived in Moab, Utah around 5:30 p.m. local time on Monday, July 12, 2021. The temperature is 105 degrees. “At least, it’s a dry heat,” people often say but it is still hot. Red rock rises into the sky on both sides of the highway and the landscape is dry and barren. Nothing grows green. Moab is a sprawling western tourist town with probably more motels than anything else. We check into our accommodations at Bowen Motel and then decide to walk across the street to Wendy’s to get supper. Apparently, Utah is still hanging onto the Covid 19 restrictions yet regardless of whether one is vaccinated or not. Wendy’s lobby is locked up tight but there appears to be cars going through the drive thru. We turn away and stroll south along the sidewalk. There has to be something open within walking distance. However, each place we pass has a “closed” sign on the door. I am getting hot and frustrated. Dawn wants one thing and I want another. We are like two old married people who can’t agree. We finally decide to walk back to the motel, get the car, and drive through Wendy’s drive thru. We are the fourth car in line. Our hopes rise that we will soon be chowing down and filling our bellies. Unfortunately, the minutes tick by while we chomp at the bit. They finally take one order and fifteen minutes later, another. The gas idles away as we wait. Fifteen more minutes goes by.

            “Let’s go somewhere else,” I finally say, “This is ridiculous.”

            I quickly check the GPS for suggestions of other nearby fast-food places since the ones unique to Moab all seem to be closed or not open for dine-in. I am so glad I brought my GPS along. It has provided useful information on restaurants, gas stations, and rest stops along our route. McDonald’s is just .6 mile down the street. We are met with the same drive through line only there but at least it is moving. We soon have some sandwiches, fries, and a milkshake to satisfy our growling stomachs. We have made it safely to our destination.

Looking south from Arches National Park

            The sun is peaking over the cliff just to the east of our motel when I enter the warm morning air. The temperature has not dropped below 80 degrees during the night. Orientation is scheduled for 10 a.m. at the Mild and Wild Rafting office in Moab. Dawn has brought along an electric skillet, and she whips up some French toast. This along with grapes is our breakfast meal.

            A little before 9:30, we head out for the rafting headquarters. It only takes a few minutes to make the drive. A young lady sits at a picnic table under a shady canvas canopy. There is a light breeze which wafts away the feeling of overwhelming heat.

            “Can I help you?” she greets us.

            “We are here for the orientation,” we respond.

            “You are early,” she says, “but I will go see if I can find one of the guys to do your orientation.”

            Soon she is back with a young man, Haden, who is to be one of our guides on our adventure. “You are the only two that will be here for orientation so I will just do it now,” he declares, “The other family is not flying in until this evening.”

            He gives us each a waterproof sack twice as big as a pillow. Into this, which already includes our tent, we each are to stuff a sleeping bag, a mattress, and a duffel bag of personal clothes and necessities. With a little creative stuffing, I finally get the task accomplished. And that is the extent of our orientation. We are ready to leave and go about our day by ten. So why did we come a day early?

            We make a decision to drive the short distance to Arches National Park. After reading on-line about the overcrowding of our national parks and the high chance of being turned away if one is not there by 7:30 in the morning, I have grave doubts that we will be able to get in. But there is no line, and we easily zip through the ticketing process. Motoring around the park in our vehicle is mostly our means of sightseeing. Large red rock formations rise against the sky. Many of them have acquired names for their shapes. This national park is known for its sandstone arches of which there are many. We swing into a parking pullout every so often to snap a photo. Even a couple of very short hikes are in order, but the heat soon chases us back to the car. Before we know it, our stomach is calling us to head back to Moab for some food. We discover at Denny’s the same issue we had the night before at Wendy’s. They are extremely short of help with only one man seating patrons, cleaning tables, taking orders and delivering food. In spite of this, we are back out the door within an hour.

Arches National Park

            After an afternoon siesta time, we head downtown on foot to scope out the various shops and enjoy an ice cream treat. Our final task of the day is to deliver our electronics to the rafting company office for safekeeping. Leaving them in a 200-degree car for four days does not seem like a prudent idea.

One of the arches

Wilderness Adventure Day 4 – Hanging out in the Yurt

My Daily writing

Sunday, June 20 is Father’s Day. We stay snuggled in our sleeping bag until 8 a.m. We have no where to be. Because it is supposed to rain today, we left the car last evening out at the end of the ½ mile trail to the yurt. I was able to walk back in ten minutes – not bad. That should be a doable hike on Monday morning carrying the rest of our belongings.

The day breaks with the sun shining before slowly sliding into cloudiness. After a light breakfast, we decide to go for a slow meander along the prairie path and down another track that ends at a stagnant marsh. Budding spring flowers line our path and stopping to photograph them is required. Mosquitos swarm us every time we stop moving. A wet splop lands on my nose. What was that?

“I just felt a rain drop,” I report, “Time to start back.”

We spy some moose tracks in the beaten path close to the yurt. That is probably as close to a moose as we will get. One last visit to the lakeshore and we head indoors.

Hooker Lake

A steady pitter patter on the canvas roof and sides of our abode meets our ears not more than fifteen minutes after getting back from our journey.

“It’s chilly in here. Can you see if you can start a fire in the stove?” is my next proposal.

Soon the fire is slowly burning emanating a toasty warmth. It has become a day for me to write and to read and for Dave to play solitaire while the rain pounds a steady rhythm of song on the canvas roof.

Playing Solitaire

The wind howls in waves throughout the night while the rain continues its steady drumming. Just after midnight, I am awakened by an “Oh, no!” by Dave. His portable CPAP machine which I have bought for trips like this has died. I had bought a lithium battery to power it here due to no electricity but really had no idea how long it would last. We tried to do some recharging using the car cigarette lighter during the day on Saturday when we were driving around but apparently, it was not enough. The whole concept has worked beautifully up until now. But now I spend the rest of the night dozing off and on listening to my hubby stop breathing and then wake himself up over and over gasping.

By 6 a.m. on Monday, we decide it is time to get up and get ourselves together since we aren’t sleeping anyway. The temperature on the thermometer on the pole outside is 42 degrees. Time to hustle if one does not want to freeze while dressing. As I pack up our stuff and put away the rest of the food in the cooler, I notice that the trail mix bag has a semi-circular cut out of it and the mix is scattered all over the metal cart top. I think we had a visitor during the night.

Moose Tracks

The sleeping bag is rolled up and tied with rope so Dave can sling it over his shoulders while also carrying a small leather bag and a medium sized duffel bag. I throw a small backpack on my back and hoist up the cooler. We are ready. The ground is soggy with puddles which require skirting. My hands are freezing so I call for a stop to roll down the sleeves on Dave’s quilted shirt which I am wearing. Fifteen minutes of strolling through the cool morning sunshine brings us to our car. We are soon headed homeward. That planning ahead managed to work out splendidly for us. We have survived one more daring trip into the wilderness.

View From the door of our yurt

Grand Marias Glamping August 2020

Friday, August 28, 2020, I awaken to the rumble of thunder. The bedroom is still cloaked in darkness. The digital clock blinks out 6:20 a.m. I still have ten minutes until the alarm goes off but maybe if I get up now, I can get the dog pottied and the steers fed before it rains. The weather report last evening was for heavy rain this morning. As I swing my feet over the edge of the bed, the first pitter patter of raindrops sounds on the steel roof. I am too late to stay dry.

            I grab the umbrella on the way out the door in my pajamas. Water is now pouring from the sky. Claire, our puppy, shakes her head at the deluge. She finally manages to squat to pee. Forget waiting for #2. We flee to the barn. I haven’t figured out how to carry two pails of feed and hold the umbrella at the same time, so I tuck my head and make a dash for the feed box. No animals are in sight to greet me as is their usual routine. Their food is going to be mash mixed with all the water collecting in the trough if they don’t come soon. Even with the umbrella, my t-shirt top and my hair is soaked as Claire and I make the dash back to the house. I scan the pasture for cattle but see none.

            This is how the morning begins of our weekend camping getaway to Grand Marias, Minnesota. The cattle still have not come to eat by the time we head down the drive. The car is put in reverse. We can’t leave if the cattle are missing. That is an ingrained farmer thing. I walk out along the pasture fence looking for those familiar black blobs. There is just a little rise in the landscape so sometimes it is hard to see over it. “Come bossie,” I call, “Come bossie.” Finally, I hear an answering, “Baa!” and as I squint into the morning gloom, a few dark specks emerge from the tree line. Soon, four black creatures are thundering my way. Now we can go. The steers are fine.

            We drop Claire off at “doggy daycare” before heading north. We make our usual traveling breakfast stop at Kwik Trip. I select yogurt, a donut, and a “baby” milk while Dave gathers his breakfast choices. We approach the checkout and pay together while the clerk places the purchases in a plastic shopping bag.

            As we are eating while we drive, Dave says, “Where’s my diet Dr. Pepper?”

            “I don’t know. I didn’t see any Dr. Pepper,” I respond.

            “I am sure I put some on the counter at the checkout,” He insists.

            “I don’t think so,” I reiterate.

            “I must have left it when I picked up my food,” He concludes.

            “We can stop at the next Kwik Trip and buy one,” I reassure him.

            After a few minutes of thoughtful silence, he says, “Check the sales slip. See if she charged for a Dr. Pepper?”

            We are about to take the next Kwik Trip exit as I pull out the receipt and read, “Long John, hash browns, sausage/egg croissant, M&M Peanut butter, skim milk, parfait, and … Dr. Pepper.” There it is. Maybe I should look in the bag at my feet again. I reach in and … sheepishly hold up a bottle of … Dr. Pepper!

            “I thought I was becoming senile,” Dave intones.

            Oh dear, apparently one of us is losing it but it’s not Dave.

            We continue our journey traveling north on Hwy 52. I haven’t set up the GPS as I don’t want it talking to us the whole way. But I have printed out a Google direction sheet just in case. I don’t think we need much help with this part of the trip. We just need to hop onto I35E North until we reach Hwy 61 in Duluth which will take us to Grand Marias, Minnesota. At the last moment, I decide to consult the printed directions to see how to make the connection with 35E. The paper says, “Take the exit on the left to I94 east. Go .7 miles and exit onto 35.” As I look at the road signs coming up, I am confused. The road sign indicates that to catch I35, one needs to go west on I94. This is the right exit, not the left. Should I follow my intuition or the directions in front of me? I foolishly choose to ignore my sixth sense and instruct Hubby to take I94 going east. As soon as we make this turn, I instinctively know we are going the wrong way. I dig through the glove compartment for a real road map while proclaiming, “We are going the wrong way. We need to turn around.” We are old enough to still use those old-fashioned things called roadmaps.

            Dave looks at me incredulously, “You know it’s not that easy.”

            “I know. But according to the map, I35E is west of where we came into 94 so we NEED to turn around.”

            After making a speedy exit and flipping around to the west lanes, we travel just a few miles and there is our correct exit. This experience leads me to one of the strong convictions I hold in life: if you find you are going the wrong way in life, never be afraid to turn around and go the other way.

            We make a couple of stops along the way to Grand Marias. Our plan is to first stop in Duluth at the lift bridge and maybe have a picnic lunch in Canal Park around noon. As we drive around the lakeside, the roads and sidewalks are crowded with people milling about and there does not seem to be anywhere to park let alone have a quiet lunch. We might as well move on. As we are leaving the harbor area and stopped at a stop light, we notice that the road ahead is blocked off so that only the right lane is usable. Besides that, we need to turn right to get back onto the I35 entrance ramp.

            “Put the turbo on and just pull ahead of the pickup in the right lane when the light turns,” I urge my husband who has it ingrained in himself to yield to others no matter how much of an inconvenience our predicament might leave us in. Surprisingly, today though, he stomps on the accelerator and we have no problem pulling ahead of the truck and getting ourselves into the lane we need to be in. But the pickup truck driver sees our actions as a personal affront. “Beep, Beep, Beep!” he lays on the horn over and over again. He rides our bumper for several miles and then exits off the interstate and up a ramp. As we pull away, I see his left arm extended out the driver’s window and his middle finger pointed skyward. I am not sure why driver’s these days are so ready to kill each other for the smallest infractions or actions of others. Oh well, we need to take a deep breath and move on. We stop instead for a quiet picnic lunch at a secluded rest area just off of Hwy 61 north of Duluth.

            We are ready for another leg stretch stop by the time we arrive in Silver Bay. There is a sign for an overlook. We wind uphill and around and around until we arrive at the top of a cliff. After parking, we wind our way around a shady trail through a wooded area. It is a cool, cloudy day and no one else is around. This is how we like it. The trail leads to three separate overlooks. The first one grants a view of Lake Superior and a large iron ore mining company on the shore below. The second overlook provides a view of the layout of Silver Bay. The third overlook gives a different vantage point from the other two. The views are breathtaking in their magnitude.

            I decide it is time to plug the address of Hungry Hippie Hostel into the GPS. They are located on a township road about eight miles east of Grand Marias. It has been advertised on the internet as having great views of Lake Superior. As we drive up the road towards the establishment, we seem to get further and further away from the lake. We are somewhat disappointed as we pull into the driveway around 4:30 p.m. as all we can see is trees.

            “There is no way we can see the lake from here,” declares Dave.

            The owners are expecting us and direct us to drive around to the back parking lot and haul our stuff with a little wagon to the first “glamping” tent that we come to. I have no idea what “glamping” means so I look it up on the internet. According to Wikipedia, “glamping is a hybrid of ‘glamorous’ and ‘camping’, and describes a style of camping with amenities and, in some cases, resort-style services not usually associated with ‘traditional’ camping.” Our “glamping” tent here is an open front canvas shelter erected on a raised wooden platform. Inside is a mattress and box spring ready for sleeping. When I registered, I thought this would be unique but still be tent camping without the sleeping on the ground. My expectations on this, though, don’t begin to meet the standards of a similar style abode we stayed in in Africa in 2013. That one was a full-scale bedroom with all around mosquito netting. It also had a full bathroom and shower, all inside a large canvas tent. That’s what I call glamorous.

Back here in the real camping world of Minnesota, there are three glamping tents and they are quite close together and out in the open. Inside, there is a mosquito screen and a privacy sheet covering the area where the bed is located. The problem is, they have left no room to stand to dress, undress, or even get into bed in the “bedroom.” How are we supposed to undress and get ready for bed in a 3-sided open room with wide open views of the outdoors? Dave does some moving around of hanging clips and designs a small “dressing room” with the privacy curtain.

View of Lake Superior from our Tent

            As we look out our south tent opening to the horizon way off in the distance, surprise of surprises, is a spectacular view of Lake Superior. This view is tempered by the huge freshly dug unfinished mound septic system in the foreground just 100 feet from the opening of our tent. Seriously?! To say I am disappointed is putting it mildly. I can’t say it makes for photographic delights either, but here we are. We might as well enjoy it the best that we can.

            We drive back to Grand Marias in search of supper. What shall we eat in this time of Covid-19? There are few indoor dining places. Most dining out is done by ordering on-line, by phone, or in-person for pickup. We finally decide on tacos from Hungry Hippies Taco, an establishment owned by the same people who own the tenting grounds. We don our masks to order and then enjoy our much too spicy food at a small table out front.

            Then it is time to head back to our home-away-from-home. The day has been cloudy and cool throughout. We sit on the wooden steps outside our tent and watch the sky. There are two plastic chairs to use but mine already has a crack and Dave’s weight adds a crack to the other one. Now we are afraid to sit on either of them. As we talk by the light of one solar powered Ball Jar light, rain drops begin to splatter on our heads.

            “Let’s make one last trip to the bathroom before it starts pouring,” I suggest.

            The rain has picked up as we exit the bathroom. It is a good 400 feet back to our tent.

            “I am going to run,” I inform Dave who is slowly limping his way back. My running in the dark over rough ground is more like a slow stumble. I can never be quite sure when the ground might come up to meet me. By the time I hit the wooden steps of our strange home, it has started to pour. We might as well get ready for bed and climb in. At least it will be warm and dry there . . . I hope. This tent leaves much to be desired especially in a rainstorm. There is no flap to let down in front, so water is splashing in. I move the suitcase, our coolers, and clothes as far back in as possible. We hurriedly get ready for bed and tumble our 60 something bodies onto the mattress and skootch down into the sleeping bag. As we lay there in the dark and listen to the continuing of the pouring rain, mist droplets splash on our faces from above. Uh oh! I hope this tent repels water. Oh well, there is not much we can do about it if it doesn’t. Maybe it will stop raining soon. When I get up to traipse to the bathroom at 3 a.m., the sky is sprinkled with a million twinkling stars. We are still relatively dry, and the mattress is actually a pretty comfy bed.

Devil’s Kettle

            Breakfast is at 7:30 a.m. I have brought along most of our food which was a good decision. The menu consists of hard-boiled eggs and gluten-free coffee cake. We are ready to start our adventures by 8:15 a.m.  Judge C.R. Magney State Park is just a few miles east of where we are staying. Our goal at the state park is to hike to the Devil’s Kettle. The Devil’s Kettle contains two waterfalls. One cascades into a deep pothole with what seems like no outlet. The other side splashes fifty feet into a pool before continuing down the Brule River to Lake Superior. The park map shows the Kettle and the falls to be a mile hike. Even though it is still cloudy, the temperature is in the 50s. It is a beautiful morning and perfect for trekking. Most of the path angles upwards with some steep steps along the way. At least it will be all downhill on the way out. Not many people are around yet, so we pretty much have the viewing platforms for drinking in the beauty of the falls to ourselves. It takes us about two hours to make the round trip back to the car.

            From there, we follow Hwy 61 further northeast to Grand Portage State Park. Grand Portage State Park straddles the US/Canadian border. I would have liked to go further north into Canada to Thunder Bay where there is another glorious waterfall, but no one is being allowed to cross the border due to the Covid-19 epidemic. The falls here at Grand Portage is only a ½ mile hike. Most of the path is made of blacktop or is a boardwalk so is much easier to traverse. Dave’s left knee and his feet are hurting him, so our hike is rather slow. The viewing platforms here are much more crowded. The waterfall is glorious in all its splendor, but we do not stay long due to the number of people waiting. The sun has begun to peak through the clouds asking me to take off my sweater. It is still quite cool and windy.

Grand Portage Falls

            My plan was to eat our lunch here at the state park, but we decide instead to seek out a quieter place. We drive just a couple of miles back down Hwy 61 to the Grand Portage overlook. There are several empty picnic tables here. The wind calls for holding down the plates and food with one hand while eating with the other. We enjoy sandwiches and chips for sustenance. The view of Lake Superior from here is fantastic. One can see for miles.

            Dave would really like to do some beach combing so I keep my eyes open for a stopping spot that might offer that activity along the shore of Lake Superior. I finally spy the Kadunce River Wayside Rest which seems to offer a pebble covered northern Minnesota kind of beach. There is even still a parking place for us. A fair number of people linger along the shoreline. As Dave does his exploring for unique colored rocks, I find a spot to sprawl out and rest.

Kaduce River Wayside Rest

            Around 3 p.m., we decide to head for Grand Marias to finish our day there. As we walk to the car, Dave pats his shirt pocket and then stops, “I am missing my phone.” A panicked tone takes over his voice, “Where did I lose my phone? All my numbers are in there.”

            At this point, I am sure all is not lost. I am sure it can be found. It must be in the car or back at the tent. My confidence is not contagious though as Dave is disturbed and agitated over this loss. The joy of the day is gone for him. But there is nothing we can do about it right now so we might as well continue with our plans.

            I do a thorough search of the car when we arrive in Grand Marias but there is no sight of the missing phone. Our plan is to walk out to Artist’s Point and then to the lighthouse on the pier. It is not just a simple walk to either of these places. The path to Artist’s Point switches back and forth from tree-root tripping to rock jumping and traverses in all directions depending on how the multitude of prior travelers wished to go. We eventually come out on the big flat rock that overlooks the lake. Sailboats and smaller watercraft dot the sparkling lake. We retrace our steps over the treelined path and head west to the lighthouse. This is not really a path, but a deteriorating seawall built to protect the Grand Marias harbor. Walking on top of it is how we navigate our way to the lighthouse. We turn away as we pass others going back towards the town. Afterall, we don’t want to breathe on anyone.

Grand Marias from the Lighthouse

Dave’s heart is no longer in exploring as he is too distracted by his phone loss, so we soon head back to the campground. We pick up Subway sandwiches to take back to the tent to eat. My first order of business is to search high and low through the tent and along the path to it but there is no phone to be found. We might as well kiss it good-bye. Dave surmises that it got pushed out of his shirt pocket while accessing his camera bag sometime during our day. It could be just about anywhere. And of course, it is an older flip-phone style and it is turned off so even if someone finds it, they won’t have a clue how to go about contacting us.

The sun has finally chased all the clouds away and a clear sky soon exhibits a climbing moon that is almost full. As dusk deepens, the moon casts long bright shadows on the surface of Lake Superior. Dave sets up his camera and takes some shots. The evening is windless, quiet and peaceful. I sit and read my Kindle while Dave peruses some magazines. The temperature has dropped into the shivering zone. We both begin to put on more clothing – first a sweater, then a coat but we are still cold. We might as well go to bed. Dave climbs in fully clothed. I have added a long-sleeved turtleneck to my winter pajamas. Our night remains restless. Dave is not sleeping well anyway due to not being able to use his CPAP. There is no electricity here and I listen to him wake himself up every few minutes due to obstructing. I continue to be cold and my left hip causes pain all the way to my ankle when I lie on my side. Who ever thought old people should go tent camping? So much for glamorous!

The Moon Reflected on Lake Superior

I think I do get in a few hours of sleep because before I know it, it is 6:30 a.m. We might as well get up and get moving. Dave wants to go back to Judge C.R. Magney State Park to see if maybe someone has found his phone. I don’t think the park is staffed and therefore, I think it is a lost cause but since we are here, there is nothing to be lost by checking before leaving.

The dew is heavy this morning and because we have no flap on the front of the tent, everything is wet. I tried to move the coolers as far inside as possible last evening and then laid my phone, hearing aide, and clothes on a towel. Dave also threw a towel over his camera. I thought our possessions would be fine. But everything is completely wet. I am dismayed. I can only hope the electronics still work. I shiver while I get into my damp wet clothes. Amazingly, my phone and the camera work after some drying off but my hearing aid only emits a long continuous screeching. Guess that won’t be of any help. I can only hope that it will dry out and then work. I guess I will be deaf if that is not successful.

We have a short breakfast of the remaining hard-boiled egg, banana, and coffee cake and then hurriedly throw everything in the car. No one is around at the office to Judge Magney SP and we can’t find anyone at the maintenance building. This is an exercise in futility. We might as well go home. At least, my hearing aid has started to work again.

Traveling west and south on Hwy 61, we stop at Temperance State Park. I don’t think we have ever been to this park. A short walk brings us to Hidden Falls. It is a waterfall tucked back into a crevice between two large rock walls. One can hardly see it. The map shows another falls a mile upriver. I don’t think either one of us is up to a two mile walk today so we opt to drive north on Temperance Road and enter the trail closer to the falls. We are alone on the trail which calls for stepping over tree roots, climbing up and down rocks, and balancing over water holes. We question several times if we are going the wrong way but eventually, we actually do find two separate small waterfalls. It is approaching 10 a.m. and time to get moving on our way home. At least we are warmed up now from the activity.

Temperance River Falls

Our chosen route home takes us into Wisconsin at Duluth. We find a park by Superior Bay to eat our lunch then head down Wisconsin Hwy 53. This allows us to avoid the very busy traffic of the twin cities. I take over the driving as Dave is falling asleep from his lack of sleep these last two nights. We end our journey with a Dairy Queen treat in Wabasha, MN. And tomorrow, I need to shop for a new cell phone for Dave.

Monday, I begin my day by visiting the Verizon store in Rochester. I am hoping I can pick up a phone similar to what Dave had. I have picked one out on-line that looks to be of slightly better quality.

“Can I help you?” questions the young man behind the desk without even looking at me.

I explain to him our situation. “Do you have one of these phones?” I point to the one I have on my printed paper.

“No, we don’t carry it here. They might have one at one of the other stores in Rochester.”

He makes no attempt to check if any of the other stores carries this style of cell phone. “Could you call them and see?” I plead.

He shrugs, “I can’t. They don’t have any phones.”

I look at him dumbfounded. Verizon cell phone stores that have no phones to call each other! Such a helpful salesperson. I am becoming more and more frustrated. I am not about to run all over town. I will just go home and order it over the internet.

The new phone arrives in two days. I am able to activate it without a problem and low and behold, it automatically downloads all of Dave’s prior contacts. One couldn’t ask for a better outcome.

Five weeks later, Dave is sorting through his camera bag looking for some accessories that he would like to use in a photography project. He pulls out a small black object.

“Well, I found my cell phone,” he calls up the stairs. “I remember now what happened. I put the phone in my camera bag one evening so it wouldn’t get wet or lost when we were in Grand Marias. I feel so stupid. I never thought of it once until now.”

Seriously?? All that and the phone has been riding in his camera bag the whole time. Oh well, I have done the same thing before as well – put something away securely so it would be safe and then can’t remember where that might be. He likes his new phone better anyway.

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.