Friday, September 30, 2011

Cortez, CO - Mesa Verde

Up at ‘0 Dark Thirty’ so we can get to the Visitor Center in Mesa Verde soon after they open so we can get tickets for several tours they have of some of the cliff houses there. Don’t want to miss those Ranger-led tours since that’s the only way you can get down to several of the cliff houses. But you also get the narrative and so much more information.

Just a bit of history here. People had occupied this area from approx 550 A.D. and progressed from pit homes dug into the earth to homes built above ground to cliff dwellings built in the 1100 - 1300 A.D. These people were called Anasazi but are more correctly called the Ancient Puebloans. Here at Mesa Verde are 4800 known archeological sites, from fire rings to reservoirs to pit homes to intricate cliff dwellings. And, who knows how many other undiscovered sites?

It is, of course, the cliff drellings which are the most compelling. It was two cowboys searching for stray cattle in 1888 who first ‘discovered’ these. They could see a large structure through the swirling snow and climbed down a makeshift ladder to explore further. Imagine their amazement to find something like this carved into the sheer cliffs. These two then explored the entire area and found 180 cliff dwellings, though none as large as this one.


I know you’re asking me: Nancy, how did these huge alcoves form? Well, being the geologist that I am (not!) I can tell you that water seepage between the limestone and shale layers in the cliffs undermined a lot of rock which then sloughed (sloughed off is a geological term meaning ‘came crashing down’) off and left these huge alcoves. There, I’ve told you all I know about the geology. However, I might not know much about geology but I certainly can appreciate the impressive accomplishments of these people in developing their communities here. Truth to tell, they only lived in these cliff dwellings for aobut 75 years before they migrated south and left all they had built. Why they left is a mystery but their decendents, current Pueblo peoples, say that ‘they time had come’ to move on.

Their cliff dwellings are certainly impressive. The lower levels are rough stones whereas the highest layers are shaped smoothed blocks. Note in the photo below how rough the bottom of this structure is and how smooth the top is. Actually, most of the walls were painted but the paint has worn away. Their windows are square, their towers are straight plumbed, they built around what rocks there were in their alcoves and they built up to the top of the alcove. They fully used the space available. Cliff Palace, the largest, pictured above had 150 rooms and was home to approx. 150 people.


These people were amazing:

        they built huge communities with buildings 4 stories tall inside cliff alcoves

        they developed reservoirs and dams

        they traded extensively and their pottery has been found in San Salvador and they were using potatoes from Peru

        they developed the bow and arrow

        they wove intricate baskets and made pottery


        they developed terraced farming

        they realized that the limestones on which they were grinding their corn were mixing tiny grains of limestone into the corn and were wearing down their teeth so they turned to harder river rocks for grinding

        they could farm in a desert terrain using dry farming and feed themselves

        they wove cotton into clothing

An impressive civilization.

We had tickets for a tour of Cliff Palace above and for Balcony House. Cliff Palace was impressive but we also enjoyed Blacony House. In this tour you:

        walk down a 70’ staircase

        climb up a 32’ ladder


        crawl through an 18” x 24” tunnel


        walk around a ledge with a sheer drop off

        climb up a 38’ ladder


        use toe holds carved into the stone and a railing to climb the final 30’.


You should have seen the kids in our tour scampering through all this. And, the original dwellers had none of these ladders and steps and railings. They had the toe and hand holds carved into the rocks.

Impressive tours and I developed an appreciation for living in a cliff house - luckily I got to use railings and ladders and not toe holds and hand holds.


Another impressive feature of the park is the fires that have scarred it over the years. One fire, the Bircher fire in 2000 scorched 23,607 acres before it was stopped by 1106 firefighters working over 9 days. 300’ flames hampered this effort since they were too hot for retardants to work. The fire cost $5.5 million dollars and, because it was so close to tourist areas, closed the park for 2 week. The scars still remain and certain trees will take years to regrow. However, the fire revealed many more archeological sites that had not yet been discovered. All fires have been started by lightening not humans but the damage is the same.

We also toured another cliff dwelling and several of the individual homes built prior to the cliff homes.

We got back to town about 8:00 and succumbed to eating dinner in Denny’s.

We are worn out: we’ve been hiking, touring and moving from one location to another for 5 days and it’s time to rest. Tomorrow: laundry, vacuuming and general catch-up. We’re ready for a relaxing day.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Cortez, CO - How High Was That Pass?

It’s moving day so we’re packing up and getting ready to get out on the road. Before we did, however, we met two of the Park Rangers who were checking the campground. One had a pie plate in his left hand and a stick in his right hand, hitting the pine branches above him and shaking something into the plate. He told us that these were pinon pines and that you could eat the nuts just like walnuts. He gave us several, I popped them into my mouth. Oops, just like walnuts, you also need to take off the shell before you eat them. Well, lesson learned. Here’s what they look like on the tree and in Gary’s hand - just in case you ever have a chance to shake pinon nuts off the pinon pine.

GreatSandDunesScenes-43-2011-09-29-13-18.jpg GreatSandDunesScenes-44-2011-09-29-13-18.jpg

We have to climb a pass called Wolf Creek Pass which is 10,800’ up. After that there are some, what look like on Google, fairly tight switchbacks to get down the mountain into the valley. Sometimes we flatlanders wonder about these without much reason. We have spoken with several people who live in the area and they all say this it is fine - they also say that there has been a lot of work on it recently to make it that way, that it used to be a bit ‘challenging.’ They all said that the tunnel had made it much better. We also met another RV’ing couple in a convenience store along the way who had just come over the pass. She said she had watched a You-tube video on going over the pass. That certainly had never occured to me: to go to you-tube and watch a video of driving over Wolf Creek Pass. Another lesson.

So, we chug up towards the pass. Then we hit the CLOSED tunnel with a sign telling us to go around it. But, there were no guard rails, we were in the outside lane and the slope down was a straight 600’ or so. Oh, boy.

Next we hit all the construction along the road. Lanes were closed and semis were coming at us.

Then the rain hit. Those raindrops were as large as those wet snowflakes we get in Iowa which make a 2” diameter wet splotch on your windshield. Then the lightening brightened the sky.

Oh, and did I mention that the runaway truck ramps were closed? Look at the upward grade of that one. I sure wouldn’t want to be driving along the highway when a runaway truck hit the top of that grade.


And, did I mention the switchbacks?


And, then we were going down. So much for Wolf Creek Pass. Gary handles the gears and the brakes like a champ.

Of course, I had torn holes in the dashboard with my white knuckled response. Well, finding a diner with hamburgs and ice cream and a deck overlooking the river sure helped to dull my nerves.


We got to our campground about 5:00, hooked up and had dinner. We’ve got full hook-ups here: electricity, water and sewer. Whooo - eee. Looks like laundry time.

We also have to charge up all of our tech equipment which runs on batteries: computers, iPads, smart phones and also charge up the batteries we have used in the cameras, etc.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Great Sand Dunes NP, CO - Climbing the Dunes

So, how many of you have ever heard of Great Sand Dune National Park? Not many, I suppose. In fact, I had never heard of until I was looking at a map and drawing a line between Des Moines, IA where we started, to Arizona where we intended to spend a little time. And, there it is, in the middle of Colorado. Sand Dunes in Colorado? The dunes actually are part of a large sand deposit which covers 330 square miles sandwiched between the San Juan Mountains and the Sangre de Cristo Mountains. Over millions of years, temperature and winds broke up the larger stones of the mountains and deposited them into this valley. With mountains hemming this valley in, there was no place for the sand to blow and now it just swirls around the valley, depending up on the prevailing winds. These are the largest sand dunes in North America. Interestingly enough, the snow melt in the mountains creates two large streams which go around opposite sides of the dune field. Had we come in spring, we could have played in the water. As it is, we get to slog through the sand which is left in the streams and climb the dunes.

We woke up in the morning and put on our hiking clothes - Life is Good. Our goal was to climb the tallest dune in the park. Wait, tallest or highest? Did you even imagine there could be a difference between tallest and highest? Well, there is. The Star Dune is the tallest - measured from the lowest point where you would begin your climb to the top of the dune. Big Dune is the highest - measured from sea level. We learned this later when we were talking with a Ranger about what we had climbed. We climbed the High Dune, the highest.

Was it easy? Oh, sure, just like walking on the beach in dry sand, only at a 45 degree angle up. No, it wasn’t easy, every step forward of 12” resulted in about 5” backwards. At one point I lost my balance and fell on my hands and knees trying to climb up. Half the time I was carrying tons, I tell you, tons, of sand in my shoes, weighing me down.

The technique was to choose a ridge line and climb it up. It’s just like climbing a mountain, lots of switchbacks. Don’t just climb straight up - it may look shorter but it will be much longer. Note that Gary here is making his own trail. He must know something that no one else knows.

Were they fun to climb? Absolutely, a struggle but reaching the top is the best. At one point, we aimed for what we thought was the Big Dune, only to realize that the Big Dune was off to the left and we were slogging right. We also enjoyed watching others. We began behind a foursome and were following them but, at one point, we thought we had a better line to the top and diverged. We soon passed them and, as they wandered horizontally to the right, we climbed vertically to the left. We lost sight of them soon after until, as we were climbing down, we saw two of them climbing over the same ridge we had on their way the top.

Getting down was so much easier though, not as easy as I thought. I still had to put one foot in front of the other and, after climbing that dune, I was having a hard time of doing that.

Lunch back at the RV then off to the Visitor Center to see the film and see exhibits explaining the dunes. The Ranger also told us of the Zapata Falls that we could DRIVE up to and only have to walk 1/2 mile. That’s the ticket and we were off. Rocky pine-covered alpine trail but with a bubbling stream tumbling over rocks right before the falls.

Here’s Gary beside the stream before he disappeared inside the cave to see the falls which was really two falls. Spectacular, in a desert region to see this much water. Since there was still snow on the tops of the mountains, this falls will last a while. We hear that it tuns to ice in the winter and is fun to slide down.

The aspens are absolutely gorgeous, just beginning their color. We were climbing through some aspen groves and just entranced with the color.

As we walked back, we noticed a trail sign which said ‘Zapata Lakes’ with an arrow pointing up. Putting a trail sign in front of Nancy and Gary is like waving a worm in front of a fish. Enticing. And, thus we found ourselves wending our way up an unknown mountain, on an unknown trail to an unknown destination. We had no clue where we were going nor how long it would take to get there. But, we were in the moment and enjoying the trail. We kept going and going, and we didn’t have a clue how far the Lakes were. But, we hate to quit before we reach the goal.

At one point, we must have startled some animal which rushed down the hill away from us. We looked its way and saw this deer, ‘hiding’ in the bushes.

Finally, as the sun was heading down and we had seen no sight of any lakes, we said 15 more minutes. 15 minutes later and still no sight, we turned around and headed back. Luckily we did, we learned later that the Lakes were 4 miles in.

The cap to our adventures of the day was to stop at a small restaurant at the gates to the Park and have a piece of pie. The Pie Lady is renown in this area and we certainly want to partake of all that the park offered. We got there 3 minutes before closing, looked at the 3 pieces of pie they had left and decided to head on back to the RV. I was really ready for mixed berry or something in the fruit line with ice cream but all they had was a chocolate pudding with whipped cream, banana cream and some raspberry cream. Oh, well.

As we approached the Park, we had a great view of the sand dunes, the grassy prairie in front and craggy mountains beyond. In the right sun, the play of the shadows over the dunes is eerie and shows the heights even better than a sunny picture.

And, of course, what’s a blog without a sunset picture? Note the virga rain trying to reach ground, which it never did.

What a great park with two very different types of terrain to hike in: huge sand dunes and an alpine trail wending through aspens and pinon pine beside a bubbling brook. And, to think, we had never heard of this park. Our National Parks are marvelous and full of surprises.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Great Sand Dunes NP, CO - Western Forts and Sand Dunes

Up early again (must we make this a habit?) so we could drive 180+ miles to our next destination, the Great Sand Dunes National Park, get a good campsite on a first come, first served basis but still stop and see Fort Garland, an old western fort commanded at one time by Kit Carson. The trick is that we are 35’ long and the spots into which we can sandwich this large an RV are few at this National Park. Most of the campsites at National Parks were built long ago before RV’s became 30’ to 45’ long. We’re glad we don’t have a longer RV since 35’ is at the outer limit for many of the National Parks.

Hey, luckily we got up early since we had a long detour. We lost in the detour the time we had throught to gain by arising early. Shucks.

There’s something about driving in the mountains that brings a bit of nagging fear to us flatlanders - it’s the ‘grade’, the angle at which you come down. Now, in a car, it’s no big deal, just apply the brakes a bit. However, we weigh 30,000 lbs and are towing a 4000 lb Jeep, and a ‘applying the brakes a little bit’ in an RV is as effective as using a toothbrush to clean a carrier. Of course, the trick is to be in the right gear and let the motor slow you down the grades. Gary does this well and we’ve never had problems. However, possibly it’s the thought of the downhill grade that we fear more than the downhill grade itself.

Today we cimbed up to a 9410’ summit and didn’t even notice we had reached the top until we began to go down, more gently than we had envisioned. We kept thinking that we had only reached a ‘faux’ summit and that the real summit was ahead of us around the next peak. Nope, we just kept going down and down and there we were in the valley. Now, that kind of summit we can enjoy. In 3 days we have a 10,000+ ‘ summit with a series of switchbacks. Think what that is doing to my imagination.

Fort Garland was built in 1858 and served as a fort until 1883. It originally had 22 adobe buildings, housed several thousand soldiers at it height and was commanded by Kit Carson at one point. The coming of the railroad and the removal of the Indians to other areas brought an end to Fort Garland’s service and the fort closed. By the 1920’s, most of the buildings had crumbled, been stripped of anything valuable and it looked as this bit of history would pass unknown. However, a local educator organized a Historical Group that cared for the fort until 1945. They excavated, curated, rebuilt some of the fort and finally sold to the Colorado Historical Society which made an extensive renovation and added a multitude of exhibits about life in a fort in the West.

Here’s a rendering of the actual fort. I’ve always thought of forts as having walls all around for protection. Here is an actual fort without any outside walls. The long buildings in the front are the stables where the horses were kept.


What did we learn about American History from this fort? We learned about the Buffalo Soldiers, African American soldiers who served in the American army after the Civil War. When I as a child watched old westerns with soldiers at a fort, I never saw an African American. Did you? Actually, they were about 20% of the American Army after the Civil War and, since they were not placed in the South to serve, they were a much larger percentage in the West, possible 40%. Did you know that? Why did our TV programs never show this?

And, they were called Buffalo Soldiers by the Indians since their hair resembled the thick curly hair on a buffalo’s shoulders. Here’s a bunk house where the soldiers lived. They were issued one blanket by the Army and in the winter were fairly cold unless they had enough rank to get their bed near the stove in the middle of the room. This room actually held considerably more men than this implies. One winter, when several companies of men were moved to the fort to help quell the Indians, they slept outside in tents with their one blanket - in the winter.


Secondly we learned about the service of Kit Carson, who is usually thought of as an American Hero. But - not by the Indians. To the white settlers, he was responsible for keeping them safe and removing the Indian threat. To the Indians, he was responsible for raiding Indian villages and destroying them, he was responsible for hunting many down and killing them. However, he was only a ‘man of his times’ and treated the Indians as everyone else was. Personally he was friendly with many Native Americans and spoke their language. (Actually, he could not read nor write but he spoke 5 languages.) Most of his exploits are a matter of record and show that he was much more restrained in his actions than others in his ranks.

We also learned a lot about life in a western frontier fort, about the fierceness of the Comanches and how they probably held back settlement in this area for many years.

However, if we wanted a spot in the campground at the National Park, we had to move on. On our way to the park we noticed that the nearby mountains still had snow in the upper reaches.


As we neared the park we could see the sand dunes, high above the surrounding land, though dwarfed by the Sangre de Cristo mountains behind them. I find driving into a National Park almost magical with possibilities. We especially like camping in the National Parks, in the center of the action, close to the natural beauty and trails. There are usually no hook-ups but the ambiance more than compensates for this.


As we pulled into the entrance station, the ranger there told us that we could park in the host spot since the host was no longer there. We found this spot, thought the view of the sand dunes pretty amazing and set up.


Here’s the view from our living room window. Pretty awesome. I’ve left the RV in the lower left in the picture so you can see the size of these dunes. These dunes are the tallest in North America - and they’re in Colorado, territory usually thought of as mountainous.

In the evening the sun put on a magnificent show over the mountains on the other side of the valley, outlining the virga rain.


Sunday, September 25, 2011

L a Junta, CO - Bent's Old Fort

Up early since we not only have a long drive today but, at the end of the drive is Bent’s Old Fort, a trading post in the mid-1800’s that we want to tour. To get there we headed due south and, since this part of Colorado is so flat, the road was as straight as a ruler. It was flat, planted with grains and almost treeless. We spoke with a woman at the Fort who told us that they had 2” of rain that year.


4 hours later, a long 4 hours later, we arrived at the Fort. Now, this is not really a fort, it was really a trading post built by the Bent Brothers, William and Charles and their partner, Ceran St. Vrain in 1833. However, it had many aspects of a fort: walls 9” thick, few windows on the outside, round turrets on opposite corners to keep watch on all sides of the fort, an interior well, heavy doors that could be closed, large storerooms and fully stocked repair shops. It was actually 1/4 block in size and two stories tall.



It was built of adobe bricks and the Bents brought in Mexicans for the actual construction. Here is a picture of the adobe bricks along with one of the molds they used. Note the lack of windows on the outside of the actual fort.

However, the Bents realized that they could only trade and make a profit if they treated all fairly, and promoted peace within the area they traded. They had an extensive trading empire, having located their fort on an established trade route and right on the border between Mexico and America. William Bent married Owl Woman, a Cheyenne woman, and managed the fort. His brother, Charles, managed the Santa Fe end of the business and married into a prominent Taos family. Obviously both married well to promote trade and their business in the area.


Since it was the only American outpost in this area, it was a haven for all those who traveled along the trading routes. It was the only place between Independence, MO where most travelers first stocked up and started across the vast prairies and Santa Fe, Mexico, their destination. Here they could replenish their supplies, get their wagons repaired, enjoy some company, refresh their livestock and just relax for a bit before their final push. And, they could enjoy dancing the fandango which was quite a popular entertainment at the fort.

Gary was intrigued by the window gaskets they used. Obviously, they used buffalo hide to be weather strip the fort. Since Home Depot didn’t carry foam weather stripping, they had to make due with buffalo hide strips. As you can see in the picture, they also used buffalo hides to caulk between the ceiling and the walls.


Here’s a picture of the center courtyard surrounded by various rooms: storehouse, trading room, kitchen, dining room and some living quarters. In the center of the courtyard is a ‘buffalo hide’ press, which was used to make the buffalo hides into a more compact bundle for shipping east. Kind of like putting clothing in plastic bags for storage and using a vacuum to suck out the air and make the package smaller. If you close your eyes, you can imagine Cheyenne Indians bringing in buffalo robes, traders packing their goods for travel along the Santa Fe Trail, the company doctor tending to some injuries, Mexican laborers repairing the adobe walls, a foreign journalist discussing the fort with William Bent, two men in the middle working the buffalo press while others carry off the hides already pressed and packaged. French, American, Mexican, Cheyenne and Arapaho are all being spoken here. It’s a hubbub of activity.


Explorers, journalists, mountain men and foreign visitors also visited the fort to observe its culture and spread the word throughout the US and world. In its 16- year heyday from 1833 - 1849, there were approx. 40 - 60 employees from different cultures and who spoke different languages.

The 3 partners began trading in beaver but, when beaver hats fell out of style in the 1830’s, they migrated towards buffalo. Their traders ranged throughout the west and into what today is called New Mexico. As a result of their business acumen, their reputation for fairness and their ability to bridge many different cultures, they were an instrument of Manifest Destiny, bringing more and more Americans into and settling the West.

The original fort is long gone but extensive archeology at the site has revealed the original walls and rooms of the first floor. In addition, Lieutenant James W Abert of the American Army and a topographical engineer, made drawings and took measurements of every room while he was a visitor at the fort in 1846 and these precise records have been used to build a faithful reconstruction of the original fort.

We spent some time talking with the volunteer in the gift shop there who, with her husband, had been ranchers in the area. She told us that they had little water on their land since the water rights had been sold forever to Denver by a previous owner of the land. An interesting concept. We owned an acre in New Hampshire on which we had drilled a well. Could we have sold the water rights to our neighbor so that any new owner would have to drill his or her own well? I don’t know. But, then I guess this is why people are selling shale oil rights to large oil companies who are now drilling on their land.

After we had toured the fort, we decided to take the walk around the fort as our exercise for the day. We breezed by the sign at the beginning of the trail although Gary read aloud that the park closed at 4:00 and the gates would be locked. Luckily I was listening (for once I was actually listening to him), looked at my watch and realized that it was 3:45 and we would never get the path walked before 4:00. Oops, we turned 180 degrees and headed back to the RV so we would not be locked in.

We returned to the nearest town, found the Walmart, asked if they would allow us to park there overnight and parked for the evening.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Brush, CO - A Small Town in all its Glory

Today was a day of rest after we had traveled from Des Moines to Brush, CO, about 580 miles. As I have said before, we like to average about 230 miles a day, not more, when we travel. We want to enjoy the journey and not just put miles on the speedometer. And, Brush is a good place to stop.

We were also lucky in being here this weekiend. Not only was there a car show but a great street ‘do’ also. We were told that there were 100 booths, more than ever before. Hey, could we miss this? Not on your tintype. However, first we had a leisurely breakfast, read some news on our computers, and talked about our trip. I also did my zen thing and washed the dishes for the last two days. Finally, about 12:00 we started out. We planned to walk into the center of town since it was only a mile away.

First we stopped at the Brush Museum and viewed all the exhibits. The building was built as a school house and had several exhibits on old schools. There was a heavy emphasis on Brushites who had served in wars with uniforms, pictures, old scrapbooks and other paraphernalia. We had an enthusiastic volunteer show us a few things and then we just explored. A nice small museum which showed the love and care that the Museum committee had taken in putting it together.


Afterwards we walked into town to participate in the gala. Lots of people of all ages, lots of teens wearing black, lots of booths selling things and lots of food. But there was entertainment also. Dance schools had routines, a local square dance club had their dances and it ended with a polka band.


We ate lunch, had ice cream for dessert, toured the area, found the local farmer with his produce, bought some corn on the cob, onions and a cauliflower and walked home. We might have bought more but, remember, we were walking and it was about a mile back. They even had some bungee jumps for kids. This kid smiled and grunted ‘wow’ every time he got to the top of his jump.


When we returned to the campground, we noticed some pretty special trucks being towed past the campground and into a gate beyond it. Now these trucks had huge exhaust pipes extending way above the cab, massive tires and hoods that had large bulges in them. Hmmm. what in the world could this mean? What might be happening in that huge lighted grandstand in back of the campground?


And, what’s that over there in the bandstand in the park on the other side of the campground?


Oh, boy, aren’t we in for a treat? And we thought trains were loud.


We’ve got a trifecta tonight.

Well, actually, the gothic band quit at dusk since there were no lights on the bandstand. And the truck pull was pretty tame until about 9:30. But then, they really started revving up, the final trucks in the final heats. Actually, it’s 10;20 and I’m hoping its the final trucks in the final heats. I got this photo from our campground.

WOW!!! I felt that one vibrating in my feet on the RV floor.

WOW!!! That one sounded like a jet engine.

Finally at 10:35 it was over. What a night that must have been for the crowd and the participants. Then we heard the crowd, filled with adrenaline, revving their motors as they left the parking lot.


But, look at all Brush provided its citizens today: a car show, a truck and tractor pull, a festival, a rock band, some events for the young kids, a petting zoo at the festival. Pretty great for this small town. We were impressed.

Back to the shower problems. Last night, the shower head was clogged with minerals and water could only dribble out for my shower. After Gary had cleaned the shower head, he had put the shower head back on our telephone type of shower a bit crooked and tonight the water came out spraying over the side of the shower, not into the middle. This was after I had ‘lost’ an old razor blade head down the sink. First he had to take the sink trap apart to retrieve the razor head and then he had to unscrew the shower head and screw it back on so it sprayed water into the center of the shower. Tomorrow, our goal is no plumbing problems in the bathroom. But, the pressure in the shower hose was terrific.

This must be why I keep him around: he’s a plumber, a mechanic and a technician on the computers. Well, maybe there are other reasons too. Now, I just have to figure out why he keeps me around. But I keep telling him how much joy I brought into his life and how lucky he is to have me. He grins and says,’ Yes, dear.’

Friday, September 23, 2011

Brush, CO - Greetings from Brush

Up at 7:00, our usual time. We don’t have as far to go today as yesterday. As we ate dinner last night, we noticed the sunset casting a warm glow over the Walmart store. I don’t want to think of any symbolism for that. And, speaking of sun: it is amazing how the sun can expose any little flaw in a cleaning scheme. Boy, that sun finds the tiniest bit of dust and magnifies it twenty fold so that it sparkles in all its glory taunting me.


On the road, I miss reading the Des Moines Register over breakfast in the morning. However, I’ve substituted reading news on my iPad, doing the Jumble and the NY Times crossword, which are aps you can get on the iPad. It’s not quite the same but it’s what I’ve got.

Our second day on the road and we make it to Brush, 270 miles from Kearney, NE where we stayed last night.

The trip was mostly uneventful but we noticed that most of Nebraska Interstate 80 is under repair and in pretty good shape. Well, it seemed like ‘most’ of it was. I’m sure that’s hyperbole but they are definitely working on the roads in NE. They are not working on them in Colorado and it certainly shows. We did not ‘roll’ smoothly down the highway we ‘rattled’ down the highway. I was sure that every bolt and screw in the RV would be jarred loose and at the end of the trip,we’d be standing forlongly in the middle of the road with lots of RV parts strewn around us, blowing in the wind. Even my teeth were beginning to shake in my mouth. Sometimes, when there was no traffic, Gary would move to the high-speed lane and travel there since it was smoother, though ‘smoother ‘is a relative term here.

But, we finally got to Brush where there is a small city campground which is free for the first night and $10 for nights after this. There is electricity and some sites have water but there is no sewer for each site. It tends to be a dusty campground but the price is right. Unfortunately, lots leave after the first night. I had an opportunity to speak with the city manager tonight and I told him that it should be $10 for the first night wth the second night free. But, for that they should also put doors on the stalls in the women’s room.

There is a set of trail tracks with a few sidings about 5 blocks from the campground. It was hard not to notice the whistles as they sped by the crossroads. And, then sometimes we got a two-fer, two trains going in opposite directions. What a bonus. However, either they stop at night or we didn’t hear them. And, truth to tell, they really don’t go by that often.

We had a salad for dinner and started out for town on our daily walk. As we were passing a small restaurant we noticed that the annual Octoberfest was being held this weekend. Yes, I know what your first throught is: why is Octoberfest in September? Sure, enough, I asked a local and he didn’t know. As part of this there was a classic car show and a hamburg bar-be-que at the local market and we made a beeline for it. Ah, the smells of the hamburg on the grill, mingling with the smells of the local agricultural crop - cattle. We succumbed and shared a hamburg, chips, cookies and a drink.

When we finished we toured the car show. And, there it was, in all its glory: a candy red and white 1957 Chevy Bel Air. If I were ever to have a classic car, this would be it. I drooled, ogled, circled and then walked on. Then back to the campground.


And, what’s a car show without a picture of a reflection in a shiny hubcap from a 1936 Chevy street rod?


I am usually the first one in the shower in the evening. Thus I get to be the guinea pig to see if the water heater was turned on. When we leave our RV for the day, we turn off the water heater, the water to the RV and several other things. How often have I gotten into the shower, turned on the water and had to yell: ‘Hey, Gary, is the water heater turned on?’ Yep, the water heater is not turned on. Luckily, usually the water has not cooled so much and is still tepid so I can get my shower.

Tonight, the guinea pig got another surprise: we had no water pressure, in fact the water dribbled out of the shower head. Well, I lived with that and took my shower - slowly. Gary then took apart the hose, the head and found some mineral deposits. They must have jarred loose on the Colorado roads. Remember how I said we rattled down the highrway?

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Kearney, NE - Hitting the Road Again

And, today’s the day we head out. We’ve been packing for the last 3 days, trying to ensure that se have everything we might need for the next 8 months. Having a 5-page list helps.

        hiking clothes                check

        tools                                check

        computers                check, check

        bikes                        nope, we decided not to take them this year. We used them only 4 times last year and we thought we’d leave them at home and see if we missed them

        food                                check, double check and quadzillion check

About that food - I envision a trek across endless prairies, a climb over towering mountains and a journey across the deserts of the Southwest. I see two pioneers in a conestoga wagon, living off the land and the supplies they have packed to take with them. Thus, I buy food for this 4-month trek, forgetting that we are only 2 people and that we will be stopping in a Walmart trading post parking lot for the first night. Do I have too much food? I’m not answering that question.

We arose at what is often called ‘0 dark thirty’ so we could close up the house, get underway and still get to our destination, Kearney, NE before dark. Since we are mostly packed, we decided not to eat breakfast at home and dirty dishes that I would only have to wash, dry and put away before we left and use the fine coupon we have for a 2 for 1 breakfast at Hy-Vee. Hy-Vee? Well, it was quick - and surprisingly good.

Back at home, while Gary worked some on the RV, I made a final tour of the house to see if we had forgotten anything, I opened the door and immediately knew this house was going to be lonesome for a while. Blinds closed, upholstery covered, water turned off, counters clean, knick-knacks put away, quiet, like a deserted town.

Several neighbors came out to wish us safe travels. Others we had said good-bye to yesterday. Several we will see in Phoenix this winter, where they have a second home.

We hooked up the Jeep and were off, heading West down Interstate 80.

We certainly have seen lots of highway construction in our travels over the last 2 years. Obvioulsy the stimulus money working its way through the system. There were not many shovel-ready projects when the money was originally available but we’ve seen new rest stops, cloverleafs, long stretches of roads that have been repaired, replaced and redone.


Here’s a new rest stop in Iowa west of Des Moines. Not only is it utilitarian but it is also beautiful. Wi-fi, vending machines, picnic areas, parking for cars, trucks and RV’s, and beautiful tile work throughout. Above is a tiled light bulb in the entrance to this rest stop west of Des Moines. Below are the tile work on the entrance to the rest rooms. The theme is the types of energy coming form Iowa, wind and biofuels. We certainly have seen forests of wind turbines crop up along highway 80 since I began traveling it to get to Sioux City for business several years ago.



Nebraska has also built several new rest stops. Rest stops used to be only utilitarian made out of glass and cinder block with all hard grey edges. They didn’t beg you to rest, just stop for a minute and hurry on. Now, they have wi-fi, large picnic areas, play areas for kids, dog walks, sculpture and some even have staffed visitor centers. It’s much easier to ‘rest’ in the rest stops of today. I remember ‘stopping’ in the old rest stops but not ‘resting’ in them. Here is a new style picnic area with a sculpture in the shape of an old windmill vane. Entices you to rest, rejuvenate, eat and enjoy the Iowa countryside.


We also met this little character at the rest stop, on a wall 5’ off the ground. How did he get here? We don’t have a clue. But he enjoyed basking in the sun and giving me the weary ‘I’ve been in thousands of photos’ eye.


However, even after all the highway building we’ve seen, do I think that our infrastructure is in good repair? Heck, no. At the way we’re going, we’re going to leave our children a cracked highway, a broken bridge and a stocking full of coal.

80 through Iowa is always busy.


We traveled 310 miles today, a bit long but we are on our way. We stopped in Walmart, asked if we could stay overnight and parked at the edge of the lot. We were joined by several other RV’s. We relaxed in the evening so we’d be fresh for the second leg of our journey.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

WDM, IA - Narrowboats and Canals

Interesting what you can find on the web. If you look to the upper left on this blog page, you’ll see a menu item called ‘Next Blog.’ Being curious, I click every now and then and am amazed at what I find. People have so many different muses. Today I happened upon a blog by a couple who are ‘liveaboards’ in a ‘narrowboat’ in England. Instead of buying an RV and traveling over the highways of America, they have bought a narrowboat and are plying the canal system in England, which is quite extensive.

The canals were built during the Industrial Revolution to get manufactured goods to markets and natural resources to the factories during the 1800’s although there are several commericai narrowboats still working the canals now. The canals were built 14’ + wide so, if you are going to buy a narrowboat, it can be only 7’ wide so that 2 can pass going in opposite directions on the canals. Most narrowboats are 6’ 10” wide. Pretty narrow and there are no slides on them. Most are shorter than 50’ since the shortest lock is 56’ long. The canal below is obviously only a one-way canal. This narrowboat is obviously within the locks since you can see both the beginning and the end of the lock.


Originally, horses pulled them down the canal very much like Sal, the mule pulled boats along the Erie Canal here in America (if you’ve ever heard that song). Now, most have diesel motors but some are playing the waters using alternative fuels like cooking fat - like we’ve heard of in America.


They have many of the same concerns that ‘full-timers’, or ‘3/4 timers’ like Gary and I have on an RV: where to stay (although they look for places to ‘moor’ not campgrounds), where to get water and electricity and where to dump, washing clothing, fuel, shopping for groceries, etc. We can tow a car but they also have to decide how to handle a car. Some sell their car and ride trains and walk when they get on land. Others loan their cars to relatives so they can ‘borrow’ it back when they need it. In all there are 15,000 ‘liveaboarders’ in England.

It’s a much more leisurely way of life since some of your time is spent waiting for the correct water level in the canals.

Meanwhile, I looked around on the web and found some pictures to give you a better idea of what they look like. Here is newly built one which is 36’ long and sells for $44.000.



Here’s a picture of another one which is for sale.


I think this is an absolutely fascinating way of life and, should I ever get back to England, you can find me on a canal waking up to the sound of water lapping on the sides of my boat. However, I’m also intrigued by the Great Circle Tour which takes you down the Mississippi and the Tombigbee, around Florida and up the coast, down the St Lawrence, through the Great Lakes and back to the Mississippi.
Doesn’t that sound grand? But Gary and I have loads to see in our RV first.

Looks like I’m not the only one to like pannekoekens - others do also but call then Dutch Babies. I’m waiting to hear why my Belgian friend might call them in Belgium. I’ll have to wait until she reads the blog. She’s pretty busy at work and has just become a new grandmother so you know she is distracted.